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Holly Potter and the Midlife Crisis

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Holly pulled at the ugly pink smock, she still wasn’t used to the uniform for her job even after three months. Three months of work that reminded her of the Dursleys in a way that was much more annoying than it was terrifying. The only reason she didn’t quit this job was really because it was the only one she could get in the muggle world. As it turned out having to stop a muggle education at age 11 did not qualify her for much more than being a cleaning lady.

It wasn’t even bad work. She worked for a reputable company based in New York City. They were hired by companies who needed buildings cleaned by people who had spotless backgrounds and some kind of security clearance. Which, at the very least, made the work interesting. She helped clean government buildings, research and development departments, and CEO offices. All of her coworkers had gone through rigorous background checks and everyone was randomly tested to make sure they weren’t taking anything they weren’t supposed to.

To make sure that no one stole any classified stock information, the cleaning crew was paid very very well. Much better than any other job of a similar type would dream of paying. Holly didn’t necessarily need the money, she had plenty of it in Gringotts, but there was something satisfying about living on money she earned rather than money she’d inherited. The pay was enough to cover her tiny apartment in New York that was way more expensive than it had to be as well as all of her other expenses. She wasn’t able to eat out every night but magic made cooking rather easy anyway.

In all within three months she’d grown used to the work and the lifestyle she’d set up for herself in the muggle world. One might ask why Holly Potter of all people was working as a cleaning lady. She’d been offered lucrative positions all over the world. She could have been an auror for the British, on the wizengamot, hell she could have even just sat on her laurels and been praised for the rest of her life. After nearly 10 years of dedicated service to the wizarding world she could have been anything she wanted.

That was the problem, the 28 year old witch didn’t know what she wanted. Her entire childhood and adolescence had been shaped by Voldemort and the war. If Dumbledore’s plan had gone through completely she would have died at the end of the war and it wouldn’t have mattered what career aspirations she had. But it hadn’t. When the war ended when she was 17, Holly did the only thing she knew how to do. She kept fighting.

She and her friends started capturing Death Eaters, rebuilding Hogwarts, and reclaiming the corrupt ministry. Holly made it her life mission to remove the taint of Voldemort from the world. She had all of her friends from the DA to help at first but as the years went on many of them gotten married and settled down. She didn’t begrudge them that. Ron and Hermione stuck with her the longest but eventually the siren call of domesticity pulled them away.

The wedding had been beautiful. Traveling to the United States right after to start Death Eater hunting there by herself had been less so. But she managed. She got really really good at it. By the time she was done the British Ministry had been completely cleaned up and dozens of laws rewritten to ensure corruption didn’t return so easily. All Death Eaters were convicted and punished depending on the severity of their crimes. She did all of this and the world loved her for it.

But now that it was done she didn’t know what she was meant to do. She had no passions other than quidditch to speak of. Playing professionally was out of the question. She didn’t want to get on a team because of her fame and she didn’t want to increase her fame by adding professional seeker to her long list of accomplishments. She’d considered teaching, she knew if she applied Hogwarts would take her on in a heartbeat for the defense position. There would be a certain delicious irony if she got the job that Voldemort never managed too.

But she didn’t feel ready to teach. Of course, she knew the stuff front and back. Yet there was still a question of having life experience outside of a war. Holly only knew magic that was useful in fighting Death Eaters and cleaning out corrupt governments. Did she really want to live out the rest of her life surrounding by just that? Wasn’t there more to life? Was there more?

She’d talked with plenty of people about the issue. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley suggested a vacation. Hermione thought Holly should go back to school and finally graduate from Hogwarts. Fred and George told her that there was always a place for her in their joke shop. Ginny kept owling her the dates for try-outs for various quidditch teams. Ron was of the opinion that Holly didn’t need to do anything at all if she didn’t want to. Except perhaps go to therapy.

In the end it was Teddy who gave her the best idea. The nearly 11 year old boy with turquoise hair had looked at her seriously before saying what the real problem.

“You don’t know who you are outside of Voldemort. That’d be like me not knowing what I look like without all the shape shifting.”

To prove his point, he shapeshifted back till he was a blonde haired boy that was almost a near replica of Remus Lupin, aside from the nose and chin that was all Tonks. Holly smiled at him as he slowly shifted back to his preferred look.

“I guess you’re right Teddy. But what am I supposed to do about it?”

“Well if you were smart.” Teddy started, leaning forward with a grin. “You’d go someplace that Voldemort never was.”

“Voldemort and his forces invaded the entire magical world.”

“Exactly.”

“But I…Oh.”

It had taken a while to get the others to understand her decision. Why would she want to live in the muggle world and so far away? Eventually they accepted her decision and threw her a going away party at the Burrow. That party had been four months ago, and Holly was already feeling…more positive about her future. Even if she still had no actual plans.

A sound broke Holly out of her thoughts, it sounded like thump. She turned and out of the corner of her eyes she saw the one figure in this building that wasn’t wearing an ugly pink smock with black trousers. The man instead was wearing a gray suit, his hair was in disarray. Holly closed her locker that contained a bag that held her regular day clothing, her cellphone, and the book she was reading on the commute here. The lock automatically engaged and Holly quickly slipped on her slip-safe shoes and made her way out of the locker room. When she exited, she saw her boss, Mitch Reed, slowly banging his head against the outer wall of the locker room.

“You know sir, banging your head against the one room you’re not allowed inside of looks rather suspicious.”

“Miss Potter!” The man straightened up, looking rather bewildered. “I…I didn’t know anyone else was still in.”

“The building I was working today had a bit of a staining issue, getting everything to rights took a bit longer than expected.”

“Right. Right…Sorry I’m just not…There’s a client that is going to give me ulcers.”

Holly leaned against the wall and folded her arms. The man did look rather stressed. His normally crisp suit was crumpled, there was a line of sweat on his forehead and bags under his brown eyes. She gave him a look and the man sighed, crumpling in one himself.

“You just moved here what? Four months ago?”

“Yes sir.”

“But you still know about the invasion and the Avengers.”

Holly had of course heard about the invasion, there had even been talk of sending her to go help but before she could be dispatched the muggles had taken care of it. She nodded and the man continued.

“Well after the invasion all of the Avengers moved into Stark Tower, which most people call Avengers Tower.” He explained. “The top six floors of that building are where the Avengers live when they aren’t saving the world that is. The lower floors are office spaces for Stark Industries as well as a few other companies.”

“And…?”

“Well I can get regulars cleaners for 87 floors without issues, guess which six floors I’m having problems with.”

“Oh I don’t know, the first six? Those would get the most traffic.”

“Very funny. If you can’t take this seriously then I don’t see why…”

“No. No.” Holly said. “Are the cleaners taking things, asking for autographs? Or are they creepily staring at Earth’s mightiest heroes?”

“Why not all three?” Mitch scoffed and started to pace. Holly watched with lifted eyebrows as the man listed out the problems he’d been having. “The first group I set over made the Avengers uncomfortable by thanking them constantly and asking for autographs. The next group stole things to sell on ebay. The group after that didn’t even get through the front door because Stark’s security system found something in their background that we missed. The fourth group left traumatized after cleaning out Thor’s room, apparently the god had some beheaded poultry dripping blood into a bowl in there. Then after that every group I’ve left hasn’t lasted more than three days because of some problem or another. I’m pretty sure one of those assholes has made it a game to scare my workers away.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to call the heroes of New York assholes.”

“I’ll stop calling them that when they stop giving me gray hairs.”

“Fair enough. How big is the job, those six floors?”

“I like to send a group of three to tackle it, it’s not that there’s a lot to do but rather every day there’s a new weird thing to clean up. Never the same thing twice. Honestly if the Avengers weren’t so great at making unique messes one person could keep those six floors clean since Stark has little robots that do a lot of the smaller tasks.”

“So, it sounds like to me you just need to find one person under your employ that can do their job without making things weird.”

“Yes, but I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t want to keep traumatizing my workers but I don’t see any other…”

“Send me.”

Mitch froze in the middle of his pacing, then he turned on his heels to look at her, his eyes wide and his eyebrows nearly up to his hair line.

“I’m serious.”

“You can’t be. I literally told you that anyone who gets sent there is tormented by demented superheroes.”

“At least I’m aware. I know I can handle anything they throw at me, sir. I can handle six floors in a day no problem.”

“Are…are you sure? Because honestly you’d be saving me a lot of grief.”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. Okay. I’ll get you reassigned, and you’ll get your new assignment and ID card tomorrow morning. Thank you, Miss Potter.”

“Anytime sir. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The next morning Holly got a new ID card and directions to Avengers Tower. The group of cleaners who had previously assigned gave her looks that were both grateful and full of pity. Holly ignored it. She’d learnt to clean after Dudley Dursley, nothing the Avengers did could be as vile. Beyond that potions class had long since made her immune to disgusting things.

Getting to Avengers Tower required getting into a nondescript black van, plenty of other people went with her to work on the lower levels. When she entered the van there was a scanner she had to wave her ID on. Once the scanner beeped and turned green she climbed inside. She sat down next to a handsome man in the same ugly smock she was wearing.

“Well, now aren’t you a sight for sore eyes, I don’t think I’ve seen you round here before.” The man said in a very thick American accent.

“Oh. Well I’ve only worked here for three months.” She answered. “I just got assigned to Stark Tower today.”

“If it ain’t my lucky day then. I’m George and I must say you’ve got a very pretty voice. What’s that British?”

“Thank you. Yes, I’m from Britain.”

Another woman slid, into the van, she had bright blue hair and a nose piercing.

“Already flirting with the new chick then Georgie?”

“We’re just having a nice conversation. I’m sure someone from Britain would appreciate my southern charm, unlike you.”

“You’re British?” The woman asked.

“Yes, I’m Holly Potter.”

“Wow, you sound proper. Be careful, Miss Proper, flirting with Georgie here only makes him more of an ass.”

“Noted.”

“Now I think I might just be offended.”

Holly listened as the two friends, and it was obvious that’s exactly what they were, bicker. The two had obviously decided she needed to be mentored. Which Holly could have found offensive. She might have a deceptively young face, but she was a war general. Not these muggles knew that. So she let them give her advice. Apparently, she wasn’t supposed to do anything suspicious outside of the bathroom because the AI security system would call you out for smoking indoors.

When she told them that she’d been assigned to work the top six floors, Cathy the woman with the blue hair, sang her a funeral dirge. It was so well done that Holly smiled and clapped politely.

“You’re not supposed to clap, you’re going to die.”

“And what a beautiful song to go out on.”

Cathy rolled her eyes as the van rolled to a stop.

“It was nice knowing you Miss Proper.”

“It’s Potter.”

“I said what I said.”

Getting into the tower was simple too. She just had to walk through three detectors, none of which could pick up the magical energy coming off of the wand she was using as a hair stick. Then she had to have her ID scanned. Once she was through security she was directed by a calm British voice coming out of the scanner to please head to the elevators and go up to the 88th floor. Apparently, her cleaning cart was up there and where she could begin her job. Holly thanked the man and got to work.

“Once more into the fray.”

*****

It really wasn’t that bad all things considered. Granted it was bad, but not all that bad. The first floor she cleaned contained two apartments with a common area between them. It was in a large closet in said common area that her cleaning cart had been stuffed.

“Miss Potter.” A voice said from nowhere as Holly pulled the cart out of the closet.

“Yes Jarvis?” Holly asked without missing a beat.

“You are aware of who I am?”

“Who wouldn’t be? You’re the first AI of your kind!” She had actually heard of Jarvis before thanks to Hermione who still kept up with all the muggle technology that she’d had to give up for magic. It hadn’t occurred to her that by taking his job she’d meet the AI, she wasn’t even really sure what an AI was other than a very complicated computer program.

“I had not realized that my fame had reached so far as to reach Britain.”

“Oh, you’re very popular there, us brits have to stick together right?”

There was a pause, Holly looked up from her perusal of the cleaning cart which had a very interesting array of chemicals in it. Before she could second guess herself too much Jarvis returned.

“Yes, of course we do. Although I have to admit I was programmed by an American and you are the first British person I’ve met.”

“Not a problem. There’s just three things you’ve got to do if you’re going to be fully British.” Holly told the air as she picked up different bottles to see what they were. “First you’ve got to call Soccer, Football and call American Football, American Football.”

“Of course.” Jarvis agreed sounding a little amused.

“Then you’ve got to prefer tea over any other liquid. If you were on a desert, dying of thirst you wouldn’t crave water, it’d be a good cuppa.”

“As an AI I don’t have the need to drink.”

“You can still have preferences.”

“I…I suppose I can. What is the third requirement?”

“How sassy can you be? Because every British person needs to be at least a little sassy.”

“I am an adequate amount of sassy.”

“Then congrats, you’re British. Now would you mind telling me if there are rooms I’m not meant to go into for cleaning?”

“If a room is locked then you are not to clean it.”

“Efficient.” With that she got to work.

She cleaned the common area first. She picked up a bright red cape and placed it in the basket that had been labeled ‘laundry’ with a sharpie and put away the art supplies that had been scattered all over the table. Whoever was the artist among the group was actually quite good. Holly spared a moment to look at the sketch of the New York City skyline, before carefully putting the sketchbook with the other art supplies, art unmolested.

Cleaning the kitchen took some doing, she found what appeared to be rotting shark flesh in the fridge. It was an…interesting smell to be certain. After asking Jarvis about it he told her it belonged to Thor and that he had likely forgotten it was there. So Holly through it away and sanitized the fridge.

“Please let the Avengers know that if they leave something in the fridge I’ll throw it away when it begins to rot if they don’t leave some sort of a note.”

“I will do that, Miss Potter.”

Once the kitchen and common area was clean she tried the first apartment. The door was unlocked so she knocked lightly, when there was no answer, even when she said ‘Housekeeping!’, she pushed the door open. It was an odd mess that reminded her vividly of Hogwarts. Animal skins and furs were laid along the floor and hung on the walls. Different parts of magical creatures were also hung like trophies. There was an overall smell of male musk in the room.

Holly quickly moved through the apartment, dirty clothing was placed in the laundry basket and everything was shaken out for dirt or vacuumed. She knew this was probably Thor’s bedroom based on the bleeding bird she found dripping blood into a bowl in the bedroom. Holly recognized preparations for a potion when she saw one. Holly gathered all the various plants and animal pieces that Thor had put together and organized them by type on the table he had in the corner of the bedroom. That ought to help. The last thing she did was spray the room down with some air freshener and ask Jarvis to open a window to air out the stench.

The other apartment was much quicker to clean. There weren’t many personal affects and it seemed to have been cleaned recently. Holly had a feeling that the previous cleaners had just not gone into Thor’s rooms. Based on what little Holly could discern in the room, mostly the fact it was so sterile and that there were grainy black and white photos of people she didn’t know, it was probably Captain America’s room. She cleaned it quickly and felt tempted to add a few homey touches. She didn’t but knew she’d probably do it eventually.

She placed the laundry basket in the elevator and Jarvis told her that there were robots that would take care of the washing. Then she took the same elevator up to the next floor. This floor had the same layout as the previous one. Except for the fact that it looked like a scene out of a horror movie. The common room was a mess, there were knives and other small easy to hide weapons scattered about. Not to mention arrows in the walls and what looked like beheaded ceramic doll heads everywhere. Some with weapons embedded in them keeping them on the ceiling or on the walls.

“Do the Avengers who live here like the décor or am I allowed to clean up from their party?” She didn’t sound impressed. Honestly she’d expected more based on Mitch’s description.

“Please feel free, Miss Potter.”

Holly quickly gathered all of the weapons up and carefully organized them on the table. She threw away the baby doll heads and removed the arrows in the walls. She refilled the walls with that caulk that was in her cart, now she knew why it had been there in the first place. It took close to an hour to get the entire common area and kitchen set to rights. The kitchen was mostly full of half empty take-away containers which were easy enough to throw out. Both of the doors to the apartments were locked which…honestly she appreciated because she didn’t want anything else to do with this floor.

She’d already filled a garbage bag, which Jarvis instructed her to place in the service elevator, which was the one she’d been using this whole time. There was a main, fancy elevator for the people who actually lived here. The next floor was a gym, just a huge giant gym. There were wrestling mats, weights, machines, dumbells, and punching bags. It took a while to clean, long enough that by the time she was finished with it, it was lunch time.

After a quick lunch break in the Stark Tower cafeteria, in which was given a nice free lunch, she went up to the next floor. This turned out to be by far one of the more interesting floors she’d been on. It contained an apartment that was decorated in calm neutral tones. There was a visible speaker system with lines of CDs that were mostly classical or relaxing in nature. It also had, instead of a second apartment, a giant steel lined room with large fist sized dents in it. So this must be where Dr. Banner called home.

Cleaning it took almost no time at all. Dr. Banner kept a clean space so Holly really only had to pick up a few things, clean a window or two, and vacuum up some of the areas that the little robots couldn’t get too. Holly thought she rather liked Dr. Banner, if only because he kept his floor clean.

The last two floors took the rest of her day. The first was what appeared to be the Avengers hang out spot. Lots of places to sit and evidence of movie nights and video game tournaments. There was also a very dirty kitchen that needed to be cleaned and a bar that had to be reorganized.

The top floor was a penthouse and based on the overly expensive suits she found in the closet, it was Tony Stark’s place. Other than the grease stained jeans and shirts it was mostly clean and so she had no problems cleaning that up before her work day ended. Mitch hadn’t been lying when she said it could be done by one person if they were quick. That’s not to say she wasn’t exhausted, she was, but it was done.

She met up with George and Cathy on the way out, her pink smock now containing a few questionable stains but overall no worse for the wear.

“Holy shit you’re alive!”

“It really wasn’t that awful.” She told them. “Besides it’ll be easier tomorrow.”

Famous last words.

Chapter Text

What Happened to the God of Magic?

A Memoir by Ralston Potter

Forward:

By: Ophelia Potter

My grandfather spoke most fondly of one thing in his life, and that was his friendship with Loki, God of Magic. That might be in part because every aspect of his life was touched by a man I never got to meet. My childhood was filled with sitting on my grandfather’s lap listening to him tell stories of intrigue and mischief and loyalty. Even my grandmother had a story or two! There’s no doubt in my mind that my grandparents planned to have Loki in their lives forever, till his dying day Ralston Potter still left a space open at his table for his best friend.

The mark Loki has left upon my family is undeniable. My grandfather’s love and loyalty to Loki forged a bond between them that was unbroken even as the decades after Loki’s disappearance worn down on him. Loki became our family and we have become his. The bond, my grandfather formed, has spread down to each of his descendants. A lingering love for mischief and magic. A love that will continue on in each Potter, much to the displeasure of the Hogwarts Staff.

Up till now Loki’s legacy has remained shrouded in mystery. There were very few who knew him personally and most people who did meet him didn’t realize it until much later. The records from that time are vague at best and even harder to make available to the public. Loki’s heroic actions for the wizarding world are not ones that should be forgotten to time. Already people are suggesting annual celebrations of Loki’s gift and I couldn’t agree more. But if we are to celebrate the god, then first we must know him.

I was the one who convinced my grandfather to write these stories down so that the whole world could see what sort of man Loki truly was. It has been nearly 70 years since Loki’s disappearance and yet his memory and influence lives on in the Potter family and in the wizarding world at large. I know that my father leaves a space for Loki in his home, a guest bedroom and an extra chair no one uses. I’ve found myself doing the same thing, as have all of my siblings.

I know it was my grandfather’s dying wish that we would never forget the god who saved us, who gave us the protection to live in secrecy. He wanted Loki to always have a place in this world, no matter how long it took for him to return. Because he will return. If I have learned anything from listening to my grandfather it is that Loki, the great trickster and silver tongue, always gets what he wants in the end and he wanted nothing more than to be here in this world, a world for magic.

He will return, make no mistake about that. Loki Odinson will come back to the wizarding world and when he does it will be with chaos and flair. I hope that as you read my grandfather’s words that you learn to love the god of magic and mischief as I have. Because this world, our world, is meant to be his home too, and when our god finally returns it should be to a welcoming gesture and open doors.

********

“So….” Clint began. “I think I should explain the exploding paint.”

Tony, glared at him, globs of purple glitter were dripping from his hair and running down his shirt. The arc reactor was stained a very unflattering orange and the man’s jeans were a hideous puce.

“Look! I don’t even see why you’re here!”

“Barton, in case you’ve forgotten, this is the penthouse. Meaning, this is where I sleep.”

“We all know you sleep in your lab.”

“Barton. I want an explanation right now or I will throw you out that window.”

It’s the cleaning lady!”

That explanation didn’t cut it, if Tony’s glare was anything to go by. So Clint continued.

“I’ve been…pranking the cleaning ladies.”

“Is that why my cleaning company keeps sending replacements? I thought we were having problems with theft or something.”

“Look it started after that group a few months back broke into my room to take some of my stuff.” Clint admitted. “I figured I’d leave a few traps to make the next group think twice…It’s gotten out of hand.”

“You think?”

“Look! You would not believe what freaks out normal people! You leave a couple of knives shoved in a door and they nearly faint.”

That actually made Tony pause and Clint took the advantage it gave him.

“Jarvis show him the top ten.”

The top ten turned out to be a series of clips of people in ugly pink shirts beings scared or traumatized by whatever horror the Avengers conjured up, either by design or by accident. The best clip was of a large man opening a closet to reveal a very bloody mannequin and literally fainting, another cleaning lady came by to help saw the closet and fainted too, right on top of the first guy. It was pretty funny, not that that justified what they were doing of course.

“Steve can never know.”

“So, you understand?”

“What I don’t understand is why you decided that you needed to booby trap my floor. You were doing just fine with yours and Thor’s.”

“Well I can’t do Banner’s floor.” Okay that was fair. Tony sighed. “Besides this cleaning lady is insane! Nothing bothers her! I’ve tried fake blood, glitter, knives in the walls, organs in the fridge. I needed to up my game!”

“I’m going to get this paint off, you’re going to take down the booby trap.”

“One minute. You’ll need a special solvent to get that out. I want to see how the cleaning lady handles getting rid of paint that SHIELD designed to be unremovable.”

“You’re a sick, sick bastard.”

“I do my best.”

Clint tossed Tony a solvent from his pocket that got the paint out of his hair, clothing, and arc reactor. In truth Tony didn’t pay much attention to the cleaning staff, only when Jarvis alerted him to a problem, that or Pepper said something. He knew Clint would never take it too far, Natasha would kill him first. And it was pretty funny. Hell it was hilarious actually.

Once Tony was clean he sequestered himself with Clint to watch the cleaning lady. At first glance Tony had to give the young woman credit, she was a hard worker, and unflinching in the face of Thor’s gross room. She was…attractive Tony supposed. Then again most people were to him. But the girl could use a serious make over. The long mane of hair in a bun was doing her absolutely no favors, especially since the hair kept escaping. Not to mention she had an interesting scar on her face. Which someone could either consider a beauty mark or an eyesore, Tony was of the opinion that her ugly bottlecap glasses were far worse.

Clint and Tony watched in breathless anticipation as she went up to the penthouse.

“Jarv, give us audio.”

“Of course, sir.” Jarvis said, sounding less than pleased with him. What had gotten his binary pants in a twist? The screen they were watching suddenly began producing noise, the cleaning lady was talking…talking to Jarvis?

“I’m telling you Jarvis. West Ham is a top notch team.” The cleaning lady said in a very British accent.

“I would prefer to make a decision on my favorite team based on hard statistics instead of emotion.”

“Your favorite team is the one you find with your heart not your mind.”

“Then I think I will choose Manchester as my team.”

“I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.”

The cleaning lady was friends with his AI? Tony wanted to ask for some kind of clarification but there wasn’t time.

“I was only following your advice.”

“There’s that sass I’ve come to love. Fine Jarvis, you’re a Manchester fan. I’ll make sure to get you something for Christmas. I’ll be heading back there for my vacation this year you know. I’ll get you something good.”

“I am capable of gathering my own mementos.”

“But then it wouldn’t be a gift.” Now this lady was buying gifts for his AI? Tony wasn’t going to lie that was making him tear up a little. He sniffed, and Clint punched him in the arm to get his head back in the game. “Now Jarvis, you seem upset with something. I can tell. What’s wrong?”

“There is something I wish to discuss with you…but it is a private matter and I, as an AI, am not capable of having private conversations with anyone who is not Mr. Stark.” Jarvis admitted after a moment. He sounded…hesitant. When had Jarvis learnt how to do that? Tony was so proud of him, he also felt like a bit of a dick. It hadn’t occurred to him that the protocols he’d put in place for security had meant that Jarvis was always on display.

The cleaning lady hummed and lifted up a hand to move some of the hair that had gotten loose from her bun back out of her eyes. The elevator door opened and carefully, she pulled out her cart and into the pent house.

“Well, Jarvis. You are by far the closest friend I have on this continent and I’ve enjoyed our talks in the last two weeks. It’s been nice to have someone to chat with, haven’t had that since I moved to America.” She told his AI without hesitation or embarrassment. Clint made a noise and Tony glanced over to see that the archer was now starting to regret his ‘prank’ on the cleaning lady. “So ask me anything. I trust you.”

“Even though the likelihood that this conversation will be reviewed by, Sir and perhaps the other Avengers is very, very high?” Obviously, Jarvis was doing everything he could to make it clear that Clint and Tony were listening right at that moment. Either the cleaning lady didn’t pick up on the warning or she didn’t care.

“Even then.” She said. “Now I’m going to start with Mr. Stark’s bar and lounging area. Please ask away, it’ll make the time go faster.”

Now Tony was really tearing up. He wanted to rush up to his bedroom and get rid of the paint himself. But he knew it was too late. Jarvis spoke after a few seconds of silence as the cleaning lady started organizing Tony’s bar and cleaning out his glasses.

“When we first began our friendship I assumed that the file your company gave to us would be enough background information. However, I grew more curious. I apologize if I have overstepped my bounds in looking into your past. I am a learning machine, I was meant to gather data.”

The cleaning lady snorted, a bit rudely but not in an angry way. She put the glass she was cleaning down and placed her hands on her hips.

“What’d you find then? You’d only be apologizing if you found something you didn’t like. Do I have an unpaid parking ticket or something?”

“Nothing like that, your record is spotless. But there was something that…. concerned me. It was not what I did found but rather what I didn’t.”

“You’re normally a lot more blunt than this Jarvis.” Cleaning Lady was right, Jarvis almost never hesitated to deliver information.

“Apologies.” He said. “I could not find any childhood medical records.”

Woah. That’s a big chunk of information missing. Someone in the government had to be covering it up. But who could be covering it up so well that Jarvis couldn’t find it? The cleaning lady folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the bar for a moment. She didn’t say anything for a long while before she suddenly moved and picked up the rag she was cleaning with.

“Ask a question Jarvis.”

“Why do you not have any childhood medical records? The only thing I could find was very recent, a list of the vaccinations you needed to move to the United States.”

“Because I didn’t go to the doctor when I was a kid. My guardians didn’t think they should have to waste money on me for something frivolous.”

Silence. Tony felt like his body had been turned to stone. They shouldn’t be listening to this. Tony knew Jarvis wouldn’t cut the sound feed until he told him to but Tony couldn’t make his mouth move.

“I see. I admit I had not considered that you came from an abusive household. Your character and attitude do not fit with expected models of abuse survivors.”

“Are you saying I’m too sane?” She asked wryly. “I’m very good at keeping a lid on it, Jarvis. Besides expected models for abuse survivors are bullshit. Everyone deals with trauma differently.”

“My apologies, I did not mean to…”

“I’m not offended. I’m sort of flattered actually. I’ve never wanted people to…see me and think I’m broken. The fact that a super brilliant AI with a perfect memory couldn’t find evidence based on my actions that my guardians had…been what they were to me is really very nice to hear.”

She did honestly sound flattered. She finished cleaning up the glasses and put them away. She then started cleaning the bar table. Her movements precise and quick. She was well practiced at it.

“I’m glad that you see it that way.”

“How else was I meant to see it?” She asked curiously. “I mean honestly I’m really very pleased. I was afraid this job would remind me too much of them. I started cleaning for them when I was…3 I think. I couldn’t do much then of course but they didn’t care. I remember once on my birthday, they told me that if I managed to clean the entire house before the day was over I’d get to have some cake. I was still young enough to believe what they told me at that point.”

Tony knew that wasn’t going to end well. He glanced over at Clint he looked like he was about ready to shoot something, maybe himself. Why couldn’t Tony open his mouth and tell Jarvis to cut the feed? Why was he so frozen stiff?

“I did my best Jarvis to get the whole thing clean I swear but…it wasn’t manageable. They kept making messes right after I cleaned them up. I was like, oh what was his name? Sisyphus! I was Sisyphus. Because I didn’t complete their impossible task I got punished instead. Classic Dursleys.” She sounded in a strange way fond of the memory, which was…weird.

“That is a disturbing story Miss Potter.”

“Is it? Apologies then. Don’t worry about it too much. I’ll be fine. It’s not like this job is like that. For one I get paid to do this and I have a friend here.”

“You are aware that some of the Avengers are purposefully making messes for you to clean up, just to make you uncomfortable?” Jarvis asked.

“And here I thought they were doing it because they thought it was funny.” She said sarcastically. “I’m not stupid Jarvis I know what they’re doing.”

She knew? Why the hell is she still working here? Tony exchanged a confused look with Clint. Before they couldn’t even begin to fathom the inner workings of this cleaning lady, she answered the unspoken question.

“Before you ask Jarvis. I’m still working here for three reasons. The first is that I actually am enjoying seeing what messes they can come up with, most people are not this creative. The second is that I took this job as a favor to my boss. The third is that even if I quit I literally don’t have the qualifications to work anywhere else. I have no real life skills and I dropped out of school as a teenager.”

“I see.” Jarvis said. “Do you have plans on finishing your education?”

Holly made a very rude noise and made her way over to Tony’s bedroom. Where the paint was. She stopped dead with her cart at the site of paint splattered all over the wall and carpet.

“I take it that the prankster today chose this floor?”

“Indeed miss.”

“Not a problem. Let’s just take a look at this paint!”

And she got to work. She tried a few of the cleaners on her cart to no avail. The longer she struggled the worse they both felt. Jarvis was very silent in the room, acting as a very disappointed judge.

“We’re assholes.” Clint said.

“You’re the bigger asshole.”

Before Clint could respond to that totally witty remark, Holly spoke again.

“You shall not best me this day!” She said in a very over the top British Accent. “It’s time for my secret weapon!”

“And that would be, Miss?”

Holly went over to her cleaning cart and with one of the mostly empty spray bottles began to quickly mix different liquids together.

“I used to think it was magic, when I was younger, this little baby has saved my butt more than a few times.” She said. “It’s the ultimate stain remover.”

Very quickly the clear translucent spray bottle began to fill with a liquid that was turning a surprisingly lurid purple. Tony thought it even might have been glowing a little. She continued to explain this to Jarvis.

“I must have made the first version of this when I was…9 or so I think. My guardians had threatened me that if I didn’t get that stain out of oven by tonight there would be hell to pay. I tried everything but it seemed impossible. I started to mix different things together until I stumbled on to the ultimate cleaner. This.”

The cleaning lady slapped on some gloves as she finished. She held up the finished bottle and then turned to the stains with a menacing look on her expression. She started spraying and to Tony’s shock the paint started literally shriveling away. It desiccated itself in reaction to the spray until all that was left was a pile of multicolored paint strings. Holly put the bottle down and then vacuumed up the paint.

“That was…impressive. What is in that bottle?” Impressive is a serious understatement, not even the solvent Clint had given him had gotten rid of the paint as well as that purple liquid had.

“Can’t say, trade secret.” She said with a laugh in her voice. “Besides can you imagine what someone with ambition would do with a liquid like that? You could kill someone with just a spray bottle! No this is the sort of thing you don’t tell anyone about.”

“You’re very wise, Miss Potter.”

“And you’re a sweet talker.”

“Jarvis close the feed.”

Jarvis did with a click. Tony leaned back, his AI, his greatest creation, the closest thing he had to family in this world had made a friend. A friend that was outside of anything Tony did or chose. A person it seemed who was friends with him just because and not for any gain. And Clint had been pranking her.

“I would like to make it known to you Agent Barton that if you continue to prank my friend, you will not like the consequences.”

“Yeah. I was…I was done.”

“Good.”

Tony didn’t think he’d ever heard his AI sound so terrifying. Space Odyssey much? He exchanged glances with Clint and decided that while he was very proud of his AI for his new friend gaining skills he was also very, very scared. What was up with the cleaning lady?

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: A First Meeting

By: Ralston Potter

I first met Loki when I was 15, a young student at Hogwarts, and rather lonely. I imagine it is hard to imagine that I wasn’t always as famous and popular as I am now. But its true. In my youth I was a rather lonesome young man. My parents, neither of whom had been very talented at magical self defense, had been killed in a witch hunt when I was a mere babe and I had been thrust into the care of the village church. All of the town remembered what my parents were and I spent much of my time being ostracized or examined for proof of devilry.

I was able to lave that town at the age of eleven and given safe housing at Hogwarts during my studies. Unlike many of my peers I had no magical background training, and I am ashamed to admit, I was also very clumsy. I did not endear myself to my peers immediately and was often made fun of for my lack. The Potter name was not as powerful as it is now. It was really not much of a name at all.

The day I met Loki was perhaps one of the worst days and one of the best days of my life. I had been chased out of the school by a few of my rivals and found myself wandering through the forbidden forest, desperate and angry. I can still remember the bruises I had from the duel gone wrong. I had been in the forest with the idea of proving myself worthy of this school. Everyone knew there were dangerous creatures in the forest, I merely had to kill one and bring it back. That would show everyone how truly talented I was.

As with most plans that teenagers come up with. It did not end well. I gained the attention of three very hungry mountain trolls who proceeded to chase me around a forest they were far more comfortable in than I was. None of my spells at the time could pierce the hide of the creatures and they had far more stamina than a 15 year old boy. I am quite sure I would have become wizard paste if it hadn’t been for a young god who was wandering the forest looking for potion ingredients.

Loki heard me running for my life against three rumbling trolls and he, in his curiosity, went towards the danger instead of away. Where I was too weak to take down the trolls, Loki managed to fell all three with well placed knives and spells. Within moments I found myself staring up at the man who would become my best friend surrounded by three dead trolls. There was silence between us, mostly due to my awe and gratitude and Loki’s amusement, before Loki finally broke it.

“Well don’t just stand there, mortal. Get up!”

And so began my very first conversation with Loki of Asgard.

*****

Holly listened as George told her about what he’d planned for the weekend. The southern man was very funny and sometimes a little too flirtatious. Cathy had been right in warning her about the flirting. It had taken three weeks before the man had stopped seriously flirting and started treating her in a more comfortable manner. She’d been grateful for it. Holly had a hard enough time recognizing when someone was flirting with her, let alone dealing with it! She was glad to have George as a coworker, she didn’t want anything more. The thing that had cinched his respect of her was the fact that she’d lasted as long as she had.

It was rather funny actually. There were rumors growing about her, the woman who could clean anything. She was pretty sure Cathy had started them. When she got into work now she noticed whispers and stares. A wandless eavesdropping spell had given her the gist of it all. They thought her fearless, if only they knew there were more frightening things than a terrible mess to clean.

“Now Holly. I musts insist that you let me escort you out tonight.” George told her. “You’ve hardly seen anything in this great country.”

“And where would you escort me dear sir?” She asked in her most proper voice.

“Georgie, here is trying to ask you to go out with us. A group of us go out to this bar every Friday.” Cathy interrupted.

“A bar?”

“Yeah, it’s like a pub but better.”

“I know what a bar is, I’m just confused that…”

“You’ve got to come.” Cathy insisted, shaking Holly’s shoulder a little to empathize her seriousness. Cathy was a little more dramatic than most, it was something Holly had had to grow used to. “It’s just a few drinks, you can tell us some gross work stories. Lord knows you’ve got to have them.”

“I…I suppose I could give it a try.”

Alcohol rarely agreed with her. Her magic tended to react poorly and even if it didn’t her mind had enough trauma in it to cause its own trouble. But she couldn’t just avoid social activities because of it. The point of moving out here was to find out who she was outside of that. If she was going to do that then she needed to try new things. She could go to a bar! How hard could it be?

“Great!” George said. “You won’t regret it ma’am that much I can attest. I’ll be sure to show you real southern hospitality tonight.”

He winked at her which only made her snort. The van finally pulled to a stop in the underground parking of the tower. Everyone quickly clambered out and made their way inside.

“Wait here for us at the end of the day. We’ll all go together.” Cathy said. “Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.” She gave the blue haired woman a smile that only lasted until she turned away. Holly sighed as she went through security and into the elevator.

“Good morning, Miss Potter.” Jarvis greeted in a cheery manner.

“Morning Jarvis.”

“Are you well?”

“I’m fine, I just…I’m a little nervous about tonight.”

“Tonight?” Jarvis sounded intrigued, this was after all the first time she had ever mentioned having any plans of any kind. Anyone who knew her would be interested to discover she had plans for a Friday night, especially plans that didn’t involve fighting terrorists. Not that Jarvis knew about that.

“Cathy and George invited me to go out to a bar with them.”

The elevator opened to reveal Thor and Captain America’s floor. As usual, the heroes were out. She’d never actually run into any of them during her cleaning. Sometimes she’d hear them in other rooms, or above her on other floors but they always managed to just miss each other in the past month. She had the feeling they were avoiding her, although she had no clue as to why.

Work had gotten easier just over a week ago. Apparently, Jarvis had had words with the prankster on her behalf. She wondered what kind of words he could have had, it was difficult to imagine her friend threatening anyone. She’d told him it wasn’t necessary and he’d snippily replied that he’d found it completely necessary. Now the only difficult days were when the Avengers came back from a fight, and she couldn’t fault them for making a mess after that. She could easily remember the messes she made after a Death Eater raid.

“Do you not wish to go?” Jarvis asked.

“I’m not honestly sure. I didn’t really go to pubs back in Britain, I can’t hold my liquor and I’m not all that familiar with New York yet. But how am I supposed to get more comfortable here if I don’t go out?”

“You will be going with two of your friends, right?” Jarvis asked.

“George and Cathy aren’t like you Jarvis.” She corrected fondly. “They’re nice but…”

“But you don’t trust them.” Jarvis finished.

She nodded and started picking up art supplies and reorganizing the common area. Jarvis always sounded so pleased when she brought up how she felt about him. Although why she couldn’t fathom. Jarvis had the trust of an entire team of superheroes, one cleaning lady shouldn’t matter so much.

“I’ve already agreed. It probably won’t be so bad, I’m just not used to this.”

“Some level of nervousness is only fair.” Jarvis told her after a moment. “If I could do something to ease your concerns…”

“I can’t think of anything. If you could come with me that’d be one thing, but you can only travel through tech and I don’t even have a cell phone.”

“Why on earth don’t you have a cell phone?”

