Thank you so much to everyone reading this, and especially to everyone who has reviewed even though I rarely answer you!
So, here we are. This chapter is a bit longer than the last one, though it feels like not much happens here. Next chapter should be more interesting.
I'm going to warn you now, that we will likely be going on hiatus soon. My aunt and uncle are getting married, and we'll be driving cross-country to attend and visit, so I won't be able to update or type at all. Thus, we may be taking a break. If you don't see an update the Thursday after next, you won't for a little while. If you do, awesome, but that's when the hiatus will start.
So now you have fair warning.
Moving on, the only thing I really have to say about this chapter is that I realized that Muhammad's character, despite how a large number of you love him, is… Well, a little flat, so I want to work on character development for him, and I've started here. I've had an idea for a future plot point that involves him, and though I never originally intended for him to become this important to the story, I like my idea, and I want to make it work.
A lot of you loved Teddy, and I'm glad you did. I wrote about him with my baby cousin (who I babysit), and my youngest sister, in mind. I remember when she was that young (she'll be six soon), so hopefully what little I wrote about him was consistent with a child his age.
Also, the dream mentioned at the beginning of this chapter is an actual dream I had after staying up really late writing (only everyone in it was naked for some reason, and I was there, but I don't do the whole self-insert bit), and it was so bizarre I just had to include it.
Sorry. Not sorry.
Harry found that Teddy was greatly on his mind that night, and, when he slept, he dreamed of a world where he and Logan lived together with Teddy in a cave made of gold, and Tony showed up with alcohol, and got them all drunk so he could poke them with metal do-dads. Then the twins came, and Teddy, who was suddenly an adult, taught them how to change their hair color. Severus berated them on giving a child alcohol, even though Teddy was grown, and Muhammad laughed like a hyena and somehow made it rain ash outside so they couldn't leave. All the while the twins flashed their bodies through every neon color of the rainbow; which they had somehow learned from Teddy when Harry wasn't looking. They all went out and danced in the ash while waving strange little flags that looked suspiciously like jolly rogers, and in the distance, Loki was skipping hand-in-hand with Hulk (even though Bruce was with them).
Harry woke up very very confused, and no closer to understanding himself than he had been years before.
He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that all this was somehow connected to the mishipeshu, he just didn't know how, or what 'this' was (and the bizarre dream was hardly helping him).
Still, he got up, shook himself, tried his best to construct a mask that said 'no, I'm not losing my mind, what are you talking about?', and went to meet Fury. Something he very much did not want to do.
Mostly because it involved another helicopter ride.
Harry sighed in relief once they had finally landed (fighting back the urge to fall to the ground and scream 'Land!', Merlin he was losing it-), and took a few deep breaths as Coulson led him across the top of the helicarrier, which, for whatever reason, was no longer floating in the air, but on the water like a giant metal boat. He wondered why it was always Coulson. Was the balding agent personally assigned to dealing with the Avengers and wizards? Or everything strange? Or was it just himself in particular?
All the same, he didn't mind being around the agent, because he was nice, and polite, even if he occasionally felt a little creepy, and, when in the same room, looked at Captain Rogers the way little Colin Creevey used to look at Harry; though he at least didn't follow him around always trying to take his picture.
It was a very different experience walking on top of the helicarrier rather than inside it. Harry could see and smell the sea all around him, and, given that the top was open space, there were people running all over the place, some alone, some in military marching formations. Other helicopters and planes landed or took off. The whole thing was an organized chaos that, somehow, reminded Harry of the twins' colorful shop.
He wondered about that. How were they going to manage the shop if they were coming with him? He knew Lee still worked for them, but did they have other employees? Hell, did they have more than one store now? He didn't actually know. Letters had been a little sparse over the course of his travels.
He, as always, paid close attention to the pathways and stairs they took as they headed down, first to the bridge, and then to a sort of nondescript office-type room, with a desk that had a chair on either side of it. Fury sat in one, Hill behind him as usual, and, much as Harry had been doing since meeting the man, he stood when they entered; though the animagus wasn't sure if it was out of respect, or caution. Still, he greeted him politely while glancing about; he thought it might be the same room Fury was in when they had all talked to him through the telly (but a lot of the rooms in this place looked very similar, so he could be wrong).
"Mr. Black. Please have a seat." He did so, Fury sitting back in his own chair, and Coulson slipping out of the room in silence.
"What was it you wanted to speak with me about, sir?" Fury's lip twitched, as though he wanted to smile but wasn't willing to do so.
"There's a few things, actually." He said vaguely. "I have some questions I'd like you to answer."
"Then I will do so to the best of my ability, sir." Harry smiled slightly at him, and the man's lip twitched again. There was no denying the amusement in his eyes.
"Good." The amusement vanished and he leaned forwards in his seat, placing his arms on the table, hands near to each other. "First off, let's talk about Doctor Banner."
"What about him, sir?"
"How did you two meet?"
"I found him. Tripped over him quite literally actually. He was naked and unconscious, and, looking back I suppose he must have just come out of being Hulk, but at the time, I was more concerned with the fact he was alive, and trying to keep him that way." He decided he would be as honest as he was able to here (especially since he didn't know what they did and didn't already know).
"And where was this?"
"In Oman, in the mountains just north of Nizwa." The director raised a brow.
"What were you doing there?"
"My mentor lives there. He keeps himself fairly isolated. He has a farm up in those mountains. At the time, I hadn't met him yet. It was my first trip there. I was close enough when I found Bruce that I had run low on water. I took him with me, carried him part of the way, and when he woke up we hiked together. My mentor took on both of us as students and farmhands for a couple of months."
"This wasn't a magical mentor?"
