Disclaimer: I reserve no rights to anything except perhaps the plot.

A/N: As a brief synopsis of how this will operate, the Earth of Harry Potter and The Avengers are not the same Earth-they vibrate at different frequencies, exist on different strings, not quite parallel to each other. Superheroes do not exist on the Earth of Harry Potter; there are no wizards in the world of The Avengers, or at the very least, not on Midgard. There are no Nine Realms in Harry Potter-most of the pagan gods are suspected or known to be ancient wizards manipulating Muggles for their own purposes. The theory I would put forward to explain this lack of other realm is that rather than expanding outward into multiple realms, all realms and all the life they would have supported was compressed into a single realm, thereby giving a plausible theory to the rich diversity of magical species and intelligent life on par with that of humans that makes their home on Potterverse Earth.

At some point in their societal development, wizards voluntarily arrested the development of their magic, effectively hamstringing themselves. After all, this was before the advent of nuclear weapons, so wizards could have potentially subdued the rest of humanity but did not. In view of this, magic will be treated slightly differently from what it is in the novels, to meld more seamlessly into the other world, because I am viewing this is a superhero fic rather than magical realism. Be prepared for characters who are accordingly outside the normal mode, power-wise, but if people can still seriously write Superman fiction, then I think I might be able to manage to sufficiently challenge two over-powered wizards.

There are chapters from both Harry and Loki's POV, but TRuS tends toward being Hermione-centric.

To Ride Upon Svadilfari

-Chapter One-

Insouciance At The Chandrasekhar Limit

Hermione had once lived in a world in which magic dwelled only in books, but from the moment she first stepped foot onto Hogwarts' worn flagstones it had become an integral part of her life. It wasn't a tool, to be picked up and put down as she liked; it was a limb, a sense, an extension of herself. Magic was the act of exerting one's will over reality-great wizards lacked logic because magic defied it. The law of conservation of matter would have become a jest if wizards had learned of it. Power and will trumped physics. Space was folded by schoolchildren, masters of their art could conjure and fix objects from nothing, objects could be Banished and retrieved from thin air by housewitches doing their weekly shopping.

But like all wonder, one becomes numb to it through long exposure. Hermione no longer found it odd, strange, or even remarkable that she could store in her handbag a library, the equipment and ingredients for a basic potions laboratory, and whatever else lingering paranoia from the war might cause her to keep at hand. As well as all her money-Gringotts' had banned her from their halls for the next fifty years, even if her act of theft had saved them from being enslaved by a Dark Lord.

She had stood on battlefields of some kind or another since she was eleven years old; the official end of the war did nothing to change that. Hermione had entered the Department for the Regulation of Magical Creatures only briefly before she transferred to the department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry had prevailed over her good sense and seen her in the ranks of the Aurors before first she, then Harry, was pulled to a permanent position on a Hit Wizard squad that was part of an international cooperative that allowed them to hunt dark wizards that had originated in the United Kingdom throughout most of the world. Local Ministries or the equivalent provided basic support services, such as Obliviation of Muggles, which was a courtesy returned when their operatives were in the U.K.

None of their targets was as dangerous-or as near-immortal-as Voldemort, but sometimes Hermione suspected that if they had received the training and conditioning they received as Hit Wizards, it would have made the war a far different experience. Indeed, she sometimes wondered about the spectacular inefficiency of the Ministry during that period, which had allowed the outcome of a war that had begun to spread beyond the borders of their island to rest in the hands of schoolchildren.

Admittedly, Hermione had been cleverer and better-read on Horcruxes at seventeen than most M.L.E. officers going into retirement and Harry as stalwart and self-sacrificing as the hero of a chanson de geste, but he was just as hot-tempered and near-sighted then as one of those doomed men and she had been just one girl, fumbling to assume the role that Dumbledore had failed to groom her properly for. Wielding the boy-weapon that he had raised, with tenderness and cruel inaction by turns, for over seventeen years.