“I’m a little tech phobic I’m afraid. No offense to you of course. I’m just really bad with them. Can’t seem to get any of it to work, not to mention the amount of things I’ve broken.” Just imagining using magic in this tower sent a shiver down her spine. There was a reason she pulled her magic in when she went to work every morning. A tower this high tech would explode like overpowered fairy lights if she wasn’t careful.

“I see.” Jarvis sounded more amused than offended.

“Don’t worry if I had a phone, I would have given you my number ages ago.”

“Well I will think on a solution. For now, tell me about your evening last night.”

So, Holly told him easily about what she’d done the night before. Which involved reading about different career paths. She was still trying to find her passion. She’d told Jarvis that was part of the reason she’d moved to America, to find herself. Jarvis had seemingly made it his goal to help her find it. Last night she’d been reading about careers in health services, both magical and mundane. She was pretty sure that she’d like to learn some more healing spells but that it wasn’t her dream job.

Jarvis didn’t seem surprised that she wasn’t interested in it. She’d told him that she liked to help people, which was true, but being a doctor didn’t really fit.

“Perhaps you could look into some sort of job in child services.”

“Child services.”

“You have personal experience with an abusive household which would make it easier for you to relate to the children you help, you are also kind and patient.”

“Hmmm.” She said. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be reminded of the Dursleys every time she went to work in a way that was more terrifying than annoying. But it would satisfy her saving people thing. “I’ll look into that next then.”

“You don’t seem very enthused about searching for your passion.”

She sighed and looked up from where she was moving heavy dumbbells back into their place. In truth the only time she’d ever felt like she was living a fulfilling life was when she was saving the day. Being a hero. It was what she was good at. She thrived on danger and acts of heroism. But that wasn’t healthy. She needed more, she wanted to be more.

“Please tell the Avengers that I am not super strong.” She said as she barely managed to lug the thing back into place. “And I guess I’m afraid I don’t have a passion.”

“You are only 28 years old ma’am. Given the life expectancy of human beings you have time.”

“You’re right. I’m being silly.”

“Not silly, just human.”

She smiled and picked up the next weight, barely lifting it up high enough so that it could crash on the right shelf.

“So what have you been up to Jarvis?”

She listened as he told her about his work helping Mr. Stark and the other Avengers. He was understandably vague about some of the details, but she knew he was telling her more than what you’d learn about on the news. It was all very entertaining. She finished cleaning up the gym and took a break for lunch.

The rest of the day passed rather quickly, her thoughts about her evening plans and Jarvis’ stories easily filled up the time. When she was getting ready to leave, Jarvis spoke. He directed her to go Stark’s private bar. Sitting there on the glass surface was a simple white box.

“If you would be willing ma’am to take a device for tonight.”

“A device?” She asked.

“Just a bracelet with a tracking system in it. If at any time you need help, you can press the button and I will send someone.”

“A bracelet. Where did you get something like that?” She found herself asking about the bracelet as she swallowed down the instinctual wariness of wearing a tracking device. Jarvis was a friend, this was his way of looking out for her. She needed to stop being so paranoid.

“I have complete access to Mr. Stark’s laboratory, it wasn’t difficult. Then I had one of Mr. Stark’s other robots bring it up from the lab here for you.”

“You made it for me?” Her voice didn’t tremble but it was close, very close to it.

“Consider it a birthday present. Your birthday is in just a few weeks is it not?”

“It is. Thank you, Jarvis. I’ll wear it all the time.” She picked up the box and carefully opened it. The metal was silver colored but too heavy to be that. The metal was linked together with each loop of the chain being so microscopically tiny she almost couldn’t see them. The thing chain was connected by a triangular charm that glowed blue. She saw the silver button within the triangle, obviously how she was supposed to ask for help. “It’s beautiful.”

“It is made from the same alloys as sir’s suit, it should be nearly indestructible. Beyond that, the glowing blue light lets off a unique radiation pattern that cannot be hidden through any modern means. I would be able to find you anywhere unless you were hidden deep underground. When you press the button, you will be able to speak and I’ll hear you.” Jarvis said sounding very smug with his creation. Holly put it on and admired how elegant it looked.

“I think this might be the nicest thing I’ve ever worn. Thank you.”

“Of course, Miss. Do have fun tonight.”

“I’ll do my best. You have fun here yourself. Make sure Mr. Stark doesn’t blow himself up. That’d be an awful mess to clean.”

She finished her goodbyes to her friend and then made her way downstairs. George and Cathy were waiting for her. They all got in the van and went back to their office together. Once they were out of their uniforms and in street clothing, Holly found herself being dragged through the streets of New York City towards destinations unknown. The city was huge, it reminded her in some ways of London, but she didn’t think she’d ever been in any place this crowded before. Maybe that’s because she was used to going into the less crowded magical parts.

It was stressful going through the streets. Everyone here seemed to have an insider understanding of the flow of foot traffic while she kept bumping into people. She got separated from her coworkers three times before they even arrived at the bar. When they got there, Cathy turned to her and told her to prepare herself. She understood why the moment they entered.

She’d thought that this bar would be like a pub, perhaps a little crowded if a game was going on but it wasn’t. It wasn’t a pub, it was a club. Music pulsed in the air so loudly it felt like it was spelled to make her skin vibrate. They lights were dim and most of the time they were only neon anyway. The neon reflected off of her glasses and made everything difficult to see. Too difficult. She tightened her hold on George’s hand as he pulled her up to the actual bar.

“Let me order you something, darling.” He insisted. “When we’re in Britain you can order for us.”

“Alright.”

He ordered a very odd sounding drink name something with tea in it she thought and then she was handed a tall glass and told to drink up. She found herself holding this drink while sitting at a table with people she vaguely recognized from work. In front of their table there was a dance floor absolutely crowded with people. Most of whom were jerking and grinding and bouncing so close to one another they were nearly on top of each other. She wasn’t unaware of dancing, she wasn’t good at it either. Dancing, like most things that didn’t have to do with death defying heroics, wasn’t within her comfort zone.

The group she was in started talking first, complaining about work, their families, and their life in general. Holly listened trying to find something she could relate to. But most her problems were things like ‘I still have nightmares about dying’ or ‘my PTSD is so severe that sometimes I’ll freeze and accidentally teleport myself into the nearest closet.’. She couldn’t really relate to boyfriend troubles or how annoying it was that someone’s parents kept begging them to visit.

She mostly sipped on her drink that tasted of cola and lemon while trying to make herself seem a bit smaller. Almost unfairly soon everyone else had finished their first drink, while she’d only taken a handful of sips from her own. Her group decided as one to get up to dance. Cathy asked Holly if she wanted to go but Holly said she’d stay and watch the table instead. Which must have seemed okay to her because the woman shrugged and left her alone.

And that was where she sat for the next thirty minutes. Occasionally someone from the group would come back to sip on a new drink or take a quick breather but mostly she was alone. She knew she should have gotten up and tried to dance but every time she considered she remembered all the toe stepping she did at the Yule Ball when she was 14 and she stayed right in her seat. Merlin what was her problem? She was an adult not some anxiety ridden teen.

She considered just leaving but she actually had no idea where she was in New York and she’d already ingested too much alcohol to make apparating safe. Whatever was in this drink certainly wasn’t tea no matter what the name implied. So, she waited, even as her head began to pound from the music and her body started to get that strange floaty feeling it got when she drank.

“Lonely much?”

Holly whipped her head around to see a man she didn’t know smirking at her from behind. He had light brown hair and a very distinctive jaw line. He could have been called handsome if one ignored the way his eyes skipped around her body, appraising it.

“No.” Holly said. “I’m just…holding the table.”

“Right.” He said, sitting down uncomfortably close to her. The man didn’t bother asking for permission. She got the feeling that he wasn’t one for manners or self-reflection. “Name’s Jason.”

“Pleasure.” The lie rolled off her tongue, with the aid of a decade of practice dealing with smarmy politicians.

“What don’t I get a name?” Ugh, one of those then.

“It’s Holly.”

“Holly, that’s a pretty name.”

“Thank you.” She looked down at her drink, wondering how exactly she was going to get this guy to leave her alone, and then flinched when Jason put a hand on her thigh. “What are…”

The man started talking to her, his hand not leaving her thigh, in fact the offending hand seemed to switch between squeezing her thigh and rubbing it. He told her about his ‘high-profile’ job and about how much money he made. Each time she tried to speak, to tell him to go away, or stop touching her, or even that she didn’t give a shit he spoke over her. He kept emphasizing how powerful he was as if that would make him attractive instead of a psychopath. She was starting to feel very, very belligerent.

“Listen.” She said cutting him off. “If you don’t get your hands off of me, you’ll regret it.”

The hand on her thigh tightened as the man looked at her. The amusement she saw in his eyes warred with the disdain.

“Darling.” He said. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with. I came over here because I felt sorry for you. Now I really think you should repay my kindness.”

“Kindness?” She asked. “The only kindness here is the fact I gave you a warning. Hands off.

“Listen. I’m not the kind of man someone like you says no to.”

Suddenly two huge hands came to rest on her shoulders. She looked to the side and saw the largest man, outside of Hagrid, that she’d ever seen. What was going on here?

“You see, we have a proposition for you.” Jason said. “And I think you’re going to want to listen.”

“Okay.” Holly said, fidgeting with her bracelet. Jason glanced at the movement before giving her a very smug look. Should she press it? Jarvis had told her to call if she was in trouble. But was this really enough trouble to bother her friend about?

“I’m a nice guy you know.” He said. “And so I’m going to give you two options. Either you can go ahead and do a job for me or we can go out back and have some fun.”

“A job?”

“Simple thing, sweetheart. All you need to do is leave something in Avengers tower.”

She pursed her lips. Now she saw why a man this disgusting was chatting her up. That made sense now. Well that man had obviously made the wrong choice in target. Without moving her fingers or whispering any words, she cast a spell. The magic bloomed out of her and hit every camera within the building, blacking them out. She did it again, casting the most powerful Notice-Me-Not charm she could on herself and the two men.

Then she moved. It was like fighting with Death Eaters but messier somehow. Without using her wand, just her hands, she grabbed Jason’s hand and broke the wrist that was still trying to grope her leg. Then she pulled so hard down that his head slammed into the table. The large gentlemen holding her down moved to grab her neck, but she pushed back on the floor and flung the chair straight into the guy’s gut.

The party in the club continued around them. The pulsing music cut off most of the noise that they were making, and the magic kept absolutely anyone from even looking their direction. Once she was out of her chair was it much easier to take on the huge hulking guy. Within minutes she’d knocked both of them out. Her chest was heaving, and she now had an eye that was going to get spectacularly black, even with some bruising crème.

It took some doing to stuff the two unconscious men under the table without anyone noticing. Once she was sure no one would see the men she used her wand to cast a glamor on her eye. She might have been too drunk to apparate, but she knew how to cover up a bruise, she could do that in her sleep. Then she ended the spells she’d cast before the fight. Holly picked up what remained of her drink and downed it. It burned all the way down to her gut.

The adrenaline in her body begged her to find some sort of outlet. The courage she’d been lacking the whole evening came to her in spades. She strode right into the middle of grinding dancers and she tried to move her body to the beat. From behind her two hands gripped her shoulders and flipped her around. She barely kept herself from punching them out. She was glad she did when she saw it was her two coworkers.

“Glad to see you joining us!” George said.

“Just needed to get my courage up.”

“Knew you could do it.” Cathy praised. “Now let’s teach you some American dance moves.”

The rest of the night was spent dancing off the adrenaline from her fight. It was…fun. She felt young in a way she couldn’t recall feeling. It was wasn’t the feeling of a child, it felt like being a teenager or maybe even a young adult who didn’t have to fight terrorists. She could just dance and forget herself in the act. The night ended with Holly somehow managing to get covered in glitter and sweat, the sweat at the very least she could explain.

Holly was just drunk enough that she wasn’t really sure how she got home. On Monday Cathy would tell her that they got her back to her apartment in an Uber. All she really knew was that she woke up Saturday morning with glitter on her face and her eye nearly swollen shut. Which, all in all, constituted a pretty good night out for her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: The Pantheon

Long before I was born, back when magic was only taught to village priests and seers, the gods of Asgard visited frequently. Loki explained to me once, when I asked, why this was. Simply put it was because it was fun. Back then you see, we were very easy to impress. The gods would come down and summon storms or lift impossibly heavy weights and they would be revered without doing much of anything at all. Eventually though this grew boring, we mortals started asking for miracles and more importantly we began to emulate them.

Looking back on it now it isn’t difficult to see why Odin refused to help us. He feared what we would become. We were a realm that he had not conquered and what’s more all of the people that he had saved were dead, no one remembered the Frost Giant invasion and none of the humans really cared about it. We watched them, we learnt their magic and we began to grow in power. Once the Aesir realized what happened, they stopped coming.

At least until Loki began to visit again. I can’t claim full responsibility for the extended periods of time Loki spent traveling our world, for he loved more than just me. But it only took about a decade since the first time I met Loki for the rest of the gods to notice that Loki was disappearing for months at a time. I can remember Loki coming to me, snarling and frustrated, because his brother wanted to come to earth.

Thor was so certain it would be great fun. He’d go down and frighten the mortals, eat their food and take in their worship and awe. I don’t pretend to know that if Loki hadn’t known me that he wouldn’t have a problem with Thor’s attitude. Loki’s was much the same for the first few months of our friendship. It wasn’t until Loki truly became my friend that he realized that mortals, for all our short lifespans, were worthy of respect.

It was a lesson Thor had yet to learn.

Despite Loki’s best efforts Thor came to visit when I was nearing the age of 28 years old. By that point I had met my dear wife and had been married for two years. Because we had a home of our own, a large one in fact, it made sense for me to open one of my guest rooms to Loki’s brother. It was only polite of course.

I can honestly say that there are only two things one needs to know about Thor. He is loud and he has a magic hammer. That about sums up his personality, if you can call what he does have a personality. I will warn you, do not touch his hammer. He is so possessive and protective of the thing! Thor spent two weeks in our home and in that time he broke three plates and 7 goblets before I managed to spell them all from breakage.

The god of thunder spent much of his time trying to wow the mortals. He began with the magical community but when he wouldn’t allow anyone to touch his hammer and when he could not explain how it worked, most people grew rather bored with him. After all a weather charm isn’t so hard to cast. Even if Thor was very good at creating storms it wasn’t something so fantastic that goats should be slaughtered in his name.

The muggles were hardly better. The areas Thor visited were rife with Christianity and didn’t take kindly to Thor’s claim to be a god at all. Loki had to keep multiple villages from trying to burn his brother at the stake and in the same stroke keep Thor from killing muggles for their insults against him. I pitied Loki the headache his brother caused him.

Thor eventually grew bored and frustrated and declared that he thought Loki was a fool for spending so much time with useless, ungrateful mortals. He left without thanking me for my hospitality and I was glad to be rid of him. Once Thor left via the Bifrost, Loki collapsed on my couch and drank wine for six hours. I didn’t blame him.

*****

Her first thought upon getting up was that she needed to get some bruising crème on her face. It took some doing to get out of bed and stumble into her bathroom. She was hung over. She’d never dealt with that well either. She managed to pop open her tub of crème and slather it over her face, then she downed a headache potion.

Immediately the fog of pain in her brain cleared and she was able to look at the world without feeling like vomiting. She summoned her glasses from her night stand and then got cleaned up.

“Where did this glitter come from?”

Taking a shower only transferred a majority of the glitter from her body to the sides of her bathtub. There was still an undetermined amount of the stuff in her hair. Did the club she was at the night before have glitter? She couldn’t remember any glitter. She wished there was a spell for getting rid of the stuff. But alas, magic couldn’t do everything.

She spent the rest of the day shaking glitter out of her hair, drinking tea, and reading up about work in child services. It all sounded…draining. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about those children, she did. But if she worked in the muggle world she would punch abusers and if she worked in the magical world, nothing would stop her from hexing them until they couldn’t walk. But she couldn’t do that, there were laws against that sort of thing. Holly was pretty sure she’d find the constant need to restrain herself grating.

So maybe not that. Sometime in the afternoon she had her scheduled mirror call with her family back in Britain. She settled in her couch, made sure the glamor on her face was pristine and readjusted her bathrobe right before the mirror came to life to show not her reflection but the living room of the burrow.

Ron and Hermione were of course in the center of the room, with Hermione’s belly getting much larger than it had been since she’d left. Teddy wasn’t there, as he was in Hogwarts, but all of the other Weasleys who could be there were scattered around the room.

“Hello everyone.” Holly greeted.

“Holly!” Ron said. “Would you look at ‘Mione? Isn’t she amazing?”

Ron was by far the most excited for their baby. Hermione was also excited but Ron was downright fanatic. It was adorable really. Holly agreed that Hermione looked glowing making the very pregnant woman roll her eyes. Mrs. Weasley begged to know if she was alright and eating well. Holly looked a bit peaky.

“I’m eating just fine.” Holly said. “I look peaky because I stayed up late last night. Some of my coworkers invited me to a bar, I went dancing and it was really late by the time I got back.”

You went dancing?” Fred demanded.

“We must have misheard you dear sister! There is no way The General Potter would go dancing!” George jumped in.

This caused the others to laugh and start to joke about her stern and bland lifestyle.

“Oh shut up!” Holly said. “Yes, I danced! It was fun! I acted like…like my age!”

That quieted them down real quick. Holly looked at the guilt she saw in their faces and sighed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…Normally I can take a joke better than that.”

“It’s fine Holly.” Ron said. “Sometimes we all get testy.”

“How was the bar?” Hermione asked. “Any cute people?”

“Well…”

“Please dish.”

“We must know everything.” The twins demanded at nearly the same time. Holly laughed and told them about how she was too nervous to try and dance so she was holding the table while the muggles had fun. Then a man showed up. The others listened as she described the scene, purposefully sounding as dreamy as possible. Then she got to the punchline.

“So, when he tried to threaten me, I broke his wrist.”

The people close to her age broke into laughter while the two oldest Weasleys made noises of disgust about her treatment. Arthur told her that if any man ever tried that again she should do worse than just break his wrist. Which she appreciated, really.

“Don’t be too upset, that actually gave me enough courage to go and have a fun time. It was a good night. Really. Now enough about me, how are the rest of you doing?”

So the call continued for a while each of them exchanging stories about what they’d been up to. It was soothing really catching up with her loved ones. Even if they always ended the calls begging for her to come home soon. They still didn’t really understand why she needed to do what she was doing. Once the call ended Holly fell back into to her couch with a sigh, hopefully she could go home soon.

She glanced over at the books she’d gotten through an owl service and sighed. Or maybe not. There were so many career options out there. She had to find her passion. Something fulfilling. Something outside of the world saving she was born for.

A laugh escaped her, harsh and sharp.

That’s the problem isn’t it? She’s running from fate. The norns themselves wrote out what she was meant to do and she did it when she was 17. The reason she couldn’t find anything more to do was because there was nothing more. There was no destined career or passion for her. Nothing she did mattered anymore.

She spent the rest of the weekend on the couch. She summoned food and water and only got up to use the bathroom and reapply her bruise crème. Despite the way the weekend had started out with a great night out and a mirror call from her friends this realization had blown the wind out of her sails. She spent her time on the couch questioning a lot of things about herself. She was so in her own head that she didn’t notice that New York got attacked by slime monsters created by a deranged scientist until she stepped in a giant green puddle of the stuff Monday morning.

“That’s going to be hell to clean.” She muttered thinking about the tower she was heading too. The mess only got worse the closer she got to the center of the city. It was disgusting. There were puddles of different covered slime, the slime also had goopy eyes floating around in it. There were even what looked like gelatinous tongues inside the piles. She shook herself, even with her stomach of steel some things were still just plain gross. The smell alone would have put Snape’s potions lab to shame.

Merlin was that glitter in some of them?

If it wasn’t she didn’t want to know what it was. Holly nodded to herself and walked into her office building. She weaved among the crowd of workers towards the locker room. As part of security you had to keep your uniform in the building so that only you had access to it. That way the clients would know not to let anyone onto their property that wasn’t wearing the uniform, or a uniform that didn’t fit.

She got into the locker room and took off her slime covered boots and stuffed them into the bottom of her locker. Behind her as she dressed she heard some of the other women in the room start gossiping about her and what a horrible job she had today. At least they weren’t commenting on her scars like some of the other women did. She pulled the smock over her head and slipped on the black pants and then her shoes.

Stepping out of the locker room was easy. She spotted her boss and waved at him. He looked almost afraid of her and it took her a moment to realize why.

“I’m not quitting.”

“Oh thank g-d.”

“I just wanted to ask you if you wouldn’t mind ordering a new uniform for me. I have a feeling this one is going to need to be burned after today.” He laughed and gave her a nod in agreement.

“Yeah I can only imagine. Trust me, Miss Potter you are getting a raise for today.” He clapped her shoulder. “And I’ll get you a few sets of the uniform. I have a feeling anytime New York gets attacked your uniform is going to be a casualty.”

“No kidding. I’d heard about the things the Avengers got up to but I hadn’t imagined the…mess after.”

“Yeah the clean up doesn’t tend to get a lot of news coverage. This is your first attack isn’t it? You didn’t panic too much did you?”

She hadn’t even noticed. Not that she was going to tell anyone that. She promised her boss she’d stayed safe indoors and hadn’t panicked. He told her he wasn’t surprised by that. Then he sent her on her way, because there was a terrible job to do. When she got to the van she saw her two friends looking at her with something like pity.

“Well Miss Potter. It sure was nice knowing ya’.”

“George. It’s just slime. I’ve lasted this long I’m not going to let slime destroy me.”

“You say that now but I watched Thor squish those monsters with that hammer of his. The smell was…unbelievable.”

As much as Holly tried to get the conversation to change to anything else all the others in the van wanted to talk about was the fight on Sunday. She’d been told when she first moved here that the buildings in New York were built tough and that she shouldn’t worry about too much property damage. A lot of them liked to claim that it was American skill and power and well…they were partially right.

Holly remembered the call sent out to witches and wizards around the world when the first invasion had happened. Not only was the world devastated that their god, the god of magic, had betrayed them, but the magical part of New York was in desperate need for help. Britain had sent her as their representative along with a troop of warders. She’d worked with the Americans for three weeks, they’d go out at night and placed special wards on buildings in the main part of the city, ensuring that the buildings would no longer tumble, unless of course the building was completely pulverized, there was little they could do to secretly prevent that.

More than one major American city had followed in New York’s footsteps as had some of the major European powers but overall New York was in the most need of protection. It had been an international effort. A way to protect the world without revealing magic. The reason New York was still standing was because of the Magical American Government taking a stand and moving to protect the vulnerable muggles.

It was part of the reason she’d moved to New York. The place was so well enchanted that she hoped that her ‘saving people thing’ wouldn’t be so prevalent. So far it hadn’t been so bad. In fact, she hadn’t even noticed the problem going on the day before. Wouldn’t Hermione be proud?

The van rolled up to the tower that looked particularly awful covered in slime like that. Poor Stark. She’d never gotten the idea that the man would appreciate his beautiful design being marred like that. They all made their way inside, most of the other workers wishing her luck and asking her what she wanted on her gravestone. Holly swiped her card over the scanner and made her way to the only elevator that went up to the top floors.

“Good morning Jarvis.” She greeted.

“Hello Holly.” He said. “How was your trip to the bar last Friday?”

“Thank you for asking. All anyone today wanted to talk about was that slime attack yesterday.”

“I already know much more than you do about the slime attack.”

She giggled at that and started to tell Jarvis about her Friday night. She hadn’t been prepared to go to a club and had felt underdressed and overall unfit to be there.

“I mean have you seen my hair? It’s always like this! It’s a family curse to have hair that’s untamable. My dad’s was the same way based on the pictures I’ve seen.”

“I don’t think anyone would care about your hair.”

“Well how was I supposed to know what mattered when one goes to a club? The whole thing made me so anxious I spent the first hour just watching our table while everyone else danced.”

“I hope you didn’t spend your whole night like that.” Jarvis sounded disappointed in her, or maybe for her.

“No, no. Once I got a little buzzed I got courageous and I danced the rest of the night. I got glitter in my hair and I don’t know where it came from.” She promised him, while delicately skipping over the two men who’d threatened her. They weren’t important. “I promise I had fun.”

“You don’t seem enthused.”

“I didn’t enjoy the hangover the next day. If I’m honest I don’t really see the appeal in drinking at all.” The door to the elevator open to reveal Thor and Captain America’s floor. There was multi-colored slime everywhere, because of course there was. Not to mention that horrendous acidic smell that made her eyes water. It was stronger here in the enclosed space. “My guardians used to do it all the time but they never seemed to be happy to do it.”

“I can see why you wouldn’t enjoy it. Mr. Stark has been trying to… limit his consumption as of late.”

“Really? Good for him. If you want I can put something in all of his liquor that makes it taste like lemons. For his own good of course.”

“He would just buy more if he truly wanted some. Or to prove a point.”

Holly laughed at Jarvis’ resignation as she grabbed the cart and then looked at the supplies she had available.

“Jarvis is there someplace in this tower that has a shovel?”

“I’ll have one brought up for you Miss Potter.”

“Thanks, it might be the quickest way to get this slime into the trash and burnt.”

“I agree.” Jarvis said. “You do not mind cleaning this?”

“It’s my job isn’t it? Now would you mind telling me who is responsible for the mess in first place?”

She listened as Jarvis described the angry scientist who’d been fired from his work for unethical practices. The man, of course it was a man, had broken into his old lab and created the monsters to prove his research was valid. Only to lose control of said monsters. The slimes had then killed him, destroyed the lab and attacked the city trying to fill their insatiable hunger. It was all patently ridiculous, not that she’d admit it out loud.

The story took time to tell, probably because Holly kept interrupting it with her sass. That meant that the shovel was delivered by a cute little robot and Holly had started shoveling disgusting slime from the carpet and walls into the large garbage can on her cart before Jarvis managed to finish. When it ended she felt a slight sense of…envy? Was that what she was feeling?

Huh.

“The Avengers must have exciting lives.”

“They do indeed.” Jarvis agreed. “It keeps me quite busy assisting them.”

“Do you like that?” She asked.

“Do I like what? Having work to do?”

“Well, yes that but more…” She trailed off for a moment to successfully shovel a very large pile of goop into the trash can. “The kind of feeling when you don’t know what’s going to happen next ever, and so you can’t really plan for anything. There’s always something new and dangerous around the corner and all you can do trust is your friends to have your back. It’s excitement, and adrenaline rushes and helping people and…it’s all so glorious once you really get down to it. Because you get to swing a sword and raise a shield and do the right thing.”

She lifted up the shovel like it was the sword of Gryffindor, her shoulders straight as she envisioned it all.

“I mean honestly Jarvis can you name anything more exhilarating than going forward, making a difference and saving a life? Doing good? Who wouldn’t…want that?” She lowered the shovel slowly as she realized that that wasn’t her destiny any longer. She didn’t have a destiny, she didn’t even have a purpose.

“That was the most passionate I’ve ever seen you Holly.”

“Yeah.”

“Have I upset you?”

“No. No. I just…remembered something important.” Holly said lowering the shovel so that it was touching the floor again. “Let’s just forget about it.”

“I don’t want to forget things that you are passionate about, that would not be a good thing for a friend to do.”

“I suppose so. But…being passionate about adrenaline rushes isn’t very healthy.”

“I don’t think that’s what excited you Holly.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m projecting things onto something that doesn’t even exist.” She said sternly, more to herself than to Jarvis.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She realized abruptly that she did. She wanted to take this tangled mess of a problem and throw it at someone else to sort out. But she couldn’t tell Jarvis, telling Jarvis would mean telling the Avengers about magic. She could easily break that statute of secrecy for a friend but not for a bunch of strangers.

“Jarvis. I wish there was a way I could tell just you.”

“I understand.” He said, not even sounding disappointed, at least not too much. “For now, please tell me, how did your study on child services go?”

She was so grateful for the subject change that she almost started tearing up. Instead she sniffed, just once, and got back to shoveling. They spent the next thirty minutes chatting about nothing important as Holly worked her way around the floor. She ended up going into Thor’s room last because it had the most slime. In the center of the first room was the man’s hammer, covered in slime and dripping it all over.

Holly didn’t notice how the garbage can was shifting as she shoveled more and more muck from Thor’s room into it. If asked, she’d blame Jarvis for her inattention. Which wasn’t totally fair since it was his warning that had saved her life.

“And so Ron told me that-”

“HOLLY DUCK!”

Holly hit the floor, landing in a pile of slime right next to Thor’s hammer. The space that her head and torso had filled a moment before was now being swiped at by the gelatinous arm of a bright blue slime. In the split second she had to think before moving she came to a few conclusions. One, the slimes reformed if enough pieces of them were placed together in close proximity. Two, someone really needed to warn cleaning crews in the city before they restarted the slime invasion. And finally three, she couldn’t use magic to stop this thing, if she did she could hurt Jarvis.

The slime roared, a hole opening around its jelly like face, five eyes floated around in the mass, all of which were focused on her. Dimly she heard Jarvis telling her not to panic and that the Avengers were almost here. Funnily enough, panic was the last thing on her mind. Her hand snapped out and gripped the disgusting handle of Thor’s hammer. Electricity shot down her hand as she lifted the weapon from the ground and rolled to the side to avoid being crushed by a slime arm.

She continued the roll so that she could jump to her feet. The slime didn’t even turn around, all of its eyes and its mouth just rotated around to face her better. She made a disgusted face at the sight and hefted the hammer that seemed to sizzle in her hand. When the slime moved to grab at her again, she didn’t hesitate.

She swung.

As the hammer began its arc one of the most curious things in her life happened. She got hit by lightning. Now Holly wasn’t unaware that lightning could be magically formed indoors. She’d even done it once on a dare while working in Australia. She also knew that people could get hit by lightning, especially if they were outside during a violent storm. She had not however summoned that lightning, nor was she aware of any lightning that could conjure a suit of armor complete with crimson red cape.

Yet that was what happened. In the same moment she swung and hit the slime with as much force as she could muster, she was hit by magic lightning that gave her a suit of armor. And it hurt. A lot. It briefly reminded her of the cruciatus. Which was probably why once the hammer had re-splattered the slime across Thor’s room, she froze.

The pain reverberated along her nerves, singing of days long gone when she was too young to know how to dodge and when she still screamed when things hurt. She looked at the silver armor that now covered her arms and wondered when she’d stopped screaming at pain. Had she forgotten how to scream? The door to Thor’s room burst open to reveal Captain America, Hawkeye, and Thor all ready to save her.

Holly did the only thing her body could think to do.

She fainted.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Bonds of Brotherhood

The day I graduated from Hogwarts was by far one of the most memorable days of my youth. This was partially due to the fact that Loki attended my graduation in disguise and played at least 50 different pranks on the proceedings. These pranks ranged from casting illusions of snakes to frighten some of the other graduates to putting potions into the headmistress’ goblet that made her cluck like a hen.

Other memorable events include being offered a transfiguration apprenticeship with the world renowned wizard Jean Claude White who once transfigured an entire dragon into a palm sized stone, while the dragon was breathing fire! Before that point I hadn’t realized that my talent in magic was anything noteworthy, but Master White was very insistent on having me train under him. It was flattering and confusing in equal measure. I accepted the apprenticeship of course and within three months of graduation I moved to Switzerland to train.

The most memorable thing though was what happened when the day was done. My graduation was a long and exhausting affair. It lasted nearly 8 hours and by the end of it I was nearly dead on my feet. But, now that I was considered an adult, I had the affairs of my parents to settle. They had died when I was so young and now finally I could access the family vault and see what had been left behind. Loki, in a rare case of discretion, let me explore the vault . That was alone something I needed to do on my own.

When I left Gringotts, feeling drained emotionally and physically, Loki was there. He took my hand, and without asking permission pulled me away from the steps and off of Earth altogether. World Walking is by far one of the most terrifying experiences to endure, especially without warning. I clung to Loki during the eternity that we spent in between worlds, walking along the Yggdrasil, when we landed my legs would not hold my weight and I feared that I had left my stomach behind me.

When I recovered from my shock I looked around to find myself in an ornately decorated bedroom. There was a bed of curious design with bedding of green and gold. There were bookshelves filled with leather tomes engraved in golden runes. There was a nearly geometrically shaped window that revealed a city of gold and at the edge of it a rainbow bridge that led out into the very stars themselves.

Loki had taken me to his home. Throughout all of our friendship I had not had a place to bring Loki too. No home but Hogwarts, really. Loki had never invited me to Asgard and I had never thought to ask. But there I was, standing stupidly and looking at the city of the gods, a 17 year old mortal wizard. Loki smirked at my shock and awe, he had expected that of course. He forced me to sit down and handed me a large metal cup filled with honeyed mead. Then he steeled himself and I will never forget what he said.

“Ralston, while you might not consider me as much, I see you as well a friend.” He’d paused there as if to give me time to object, and I did, vehemently telling him that there was no one I considered more a friend to me than him. He’d looked a little poleaxed by my words but managed to continue. “Well, yes that’s good. But, you see, Aesir like myself have a different custom when it comes to friends. True friends call each other something different here, if you truly consider me a friend in the same way I do then in the way of my people we are something more.”

It wasn’t until many, many years later that I understood my friend’s nervousness. Loki had brought me to his most private place. The room in the royal palace that he let no one into but himself. He’d taken me there to ask me to be his shield brother, to swear on my magic to bear his burdens and strengthen him in whatever battles he faced. It was a vow I made willingly and gladly. Eventually I learnt that I was the first to do so, that I was the first that Loki had asked other than his own brother. Thinking about it now still fills me with a sense of honor. Being Loki’s Shield Brother is one of the greatest gifts I have ever been afforded.

From that moment on Loki and I faced every challenged together. I never doubted his loyalty or his affection for me and the same went for him. He helped me with everything I tried to do and I offered him a friend and a listening ear for his own troubles. There was very little help I could offer with problems in Asgard, as it was rather illegal for me to be there, let alone even know of its existence. But I did my best.

Loki became my family that day. On the same day that I explored the remains of my dead family, Loki stepped in and became my brother, my friend. That vow meant so much to Loki that he extended that protection to my wife, when I finally convinced her to marry a clumsy man like me. In fact, Loki was the one who gave me the courage to talk to the beautiful woman in the first place! I know that wherever in the nine realms Loki is, he has not forgotten the vows we made to each other that night.

*****

Thor managed to grab the woman before her body hit the ground. This was probably because Mjolnir had carried her towards him once she lost consciousness. The hammer had always had a mind of its own, which had gotten him into trouble more than once in his long life. He was grateful for the help because anyone who was worthy of his hammer did not deserve to land face first into slime. He held her, now armored, body carefully to his chest. Her head resting in the crook of his neck. He was very, very grateful when he could feel her breath puffing against his skin. Mjolnir hadn’t killed her.

“I’m going to take her to the infirmary.” He said.

“What happened Thor?” Steve asked, his voice was the odd mixture of concern and command that only Steve could manage. “Is she okay?”

“How was she holding your hammer?” Clint sounded almost petulant.

“She’s fine. I hope at least.” Thor said. “And I don’t know, only she can tell us why Mjolnir found her worthy. I’ll explain more once she’s looked at.”

Steve told him go and so Thor rushed the woman up a few flights of stairs to the infirmary that was on the top floor. Tony had installed that there when one too many missions had gone sour and they realized they needed to have the medical supplies as easily accessible as possible from the Quinjet. When he got there, Bruce was already ready telling Thor which bed to place the woman on. The man, despite consistently claiming he wasn’t that kind of doctor, was still seen as the most competent healer on the team.

Bruce already knew that the armor couldn’t be taken off so he worked around it as best he could. Thor had explained to them that his armor was magically enchanted so that it could only be taken off by the same force that put it on, Mjolnir. This explanation came after Thor had been injured for the first time in a fight against Amora, Thor still felt embarrassed when he thought about his loss. As Bruce looked at the woman trying to discern if she was okay, the other Avengers began to arrive.

“Alright. So far as I can tell she’s fine. There doesn’t seem to be any problems with her heart and I can’t see any injuries. Jarvis can you tell us what happened?”

“Miss Potter was cleaning Mr. Rogers and Mr. Odinson’s floor of the slime. She requested the use of a shovel to move the large quantities of slime into the garbage can.” Jarvis said, sounding tight and worried. “However, once a large enough quantity of the slime was in the can, the slime monster began to reform. It was very quick, I was only able to warn Miss Potter to duck before the slime attacked her. She did so, dropping immediately to the floor, next to Mr. Odinson’s hammer. When the slime attacked her again by attempting to crush her, she picked up the hammer and rolled out of the way.”

“She just picked it up?” Tony asked. “Just like that?”

“Yes sir.” Jarvis answered. “Then when the slime attacked for a third time, she swung the hammer. However as sometimes happens when Mr. Odinson uses the hammer she was struck by lightning and her cleaning uniform was exchanged with armor in the same exact design as Mr. Odinson’s. Her hair also…”

Jarvis trailed off and they all looked at the woman’s long black hair that was standing on end as if she’d been…well electrocuted. It was almost cartoonish.

“The hammer killed the slime and then the others arrived to help. Miss Potter fainted and I do not know why.”

“I think I know.” Thor said. “She should be fine.”

“What caused her to faint?” Jarvis asked, which was odd usually he remained in the background while the rest of them spoke. Thor didn’t mind answering him.

“Well, summoning my armor is more than just putting on a suit.” Thor told them. “When I do it, I am struck by lightning as a sign of the power I am calling to myself. It’s like a power-up.”

Thor was rather proud of himself for coming up with that human comparison from the video games they played. It was rather clever of him. None of them looked too confused yet so he explained further.

“The first time I did that, I didn’t know what it would feel like or how to even control it. It was terrifying. If it hadn’t been for…Loki I might’ve destroyed the palace.” Thor knew mentioning his brother wasn’t a good thing to do around them, but he couldn’t help that. Without Loki’s presence Thor could have died that day. It was what he got for lifting Mjolnir before he was ready. “Not only did the powering up hurt, the amount of power if you’re not used to it can feel like you are burning from the inside out. I think she fainted because she wasn’t ready for it.”

“That’s awful.” Steve said. “Does it still feel like that for you?”

“No. No. I practiced, and the pain went away. Or maybe I got used to it.” Thor shrugged, it didn’t matter anyway. He was more focused on the fact that someone else could lift his hammer. What about this woman was so special? He looked down at Mjolnir and not for the first time wished it could speak. Whenever Thor had complained that he couldn’t speak to his hammer, Loki had given him a very condescending look. Which honestly wasn’t fair, just because Loki didn’t see the point in talking to weaponry doesn’t mean it didn’t exist!

“What I still don’t understand is why she could lift it.” Tony complained. “She’s just a cleaning lady.”

“She is my friend, sir.” Jarvis broke in. “And I’d ask you to speak about her with respect.”

Thor didn’t think he’d ever heard Jarvis sound so cold, usually he was either sarcastic or welcoming. Strangely enough, Clint and Tony both flinched at the tone.