"Well, he is, but he teaches control. I was having problems with my magic at the time, and I had to relearn how to use it. So he taught me that, and, he taught Bruce how to control Hulk better. Now he only transforms when he feels as though his life or another's is in danger, not when he's just angry." The director nodded, and Harry was thankful when he didn't ask about the problems with his magic.
"I noticed you left out his name." Harry shrugged.
"He's a private person. He doesn't like to be bothered much. Besides, even if you knew it, you'd probably never find him. His home is warded." Fury nodded sharply, seeming to understand what that meant. Just how much did he know about the magical world?
"And when did you learn about the Hulk?"
"Probably something like a year or so later. I left the Middle East for a time to go back home. I had some things to take care of. After that, we started travelling, that is, my father, Muhammad, and I. We went through Russia and China and decided to pay my mentor a visit, because he's actually Muhammad's uncle. Bruce was still there, and he joined us for a bit. We were travelling up towards India and were in a sort of barren area. We were attacked by this magical creature, and I was trying to hold it off. Bruce became agitated, and, well," He waved a hand.
"And how were you able to calm the Hulk down?"
"I didn't need to. He's not a mindless animal." Harry told him. "He recognized that we were friends. Once the creature was dealt with, he asked if I was hurt, and sat and watched while my father fixed me up. He even carried me back to camp, actually." Fury sat back for a moment, contemplating the information.
"I see. I think we can move on then." He leaned forwards once more. "I'd like to talk about recent events." Harry tried to keep from stiffening. Did he know about the scepter?
"What about them?"
"You fought very well. Is combat training a normal part of magical education?"
"But not to the extent of skill you showed." It wasn't a question.
"May I ask when, and why, you learned to use your magic offensively?" Harry blinked.
"You don't know?"
"I, well, before I took my blood father's last name, it was Potter."
"And that's relevant to this discussion?" Harry gaped. He... was surprised. The only people (who knew about the magical world) he had met that didn't at least recognize his name (they didn't necessarily know why it was so important) were those in magically isolated areas, like the tribe they had lived with in Africa. It was half the reason he had properly adjusted the paperwork to reflect his real name, and stopped using Potter altogether.
He had thought, being a government agency that Tony said had their fingers in every pie, that Shield would at least know the basics of who he was, but...
"Well, yes. I... I'm very well known, back in Europe. Unfortunately."
"Care to elaborate, Mr. Black?"
"Er, well..." He scratched his head. "Magical Europe was in a sort of civil war a few years back." He told him. "The aurors, our law enforcement, handled a lot, but, it was very wide-spread. The government was compromised. A lot of civilians were forced to get involved. There were two factions, one that was trying to take over the government, and targeted attacks against muggleborns and public areas, and another side that was trying to stop them. Both my parents fought for the latter, and gave their lives in the process, so I went through training to fight as well. I killed the leader of the other faction, and, the battle that took place at that time was the end of the war."
"So you're a war hero?" Harry blushed. He didn't really feel like one.
"Um, w- well, I suppose." He bit his lip. "I kept up on my combat training after the war ended. Things were bad then, you learned to be cautious. Constant Vigilance." His lip quirked when thinking of the old Auror. "I just wanted to be prepared in case I got into anymore trouble." Fury nodded.
"I see. I hadn't known there was a conflict so recently. We try not to get involved with anything magical when we can help it, and when we have to, we deal almost exclusively with the American Union."
"Ah. So you're out of the loop on the rest."
"Yes." He looked a little disgruntled about that. "The magical and nonmagical parts of the world have kept themselves separate for several hundred years now, and that's kept the peace. We're happy letting it remain that way, instead of getting too involved and risking a war." Harry hummed in agreement.
"I see..." He paused. "You wouldn't happen to know why the Union hasn't contacted me yet, would you?"
"Why would they?" He shifted in his seat.
"Well, I don't know the secrecy laws here, but it seems like I've run into a lot of people who know about magic, and I used a lot in front of people during the fighting. Back in England the Ministry would have been throwing a fit right about now." Fury nodded in an understanding way.
"Here, those government officials, like myself, who are briefed on the existence of magic are free to use our own judgment in notifying whoever we need to, so long as we file the correct paperwork. We're also allowed to have wizards or witches on staff, to deal with major issues relating to mutants and various unusual events. They're allowed to work freely, at least within the confines of a crisis, and so long as they don't abuse their power. We only have a few on staff. You've been filed in as a pro-bono consultant, so even though you don't work for us directly, you're under our purview, and free to use and talk about your magic as needed."
"So the Union would have no reason to contact me about secrecy laws?"
"No." Well that was a relief. He smiled. One less thing he had to worry about.
"I understand sir. Did you have any other questions?" Fury paused for several moments.
"Why does the Hulk call you 'kitty'?" And the amusement had returned.
He had managed to play the name off as coming from an inside joke between he and Bruce; something embarrassing (he stuttered a bit and remained vague, his nerves over the lying being played off as natural embarrassment), and Fury had let it go, looking as though he was a word away from breaking out in a grin. He returned to the tower feeling greatly relieved, the entire experience not nearly as bad as he had worried it would be. Fury had, in the end, only wanted a basic overview of things. He hadn't pushed much for details, and he hadn't seemed suspicious about Harry not offering them. Maybe it had been too easy, and the director already knew everything, and was just testing him, or, maybe, he hadn't asked because, as he himself had said, they didn't want to be overly involved in the magical world.
No matter what it was, Harry chose to push the details to the back of his mind and forget about them. He had too much on his plate right now to be stressing out over one little meeting.
He had scarcely made it into one of Stark's general living areas, when Muhammad was standing in front of him.