Hermione could not and would never condone what he had done, but she understood his actions. She, too, had a certain innate practicality, a deeply ruthless streak that was willing to compromise the morals she drilled into others if it achieved her ends. They were of the same cloth, he and she, masterminds, field marshalls, rational to the core-but Harry was to her, of a kind, what Grindelwald had been to Dumbledore.

Being forced to turn his wand against the man with whom he'd once shared a vision for the future of their very world had broken something in Dumbledore; Hermione still possessed it, that indefinable quality that reminded her that the world was not an immensely complex chess set and people's lives were not some long game. Harry was her dearest friend, a brother in all but blood, and for him-to protect him from himself and others-she would move heaven and earth, but she never forgot that other people were as real as he was, that they had their own motives, desires, and realities.

She was only twenty-nine years old, but she had fought dark wizards across Europe and Australia, seen, cast, and combated magic that the general Wizarding populace wasn't aware existed, and she was joint Secret Keeper to the three Deathly Hallows, holder of one of them though it still it obeyed Harry far more willingly than she. Of her generation, she was the most powerful witch; her estimated lifespan was measured in centuries so long as her magic remained strong and vital. But while the extended lifespan might seen remarkable to a Muggleborn, purebloods accepted it as a matter-of-course. Molly Weasley had relatives on her mother's side nearing two hundred and no one seemed to do more than complain that it might be another ten years or more before they saw the first glimmer of an inheritance. Only Harry himself would outlive her, if he managed to make it safely to retirement.

That possibility looked ever more unlikely at the moment.

"Dragons," Harry hissed beneath his breath. "Of course there would be dragons."

Hermione frowned tightly but didn't respond to his statement, her concentration focused on analyzing their potential route of entry into the subterranean hoard of banned magical artifacts, which at that moment was also playing host to their target.

They were nearer to Muggle habitation than she was comfortable with, for their target had somehow induced Hungarian Horntails to guard his trove. Two females, half-grown, and the largest male of their species she'd ever seen, almost as big as a female.

"Hermione," Harry murmured. "What's the plan?"

"For now," she said irritably, "it's not to get incinerated. Be quiet a moment, Harry."

Harry rolled his eyes, but some of the restlessness eased from his posture. They had made the mistake of Apparating in almost on top of the nest earlier this morning, but while they might have been able to use short-distance Apparation to out-maneuver a single dragon, three dragons equaled some seventeen points of potential attack at a minimum, presuming they didn't simply try to crush them.

They were observing from a distance, using the Omnioculars Harry had purchased for them at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup, but at the moment no brilliant plan was presenting itself. The dampness in the air was solidifying into a steady, irritating drizzle. With a muttered spell, Hermione warded the rain from her clothing, skin, and hair. Out of habit, she did the same for Harry. "We could starve him out," she muttered.

Harry scoffed quietly. "Have you seen the list of they think he's got in that vault? Three dragons, one dark wizard, and a whole host of nasty magical artifacts at his disposal. If we drive him into a corner where he thinks there's no escape, his desperation will work against us."

Hermione hummed thoughtfully. "Three Hungarian Horntails. How in the world did he raise them without someone noticing?"

"The same way dark wizards raise basilisks and cockatrices. Very carefully."

"Funny," Hermione remarked dryly. "When you have something to contribute to this conversation, please, speak again."

"And why would I do that?"

"Technically, you're team leader. You ought to be good for something."

"Given that I'm usually given marching orders by you as to where I'm leading and what I should be doing when I get to where I should be leading us to, I think my primary function is decorative."

Hermione glanced at him askance and he grinned broadly at her briefly before directing his gaze back through his Omnioculars. "More seriously though," he said a moment later, "did you see the list?"

"Yes, Harry, I saw the list." A list daunting in scope and length; besides being a mass-murderer, the primary was also a world-class collector and hoarder of magical objects.

"And you saw the Anvil on it?"

"Harry," she said irritably, "the Anvil of Worlds is a myth. And even if it isn't, he isn't going to choose today of all days to discover how to sunder the world-whatever that even means in practical terms-or forge monsters or what have you. It's a children's story."