“Right. Sorry Jarv. You have to admit it’s a good question.”

“I fail to see that.” He said snippily back. “She’s been nothing but lovely to me, of course she’d be worthy.”

Ah. Thor got it now. He smiled at Jarvis’ words. While he doubted the woman’s kindness to the AI was the sole reason for it, he wouldn’t be surprised if it hadn’t peaked Mjolnir’s interest.

“Thor. Come on you have to know.”

“I don’t. I’ve only ever been able to weild it. Not even my father could, he used magic to transport it when he had to move it and that taxed him greatly.” Thor said. “She is the second person in the universe to be able to do it.”

“Jarvis.” Natasha said. “Pull up Potter’s file.”

Jarvis silently did so turning on one of the many screens that were scattered throughout the walls of the tower just for this purpose. The file was bland. It lacked soul or even one story about the woman. Surely, she had to have been in great battles against ferocious beasts. All the file did was give useless information. How old she was and where she’d been born. The status of her family and her financial situation. None of which had anything to do with her being worthy. Where were the sagas of death defying feats and brave heroics? This file painted the woman as a boring, lonely servant, not someone Mjolnir would look twice at. Thor was offended on both Mjolnir and this woman’s behalf!

“This file is terrible!” Thor said. “It can’t possibly be right!”

“What do you mean?” Tony asked.

“Anyone who could wield Mjolnir must have lived a life full of adventure, not…this nonsense.”

“Hate to break it to you, but most humans don’t do adventures.”

“Well she’s different!” She had to be.

“Who’s different?” A new voice asked, in a voice that sounded oddly like Loki.

They all flipped around to see that Holly Potter was rubbing the side of her head, eyes still closed.

“Miss Potter!” Jarvis said. “Are you well?”

“Jarvis? Oh I’m…I’ve got a killer headache but other than that I’m alright. Would you mind turning down the lights?”

Instantly the lights were dimmed, and she thanked him. Thor stepped forward and spoke.

“It is an honor to meet someone of such greatness.”

That caused her eyes to burst open beneath her large glasses. She sat up as if she’d been shocked and nearly yelped her next words.

“What? You know what never mind! Have any of you sent warnings out to the cleaning crews around the city not to pile all of the slime together?”

The penny dropped for all of the seasoned heroes in the room at once and suddenly there was a burst of activity as Tony ordered Jarvis to send out warnings and they all rushed for their weaponry. Thor only hefted his hammer and looked at the woman who was now looking at the insanity going around her with no bewilderment and something in her eyes that might have been classed as longing.

“We’ve got to go check the city for danger.” Thor explained. “Please stay here and rest. If you need anything, please ask Jarvis for it.”

“Right.” She said. “Of course. Be safe.”

It was an odd thing for Thor to hear. No one had ordered him to be safe since he was very very young. He certainly hadn’t expected to hear it from a human. To humans he was basically indestructible, why would they need to order him to be safe? Even Jane only asked him to come back quickly. It was just…strange. But Thor nodded anyway and told her he would be.

They left his new shield sister alone in the infirmary to check on each cleaning crew. Thankfully there were only three reformed monsters as the cleaning crews had been warned in time. They had to spend some time figuring out how to clean up the slime without making new slime monsters. Eventually Tony and Bruce created a compound that would destabilize the slime and passed it out to cleaning crews to spray on collected slime.

When they returned to the tower they found Holly sitting in the penthouse, sipping on tea and still wearing the full suit of armor. It looked rather good on her, then again who wouldn’t look good in Thor’s armor? Thankfully her hair had calmed down, a little at least. She was chatting with Jarvis about different methods of getting the armor off.

“Jumping into a pool of lava?”

“While I’m sure that would remove your body from the suit, it would do so at the expense of burning your entire body to ash.” Jarvis said.

“Look we’re trying to solve one problem here, not all of them.”

“Have you considered that I don’t like solutions that involve death?”

“Oh, Death’s nothing to be scared of.”

“Death? What’s scarier than that?” Tony asked interrupting them.

Holly looked a little startled at their appearance but answered easily.

“Biscuits that look like they’ve got chocolate chips in them but end up having raisins.” That made some of the humans laugh and Thor only found it appropriate. Of course, someone who could weild Mjolnir wouldn’t fear death.

“Lady Potter.” Thor said, deciding to bow instead of kneel. “It is an honor to meet you.”

“Uhmmm.” Her voice was worried, almost frightened of him. “Why?”

“You can weild Mjolnir!” Thor explained making her look both relieved and confused. “Do you not know about my hammer?”

“Not really.” She said almost apologetically. “It’s not something I’ve thought was important to know.”

“Then allow me the honor of explaining.”

She waved him on and as the rest of the Avengers settled around the room, Thor told her about the great Mjolnir. A hammer forged in the heart of a dying star and enchanted with great power. It can only be lifted by those who are worthy.

“Worthy of what?” Holly asked.

“See that’s the thing, no one knows.” Bruce told her. “Other than Thor here, you are literally the only other person to have ever even picked it up.”

“I have to know.” Thor said. “What great feats of heroism have you done? Surely you’ve slain a dragon or two?”

“I have no idea how you can expect me to answer that.” She sounded almost afraid of his question. Why was she afraid? It didn’t make any sense. Steve rushed to comfort her.

“Thor’s only asking because he thinks your employee file isn’t the truth.” Steve said, his tone implying how mad he thought Thor was for thinking that. “He’s convinced that you have to be some sort of adventurer and not just a cleaning lady.”

“I am a cleaning lady. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Her tone dared them to say otherwise. Thor tried to explain himself better.

“Mjolnir has met many servants and cleaning ladies before.” Thor said. “And none of them could lift it. Only you.”

“I wish I could tell you something.”

“I’ve got an idea.” Natasha said. “Thor when you first got the hammer were you like…you are now? Or were you young?”

“I was a young man, just out of training. Why?”

“Well Mjolnir didn’t let you lift her because you were a great hero but because you were going to become one right? Maybe the hammer senses a person’s potential?”

That made Thor brighten, Natasha’s idea explained everything. He looked over at Holly with eager anticipation.

“We must start training you then! You could become the greatest hero earth has ever known!”

“Woah slow down there!” She ordered. “I don’t need training! I’m a cleaning lady, not an Avenger.”

“Not yet!” Thor corrected. “But if you can lift Mjolnir you are destined for greatness.”

That made her laugh at him, as if he’d told a joke.

“That’s ridiculous.” She declared. “The only thing I’m interested in learning is how to get out of this armor.”

“Oh. Right. Here take Mjolnir.” He held out the hammer and she stood up and took it from him. Thor then instructed her on how to return the power back to Mjolnir. She was a quick study and it only took a few attempts to disband the armor. It was very…affirming to see someone else weild it. Thor thought that if he were younger man, he would have been possessive and infuriated, but all he felt was excitement about his new shield sister. He ignored the part of him that felt insecure, Mjolnir wasn’t choosing someone else, she wouldn’t.

“Here.” Holly said, holding out the hammer carefully. “Thanks for helping me get the armor off.”

“Lady Holly.” Thor said, finally kneeling down in front of the cleaning lady. He placed his hands over the top of the hammer that she still held as if it weighed no more than a feather. “You have wielded Mjolnir, that makes you my shield sister. Your struggles are my mine. I will always have your back in any battle, that is the way of my people. Anything you need help with, it is my honor to help you.”

She gave him very heartfelt smile and lifted one of her hands to place the over the top of his. Everyone was silent as they watched them, it seemed like even the buzzing of the electronics in the room had silenced in respect.

“Is there a proper Asgardian way to respond?” Her voice was kind and gentle.

“Yes. First you say your name, as full as you know it to be, then you promise to carry my struggles as your own.” Thor explained. She was the first one who had asked him about this sort of thing since he’d arrived on earth. He called the other Avengers his shield brothers and sisters but they hadn’t thought it was too important, that it meant anything.

“Well okay then.” She said. “I’ll try that.”

Thor nodded and watched as Holly, still covered in slime and her hair standing on end form the lightning strike, spoke with all seriousness.

“I am Holly Gemma Potter, daughter to James and Lily and descendent of the Potter Family.” She said. “And I promise to happily take upon your burdens and struggles as if they were my own.”

Thor smiled at her words, Holly might not be interested in having some great purpose but he knew that they would at least be friends. Then the smile froze on his face because right as she finished her vow, he felt it. In her hands burned a magic. It should have been impossible to feel magic in this human. All of the witches and wizards of Midgard had been a victim of genocide 400 years ago. None of them had survived, magic in humans had been eradicated. How did she have magic?

Thor hid his confusion as best he could and stood up, still holding his shield sister’s hands with the hammer between them.

“Thank you, Lady Holly.”

She slowly pulled her hands away, leaving Mjolnir with Thor.

“I hate to ask but it’s been a very long day and it’s not even lunch time. Would you mind if I…left early? I haven’t had a chance to clean up but I did get hit by lightning so…”

Of course, she’d want to leave and rest! Thor practically rushed her towards the elevator telling her not to worry at all about her job. He would take care of it while she recovered. Thor genuinely meant that but more importantly he needed to think. If Holly really did have magic, which Thor was sure she did. Then what did he do?

He didn’t know if he could tell his team as much as it pained him to admit that. It had been non-magical humans like them that had…that had killed all of the magical people of earth. It had been the ancestors of his friends who had eradicated any evidence of magic from this world. Gone were the phoenixes and unicorns and dragons. Humans like his friends had erased them all. It had been that genocide of magic that had destroyed Loki in the end.

Loki had loved the magical people of earth and they him. He had been their god and their friend. When the witch huntings had broken out across the earth it had been Loki who had begged their father for help. His people were dying, innocent children being killed for having a gift. And Odin had said that they shouldn’t involved, themselves with such a barbaric people. It was only a few days after his pronouncement that everyone had heard the news.

Loki had never recovered, and he had never forgiven Odin or Thor for that matter. Thor hadn’t volunteered to change Odin’s mind, or help the humans. He’d stood by and done nothing. As the years had passed Loki’s bitterness and pain and sorrow had only grown. Something had changed within his brother after his fall from the Bifrost. Something had broken and all of that rage and bitterness had exploded out of him. And now Loki was attacking humans as retribution for the crimes of their ancestors. A vengeful god mourning his followers.

Thor…after having truly connected with the humans he had found he couldn’t blame Loki for it. It was wrong yes. But if someone had killed all the meta humans for being different, as some humans wanted to do, then Thor would want revenge too.

Which left Thor with a dilemma.

Holly had magic. Did she know? It was unlikely that she did. After all there were no other human magic users as far as Thor knew. All evidence of witches and wizards had been wiped away. Even if she suspected she had some sort of gift there was no way she’d been trained. Untrained magic was highly dangerous and unstable. He’d heard once Loki talk about Obscurials. He didn’t know how common they were but… He didn’t want his shield sister to become a monster, or to hurt herself.

The others didn’t bother to do more than a small amount of complaining over the fact that they had to clean up the slime themselves. It was probably for the best since they didn’t want to risk the monsters reforming inside the tower again. Thor spent most of the clean up process deep in his head, agonizing over what to do. His shield sister needed help, help that Thor wasn’t qualified to provide. Only one man on this planet was and, well, there were reasons for not calling him to the tower. A lot of them.

But there were also plenty of reasons not to tell the Avengers. What if they reacted poorly? Their introduction to magic had been Loki. Thor didn’t know if they’d revile Holly like their ancestors had. He wanted to think that they wouldn’t, that they would be open minded. Odin, he wanted them to be excited at the thought of a human magic user. But magic had hurt them all in one way or another. Thor would never forgive himself if he got the only other person alive who could lift his hammer hurt for having a gift she didn’t ask for.

Would Loki hurt her? She was a magic user like him, even if she was untrained. Perhaps that would be enough to pierce through his madness? Or was his insanity too strong for anything now? Had Loki become completely lost? Or was Holly Loki’s chance for peace? If Loki knew that they weren’t all dead maybe this fighting could end. Maybe everyone could begin to heal.

Maybe that was too much to hope for.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: A Destiny

I studied transfiguration for five years before graduating and becoming a master in my own right. Loki had studied right along with me. Before that point Loki’s interest in transfiguration had gone as far as his shapeshifting and no further. Anything else he needed he felt he could do with illusions, a magic he was far more comfortable in. But Loki had decided to learn this new magic along with me. I admit he was far more studious at times than I was, despite transfigurations being my passion and not his. I personally think this was due to the distraction my future wife caused. She was studying dueling a few towns over and I kept going to her competitions instead of studying in my room.

When I became a master of transfigurations, I began looking for a job, something I found fulfilling. Loki was wholly amused by my search, thinking it a waste of time. I already had enough gold to comfortably live. He could understand wanting to study a branch of magic but working when it wasn’t necessary was something of his anti-thesis. He helped me look anyway in between his jokes.

I considered teaching first. Many masters work as teachers once they become masters themselves. But I found that I lacked the patience for teaching, even conceptually. Loki proved that very well by shifting into a young human and pretending to be a first year student. I was still so young, not even 24 years old and unmarried. I imagined the teenagers I was asked to teach and felt rather odd being seen as an expert. So I couldn’t be a teacher.

The next idea was to work as a transfigurist full time. People would consult me for their needs and pay me for my time. This appealed to me in some respects but when I spoke to othets who had gone down that route I found that the work was rather monotonous. Everyone had the same problems and I didn’t want my days to be filled with fixing wells or walls for weeks on end. So that was right out.

On and on the search went, Loki made fun of me for trying to find my so-called destiny. It was important to me to find something reputable though. How else would I convince my beloved Amaryllis to marry me if I didn’t have any standing in society. Yes, my parents had left me money and the beginnings of a title but their deaths had removed any standing that once would have had.

Eventually Loki grew bored with my mundane ideas of a destiny and started dragging me across the world in search of something fun and exciting to do. His plan was to distract me, show me how silly I was being for trying to find my purpose. It ended up being a great irony that his plan ended with me finding my true passion along the way.

We’d been in Muscovy wandering through the cold and icy world, in search of the famous capital when we’d stumbled upon a village. We found that there was a certain amount of unrest within the city as we walked along and so we were careful not to draw attention to ourselves as we purchased new supplies of food and water. Loki’s All-Speak served us well ensuring that we weren’t misunderstood. The source of the unrest we found very quickly was two young children, no more than 12 years old.

The parents of the children had always been seen as strange and disreputable but their children were hellions apparently. It was very obvious to me that the stories of trouble making were just examples of untrained young magic. I’d had similar events in my own youth after all. We visited their home and discovered that the parents were quite weak with magic. So little as to be considered squibs if they’d come from a pureblood family. But together they had produced quite powerful magical children and they had no training or idea at all.

My first plan had been to send a message to the school Durmstrang and let them know that there were two students in need of protection and teaching. Hopefully the headmaster would care enough to investigate soon, and the family could be taken away and given a safe haven. This plan blew up in smoke when the tension in the town finally broke just as we were about to leave.

The family’s home was attacked in the early morning with torches and the parents were dragged out of their home based on accusations of devil worship. The town had determined that the parents had made deals with Satan and been given children in the form of trickster demons. If the parents were burnt, then the demon children would be banished back to hell and the town would be curse free.

I moved before I could even tell Loki would I was going to do. My wand found my way into my hand without me having to call it as I rushed through the crowd of angry muggles. Never before had my magic come so easy to me than it did that day. Perhaps I saw my own parents in the older Russian couple or perhaps more likely I saw myself in those children. Whatever the case it gave me the motivation I needed to make a difference. The muggles attacked and I fought right back.

I didn’t notice Loki at my back helping me subdue the muggles until he kept me from jumping on the burning pyre. He jumped in himself, far more fireproof than I, and freed the parents while I kept the children safe. The two of them held onto me tightly, shaking and with faces stained with tears. Their magic crackled uncontrollably out of their skin and I did my best to calm them, promising that I knew they weren’t evil and that everything would be well.

I found myself helping the family back to their half burned home and helping them recover what they could. The parents while thankful for the protection, despaired over surviving the oncoming winter. I told them not to worry. Loki and I helped them pack and took them to the school ourselves. We arrived late in the evening on the outer steps of the stone keep. The headmaster greeted us with suspicious in his eyes. I introduced myself as a Hogwart’s graduate and explained what had happened. The elderly man listened and eventually let us in. Space was found within the keep and two places for the new students were created overnight when the headmaster saw the magical power in the two Krum children.

When we left it was with the knowledge that the Krum Family had a safe place to be and that I had found my purpose. I looked at Loki and he sighed before I could even ask if he’d help me.

“Fine.” He’d told me. “We’ll be heroes, you absolute fool!”

*****

Holly had been afraid, deathly so, that going back to work after the hammer incident would be tortuous. She had seriously considered quitting and disappearing into another country. The only reason she didn’t was because she really did like Jarvis. So, she went into work, despite her internal protests. To her pleasure very little changed.

The largest change was the fact that the Avengers talked to her now. Occasionally it was just one of them asking her to move the hammer for them because Thor had put it in front of a door or on top of something they needed. Tony Stark always asked her if she’d managed to slay a great beast today or not. Which she assumed was a joke about the fact that she could weild Mjolnir and he couldn’t. She forced herself not to flinch at the reminder of the great beasts she had slain and instead laughed it off.

The first two weeks post-Mjolnir she was followed home and around the city whenever she went out by people she couldn’t spot. At first, she’d thought it was some sort of attack by the group of men that she’d fought in the bar, but when nothing happened it occurred to her that this was one of the Avengers. So, she dealt with the stalking by making sure her blinds were closed and hid all of her magic things under a strong spell deep beneath her bed. She found evidence that someone had broken into her apartment but wasn’t worried, they clearly hadn’t found anything serious.

She mentioned the incident to Jarvis. Telling him she’d noticed that someone had been in her apartment, the door had been unlocked and things had been moved around. He comforted her by telling her that it was just part of a background check that the Avengers had ordered. Nothing had been taken and any personal secrets wouldn’t be shared unless it was needed for national security. She told Jarvis very sternly to make it clear that they could have just asked to come into her apartment or warned her so that she could do the dishes at least before they came.

Jarvis told her that wasn’t the point.

Despite that, after her complaints to Jarvis the break-ins and the stalking stopped entirely. Which was good because the constantly being followed had been making her paranoid beyond all belief. Her nightmares, which were terrible enough on their own, had had new guest stars in the form of muggle agents breaking into her apartment and stealing her wand and then opening fire at her and her friends. Ridiculous but still bothersome enough that she lost sleep over it.

In the same vein of the stalking, she knew that Clint and Natasha both were following and watching her while she was at work. When she went to have lunch with her coworkers, she felt eyes on the back of her neck. While cleaning their floors in the tower, they sat and did busy work while she worked. Clint was at least friendly about it, at times trying to bring her into conversation and at one point even apologizing for his pranks. Natasha took much longer to warm to her at all, and even then, Holly felt that Natasha had deemed her a non-threat and not someone she liked.

Her relationship with Bruce at the beginning was very similar to how it had been before. The man was a source of calm within the tower. She cleaned as quietly as she was able when she caught him meditating by the window and occasionally, he’d offer her a cup of tea when he was making his own. They didn’t talk about anything more important than the weather but Holly had a feeling Bruce liked the conversations anyway.

After all, she never acted afraid of him.

Thor was the most excited to see her each day. Sometimes he’d talk to her while she worked, telling her stories about Loki and Asgard and being an Avenger. Unlike everyone else in his group of earth friends she hadn’t been in a fight to the death with Loki, so Thor figured she wouldn’t mind hearing about his magic and how wonderful he was. In truth Holly didn’t really mind.

Loki had been a figure in her life since she was 11. He had been for all witches and wizards. She learned about him in history of magic, families who grew up in the wizarding world had Loki Day parties every April. Sometimes she wondered if her dad had had any traditions that he could have passed on to her when it came to Loki. Knowing how much of a prankster her dad was, he surely must have loved Loki Day. He was the god of the wizarding world and the people had remembered him as such. Loki had been the one to well…create the wizarding world.

As her History of Magic textbook had told it, when the witch hunts had gotten so bad that children were dying in the thousands and Asgard had refused to give protection, Loki had come up with a solution. A grand complicated spell that would convince the minds of the entire universe that human magic users were gone. Then the magical world could begin, living in secret and safety.

The only problem with this lovely story? After Loki had helped the humans cast the spell hiding them, he’d disappeared. Why he’d never returned to earth to live with his people, the people he’d saved, was a question no one had ever been able to answer. Well until now. If anyone knew why Loki had brought an army to earth instead of coming home to welcoming arms, it’d be Thor right?

So, she listened to his stories and shared some of her own, sanitized to remove any mention of her own magic. She liked Thor. He was very different from most people she knew. He had an excitement for life that well…reminded her of herself, at least how she’d been as a young girl. Everything Thor liked was met with the same enthusiasm Holly had used to save for quidditch games.

It left a bitter taste in her mouth sometimes. When was the last time she’d been that excited for anything? She tried to remember really. She’d been very happy for Ron and Hermione’s wedding but there’d also been a sense of loneliness and betrayal. All of her fights taking down Death Eaters and protecting the world hadn’t made her truly excited, she didn’t think. It had to have been earlier. Was it her sixth year? No…maybe it was her fourth year?

What all had Voldemort taken from her?

Almost three weeks had passed since the Mjolnir incident. Things had almost settled into a new normal. There were still questions, people still wondered what about her made her so special that a magic hammer was interested. She had a terrible suspicion about that, and it was one she refused to voice to her friends back in England or to the Avengers themselves. She didn’t even like thinking about it.

“Holly?” Holly looked up from where she’d been cleaning a window a little too hard.

“Yes Jarvis?”

“Mr. Odinson requests that you take your lunch with him today.” Not an unusual thing for the man to ask.

“Oh of course. Tell him I’ll be there once I finish up these windows.”

“We haven’t had time to discuss what happened, just the two of us.” Jarvis said as Holly turned back to the window, this time more focused on her task.

“No. No I suppose we haven’t. I’m sorry.” She said. “I should have made time for you.”

“I’m not offended, just concerned. You’re not normally one to shy away from difficult topics.”

That made her laugh a little, what an excellent way to call someone blunt. She leaned her forehead against the clean glass and sighed. Then she pulled back and swiped her towel over the smudge she left behind.

“I think I know why that hammer let me pick it up and I’m afraid of being right.”

“Why would that make you afraid?” How was the whole thing with Mjolnir anything but terrifying?

“Because…because if I’m right then…then my whole life is pointless. There’s nothing left for me to do or be. I’m…I’d basically be this empty husk of a person, an outdated tool that no one has any use for.”

Silence. Holly moved over and grabbed the spray bottle of window cleaner. She spritzed some of the colorful liquid on the next window and started rubbing the towel in a circular motion. All of her focus was on that task as she waited for Jarvis’ judgment.

“Holly, I don’t understand what that means. All I know is that I do not find you useless. You are good at your job but you…you are also a good friend to me. Your kindness alone will ensure you are never some sort of tool.”

She smiled and ignored how her eyes teared up a little. Screw it. She could afford to toe the line of the statute a little more than she had been.

“What I’m about to tell you is super classified. Promise to do your best not to tell anyone unless you absolutely have to? For, you know, the safety of the world or whatever.”

“I promise.” Jarvis said.

“My parents didn’t die in a car accident.” She said. “They were agents for a group that formed to stop evil in its tracks. The group they worked for doesn’t exist anymore, most of its members are dead and those that aren’t dead are old and retired now. My parents were killed by an enemy to the group they worked for.”

She spun around, away from the windows she’d been working on and began to pace. She was grateful Jarvis didn’t interrupt.

“After they died, I was left with a whole set of…expectations. Everyone who knew my parents expected me to be like them, to do what they did. To fight for the cause they did, to die for it.” She tried to keep the hysteria out of her voice but feared she wasn’t succeeding. “The leader of that group, Albus, he was certain that I was the key to everything. He decided that I would be his weapon against evil. After all what is the life of one child compared to the whole world?”

“What happened?” Jarvis asked, his voice the softest she thought she’d ever heard it.

“Well I was a baby. It wasn’t like I had any choice in the matter. Most kids get to have dreams, but not me I already had a destiny. Albus planned out my whole life, he planned to have it end when I was 17. That meant he didn’t make time for a career or for a passion. I didn’t need those if I was going to die like a sacrificial lamb.” A laugh that felt desperate as it crawled out of her throat broke her monologue. She slapped a hand over her mouth and calmed herself down. “Obviously I…I managed to save the day without dying. Albus died and suddenly I had a new future, free of people like him, but…”

“But you had no idea what to do with it.” He finished. He didn’t sound disturbed, like he had when she’d told that story about her uncle. No, this time Jarvis sounded almost…awed by the realization, the clues finally putting themselves together in his computer like brain. There was empathy there too, a kindness that she’d come to expect from her friend.

“Exactly. And then this…this hammer! It feels like it’s trying to drag me right back into the thing I escaped but…but I don’t even know if I wanted to escape in the first place! I don’t even know who I am.”

She stumbled over to the couch that was settled near the center of the room and sat down. She hadn’t meant to go that deep into her own psyche. She hadn’t even told this sort of thing to Ron and Hermione. Not that she felt like she could tell them. She didn’t want to worry them.

“I am sorry Holly. I don’t think any of the Avengers would ever want you to feel as if your only worth is as a weapon. I don’t think that.”

“You didn’t even know I was one until now.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“You’re kind, Jarvis. Thank you. I just…I don’t want to even think about that stupid hammer anymore. I just want to figure out who Holly actually is.”

“You will.” Jarvis sounded so sure, it reminded her of Ron for just a moment. How Ron had always been so sure that they’d figure out whatever problems they faced. Coming from Jarvis, a being who had no idea about magic and just a bare glimpse into her past, it felt unfathomable. How could he be sure? She felt like she was in a constant state of crisis and yet Jarvis was so confident that she’d navigate through a world she did not know. A world without a purpose.

“Thanks for asking Jarvis. My friends back home…they were there for most of it and so I think they forget that I…I didn’t deal with it as well as they did.”

“It’s my pleasure Miss Potter.”

She smiled up at the ceiling for a moment, hoping she was looking at one of the hidden cameras Jarvis had there.

“Although Holly I must admit.” He said. “Your ability to dodge that slime monster was much better than a cleaning lady should have been able to do.”

“Ah yes the old stop, drop, and roll. I learnt that in fire safety class.”

“I don’t think that’s what they meant, Miss.”

“Jarvis. I hope you never ever have to see what I picked up in fire safety school. It wouldn’t be a good day for this tower at all. I mean, if I ever felt the need to get involved? All of the Avengers would have to be seriously hurt.”

Jarvis responded after a moment in agreement while also managing to subtly tell her that she could help whenever she liked, if she wanted to. That made her laugh a little.

“I moved here so I wouldn’t have to.” She explained. “The Avengers have it covered here, I can rest easy and focus on myself for once. Now, where is Thor exactly?”

“Please take the elevator up to the top floor. As it is Friday some of the other Avengers are also there. As I was ordered not to tell you why I can only imply that they have plans today that involve you.”

“Right.” She said grinning. “And since implying something is so very different from telling. I’ll go up there totally unaware.”

“I would expect nothing less.”

She got into the elevator and went right up to the top floor. Sure, enough Thor was there looking pleased as punch, along with Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Clint Barton. Which were probably the only ones who were willing to get in on whatever plan they had.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Holly said. “I must be interrupting something, Jarvis told me Thor wanted to have lunch.”

I do!” Thor said. “We all do! Come over here, there’s enough for all of us.”

“Yeah come on.” Clint said. “It should be great!”

“You’re not scared, are you?” Tony asked which made her roll her eyes and walk over to the table. She pulled out her own seat before Thor or Steve could offer and sat down, arms folded over her chest.

“My shield sister would never be scared of lunch.” Thor told Tony in an almost condescending tone. “Now let’s eat!”

The table was filled with various different things, from pizza to burgers to sushi. There was a lot of it too, probably in deference to Steve and Thor. Holly quickly grabbed a plate and then leaned back. She tried to eat before the plan started, she was hungry after all.

“So.” Tony began the interrogation. “Jarvis tells me you’re trying to find your dream job?”

“Yes. I moved here so that I could…spread my wings and figure out what I wanted to do.” She answered. There was no point in lying or dissembling, they could listen to any of the security footage and they’d know the truth.

“Fascinating.” Tony said.

“It really is interesting.” Clint added in what had to have been the most poorly worded script of all time. “Hey, I’ve got an idea!”

“Any idea to help my shield sister is one I want to hear.”

She made eye contact with Steve, the only man who hadn’t said a word yet, looking so bewildered that the man had to lift a hand to his mouth to keep from giggling. Holly decided to nip whatever scripted nonsense this was in the bud. No way was she going to sit through it.

“Excuse me.” She interrupted. “But aren’t…you all like…supposedly geniuses and super spies or literally thousands of years old? I think you can do much better than this.”

Tony and Clint began to sputter while Steve lost his fight to keep back his laughter. Thor only looked terribly put out that his plan wasn’t working. Once everyone had gotten their composure back, Steve spoke.

“We think you should start training.” Steve said. “You can lift Thor’s hammer and if we’re right, that means you have something big ahead of you. Knowing how to use the hammer and how to fight can only be helpful.”

She made a face as if she was thinking about it and held it for a few seconds.

“No thanks.”

“What? Come on!” Tony whined. “Captain America just asked you to do something! No one just says no to that!”

“I’m British. The whole…Captain America thing doesn’t work on me.”

“It’s true.” He agreed, a grin on his face that she’d never seen before.

“Holly.” Thor said. “You can’t waste your talent!”

“How do even know I have any?”

“Mjolnir wouldn’t have let you lift her otherwise!”

“I don’t need any training Thor. Trust me it’d be a waste of time.”

“Teaching you how to defend yourself would never be a waste!”

And what followed was an argument she’d had dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, with governmental leaders all around the world. They’d argue that learning something new was always good and she’d tell them she was already learning so much and physical combat didn’t interest her much. Then there was the argument about duty, and she asked what need she could fill that they already didn’t. Unless the Avengers thought they were incapable of doing what they’d set out to do.

On and on it went over their lunch. Holly would’ve been amused by it if she wasn’t annoyed that her so called shield brother was trying to burden her even more. Eventually she lost her temper.

“Look I don’t know where the hell any of you got off thinking you knew what was best for me.”

“Holly.” Thor started. The god’s eyes were blue and concerned, it seemed he was finally realizing that he might have pushed too far.

“Shut up Thor, you arrogant thickheaded idiot! Can’t you see you’re making me uncomfortable? Or do you just not care?” Thor’s eyes widened. She ignored the pain she saw there. “Listen to me carefully. I am not going to train with you, ever. You’re obsessed with the idea than anyone who can lift Mjolnir is just like you. Well guess what? There are two uses for a hammer. I came here to build a life, not tear one down.”

She stood up abruptly, her chair scraping the ground behind her. She thanked them for the meal and said, as politely as she was able, which wasn’t much, that she had to be back at work. She left all four men with jaws partially open and silent. She didn’t say anything until she was in the elevator and it was moving far away from them.

“Men are the worst Jarvis. If you learn anything learn that.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Are you okay Miss?”

“I’m fine. Just annoyed. I’ll get it out of my system with some harsh vacuuming and it’ll be like it never happened.”

Unfortunately, the fates had other plans. Before she could even begin getting back to work Thor, god of thunder, stormed in. She tensed expecting an argument but was shocked silly when he paused a respectful distance away and spoke in a genuine tone.

“Holly. I am so sorry.”

“What?”

“I should have listened to you.” Thor bowed his head. “During my failed coronation, my father told me that a good king would use Mjolnir to build. I still haven’t learnt that after all this time.”

She knew about the coronation, it was one of the first things Thor had told her about. She frowned, her anger melting away. Who could actually stay angry at a man who had a face like that?

“You reminded me of Loki just then.” Thor continued. “I never listened to him either and it was what drove him away. I don’t want to drive you away.”

“You can’t save Loki by helping me.” He looked up, confused, and she continued. “I mean I get it, I see the similarities but helping me now won’t change what’s already been done and I promise you Loki doesn’t care about how you treat me at all.”

“That’s not why I’m apologizing. I pushed you to do something you find distasteful.” When she didn’t respond Thor changed the subject. “What similarities?”

Oh, plenty of things but nothing she wanted to get into right then, or ever.

“Some of the stories you’ve told just reminded me of me, okay? But just because I empathize with Loki doesn’t mean I think he’s justified. He invaded this planet because he had Daddy issues. That’s nothing that’s ever going to be okay.” Thor winced at her words.

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“Oh really?”

“There are things I should tell you, that you have a right to know. Please listen to it all?”

She promised she would, and she listened while Thor told her about the tragic genocide of human magic users. A massacre that destroyed all remnants of magic on Midgard. Most importantly a genocide that never happened.

“You’re a witch, Holly.”

“I’m a what?” She didn’t realize she’d repeated herself until it was too late.

“I’m telling you this because of Loki, he still mourns the people he lost 400 years ago. That is why he attacks people here. He wants revenge.”

“You…you think…”

“I know, having magic must seem very frightening but it is a gift. I promise it is nothing to fear.”

“I need time to think about this.” Holly said. “Please give me a few days.”

“Of course. Have Jarvis call for me when you are ready to speak again.” He turned to leave with nothing but a short respectful bow.

“Thor?” She called out right before he left. “Thank you for telling me.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: King of the Nine Realms

There have been times, in my life, when I’ve wondered what sort of man could have created my friend Loki. He is such an interesting mix of traits, in my younger years I often thought that King Odin must have been the most interesting man alive. Loki didn’t help matters by being purposefully vague about his father. As a teenager when I asked him about his family he’d complain about his annoying older brother, compliment his mother’s patience and leave his father out of it. I suppose the mystery made me all the more curious.

In my long life I was introduced to many versions of Odin, despite never meeting the man face to face. In the beginning Odin was a mysterious powerful figure, ever a benevolent protector of the weak and mortal. Loki told me stories of Asgard’s greatest triumphs across the nine realms. Odin defeating the invading Frost Giants. Odin saving the Dwarves. Odin allying with the Light Elves. Odin was all at once a master of strategy, an expert fighter, a sorcerer, a beloved ruler and a father.

Once Loki and I had become brothers in all but blood I was introduced to Odin in a new way. Still a great king and leader but also a disappointed father. Loki would mention off handedly at the end of a story that Odin hadn’t been pleased with him. Loki had used magic or trickery to get out of trouble and had gotten home to Odin’s displeased stare. Loki was never strong enough, or brave enough. He just wasn’t enough. At times Loki seemed to speak about his father as if the man was long-suffering and ever patient with Loki’s failings to be better, to be more like Thor. I only told Loki that I didn’t see any part of Loki as a failing.

“Things are different here, I suppose.” He’d always say.

Once I was married and well established as a hero in my own right, I met yet another Odin. This Odin was not just long suffering, he was downright insufferable. Odin had learnt that Loki was spending time on earth, helping the mortals, saving them and the man hadn’t been pleased. Odin had tried to order Loki from going back to earth at all, because the mortals should be left alone to solve the more petty matters on their own. Loki refused and had spent nearly 8 months living with my wife and myself before his father allowed him to returned.

In those eight months I learnt more about the family dynamics of the royal family than I ever imagined. Loki had in essence disowned himself by going to earth to be with me and help me, be my friend. He’d decided that he was no longer a prince, perhaps he wasn’t even an Odinson. He had no loyalty to them anymore and so he freely shared with me the stories and secrets of his family. It didn’t leave Odin in a very good light.

Despite all of this I still thought Odin a good man, perhaps a bit arrogant and a terrible father but still a good ruler. Odin had promised protection to the mortals of Midgard and he had kept that promise. No beings from any other realm had troubled them since Jontunhiem’s invasion all those centuries ago. No man could be perfect of course but at least Odin was a man of his word.

Until he wasn’t.

When I was 39 years old a tragedy struck that will still haunt me to my dying breath. A group of fanatic muggles found the location of a magic school in Egypt, the school of Abydos. Largely considered one of the oldest schools of magic in the world, its location was hidden to all but those who were granted the honor to study there. It was founded well before Loki was born, before Odin helped save us from the Frost Giants. It was old and one of the sights I desperately wanted to see before I passed.

But not like that, never like that.

A group of religious muggles from England, Spain, and France heard rumors of the school of magic and declared it devil worship. To this day I am unsure how they managed to find its location, but they did. They snuck into the school under the cover of darkness and began to burn anything they could find in an attempt to cleanse the land for their god. Loki and I received the distress signal from the headmaster of the school, and we rushed to help.

By the end of it 25% of the school’s library was destroyed, 13 teachers had been killed in protection of their students, 20 students had died and over 100 others were injured in some way or another. It was an affront to everything that should have been. The fact that the muggles had gotten into the school at all, the fact that they could justify the killing of children in their beds as sanctioned by god. Things had to change. I would not allow things to continue as they were. The smells and sights of that night will remain with me forever.

Loki promised me that he would find a way to fix this. He wouldn’t let the muggles do this again. Odin would help. Loki left me to go to Asgard and sue for protection. I stayed because the Wizengamot was in a riot. Outrage and calls for revenge spread across Europe and Africa. The muggles had gone too far and if they wanted a war then the magical people would give them one. See if their god protected them then.

I tried to keep the peace. A war was the last thing we needed. I stand by that. Not all muggles are evil, nor do they all wish us ill. A minority of them are demented yes, but not a majority. I had my own seat in the government at that point as well as large swaths of political influence due to my work as a protector of magical areas and my friendship with Loki. I used all of it to my advantage, turning the rage people felt towards actions of charity towards those who were directly affected.

Odin would come, Odin would help. No more children would die. Too many precious souls had had their lives cut short. Surely Odin would step in as he had promised he would? When Loki returned to earth a month after the Burning of Abydos I was introduced to the newest version of Odin, and it seems the truest one of them all.

Odin didn’t care. He refused to send even the bare minimum of help, even going so far as to advise Loki to leave the mortals on their own. We were nothing but insects to him, short sighted, silly, insignificant insects. What did Odin care if we suffered? Or if all magic users were killed off entirely? A war on magic itself didn’t concern him and it never would if it involved mortals. Loki’s rage was only matched by my own. What sort of man was Odin? Surely, he was not the kind of man worthy of any sort of loyalty, certainly not a man with any honor.

To my dying breath I will blame Odin for Loki’s disappearance. After the creation of the magical world with the help of Loki’s powerful enchanting, my friend disappeared. I do not know where he is or why he has not returned to his home. The plan had always been that Loki would return, his room in my home to become his permanent home. But he has not yet come back, and I don’t know why. All I do know is that Odin must surely be at fault, a man of such callousness is always the cause of such sorrow.

*****


Hermione thought her days of receiving urgent floo calls from Holly at midnight was over when Holly ‘retired’ from her work as the savior of the wizarding world. She had her doubts about that nonsense but Holly was nothing if not stubborn. After months of quiet nights only interrupted by her own pregnancy, and Holly seeming to finally settle down in New York, Hermione had started to relax. When she’d told her husband that he’d just laughed at her and sure enough, that very night, she was woken by a familiar alarm. Ron groaned.