"Come smoke with me." He ordered. Harry was bewildered, but nodded dumbly as the young Arab man led him off towards the guest room he'd been given.
"Um, I don't really think we're supposed to smoke inside." He commented. Moo snorted at him.
"Have you ever known me to give a damn?"
"Then why bother saying anything, idiot?" He smirked at Harry, who mock-glared, and tension he hadn't even noticed until it was gone, was suddenly lifted away. But there was a buzz in the air that remained behind, and Harry didn't know what it was. He felt a stab of nervous uncertainty.
"Shut up." Harry looked around the room Moo had been given. It was almost a carbon copy of his own, except that the bed had been stripped of all but the sheets. A glance in the direction of the open bathroom door showed that the tub was filled with blankets and pillows. He frowned. He had learned, over the years, that Muhammad taking refuge in a bathroom to sleep in a tub was connected to times when he was particularly stressed or bothered (it was, in fact, the only way he had of knowing when Moo was upset about something, as the Arab had a better poker-face than Dumbledore). Usually this happened when they had gone too long without privacy while travelling, and he would need some space, but he had his own room right now, so that wasn't it. His propensity for sleeping in the bathtub when something was eating at him was never an event they had talked about directly, just something that 'was', so Harry still had no idea why he did it.
But it worried him.
He flopped down on the bed, and Moo sat on the floor and handed him a cancer stick. Harry was infinitely thankful for it. He hadn't had one in a few days, having not risked smoking at Grimmauld for fear of how it may affect Teddy (nevermind that he could have gone outside for it), and hadn't had much time to during the period before he had left to see them. He felt better for it, more relaxed, and he smiled down at Muhammad in thanks.
"You're welcome brat." Harry only grinned wider. For a long while after that, they were silent, just enjoying the company and the nicotine. It was greatly relaxing, and therefore a huge shock, when, just as Harry's cigarette was almost done, Moo suddenly twisted around and punched him in the face. He yelped, startled, and the force of the blow made him fall from the bed and land with a thunk onto the carpet. He hit his elbow on the corner of the bed as he went down, hissing as it sent a painful shockwave up the bone of his forearm.
"What the fuck?!" He snarled, but was given no answer as Muhammad came after him again. He grunted as he was tackled, and they were suddenly rolling and punching and kicking, knees and elbows were everywhere, someone got bitten, and hair was pulled. Moo made a pained sound when the animagus managed to hit him in the gut, and a knee came dangerously close to hitting his family jewels in retaliation. Harry snarled and grunted and yelped in pain in all the right places, and heard similar sounds from the other, and then, after what had probably only been a couple of minutes, they rolled apart and lay on the floor panting. Harry, after determining that Moo wasn't about to randomly attack him again, chose to remain where he was. "Mind explaining yourself?" He hissed irritably, once the other's breath had gone down to a steady rate, choosing to glare up at the ceiling rather than look at him right away.
"That was for not fucking telling me." The young Arab bit out angrily.
"What?" An arm flung out to smack his chest, making his body twitch, and Muhammad got up on his knees and leaned over him, glaring down, his face flushed, and looking more pissed off than Harry had ever seen him.
"What were going to do?!" He yelled. "Were you just going to run off to another world and not even warn me?!"
"WERE YOU JUST GOING TO LEAVE ME BEHIND?! AFTER EVERYTHING?! AFTER ALL THIS TIME WHEN I'VE BEEN THERE FOR YOU, YOU WERE GOING TO RUN OFF WITHOUT ME AND NOT EVEN FUCKING SAY GOODBYE?!" Harry was shocked. Muhammad...
He sucked in a sharp breath, lips parting in shock and face going white.
Muhammad was crying.
He stared down at Harry, red-faced and pissed as hell, salty liquid making tracks down his cheeks from wide, enraged brown eyes. A drop slipped down to the tip of his chin and fell, landing on Harry's face.
It was impossible, like a sign of the apocalypse. Harry had never, not once, not ever, seen Muhammad cry. He suddenly felt like the world was collapsing around him, like everything was shattering into pieces and he was at a loss for what to do. What could he possibly say to fix this? He reached up and pulled the larger man down on top of him, hugging him close, apologizing over and over. He felt almost heartbroken, because he had made Muhammad, who only rarely showed any emotion other than amusement (usually at other people's expense), and smugness, cry.
Because he couldn't deny what he had said. He hadn't told him, though he had planned to. But he was never going to bring the Arab with him. He was, as accused, just going to leave him behind.
The other let him hold him, shaking but making no sound, for almost a minute. Harry felt Moo's hands curl around his shoulders for a short moment just before abruptly pulling away and smacking the top of his head; this blow without any real force.
"Shut up, you blubbering moron." Harry's mouth snapped closed, and for a moment, Muhammad simply stared at him, blank-faced and red-eyed. "Family fights together, remember?" Harry nodded. "Sev is going to stay here, to take care of things, but I'm coming with you and those stupid redheads." Had one of them been the one to tell him? Or had it been Father? Or Tony? "You can't stop me, you got it?" The animagus nodded obediently. "Good." He stood, holding out a hand to pull Harry up, and didn't immediately let go once they were both on their feet. "You even think of leaving me behind ever again," He hissed in a low voice. "I will curse you so badly, you will no longer be able to walk to the bathroom without my help." He looked like he meant it, and Harry swallowed, taking Moo's threat seriously.
"Good boy." Muhammad patted his head mockingly, smirking and instantaneously back to his old self. Harry smacked his hand away, some dark corner of his mind wondering if those tears had been real, or some sort of manipulation (not that he really believed they had been faked, because Moo wasn't the sort of person to do something like that and his eyes were red in a way they wouldn't be if the tears had been fake).