"So are the Tales of Beedle the Bard."

Hermione went quiet for a long moment at that. "Suppose you're right, Harry. That Excalibur was sheathed not in a rock, but in the anvil it was forged upon. And that that anvil held the potential to do something extraordinarily. In this case, 'sunder worlds,' which is threatening but vague. And as for forging monsters, Hagrid is capable of that."

"Because all threats are more reassuring when they are specific," Harry quipped. "And I still shudder to this of Blast-Ended Skrewts. What would happen if someone did that intentionally? Or, well, maliciously?"

Hermione didn't even need to look over to tap him harder than perhaps necessary upside the head.

He snorted laughter as he pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

"Think of it this way, Harry," she said, "If no one-not even Merlin himself-has discovered how to harness the power of the Anvil or even use it for its intended purpose, why would this wizard be any different? If I was to worry about anything on that list, I'd choose Morgan's Heart or the Mirror of Viviane. He could be watching us through the latter even now. In Tahiti, sipping a drink on a picturesque beach, rather than in that vault."

Harry scowled at the reminder of the legendary mirror, which removed one of the major barriers of Apparation, the need to be able to visualize one's destination. It was the most powerful scrying tool to have survived the Middle Ages-the goblins had been systematically destroying every artifact they could lay hands on until someone had talked to someone else and realized more than their own family heirloom had gone missing. "More than the dragons, I'm curious how he managed to collect all these artifacts without someone noticing. If not us, dark wizards do a pretty good job on their own of making sure nobody claims all the good toys to play with. But the Red Hands of the Morrigan? The Harp of Sweet Harm? Badb's Hood? And that's without mentioning the weapons. Luin of Celtchar? Dyrwyn? Fragarach? Caladbolg?"

"Our target is a scrawny little rat of a man. He wouldn't even be able to lift Caladbolg, let alone wield it. The same goes for the Luin of Celtchar. And you know that Dyrwyn is a sentient weapon that judges its wielder. And, honestly, Harry? Except for maybe Caladbolg, the Killing Curse is more dangerous to us."

"Fragarach can't be blocked either," Harry protested.

"In that case," Hermione retorted dryly, "if we see him exit his little bolt hole with a weapon in hand, we'll curse him before he can even think of using it. Magical weapons are antiquated."

"I'll have you know that the antiquated Sword of Gryffindor was very useful, thank you very much."

"Yes it was, but if it's all the same to you, Harry, I think I prefer that I not be close enough to the enemy to make use of them."

"What kind of Gryffindor are you? We lions pride ourselves on our boldness in battle," he challenged playfully.

"I'm not a lion," Hermione said, her lips twitching upwards faintly. "I'm a chimaera of sorts-the courage of a Gryffindor, the cleverness of a Slytherin, and the sheer intelligence of a Ravenclaw. I'm nigh unbeatable."

Harry snickered. "I've always thought that wings would have been a sight more useful to them than goat's horns, but I suppose dragons have the monopoly on fire-breathing flight. I notice you've left Hufflepuff out."

"I'm not quite forgiving enough to be a Hufflepuff," Hermione said, a hint of wistfulness in her voice. "I just don't have their sheer faith in people's goodness. Which is why I am here, crouched in the rain, rather than still employed in the Being Division."

Harry nudged her shoulder in a companionable manner. "I think you underestimate yourself. Or overestimate Hufflepuffs."

"And what about you?"

"Me? Nowadays I can't even imagine why the Hat even thought about sorting me into Slytherin. Playing politics is a pain in the ass and rather than 'proving myself' the way most people think of it, I think I spent more time in school proving to people that I was a real person rather than this Prophesied Savior nonsense."

"Your bitterness is showing. But you do have that essential Slytherin proclivity for slithering out of trouble at the last moment."

"So lion and snake? What's that make? A dragon?"

"Now who's flattering themselves? But, why not? Harry Potter, the Dragon of Gryffindor. It has a certain heroic sound to it."