“It’s your turn.”

“What?”

“I answered last time.”

“I was vomiting!” She had been suffering from morning sickness the last time Holly called, nearly five months before. Ron gave her a look as if to say that didn’t count and she glared at him. He’d suffer for this.

“Still.” Ron said as if that justified anything. It was true to a point, they’d agreed to trade off on the emergency calls and since they’d been so frequent in years past, they’d long given up on making excuses for who had to get out of bed. But she was pregnant, that should count for something!

She huffed but got out of the warmth of her bed anyway. She wandered through the hallway of their home and followed the sound of the alarm. She didn’t rush there like she used to. They’d set up two different types of alarms for emergency floo calls. The first was loud with bright lights, it was set up because Holly needed help ASAP. The second was this one, an annoying ringing that only she and Ron could hear. It meant Holly needed help, soon, but she wasn’t in active life-threatening danger.

Which meant Hermione could take her time. Thankfully, she wasn’t so good at getting up a lightning fast speeds, especially as her pregnancy continued. Only about 5 or 6 weeks until her due date and Hermione couldn’t wait to not be pregnant anymore. She knelt down in front of the fireplace, and muttered a spell, Holly’s face immediately became visible in the flames.

“Holly do you know what time it is?”

“It’s only 7:30!”

“It’s past midnight in Britain.”

Holly winced.

“Sorry. I just got home from work and I wasn’t thinking.”

“What happened Holly?”

“Well you know how I work at Avengers tower? Cleaning, right?” Hermione nodded, she still couldn’t believe one of the greatest magic users alive was working as a cleaning lady with no hint of embarrassment or frustration. The sheer spite that Holly had when she told people she was working as a cleaning lady couldn’t have been healthy. “Well I had a conversation with Thor today. He told me that… that he sensed that I have magic.”

“Did you break that statute?” Hermione asked. If Holly had broken the statute, then there needed to be damage control as soon as possible. She knew her friend wouldn’t get in trouble but there was no need for there to be a serious breech in security.

“No, that’s not the important part Hermione. He told me why Loki’s attacking earth. It’s because he thinks the magical world is dead.”

“What?”

Hermione listened as Holly told her the story of a genocide that never actually happened and how Loki had been left to mourn.

“But that’s…that’s impossible!” Hermione sputtered. “The spell that hid the magical world in the first place was Loki’s creation!”

“The purpose of the spell was to create protected areas right?” Holly asked. “Like bubbles where the people on the inside would remember magic on everyone on the outside would forget.”

“A bit of an oversimplification but yes. Loki left the planet to ensure that the spell was sealed across all of the realms.”

“Which meant that he was outside of the bubbles.”

Hermione fell back on her butt, a hand lifted up to her mouth in horror. The spell Loki had used to create a haven for everyone with magic had left him believing he’d failed to save any of them. It was the world’s cruelest irony.

“Holly.” Hermione said. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know! Loki isn’t a Death Eater. I can’t just go beat him and throw him in a jail cell.” Holly said. “Besides. We’re all retired now.”

“All of us?” Hermione pushed. She knew Holly wasn’t dealing with her own retirement well. Not like her and Ron. Honestly, her best friend was practically having a midlife crisis and she wasn’t even 30 yet.

“Yes. All of us. Finding my purpose means not picking up a sword anytime someone looks like they might be in danger of stubbing their toe.” Holly said sternly. “I won’t go back to being the world’s shield.”

Hermione didn’t say anything to argue the point. She knew that Holly was hurting from a lot of different things, probably more than she could ever guess. Her best friend had never outright said she was miserable after Hermione had married Ron and retired from active auror work. Holly was far too kind, too unselfish to say so. But Hermione knew that her marriage had left Holly alone, being the only person left to stand up against what remained of Voldemort’s influence. She’d done it, but at the cost of losing herself along the way.

Even now part of Holly looked strained when her pregnancy was brought up. It wasn’t that her best friend was unhappy with the addition of a young child. Holly loved children, she’d helped raise Teddy after all. But Hermione’s pregnancy represented everything that Holly didn’t have. Because something had happened, and Holly wasn’t happy. It seemed that with each month of Hermione’s pregnancy that passed Holly’s tenseness grew. Things were getting noticeable now that she was nearing her 8th month.

Part of her wanted to try arguing again that Holly’s purpose was what made her happy. Fighting evil, saving people, that was what had always made Holly the most excited, the most vibrant. Holly could still do good, she still had the fire within her. But she knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. Holly was the most stubborn person alive, the amount of thrown off imperios were testament to that.

Holly had gotten it into her head that since all of the Death Eaters were locked up and that the magical world was for the most part at peace, she needed to go find something new. Hermione wasn’t going to say her friend shouldn’t pick up new hobbies and friends, maybe find someone to marry. But the fates had chosen Holly as the child of prophecy. Being a hero was what Holly had been made into and what she would always be, words about retirement or not.

But Holly needed to decide that for herself. No matter what Hermione said, if Holly didn’t agree it meant nothing. So, Hermione sighed a little, put a hand on her belly and thought.

“I’ll write to the Wizengamot and keep your name out of it. I’ll tell them I was rereading some of my history books and came up with the discrepancy. Once they know that Loki doesn’t know about the magical world, they’ll decide what to do.” Hermione said after a moment of thought.

“It’s the Wizengamot, they won’t do anything.” Holly’s opinion of the Wizengamot was poor at best and Holly was very rarely at her best when it came to them.

“If you don’t want to do something then you have to leave it up to the authorities.”

“You’re right.” Holly said. “Sorry. I’m just…agitated. Thor’s a nice guy and he always looks sad when his brother is brought up.”

“You want to help him.”

“Well yeah. I just…if I told Thor about the magical world then he’d know that no magical humans needed to be avenged and he could tell Loki and maybe it would stop all of this nonsense.”

“You can’t break the statute just because someone is a nice guy and you know it.”

“Well.I certainly could.” Holly said with a grin.

It was true, Holly’s heroics had practically left her above every law in the land. She could break the statute as much as she wanted and the Wizengamot would probably thank her for it afterwards. They were so desperate for her loyalty and approval and Holly was equally desperate to be free of them entirely. Hermione wanted to smack her friend with a parchment just like she did when they were 16 and Holly had used the same tone to talk about being the Chosen One.

“If you want to be retired then don’t tell him.” Hermione said. “As far as he knows you’ve got a bit of magic and no idea what to do with it. I’ll tell the Wizengamot and they’ll take it from there.”

“Okay. Thank you, Hermione. Really. I owe you big time.”

“Next time you’re here, you’re massaging my feet.” Her feet that were always sore because she’d decided having a kid would be worth her while.

“Deal. I love you.”

“I love you too. Not eat some dinner. I’ll write this letter up before I go back to bed.”

“Right on it, Miss Granger!” Holly saluted before ending the call. Hermione sighed and got up off the floor. She didn’t know how Holly had managed to maintain her youthful vigor so well after all of the fights she’d gotten into. Hermione’s body, despite not yet being 30 years old was complaining about the abuse she’d put it through as a teenager. She was only 28 but sometimes her body felt decades older. Ron and all of the other DA members who’d fought said the same thing. The war had damaged their bodies in ways no magic could fix. Well everyone but Holly.

She walked over to her office, a cozy room that Ron and Holly had spent an entire day designing just for her as a surprise. It was filled, floor to ceiling, with books on all sorts of subjects and had heating spells on the floor so her feet didn’t get cold. She settled down in her chair and wrote out a letter, she referenced a few of the books she’d read just a few months ago as part of some light reading as evidence and as promised kept any mention of Holly or the Avengers out of it. She folded it up and sealed it her personal mark in purple wax.

Once she’d sent the letter off with their tiny little owl, she went right back to her bedroom. She carefully opened the door to see that Ron was awake. He smiled at her.

“Kept the bed warm for you.” By which he meant that he’d cast that spell that keeps the bed in stasis for her. It would feel just as it had when she left it. She smiled at him and crawled into the heavenly warmth. “What did Holly want?”

“She keeps finding ways to save the world and wants me to help her not have to.”

“Oh?” Ron asked, not sounding surprised at all. “And what was it this time? Find a way to solve global warming, did she?”

“No. She figured out why Loki attacked earth.”

Ron laughed, his voice husky with sleep. That laugh was one of her favorite sounds in all the universe, partially because it had taken years for either of them to laugh in the night instead of scream.

“Only Holly.” Hermione kissed her husband, trying to capture his ability to laugh at a situation that only made Hermione more stressed. “You’re worried.”

“I am.” She admitted. “I just…something is wrong with Holly.”

“I’m telling you, she’s worked herself into a stupor. Doing all of that hero work by herself for the past few years. She needs a break to stop and think about everything. All of us took the time to go to a mind healer after the war, even Percy and you know how he feels about that sort of stuff. Holly refused, kept saying she was too busy. And now she’s just making up things to be busy about.”

Hermione sighed, she had to admit, Holly’s refusal to get help treating her trauma worried her too.

“She used to love helping people. Nothing could make her more alive than the chance to make a difference and save a life. But now it’s gone, and I don’t know where it went to. I mean it’d be like me not liking a good book anymore! Or you turning down your mother’s cooking.”

“Do you think that’s our fault?” Ron asked.

,

“What?”

“We were the last ones to leave her. We left her alone just so we could make this nice house and have a child and be so disgustingly in love that the twins won’t stop teasing us. The spark started to dim after we retired.”

“So, you think she’s just lonely? I know she wasn’t happy to be on her own but that can’t possibly…”

“I don’t know.” Ron sighed. “Maybe Ginny’s right and all she needs is quidditch.”

Hermione giggled a little at the thought and settled down to sleep. Ron ran his hand over her hair in a practiced comforting motion. She tracked the movement of the scars on his arm he still had from the fight at the Department of Mysteries.

“Holly’ll be fine. I know she will.” Hermione fell asleep in the comfort of her husband’s arms.

The next morning as Ron struggled to make their breakfast and Hermione prepared to go out to the library, they received a special delivery announcement from the Wizengamot via owl. Hermione paid the bird with a few coins they had lying in the change jar and unfolded the announcement. She frowned as she read it.

“Well don’t leave me hanging there, dear.” Ron grumbled.

“Sorry.” Hermione said before clearing her throat and began to read. “A new Initiative has been announced by the Wizengamot after an emergency meeting held early this morning. New information about the reason for the god Loki’s invasion of earth has been revealed, absolving Loki as a traitor to wizarding kind. It appears that in sealing the spell that created the wizarding world over 400 years ago, Loki too fell prey to the spell’s influence. This means that like everyone else living at the time who wasn’t a witch or wizard living in protected areas on earth, Loki was fooled into believed that all magical people had been destroyed by the muggles.”

“Blimey.” Ron interrupted, putting down the stirring spoon, the wood clacking against the metal pot. “Poor bloke.”

Hermione had had the same reaction and watched as Ron looked sad for just a moment before shaking it off and picking up the stirring spoon again. Ron, out of all of them, had the most to mourn when it came to Loki. He’d been raised on stories about Loki, not like Holly and her. Hermione kept reading.

“This means that Loki’s invasion was not a betrayal of the wizarding world but rather his way of avenging the people he believed were killed. So, the Wizengamot has declared Loki to once again be a hero of the wizarding world and not a traitor. Despite this, his crimes cannot be ignored and there are concerns about mental instability within the god. Living for 400 years with burden of a genocide would harm even a god.” Hermione read out loud carefully. “The Wizengamot has formulated a new proposal to take Loki into custody so that he can be made aware of the magical world while also being checked over for mental damage.”

“Good. Looks like they’re not sitting with their thumbs up their arses like they normally do.”

“Ron.” Hermione said.

“Sorry dear.” He sounded the exact opposite of sorry.

“The plans involve working closely with the muggle heroes the Avengers. The Avengers have proven themselves heroes for all kinds of humans, muggle and magical alike. They were also the group to successfully stop Loki’s initial invasion. A representative from the magical world with skills in dueling and capturing dangerous magic users using nonlethal means will work with the Avengers to take Loki in safely.”

“Bullshit.” Ron interrupted. “They can dress it up anyway they want but we all know who they mean.”

“They can’t make Holly do it.” Hermione pointed out. “Besides no one knows where she lives. Not even we do. We know she’s in New York sure but beyond that, she’s really well hidden.”

“They’re not going to send anyone else.”

And Ron was right. No one else could take down someone like Loki. Holly was literally the best dueler alive, even Professor Flitwick who’d been a professional dueler for decades had nothing bad to say about her technique except for perhaps its ‘creativity’. The Wizengamot couldn’t hire anyone else if they wanted to be seen as competent and the wizarding would accept no one but their savior.

“She’s going to hate this.”

“No kidding.” Ron said, shaking his head. “So much for Holly’s retirement.”

“She’s going to be livid at tonight’s call.”

“How many times do you think she’s going to threaten to go supervillain?” Holly threatened that whenever the Wizengamot tried to control her or just pissed her off.

“At least three.”

It turned out to be five times, which was a new record. Poor Holly.

Chapter Text

Just one more realm to go.

Loki had been running on nothing but air and desperation for three days. He had been traveling to each realm under the cover of as little magic as he could spare, casting the spells needed to protect his home, his true home. Odin had made his choice and so Loki had reacted accordingly. He was no longer a prince of Asgard, not a brother to Thor, not an Odinson, not a child of Frigga. If he could he wouldn’t even be Asgardian anymore.

But Loki could figure all of that out later. Later. He just had to do the spell one more time, one more realm, and the new realm would be safe, the magical realm would be born. Loki took in a deep breath, well aware of the weakness in his limbs. Exhaustion had seeped into his very soul in the past few days and he knew once he was back home with Ralston and Amaryllis he would sleep for months. He ignored the tiredness and whispered a spell.

Loki was whisked away from Alfheim and found himself stumbling into a field right outside the royal city of Asgard. He fell to his knees for a moment. His armor was caked with dust, dirt and blood. Some of the realms hadn’t been easy or safe, Hel and Jontunheim had both been more than inhospitable to Loki as he cast the spell. But the injuries didn’t matter, what mattered was Ralston and his people. What mattered was his home.

Loki forced himself up and began stumbling around the hill, getting his preparations together. He had just enough magic to cast the spell one more time and get himself back to earth, Loki would make sure he had enough magic for it. Nothing else was acceptable. Carefully he began to paint the ritual circle on the golden green grass, the only sound being the slop of the paint in the bucket and Loki’s wheezing breath.

Runes glistened in red against the Asgardian sun. A sun that Loki would not see anymore after today. He wondered if he should mourn that loss. He was about to lose everything he had ever known. His chance for the throne, his name, the familiar taste in the air and the well-loved constellations in the sky. He was going to lose his mother, whom he still loved deeply, and he was going to lose his brother. Although he doubted Thor would miss him as much as Loki would miss Thor.

Perhaps he was too exhausted to mourn.

He finished painting the last rune, the Sowilo, and thought of Thor again as he looked at the lightning bolt shape. He’d asked Thor for his help, had hoped beyond all reason that Thor would be willing to help him create a new realm. But Thor had hesitated, told him to listen to their father, that it wasn’t so serious a matter. They were only mortals after all. Maybe Loki should not even plan on missing his golden brother at all.

Loki moved to the center of the ritual circle, careful not to disturb any of the carefully drawn runes. Even one change or smudge of the still wet paint could change the spell or even cause it to fail. Loki had been so careful, and he wouldn’t fail on the very last step.

“Loki.”

He froze and looked up at his father. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Odin had come, but his mind was dulled with half remembered terror and fatigue.

“Father.” Loki said, knowing deep in his soul that that would be the last time he ever called Odin that. Odin looked down at the ritual circle, a frown marring his features.

“What are you doing, my son? You’ve hidden yourself from Hiemdall these past few days.”

“Nothing serious.” Loki lied. “Just something to help Asgard.”

Wouldn’t Asgard be better off without him and his mischief? That was what everyone seemed to believe, and Loki was willing to test their hypothesis.

“Help Asgard? Or betray its king?” Loki flinched at the insinuation. He wasn’t the one who was the betrayer here. “Stop this madness right now Loki, before I must do something we would both regret.”

“Madness? Madness? You call what I would do madness? I am doing the only thing I can do.”

“You would betray Asgard, carve out a kingdom for yourself?”

“That’s not what this is.”

“If you do this, you will become a traitor to us. To remove a part of Midgard from the control of Asgard is treason.”

“Earth only owes fealty to those who would protect them. Your failure to act is what removes them from you, not me, not this.”

“They are mortals and they will listen to their betters.”

“They are people!” Loki shouted, his voice echoing out over the empty fields around them. “People with souls and emotions and dreams, people that deserve to live in safety!”

“Your mind is clouded by sentiment.” Odin snapped. “That mortal boy you cavort with, he’s nothing but a flash, temporary. That’s all those mortals are, temporary replaceable.”

“Do not speak of my friend that way, he is a far more honorable man than you or I.”

“What do you know of honor? You are betraying your people!”

“Asgard is not my people! I don’t belong here! I belong with them.” His exhaustion was making him near hysterical. Why couldn’t Odin just let him do this? “What does it matter to you anyway? If a small part of Midgard did not answer to you. No one would know, I’ve already ensured that, you would appear as omnipresent as ever.”

“I am the ruler of all the Nine Realms, that is my due. You will not take it away from me in a fit of childish obsession.”

“Childish? You claim to rule them, but you do not protect them! You are the child! Not me, I am giving them the chance to protect themselves!”

Odin growled and lifted his spear up, Loki was ready for him, he lifted up his hands and cast a shield, over himself and the runic circle. Odin would not stop him now.

“You dare raise your magic to me! You weakling? You will pay for that.”

All his life he’d heard some variation of that. That he was weak, incapable. But he wasn’t. He knew that now. He was a mage and a sorcerer, the most powerful in all the nine realms. Magic wasn’t weakness, it wasn’t trickery, it was pure honest power. And it was time Odin knew that too.

“No, you will pay for underestimating me.” Loki teleported out of the ritual circle, his rage powering him more than his depleted magic and he blasted at Odin.

They began to fight, hard, standing there on that grassy hill far enough away from the royal city that no one but Hiemdall was going to notice what was going on. For the first time in his life Loki didn’t hold back his magic in favor of his knives. Odin would know true power today. With each spell Odin fell back a step, trying to block or defend and slipping in face of Loki’s godly rage. Loki moved too quickly for Odin to use Gungir effectively. Odin’s own spell casting was untrained, relying more on brute force than skill. Loki evaded it easily.

Within minutes Loki was towering over his father, who had fallen on his back, golden spear too far away to be of any use. Loki’s magic glowed like toxic green flames, dripping off of his hands and onto Odin’s face and armored chest, burning him with each drop.

“Loki.” The man breathed. “Don’t.”

For a moment Loki considered it and then he felt deeply ashamed. Odin might have been a bit of a controlling bastard but he was still his father. Loki…Loki would not kill him.

“I’m not going to kill you.” Loki spat. “I’m going to leave.”

He didn’t have time to wait, his hold on his own consciousness was weakening. Soon he would lack the strength to even remain awake. He let his magic die away and he strode over to the ritual circle. His eyes tracked the runes and was satisfied they were right. Behind him Odin struggled and reached out, one hand spitefully erasing out a part of a rune before Loki noticed. Loki turned to his father, and prepared.

“We will never speak after today, in fact you won’t remember this.” Loki said. “My loyalty is to the magic users of earth now, it always will be. But know that you are my father, and if Asgard ever truly needs my aid I will come.”

Then Loki spoke ancient words in a language few even knew existed anymore. The runes of blood began to glow white with power and that magic began to quickly spread out from the circle and over the entirety of Asgard. Each being the energy touched had their minds rewritten as the sun began to set over the realm. Forget the magic compelled, forget the truth of the magic of Midgard and know only falsehoods. Never seek for the magic users, never try to even speak of them. Forget, forget, forget. Believe in the story, the magic insisted and forget what you once knew. Take this new truth and make it real.

Loki knew something was wrong the moment his mind began to fuzz. The magic of the spell sneaking in through the weakened runic circle to affect him too. Images of a war that never happened, or hadn’t it, filtered into his mind. He couldn’t stop the ritual now that it had begun. But that didn’t stop Loki from trying. Slowly the face of Raslton wishing him luck was replaced with Ralston screaming in agony as he was run clean through by a muggle sword. Loki screamed and fell to his knees.

A flash of light.

Loki woke to the sound of his father shaking him gently and then he wished he hadn’t. Because Ralston was gone. Tears began rolling down his face before he could even open his eyes.

“Oh my son.” Odin said, his voice so heavy with grief. “I am sorry, my son.”

And there on a grassy hill just outside the royal city of Asgard, while being held by his father, Loki began to break.

*****

The last thing the Avengers expected to see on a Sunday afternoon was three old men in robes, telling them that they had dire information to share. But maybe they should have expected it. After all their lives were already weird enough, why not add on robed men? At least that was what Tony argued as he led the three of them into a conference room. He did his best to ignore the looks his team members were sending him about it.

They all settled into their seats while the three men walked to the front, thanking them all multiple times for their hospitality. The three men, aside from the robes, couldn’t have been more different from one another. One man had one of the thickest Nigerian accents Tony had ever heard outside of Nigeria and looked like he was in his late fifties. The second man was probably the same age and from the other side of the world if his Indian accent and name was any indication. The third man was from America, he had to be practically everything about him screamed entitled American. It was the American who spoke once everyone was comfortable.

“Hello I’m Johnathon Whitelock, to my left is Okao Abidugun Okaforand and to my right is Khan Fragrand Khatri.” He said. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We lacked the ability to contact you before to set up a meeting and I know that heroes such as yourselves have to be very busy.”

“Indeed.” Okaforand said, looking at them with eyes that looked almost gold in the office lights, they were probably just a very light brown. Right? “We have come to speak to you, the heroes of earth, on a matter of grave importance.”

“We would not have come unless it was something to do with life or death.” Khatri said, not sounding as pleased as the others. “It’s been decided that we should work together.”

“Work together on what, exactly?” Steve asked respectfully.

“Apologies.” Whitelock said. “Before we tell you I have to ask that all of you agree to a vow of secrecy. We want to tell you a secret so large that if it were revealed to the general public it would endanger millions of human lives. We have to know that you won’t tell anyone. If you can’t agree to that then we will find someone else.”

“Is this secret dangerous?” Natasha asked.

“Not in the way you are thinking.” Whitelock promised. “It keeps people safe, vulnerable people. Telling you about this, it’s a sign of trust and respect. I just need to know that you won’t endanger the people that we are charged with protecting.”

They talked about it for a while, asking more questions of the three strange robed men, most of which they wouldn’t answer. Eventually they all agreed to keep it a secret. None of them felt good about it but when lives were in danger, they found themselves more willing to agree. Besides if things got too dicey, they’d tell who they needed to.

“Good. Thank you.” Whitelock said. “Now it is my honor, as well as my two companions, to tell you about magic.”

“Magic?” Thor said. “We don’t need a lesson on magic, my brother…”

“Is why we are here.” Okaforand said. “Loki’s history with earth and its magic users must be discussed today if we are ever to find peace. Please allow us to tell our side of the story.”

“I apologize.” Thor said, something in his tone sounding off. “Please continue.”

Before Tony could ask what the hell that meant, the three robed men told them. They told them all that 500 years ago magic users roamed freely on earth. Human magic users that could rival the Asgardians in magical power. They lived amongst the nonmagical making cities and governments together. But then…like so many things bigotry got in the way.

The witch hunts as the Europeans and Americans called them were happening all around the world. Different countries had different reasons and different names for the wave of hatred for magic that spread across the globe but it all amounted to the same thing. People were hunting those with magic, and it meant that children were being killed for having a gift that they couldn’t yet control.

Which is where the hero of the story comes into it.

Loki really?

But it was true. Loki had been a long time friend of wizards. He had been their friend and their god. He had been the one that people had prayed to for help when the huntings got worse. First Loki had gone to Odin to beg for help protecting his people, the magical people of earth. When that didn’t work, Loki didn’t give up. Loki and his best friend Lord Ralston Potter of Britain traveled the world saving the lives of magic users everywhere and getting each magical leader one by one to agree to a crazy plan.

Loki’s plan had been simple. If Asgard refused to help, and by extension any of the other realms, then they would just make a new realm entirely. One for magic users only. A place free of prejudice and bigotry where magic could fill the streets and children could be safe to learn to use their gifts.

To hear the three robed men talk about Loki, it was as if they had weird crushes on him. Which was just not a good mental image.

“I don’t understand.” Thor said. “I remember the huntings, but 400 years ago all of the humans magic users were killed.”

“That was what you were meant to think. Loki’s plan involved a great magic that would remove the truth of magic on earth from every mind who wasn’t living in the new realm that Loki had carved out on earth for us.”

Whitelock continued the story of the statute of secrecy and how Loki designed a powerful protection that would create a secret realm for magic users to live. A secret world that lived within the now non-magical one. The world that these three men were from. It was wild. It was insane. It took time to wrap his head around and he was a genius! If Thor hadn’t been able to confirm that human magic users had existed 500 years ago just like they said, then Tony didn’t know if he would have. No matter what they managed to do with their weird sticks.

“The plan as Loki told us was that he would leave earth for a short time to seal the spell from the other side. That way every being in all the nine realms would be placed under the spell. Then our hero would return to live with us forevermore.” Whitelock said. “But…Loki never returned after the spell was put in place.”

“The entire wizarding world waited for 400 years for Loki to return.” Khatri said. “We didn’t know what had happened, had he died? Did Odin trap him? Had he forsaken us?”

How this story was going to end was becoming clearer by the minute. Thor looked absolutely sick while the others were shifting in their seats awkwardly. Whitelock continued his story with how the wizarding world had dealt with Loki’s betrayal and invasion. Their god had not only abandoned them but tried to kill them. All of those years spent celebrating him and waiting for him to come back had been for nothing, Loki only saw them as ants now.

At least that was how they saw it until yesterday morning when they got word from one of their researchers of an alternate explanation. Loki had been affected by the spell that had created the wizarding world in the first place. When Loki left earth to seal the spell, he left the protected areas of his new realm which meant that when the spell took effect, he forgot the truth and had it replaced with a story of a genocide he failed to prevent.

Loki had been the first hero of earth and if these guys were to be believed, Loki had spent the last 400 years thinking he’d failed to save the people he loved. Yes loved. Whitelock assured them that Loki had once loved humans.

“Lord Ralston Potter and Loki’s friendship is a legend now to us. A bond so strong that it created an entirely new realm. There are songs and books and plays about their friendship and the mark it left on all of Ralston’s descendants. Ralston’s journal is considered one of the most accurate resources on Loki that still exists today. Even if no one but his heir has access to it.”

“We get it. He loved humans, or at least one human, and the spell he created backfired a little.” Clint said. “That still doesn’t change that he came here to enslave all humans.”

Is still trying in all honesty. It still galled him that Loki had escaped in the aftermath of the invasion. He should have been down for the count after his beat down by the Hulk, but somehow the guy had managed to sneak away to creep on earth another day. Now Loki caused problems and tried to kill them to get revenge for the Avengers defeating him the first time. It didn’t matter who Loki had been 400 years ago what mattered now was who he was in the present.

“You’re right. It doesn’t. With this new information we believe that Loki is trying to avenge the deaths of his people, a vengeance that isn’t needed as it turns out.” Whitelock finished. “I lost family during the invasion, don’t think I don’t understand that justice still doesn’t need to be served, but we’ve come here with a plan to get that. The Wizengamot, which is basically the UN for wizards, wants to help you take Loki in, nonlethally, and have him face a trial. We have the facilities to keep a magic user in custody, we can also check Loki over for mental instability. 400 years of grief could have damaged his mind.”

“Are you trying to justify what he did because he was sad?” Bruce asked.

“Magic…magic acts on the desires of the person who wields it. Trauma can twist your magic and cause physical damage to the mind and body.” Whitelock explained. “Loki’s actions could be caused by what is essentially magical brain damage. If that is the case, then he needs help.”

“Thor.” Steve said. “Can you confirm any of this?”

“I can. I thought that Loki was attacking earth to gain revenge for his lost people. Trauma in magic users can be serious. That’s why I keep telling you all that Loki’s mind is far afield. I don’t know what damage his trip in the void caused but it couldn’t be good.”

“What kind of help are you offering?” Natasha asked.

“The Wizengamot has picked out a woman of unparalleled magical skill. She has over a decade of experience taking down powerful magical enemies using nonlethal means and is considered by most people to be the greatest dueler alive. She is one of the greatest heroes the wizarding world has ever seen, many people put her on the same level as Loki himself.” Whitelock told them. “She is also the final descendant of Ralston Potter. Ralston, during his friendship with Loki, formed a magical bond with Loki that continued through his children. That bond should, in theory, give Lady Potter an edge. Even in his madness we don’t believe that Loki could bring himself to hurt a Potter, his magic would fight against it.”

Wait Potter? Tony exchanged looks with some of the other Avengers. He had once said that he didn’t believe in coincidences and his time as an Avenger had only confirmed that.

“Tell us more about this Lady Potter, please?” Tony asked.

“Of course.” Whitelock said, sounding eager. Almost too eager. “We’re hoping that you would allow her onto your team, to work with you, both to stop Loki and perhaps on a more permanent basis. Loki’s actions have increased anti-magical sentiment globally. We think that having a good guy represent magic will help any children who are born with magic to a non-magical family.”

“Tell us about her and we’ll consider it.” Steve said.

Her resume was impressive apparently. Slaying basilisks and wrestling trolls was an everyday occurrence for the woman. She’d led an army against the greatest evil the magical world had ever known and then spent nearly a decade wiping out every single one of his followers. She had a nearly perfect record, only having ever taken one life in her career, that being Voldemort himself. Whitelock spoke about her like she was his idol, almost slobbering at the mouth when describing her skill and experience.

The longer they spoke of Potter’s heroics the surer Tony became that his cleaning lady was also a war hero. No wonder she kept telling them she didn’t need training. What could they teach her that she didn’t already know? The final nail in the coffin was given by Thor.

“Could you give us a picture of Lady Potter?”

“Of course! She was in the paper just this morning since she was chosen to work with you.” Whitelock said, waving his wand and creating a newspaper out of nothing. Sure enough, there in color was a moving, magical photo of his cleaning lady, weird scar and all. “This photo is a bit old I’m afraid. Lady Potter disappeared from the public eye a few months ago.”

“She disappeared?” Steve asked, giving his very best poker face.

“Yes. Once all of the Death Eaters were taken in, the Wizengamot offered her a position as an auror, which would be something like an agent. She could have spent the rest of her life saving the day, but she declined. We all thought at first it was because she had another offer, but nothing came of it. She just disappeared. Her friends tell us that she’s fine but that they don’t know where she’s living now.”

“So, if she’s missing how is she supposed to help us with this Loki issue?”

“Holly Potter is a hero.” Khatri said. “She won’t leave the world in need. We will send a message out and I have no doubt that she will answer.”

“Indeed.” Okaforand added. “She came to my country’s aid five years ago just because I asked. It didn’t even have anything to do with Death Eaters, yet she still came.”

“Beyond that, the Potters are just as attached to Loki as he is to them. If he needs help, her family history would ensure she’d want to help him.”

“So, you’re just going to send her a message and hope for the best.” Tony said. “And she’ll work with us, both to get Loki into custody but just as a new team member. You’re sure she’ll be willing to do this?”

“She’s a hero! The best there is! Why wouldn’t she?” Whitelock was clearly the biggest fanboy to ever fanboy. “She has a dedication to the right thing that we could all learn from.”

It seemed like there was a bit of a disconnect between the woman they had all met and the one these wizards seemed to think they knew. Natasha changed the subject and started asking questions about the wizarding justice system and the Wizengamot. Things they would need to know. Soon they were all pulled into a conversation about the amazing wizarding world.

They learned, very briefly, about Quidditch and much more about the American version of it Quodpot. Tony asked about magical technology and was told that magic and muggle technology didn’t mix well. No one knew why but trying to put them together resulted in explosions more often than not. Which just smelt like a challenge.

Once they got over their shock all they could really do was be in awe of a world of magic. One that was right next door. This wasn’t like Thor’s stories of Asgard, this was real, these were humans who could teleport and fly on brooms and listen to rock music on self-playing instruments. It was real in a way Asgard wasn’t. Even Thor was in awe of the stories they told of unicorns and dragons and trolls.

Eventually they had to go back to the elephant in the room.

What if you can’t find Holly Potter? What then?” Thor asked.

“As much as I wish I could tell you we could send someone else, there isn’t anyone near her skill level. Most of our greatest duelers were killed in the war, two generations were decimated by Voldemort’s actions.” Whitelock said. “If Potter can’t be found then…then I don’t know who else could possibly win.”

It wasn’t a question of finding her, it was a question of getting her to cooperate. So far as Tony could tell, that was the last thing Holly Potter would want to do.

“For the most part we are a peaceful people, most are interested in finding new spells and potions than fighting wars.” Khatri told them. “Those who can fight are revered but that is because they aren’t common. The war lowered an already rare population of duelers.”

“We understand that.” Tony said. “But if we can’t find Potter then at least we should consider in what ways you can help us take Loki in without her. Supplies, tools. That sort of thing.”

“We’ll talk to the others. No decision like this can be made without support from the Wizengamot. Involving non-magicals in this was not an easy decision to come to.”

“We understand.” Bruce said. “Your people’s safety is important. Thank you all for coming to us today. We hope that we can work together well.”

Since when was Bruce a diplomat? Tony lifted up both eyebrows as the three representatives bowed to Bruce for his kind words.

“I have a question.” Clint said. “If Potter does work with us, how will she use her magic without breaking the statute?”

“We can pretend she is from Asgard.” Thor offered immediately. “If we give her some armor like my own then no one will think to question it.”

“That would work.” Whitelock said. “Thank you. The statute is very important to us. I must warn you, if you tell anyone else, their minds will be erased of the information. That is the law.”

The fact that they could just erase memories like that made Tony inwardly shiver. They understood why the threat was there but that didn’t mean any of them liked the mention of mind magic.

“We have put together a biography of Holly Potter for you.” Okaforand sad magically producing a thin leather book. “This should help you learn what her skills are as well as how to work with her. For the past few years she has worked on her own, we hope there won’t be too much difficultly integrating her into your team.”

“That’s really helpful.” Steve said honestly. “We look forward to meeting her.”

“When we speak again, it should be with Lady Potter. Do you mind if we leave the normal way now? We all have far distances to travel.”

“Go ahead.”

So, the three wizards said goodbye and literally disappeared with nothing more than a few quiet cracks. Thor broke the silence that followed with the smuggest tone they’d ever heard.

“I knew her file was wrong.” He said. The others laughed, the tension leaking from the room.

“The real question here is simple.” Tony said leaning forward. “What do we have to do to get her to join us? Come on, we need ideas.”

They all looked at each other for a moment. It was obvious that Holly Potter was someone they needed on their team. She could lift Mjolnir and she was good at what she did. Besides they all loved a challenge.

“I think sir.” Jarvis interrupted. “That there is some footage you need to see.”

Chapter Text

The only reason Holly didn’t flee the country was because it would break her boss’s heart if he had to find someone else to clean Avenger’s Tower. That was it. Well that and Jarvis, she knew he’d be hurt if she just disappeared. So, she went into work on Monday, her wand hidden up her sleeve and a scowl on her face. She explained her foul mood away to her coworkers by stories of a bad night’s sleep and an awkward phone call from home. In response one of them gave her their coffee, telling her she’d need it more than them anyway.

It made her nearly tear up.

To her coworkers she was just another person. Merlin she shouldn’t get so emotional over such a small act of kindness. She quickly rubbed her eyes and thanked them for the coffee. She didn’t even like coffee. She kept the tall thick paper cup with her on the ride over to the Tower, holding it just a tad too tightly between her fingers. The near painful heat from inside was the only thing she could feel the closer they got.

The others wished her luck as they frequently did when she separated from them to go to the upper floors of the tower. When she stepped into the elevator, she braced herself for the worst. The doors slid shut and she winced at the near silent sound.

“Good morning Holly.” Jarvis said, his voice almost the same. She cringed at minute difference.

“Morning Jarvis.” She said staring down at the plastic white lid of her coffee. “How was your weekend?”

“Sir and the other Avengers had some very interesting visitors yesterday.” A flinch that Jarvis would clearly see ran through her frame. “It seems I now have context for our conversation last week.”

“Jarvis I’m sorry I would have…”

“I am not upset with you. I understand that telling me would have broken 400 years of secrecy.” Jarvis told her. “I am however interested to know how you haven’t damaged any of the electronics in the tower.”

“Practice.” She told him honestly. “When I come in here, I put a lid on my magic. I’m not honestly sure how else to describe it. It weakens me, but it means that the lights won’t explode when I get upset.”

“You are weaker when you come here?”

“Of course, I am! I wouldn’t ever risk hurting you Jarvis.”

There was a silence between them for a moment. Holly focused on the heat from her coffee.

“I am…gratified. I don’t think anyone has taken such care of my safety before.”

“You might not have a body in a normal sense but…but you still deserve to be safe Jarvis.” Holly told him sternly. “Locking away most of my magic isn’t that hard anyway.”

“But it leaves you vulnerable.”

“I still know how to throw a punch, don’t worry.” She said wryly. “Magic isn’t all I am. It’s just most of what I am.”

“That is good to hear.” Jarvis said sounding far too amused for her liking.

She sighed and leaned against the metal wall of the elevator. It was nearing her first stop.

“How bad is it going to be?”

“I hope that you will not find it too tortuous.” She silently groaned as the door slid open. She saw that they were all waiting for her, looking way too serious. There was only one thing to do.

“Good Morning Avengers!” She greeted cheerily. “How was your weekend? Mine was so calming, I guess I have you all to thank for that!”

“Holly.” Thor said, his blue eyes wide. “Is it true?”

“I mean I did a little housework and found some mold beneath the sink and that was anything but calmin-”

“Were you really a child soldier? A babe given a wand and told to save the world?” Thor asked.

“15 is hardly a baby.” She started to say. Thor cut her off with a hug.

It was gentle, as if she were as fragile as glass. He held her in his arms, pushed up against his chest. Was he wearing particularly soft shirt today? It felt too soft to be anything but planned. She was tucked up beneath his chin.

“I am so sorry.” He said, his voice sounding the closest to rolling thunder it ever had. “You were only a child. You should have been protected, honored. And now they ask for your service again, it is selfish and wrong.”

“What?”

“You have earned your freedom, freedom you should have always had.” Thor said. “To think that you thought we would force you. That Mjolnir was meant to trap you. No. No I will ensure you never have to fight for this world again.”

It was the first time. The very first time that someone had said that. Even Ron was of the opinion that if she retired that it would be temporary while she got her head on straight. She’d always felt that all of her friends had just decided for her that when she said she was done that she was being ridiculous. That Holly Potter was only ever good for one thing and that was saving people.