"Stop that!" He snickered.
"Awww, does kitty not like being petted?" He ruffled Harry's hair, completely destroying any kind of order it had gained and making numerous flyaways from his braid. Harry chose to ignore the way the Arab's fingers shook.
"Bloody hell, knock it off, you arse!" He laughed, and the world was right again. Then he caught sight of their cigarettes on the floor. "OH MERLIN THE CARPET!"
Hopefully Tony wouldn't kill them for burning holes into it.
He was making himself lunch when someone cleared their throat to get his attention. He looked over his shoulder, and grinned.
"Hello Storm." The white-haired woman smiled at him. They had spoken a couple of times now, when Harry had a free moment (though never for very long of a time), and she had told him to call her that, as opposed to Ms. Munroe, or Ororo.
"Hello, Harry." She sat down at the kitchen table and waited for him to finish.
"Would you like me to make you some? It's just sandwiches."
"No thank you."
"Alright." He sat down, feeling a little impolite about eating around someone else who was not, but too hungry to really care. "How's the institute?" He asked.
She had explained to him, when he had asked, that it was essentially a school for mutants, though they had a few people living there who didn't take the classes, and weren't teachers. It was, in a way, a sort of safe-haven for those mutants who either had nowhere else to go, or who simply wanted a home where they could just be themselves. It sounded pretty nice to Harry. One day, he wanted to pay the place a visit, and Storm had said that Professor Xavier, who ran the school, wouldn't mind if he did.
"Fine." She said. "They are having to work around the lack of an art teacher at the moment, and Charles is begging me to return. He claims the paperwork is attempting to bury him alive." They chuckled.
"So that's what you teach then? Art?" She looked surprised.
"Oh, no. I am not a teacher. I simply help Charles with the papers and look after the green house."
"So what happened to the art teacher?" She giggled.
"Logan is the art teacher." Harry stared at her, dumbfounded.
"Really? Wow. I didn't really peg him as a teacher at all, but, I mean, art?"
"What, you don't think I can draw?" Harry jumped in his seat, eyes snapping to the Canadian standing in the doorway. He felt uncharacteristically panicked that he had offended him somehow. He whined from the back of his throat. Immediately Logan growled gently as a response, and the panic vanished like it was never there. He was really getting tired of all these uncontrollable animal responses that tended to happen at inopportune moments, and for a short moment, before he squashed it, he felt anger; his glamoured tail twitching, and his claws digging into the bread of his food. Storm watched this all with raised eyebrows and confusion. "I'm only teasing, kid."
"Right." Harry flushed, and coughed, trying to dispel his deep embarrassment.
How was it that Logan affected him so oddly? What on Mitera made him behave like an animal with the logger around?
It was really, really, annoying.
And extremely embarrassing.
And it was starting to seriously piss him off.
He shifted in his seat, and went back to eating, keeping his gaze down on the table and using the food as an excuse not to talk. Storm eyed him, but Logan acted as though what just occurred was completely normal, sat down, and turned to the woman; asking her about the kids at the institute.
They struck up a conversation, and Harry was temporarily ignored, thus given leave to calm himself and eventually join them in their chatting; previous events all but forgotten.
The day dawned too soon from Harry's perspective.
He wished he had been given more time, and though throughout the week there had been a sort of impatience and desire for it to just happen already, once the day itself arrived, he was wading in a pool of panicked, helpless emotions and a desire to stop the clock and remain on Earth, desperately trying to keep from drowning. He was anxious, and upset, and as close to scared as he was capable of getting.
The sunrise that morning was a strange one, filtering pink light through the clouds and tingeing everything that shade. Harry had only seen a handful of sunrises like it in all his life, and when he looked down at his own skin, the pink light made it look alien and strange; foreign, as though he was in someone else's body in that instance. He had a moment where he just stood out on the helipad looking down at his hands and he felt disconnected from everything. But then the smell of nicotine (not the sort being smoked, but the sort that had sunken into clothing from being around it so much) hit his nose, and his eyes moved up and met Muhammad's chocolate ones, and reality, and all the chaotic emotions it held, came back to him.
He followed him back inside, carefully double-checked that he had everything he needed, and put a sleeping Metis back onto his shoulders. He spent the morning with his father, and, to a lesser extent, Logan. He drank in the warmth of their presences like a dying man in a desert who had found a pool of water, knowing as he did that he might not see either of them again for some time.
The potion master stuck close to him, often with a hand on one of his shoulders or arms, and, other than that, behaved and spoke almost as though it were any other morning. They traded stories with Logan about Hogwarts and the wizarding world, and in exchange learned about the strictness of life as a soldier (something Logan was, apparently, deeply familiar with), and how chaotic it was living in a house full of mutants. His stories were a little odd (Harry couldn't help but think there was a lot he left out), but interesting.
Harry smiled and laughed, and was attentive, nearly forgetting what was to occur, but all too soon, Tony was there, telling them to come on, because it was time to see Thor and Loki off. He gave the animagus an odd look when he did, meeting his eyes, and he thought it was the billionaire's way of telling him goodbye. Harry took a deep breath as they all followed after him, and with his father on one side of him, Logan on the other, and the twins and Muhammad drifting along behind them, he felt much better about what was about to happen.
They piled into a large black car (an SUV, Harry thought it was called) with a driver, who smiled brightly at them; Tony and Bruce slipping into a black convertible in front of them. The other Avengers, and Storm, all settled themselves into another SUV (except for Rogers, who got on a motorcycle, and Thor, who was enroute from Shield with Loki, to wherever it was they were going) and then they were off. Harry closed his eyes and leaned back against the leathery seats, squashed comfortably between two Weasleys, and took a deep breath.