Silence stretched between them for a long moment before Harry prodded her gently with his elbow. "It's your turn to make conversation."

"Forgive me. My well of witty banter has run dry," Hermione said with the slightest touch of asperity. "Can I admit to nostalgia for our first missions together?"

"You mean the ones where we were all grim, dour, and serious throughout the whole thing?"

"Those would be the ones."

"If we were still grim about the whole thing after, what, seven or eight years of doing this professionally, we'd have turned into Mad-Eye Moody by this point. Constant vigilance!"

"The fact that he's paranoid and more than a little insane doesn't mean he didn't have a point."

"Right," Harry drawled. "If Moody had a point, seventy percent of the wizarding world would be missing at least one buttock by now."

"A point, Harry," Hermione stressed, "not all points. You know, if he is watching us through the Mirror of Viviane, our inane conversation might drive him out to kill us from sheer self-preservation."

"Oh? I don't think we're quite that bad. Or was that intended as a hint for me?"

"I do occasionally appreciate some professionalism from my partners."

"I have the best record in the department. Period. Just because I'm not an asshole doesn't make me less of a professional. Though I have noticed you have a weakness for them."

"I'll tell Ron you said that," Hermione responded lightly.

"Tell Ron that and I'll tell him I know that because I've seen you eying men who aren't him. He'll throw a tantrum for weeks."

"Tell Ron that and I'll tell Ginny that you let that big-breasted witch we caught in Norway assault you."

"That would just be mean," Harry complained.

"You threatened to rock Ron's tiny little world. I'm just repaying the favor in kind."

Harry scowled at her. "If you mocked him any less, I wouldn't know you loved him."

"He's an overgrown child. But I do love him," Hermione acknowledged easily. "I'm just not blind to his faults."

"Is that why you refuse to have children?" Harry asked carefully.

"That would be because he is blind to my wants. But I can't blame him entirely for that. I never told him I didn't want children, so I assume he thought that I did."

"Can I ask why you don't want children?" Harry said after a significant pause.

"This is a little more serious than our usual mission banter."

Harry ignored the deflection. "Humor me."

"Harry, I loved my parents. And they loved me. But they were both professionals with full and busy lives of their own. Even when we all lived in the same house, we all were occupied by our own hobbies and interests. It wasn't like the Burrow, where you're always tripping over someone and living in each other's pockets. It wasn't as hard as it should have been to erase their memories and send them away."

"And you think any child you raise would feel the same way?" Harry asked skeptically.

"Well, no. But, Harry, I don't want to give up what I have now. I'm not prepared to make the kind of investment parenting really deserves. I love the ability to take missions as I like, to chase rare books across the continent, to scream at Ron when I'm angry. I've already come closer to immortality than most people, Harry. I've translated the Tales, made my reputation as an Arithmancer of unparalleled accuracy, written and enforced laws that will slowly change even the way Wizards think about other Beings. I won't be forgotten. And I want to think of that as my legacy."

"So you see ideas as something as precious as children?"

"If they're ideas that can improve our world? That can make it better, nobler, kinder? Yes, Harry. I think they're as precious as children."

"I can't pretend that I agree with that, but..."

"I answered your question, Harry."

He shifted and the sound of spelled leather moving with him helped to root Hermione in the immediacy of their current task, rather than contemplating the fact that Ron had asked Harry of all people to bring this up. For a Gryffindor, she thought acerbically, you're a coward when it counts, Ronald Weasley. Not that she was looking forward to the conversation with Ron himself, as it would doubtless result in another of the cold wars that plagued their relationship, but so long as she didn't compare it to the irritatingly blissful marriage of Harry and Ginny, she didn't feel anything like remorse having married him.

Ronald Weasley was a man of deep flaws, but also deep and redeeming strengths. He was felt everything more deeply than Hermione did, which meant when he loved, he invested himself in it completely. He didn't understand everything that delighted Hermione, but he tried his best to please her and make her happy, and that was all one person could really ask of another.