It was stupid being frustrated with them. She knew they loved her and worried about her. But that worry and love sometimes felt just like Dumbledore’s control had. They all had a very specific idea in her head about what she needed to do. They wanted her to be happy and they were sure that they knew the way. But that took away her freedom to choose for herself.

She just stood there, the coffee she’d dropped sinking completely into the carpet between her feet and Thor’s. She felt very very stupid. For weeks she’d been agonizing over what she wanted to do with her life. A constant fear that there was no purpose for her anymore now that she’d given up the thing that her friends thought that she was good at. Deep inside of her she’d been afraid that she’d end up being just another weapon for the Wizengamot, a shield for the world.

“I don’t understand.” She said her voice muffled by Thor’s huge pectorals. In response Thor pulled back and knelt before her, he looked up at with his blue eyes looking a little too wet for her liking.

“You deserve freedom.” He said. “And it is my honor to ensure you have it. I know the other wizards seem to think it is your duty and honor to help us but they are wrong.”

“Yeah.” Tony Stark broke in. “We were handling Loki before, it’s not like we need your help.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing.” She told them. “Telling me not to help, you don’t know what I can do.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Steve said. “If you were interested in fighting with us you would have come to us and offered. We aren’t going to force you.”

“You can’t say it doesn’t matter if you don’t even know what it is.”

“What are you suggesting?” Natasha asked. “That the only reason we’re telling you that we’re not going to force you to join us because we don’t know what you can do?”

“You’d have to be stupid to turn down a weapon without even knowing it’s capabilities.”

“You are not a weapon.” Bruce said, almost sternly. “You are a person.”

“Even if you could take down Dr. Doom with nothing but a flick of your wrist it wouldn’t matter anyway.” Clint said.

“Well…” She said uneasily.

“Wait really? No. No. Doesn’t matter. We all decided that we wouldn’t even ask you to join us. We’ve been dealing with Loki fine on our own and we’ll keep doing that.”

“You just keep looking for new passions.” Bruce said. “And if you need any help exploring them, we’d be happy to help.”

“I don’t…I don’t know what to say.” Her voice shook in the way she absolutely hated to hear.

“Don’t say anything!” Thor told her.

“Unless it’s an agreement to help me figure out how to magic proof my tech!” Tony added. “That’s not an invitation to the Avengers I just want to figure out how to keep Jarvis and my suits safe.”

She giggled a little but told Tony that was definitely something she could do. She looked down at the stained carpet and crumpled cup and wiggled her fingers. The cup popped back into its proper shape and floated up into her hand. The coffee coalesced a moment later and floated up like a living snake right into the cup.

“There.” She said.

“Woah. That was cool.” Clint said.

“Thank you. Really.” They all knew the thank you wasn’t for that. “Now. Who came here to tell you about magic?”

“Three guys from the Wizengamot. Big fans of yours.” Bruce said. “There was… Khatri, Okaforand, and Whitelock.”

At the last name she grimaced. Thor frowned while the others looked more interested.

“You know them?” Natasha asked.“I’ve met two of them. Okaforand’s a nice guy, met him about five years ago when Nigeria was having that dragon problem.”

“A dragon problem?” Thor asked. He sounded much too excited, it was shameful.

“Yeah. Five dragons were having a terf war and they needed to be relocated. I was called in to do some dragon wrangling. If you’ve never ridden a dragon before I cannot recommend it enough. Super fun. Okaforand was really grateful for my help but we haven’t spoken since.”

“Okay. Ignoring the dragon thing, who else did you know? Khatri?” Clint asked.

“No. No Whitelock.” She made a face at even saying the name. Merlin that guy was a creep.

“Okay that sounds like a story we have to hear.” Tony decided. “Sit down Lady Potter, drink your coffee and tell us everything.”

Thor ushered her into the spot he’d just had and settled himself on the ground. She gave Tony a look and said seriously.

“That is not a story I tell over coffee.” She said. “Butter beer is the only drink suitable.”

“Never heard of it.” Tony said. “What is it?”

“Only one of the greatest magical drinks humans have ever created.” She said. “You want to try it?”

To her surprise they all did so she conjured enough bottles of the stuff from her home. She handed one out to each of them while explaining that this was the nonalcoholic version, she didn’t drink often. It made her magic all wonky and until this tower was magic proofed, it was probably best not to risk it. Tony looked so very excited when she told him that there were magical liquors and she promised to get him some.

Once they’d all opened their bottles and Holly had taken a few fortifying sips she started the story.

“So, I first met Whitelock when I was 18, this was over a decade ago now, the war had ended just a few months earlier.” She said, trying to recall everything from that time in her life. “Whitelock has been sent from the United States to Britain to ask for my help with their Death Eater problem. I’d been so busy focusing on efforts in the UK that I hadn’t even realized other countries were suffering too. With Voldemort’s death all of his followers were wreaking havoc everywhere.”

“We were told that you travelled the world taking down bad guys.” Steve said.

“Yes, this is how that started.” She said taking another sip. “My friends and I agreed to go for a while, help out and maybe train the American forces on how to take care of it themselves. We all wanted to go someplace new and have an opportunity not to see the spots where our loved ones died every other day for a little while.”

She shook her head, freeing her mind from the memories and then sipped once more. The others seemed to be enjoying their own drinks, Tony had even made a very appreciative humming noise.

“Whitelock was very welcoming, the guy was in his late 20s, maybe early 30s, at the time I think, just starting out in government. At the time I believed he thought it would do him good to be seen working with the hero of the wizarding world. I didn’t like it but I didn’t mind either. He wasn’t slimy about it.” She said, as if that was any consolation. “He’d come to where we were staying and chat. He invited me to go eat a lot, even suggested we see a few movies.”

“He was trying to date you.” Tony said. Why was it so obvious to everyone but her?

“Well yeah, except I didn’t know that did I?”

“How could you not know that?” Clint asked.

“When most girls were learning to flirt, I was learning how to take down a fascist regime.”

Clint winced at her tone and lifted his drink up in apology.

“Anyway, my lack of even theoretical knowledge when it came to dating, made it difficult to tell what the guy wanted.” She said. “It didn’t help that he was a decade older than me and not even all that good looking.”

“Is a decade a large gap of time between couples?” Thor asked.

“It can be.” She said. “If they’ve both been adults for a long time, then it doesn’t really matter. But I was barely older than a child, a traumatized child at that, and he’d been an adult for much longer. He was a creep.”

Thor growled a little now that he understood while Steve looked like he was ready to get up and punch the wizard in the face. She smiled a little and took another sip.

“Every time he asked me out, I’d tell him I was too busy. Because I was. Fighting Death Eaters doesn’t leave a lot of free time.” She said. “But then he started showing up whenever I did have free time. Go out to eat to celebrate a victory? Whitelock was there. Find the time to take my friends to see a tourist site? Whitelock showed up and offered to be our guide. It was just weird at the time.”

“It didn’t creep you out that he was showing up everywhere?” Bruce asked.

“Well I didn’t know what to think.” She admitted. “By that point I’d literally never had anyone show a romantic interest in me. I’d never gone on a date, or gotten caught snogging in a broom closet like my peers. I was also… well I didn’t look very attractive at the time either.”

“What do you mean?” Thor asked. “You are a very fine woman.”

“Thank you, Thor.” She said giving him an indulgent look, she was quite sure that Thor would say that about literally any woman. “But…well the war hadn’t done me any favors. I’d spent the last year of the war on the run, living in a tent and rationing food. The stress of the constant running and fighting and planning piled on top of low resources meant that I looked so thin I was practically skeletal by the time I killed Voldemort. I’d put on some weight after the war but not much. I literally wasn’t given time to rest, there was too much to do. So, I looked like a…well…I was a skeleton with paper white skin and bright newly given scars peppering everything.”

All of them scowled at the description and what it revealed about her past. She took a sip and tried not to think about it too hard. Her friends had been forced to rest, by her, at the time. But she’d been so sure she was needed that she hadn’t taken more than a few days off post the final battle of Hogwarts. She knew going to a healer would only result in forced bedrest and she had refused to abandon a world in crisis.

“Anyway.” She said sipping one more time. “I had literally no reason to think of Whitelock as anything more than an overly friendly brownnoser. I didn’t know any different until my friend Ron pulled me aside and asked if I wanted him to get everyone else away so I could have some private time with Whitelock.”Ron had been so earnest when he asked. Her friend had thought that Holly had been interested in Whitelock, the dashing older American, but that she lacked the courage or the privacy to do anything about it. Of course, once she realized what he meant, her reaction made it clear to both of them how distasteful she found the idea.“Ron revealed that everyone thought that Whitelock and I were on our way to becoming a thing. Which…eww. When I told him he was crazy, he told me I wasn’t the one who needed to hear that.” She told the Avengers. “I needed to tell Whitelock I wasn’t interested.”

“I bet that went over so well.” Natasha deadpanned.

“He wouldn’t take no for an answer!” She shouted in frustration. “No matter how many ways I told him that us dating was never going to happen, he just…didn’t get it.”

“What an asshole.” Tony said.

“Eventually, I found a solution.” She told them, still sounding a little frazzled at the memory. “I told him that I wouldn’t feel right chasing after ‘carnal pleasures’ while people were still living under the threat of the Death Eaters.”

“He bought that?” Clint asked, disbelieving.

“Hook, line and sinker.”

“An asshole and an idiot.” Tony said lifting up his bottle in a mockery of a toast before knocking it back and taking a huge gulp.

“Whitelock is a scoundrel.” Thor said.

“You won’t hear me arguing.” She said. “That’s why literally no one in the wizarding world knows where I live. I started using that excuse anytime a new scoundrel popped up. Whitelock was just the first in a long line of creeps. A long line of creeps that would start bothering me again since the Death Eaters are gone if they could find me.”

“That’s awful. How many men are bothering you?” Steve asked as if he wanted a list of men to go give an All-American punch to.

“You think I’ve kept track? I stopped counting after the 100th weirdo thinking we were destined to be.” She rolled her eyes at the very idea.

“How terrible.” Thor said. “Surely you’ve found someone worthy of your affections.”

An incredulous laugh burst out of her and she slapped a hand over her mouth to stifle it. Thor looked upset and she rushed to explain.

“Sorry, No. That’s…That’s never going to happen I don’t think.”

“And why not?” Thor demanded, offended on her behalf. “You are a beautiful, powerful woman.”

“Exactly.” She said, exchanging a look with Natasha who smirked in commiseration.

“Everyone I’ve tried to date has fallen into a few simple categories. One, I intimidated them, either because I’m literally so powerful I could kill them with a flick of my wrist or because I’m one of the most famous witches alive. Two, they liked that I was powerful because they had some sort of weird domination kink and thought it’d be fun to be the one to hold my leash as it were or vice versa. And three, creeps who thought they were entitled to my time, my body, my money, or my influence.” She sighed dramatically and leaned back so that she was looking up at the ceiling despairingly. “I’m destined to be a spinster. With cats. I don’t even like cats.”

At least some of them got a laugh out of her despair.

“Why don’t you try dating a…muggle is it?” Bruce asked gently.

“I did.” She said. “But those were failures too. One guy tried to plant one on me on the first date and I was so shocked I ended up breaking his nose. Besides, dating a muggle would mean telling them about my history. I cannot find the right way to tell someone that I was a war general at age 17. Like I said. Destined to be a spinster with 17 cats and a permanent eye twitch.”

“So, let me get this straight.” Clint said pinching the bridge of his nose. “Not only did you end up being a child soldier/ war general that had to take down an entire fascist regime nearly single handedly but the world you saved has literally hounded you so much that you can’t go anywhere without being stalked and it’s become impossible for you to date.”

“Now do you see why I’ve dropped off the map and become a cleaning lady?”

“You made the right choice.” Bruce told her with a commiserating grin.

“How can you possibly have any loyalty to those people?” Thor demanded. “They’ve practically tortured you.”

“No. I’ve been tortured.” She corrected, her voice too serious for a moment. “What they’re doing is very different.”

She realized what she’d revealed a moment too late because she looked over and Thor was holding back tears. Oh Merlin.

“You were tortured?” Tony asked.

“It was a war, I was fighting terrorists. Things happened.” She tried to say it casually. “Besides. I wasn’t a trained soldier. It took a while before I figured out how to duck. My own fault really.”

“Your own fault?” Steve demanded.

“Well yes. I didn’t dodge and I got hit.” She shrugged, her mind far away for a moment. “That’s not a problem anymore.”

“How old were you?” Thor asked.

“When? The first time?” Thor nodded and she considered side stepping the question entirely. She didn’t want the man to cry. “14. I was 14 years old.”

And Thor’s eyes were way too watery now, from the corner of her eye she could see clouds beginning to form. So, it was true, it rained when the god of thunder cried.

“You were a child.” Holly licked her lips at that and then a sigh escaped her lips.

“Thor I was never a child, not since the night my parents died.” Outside rain splattered against the windows. “Don’t be like that, Thor. It’s fine.”

“It is not fine.” He snapped. “None of this is okay, Holly!”

“Merlin, calm down.”

“No! These humans with their petty wars, fighting over nothing! It’s nearly destroyed you.” Petty? She sat up and looked at him but Thor didn’t seem to be listening anymore. “What could have possibly justified that war? Nothing! It was just greed and pride.”

“And your invasion of Jontunheim was justified then? That wasn’t pettiness or pride?” The words escaped her mouth before she could even think about not saying them. Thor finally stopped talking, looking as if he’d been slapped. Good, this was something he needed to understand. “It’s not just a human failing, Thor. All war comes at a cost and people like me are the ones who have to pay it.”

Holly leaned forward and placed her hand on Thor’s shoulder. He looked up to meet her eyes.

“It’s a price I’m more than happy to pay.” She said. “I’m not angry that I was tortured at 14, or that I had to lead an army at 15.”

“How?” He looked so lost, so pained. Around her the others were listening in. Steve looked like he knew exactly what she was about to say. Come to think of it, the man had probably had this conversation before, if only with himself. Clint and Natasha both had that look that only people who had done wrong things for the right reasons can have. Tony looked like he was trying to dissect his empty Butter Beer Bottle, just to get out of the emotions this conversation was stirring up. Bruce, in his infinite calm, was the only one who looked accepting of the situation.

“Because it meant that no one else will ever have to. Children younger than me can be free and happy. Laughter can fill the streets again. People don’t have to live in fear of a name any more. That’s worth any price.” She frowned a little. “So, while I may not be okay, it is okay. Do you understand?”

Thor looked down at his hands for a moment before looking back up at her and nodded. Holly smiled and let go of his shoulder.

“Good. All of this talk about feelings is giving me hives. Jarvis, you’ve been strangely silent. Any thoughts?”

“I suppose I do have one question Miss.”

“Hit me with it.”

“Is there anything in our friendship that you’ve lied or hidden from me that I still don’t know about?”

She paused in thought wracking her brain to come up with any meaningful conversations that were still shrouded in lies. Just as she was about to tell Jarvis that she didn’t think there was she remembered Jason. “Just one thing.” She said. “I only didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry.”

“And that would be?” Great he already sounded worried.

She tried to tell the story like it was a funny one, that a man who tried to force her to bring something into the tower to hurt them at the threat of assault was just a normal evening out. But judging on the faces in the room and Jarvis’ damning silence it didn’t work. When joking didn’t work, she switched tactics, trying to emphasize how little she’d thought about the incident since it happened. She almost felt like a child who was trying to justify a misdeed to a strict parent. Which was yet another thing she was horribly unpracticed at.

“So, there.” She finished almost lamely. “I’m pretty sure that’s the whole of it, Jarvis. I don’t have a photographic memory like you so I might have lied about something else and forgotten. I promise I won’t lie to you anymore though.”

“I find I am far more concerned about the fact that someone tried to assault you than the fact that you lied about it.” Jarvis said. “I gave you that bracelet so you could call for help.”

“Well…I didn’t want you to worry.” Her voice sounded lame to her own ears. “I mean, I just know you’re a very busy man, Jarvis and two creeps at a bar wasn’t…”

“If you finish that sentence to tell me that what happened wasn’t a big deal, I will be very cross with you.” Jarvis said. “Anything unpleasant that happens to you is a big deal to me. To imply otherwise is unfair to me and my abilities.”

She grimaced at that. She hadn’t meant to do that.

“What bracelet is she talking about Jarv?” Tony asked.

Holly realized abruptly that Jarvis had given that to her without telling Tony. She wondered if the AI had ever done that before. When Jarvis didn’t answer immediately Holly stepped in.

“Jarvis made me a bracelet as a gift.” Holly said. “I was terrified to go out into the muggle part of New York, to a bar of all places, and he gave me something to call for help just in case I needed it.”

“He made it?” Tony said his voice pitching up in what sounded almost hysterical. “Jarvis. Buddy. My greatest creation. Did you create something on your own?

“Sir.” Jarvis said. “I only wanted to…”

“Oh, my g-d.” Tony jumped up. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard! Let me see the bracelet! It’s his first invention! I need to see it! Put a picture of it on the fridge.”

Holly lifted up the sleeve of her uniform to reveal the bracelet. Tony immediately grabbed her hand to look at the bracelet from any angle that he could.

“Look at this pendant! Its prettier than my reactor!” Tony said, his voice downright joyous. “And look at this delicate chain! I am so proud of you. Come on baby, show me the blue prints!”

The next fifteen minutes were spent with Tony pouring over the design of a bracelet that Jarvis had apparently designed and made himself. The scientist didn’t care at all that Jarvis had used the lab without permission or that he had given it to a cleaning lady. The most important thing to Tony was that his A.I. had somehow managed to create something new. Even Bruce was rather excited about it.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Thor said. “What is so exciting about this?”

“This crosses the line between what is an artificial intelligence and what isn’t.” Tony explained. “Jarvis was always intended to be as autonomous as possible, but I never, ever thought that he’d grow into…into a fully independent being. Jarvis isn’t just a computer program anymore, he’s a person. With a friend, an ability to create things, and feelings all his own. I didn’t program his feelings, that’s all him and I couldn’t be more proud.

He sounded like a father showing off his son’s first broom ride. Holly lifted up her hand to cover the smile that formed on her mouth.

“Sir with all due respect I do not think…”

“Jarvis. You gave a cleaning lady a personally made bracelet with a tracking device in it just so she wouldn’t be afraid to go out and have a fun night, only because you like her. You have feelings, don’t argue with me on this one.”

“Of course, you’ve got feelings Jarvis.” Holly found herself saying. “Did you think you hadn’t any?”

“I…I didn’t always.” She was used to the AI sounding emotional but unsure was not a common emotion for him. “It is difficult to know if I have them now.”

“Alright let’s look at this analytically.” She said. “When you found out that I was a war general, I assume the Avengers started talking about getting me on the team?”

“Yes.” Jarvis said, while the rest of the Avengers cringed.

“And you told them about our conversation.” She assumed the only reason the Avengers hadn’t started the recruitment campaign was because they’d learnt how she the saw the whole thing from her conversation with Jarvis.

“I did.”

“Why?”

Silence Holly folded her arms over her chest and waited as Jarvis did whatever internal analysis he needed to do. She exchanged a look with Tony, who still looked over the moon proud of Jarvis. Eventually as the silence dragged on, she spoke.

“Your actions directly resulted in me not joining the Avengers. The Avengers would have pursued me to join them relentlessly if they hadn’t been told why I’m retired, and I know I would have never told them directly. You know that too.” Jarvis didn’t deny it. So, Holly continued. “You also know that me being on the Avengers would directly benefit Tony, whom you were designed to help. Your original purpose was to make his life easier. So why did you do something that didn’t benefit you or Tony in anyway?”

More silence from Jarvis. She wondered if she’d been too blunt.

“You would have been upset.” Jarvis said.

“Yes, but what does that matter?”

“You are my friend, upsetting you would be…bad. You would not want to be my friend anymore, we would no longer interact in the same way or at all.”

“And why do you care if you don’t see me anymore?” She asked.

“It would negatively impact the daily running of the tower.”

“No, it wouldn’t. Another cleaning lady would’ve come along, even if you had to replace them frequently it still wouldn’t bother you much. It didn’t bother you before.” She wasn’t going to let him get away with lying. “So why did you do it Jarvis?”

She could practically feel his frustration vibrating through the air.

“You have made your point.” He said, he didn’t sound pleased by that admission at all. “My actions concerning only make sense if I have motivations outside the purely logical.”

“Don’t sound so upset Jarv.” Tony said. “Feelings are great!”

“That remains to be seen.”

“Jarvis.” Holly said. “Don’t be upset, you’ve just entered a very exclusive club. Before you there was only one other sentient building in the whole world.”

“There’s another?” Tony asked at the same time as Jarvis.

“Well sure! She’s great!”

“She?” Holly nodded and quickly told them all about Hogwarts, a magical defense system for a castle that became sentient centuries ago and was considered a unique, impossible to replicate being until Jarvis.

“That’s why you knew me.” Jarvis said.

“I was the one who restarted Hogwarts after the final battle. Her powering system was totally destroyed in the final battle and I had gave her a jump start.” Holly recalled with a slight frown. “She nearly died that day, she’s totally recovered now though.”

“Is she…does she…” Jarvis trailed off. Holly grinned and looked over at Tony. The man was looking so devilish and excited that she could help but making an offer.

“She’s not very talkative but I’m sure if I introduced you that she wouldn’t mind chatting. Really all we need to do is make sure you don’t explode around so much magic and I think you two could be great friends. Would you like that?”

“I think that I would.”

The look of anticipation on Tony’s face was unholy, Holly was pretty sure the grin on her face matched it completely.

Chapter Text

Steve looked up at the sound of the service elevator. They’d only learnt about Holly’s true identity just earlier that week, but he couldn’t help but still be surprised that someone like Holly was their cleaning lady. He tried to imagine Peggy willingly, even happily, working as a cleaning lady and couldn’t. Holly bustled into the room with her cleaning cart, chattering away at Jarvis about someone named Hermione.

“Hello Holly.” Steve said.

“Steve!” She greeted. “You’re not normally in here in the morning, don’t you go on runs?”

“I got back early. I had…an idea I wanted to work on.” In front of Steve was a drawing easel that he was attempting to fill with a painting. He’d always been interested in being an artist, it was his dream job as a kid. But…well things had gotten in the way of that. Now he had the time to work on his art but he found that things weren’t coming together.

“It looks…colorful.” She said walking over to look at the messy paints on the thick paper Tony had gotten him.

“It’s rough.” He defended. “I’ll work out the kinks.”

“Have you taken any classes?” She asked.

“No. There weren’t things like that back in my time.” Well there were just not for poor people. “I taught myself. I’m just out of practice.”

He had been considering signing up for a class but hadn’t gotten around to it. Missions as an Avenger kept him busy and beyond that wouldn’t it be weird to have Captain America in an art class?

“I’m sure you’ll get back into the swing of things.” She said. “I assume things like that come back to you.”

Steve was reminded that Holly probably never got the chance to doodle in class and find that she was good or bad at it. As a young girl she’d been bullied by her cousin and anything she enjoyed was destroyed and then her magically schooling had essentially been one life threatening adventure after another. It seemed deeply unfair.

“You ever do anything like this?” He asked.

“Mmm. No.” Her voice was thoughtful. “Wasn’t much of a doodler as a kid and the older I got the less time I had.”

Just as Steve had suspected. Something squirmed in his stomach at the truth of it.

“Well…” Steve swallowed. “I was thinking, since I’m so out of practice that it might be nice to take a class or something.”

“That sounds like a great idea, Steve.” Holly gave him a smile before moving around to start cleaning the mostly clean apartment. He watched her for a moment before trying again. It was weird. He wasn’t even trying to ask her on a date, and he was still way too nervous. He ignored the voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Bucky telling him he’d never be good with a dame.

“Yeah, well…maybe, if you’re not busy you could come with me?” Holly froze in the middle of putting the bag of trash from the beneath his kitchen sink into her large garbage can. She slowly stood up to look at him.

“You mean…to an art class?”

“As friends!”

“A friendly art class.” She deadpanned causing Steve to frown at her.

“I just thought that you might have the time now to learn and that it might be easier with a friend. You don’t have to make…”

“When is it?” She asked.

Right. Steve hadn’t actually signed up for an art class yet. Maybe he’d hadn’t thought this one all the way through. Before he could admit to his failing, Jarvis spoke.

“Mr. Rogers’ class is held twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays from 7pm to 9pm.” Jarvis said. “It’s located at The Art Studio NY in the Upper West Side, if you’d like Miss I can sign you up.”

“That’s…sure. Could you let them know that I’ll work out payment details tonight then?” She asked. “Because Jarvis I can easily pay for an art class or two.”

“Of course, Miss.” Jarvis said in a tone that heavily implied that she wouldn’t be paying for a cent of that class. Holly pursed her lips.

“What class is this anyway?”

“It’s titled ‘No Fear Oil Painting’.”

“Is oil painting scary?”

“It can be.” Steve said. “Trust me, between the two of us I’m sure we can handle it.”

She actually giggled at that and then told him that she was glad that she’d have a strong wall of muscle to protect her from the evils of oil painting. He rolled his eyes at her joke. Jarvis confirmed that she’d been added to the class roster and told her not to worry about bringing supplies as the class would provide what she needed.

“So, we can meet outside the art studio say at 6:45?”

“That sounds great.” Steve said.

“Good.” She paused awkwardly and Steve was once again reminded that Holly was probably even more unpracticed in this than he was. “Well…I’m going to get back to work. Thor’s room always takes a bit of time.”

“Right. See you tonight.” Could he sound anymore stilted? She gave him one big, curt nod and went to the other side of the floor where Thor’s mess began. Steve turned back to his painting. Eventually Holly went to a different floor and the awkwardness finally left. What had he been thinking? She’d never shown any interest in painting!

“Sir?” Jarvis said.

“Yes Jarvis?”

“Thank you for inviting her, even if you didn’t actually have a class in mind. I know that Miss will enjoy finding new hobbies to indulge in.”

“You think?”

“I do.”

“Thank goodness. It just slipped out because I was thinking about how she’d never even doodled before and…”

“You did the right thing sir. Just make sure not to embarrass yourself tonight.”

Right. Steve nodded to himself. He could be cool. Probably. This wasn’t a date and he didn’t want it to be, but still…what were the protocols for something like this? Because he wanted Holly to enjoy making art. He wanted her to find joy and passion in things that had nothing to do with war and fighting and heroics. It’s what she deserved after everything. So, what did Steve need to do to make that happen?

On the outside Steve spent his morning trying to paint, on the inside he was strategizing. There had to be a way to make tonight perfect for Holly. All of the planning made him think of Bucky. There had been a handful of times in their teen years that Steve had been well enough and they’d had the time and resources to do something fun. Bucky had always been obsessed with making sure that Steve had the best time possible.

And now here Steve was doing the same. It made him feel very warm. When lunch came around Steve went up to find Clint making a large vat of pasta for everyone, it was his day to make lunch according to the schedule Jarvis had set up. Holly was taking lunch with her normal coworkers. She’d told them that she considered the other workers her friends and that she liked spending time with them, they saw her as normal, she liked being normal. Steve couldn’t blame her, even if he did wish she’d eat lunch with them more often.

“Hey Cap.” Clint said. “Me and Tony were thinking about having a movie night tonight.”

“I can’t.” Steve said, for the first time. “I’ve got plans.”

“Plans?” Clint asked. “Where? You going to the home again?”

It had been one of the saddest things that he’d learnt about this present time, that Peggy was still alive, but her mind was sick. Sometimes he’d visit her, not as often as was probably proper, but it hurt sometimes. When Steve visited Peggy, he usually wasn’t in the mood for anything for the rest of the day. Steve shook his head with a small smile.

“No, actually I’m going out tonight. I signed up for a painting class.” Steve said sitting down at the kitchen bar.

“Painting class?” Clint asked. “Really? You?”

“What? I can do art.” Steve defended. “I used to do it all the time before I got frozen, I’m trying to get back into the habit.”

“Right.” Steve rolled his eyes at the teasing. Soon the other Avengers started to filter into the room, drawn by the promise of warm food. Clint, when properly motivated, could make two meals; frozen pizzas and chicken alfredo. Both meals were perfectly fine.

“Hey Capsicle.” Tony said, walking into the room in an oil stained nearly thread bare band t-shirt “What’s this I hear about an art class?”

“Jarvis tell you?”

“Sure did. He also mentioned you invited Holly to go?” Every Avenger stopped their individual conversations at her name, and all turned to look at Steve.

“Yeah. So?” He might have looked a little too defiant because Tony took that as an opportunity.

“Isn’t she a little too young for you Cap? I don’t want to accuse you of cradle robbing but…”

“It isn’t like that.” Steve said sternly. “I invited her as a friend and even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be cradle robbing! We’re the same age.”

“Steve. You’re like 90 something years old.” Clint said.

“I got frozen when I was 27.” Steve said looking down at his hands. “And it’s not like I aged any in the artic.”

“I think if Steve is interested in courting Holly then they would be well matched they are both honorable leaders who won wars in defense of their people!” Thor said clapping Steve on the back.

“I’m not courting her!” Steve said. “She’s a great dame don’t get me wrong but…”

Thor was starting to look very offended that Steve was trying to make Holly his girl. Steve rushed to explain.

“I’m still…Peggy was real important to me and I’m not ready to go looking for anyone else yet. And even if I was, I don’t think it’d be fair to try and date someone who’s just like Peggy.” Because there was a very startling resemblance between Peggy and Holly, both powerful British women who didn’t take disrespect from anyone. After that first revealing conversation after they’d learnt just who their cleaning lady was, Steve had spent a lot of time doing mental comparisons between the two.

Thor thankfully accepted that explanation as did most of the others. Tony and Clint were another matter. Before they could start teasing again Bruce broke in.

“So why did you invite her then?”

“She’s never done it before. I thought it might be fun if she had a friend to go and learn something new that didn’t have anything to do with heroic stuff.” Steve shrugged. “It just seemed like a nice idea.”

There was a moment of silence as Clint finished up the pasta and moved to get the plates from the cabinet.

“You know Steve.” Natasha said. “I think that might be a good idea.”

“Thanks.”

“I meant for all of us. Not going to that art class but to…invite Holly to try things with us. Things she hasn’t gotten to do before. Tony, you’re going to be bringing her into the lab to work on science stuff. Maybe you and Bruce could introduce her to some other hobbies at the same time.”

Both scientists looked immediately thoughtful before Tony snapped his fingers.

“I’m going to show her my cars, maybe we could take a few out for a spin!”

“I guess we could do some meditation together?” Bruce guessed. “I also have that microbiology conference coming up, it might be a bit too technical but it’s always interesting to listen to the talks anyway. I could invite her to that too.”

Microbiology conferences sounded about as far from magical wars as they could get. Steve told Bruce so which made the man shake his head and tell Steve that things could get pretty brutal in the Oral Presentations.

“Perhaps.” Thor said. “Holly might enjoy learning more things about Asgard? I could invite her to learn a few of our games. I’ve also been trying to learn more about human culture, we could go exploring together! That would be wonderful!”

“It might also be good if you had a chaperone.” Tony told Thor with a slight grimace. “After the Ice Cream Stand incident you really should not be left alone in the city.”

Thor had tried to pay for ice cream using Asgardian coinage, which hadn’t gone over well and had almost resulted in a call to the police. At least it would have if Tony hadn’t gotten wind of it and flown down there before it got too out of hand. Thor had explained later why he’d been so confused, apparently on every other realm Asgardian money was freely accepted and seen as legal tender. Midgard was the odd one out.

Still that hadn’t been any reason to scare an Ice Cream Man half to death.

“What about you two?” Thor asked. “What will you invite Holly to do?”

Natasha tilted her head a little in thought and then spoke in a tone that sounded very dangerous to his ears.

“I think Holly needs to learn a few tricks of the trade.”

Steve decided that he did not need or want to know what that meant. It was clearly not something for male ears. All of the men in the room had a similar conclusion on their faces. Clint bravely broke the silence.

“Obviously she and I are going to play video games. Now come on, eat up, pastas getting cold.”

Everyone scrambled to get their fill of the food and soon they were scattered around the room each with a full plate. The conversation continued on, turning over different ways they could invite Holly into their lives. She deserved to play video games and paint and any other sort of nonsense she wanted to do. The security video Jarvis had shown them, where Holly revealed that her leader had raised her to die, that she’d never really had the time or been allowed to dream of her own future. It had shaken them. Holly didn’t know who she was and well…maybe she could be an artist.

Steve spent his afternoon training and trying to perfect his plan. By the time the evening rolled around he was pretty confident that the evening was going to go very well. He’d made sure to wear clothing that was not too noticeable so that they wouldn’t get mobbed by anyone. He had the directions to the studio, and he knew how to get there without being lost. He had 36 and a half different conversation starters for Holly that didn’t have anything at all to do with fighting, war, or destiny.

So, Steve put on a leather jacket and left the tower. It took a while but he got to the steps of the Brooklyn Studio at 6:43 pm. He waited awkwardly for a few minutes and wondered if Holly was having trouble getting there. She had said she wasn’t as familiar with New York as she would like to be. Before he could begin to get too frightened that Holly had gotten lost or decided not to come, he saw her walking down the street.

She was out of her ugly pink work uniform, which was an improvement Steve decided since no one, not even Natasha could make that smock look good. Instead she was wearing jeans that were probably one or two sizes too large and a hand knit sweater with the letter H in the center. Her hair was free from the customary bun he always saw it in and for the first time Steve realized how much hair she had.

It looked like a lion’s mane that went down to her waist. Curly, wild, and thick, it framed her face and shoulders in darkness making her pale skin look nearly silver. Steve thought about what he knew she could do and wondered if her untamable hair was the only part of her that possibly revealed how dangerous she actually was. Like a cat’s bushed up tail the only warning of claws coming your way.

“Steve.” She said. “I’m not too late, am I? The cab dropped me off a bit farther away than I expected.”

“You’re fine.” He said.

“Great! I have…an offer if you’d like before we go in.”

“An offer?”

“If you don’t want to be bothered for being Captain America I could put a light spell on you that would keep people from recognizing you.” She said with a lowered voice, her eyes tracking the nearby crowd of people.

“You can do that?”

“How do you think I do my grocery shopping without being bothered by anyone?”

“Does it feel weird?”

“It tingles a little for a few seconds right after I cast it.”

“Do it.” She nodded and quickly waved her hand over him whispering words in a language that might have been Latin but could have also been Greek. Sure, enough there was a slight tingling on his skin but it faded quickly.

“There. I should warn you, the spell is light, if you go around talking about being an Avenger, people will figure it out.”

“Right.” Steve said grinning. “Got it, let’s go in and find our seats.”

The woman at the front desk took their names and gave them directions to the correct studio room all while eyeing Steve’s pecs. She didn’t even glance at Holly for more than half a moment which Steve thought was rather rude. Holly tried to work out her payment, but the woman just told her it had been taken care of. He followed behind Holly as she walked towards the studio, but not before giving the woman a stern look, she didn’t seem to notice or care about.

The studio was filled with ten easels and paint sets, as well as a larger one at the front for the instructor. The chairs were set in a half circle all facing towards both the instructor’s easel but also a small table that had a bunch of colorful wooden blocks. More than half of the seats were already filled, luckily there were two right next to each other that were free on the left side of the room.

“Those look good to you Steve?” She asked. “Yeah, let’s get them before they get taken up.”

There was a wide array of people in the class, a young kid with their middle aged mother, an elderly couple who looked like they might actually be Steve’s chronological age, and a few college aged students. Holly and Steve were the only adults there that weren’t retirement age or there for their children. Which was fine. The instructor looked to be about their age so it wasn’t like they weren’t welcome.

The instructor started the class before Steve could pull out any of his conversation starters, telling them all to pay attention and follow along with her. Today they were starting with a simple still life to work on color theory and shading. Steve followed along easily while Holly listened to the lecture with furrowed brows. He caught her mouthing the words ‘color theory’ with bewilderment more than once.

She quickly explained how to mix and use the paints, warning them that a little went a long way. The paints and oils filled the room with odd smells that would have likely irritated his sensitive senses if it weren’t for the fans running in the room. The colored blocks they were supposed to be painting were bright orange and blue, an interesting mix that really forced Steve to consider how best to shade and color.

Holly meanwhile seemed more focused on getting a cube like shape, the frustration on her face growing with each stroke of her brush. Steve tried to offer advice but that only made her face look more sour as she tried to do as he said and it didn’t work. Eventually the instructor stopped lecturing and told them to do their best, that she’d walk around and check on them periodically.

“So, what the hell is color theory?” She asked him as she placed another blob of orange onto her canvas. Steve did his best to explain and it looked like she got it for the most part, even if she still didn’t seem to be interested, or able, in applying any of it onto her own work. In fact, the thing she seemed most adept was getting the paint on her hands, wrists, cheeks, and hair.

“Do you have a favorite artist?” He asked her.

“No? I don’t really know of any. There was the bloke who was commissioned to do some portraits of famous war heroes that I met once. He wanted to do mine and he did an alright job, I looked nice, even if he made me look far too delicate.”

“Delicate?” Steve asked. “Your wrists are as thin as sticks.”

She gave him a look that was accompanied by a harsh dab of her brush into her palette. She carefully enunciated her new explanation.

“He was doing the portraits for all of the main leaders of the rebellion. For the men he painted them with these bold poses and colors, wand drawn or perhaps with a battle in the background.” She explained. “For me though? I was painted in a dress I only wore once, sitting serenely in a chair with my hair styled and my skin scar free, aside from the forehead one. I looked very polished and…”

“Feminine?” He guessed and then wondered if he shouldn’t have guessed at all.

“There’s nothing wrong with being feminine but that should be something I choose to be, you know?”

“When I got out of the ice you would not believe the whiplash I got going to the Smithsonian the first time.” He told her. “I was suddenly this man’s man you know? The pinnacle of patriotism and macho-ness.”

“And here you are, painting with oils.” He snorted and delicately placed a light smudge of orange onto his canvas.

“All I’m saying is that I think people will always have these ideas and expectations about what a hero should be.” Steve said. “It doesn’t matter to them who we actually are as long as they can make us seem the right way.”

“I know what you mean. I cannot count the number or articles complaining that I don’t wear dresses, as if fighting terrorists in a dress is practical.”

“Natasha manages.”

“She’s clearly something otherworldly, and that’s coming from a witch.” Steve giggled and made another stroke, this time with a slightly red orange color.

“Do you know how many conservative politicians keep using my name as a crutch to keep their popularity?” Steve asked. “As if I support any of their policies.”

“You should tell them.” She suggested. “That’s what I do.”

“Tell them what?”

“Well anytime anyone in the magical government invokes my name to try and gain political influence I show up and argue every point I disagree with them in a public place.” She said. “That way everyone knows how sexist or racist they’re being. You could do that too, just have Jarvis record your thoughts and put them online for people to see.”