"You ready for this kid?" Logan asked him. He didn't hold back the high whine that worked its way up, and didn't open his eyes. The mutant growled at him, both twins doing the same, only softer. His worries eased a little, true calm kept at bay by his irritation with the animal reactions. He opened his eyes.
"Yea. I'm ready." He was thankful to be in a car with people who all knew what he was about to do (minus the driver, but he worked for Tony, who was rich and seemingly famous, so Harry would bet he knew not to pry into other people's business). It was a comfort that he was able to be pale and shaky, and breathing faster than was normal, staring out the window with a hollow expression, and have those around him understand why (at least to an extent), and not be suspicious.
George rubbed one of his shoulders, and Fred put an arm around him, smiling supportively. Muhammad, sitting across from them, pushed a foot out to touch against Harry's (the action appearing to be a result of not having enough leg space), but wouldn't look at him. He was reading another magazine (an American one that he had pulled out of nowhere). Harry wondered if the Arab needed that small bit of physical comfort as much as he did, and that one thought made his nerves vanish entirely. The twins and Moo were coming with him. Like Harry, they were about to jump headfirst into the unknown, leaving everything behind them.
And they weren't doing it because of a debt or a promise, they were doing it for him.
Determination washed over him like a strong tide, and he berated himself for being so selfish about this. Here they were, standing strong and tall, when they were facing the same trouble he was, with so much more to lose, and he was sitting there just about having a mental breakdown. He sat up straighter, pushing his own troubles and chaotic emotions into the recess of his mind. He needed to be strong, for them.
If they could face this, he absolutely could.
After everything he had been through, everything he had faced, how could be possibly be so cowardly? He was a lion, not a mouse. Or rather, he was a panther. A water panther. A dark and fearsome creature that was not to be trifled with. A beast capable of rising to any challenge it came across.
It was time he acted the part.
Logan growled deeply, and Harry's eyes flicked up, an unbidden swell of pride filling his chest like a balloon, followed by a burning of distaste that was like fuel for the determination he felt now; making him sit up straighter. The mutant smirked at him, and Harry smiled back, offering up a show of teeth that was not entirely meant to be pleasent, and feeling infinitely better in spite of his irritation. His father and Muhammad watched this all with interest and confusion, especially so when Harry made an odd noise; a sort of purring growl that had the Canadian chuckling. The twins looked on with twinkling eyes, seeming to understand, perhaps more so than Harry himself did, and no one said a word on the behavior.
Maybe all this strangeness with his instincts was something he could ask the Fred and George about, later. Something told him they knew exactly what was going on.
All too soon, the car began to slow, and then stop, and the driver was smiling back at them from over his shoulder.
"I think this is it guys." He said, and Harry sighed to himself as he got unbuckled, but now at least, his hands were steady. He was ready. He stood with his back straight and his head high when he got out, and looked around them.
Central park? Wasn't that a bit public?
But even as he thought it, he noticed the lack of people. Either everyone was still holed up in various buildings, entirely too freaked out by the recent alien invasion to dare go outside, or some sort of perimeter had been set up to keep people away. Harry wasn't sure which idea had the most merit, but it didn't really matter.
He could see Tony a few meters away, getting out of his car, Bruce awkwardly following suit. Thor and Loki were there, not more than a couple paces from them.
Harry felt a surge of righteous anger as he took note of Loki. The manacles he could understand, but he still felt the gag was unnecessary. He stalked towards them, but his anger faded into mirth as he came close. The bindings and gag weren't magical. There wasn't a single rune on them. For someone like Loki, who didn't even need a focus to use his magic, it was like they were made of paper. He could take them off, talk, escape, whatever he wanted, if he chose to. It was...
Well, it was idiotic really. Behind him, he heard his father snort discretely, likely catching sight of this fact as well.
He eyed the worthless bindings, and then his eyes flicked to Tony, the sleek metal look of them just like everything else the billionaire made. The genius grinned at him as they came up to them, but likely wasn't aware of the train of his thoughts. Harry wondered if he had made an effort for the shackles and gag to be strong enough that they couldn't be physically broken through, and had simply forgotten that Loki could use magic, or if he hadn't forgotten, but had intentionally not mentioned it to anyone, or asked Harry to help with the restraints.
Given his intelligence, the latter seemed most likely.
"How ya doin' garden gnome?" Tony slung an arm around him. Harry resisted the urge to growl at the newest nickname.
"I was just fine until you opened your mouth."
"Aw, you know you love me." Harry scoffed, eyeing the man blandly.
"Yea. Keep telling yourself that." Even Moo didn't tease him about his height so much. Tony only grinned at him, Bruce coughing to keep from laughing behind him. Thor watched them with a small smile and a tired, defeated countenance. Harry felt another pang of guilt, something which was becoming far too common these past few days. Another hit him as his eyes fell on his brother. He still didn't know. Harry had made no plans to tell him, either, for fear that the doctor might want to come with him too.
He had a feeling being in Asgard would not be very good for a man capable of becoming something like Hulk (there was also this nasty gut feeling he had about it that he had no explanation for). It really wasn't the best thing for anyone involved. Besides that, unlike Moo, Harry knew Bruce would understand, and not be too upset with him for it.
He wondered if his Bruce-phone could work through different dimensions?
A throat cleared, and the joking and calm air vanished. They all looked to Romanoff, who stood there glaring at them like Mum glared at the twins when a prank went too far. She looked a little worn down, circles beneath her eyes marking her tiredness.