In return, she pretended interest in Quidditch, though the only Wizarding sport that did anything for her was Granian racing. Though she would never be comfortable flying on a broom, she had found that riding the odd Aethonan peaceful enough, though Harry, for her twenty-eighth birthday, had arranged for her to ride a retired Granian. The sensation was quite different from being mounted on a broomstick and Hermione had known, from the moment she had settled into the high-cantled saddle, that she would never forget the feeling so long as she lived.

In a few years, she'd have to surrender at least part of Harry's time, as once Ginny reached the peak of her Quidditch career, she intended to retire and devote herself to becoming the kind of mother-goddess figure that her own mother embodied. So, while Ginny was busy traveling to matches and Ron worked regular hours at the shop, Harry and she were left to their own devices when they weren't on call or on assignment.

So Hermione took riding lessons, joined in on the Auror Department's Dueling Club's weekly matches even once she was reassigned, and spent more money than was really practical on books that she'd seen in bibliographies that set her scholarly soul aflame with lust. Harry joined an amateur Quidditch league, competed as her partner in the dueling club, and volunteered at the orphanage for magical children that he'd created. Together, they had sailed in a flying bireme across the Mediterranean, engaged and been beaten in an international riddling contest, and took a course on enchanted jewels-Ginny's diamond-and-emerald wedding band might have been goblin-made, but its protection wards had been crafted by Harry's own magic.

After what Ron referred to snidely as the Starving Year, they had all made an unspoken pact of sorts, to live the fullest lives they possibly could. Because they knew all too well that darkness and want pressed in on all sides; Harry and she combated it both passively by living with joy and actively by hunting out men who mistook their magic for godhood.

They were not Aurors; they did not capture dark wizards in order to send them on to the tender mercies of Azkaban. Hit Wizards hunted only men deemed too dangerous to live even without their souls.

Today's target had killed in the name of wealth, compacting the life force of Muggles into rubies that granted a period of youth equal to the number of years the Muggles had left of their natural lifespan. Smelt had made a fortune selling those rubies to Wizards whose natural magic was weak and whose lifespan was almost Muggle-short because of that or to purebloods whose magic was powerful enough to grant them centuries but had desired continued youth well past when they should be gracefully transitioning to middle age or hoary wisdom.

He had one of the largest body counts Hermione had ever heard attributed to a single person, having preyed on the invisible-some one hundred and sixty individuals. If he had kept himself to killing Muggles, it would have been Aurors who handed him over to be Kissed, but he had recently escalated. Squib children had been vanishing, eight of them in total.

"Perhaps the usual?" Hermione asked when nothing about the situation had changed after an hour, casting a subtle warming charm as she did so. Though the warding protected her from the rain, it did little for the damp chill. She and Harry both wore variations of the standard Hit Wizard uniform, which had enough magic etched into the leather to keep her quite comfortable in the subartic or on the rim of an active volcano, but her exposed fingers and her nose were vulnerable to the weather.

Harry frowned thoughtfully. "Eventually we have to try something," he muttered.

"We could send word for the rest of the team."

"So that we can all sit around and make conversation?" he scoffed. "Unless you want to send for a team of dragon specialists, the only thing more of us will do is make more noise and create more targets. Besides, some secrets," Harry said, his voice lowering to a volume just barely auditory, "are best kept between us."

What he didn't voice aloud was the nature of their 'usual' method of attack. Gone were the days of rushing in recklessly, brandishing their wands at every shadow. They had lost too many good men and women that way, even if it continued to be official Ministry policy. Hit Wizards were given more autonomy than their Auror counterparts and most squads made use of that freedom to the point just short of official reprimand. And if Harry and Hermione's twist on that freedom was a few steps beyond even that, well, there had to be some use in being war heroes on a first-name basis with the Minister.