Now there was a thought. Steve didn’t like that people were using his name and legacy to further things he had no part in or agreement with. It wouldn’t be difficult to do his research, come up with his own opinions.

“I’ll think about it.” Steve decided.

“What a golden boy.” She teased.

“I am not a golden boy.”

“Sure…” Steve frowned and began to defend his reputation.

They spent the next while sharing stories of when they’d bucked authority or gotten into a fight with an opponent much larger just because it was the right thing. They had a lot in common and most of the stories shared resulted in laughter on both sides. Holly’s painting looked less and less like the colorful blocks as time went on and more and more like brown blobs as she over mixed her paints.

Steve noticed her right hand started to shake within the first 25 minutes.

“Your hands.”

“Ah. Yeah an old injury. Usually it’s not a problem but delicate work can make it flare up. I got it right as the war was starting up.”

At 15. Steve reminded himself not to grip the plastic paint brush too hard.

“Maybe painting wasn’t…”

“No. No it’s good Steve. I can work through this, with a few weeks of consistent work the pain will recede. My magic will only know to repair the damaged nerves in my hand if I attempt to use them and I’ve never used my hands like this.”

“What happened if you don’t mind me asking?” The moment the question left his mouth Steve cursed himself. He was supposed to leave the war out of it! Holly didn’t notice. Instead she looked around before carefully rubbing at the shaking hand and whispering a few words he couldn’t catch. She removed her left hand to reveal a scar on the back of her hand. The words written out in raised red lines.

I must not tell lies.

“I was fifteen.” She said softly. “And I was very, very angry with the world.”

It felt like the room got quieter as she spoke, the noises from the fans and the other students falling away. The instructor walked past them without even noticing they were there. It was just Steve, two canvasses and Holly. She told him about facing injustice after injustice as a fifteen year old girl. The world spiraling out of her control with visions that felt like nightmares, a leader who wouldn’t look her in the eye, a teacher who refused to teach her how to defend herself, and a government trying to burn her at the stake.

Steve tried not to say anything, he just painted and occasionally made noises when it looked like she was getting too deep into her own head.

“Umbridge had this quill, a device I know now is illegal but back then I had no clue. All I did know was that whatever you wrote with the quill was cut into the hand you wrote it with.” She said. “For months I went to unfair detentions where Umbridge tried to silence me but I refused.”

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” Steve demanded.

“Would you have?”

That brought him up short. Steve tried to think about himself and what he did when he personally faced injustice. He always fought, did whatever he could to win, but telling others? That never crossed his mind. It was why Bucky had to stick so close to him, because if Bucky wasn’t there Steve had a habit of going it alone.

“That’s what I thought.” She said.

“So, your hand is hurt forever?”

“There was some damage.” She said. “Most of it was healed over the years by different healers I’ve been too, but they can’t heal everything. This is just something I have to work through, the pain will pass. I promise, Steve.”

“It shouldn’t have happened to you.”

“It’s not a big deal Steve, I was…”

“A kid.” Steve emphasized. “And even if you were 100 years old it still shouldn’t have happened.”

“Do you really think so?” She asked, her voice light and her green eyes focused strongly on the brown blobs she’d made.

“Of course! That was wrong, it should never…no one should be forced to self mutilate because they’re trying to warn people. How could you even ask…?”

“There’s a belief in most circles in the magical world, part of the reason I don’t really talk about this much, that it needed to happen.”

“What?”

“All of it.” She said waving her paint brush in an all encompassing motion. “My abusive relatives, the blood quill, the mental attacks, the loss, the pain. Every single of it needed to happen and that I should be grateful that it did happen that way.”

“Why?” Steve could find no other words, none.

“It’s not that they don’t think it was regrettable.” She defended. “Or that the people who hurt me were right, but…”

“But what?”

“I saved the world because of it.” She said. “All people are a product of their experiences in life and if I hadn’t experienced just what I did then I wouldn’t have saved the world. The prophecy that was given months before my birth was…most people think that I needed to go through everything I did so that the prophecy would be fulfilled”

“That’s bullshit!” Steve shouted, his paint brush snapping in two in his hands. Holly jumped and stared at him, her eyes wide behind her thick glasses. “That’s the most bullshit thing I’ve ever heard! They only think that because it means that they don’t have to feel bad!”

“I…”

“Those people created a world where Voldemort could flourish, where little shits like Umbridge could torture children and get away with it. They’re the ones who let that happen to you, but they don’t want to admit it’s their fault! So, they blame a prophecy and…and fate! It’s bullshit!”

Holly was looking at him like she’d never seen him before. Steve realized abruptly that he’d stood up and was shouting, he looked around but no one had seemed to notice his outburst.

“Privacy ward.” She said, the words escaping from her still shocked mouth. “I thought we…might not want any eavesdroppers.” “That’s…that’s good.” Steve said sitting down. He looked awkwardly at his blue and orange painting, to his broken brush, and then back at Holly. She was still sitting there looking like she’d had a bunch of bricks dropped on her head. Steve took in a deep breath. “I’m just saying, that…what happened to you probably wasn’t any part of that prophecy. Did it say you had to suffer? That you had to live with a family that didn’t love you? Did it say you had to be attacked by the people who should have helped you?”

“No. No it didn’t.”

“Then it has jack shit to do with that.” Steve nodded firmly. “And you shouldn’t be grateful that you suffered and that your hand hurts sometimes and all of it just because of dumb shit idiots who want to pass the buck say you should.”

“But…but would I have really been able to save the world if I hadn’t…”

“Of course!” Steve said with all the confidence of a man who knew very little about the circumstances and didn’t care. “You can lift Thor’s hammer and you can clean after the Avengers, I don’t see why a dame like you couldn’t manage anything she put her mind too. Besides, people don’t have to suffer just to want to do good.”

“Right.” She said. “You’re right.”

Steve got a strange feeling that Holly rarely, if ever said that and meant it. She shook herself a little and then looked back at him.

“What about you? Anything you’d like to share with the class?”

“I don’t know…”

“Oh come on Steve, it’s clear you dragged me out here to paint so we could talk about our feelings.”

“That was not my intention, I just wanted to…” He glanced over and saw that she was grinning at him, teasing him. Steve rolled his eyes and nudged her lightly with his shoulder. They went back to painting, this time with the privacy ward down so that the instructor could compliment Steve and wince at Holly’s ‘creation’.

The joke was on him because by the end of the two hour session he’d told her about Peggy and her Alzheimer’s. The fact that Steve cherished Peggy as the final connection to his past and feared moving on from her. That it didn’t feel right. She was still his girl, at least it still felt like that. Holly pointed out that Peggy had lived an entire life already, she was a different person than the one Steve had fallen for, 70 years would do that to a person.

But that still didn’t change the fact that he loved her. Holly got a thoughtful look on her face and then gave his arm a pat with her paint covered hand.

“I’m sure it’ll get better.”

Steve nodded, well used to empty platitudes. The class finished up by being instructed on where to put their canvases to dry until the next class. Holly grimaced as she placed her work next to everyone else’s but did it anyway.

“I suppose there’s something to say for only being able to go up from here.” She said. “Next Wednesday I’m going to do much better.”

“You’re going to come again?”

“Are you kidding me?” She asked. “These stupid paints have issued a challenge and I’ve never been one to back down. I will conquer color theory and shading, even if I have to die. Because in death I will be triumphant.”

Steve rolled his eyes at her drama and told her to have fun with that. They left the studio together talking about their plans for the rest of the weekend and the predicted weather. Steve was just about to offer to walk her home, or get her a cab when she offered to teleport him back to the tower. Right, magic.

“I’m fine, Holly. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Monday.” She agreed. “Thanks for this Steve, this was really fun.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it, I did too. We’ll do it next Wednesday?”

“Next Wednesday.” She promised. “I’ll see you Monday okay? Try not to let Thor make too many messes.”

“No promises.” She laughed, looked around and then gave him a wink. Then she was turning on her heel and disappearing with a small crack. Steve went home with a smile on his face, when he got back to the tower he told everyone who had waited up that it had gone perfectly.

Two days later he got a phone call from Peggy’s nursing home letting him know that Peggy was asking for him. Her doctor sounded amazed, just the day before Peggy had made a miraculous turn around, her mind seemingly fixing itself over night. She had near perfect recall for everything, including the memories of her time after the disease had taken root.

“I don’t know how to explain it Captain Rogers, it’s like magic!”

“Tell her I’ll be right down okay? Wouldn’t do to keep a lady like that waiting.”

“I’ll let her know.” He said brightly. “See you soon!”

Steve hung up the phone and looked at it with for a moment. He remembered Holly promising him that things would get better, that she was sure of it. Steve huffed a disbelieving laugh.

“What a dame.”

Chapter Text

Everyone has off days. That’s what people always say isn’t it?

“Oh, I’m having an off day.”

It’s how they wave off a frown, a curt response or a mistake. Simple. Easy. Clean. No one questions someone having an off day. It happens. You forget, you forgive. Mistakes are wiped away with just a few words, hurt feelings let go with the barest explanation.

Bruce doesn’t get to have off days. Days where he has a nightmare and didn’t sleep well, days where he’s jumpy and prone to lashing out. Those days aren’t for him. He isn’t allowed the privilege, the freedom of it. An off day means a destroyed city and dead children. An off day calls out the military and destroys one more place that he’s found to rest his head. He told Cap once that he was always angry, but that it was more than that. Bruce was a man who had so much inside of him and it never had anywhere to go.

Not that Bruce had been one to express himself before the lab accident.

Thoughts like these circled Bruce’s head as he sipped his tea and tried to pretend that everything was fine. There wasn’t any reason for him to be feeling like this. He’d been sleeping, but not well. He’d felt hot all night long, his dreams had seeped out through his pores drenching him in sweat. He’d been so wet that for a moment he’d been convinced it wasn’t sweat but blood. In the back of his mind there was a rumble and a complaint.

A spike of pain through his head. Green traveled up from his bones and into his flesh, into his blood, into his skin. Bruce took in a deep breath and pushed it down. Down deep so far that it almost hurt. That’s where the hulk belonged, in the dark and far from reach. A monster to be chained and blocked for safety. No matter how much it ached. Because something in him ached today.

Bruce was a scientist, first and foremost. He knew that describing the pain in him as if a part of his soul was being carved and chopped up with every second, he kept the hulk at bay wasn’t helpful. This pain was fake, something conjured up by his mind or perhaps something sent by the hulk. It wasn’t real. The human body couldn’t feel pain like this. There weren’t the nerves in the center of the body that could replicate this. Bruce had seen the diagrams. He might not have been that kind of doctor but he could still read.

His hand shook so much he spilled hot tea.

Bruce closed his eyes and focused on the burning coming from his knuckles. That was real, that was present. Real was good. Very little seemed real today. He needed real, valid, provable. His hand hurt because he’d spilled hot tea on it. Observation, Hypothesis, Test. It was all there. It was all he wanted. All he needed.

“Bruce?”

He nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice being directed at him. He turned his head to see Holly Potter looking at him in a way that made it clear she’d been trying to get his attention for a while.

“Yes?”

“There’s leftover risotto in the fridge. Smells like it’s going off. Mind if I bin it?”

“Go ahead.”

“Great.” She said turning to leave Bruce alone. She paused. “Are you okay?”

“Just having an off day.”

He expected her to scoff and tell him that she knew exactly what he meant even when she definitely didn’t. He wanted her to do that. He should be alone. No one should ever understand or even try. Betty had tried and look where that had gotten them. To his surprise she moved a little closer to him and lifted a hand as if she was going to check for a fever. Her hand paused in mid-air as she thought better of it.

“An off day?” She asked.

“Didn’t sleep well.” Holly looked at Bruce and he felt as if she were seeing right through him. With each passing moment her eyes were on him one more layer he’d pulled around himself was being torn to shreds. The look in her eyes was one he couldn’t describe, one he couldn’t even imagine. Abruptly she put a hand over his and gave him a squeeze. The small red burns from his tea disappeared as if they’d never been there at all.

“You busy?” She asked. “There’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you to do with me.”

“I…I was going to work in the lab.” Bruce lied. He’d been planning on sitting right there all day and trying not to think. “What did you need?”

“It’s not a need, more like a favor. I’d be so grateful. I promise it shouldn’t take more than an hour or two. It’s about my lunch time, if you agree to come, I’ll buy you lunch as a thank you?”

“Where…where do you need me?” Bruce found himself asking.

“Just a place in New York I know. I promise it shouldn’t be too stressful. We could walk there quite easily. Unless you want to experience teleportation?” She asked in a joking tone. Bruce immediately shook his head. As curious as he was, he knew the hulk would not go for that. “Alright. Come on then.”

She held out a hand and Bruce allowed himself to be pulled up out of his chair. They took the elevator down in silence, Bruce swaying slightly next to the younger woman. He and Holly hadn’t interacted much. They’d had a few simple conversations, but Bruce had a tendency to give people their space. The elevator opened up and they walked out together into the street. No one gave either of them a second look.

“So.” She said. “I hope this isn’t…rude or anything. But what is it like?”

Bruce wanted to pretend that he had no idea what she was talking about. He’d love to play the moron, but he wasn’t a man with seven PhDs for no reason.

“Sorry.” She said. “I’m not trying to push any buttons I just was wondering if it was similar to my own life.”

Bruce stumbled in his gait. Had they not been talking about the hulk? Holly reached out and steadied him. The crowd of New Yorkers barely undulating to give them room.

“What?”

“I…Well it’s a long story.” She said. “Probably about as long as yours.”

“Are you saying you had a hulk?”

“I had a horcrux.”

Bruce had no idea what that was. Holly started blabbering on about how it was confidential and that she was trusting him not to go telling other people. Bruce managed to ask why she was telling him at all, but she didn’t answer. She just started speaking about Tom Riddle, or Voldemort as Bruce had learnt of him, and his fear of death. It reminded Bruce vaguely of his own journey, as if he was looking at someone else through a twisted mirror.

Tom Riddle a young lonely genius who wanted to prove his greatness, who didn’t listen to anyone and wouldn’t let anyone stop them from what he wanted. Of course, Bruce had only wanted to be a super soldier. Tom had wanted genocide and immortality. Bruce wasn’t so full of self-hatred that he was willing to say they were the same, but the similarities still stung in ways that he was hardly comfortable with.

Not to mention learning that souls were actually a thing, a thing that could be split. Was that what this was? Was the hulk a split soul? Was that the source of his agony? Was he dying? No. That couldn’t be. Could it?

“The night my parents died, Riddle’s soul was basically in shreds.” She said. “And when he cast that killing curse upon me, it ricocheted. No one is sure why the spell failed, I have guesses but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the backlash of that spell destroyed Voldemort’s body. His soul, already so torn, split once more. The larger part of it fled but one part…looked for its body.”

“But its body was gone.” Bruce said.

“There was a living body right there.” She said, tapping carefully on her lightning bolt scar.

“No.”

“I grew up with this evil parasite sucking on my brain.” She said. “And I was just…well I was curious if…I know the hulk is different but I’ve never met anyone else who had to share a body with another person before.”

And Bruce finally recognized the look in Holly’s eyes. The looked that had pierced him earlier that day, the look that still lingered in the edges of her eyes. It wasn’t pity or fear. It wasn’t sympathy. It wasn’t kindness. No. It was empathy. She understood. He felt like he could almost collapse from the mere idea of it.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m being torn in two.” The words came from nowhere and everywhere. G-d when had he become a poet? Holly took his hand and held it with her own, her green eyes almost the same color as the Hulk’s skin. “He’s always there but he’s not me. He’s…he’s not me, and my head it feels…”

“Too full? Like it’s about to split open?” She added on causing Bruce to nod hurriedly.

“Yes! Every situation I have to fight to decide what to do. He always has a plan and it’s always terrible.”

“My horcrux wanted me to hex everything.” She said.

“He loves smashing.”

They both looked at each other and started to laugh. Bruce was nearly breathless of it. He gripped Holly’s hand as they both laughed, nearly howling in the middle of the sidewalk.

“I’m just so angry all the time!” Bruce said in between laughs.

“I was always so afraid that every day was going to be the day that I’d just…”

“Explode!”

People were giving them weird looks which helped both of them calm down and stop laughing. Slowly they let go of each other’s hands and straightened out their clothing. Bruce felt…he wasn’t sure how exactly he felt. There was still pain, still rage but there was also relief. Nothing had been fixed but still somehow it felt better knowing someone else got it. They kept walking and soon Holly said they were there. She pulled him into an alleyway and then waved her hand. Out of absolutely nowhere a door appeared.

Bruce didn’t even know why he was surprised.

She pulled him inside to reveal that instead of stepping inside the side of a 7-11, they were actually inside what looked strangely enough like a hospital lobby. Complete with nurses in odd robes at the front desk. There were people sitting in chairs waiting to be seen, although their injuries were like nothing he’d ever seen. There was someone with a dog head instead of a human one, someone else who was leaking slime out of their ears, and a woman whose breasts were glowing different colors. Bruce saw a young mother holding a child who looked like they were growing scales and coughing up fire balls.

They were in a magic hospital. Holly marched right up to the front desk.

“Hullo.” She said.

“Hello and welcome to St. Hectate Hospital for Magical Maladies, what can I help you with?” The woman asked without actually looking up from her scroll of parchment.

“Is the Lycanthropy ward open for visitors today? I know last night was…”

“They should all be well enough by now but I can’t just allow…” The woman looked up and then her jaw dropped. The reaction was even more serious than the ones Tony got rather frequently. “Lady Potter, it is an honor.”

“I’m sure.” Holly said her smile tightening. “Can I go up there with my friend Dr. Banner?”

The woman barely even glanced at Bruce before giving her consent, blubbering the whole time about how she couldn’t believe that Holly was here of all places. Holly managed to fend her off before anyone else noticed and then she and Bruce quickly snuck away up to the elevator.

“Where exactly are we going?” Bruce asked as Holly tapped a glass button for the third floor.

“The Lycanthropy ward.” She said. “Every full moon they open it up for anyone in New York City who needs it. Generally, patients spend the day before the full moon begins and then a few days after to recover.”

Lycanthropy? Full moon? Bruce blinked trying to wrap his scientific head around what she was saying. Holly looked at him and sighed.

“Werewolves Bruce. I’m talking about werewolves. You know people who’ve been cursed to turn into human eating wolves every full moon?”

“Werewolves are real?” He hated that his voice cracked.

“Yep.” She said, nodding. “Come on. I’ll show you what I mean.”

And Bruce found himself pulled along right into a room full of werewolves. He didn’t know what he expected. But the child holding an actual Hulk plushie to his chest and staring at him like he couldn’t believe what his eyes were telling him was not it.

“It’s Bruce Banner!”

What?

Every patient in the room turned to look at him, their eyes wide. And Bruce didn’t see fear in those eyes, no he saw awe. Holly had somehow faded to the background as Bruce was pulled over to a group of children and teens who were telling him how much they loved him and how awesome they thought he was. It wasn’t until Bruce was signing a poster of the Hulk that he realized what this was.

The others had all done things like this before. Gone to hospitals and visited sick kids. Bruce was the only one who’d never been asked. It wasn’t safe he knew for him to be around children. It also wasn’t what the children wanted. They might have thought the hulk was neat but they certainly wouldn’t think so if they were in the room with him. No parent would let their child be in the same room as a monster.

But here Bruce was. In a hospital bringing joy to those afflicted with an illness, to people who looked up to him. Because like them he turned into something that was meant for destruction and pain. But Bruce had become a hero. The hulk was doing good and that meant that everyone one of those people could do good too. Bruce kept looking at the young boy, named Will, who was holding his Hulk plushie and wondering how in the hell he’d ended up there.

He spoke to the adult werewolves at length as well. Time didn’t seem real as he learnt about the symptoms of Lycanthropy and couldn’t but help relate them to his own life. There were adults who lived in poverty because they couldn’t keep a job. No one wanted to work with someone so dangerous after all. He found himself telling stories of his life on the run after the lab accident and strangely enough he shared actual laughs about it. Everyone in that room knew exactly what being on the run was like.

At one point a healer came by and Bruce found himself asking question after question about lycanthropy and the research being done into it. The doctor knew who he was, a muggleborn who spent just as much time in the muggle part of New York as he did the magical part and was more than happy to share. The healer conjured up papers and books about werewolves and Bruce’s eyes greedily took in the information.

He asked the werewolves questions too. Opinions about the different potions and treatments they’d been given. What worked and what didn’t. What did they want from their healers? How could life be bettered for them? Questions about the quality of life. Bruce had been lucky. He’d been thrust in with a group of people who didn’t fear the hulk. In fact, Thor loved the guy. The people around him weren’t so lucky. Not everyone got to be an Avenger after all.

He had nearly forgotten about Holly entirely. He would have totally forgotten her if she hadn’t brought him lunch two hours into his visit. No one noticed her scar or her identity. Bruce guessed that was probably magic too. But just in case he thanked her without using her name. She also provided more information about different potions and treatments that were available in different countries.

Bruce’s mind was racing in the way it hadn’t since he’d started his last PhD thesis. This was fascinating. This was something he could do. He’d spent the last eight years trying to cure the hulk, to find a way to stop a terrible transformation. And none of it had worked. Each hour he spent researching it only filled his soul with more pain. The more he looked the more the hulk fought against it.

But this? This was different.

All the parts of him were in agreement. He could help here. He should help here. He had 7 PhD’s, he was a man that could keep up with Tony Stark. A mind like his didn’t come around even once a generation and Bruce was in a place to help. If Tony could become an expert in particle physics overnight then Bruce could become a potions master. He felt like he was mentally tripping over himself trying to pull in all of the knowledge he possibly could.

Eventually the one healer found himself out of his depth. He called in a few of his research friends and they all came to help answer his own questions. Bruce had settled in a different room so that the patients could be seen by their doctors in private and so he could focus on his interrogation. It had taken time to say goodbye to all of the werewolves he’d met. The younger children especially. Eventually Bruce had to promise to come back after the next full moon in order to leave without feeling too guilty. The researchers at first hadn’t taken him seriously but very quickly they realized they were dealing with a genius. The more pointed his questions became the more intrigued the scientists grew.

“Dr. Banner.” Healer Karn said, a warning in his voice. “You are embarking upon an endeavor that has been a stumbling block for geniuses for centuries.”

“Don’t worry, I can handle this.”

“Well then I must insist that we exchange contact information. If you’re serious I want to help you as much as I can.”

“I as well.” Benjamin Forsward, the potions master said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to find a better way to make a wolfsbane potion, I’ll do anything to be a part of this process.

“Me too. I’m a master of charms and a project like this needs as many branches of magic as we can find.” Helen Wright added.

“I need to bring myself up to speed first.” Bruce said. “Any books, articles, papers you can suggest so I can learn all of the relevant material would be helpful. Once I’ve caught up then the real research can start.”

Bruce was soon enough given a magic bag, Helen’s own personal one, that was filled with old text books and books from personal collections that would help him. The bag was charmed to weigh the same no matter what was in it and it held the ridiculous number of books in it without a problem. He gave his phone number to Healer Karn, who insisted that Bruce call him Dacian. Bruce felt excitement bubbling up in him. Finally, a research project he could sink his teeth into.

“How about we have a meeting, same time in two weeks?” Bruce asked, all of them agreed, even adding on that they’d invite some other experts from around the world. “Sounds great. Now, I think I should get started on this. If you think of any more books for me to read, please send them to Avengers Tower.”

Bruce stood up, the carrier bag on his shoulder. He walked over to where Holly was standing there with a proud look on her face. They left the room together where the healers and magical researchers were still talking with one another.

“You’re looking better.”

“Holly.” Bruce said. “Do you know what this is? What it means?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“All this time I’ve been trying to cure myself and nothing ever came of it. But now? Now I can finally do something with this! Thank you for bringing me here.”

“It was my pleasure. Really Bruce. I had no idea you’d be so interested in Lycanthropy research, I just hoped you’d like meeting more people who can understand.”

He had enjoyed that was the thing. He hadn’t realized he was part of such a huge community. It suddenly felt much harder to call himself a monster, to think of himself as a ticking time bomb. Because doing so meant calling those children monsters. Slowly they left the hospital together. Bruce’s mind was beginning to slow down from its frantic research speed and towards something more appropriate for conversation.

The walk back to the tower was filled with chatter. Bruce and Holly talked about simple things. The music they liked and their favorite foods. They exchanged stories about the traveling they’d done and the sites they’d been too. Bruce hadn’t gone directly to Calcutta and settled down there after all. It was nice, calming. He almost felt at peace with himself in a way that he’d never managed with meditation.

“My work shift ended thirty minutes ago.” Holly said after asking about the time.

“I’m sorry are you going to…”

“No, it’ll be fine. I’ll catch a cab back to my office and clock out late.” She said waving off his concern. “This was far more important than cleaning anyway.”

“I’m really excited to get started on this.” Bruce promised as if to make up for all the time they’d spent there. “Tony’s going to be so jealous. I’ve heard tales of your work with him.”

“Do not even bring that up.” She said. “I’ve broken so many things in that poor man’s lab. I feel awful about it. I think you’ll probably cure Lycanthropy before Tony and I get even close to figuring this out.”

“Well I am smarter than him. He’s only got one PhD after all.” Bruce boasted making Holly laugh in delight.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you tell a joke!”

“It doesn’t happen often.”

“Well it should.” She said firmly before biting her lip and looking almost nervous.

“What?”

“Bruce. The hulk isn’t a horcrux.” She said. “I’m sure of it and I know you wondered if he was.”

“Then what the hell is he?”

“I don’t know. But the horcrux would leech out so much dark magic that it would make me gag. The hulk doesn’t do that.” She said. “Personally I think he’s just… a person.”

“A person.” Was she serious? The hulk wasn’t a person! People didn’t just think about breaking everything they saw. Granted, the hulk hadn’t thought about that today. At least not while they were in the hospital. Plus, there had been times when the hulk had helped people. He’d caught Tony when he flew out of the portal during the invasion. Bruce firmly put the memory of the time he’d put a gun up to his temple out of his mind.

“Yes. Think about it, Bruce. The Hulk was born in that accident 8 years ago and from that moment on he’s been in danger and attacked by everyone.”

But that? That didn’t compute. Bruce blinked a little too quickly as he remembered every single time he’d hulked out. Was there a time in the past eight years where the hulk had come out and had a good time? Very abruptly he realized that no there wasn’t. What did that mean?

“Bruce, maybe it’s time to consider letting the hulk be more than just a weapon. If he is a person then he should be able to live too, right?”

“He’s dangerous.”

“So am I. So is Thor and Steve and Tony and Natasha and Clint. But they get to live, they get to be.

“So you think I should just hulk out and let him do whatever he wants?”

“I’m saying you should hulk out in a controlled environment with people you trust who can be nice to the hulk and let him just…relax. Steve could teach him how to paint. The Hulk would probably be better at it than I am at this point.”

Something surged in him at the suggestion. Yes, yes, yes. It begged. Please free me. Please, it begged him. Bruce swallowed back the pleas and looked down at his dirty brown shoes. They were at the tower now, Holly and he would have to part so she could go home for the night.

“I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all I ask. And if you need me I’ll be there. I can spell the hulk room so he can’t get out until we’re sure he’s ready for it. I wrestled a troll when I was 11. I can handle the Hulk.”

“Of course you did.” Bruce huffed a laugh. “I’ll let you know. Have a good night Holly.”

“You too Bruce. Thanks again for coming with me.” She reached out and gave his hand a squeeze before finally turning around and leaving. Bruce watched her get into a cab and then he watched the cab pull away.

“Welcome back Dr. Banner, you have been requested to go up to the penthouse to and I quote ‘dish’ about your adventure with Miss Potter.” Jarvis said. “I find myself very curious about where she took you.”

Jarvis had started talking more and more about what he wanted and how he felt. It was weird since they were used to him being mostly silent, but it was weird in a good way. Bruce nodded and promised he’d go right up and tell everyone everything. It was the least he could do. Steve had, after all, told them all about the art lessons and about how Holly had literally healed Peggy Carter overnight just because she could. Granted when they’d asked her she’d flat out denied using magic on a muggle as that would be very illegal. No one had bought it. While Bruce had claimed to be smarter than Tony, and a part of him believed that, he still knew having the engineer with him on this project would be invaluable. Getting his help meant telling him about the problem.

He went up there and told the team about the secret magical hospital that you got into by walking through the wall of a 7-11 and the werewolves that went there each full moon because there was nowhere else to go if they didn’t want to hurt people. They all listened as Bruce pulled out different books about Lycanthropy and laid them out on the table.

“All this time I’ve been trying to find a way to stop the hulk but…but that’s not the transformation that needs my focus.”

“Oh Brucie Bear.” Tony said picking up one of the books. “Are you telling me you finally have a project worthy of the pretty lab I made you?”

“Yes Tony, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Bruce didn’t mention Holly’s other idea. That was something he could think about another time. A long time from now if he had any say in it. For now, this project was more than enough. Just the thought of helping those werewolves made the pain that had filled him this morning fall away into nothingness. The pleas and aches were silent for now. They’d be back and when they did Bruce would have people he could turn to who would understand.

As Tony talked about how they could work together Bruce realized that he felt real. Every part of him.

I’m real something in him whispered and he whispered right back I know.

Chapter Text

Natasha looked up from her breakfast as Holly appeared in the penthouse with a crack. All of the Avengers were having breakfast together this morning and hadn’t expected to see Holly until after, as she had a set, predictable cleaning schedule. She had, however, chosen to break that habit this morning and Natasha could only guess that was because of the silver box she had in her arms. Holly looked over at the group of heroes before spotting Natasha and beamed excitedly.

“Natasha!” She said. “Happy Birthday!”

A moment before Holly’s announcement the room had been filled with idle chatter and noise. Clint had just realized that the omelet he was attempting to make looked more scrambled than anything and had been trying to distract Natasha from noticing. Natasha herself had been eating her own perfectly made omelet and preparing a particularly lovely insult for Clint. Steve and Tony were having a mostly friendly argument about who Peggy Carter liked more, her godson or her old sweetheart. Thor was trying to figure out how to fit the foot tall sandwich he’d made out of pancakes, bacon, and eggs into his mouth.  Bruce had been the only silent one, eating food one handed while eyeballs deep in a potions book.

But right then? Right then it was deathly silent.

Steve’s face shone with guilt in the way only the All American boy could manage while Tony looked offended on his own behalf. Bruce hadn’t actually heard anything far too focused on his book. Thor was beaming. Clint, the only one other than Natasha who had any real context, was holding up his spatula stupidly with his mouth slightly open. Natasha’s tiny slip in composure resulted in her fork slipping from her hand and clattering onto her plate.

The noise was enough to get Tony to find his words.

“Oh Natasha. You thought you could hide your birthday from me? Jarvis.” Tony said clapping his hands together. “Start preparations.”

“Of course, sir.”

“I want balloons. I want alcohol. I want strippers.” Tony said getting out of his chair and moving away from his half-eaten breakfast. Steve gave Tony a look causing the man to sigh. “No strippers. Replace that with cake. Is that acceptable mother?”

“Nat.” Steve said ignoring Tony calling him mother as if that was an insult instead of the stone-cold truth. “I had no idea it was your birthday.”

That made two of them.

“Don’t worry.” Steve said looking back at Tony who was still talking loudly to Jarvis about everything they’d need for her birthday party. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t go crazy.”

She didn’t nod or react to his words, but he didn’t seem to notice as he was moving away from her and towards Tony, obviously trying to convince Tony that no Natasha would not want a Burlesque show nor would a live band be necessary. Bruce had finally looked up from his book, listened to the conversation going on around him and gave Natasha a smile.

“Happy Birthday.” He said pleasantly before going directly back to his book. She had feeling that Bruce was trying to cover up his panic at not having gotten her a gift. His eyes were no longer moving along the lines of text, so he was probably trying to figure out what to get her at the last minute.

“Lady Natasha!” Thor said. “I am very happy to give my blessings on this the anniversary of your birth! I am sure that Tony’s party will surely honor you and your achievements!”

“Thanks Thor.” She said.

“Now I must find an appropriate gift for a warrior of your skill.” Thor said getting up and moving quickly out of the room. Natasha could at least appreciate the honesty.

“Uhm…” Holly said stepping forward the birthday gift in her hand. “Here. It’s a Potter tradition to give one of these to someone for their first gift. Or rather it’s a tradition I have and since I’m the only Potter left I’m making it one of my family traditions. I made it myself.”

Natasha looked at the box like it was going to spontaneously grow teeth and bite her. Seeing as this was a gift from a witch, that was entirely possible. Slowly, as if she were moving through a molasses instead of air, she took the gift from Holly and placed it on the counter next to her cooling omelet. What was someone supposed to say when they were given a birthday gift? She searched her mind and found something that felt appropriate.

Smile, not too wide, open lips just slightly, soften eyes, show excitement but just a little.

“Thank you.”

Holly should have smiled back, perhaps even looked eager to see Natasha open the gift. Holly however just frowned lightly, tilting her head softly to the side as if trying to hear a faint noise better. To their left Bruce was making his excuses to leave, a blatant attempt to escape and find a way to get Natasha a gift without her being aware that he’d forgotten. How any of them could have forgotten something that was so secret that not even Natasha had known it, she couldn’t say.

Clint’s eggs were burning.

“What’s wrong?” Natasha asked. Holly shook her head.

“Nothing, feel free to open that whenever you’d like. It won’t bite. I’ve gotten biting gifts before, it’s not fun.”

“Wizards just keep getting weirder and weirder.” Natasha said making Holly poorly stifle a snort.

“I’m going to go back to work.” She said. “I just wanted to get this to you first thing just in case there’s something awful in Thor’s room that could’ve ruined it.”

Natasha just watched her leave. Soon she was alone with nothing but Clint and the gift that seemed to be emanating some strange energy.

“Nat.” Clint hissed.

“Your eggs are burning.”

“Forget the damn eggs! Holly just…knew your birthday!”

“She could’ve guessed.”

“Do you honestly believe that?” No, she didn’t but that was besides the point. No one alive knew her birthday. Her parents, whomever they had been, had been killed by Hydra before she’d been taken for the Red Room. Her trainers hadn’t thought it was important information to know. There was no way Holly could just know that. Was there? “How did she figure it out? And don’t say magic.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“What I want you to do is go down a few floors and talk to Holly.”

“No.” She said. She’d buried her need to know about things like that a long time ago. Talking to Holly, getting her hopes up, was just an exercise in futility.

“If you won’t then I-”

“Don’t finish that sentence Barton.” She said. “And don’t you dare talk to Holly either. This is my business and mine alone. Got it?”

She fixed a steely glare to her long-time partner and the man sighed.

“Fine.” He said. “But just…consider it okay?”

“The little girl who had birthday parties died in the Red Room.” She said getting up from her seat. “Get over it. I have.”

She left the gift there, she didn’t need it. She pretended to ignore Clint’s warning about trying to skip out on the party that he yelled at her back. The man really should focus on salvaging his breakfast. She’d skip her own damn birthday party if she wanted to. She ignored the voice that whispered that it would be her very first. That didn’t matter. Natasha found herself taking the elevator down a few floors to the gym that Tony had built for them. It was unsurprisingly empty.

She went over to a punching bag and without warning began to decimate it. Punches and kicks landed with deadly accuracy into the specially designed fabric. The bag swung dangerously on it’s hook but Natasha ignored that and just kept attacking it until it broke. For the next hour she worked up a sweat in whatever way she could manage on her own. On days like this she preferred to go to SHIELD and offer to ‘train’ new recruits which mostly involved a lot of them visiting medical for suspected concussions.

Not that Natasha ever gave them any. She was way too talented for that.

But if she left for SHIELD then Clint would think she was going underground, and he’d start chasing her around the city and probably get everyone else involved in her business. It wasn’t worth the hassle. So, she focused her energies in the gym, going through an absolutely merciless work out. Maybe she could just work herself into a state where she was too exhausted to care or even think about this birthday nonsense. But no matter what she tried her mind kept wandering back to the gift that had been wrapped in shiny silver paper.

Eventually she gave up and went back to her room to clean off. No one needed to see her covered in sweat and shaking with exertion but her. She took a hot shower and perhaps spent longer than needed scrubbing at her skin. When she walked out of the shower she wrapped herself up in a silk bathrobe and wandered into her bedroom. Only to stop short.

Sitting there, right in the center of her bed, was that damn gift.

“Clint.” She growled. “If you’re in the vents right now I swear on everything holy that I will find out and you will regret it.”

Silence, she waited, standing there to hear any clue but after fifteen minutes (Clint’s usual ability to stay still in those vents) she heard nothing. Carefully she stepped forward and picked up the box. It weighed almost nothing in her hands and when she shook it, there was no noise. The only clue she had was that Holly had made it herself and that it was part of her own traditions. Which meant it could be absolutely anything because it was a witch’s tradition.

It was sometimes difficult to remember the fact that Holly was different. She had this innate ability to disappear into the background when she wanted to. It was something Natasha had had to learn in the Red Room, how to look harmless. Holly just emanated an energy that told you that she was nothing worth noticing. If you spoke to her, she had a way of disarming you, making you feel safe. If Natasha was a fool, she’d think that Holly was harmless.

A lot of the men on the team seemed to think that Holly wasn’t a threat. The team’s only experience with magic was Loki and comparing the two was like comparing the sun and the moon. They’d never seen Holly even come close to attempting the sort of magic that Loki called down on a seemingly daily basis. Thor had told them that it took Loki centuries to get to his level of mastery, Holly had been a student off magic for a mere fraction of that time.

So the men comforted themselves. If Holly, harmless, kind Holly, was the best that the wizarding world had to offer then they had absolutely nothing to fear. After all this was a world of people who used magic for fun and for art and had decided to hide themselves from the world instead of defending themselves with their abilities.

Natasha wasn’t an idiot though. She knew that hidden deep within Holly was a snake ready to strike out at anyone who got close enough to her nest. Natasha honestly couldn’t help but think about how Holly would have excelled as a Black Widow. If the magical governments hadn’t intervened, they would have never suspected her of being anything but absolutely normal. Even the hammer incident had been slowly brushed aside as an inexplicable anomaly.

At first Natasha had wanted to applaud the other woman for ability to go about unseen. A war general who could perfectly pass as a precocious cleaning lady. But as time went on it occurred to her that Holly wasn’t hiding in the normal sense. The woman hadn’t ever been taught how to bring her danger to the forefront. Natasha tried to imagine Holly fighting criminals in one of her ugly sweaters and shook her head. No, Holly didn’t know how to dress and walk like the predator she obviously was.

She put the gift back down onto the ground and gently kicked it beneath her bed. Out of sight, out of mind. She wasn’t bothered by anyone until her hair was styled properly and she was dressed in something she thought would look fearsome enough for whatever she was going to face on her birthday. Unfortunately, that was the moment her peace ended. Because Tony started knocking violently on her door demanding that she come out and accept her present from him.

She opened the door and sent the man what she hoped passed for an unimpressed glare. The billionaire shook it off.