"We need to get down to business." She said, voice icy-cold enough to send a chill down Harry's spine. "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can all take a vacation." Oh, if only Harry could be that lucky. They all shifted about uncomfortably under her gaze (even Loki), and grew serious. Harry's eyes fell on Agent Barton, who stood just behind her, dressed in civilian clothes and eyes hidden by dark sunglasses. He smirked at Loki, but didn't come any closer than he was. Something flashed in the god's eyes when he looked at him, something very much like regret. Harry wondered why it seemed that no one else could read Loki. To Harry, his emotions were obvious; though that might have had something to do with his time around Severus, whose expressions often downplayed everything he felt.
He could understand Rogers not seeing it, because he didn't seem like he really 'got' people (Harry was sure there was a story there, but he didn't know it), and Bruce tended to keep his head down and avoid eye-contact with everyone but Harry, Severus, and Moo (and now Tony, who he was strangely comfortable around). But surely Romanoff, and Barton, being Shield agents, had some sort of training for reading people? Tony had to see it. Given that Harry had told him Loki was innocent, and he had been sharp enough to catch onto everything else that was going on. And Harry knew his father, and the twins, and Muhammad saw it, without a doubt.
Not that they really counted, since, once again, they knew.
Yet none of the others seemed to take any notice of Loki, or his regret, or his amusement, except for Harry.
"Okay." Tony clapped his hands together. "Time to get this show on the road." He walked back to his car, and pulled something out of it.
Harry had seen it before. He had, in fact, watched parts of its' construction, but that had been before the Director had given them the tesseract to put in it, so it was his first time seeing that. The device holding it was a somewhat rectangular box. It looked to be constructed of metal and glass, and Harry knew there were wires and various tiny pieces all throughout it, beneath those lengths of metal parts. On either end of it, were two handles, one of which would be able to turn, and activate the thing; hopefully safely transporting whoever was holding it, touching it, or touching whoever was touching it, to Asgard. But it was the tesseract that really caught his attention.
It was shaped like a perfect cube, and blue, the same shade of color as the stone in the scepter, or Loki's eyes when he was still under said stone's control. It glowed, pulsing slightly as though it had a heartbeat; the light swirling about inside it like clouds or water. Harry itched to get a feel for it, but held back. The last two times he had felt something with his magic hadn't turned out how he expected. Between Tony's stupid arc reactor causing him to purr, and Loki's magic complimenting his and making it difficult to be around, he was wary of poking at things again.
Tony carried the large glowing thing over to them, not seeming to struggle with the weight, and handed it to Thor, who nodded down at him.
"Thank you, man of iron."
"No problem point break." Tony looked away from him, and his eyes met Harry's as he, and the others, all stepped back. The twins settled in on either side of him, touching his arms, and he felt Muhammad behind him. He unfurled his glamour-hidden tail from around his waist and wrapped the end around one of the Arab's wrists, getting ready. He and the twins would be fast enough, but he wasn't sure Moo would be.
Tony had told him it would take a short moment to charge, and glow, and that he would need to touch it during that time in order to be dragged along. The twins would try to touch it as well, but as long as they, and Muhammad, were touching him, or Thor, or Loki, then they would make it. Harry tensed, readying himself, and was thankful that no one else seemed to notice. Part of this plan was dependant on no one being able to stop them, since they would only get one shot at this (and he didn't want to think about all the questions and suspicion he would have to face if they tried and failed).
He listened vaguely while everyone said their goodbyes, and met his father's black eyes. He smiled a bit sadly, and the potion master nodded in acknowledgment, his hands tensing into fists at his sides. Beside him, Logan put a hand on his shoulder (quite a feat, considering the differences in their heights), and his hands loosened. Harry had already said goodbye to him the night before, though he wished he could have with Bruce as well, but he just couldn't risk the doctor trying to come with them (he hadn't even told him about Loki's innocence, because he knew him well enough to know Bruce would champion his cause and try to free him). Metis tightened her coils around his shoulders, but was silent, and he took comfort in her presence, hoping the travel would not be bad for her.
Everyone was watching expectantly, and, at Thor's commanding nod, Loki grasped the second handle. Harry readied himself. Just as Romanoff seemed to notice something was up, Thor turned the handle and the four of them dashed forwards. He saw, almost in slow motion, as the red haired agent reached for her gun, and Bruce's eyes widened comically, realizations flashing through them. That blue glow built up, and a split second after Harry's hand slammed down on the top of the device and gripped, holding on tightly to Moo with his tail, the light finally flashed outwards and consumed them.
Harry felt like he was drowning.
He had never, in all his life, felt something so...
It was power. Nothing but power. There was no true feeling associated with the magic of the tesseract beyond that all-encompassing power. It pressed in on him from all sides, stealing away his ability to breathe as gravity increased tenfold on his lungs, and he felt like he was dying.
It hurt, like being crucioed, and he was back in that graveyard with Voldemort looking down on him and cackling, all over again.
He couldn't think beyond the pain, and was only barely aware of the touch of metal beneath one palm, the weight on his shoulders, the hands on his arms, and the person his tail was wrapped around. The power coursed through him without mercy, and, in one instant, just before it ended, he finally understood why the Dark Lord had craved power so deeply.
And he hated himself for it.
But then, it was done, sweet relief filling him as he could finally breath once more, and his knees buckled, his body falling to the floor with painful gasps, bringing the twins and Moo down with him onto a surface that could have been metal or wood. He took in as much air as he could, shaking with pain and something as close to fear as he was able to experience. One of the others, one of the twins, was retching, and the other was breathing as though he was having a panic attack. He couldn't hear Moo at all, but didn't have the capacity to think on it just them. Harry shuddered, curling in on himself and taking comfort in the coldness of metal pressing against his cheek.