Some time after the end of the war and perhaps a few fairytales the wiser, Hermione had decided that leaving a relic of the power of the Resurrection Stone in a forest for man or beast to find wasn't the wisest course of action. Harry had been reluctant at first, but when she explained her fears, he'd helped her to locate the Stone. Then, one bright morning, they had brought together the three Hallows and made an Oath they would keep until their death, and if the magic proved strong enough, perhaps beyond it as well, cloaking them in the magic of Secret-Keeping. The Deathly Hallows would return to being nothing more than legend.

But for now, they were useful tools, wielded wisely and with discretion.

The normal mode of approach for them used the same method of distraction that Muggle magicians utilized to conceal their slight-of-hand. Armed with the Elder Wand and concealed beneath the Cloak, Hermione would slip close while Harry approached in the open, his powerful magic and his reputation forcing their target to keep their attention focused on him, lest the bared sword end their life before the hidden dagger had an opportunity.

Harry pressed the odd, knobbly stick-somewhat undignified to be a weapon of power-into her hand. Hermione sheathed her own wand in the holster along her left forearm. A dragon heartstring core paired with oak, it had the same smooth, finished look to it her first wand had possessed, though the curling leaves had been replaced by a knot work pattern. Sometimes, she thought she glimpsed runes interspersed in the design, but closer inspection always revealed it to be a trick of the mind.

The Elder Wand thrummed in her hand, warming to her touch. Her relationship with the wand was one of partnership rather than mastery, so its full potential was hidden to Hermione; however, the limited power it was willing to offer her had always more than sufficed. Hermione dismissed her warding and warming charms, tamping down on the magic in her clothing so that it wouldn't interfere with her concealment charm.

The Cloak could hide one from even death, but it had a peculiar weakness; movements underneath the Cloak weren't silent and she wasn't about to be eaten because it did nothing to stop her from leaving footprints and the like. When she had erased as much evidence of her existence as she could, she silently accepted the proffered Cloak, the silky material falling like water down her shoulders. Unlike the Wand, she thought of the Cloak as an old friend, more reassuring than any child's security blanket.

Harry sent her off toward the dragons with an off-hand salute, while Hermione walked-crouching was redundant under a cloak of invisibility-straight toward the entrance they'd noted in their abortive attempt earlier in the day. Oh, for a world without anti-Apparation barriers, Hermione thought, keeping her eyes trained on the dragons.

Harry would lure them away before he made his own approach; it was never profitable to leave a potential enemy at one's back.

As she thought that, she heard the sky come alive with conjured or transfigured crows, cawing raucously as they descended on the dragons. The bird's claws and beaks scraped along the scales, but found purchase in softer, unguarded areas. Roaring with outrage more than pain, the dragons began breathing fire, great blazing streams of it.

She was nearly trampled, but twisted out of the way in time to avoid a clawed foot, finding herself in the shallow stairwell that led down into the earth. Working quickly, she cast the standard course of spells designed to unlock or open. Finding none that worked, suspecting blood magic, she opened a tunnel about fifteen feet to the right of the door-very few people had the time or magic to reinforce their bolt holes so that they were secure from every approach, instead concentrating on Apparation points and obvious entries such as doors and windows.

The dragons didn't appear to have noticed and there was no surge of malignant magic, so she proceeded to manipulate the stone that formed an interior wall, transfiguring it into sand. Gauging that she'd made a wide enough breach, she moved swiftly toward her entrance, tapping Harry's bicep as she swept past him. A moment later, his searching hand settled on her forearm, leaving both her hands free.

The sand gave way easily and they both were inside before any of the dragons noticed anything amiss, though Hermione hastily restored the wall, her makeshift door obvious to anyone who happened to glance at the stone.

Harry took point once they were inside. The bolt hole was just that, a small warren of rooms surrounding a central chamber, with all the magical pitfalls and trip wires that any aspiring megalomaniac could dream of. Harry had a sense for these sort of things, uncrafting in moments what others would take long minutes to unravel.

When a particularly clever disemboweling hex shriveled into nothing more than memory, Harry placed his hand flat against the door to the central room, closing his bottle-green eyes in concentration.