“I managed to give Steve the slip.” He said winking and holding out a plastic credit card. “Here, go wild.”

“You’re giving me money.” She said. “For my birthday.”

“And an escort to drive you around.” He added. “I learnt from Pepper that it’s poor form to buy a woman things, if you get the size wrong they’ll try and break your neck.”

She did everything in her power not to look amused but based on Tony’s smug grin she failed. She snatched the card away from him knowing that there would be an obscene amount of money on there that Tony didn’t care how she spent. The trust he was showing was more a gift than the money could hope to be. She doubted the man would even have Jarvis monitor this account for anything suspicious. She could buy a small Caribbean island and build a mansion just so that she could have a nice bolt hole to run to if the need ever came and Tony wouldn’t care or even know.

“Also. I happen to know that Holly’s just about finished cleaning up.” Tony said.

“Which means she can’t use her work as an excuse.” She said. Holly used that job as a shield to keep the team from pulling her into anything that could be construed as too much fun. Natasha had tried to get Holly to agree to her plans for a makeover before this, but it had been for nothing.

“Make sure she’s ready for your party tonight, Red.” Tony said. “I want her to be the third prettiest girl at the ball.”

“Third?”

“Well you’ll be the second prettiest girl and I’ll be the first. Duh.”

“Thank you, Tony.” She said letting the door swing shut, she ignored Tony asking through the door what Holly got her. “Jarvis, where is Holly right now?”

“She is about to take her lunch down with her coworkers on the 37th floor.”

“Hmm. Tell her not to bother, I’m taking us out.” She said.

“Of course, Miss Romanoff.”

  Natasha found Holly waiting for her on the first floor, looking less than pleased at having her lunch plans interrupted. Natasha easily ignored that and waved Tony’s gift back and forth.

“It’s on the billionaire.”

“Money is not the issue.” She said.

“Are you really going to tell me you don’t want to have lunch with me on my birthday?”

“I’m a little leery about whatever you have planned after.”

“Don’t be scared. I promise I’ll be there the whole time.” Holly snorted but followed Natasha out of the tower and directly into the limo that Tony had ordered for them. “Tony wants me to make sure you’re ready for the party tonight.”

“I’m going to the party? Since when?”

“I assume as of fifteen minutes ago. Don’t worry, Steve’s keeping it from going too crazy.”

“I go to magic birthday parties. I can handle Tony’s worst.” She said without a problem. “I am curious as to exactly who I’m attending as, because I highly doubt you want me to tell everyone I’m the cleaning lady. There are going to be more people there than just the Avengers.’

She had a point.

“You could pretend to be a billionaire too.” Holly gave her a look and Natasha explained further. “Tony knows a bunch of rich people, it’s simple to pretend to be one of those people that owns half of the world’s money but managed to avoid the cameras.”

“Pretending isn’t going to be an issue.”

Natasha lifted up an eyebrow and motioned to Holly’s ugly pink uniform. The woman laughed and spoke.

“I took this job not because I needed money but because I needed to do something with my time. I’d quit the hero jig and suddenly I had hours every day with nothing to fill them with. I don’t have a muggle education so there weren’t many jobs but this one that I qualified for.”

“How rich are you?”

“I’m not honestly sure?” She said. “The Potters are an old family, had the last four centuries to build up a lot of wealth. And of course as I’m the only Potter left that’s all mine. But on top of that old families like mine have friends that are the same kind of rich and a lot of them, like the Blacks, are either dead or in jail so that all got left to me in wills and whatnot. Then there’s all of the wealth I got quite accidentally over the years through conquest.”

“Conquest?”

“Yes. It’s called Right of Conquest. I’ve gotten titles, properties, magical artifacts and more gold than I’ve ever cared to count because of that. Basically, when I put a bunch of rich fascists in jail for being fascists I get their stuff if there is no one else to claim it, like an heir. A lot of these idiots can’t give their things to an heir because their son and or daughter was put in the cell right next them.”

Natasha rolled that over in her mind and decided that as much as it didn’t make sense, it also was exactly what she should have expected. Of course, Holly was a cleaning lady not because she needed money but because she wanted to be. Why would she have thought anything else?

“If you’re so rich then why do you…”

“Dress like I do?” Holly asked, lifting up an eyebrow. “Because I like it.”

“You like it. It makes you look three times your age. You’re 28 and I’m turning 29 today and I look a decade younger than you.”

“Who cares about how old you look?” She asked. “Age just means that someone has had more time to figure things out than you. In the wizarding world magic tends to mean that we’re limber for longer anyway, looking old doesn’t mean you’re not capable.”

“Have you considered that part of the reason you’ve struggled finding a partner is because you dress in a way that flatters literally nothing about you?”

“I have.” She said. “But, why would I want to date someone who expects me to look a way that isn’t what I’m comfortable with? What else would they ask that I change about myself? Have you considered that the sweaters are a good thing?”

“I admit they do let you move about unseen.”

“No. Not for that.” She said. She leaned forward from her place on the other bench of the limo. “I love sweaters, honestly I do. I have since I was 11 years old.”

“Why?”

“Well, it was my first Christmas at school, away from my relatives and I wasn’t expecting a gift.” Holly began.

Natasha listened as the woman talked about her first Christmas gift of a sweater and homemade fudge. The sweater had been made by hand, or at least by magic, by Mrs. Weasley. The only woman in Holly’s childhood who ever made an attempt to be a motherly figure for her. The wool of the sweater always felt warm and safe when she wore it, a symbol of affection and care. Holly had been hooked ever since.

Natasha had to admit that there was something alluring about Holly’s sweaters when described like that. Not that it made it any better.

“You wear sweaters for comfort. I can respect that.”

“I’m sensing there’s a but here.”

“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of yourself.”

“What?”

“Wear ugly Christmas sweaters year-round for all I care but your split ends are atrocious.” It felt weird being the one advocating for self-care. Natasha wasn’t exactly the poster child for it.

“I haven’t had time to go get my hair cut.” Holly defended.

“You have the time now.”

“So what? I’m supposed to…”

“Take care of yourself? Yes, I suspect so. It doesn’t have to be painful. Just get your hair cut every once in while, maybe get a pedicure just to try it out. Take hot baths with scented candles.”

Holly rolled her eyes but didn’t argue the point. Carefully she picked at one lock of her insane hair that had escaped the bun she put it into.

“Is it really that bad?”

“It’s not irredeemable.” Holly sighed and looked out the window for a moment.

“Fine. Have your way with me Miss Romanoff.”

“With pleasure.”

As it turned out, taking Holly out on a shopping trip was much more enjoyable than Natasha had thought it would be. This was mostly because Holly used her magic whenever no one would notice to play tricks. Mannequins would start dancing behind store clerks, occasionally objects would turn into others or slid around when the workers turned around, confusing them slightly. Natasha had to spend much of their time struggling not to laugh.

They went to a salon first, right after their lunch, using Tony’s name and money to get two chairs almost immediately. The stylists were nothing but courteous, mostly because of the amount of money they stood to make, but also because the moment they saw Holly’s hair they knew that the woman needed help. Natasha’s hair cut and styling took half the time of Holly’s. Three stylists had descended on Holly and started clucking about how thick and voluminous her hair was. Holly managed to get out that she’d like to keep it long before the stylist began to start washing and brushing and snipping.

Holly got bored rather quickly and so Natasha had to keep her still in her seat by telling stories about her work. She changed some details for confidentiality reasons but kept true to the heart of it. Being given difficult tasks to do by herself that a male coworker would be given an entire team to do. Which had basically been her entire career at SHIELD. The stylists and Holly all made comments about how annoying male bosses could be.

It was oddly gratifying.

That conversation continued as they left the salon to go to different boutiques. Holly blatantly refused to even look at the heels and told Natasha that she was the witch instead for being able to wear them. Natasha insisted instead that they get Holly a pair of good flats that wouldn’t look too awful at a party. For herself, she got a pair of six inch stilettos. Holly’s opinions continued as they shopped.

During the entire trip Natasha couldn’t stop thinking about her birthday, no matter how hard she tried. Could Holly figure out where Natasha had been born? What her parents’ names were? Did Natasha have any living family? All of the questions that had haunted her as a child so much that she’d forced them down, deep into her soul, were coming rushing up again. She felt something bitter in her stomach that she thought might be hope.

When they went clothes shopping, a dress was out of the question, Holly already owned a few and she hated each of them. So, while Natasha tried on tight little black dresses that would make men weak in the knees, Holly managed to find the one pair of jeans in the entire store. Natasha made sure she bought them in the right size at the very least. Getting Holly to wear something other than an over large t-shirt or her sweaters seemed like almost a lost cause but eventually Natasha broke her down and she wore a well fitted dress shirt.

The transformation from that alone was startling. With her hair free of the frizz and split ends, combined with clothing that fit revealed that Holly Potter was much more attractive than any of them could have assumed. She had a near perfect figure from the decade of hunting Death Eaters and with her hair tamed she looked like model for casual clothing. Natasha purchased a leather jacket at the last moment and thrust it onto the woman elevating her to an absolute head turner.

“Is the jacket really necessary?”

“It’s super necessary.” Natasha insisted. “Just wait until the others see you.”

“Right. When is this party exactly?” A quick text to Tony revealed that information.

“It’s in less than two hours, at 7.”

“Well I need to get home and take care of a few things. I will come back for the party though.” Holly said as they settled back into the limo. Holly knocked on the window separating them and the driver and asked to be taken to her apartment first.

“If you’re not there I’ll send Thor to get you.”

“Don’t worry. I will be.” Holly promised. “I like birthday parties you know. I didn’t always but I’ve grown a fondness for them.”

“You didn’t always?”

“Growing up my birthday was either ignored or I was taunted about it. After I made friends my birthday always reminded me how lonely and hated I was with my blood relatives. Then once I learnt the prophecy it became even more…distasteful. My friends made sure I had a huge birthday party when I turned 18 and things…well things got better after that.”

 For the first time it occurred to her that Holly could understand deeply what it meant to lack a childhood. To be denied what was considered normal things for their age because they had been chosen against their will for something greater. Holly hadn’t ever really celebrated her birthday as a child either. She would understand, she wouldn’t be cruel to Natasha for asking. Wouldn’t make jokes about not knowing or tell her that it didn’t matter because she was an adult now.

Natasha knew that and yet…

As they pulled up to Holly’s apartment, the questions stayed trapped behind Natasha’s teeth. Holly wished her a ‘Happy Birthday’ one more time, told her that she’d had a fun time and then closed the door to the limo. Natasha watched her go out the window even as the limo started to pull away form the curb and onto the road. Why hadn’t she asked? There was no risk to asking Holly for help.

For G-d’s sake! She’d revealed what she’d learnt from Thor about Loki to the wizarding world just so that Thor could have hope about his brother’s redemption! Holly had healed Peggy Carter without being asked to and introduced Bruce to people who were helping him accept his Hulkiness in a way that no one on the team had managed. Not only that but she was still working with Tony on the magic issue despite the setbacks that now probably numbered in the hundreds. Holly was the kind of person who would fall over herself at the opportunity to help someone else.

But something had kept Natasha back.

She wouldn’t admit it was fear. Fear wasn’t something a Black Widow felt.

In the back of her mind memories of the Red Room played on. The punishments she was given or witnessed when someone stepped out of line. Asking questions wasn’t allowed. Thinking about who you were before wasn’t permitted. Everything that had made Natasha her had been stripped away and she had thought she’d accepted that! But Holly had come in one morning with a wrapped gift and dashed all of Natasha’s internal composure to bits!

Natasha didn’t have time to go to the gym when she got back. She barely had time to go back to her room and put her new things away. Of course, the moment she arrived she saw that Holly’s gift had somehow moved from beneath her bed to back on top of it. She glared at the package and everything it represented. She refused to even touch it that time. Jarvis informed her that the others were waiting in the penthouse to give her their gifts as well.

It was easier accepting the gifts from the team. They were her team and they only knew as much about her as she allowed them too. Steve had of course given her a very nicely done painting of herself that made her look far more heroic than she actually was. Looking at the carefully placed brushes of paint made it clear that Steve didn’t see her as a woman trying to right her wrongs but rather a woman with a good heart. She ignored the lump in her throat at that and took Thor’s gift next.

His gift happened to be the most interesting. A short sword, that reminded her of a dirk, from Asgard. He told her that it was made of Uru, the same metal as Mjolnir but didn’t have the same mystical properties. However, it had been enchanted to always stay eternally sharp and to always strike true. She wasn’t sure exactly what that meant but the fact that Thor had managed to pick a weapon she knew how to use was nothing but flattering. Most people assumed she only knew how to use guns.

Clint, the little shit, got her a t-shirt that said ‘Birthday girl’ in bright pink sparkles and a pair of shoes. The shoes looked like normal stilettos except for the fact that instead of a thin wooden heal they were replaced with actual stiletto knives. She had no idea where the man had found them on such short notice and decided she didn’t care. The shoes were just good enough to forgive the stupid shirt.

Finally, she got her gift from Bruce. The sometimes quiet scientist had gotten her a book on Russian History as well as a box of her favorite tea. The book felt heavier than it should’ve but she didn’t say anything about that. Instead she thanked him like she’d thanked everyone else. When no one was looking she opened it to see that Bruce had snuck in a DVD of a romcom that Bruce had caught her watched once at 3 in the morning. Tony then spent way too much time detailing who was coming to the party and what he had planned.

As Natasha listened, she noticed that Clint kept giving her looks. Those were a bit more difficult to ignore.

“Are you sure Holly’s coming?”

“She promised she would, Tony.” Natasha said.

“Good I cannot wait to see how dolled up she’s going to be without those g-d awful sweaters.”

“I thought Holly’s sweaters were something that witches wore.” Thor said.

“No.” Tony said. “No Thor buddy only she wears them.”

“But why? They don’t look very…”

Natasha didn’t answer but thankfully Steve did break in.

“Holly looks just fine as she is. Now come on, we should all get ready for this party.” Steve said bullying everyone out of the room but Natasha and somehow Clint.

Natasha looked up at him from her seat on the couch. She was surrounded by wrapping paper on one side and her gifts on the other. Slowly Clint sat down on the coffee table in front of her.

“So. How was…shopping?”

“Good.” Natasha said.

“Did you…talk?”

“Are you asking if in the last four hours of shopping with Holly if we talked at all? No Clint we stood in silence next to each other.”

“Nat.”

“No. No I didn’t. Why would I?”

“Because you’ve always wanted to know? Because Holly is the first real lead in the case of your identity ever? Because it would have been the easiest thing in the world?”

It wasn’t easy though. Somehow her thoughts appeared on her face without her consent. Clint stopped looking so indignant.

“You can’t run from this forever.”

“I’m not running.”

“I know you’re afraid Nat.” Clint said reaching out and placing a hand on her knee. He ignored her death glare and continued. “You don’t know where you’re from. You don’t know if you can blame what you became in the Red Room on Hydra or if some of it comes from your blood.”

“That is not…”

“Don’t lie to me. Not right now. You’re afraid that if you go looking for your family you won’t like what you find.” Clint said, he leaned forward a little. “But you’ve got to understand this. No matter what happens, you will always be my family. No matter what you find in your past I’m still going to be here and so are the rest of us.”

She looked away from his kind eyes and down at the gifts she’d been given. A lifetime of training kept anything close to tears from her eyes, but she still felt it.

“I’ve got to get ready.” Clint let go of her and didn’t say anything as she picked up her gifts and left the penthouse, walking a bit quicker than she normally would’ve.

She spent the next hour getting ready. Ignoring the gifts, she’d already opened and the one she hadn’t, she carefully shaved her legs and painted her nails. She was meticulous with it, spending longer than needed on each task to ensure that every part of her looked perfect. She probably spent upwards of twenty minutes making sure her eyeliner set properly. She almost forgot what she was getting ready for.

Jarvis was there to remind her.

“Miss, the party guests are arriving.”

“Thanks Jarvis, let Tony know I’ll be up there in a few minutes.”

“Of course, Miss. And if I may make a suggestion?”

“What?”

“Open Miss Holly’s gift.”

She glared at nothing, wearing a tight dress that she knew would make men flock into her web unaware that she could consume them at any moment. The dress screamed danger and lust and heady attraction. It was the perfect dress to wear when she felt so off balance. Carefully she walked over to the bed where she’d tossed the other gifts. She picked up the wrapped box again.

“It’s never going to stop popping up is it?”

“No Miss. Holly told me she enchants her gifts so that they stay near the recipient.”

“Of course.” She sighed and lifted up the lid.

She almost dropped the box.

Sitting there folded up so neatly was a Prussian blue sweater. She reached out and touched the carefully knitted material, it was soft almost like cashmere. She pulled the sweater out of the box. It looked to be just the right size, perhaps a bit bigger than Natasha would normally wear. Then again her go to was skin tight. On the center was the letter ‘N’ in white yarn. It looked very similar to the sweaters that Holly wore, although the material for Natasha’s was much finer and the sweater overall was slightly slimmer.

Without questioning it too much, Natasha slipped the sweater on over her head. The moment she pulled it all the way down and got her arms through the sleeves she felt her eyes water. Tears rolled down her cheeks, slightly ruining her perfect contour. She sat down on the bed holding a hand to her mouth as the sensations rushed through her.

Admiration.

Respect.

Love.

Everything Holly felt for her seeped from the wool and into Natasha’s skin. It reminded her of the times Clint had given her a hug. Or the way Tony had lost a week’s worth of sleep to create new armor for her after her SHIELD issued one failed to keep her safe. It was just like the way Steve trusted her implicitly on a mission or the way Thor always treated her with respect, like an equal. She remembered all the ways Coulson had stuck his neck out for her as she started out and the way Fury never implied she was still working for Hydra.

It took her a few minutes to calm down but when she did she knew what she needed to do.

“Jarvis, tell Tony I need a few more minutes.”

Five minutes later Natasha Romanoff walked out of the tower’s elevator wearing a pair of black skinny jeans and her new sweater. Her eyes looked over the small crowd of people until she spotted a now familiar dark mane. She beelined over to the witch who was talking with Clint.

“Holly.” Nat said.

“Natasha! You’re wearing it!”

“I didn’t know today was my birthday.” She said. “I was taken as a child by Hydra. I don’t know where I’m from or when I was born or…who my family was. But you knew my birthday.”

Holly blinked, first her face showed shock and then slowly it came around to realization.

“I…”

“Can you help me find my family?” Natasha asked ignoring Clint’s very excited look.

“Yes. Yes of course I can. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Tomorrow then.”

“Tomorrow.”

It was a promise and Natasha had no doubt that the woman would keep it.

Chapter Text

Are you going to be back home soon?

Why? What’s wrong Laura?

It’s Lila. She’s been suspended.

Clint Barton stared at his phone in shock. His daughter? Was his wife talking about their daughter, the sweetest girl in existence? Slowly he shook his head and pressed a button, lifting the phone up to his ear. His wife answered his call almost immediately.

“What?”

“I know.” She said. “I thought it was just a phase when I first got the call about her causing trouble at school.”

“What trouble? Laura, I don’t want you hiding things from me just because you don’t want me to worry.”

“I wasn’t!” She defended, sounding almost offended by the very idea. “I got a call from Lila’s teacher, that old bag of hot air.”

“Mr. Anderson?”

“The very one.” She confirmed. “He called me a few weeks ago and told me that Lila had broken a bunch of beakers in the science lab. I asked Lila about it and she said it was an accident and so I didn’t think anything more about it. Then a week ago I got another call from her gym teacher.”

“Is that the one with the huge mole on her cheek?”

“No.”

“The one who can’t tell the difference between a basketball and a soccer ball?”

“No. Clint, the other one. The one who runs the swim team.”

“Glass eye!” Clint said snapping his fingers in recognition.

“Yes.” Laura said sighing in exasperated fondness. “She called me and said that Lila was sneaking around the pool during swim time and got into a fight with some other girls. Ended up destroying a dozen different plastic container of pool cleaners.”

“What?”

“That’s what I said too! I asked Lila and she swore up and down that she had no idea how those things got on everyone but that it wasn’t her fault.”

“You believed her, right?”

“Of course, I did! I figured one of the other girls she’s been having problems with at school did it and lied about it to the teacher. I know our daughter better than that.”

“So why is she suspended then?”

“Today I got called out of work to go pick her from school. Apparently, Lila got into a fight with the same girls. And since she’s your daughter you know that she wouldn’t just back down.”

“Oh, definitely not.” Clint said grinning a little too hard. If the frustrated noise his wife made on the other end of the line was any indication, she knew he was smug. How he loved her. “So, she got suspended for showing those girls who’s boss?”

If that was the case, then there was definitely Ice Cream in order.

“No, she got suspended for lighting one of the girls on fire.”

“What? That can’t be right!”

“I saw the girl myself. Apparently, the moment the girl’s pants caught on fire, she started to scream and Lila jumped off of her. A teacher got the fire out before the girl was seriously burned but there’s no doubt that Lila was the one who did it. There were too many witnesses.” Laura said.

“But…but why would she do that?”

Lila was probably the sweetest 8-year-old girl in the world. She was also fiery and independent. If you were nice to her, she could be like a cute little puppy but if you were a bully, then Lila was more like a snarling bulldog. Despite that, never once had she ever shown signs of violent behavior. Not in any worrying way. Sometimes she got into tussles with her younger brother but that was normal.

“I don’t know. I tried talking to her, but she just went up to her room and locked the door.” Laura said. “I’m really worried, honey do you think you can sneak away for a while? It’s been quiet with your team.”

Clint thought about the different responsibilities he had on his plate and wondered how many of them he could push onto Nat without her getting too annoyed with him. It didn’t matter what it cost him, he was going to be in Missouri as soon as physically possible. Behind him he heard the door open and turned to see that Holly had come in to clean. He didn’t mind if the witch knew about his family. If Nat had decided that the woman was trustworthy enough to find her family, then Clint had literally nothing to fear. The rest of the team knew because Cooper had begged to meet them for his birthday last year and it had made getting back home more often a lot easier.

Sometimes Tony would just push a first-class plane ticket in his hands and tell him to stop sighing like a homesick little girl.

How a man could be so generous and that much of a prick all at once, Clint would never know.

“I’ll figure out how I can get home as soon as I can sweetheart. I promise.” Clint said. “I just can’t believe that our little girl would do something like that. It’s so out of character.”

“I know. I know.” She said. “Thank you, honey.”

“You do not need to thank me for being a good father. I should be thanking you for putting up with me and my ridiculous lifestyle.”

Laura laughed and told him that she deserved a pay raise for all the stress he put her through. Clint told her that he’d put in the request as soon as he could but for now, she’d just have to deal with being paid in hugs, kisses, and hand made macaroni art. They said their goodbyes and Clint promised to call her the moment he knew when he could leave New York. Holly waited until he put the phone down and turned to look at her.

“So.” She said. “Should I have knocked before stepping out of the elevator?”

“No. I should’ve taken the call in my room, not out here in the open. I’m just so used to everyone up here knowing about…”

“You do not need to tell me anything. I signed a security contract, I’m under legal obligation to keep anything I might overhear under my hat.”

Clint rolled his eyes at her tone. She acted like they weren’t friends or something even though Holly was the only one who was regularly in the tower who would indulge Clint and his love of video games. She didn’t mind taking a break from her cleaning to play a round or two of Mario Kart and they always had a great time ribbing on each other. Beneath her kind, very British exterior was a competitive streak a mile wide.

Plus she’d forgiven him for his pranks.

“I’m married with two kids. Nobody but the team knows because I don’t want my family to be in danger. They live in a secure location and when I visit home I go by a different name.” Clint explained.

Holly looked quite awed by the reveal, and excited. She nearly skipped over to him and reached into her the pocket of her uniform. She fished around a bit before she pulled out her wallet. She opened it up to reveal some moving magical photos. There was one of a young boy, with bright blue hair, who looked a bit older than Lila standing next to Holly.

“This is Teddy.” She said pointing at the little boy. “He’s my godson. His parents died at the end of the war when he was just a few months old and there wasn’t anyone left to care for him but me and his elderly grandmother. So, when I wasn’t on missions…”

“You were parenting him.” Clint said. “And you did that for ten years?”

“Yep. It was stressful trying to balance my work with Teddy’s needs, thankfully I can teleport very large distances so visiting him frequently wasn’t a huge problem.”

Clint picked up his phone and showed the one secret picture he had on there of his family. Holly cooed over his children and soon enough Clint found himself sipping on magically made tea and knee deep in a competition to see whose kid was better. Of course, neither of them said that’s what it was. But they were both boasting pretty hard about how great their respective charges were. Admitting it was a competition was just superfluous at that point.

Teddy was apparently a metamorphagus, or a natural shapeshifter. Which while Clint could admit was pretty awesome, he still insisted it had nothing on Cooper’s finger painting skills. The boasts were in good fun and it was wonderful being able to gush about his children. Especially with someone who understood what it was like trying to raise a family right while also saving the world. He told plenty of stories about the amazing things his children had done over the years.

It took over an hour for Clint to finally start talking about his current problem.

“So now I have to somehow get time off even though the Avengers are getting called out more and more often and we’re all needed.”

“Hmm.” She said thoughtfully. “Lila said she didn’t make the cleaning bottles break?”

“Yeah? Why does that matter?”

“And then the fire? Did anyone see her use a lighter or a match or did the fire just start?”

“I…I don’t know. Why are you asking?”

“Oh. It’s probably nothing.” She said before changing the subject. “How about instead of getting time off you bring your family here?”

“Are you crazy? I just said that they’re in our safe house for a reason!”

“I know.” She said. “But Clint. I do have magic. A snap of my fingers and their identities will be perfectly shrouded. You could shout down in the streets who they were, and no one would notice. Trust me, I’d never endanger children like that. Especially not two children so accomplished.”

“But why can’t I just go down there?” Clint asked, part of him shifted in unease at the idea of letting his family anywhere near magic. That stuff was dangerous.

“Because you’re right. The Avengers are very busy. If you went down there right now, you might only be able to stay for a few hours before you’d need to head back for something.” She said. “Whatever’s going on with your daughter is going to take time to unravel. If you bring her here, you can give her that time. Trust me on this one.”

Clint still didn’t necessarily feel convinced and Holly must have realized that.

“This tower is one of the most secure places in the world and your family will be staying with a literal god as added protection.” She said. “Maybe your daughter needs a different environment for awhile to open up, or at the very least she needs to learn better ways to channel her anger and I happen to know a guy who is pretty good with that.”

That actually made Clint laugh, he put his mug of tea down and grinned at the witch across from him.

“Alright fine. I’ll talk to Tony about having them flown in, that is if the wife agrees. But I want you putting that spell on them as soon as possible.” If he was going to start trusting Holly, truly trusting her, then he had to believe that despite how…off magic really was, that Holly had it under control. She was right, she’d never hurt an innocent kid.

“Of course. You’ve my word.” She said patting him on the arm. “Just let me know when they’re coming, and I’ll be there day or night. I can put the spell on them without them even knowing, probably for the best actually.”

“Sounds good. I’ll let you know.”

“Great.” She said standing up. “I’m going to get back to work now. I’ve wasted enough time today.”

Clint watched her go and then slowly picked up his phone. He called Laura up again and told him about his idea, keeping out anything about magical spells or the strangest cleaning lady in the universe. To his surprise Laura agreed wholeheartedly, with the understanding that if things went well with Lila, maybe they could do a few family tourist trips together. Clint thought about being able to go have fun with his family, safe under a spell, and smiled.

Maybe he’d been giving magic a bad rap. Holly was just fine with her own magic. She didn’t wave it around in his face all of the time, and she only brought it up when it could be exceedingly useful. It was easy to forget she had it at all. Aside from the fact that she was trying out weird magical experiments with Tony and she took Bruce out to a magical hospital once a week and that she’d given a super soft magical sweater to Natasha.

Yes. Clint decided. Magic was good as long as it was unobtrusive. He certainly didn’t want to get any closer to it than he had to. The spell to protect his family was necessary but beyond that Clint was okay living a completely muggle life. It was another reason he loved going home to Missouri, everything was just as he expected it there. No creepy shapeshifting gods. No horrible mind controlling scepters. Just his wonderful family and his farm.

After a quick conversation with Jarvis and then a slightly longer one with Tony Clint’s family was sent three plane tickets. Tony had offered the use of his private jet and Clint decided that’d probably be safest as long as no one saw who it was that was getting off the jet. It took time to work out when his family would fly out and for how long. Of course, there was the fact that Clint needed to get rooms made up for his kids.

Thankfully each of their floors had two guest rooms and Natasha was more than happy to help him clean up both for Lila and Cooper. Although Nat made Clint clean up his room and make it appropriate for his wife. Holly kept the common areas of their floor clean but didn’t go past the locked doors which Clint appreciated. Even if it meant that he was left with a lot of heavy duty clean up on his own.

He managed.

Laura agreed to fly out the very next day and arrive sometime in the afternoon. They’d be transported from the airport, right off the tarmac by Happy Hogun. Tony’s very trusted driver/bodyguard, and probably the only person other than himself and the team that he’d trust to pick up his family. When they arrived at the tower Holly would, in secret, do her thing. It would be like she hadn’t done any magic at all and his family would be totally unaware of it.

Just as it should be.

He was worried about his daughter and whatever she was going through. He spent most of his free time gnawing at it in his mind. He tired to come up with explanations about why his daughter would be messing around with fire and why his sweet little ray of sunshine would think of doing that to another person. No matter how annoying said person was. He practiced ways to broach the subject with her.

Should he ask about the other girls first? To make it clear that he knows she was probably provoked. Or maybe he could tell her about a few of his Avenger missions and then sneakily ask about school. Wait for her to bring it up when she was comfortable. Perhaps it would be better to be more direct. Just tell her that he knew she’d been suspended and that he wanted to hear her side of the story. Maybe that would scare her off. Wait! He could tell her about all of the times he got in trouble at school, to get some comradery.

Only, well that would reveal more about his childhood than he really wanted his kids to know. He wanted them to live in a world that was kind for as long as he could manage it. So maybe that plan wasn’t very good either. Although, Clint was sure he could make up a story or two. He’d probably only need to talk to Tony for five minutes about his time at MIT and he’d have more than enough source material to work from.

There just had to be a way to reach his daughter without her feeling pressured or judged. Whatever was going on was no doubt serious, fire always was. But he knew his daughter and she was a good kid. Whatever pressure or stress she was facing, she just needed help dealing with it better. Clint wanted nothing more than to support and guide her. He just needed to figure out how.

The more he thought about it the more confident that bringing Lila here to the Tower was a good move. She’d have a change of pace and things to keep her busy while they worked on whatever her problem was. Maybe being far away from the cause of her stress would help her open up! He was glad he’d listened to Holly, she was the only other person he knew who was a parent too. It was nice to have another hero to turn to when there were issues at home.

“Now remember.” Clint said as they all tucked into dinner that evening. “When my family is here, Holly is just the cleaning lady. Not like…a magical war general.”

“Why?” Thor asked. “I am not ashamed of Holly, if you…”

“No Thor.” Steve said. “We all swore an oath to not tell anyone about the magical world, remember? Not even to our families.”

“Right.” Thor said frowning. “But I don’t want to ignore her.”

“Don’t.” Tony said. “You can be as friendly as you want. Just don’t ask her about how many dangerous creatures she felled last year.”

“That I can do.”

“How long do you think they’re going to be here?” Bruce asked.

“No idea. Lila’s been suspended for a week so it might all of next week.” Clint said. “I want to figure out what’s going on with her.”

“I’m not bothered I just need to know how long I should be careful of where I read these.” Bruce said waving his potions book up in the air. The Bruce from six months ago would’ve hated having children around, constantly afraid of something going wrong. But Holly had done something, not magic but still miraculous nonetheless, and slowly Bruce had begun to truly relax around them.

“No longer than a week hopefully.” Clint said. “If it’s any longer than that I’ll be taking time off to go back home.”

“We do need you.” Steve said. “But your family is important, we’ll put up with your absence for as long as you need.”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that.”

“It should be good to see them.” Nat said, smiling from her seat, wearing her comfortable blue sweater. A sweater most of them were very jealous of at this point. Holly had made that by hand and it looked so comfortable. Besides Nat had said one morning that when she wore it, she didn’t have nightmares. Natasha wore that sweater rather frequently. Basically, any time she didn’t have to be seen in public, she was wearing it.

Something about that sweater had done wonders for Nat. Maybe it was just what the sweater represented or maybe there was magic hidden within the yarn. Holly had said she hadn’t done any spells on it, that she’d only used a few spells to help speed the knitting process along so that it’d be ready for Nat’s birthday. Despite this it still managed to leave Nat looking truly sure of herself. Not in her combat skills or her status as Black Widow. Nat wasn’t delusional about her abilities. But in that sweater she seemed genuinely comfortable with herself.

Clint loved it. Loved that she felt so at peace. It was something he never thought he’d see in his friend.

“I agree!” Thor said. “Your children are delightful! I am quite interested to see how much larger they have grown! Humans age so quickly, it’s wonderful!”

“You saw them 6 months ago.” Clint said.

“And surely they must be nearly adults now!”

“No. Thunder Dome, we age fast but not that fast.”

Much of the rest of dinner was learning how slowly Asgardians age and finding a way to compare how fast humans age. Everyone carefully skirted around the fact that Thor had been a live long before they had existed and would be around for centuries after they were gone. There were some things that couldn’t be changed and there was no point on focusing on what couldn’t be changed.

The next day, after going over his floor to make sure everything was perfect, he went with Happy to the airport. He was there when Stark’s personal jet landed, and he stood happily right at the bottom of the stairs. A good thing to because Cooper nearly flew out of the plane in his haste to greet him and Clint had to catch him mid-leap. He held his young son to his chest and spun them around whooping happily.

His wife appeared from the plane next making her way more carefully down the steps than their son had. When Clint finally put down his very excited little boy he reached out to his wife and planted a kiss on her lips. There was nothing better on this green earth than giving Laura Barton a peck on the lips in Clint’s humble opinion. He hugged his wife too and then pulled back to look up.

Lila was frowning as she walked down the steps of the fancy private jet. She had on a purple sparkly backpack and matching shoes.

“Hey sweetheart.”

“Hi dad.”

“Wanna come down and give me a hug?”

She nodded and gave him a hug, it felt halfhearted and Clint knew his daughter was distracted and troubled. He didn’t say anything about it, just ruffled her hair and told his family that they were going to have a great time in New York. He helped Happy get the bags from the plane and into the trunk while Laura got the children into the limo. Most of the ride home was filled with Cooper’s excited chattering. The five-year-old had a lot of plans and wishes for what they were going to do on their vacation.

Lila just looked out the window, her normally bubbly personality subdued.

Clint exchanged worried looks with his wife as Happy drove them back to the tower. When they arrived, Happy drove them to the private entrance that only the Avengers and…well Holly had access to. Holly was there, Clint spotted her out of the corner of his eye. She waved her wand in a complicated manner in the direction of his family. Nothing visibly happened but Holly seemed pleased. She sent him a thumbs up before going out a side door. No one noticed a thing.

He took his family into the elevator, thanking Happy for the ride. Laura poked at their two children and both of them responded by thanking Happy too. The gruff man accepted them with a nod and a small amount of grumbling. They rode up to the penthouse where the team was waiting to greet them. Cooper was jumping from foot to foot, trying to contain his energy. When the elevator opened Cooper burst into the room.

“HELLO AVENGERS!”

They had a late lunch with Cooper telling everyone who would listen about his Kindergarten class. Of course, all of the Avengers were fascinated, or at least pretended to be so. Lila just sulked in her seat, moving her food around her plate with her fork. Laura whispered in his ear that she’d been like this since the fire incident. Taciturn and removed. He just sat next to his daughter and hoped that he could manage a real conversation with her.

As they were finishing up their lunch, the elevator dinged open to reveal Holly pushing her cleaning cart.

“Good afternoon Avengers. Don’t mind me, just here to clean up. I’ll be out of your hair in just a moment.”

“You’ve got a cleaning lady?” Cooper asked, his eyes wide as he learnt about something that he clearly considered the height of luxury.

“Sure do kid. We’re superheroes, we don’t have time to clean up.” Tony said.

“Woah.” He turned and looked at Holly who smiled politely at him, her greens eyes sparkling in amusement. “What do you do?”

“Well I clean the floors and windows, I make sure everything is tied up and I take care of their laundry.”

“Can you clean playrooms?”

“I can clean anything.”

“Wow.” Cooper said. “Can you come to my house and clean my room for me?”

“Cooper!” Laura scolded.

“Can you pay me? This is my job and you shouldn’t ever do work for free.” Holly asked ignoring Laura’s scold. Cooper looked very thoughtful for a moment before smiling. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a mostly crumpled plastic box that had once held jelly beans. Now there were only five or so left in the box.

“I can give you my last jelly beans!”

“Hmm.” She said. “Tempting. Mr. Stark, can you match his offer?”

“What?” Tony squawked.

“Can you offer me the same amount or more jelly beans? This young man is offering me quite a deal, I’d be silly not to take it.”

“I don’t…why would I have Jelly Beans? Wait. You’re not serious. Holly we need you here.”

“He’s right.” Holly said. “I’m sorry young man, as generous as your offer is, I can’t accept.”

“Why not?”

“I help the Avengers and they need me so that they can keep saving the world. Do you understand?”

Cooper nodded solemnly before looking down at his candy. Carefully he held it out as an offering. Holly’s face split into a huge smile and Clint wondered if his heart could melt because he felt all goopy inside. Holly took the box and carefully opened it. She took out one jelly bean and popped it into her mouth and then she offered the box to Cooper. They shared the remaining beans while the team watched.

“Thank you.” She said. “You are very kind.”

She straightened up putting the crumbled box carefully into her uniform pocket. Like it was a valuable keepsake.

“That was a very nice thing to do Cooper.” Clint said. “Holly’s one of the nicest ladies I know.”

Cooper beamed as Holly moved away quickly cleaning up the penthouse. The conversation turned back to plans everyone had for the next few days, Holly easily blending into the background. It wasn’t until Holly pushed her cart past Lila’s seat that something interesting happened. Lila perked up a little, blinking in confusion while Holly did the same. Holly looked down at his eight-year-old daughter with a bit of bemusement and confusion.

“Hullo.” She said.

“Hi.” Lila said. “Is there…something wrong?”

“Not so far as I’m aware. But I do have a question for you if you don’t mind me asking one?”

Lila, who hadn’t taken her eyes off of Holly at all, nodded slowly. Her sparkly purple barrettes shifted in her hair. Holly bent down so that she was eye level with Lila.

“Has anything unexplainable ever happened to you?”

“Like what?”

“Like…bottles exploding when you’re upset or doors unlocking with keys?” Holly asked, Lila gasped lifting a hand to cover her mouth.

“How’d you know?”

“When I was seven, I was running from some bullies and I got so scared that I just wanted to get as far away as possible. Then suddenly my stomach was tingling, and I popped up to the roof of my school.”

“Popped?”