He felt hands reach out and lift him, and saw a flash of brown and gold and amber-colored eyes before blissful darkness descended upon him.
His last thought, before everything went black was of the empty place in his mind, where Mitera should have been.
He didn't wake in Asgard, not like he had thought he would. Instead, he awoke in the white world.
It looked like the great hall of Hogwarts this time, the fog making the edges of the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables fade a bit out of his sight from his place in the middle of the room. There was no one there but him, and, with a sort of childishness, he walked upwards to the teacher's table, went around, and sat down in the head chair. He felt, for a small moment, as though McGonagall would pop up out of nowhere, take points away, and serve him with a detention.
He laughed, ducking his head at the ridiculousness of that.
"Enjoying yourself, Black?" He went still, his head coming slowly up and his eyes meeting the eyes of the person suddenly standing before him, on the other side of the table. Red eyes.
"Tom." He didn't look the same, but Harry still knew him instantly. Gone was the bald head and white skin and thin snake-like nostrils. He looked human now, with a handsome face, pale skin, and black hair with the barest tinges of grey on the sides. He looked like Harry thought he would have if he had never made a Horcrux in the first place. He looked like he did in the memory Dumbledore had shown him of the man coming and pining for the DADA job, only older, except... There was something different, besides the age, Harry just couldn't put his finger on what, exactly, it was.
He expected to feel hate, but was touched only by excitement, the memory of their final fight flashing behind his eyes, adrenaline beginning its' path through his veins.
He had to remind himself that Voldemort was already dead, and he wondered how much a dead man could do to him in this place. The excitement didn't falter.
"What do you want?" He asked, wondering in his mind why Hel had let him come here. The Dark Lord smiled at him. It was a dark expression on his face, but not an entirely unpleasant one.
"Just a chat."
"Unless you've suddenly gone mute and deaf, I wouldn't see why that would be a problem." The snark reminded him slightly of his father, and he shifted in the head chair, leaning back in a way that feigned nonchalance; but his blood was still pumping, and he was still all too ready to leap out of his seat at a moment's notice.
"About what, exactly?" The dead Dark Lord didn't answer him at first, but instead sat himself down calmly at the end of the Ravenclaw table. He waved a hand at the seat across from him, and looked at Harry expectantly. Something in his gaze spoke of a challenge, and Harry, interested in spite of himself, got to his feet, wandered over, and sat down on the bench facing him; answering that challenge.
"There's a few things." He started, sounding surprisingly civil. "But to start, I wanted to thank you." Harry froze, unmoving as a statue, the shock of those words binding him in place more effectively than a spell. It was the last thing he had expected Voldemort to say.
"I... Excuse me?" Voldemort let out a dark chuckle at his bewilderment and smirked at him.
"When I lived," He explained. "There was nothing I feared more than death. I wished so deeply to escape it, no matter the cost, that I did something of the utmost foolishness."
"The horcruxes?" He dipped his head.
"At the time, the word soul meant very little to me. It was just a word, and I did not believe there was anything to concern myself with. I expected no change in myself when I made them. Yet with each and every horcrux I lost my sanity more and more until I was no longer capable of holding on to my original goals. I always wanted power, you see. That, and revenge against my father and his family, which I got, but working towards the destruction of muggleborns had not been part of that. I was not against killing, you see, nor torture, but there is no benefit to such mass destruction and death. It was all but pointless, only I was already too far gone once I started to be able to see that."
"So you're thanking me... For destroying them?"
"And for killing me, also. It allowed her highness to put my soul back together, and make me whole again, better than I was before even, now that I am not afflicted with the flaws of my body." Harry frowned, wary.
"My inability to feel empathy, my sadism, and, your blood." Harry was confused again.
"What?" His blood? The Dark Lord rolled his eyes, and Harry's nearly popped out of his skull in surprise. It was such a human gesture; one he had never before imagined Voldemort to even be capable of.
"The brain is part of the body, and so any problems it has, are flaws of the body, but one's soul, removed from said body, is no longer bound by those flaws. A man who is insane while he lives, is no longer insane once he has died." And Harry finally understood what was else was different. Tom Riddle, even as a child, had always had a cruel glint in his eye; a shine of the evil inside him.
But the man before him now, had no such thing. His eyes were red, yes, but no longer cruel; no longer evil. The adrenaline began to slip away. He calmed, and nodded sharply.
"You're welcome." Voldemort- No, he supposed he'd just think of him as Tom- smiled a small, almost sad smile at him.
"I also wanted to apologize. I may not have been sane when I did it, but there were many people I took from you, and I'm sorry for that." Harry shrugged.
"Well, I have the ring now, so I can see them whenever I want. It's almost like they're not gone at all, so there's no reason for me to be angry with you for it." He wasn't entirely sure how true his words were, but they came out anyways; as close to forgiveness as Harry was willing to offer. He paused. "Was that all you wanted to say?" Changed or no, he wasn't exactly pleased at the thought of being stuck talking to the man who had been responsible for most of the hell in his life. Tom sighed and looked away, his eyes landing solidly on something and making Harry turn his head to see.
He was abnormally disconcerted at the sight of Hel, standing quietly a few feet away. Something was wrong, and he couldn't quite pinpoint what it was until he looked back at Tom and felt his stomach drop.
Every time he had wound up in this place, Hel had only appeared once whoever was visiting him had left. They would always look up like they could hear something he couldn't, and he would blink or look down and then they would be gone and she would be there. But she was there now.
And Tom still was too.