The door exploded beneath his hand, brilliant red light razing like the cracks in parched earth across the door a moment before it shattered.

Harry stepped inside and Hermione was his invisible shadow, careful to follow as exactly in his footprints as she could. Her eyes took in the room, heaped with treasure, the Anvil in the center of it all like an altar. Some pieces she recognized by their description. There, in the far corner, was the Luin of Celtchar, its flames quenched and controlled by the cauldron of water it stood in. Propping in another corner, as if it were nothing more than a walking stick, was Dyrwym. Gemstones, some as big as her fist, littered the floor like scattered children's toys.

All these treasures in one place made the man seem even smaller than he was, which was a feat considering that Allen Smelt was shorter than either Harry or Hermione, his body thin and wasted, his movements nervous. But his expression was alive with hate. "I was hoping they would send you," he snarled at Harry.

"Why?" Harry asked, though he didn't put much energy into making it sound as if it was a sincere question. "Did you really think that you'd have a better chance against me than someone else? I have to admit, that'd be a new response to seeing me. A little deranged, maybe, but with your record, I guess that'd be par the course."

The man sneered. "It's you and people like you that are weakening our magic. Hundreds of years ago, no one would have flinched at making animals serve a higher purpose beyond breeding and making war on themselves."

"...right. Well, about that, the Ministry would rather wizards didn't harm nonmagical humans."

"The Ministry is nothing but a nest of bumbling fools eager to please the public by adopting any soft-hearted sentiment that passes by them," Smelt accused. "Animal rights has become popular, but that does not make it right. They cannot even leave behind ghosts; they have no more souls than toads do. And I don't appreciate being told how to think."

"Oh, I get the bit about being told what to think. But," Harry shrugged. "I'm not a mass murderer. And I'm not really here to hear your motives. I'll hand over your brain to the Unspeakables and they'll do their bit after you're dead."

Hermione had managed to flank Smelt without notice, though she did not put herself opposite Harry. Elder Wand extended, she waited for Harry's signal. Despite the fact they would be handing Smelt's brain over, it was always good policy to at least attempt a rudimentary questioning concerning accomplices, because there were various Oaths and wards that could prevent the Unspeakables from accessing that information while the other wizards yet lived.

Smelt didn't seem frightened of Harry's casual death threat. Instead, he seemed pleased by it, if anything, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a fierce caricature of a smile. "Oh, I know the punishment. Nothing lasts forever. But to have you here is more than I could have hoped for."

He moved and Hermione assumed he was drawing his wand and a curse built on her tongue-and froze there. It was as if time itself crystallized and drew to a halt. Smelt struggled to lift something that had been hidden in the folds of his cloak. A hammer. "Did you know that this Anvil can combine separate elements of any kind or complexity?" he asked rhetorically. "I discovered it when I was first learning to forge animals into something useful. Men with beasts. Men with metal. Even wizards with other wizards," he said, his voice softening into an odd croon as he said the last.

He produced something from his cloak then, something that glittered as brightly as a star. "Six wizards in their prime to make this. It's a pity that I will never get to name it. It is my life's masterpiece. And this room contains my life's collection of dark artifacts; even if you should survive, Harry Potter, it would only be as a monster. Who will be the hero then?" Smelt asked snidely, placing the glittering, crystallized life force on the center of the Anvil. "I'm looking forward to seeing the great, noble Harry Potter fall-along with that mudblood whore hiding behind my back."

With a great heaving breath, Smelt brought the hammer above his head in a great arc, then down, down, down it came.

And everything shattered, as if it were glass.

A/N: Some of the magical items mentioned in this chapter are the product of my imagination, but most of the weapons are from Irish or Anglo-Saxon mythology. Even the ones from my imagination are gleaned from the properties of mythological figures, such of the Morrigan or Badb, which are Irish deities of battle, and Morgan le Fay, a sorceress from the Arthurian cycle. The one common theme in superhero movies seems to be the gadgets, whether magical or the product of advanced science. It's all in the name of putting our favorite wizards in the mode of the superhero genre.