"What's going on?" He directed his question at Lady Death, his voice sharper than he had meant, feeling wary. Something was wrong here, and he didn't know what it was. Hel walked towards them, and when she came close ran a hand through his hair as usual; but it was different somehow. There was something-
It typically felt like a calming gesture, but today it made him feel as though she were pitying him. It was almost a patronizing gesture. His eyes narrowed suspiciously at her, and she dropped her hand. She knew him well enough by this point to get on with it, and explain then rather than drag it out.
"I have, until now, been trying to work out all the... Requirements and consequences of your title as Master of Death. You know this." He nodded slowly, uncertainly. "I never did so before, because I did not believe anyone would ever take on the title, and I have had some difficulties up to this point because I was not as familiar with my predecessor's magic as I had once been. But I finally understand. He created the title, I think, initially, as either a way to find a successor, something that became a moot point once he found me, or as a way of gaining a partner."
"Either someone who would rule beside him, or perhaps a spouse, I'm uncertain. At this point, it doesn't matter. I am more concerned with the ways in which the title affects the both of us." He didn't like where this was going. "I have managed to... Alter some parts of it. I cannot take you by any unnatural death. You will live until your body has simply grown too old and weary to keep you."
"I'll die of old age?" She nodded and he tilted his head. He had imagined his own death a time or two, but no matter what his mother had said on the matter, he had always thought he would die in a battle or something, not because he was old. "I guess that doesn't sound so bad." Except that her expression- "There's more, isn't there?"
"I have been able to change it enough that you are not immortal, but his magic is too strong for me to allow you a normal lifespan."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that you will outlive nearly all those you know. I am not yet certain how long it shall be." He took a breath, far from pleased, but... She had tried, and at least he wouldn't live forever. That was more than he had expected. No matter what he had hoped for, some part of him had been concerned (would have been terrified, he thought, were he able) that he would be trapped living forever. "And, by right-" She paused. "By right, for so long as you live, whether you choose to act on your power or not, you are labelled as King of Niflheim." He stared at her in silence, for several long moments, before that sunk in.
"King?" She nodded sharply. "I'm not- I can't- what does- If I choose to act on it?" He latched onto that piece, and the tiny amount of hope it allotted him.
"You may, if you desire, treat the title as nothing more than a word, you do not ha-"
"Let's do that then." He nodded several times in quick succession, his heart, which had begun pounding in his chest, slowing some. She and Tom (who was still there, and why was that exactly?) shared a look. "What now?"
"You may wish to, not act on the title, but behave as though you do, at least so long as you are in Asgard."
"I beg your pardon?"
Awareness returned to him in pieces. It was a strange thing, a new experience, and he wasn't sure he liked it any better than waking up all at once. His senses came to him one by one, in degrees, and Harry took in the stimulus they offered him greedily.
First was smell. It was his most powerful sense, and he analyzed what it gave him with what little thought he could, as his mind was still foggy and his thoughts still sluggish. Wherever he was smelt like apples and cheesecloth, linens and wood, metal and a slightly spicy scent he associated with medical potions.
He determined he was in some sort of medical place, and there was a period of time, before his next sense returned (it could have been seconds or hours), where he convinced himself he was back at Hogwarts, and would soon be fending off Madam Pomfrey.
The next sense to come back was feeling, and that was when he realized he was somewhere else, his thoughts slowly growing clearer. He could feel that he was wrapped up in silky sheets, with something very very soft beneath him. The medical beds at Hogwarts had never been this comfortable. He managed to clench his fingers around a piece of the silky cloth, and it felt to him, like solid water. It was of a higher quality than anything he was accustomed to.
Finally, sound came to him, and, though he still couldn't move, he could think better. He could hear faint sounds of breathing, and shifting cloth, and a sort of clink that reminded him of his armor. There were footsteps, light ones, and he was conscious of light being blocked out as someone leaned over him. They put fingers to his neck, feeling his pulse, and then fluffed a pillow that lay beneath his head.
Somewhere, a door opened, and heavier footsteps, multiple ones, sounded out. There were at least three people entering the room, one of them stood out, their footsteps especially heavy. The lighter-stepping person moved a bit away from him. The heavy stepper came near, the other two stopping at a short distance.
"Have any of them woken?" It was a man, his voice deep, and clear. His words were enunciated clearly in a manner that reminded Harry a little of his father's unique speech.
"Not yet. This man should wake soon, and the other two have stirred occasionally. They've been calmer since we put them closer together." The second voice was feminine in nature. Soft and light, but strong in tone, like a bell. Some part of him noted that she was only talking about three people, but four of them had come through the portal-
"How soon will he rise?"
"It should only be a few moments."
"Very well." The heavy stepper came closer to him just as he managed to open his eyes for the first time. He hissed, baring his teeth as he was blinded by light. There was a snap, and the room became darker. Harry opened his eyes to slits this time, adjusting to the lowered light, before he opened them all the way. He moved to sit up, and, rather than be pushed back down, as Madam Pomfrey would have done, a woman dressed in a light green robe of a strange style came and helped him sit up. She pulled back once he had settled himself indian-style on the bed.
The wizard looked up, and beheld the man who had spoken.
He was old, with white hair, which, while long enough to reach his shoulders, was swept back. It reminded him a little of Draco, back in first year. He had a well-kept beard and mustache, and a single blue eye, the other covered by a gold piece of metal. He wore armor, and a sort of cape, much like Thor's, but in a darker shade.
Harry knew him at once, recognizing him from Loki's memories.
"King Odin." The king dipped his head.
"King Black." He said in turn, and Harry, head held high and eyes hard as his memories came fully back to him, grit his teeth, and nodded.
So I hope you all enjoyed the chapter! I'll see you all soon, but for now, goodbye!