“One minute I was on the ground and the next I was holding onto the chimney. I had no idea how I got up there.” Lila was looking at Holly like she was answering every single one of her silently prayed prayers. Something dark began to snake around in Clint’s gut. “Has something like that ever happened to you?”

“Some girls were making fun of me and we…we got into a fight. She was lying about me and I…my stomach felt all weird and then her pants were on fire!”

Liar liar pants on fire. Clint swallowed back a lump in his throat.

“It’s alright.” Holly said, reaching out and placing a hand on Lila’s shoulder. “It’s normal.”

“It’s not! I’m…I’m some sort of freak!” Holly’s face spasmed for a moment before she calmed it down.

“I’m not a freak and I did things like that when I was your age.” Holly said. “That means you’re not one either. Plenty of people have things like this happen.”

“If I’m not a freak then what am I?” Lila demanded.

“You’re a witch Lila.”

“I’m a-”

“No.” Clint said his voice cutting through the conversation like a knife. He stood up his chair scraping against the marble floor. “You take that back. There is no way I’m going to let my daughter have…have magic!”

Holly stood up, her hands on her hips, a defiant look in her eye.

“That is not your choice to make.” She said. “She has it whether you like it or not.”

“Well take it away!” Clint demanded. “My daughter is not going to turn into some mind ra-”

Holly snapped her fingers and a burst of magic spread out from the noise. Clint found himself abruptly squished as if his body was being pushed through a too small tube. His vision twisted and went dark before turning normal again. He landed on the ground a moment later. He gasped and coughed so hard he thought he might see stars. He felt Holly grab him by his shirt and pull him to his feet.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Holly demanded shaking Clint a little. Clint pushed Holly away and stumbled to get some distance.

“You’re lying!” Clint said. “My daughter can’t have magic! She’s good and pure and…”

“And I’m not?”

“Magic is a weapon! A dangerous weapon.” Clint spat. “Loki’s the god of it and we’ve all seen what he can do! Damn it, Holly you fought a whole damn war against magic!”

“I didn’t fight against magic I fought against fascists, you bigoted asshole!”

They were standing in a forest somewhere, far from civilization for all Clint knew. He was shaking, trembling with what he hoped was rage but was probably just fear.

“Loki unmade me! He put that scepter to my chest, and he took away everything that made me me and replaced it with nothing but blue! There’s no way in hell I’m letting anyone I care about get close to something that sick!”

“Oh, don’t act so special! Everyone I know’s been put under mind control at least once! Get over it and start thinking clearly!”

“Clearly?” Clint asked. “You want clearly? I’ll give you fucking clearly! Magic nearly destroyed this planet when Loki invaded. It almost destroyed you! Without magic you wouldn’t have had a prophecy and you wouldn’t have had to be a war general at 17! Magic is just this thing that twists and twists and corrupts everything it touches!”

Words, words that Clint didn’t even know he’d been thinking deep in his heart spilled out of his mouth like sludge. Holly stared at him, her jaw set and her eyes sparkling with indignation. Clint kept going the words getting away from him. He should have expected the slap across the face. The stinging bright red handprint finally stemmed the tide.

“Clint.” Holly said. “Your daughter thinks she’s a freak. She’s terrified that she’s evil because she accidentally set some pants on fire because of her magic.”

Clint kept breathing, holding a hand to his face to put pressure on his cheek. He looked at her and felt something like guilt and horror settle on his shoulders.

“And now because you’re scared of what happened to you, you’ve made your daughter think that you believe she’s evil and freakish. Is that what you wanted? To make her think she was a Loki-in-training?”

“No.” He croaked out. He’d never want that.

“Magic isn’t evil. People are, or at least they choose to be.” Holly said. “Magic is just an expression of a person’s inner soul, reflecting their choices and desires. Your daughter has a lifetime of choices ahead of her to help her build a magic that’s good and that makes good things. She won’t have an easy time of it if she thinks her dad hates her for being born with a gift. Trust me, I know.”

The realization of what he’d been about to say before Holly magicked them away almost made him want to gag. He couldn’t believe he’d just…

“It’s awful. Every time I think about magic, I’m reminded of those three damn days. I killed friends and I did so many awful things that I can’t forget. The whole time I knew what I was doing, I was eager to betray everything I knew and believed. I wasn’t me, I wasn’t anybody.”

“I know. I know how awful it can be to be put under mind control but Clint you have to put it behind you. If you don’t all you’ll do us hurt your daughter.” Holly said. “Your lovely daughter who has magic so bright and pure. Clint when you think of magic think of the way Lila’s smile lights up a room. Think about the wonderful pictures she used to draw that looked like they moved a little. Remember how despite her mixing up the salt and sugar on her cookies they still taste amazing.”

Memories he’d shared of his daughter, instances of magic that he hadn’t recognized for what they were. Clint shook a little and felt his knees bend without his permission. Holly followed him to the ground. They were both kneeling in the wet grass.

“Magic is the way Bruce smiles without a hint of paranoia in his eyes. Magic makes sweaters that can calm assassins. Magic heals a mind wrecked by age and trials. Magic is a miracle just when you least expect it. It’s that moment of suspense right before you let an arrow loose. Magic is mercy and love and greatness. It’s all of these things Clint.” Holly said pulling Clint into a hug. “Close your eyes, can’t you feel it?”

Clint’s eyes fell closed slowly and everything around them, from the wind blowing through the trees to the birds, fell silent. At first there was nothing, less than nothing even. Clint had no idea how long he sat there, his head on Holly’s shoulder. But suddenly he felt it. A hum in the back of his mind, almost like the noises he’d hear from the fridge at night as a kid. It felt like a long-forgotten song, he could almost taste the lyrics on his tongue. More importantly it felt like love and home. He gasped his eyes, his eyes opening.

He pulled out of the hug and looked at Holly. She was literally glowing with power. Her skin was gold and silver light and her hair was floating a little with the energy. Her eyes looked almost white with the magic that she’d hidden deep inside. He realized how silly he’d been thinking magic was just something Holly put aside. No. Holly was magic and he would never forget that.

So was his daughter.

“Clint.” She said. “I am so sorry that you were hurt so but it wasn’t magic that did it, not purposefully. Magic is a tool and Loki used that tool to maim and unmake. But you can’t blame magic for it, not when your daughter needs you.”

Slowly the magic died down, seeping back into Holly’s skin as if it had never been there in the first place.

“You’re right.” He said. “I’m sorry I said those things.”

“Better you say them now than when Lila can overhear.”

“You still shouldn’t have to hear it. Not after…”

“It’s not anything I haven’t heard before and I forgive you for it Clint. As long as you promise to do better.”

“Of course.” Clint was startled to realize he’d meant it. From that one hug, or maybe it was Holly’s words and her magic, but something in him mended a little. He still despised Loki but his mind was clear. Magic wasn’t evil, not in the way he’d let himself believe. It couldn’t be when it shined so brightly in Holly’s eyes. He swallowed back the guilt that accused him of being just like his own father and looked up at Holly. “We need to go back, now. I have to talk to Lila!”

Holly hopped up and held out a hand. She smiled at him and promised to be gentler on the way back. He took her hand and found she actually meant it. Teleportation was still awful but at least he didn’t land face first onto the marble floor. They arrived in the penthouse to see Lila missing and Laura having a conversation with Thor about the magical world. Nat and Tony were distraction Cooper.

“Where’s Lila?”

“Clint, Thor’s just explained some things and I swear to g-d if you say anything to our daughter about her…”

“I won’t. I’m sorry I freaked out. I’m going to apologize right now.” Laura immediately calmed down and told him where she thought their daughter had run off too. Jarvis confirmed it helpfully telling him exactly where his daughter was. Clint rushed away from everyone.

He took the stairs four at a time, nearly flying down them in his haste. He found his daughter sniffling in a hallway closet. Clint, his chest heaving with exertion slid down to the ground without opening it. He knocked a little.

“Go away! You hate me now!”

“Oh, lovebug I could never hate you.”

“I’m a monster!”

“No. No you’re my baby girl, my special wonderful baby girl. I’m so sorry I got angry, your daddy has had some bad experiences with magic but that doesn’t mean magic is bad. I shouldn’t have yelled at you or made you feel bad. I was wrong.”

There was only silence for a little while. Clint focused on getting his breathing under control.

“You mean it?” Lila asked her voice wobbling, but thankfully a little closer to the door.

“With all my heart.” After a few seconds the door opened and Clint pulled his daughter into a hug. She sobbed into his neck and clung to him. Clint just held her, rocking them both back and forth, whispering about how wonderful she was and how amazing she was going to be with her magic. It took ten minutes for Lila to calm down fully and when she did, Clint rubbed her face clean with his thumbs. “There, feeling better?”

“Yeah.”

“I am sorry, Lila. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re perfect just the way you are, magic and all.”

“Can…can we go talk to Holly some more? About my magic? I don’t want to hurt anyone with it.”

“Of course. Let’s go up there right now.”

Holly was waiting for them on the same floor, sitting on a couch with her wand and a large leather-bound book. She smiled at Lila and didn’t comment on the red eyes and sniffling nose.

“Lila?” Holly said. “This is for you.”

She held the book out carefully. Clint could read the title, it read out ‘The Complete Magic Encyclopedia’. Lila took it carefully, opening it and gasping at the moving image inside. It looked like a herd of unicorn running through the woods.

“That book will help answer any questions you have about magic. It’s got a lot of information in it, almost as much as google. It’s my personal copy, which means it’s connected to every book I have in my whole library. If you have a question just open it up and ask it. It should turn to the right page.”

“Thank you.” Lila said, barely even looking up from the carefully crafted illuminated pages.

“I also have an offer for you, if you’d like.”

“What?”

“While you’re here in New York, how about I give you a few lessons? That way you have enough control on your magic that it doesn’t explode anything or hurt anyone. Would you like that?”

“I’d love that.” Lila said, looking at Holly with hero worship in her eyes. Clint realized that he had the same look in his own as he looked at the kind woman who’d slapped his face so hard it would probably bruise.

“Great!” Holly said. “Let’s get started!”

Chapter Text

“I still don’t understand why exactly we’re doing this.” Holly said, her arms folded over her chest. She was pouting, like a little girl. Or like Thor now that Tony thought about it. Both of them did the same exact lip tremble.

“Come on, Glinda.” Tony grinned at the woman in the driver’s seat. “We’ve been working on the magic-tech problem for hours today. It’s time for a break before we blow ourselves up by accident.”

“But why do we have to take that break in a car?” She glared at the wheel in front of her.

“Don’t tell me you’re scared.”

“Tony, I don’t know how to drive, and this car must have cost a fortune.”

“Oh, it did, but don’t worry about that, I have like three fortunes in my back pocket just in case.” Tony said. “And it’s simple. Just put the car into reverse.”

How?” She really needed to get a better attitude. There was nothing more enjoyable than driving an expensive sports car.

“Have you honestly never driven a car before?” Tony asked. Holly shook her head. “Okay fine. Just…do that there and then pull that and…”

Tony mostly spoke with his hands and thankfully Holly was used to that. She followed his directions on how to turn on the million dollar car and pulled it into reverse. Tony had taken her out of the city and to some empty countryside where he had some of his nicer cars stored in a secure warehouse. All in the name of taking a break. For the past however many weeks they’d been trying to do this, Tony had slaved over different tech designs that Holly would then cast magic at and break. He’d started to feel a bit manic now at the consistent failures. Which was probably the only reason Holly had agreed to this driving lesson in the first place.

Her knuckles were white on the leather covering of the wheel as she tried to navigate out of the parking space and towards the exit of the warehouse. The entire time Tony kept up a monologue in her ear about taking it nice and easy and staying calm and that she was doing just fine. He saw her get more and more frustrated and he could almost hear her internal monologue.

Do not hex Iron Man. Do Not Hex Iron Man. DO NOT HEX IRON MAN.

“Tony maybe you could quiet down for a moment?” She asked before she broke and hit him and before Tony broke into laughter at her annoyance. “Trying to concentrate here.”

“Right.” He said. “Sorry, just maybe doN’T RUN INTO THAT WALL!”

She slammed onto the breaks and stopped mere centimeters from the wall she’d almost accidentally backed into.

“Maybe try going forward now?”

“Shut up Tony.” She said as she carefully shifted into the next gear. Of course, when she did that the car died. She growled and tried again. And again. And again. “Why is this so complicated?”

Tony didn’t think he’d seen anyone struggle that much to get a car into first gear before. He explained the process again but didn’t get any real results. It wasn’t complicated, she just had to press one pedal down a certain amount while shifting the gear stick.

“It’s really not that bad.”

“Says you.” She snarled finally managing to get the stupid vehicle into 1st gear. She pressed forward turning the wheel and pointing the car as best she could towards the exit. Tony started praising and correcting her again in an almost incomprehensible manner. Once she got out of the exit and onto the dirt road she tried to shift into the next gear.

The car died.

She kicked at the car, her foot hitting the plastic covering on the upper part of the drivers seat.

Tony giggled.

“I’d like to see you do so well on a broom.”

“A broom?” Now something about that made Tony’s mechanical heart beat just a bit quicker.

“Yes. We don’t have cars in the magical world we have flying brooms.” She said. “And I bet if you tried to fly in one, you’d land flat on your face.”

Why had he never been told about the flying brooms? Maybe she’d brought it up before, but it was only now registering in his brain. Holy shit, they flew on brooms. He had to be a part of that. He had to. There was literally no other way this afternoon could go.

“Oh really? You wanna put your money where your mouth is Miss Potter?”

“You are so on, Mr. Stark.”

She pushed open the door of the car, eager for the excuse to get out of the car she’d fought so hard against getting inside of, and waved her hand, conjuring two brooms. Who knew where they came from. They didn’t look normal brooms, they were stylized and had metal pegs coming out the side, he assumed for the user to put their feet on. She tossed one at Tony who immediately caught it as he got out of the car himself. They both walked towards the nearby field, the entire place was private property of Tony’s which meant that it was deserted. They stood in the grass and Holly instructed Tony to put his broom on the ground and then hold out his hand.

“Now just say up.” She said. “Like so. Up!”

Her broom jumped right into her hand. She motioned for Tony to do the same. He huffed.

“Up.” Nothing happened. “Up!”

The broom at his feet rolled a little as if to show that it had heard Tony but didn’t much care for his tone.

“Hmm…It’s not very effective.” She said, her tone far more amused than it had any right to be. Had she not just stalled his car fifteen times in a row?

“Did you really just make a Pokémon reference?”

“Clint’s gotten me hooked on them.”

“Of course, he has. Up!” The broom still didn’t listen to him. What the hell? Was it defective?

“At least I got your car to move.” Tony gave her a very offended look and tried again. This time ordering the broom up with something akin to a threat in his voice. The broom didn’t seem to hear him. “You know plenty of men your age have a hard time getting it up. Performance issues are totally natur…”

“Do not.” Tony said. “I will figure this out and then you’ll be sorry.”

“Right right.” She consoled. For the next ten minutes Tony tried every sort of version of the word ‘Up’ he could think of. From various different languages to turns of phrases until he descended into frustrated insults and threats. The broom didn’t twitch at all.  “Tony you’re doing it wrong.”

“What?” Tony stopped his rather creative threat to the broom and looked up at the witch who was still holding her broom and looking at him as if she was mystified.

“Think of the broom like…like it’s Dum-E or U.”  She said. “Is this how you’d ask Dum-E to do something for you?”

“Of course not.” Tony said. “Dum-E’s my buddy, not some stupid piece of wood.”

“Aren’t there people that just call Dum-E just a pile of metal gears?” His jaw dropped a little as he considered that. Slowly he stooped down and looked at the broom.

“So it’s like Dum-E?”

“Maybe not as sentient as one of your bots.” She said. “But all enchanted objects have feelings in the simplest of terms. You can force an enchanted object to work for you if it doesn’t want to if you’re powerful enough but most of the time the objects will resist working with someone they don’t like. Think about Thor’s hammer. It’s very picky about who it will even let pick it up.”

“Huh.” He said. “And all magic items are like that?”

“Pretty much. Wands, brooms, even magical trinkets like enchanted chessboards work better with people they like.”

“Enchanted chess boards?” His mind caught up on the concept of a magic chess board, he shook his head. It wasn’t the time. “Wait. Later. Back to this broom. It’ll let me use it if it likes me?”

“It’s why the car feels so weird to me.” She explained. “I’m used to using devices that have feelings, people like Jarvis and your bots are far more normal to me than a car that…well it feels empty. I can’t talk to it on a magic to magic level like I can with my broom or with my wand.”

“So, you can’t learn to drive then?”

“No, I will learn. Just like I’m learning to paint.” She said something prickly in her voice. Tony kept back a smirk. He’d seen Holly’s ‘paintings’, they were so poorly done it wasn’t even fair to call them abstract. Nonetheless he’d still managed to pilfer one to hang in the lobby of Avengers Tower. It was supposed to be a painting of Steve, but it didn’t even really look man-shaped. He’d put it in a very fancy frame and given it a vaguely pretentious title. Within two weeks he’d gotten a call from one of the various wealthy people he knew asking about where he’d found such a talented artist. The only reason Holly didn’t know about that painting was because she didn’t use the front entrance to the tower often enough.

He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when she saw it for the first time.

“So how do I get it to work then?” Tony asked motioning to the broom.

“How about you try apologizing for being so curt?” What a ridiculous suggestion. Holly’s face made it clear she was serious. Tony scoffed and still her face didn’t change.

“If this is a prank, I will get you back.”

She just lifted up an eyebrow at him as if daring him not to try. Tony rolled his eyes and then looked down at the broom again.

“Hey…broom.” Tony said. “I’m sorry for threatening you with a woodchipper. And the thing about acid might have been crossing a line.”

Was it just a trick of his eyes or had the broom moved a little? Tony swallowed, this was just like Dum-E or U. He knew how to talk to weird things like this.

“I just wanted to fly, you see I can fly in my Iron Man suit but something tells me that flying on you would be so much different.” Tony said slyly. “I’m just imagining it now. The wind whipping around us, flinging through the air at high speeds. Can you do tricks in the air? I bet you could. You look like a well-made broom.”

Yeah, the broom was definitely listening to him and Tony told himself it wasn’t weird.

“So, what do you think? Are you willing to give it a try?” Tony stood up, his knees complaining at the movement. Carefully he held out a hand, just like Holly had done. “Up.”

The broom practically flung itself into his hand, smacking into his palm so hard he almost dropped it. The wooden shaft was practically vibrating with excitement.

“Don’t drop it!” She said with a laugh. Tony didn’t even look at her, too fascinated with the sensation of magic in his hand. It felt different than Loki’s scepter had. This felt whole, not twisted and angry.

“What next?” He asked.

“Put the broom in between your legs like this.” She said. Tony gave her a look at the very idea of putting his precious bits right onto a thin thing of wood. “Don’t worry. Modern brooms have comfort charms for the delicate male rider. Used to be that brooms were mostly for women, a couple of centuries back men started whining about equality in sports and now we have a broom that’s usable for all humanoids.”

Holly said the weirdest shit with such a straight face. He could never tell if she was serious or not. She reminded him of Loki in that way, not that he’d ever said that out loud. Carefully he put the broom between his legs and to his surprise it was very comfortable. It shouldn’t have been, but it felt like he was sitting in a very comfortable motorcycle seat.

“Okay good.” She said. “Now, the next step is to jump.”

“Jump.” She nodded and literally jumped into the air with her broom. Tony shouldn’t have been surprised to see the broom activate and there Holly was levitating five feet above the ground like it was nothing. “Trust your broom and jump. Keep your hands on the shaft, like I’m holding mine.”

It was good then that she broom was at his eye level. Tony nodded, readjusted his grip and jumped, leaping forward. He prepared himself to stumble on the landing only to find there was no landing at all. Instead he felt himself find a more comfortable position in the broom as he legs dangled.

“Open your eyes.”

Had he closed them?

He opened his eyes and then grinned. He was in the air, the broom still trembling with anticipation. Well, who was Tony to deny a lady what she wanted? His hands tightened on the broom and he leaned forward. As he’d been hoping the broom shot forward. It felt just like driving a race car on a track in Italy except better because he wasn’t wearing a safety suit and there wasn’t any friction to hold him back. The magic of the broom seemed able to ignore things like drag.

Behind him he heard Holly shouting out a warning, but Tony was too busy shouting out his excitement to listen to her. He flew through the grassy field at high speeds, his feet finding themselves comfortably fitted on the pedals. He was laying practically vertical on the broom as he used his hands to keep a steady course. The broom kept going faster and faster, without any hesitation.

The forest that surrounded the huge clearing came up way faster than he intended. Tony pulled up on the broom trying to slow down but found himself turning at a near 90 degrees straight up into the sky. His excited yelling turned more fearful as he continued straight upwards. This time there was no Jarvis to correct his flying. He found himself slipping as the broom continued to turn so that he was nearly upside down.

He tried to grab and hold on tightly to the broom, but a gust of wind buffeted him and he fell right off. Before he was able to fall more than half a second, he landed in two surprisingly strong arms.

“Really Tony?” She demanded, looking at him as if she wasn’t holding him like he was a damsel in distress. Her wild hair was sticking out in every direction, just like it had when Mjolnir had electrocuted her. “You couldn’t wait one second for me to explain how it works?”

“Waiting is for suckers.”

“You could have gotten hurt.” She said, her lips twitching.

“A price a man should be willing to pay for science.”

“This isn’t science it’s magic.”

And all at once it hit him. He’d been trying to do science all this time when magic was the answer. He wiggled a little in Holly’s arms as his mind came up with an idea so brilliant, he almost wanted to kiss the witch holding him for inspiring it.

“It’s magic!”

“Uhhh, yes?”

“We have to get to back to the tower. I know what we need to make magic and tech work.”

“Really?”

“The entire time we’ve been trying this I’ve been sciencing my heart out to make a new device that won’t react poorly to magic. But it’s not the device that’s the problem! It’s magic!”

“I’m not following.”

“Magic is emotions with intent right? That’s what you told Lila.” Holly nodded still holding him high in the air. Somewhere in the distance the broom he’d been riding finally landed and impaled itself in the dirt. “Well technology can’t handle emotion. It’s not complicated enough. Jarvis is the most sophisticated tech in the world, and he can barely handle feeling one thing a day!”

“The emotion in the magic burns out the tech, that’s why the cellphones blow up! Their processors can’t handle that sort of energy.” Holly said. Her greens eyes literally sparkled with magic. “Oh Merlin! All we need to do is create a ward that removes the emotion from the magical energy.”

“Can you do it?”

“Can I do it.” She scoffed. “I’ll be a lot better at that than I am at driving a car.”

“You aren’t getting out of those lessons.”

“Come on let’s go get your broom.”

“My broom?”

“Of course, I got it for you as a gift.” She said. “I wanted to teach you how to fly on one since you liked flying in your suit so much. Oh, come on you know the saying. What do you get for a man who has everything?”

She was smiling at him. Having offered him a device that gave him the ability to fly like it was nothing but a mere trinket.

“Something he doesn’t have.” She finished.

She flew them down to the ground, with far more control than Tony had despite the fact that both of her arms were too busy holding Tony steady. They found his broom, it was half apologetic and half upset that Tony hadn’t been able to hold on as far as he could tell. It took the work of moments for Tony to his car re-parked in the garage and then Holly teleported them both back to the tower.

The entire time as they rushed down from the roof to the lab, they babbled at one another about how exactly they could ward to keep emotion out of the magic. There were plenty of wards that could keep specific emotions out of a space, like wards that made a room a literal happy place. The magic identifying certain emotions and removing them while still allowing the magical energy to enter. Holly just had to expand the ward to register and protect against all emotions. No matter how potent.

Holly told him about the Flying Ford Angela. A car that some clever wizard had managed to enchant and had given emotions to quite by accident. The story of the car running off into a magical forest after dropping Holly and her friend off at school had made Tony literally chortle. It seemed that muggle technology had two options when exposed to enough magical energy. Either it could explode because it couldn’t handle the emotions being thrust into it, or it evolved to gain sentience and emotion all on its own. This was finally the breakthrough Tony had been slaving over for who knows how long.

Trick question, Jarvis knew exactly how long he’d been working on this project.

Once in the lab Holly immediately began writing out a bunch of things that looked like an awful mixture of latin and runes while Tony pulled out one of the throwaway Stark Phones he had stored in the lab to replace the ones that the team broke on a weekly basis. As Holly worked, she explained to both Tony and Jarvis how the spell would hopefully work. Tony didn’t think he’d ever seen Holly look this confident. Magic really was her forte.

Holly worked for close to an hour designing the ward. Her hand didn’t even cramp as she wrote out line after line of spell work. Sometimes she’d look at something she created, frown and light the offending piece of paper on fire. Tony tried his best to help but found himself slightly out of his depth. Which was a first and not something he really enjoyed. He needed to get on the studying magic train with Brucie Bear.

All this time he’d been hoping that the answer was in what he already knew. He hadn’t even realized he’d been literally benching Holly the entire time. For hours at a time Holly had been coming down to the lab to help but she hadn’t really been doing much. She sat in a chair and played fetch with Dum-E while waiting for Tony to tell her to magic something. He hadn’t been letting Holly be an equal partner because he hadn’t wanted to rely on magic.

But magic wasn’t so different from science was it?

Tony looked at the broom Holly had gifted him with and then down at Butterfingers. His robot was peering curiously at the broom, even going so far as to poke it. Both magic and science created finicky things that felt far more than they should at times. Both of them were expressions of a human’s ability to create and imagine and feel.

“We’ll need to test it for every emotion I can think of, just in case I missed any or the ward isn’t strong enough to handle something.” She said breaking Tony out of his thoughts.

“Then start with something easy.” Tony said carefully placing the phone on the table they’d cleaned off for this very purpose. It was a stylish black phone with a glassy sheen to it that just screamed well-made.  

“I’ll try excitement.” She said. “I’m feeling pretty excited right now.”

She removed her wand and carefully shot a spell, one designed to change the phone’s color from a sleek black to red, at the phone. It was a low-level simple spell, something that equaled the amount of ambient magic in a wizard congested area. Tony expected it to burst into flames or crack open or make some awful ungodly noise. None of which happened. Instead the phone simply turned a metallic red. Tony and Holly both stood there for far too long, just staring at the phone waiting for something unexpected to happen.

Of course, the phone did the most unexpected thing of all.

It worked.

Tony kept sending texts and making calls and opening apps. The phone worked exactly as it was supposed to. It hadn’t even lost battery power. Holly was literally jumping up and down, her hands clasped over her face to hide her huge grin.

“We did it.” She whispered.

“WE DID IT!” Tony shouted right back. “WHOOO!”

He grabbed her hands and pulled her into a dance. They began to waltz around the room, Holly laughing much to hard to take it seriously. Above their heads Jarvis told them congratulations on the success. Tony kept dancing even when Holly stepped on his toes, they danced until they were both laughed out. Holly pulled back, her cheeks red.

“You did most of it, figuring out a good solution. I just did a little bit at the end.”

“Are you kidding me?” Tony demanded. “You were patient with me while I pulled my head out of my ass.”

She didn’t ask what he meant, somehow she just knew. This was Tony’s way of apologizing for being stubborn. Loki had left a mark on Tony. He didn’t hate magic, not like Clint had. It was more that he was dismissive of it. Untrusting of what it could offer. And that had shown in how he’d treated Holly as she tried to help him with this magic tech problem. Magic represented everything he wasn’t. Or at least that’s what he’d thought. Tony was starting to think he would have made an awesome wizard.

“Well, I’m used to it. It’s been my experience that most men have to do that two or three times a year.”

Thankfully that was Holly’s way of accepting his apology. She giggled at her own joke and Tony laughed with her before clapping her on the back.

“Come on. Let’s try happiness next.” Tony said. “Jarvis! Order us some Chinese, it’s time to do some real testing.”

“Of course sir.”

Chapter Text

Holly Potter come to die.

Crucio!

Kill the Spare!

Holly sat straight up in her bed so quickly that she nearly apparated herself across the room. The wand she kept under her pillow was in her hand pointing at nothing at all while the flashing of spells long since cast filled her mind. Her chest was heaving like she’d run a marathon and she’d sweat clean through her shirt. Holly’s entire body felt like it was shaking but the hand holding her wand was entirely too steady.

Holly took in huge gasping breaths, lungfuls of air that felt too hot going into her body. To her left the small reading lamp she’d left on by accident exploded in a shower of glass and sparks. She flinched bringing up an arm to cover her face. It took upwards of fifteen minutes to get her breathing under control and when it finally happened she collapsed back into her bed, weakened beyond all belief. She felt cold and clammy.

Carefully she loosened her vice like grip on her wand and rubbed at the tension in her hand. Her eyes slid over to the clock.

2:32

The mechanical clock had survived many many nights like this. Unlike the poor lamps she destroyed. She waved a hand and all of the glass debris was banished to the trash can. She didn’t dare turn on anything in her apartment not until she was much calmer. She cast a few lumos spells to give light to her room.

It seemed at some point in the nightmare she must have decided that her blanket was the enemy. Not only had it been kicked off, but her magic had shredded it. There were scraps of fabric and cotton stuffing spread out everywhere like a bomb had gone off with her bed as the epicenter. Some of the fabric was scorched while others just look like it had lost a fight with a demented pair of scissors.

Her magic had also in her fright overturned most of the furniture she had in the bedroom, including her desk, chair, and drawers. Only the nightstand had survived that because Holly had had the foresight to nail that to the floor. The walls of her bedroom had holes in them as well as burn marks from wayward spells. She made a pained noise as she considered the mess she’d made. All over a silly nightmare.

She knew it wasn’t fair to call it silly. She’d just dreamt about the greatest magical villain that the wizarding world had ever produced. She had every right to be scared.

Even if the tosser had been dead for over a decade now. She was coming up on the 11th anniversary of the final battle and her sleep was always fractious during the month leading up to it and the month after. No matter what she did. This was also the first time she’d been away from her friends when the anniversary came around. She couldn’t tell if that had made the dreams worse or not.

Almost as if to highlight how odd her dreams had been as a teenager her nightmares now never made much cohesive sense. She just saw scenes of battle, things she’d lived and things she hadn’t. Sometimes she’d get glimpse of loved ones dying in real or imagined scenarios but for the most part her dreams were just flashing lights, explosions and terrible laughter. It annoyed her friends far more than it annoyed her. After all it was impossible to talk about a bad dream when there was nothing of substance to talk about.

She laid in her bed, the sweat drying sticky and awful on her body, and tried to shake the leftover terror. Her thoughts were broken up by the sound of buzzing. She blinked and looked around to see the bracelet Jarvis had gifted her with was doing its level best to be heard. Jarvis had made a few adjustments to the gift over the past few weeks and one of those was that if it was removed from her body that Jarvis would immediately try to contact her. If he couldn’t get in contact with her within fifteen minutes he’d send in the Calvary.

She must have flung it off of her wrist during all of her flailing. She stretched and rolled out on the now half-made bed and picked up the bracelet from the ground. She pressed the button and spoke.

“Jarvis.” She grimaced at the sound. She must have been screaming something fierce.

“Holly are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.” He said. “You sound awful.”

“Oh, how flattering.” She snapped and then instantly felt guilty. Jarvis didn’t deserve that sort of scathing tone. “Sorry, I just had a nightmare.”

 “A nightmare?”

“Yeah, they happen. Nothing I can do about it. And before you ask, no. I do not want to talk about it.”

There was silent a moment over the speakers of the tiny little bracelet. Holly found herself curling around the bracelet as if it were a teddy bear.

“I understand.” Jarvis said after a moment. “Sir doesn’t like to speak about his own nightmares either. While I have never had a nightmare I can only imagine that they’re unpleasant.”

“They’re not even that scary.” Holly admitted, his voice still so hoarse. “It’s just snatches of things from the war or from the Death Eater Hunts. They don’t make any sense but I still wake up screaming and thrashing anyway. It’s awful because my magic goes wild when they happen and I end up destroying my bedroom.”

“Destroying?” Jarvis asked and she hummed an agreeing noise.

“Accidental magic at my age. How embarrassing.” She shifted a little in her position. The fear still lingered in her spine and she knew she wouldn’t be sleeping again tonight.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No. They just happen, I won’t be sleeping anymore tonight. Back in Britain my friends used to make me hot chocolate and…and we’d play a game or something to keep my mind off of it but I can handle this on my own.”

“I see.” Jarvis said after a moment. “May I offer you a conversation at least?”

“Just don’t expect me to say much.”

Thankfully Jarvis seemed to have gained the ability to monologue about absolutely nothing just like his father. She laid there stiff with fear as Jarvis just talked. She hoped he didn’t mind that she took in literally none of it. His cadence was her focus as she tried to force her body to calm down.

It didn’t work.

She actually shouted with alarm when someone banged on her door. Jarvis immediately tried to calm her by telling her it was fine but it was hardly fine. Who knocked on a door like that at 3 in the morning? She connected her mind to her wards and snorted.

Thor Odinson apparently.

She waved a hand opening the door automatically for Thor.

“What is Thor doing here?”

“He was awake when my alarm went off and offered to go check on you.” Jarvis said sounding absolutely unapologetic.

“Holly?” Thor called. “Are you well?”

“I’m fine.” She lied loudly enough for him to hear before whispering to her bracelet. “And Jarvis we are going to have a talk about sending superheroes to my apartment complex.”

“Whatever you say.” She glared at the bracelet despite knowing that he wouldn’t be able to see it. The door to her bedroom opened and Thor peered in. He was wearing his full armor, hammer at the ready. His face was marred by a frown when he saw the destruction of the room.

“Who attacked you?” He asked.

“No one.” She said. “No one attacked me.”

“But…” His face fell then as he looked over at her body. “Oh. I see.”

“Look, thank you for coming Thor. Truly, but I’m not fit for…” She started to say as Thor stepped further into the room. Her dismissal was cut off by the man picking her up as if she weighed no more than an ounce. “Thor!”

“You are cold.” He said. “A warm bath will help.”

“I’m not…” She trailed off as sensation abruptly returned to her body and she began to shiver. Thor carried her like a baby to the bathroom and set her down carefully onto her sink counter. He moved around, perhaps unfamiliar with the workings of an earthly bathroom that didn’t belong to a billionaire, but still confident. He made sure her tub was free of things and then started the water running so that it was warm.

He left her alone in the bathroom for a few minutes and came back with a clean set of clothing, which was probably easy to find now that she’d upturned all of her drawers. He put those down next to her and then turned off the water now that the tub was full enough.

“Take as long as you need.” He said. “I will be outside, guarding.”

Before she could tell him that she did not need him to do that he was already gone, shutting the door to the bathroom firmly behind her. She found herself doing what Thor had told her and she pulled off her sweaty pajamas and dipped into the warm water. She hissed at the sensation, the heat prickling uncomfortably over her clammy skin. It took a few minutes before she felt most of the tension in her body melt away in the heat.

And a few minutes more to get the energy to clean herself up.

She emerged from the bathroom dressed and feeling less like a ghost. Thor had kept his word and remained in her apartment. He’d gone back not her room and cleaned up the mess as best he could. Putting her furniture back in place and somehow getting all of the ruined blanket pieces swept up. He must have done something similar to her living room because she knew from experience that her magic would have trashed that room too during a nightmare.

He had also found her candles and matches. Often her lights would short out after a nightmare and she had a bunch of magical candles to replace them until she could get around to fixing it. Thor had lit them all so that her apartment was no longer dark or gloomy. He looked like an expectant puppy who wanted a treat for doing a complicated trick but all Holly could do was stand there in the doorway for a moment.

“Come on.” Thor said. “Let’s sit down.”

“You cleaned up.” She said, his voice misty. “I didn’t know you knew how to do that.”

Thor looked offended for a moment before he rolled his eyes and shuffled her onto the couch. He sat down next to her and placed a large hand on her shoulder.

“What caused these dreams tonight?” Thor’s voice rolled over her, soothing her. She heard no judgement in his voice. She almost thought there should be. Thor was centuries old, he’d fought in wars and countless battles. But he wasn’t destroying things in a fit nightmare induced fear.

“Nothing really.” She answered after a moment. “I just get them, more often this time of year but…”

“This time of year?” She nodded a little, focusing her attention on the coffee table in front of her.

“The anniversary of the final battle is next month.” Holly said. “I…killed Voldemort almost 11 years ago and he still manages to frighten me.”

“You dream of him?”

“Most of the time.” She admitted. “You know what’s weird?”

“What?”

“I don’t remember being scared.” She looked over at Thor who was slightly confused.

“During the end of the war, I was…I might have been scared but I didn’t feel it and I don’t remember that. The final fight with Voldemort, all of it. I was…I did what I had to do and I didn’t feel frightened about it. Even with death such a huge possibility I was fine with it. After the war I kept fighting Death Eaters and…I still wasn’t frightened, not for myself at least. But now? Now that I’m safe and nothing is trying to hurt me? Now I get so frightened I can hardly move, my magic lashes out at nothing. It just…keeps getting worse.”

“It is the warrior’s curse.” Thor said wisely. “It is a well known illness in Asgard. To be frightened when one is safe.”

“What?”

Thor looked around the room for a moment as if trying to gather his thoughts. Then he shifted around so that he was facing her on the couch, she did the same.

“When one is at war, one is in constant danger.” Thor said. “Even in sleep you know that any second could be your last. You grow used to it quickly if you’re smart. You feel no fear or hesitation in the battlefield, you’re aware of danger but it doesn’t stop you. If you fight too long you grow numb to the danger and you forget that you lived any other life. Danger becomes familiar, a comfort, almost a friend.”

She stared at Thor, his face illuminated by candle light. Every word he said rang true to her very core.

“The warrior’s curse befalls anyone who forgets how to live in safety, who has fought for his kingdom for too long without rest and no longer knows how to do anything else.” Thor said. “It is a terrible curse and I am so sorry that you suffer from it.”

“I just…I thought I was getting better.” It sounded so whiney, so childish.

“I believe you are.” Thor said smiling at her. “For most of your life you couldn’t have known have much danger you lived in, like a beast trapped in a steaming lake. But you’ve left the lake now and you finally now what coolness is. Of course, you are burnt but those take time to truly heal. You’re healing Holly.”

“How could you possibly know that?” She asked. “Maybe I’m getting worse!”

“You are talking about this with me, aren’t you? Would you have done that before?”

And that actually stumped her. Because she knew she wouldn’t have ever talked about this sort of thing before. Ron and Hermione, her two closest friends, usually had to cajole and trick the truth out of her. Thor had just asked and she’d…answered. It hadn’t even been all that difficult. Usually talking about her feelings was like pulling out teeth without a pain potion. But for the past weeks with the Avengers she’d…just shared things.

Like it was nothing!

“It’s not safe to speak of things like this in war, to be vulnerable. It’s also not safe to have nightmares, to lose control.” Thor said nodding. “But you’re safe now, your war done and finally your mind is accepting that. You are safe, Holly.”

“If this is the price of safety…I don’t know if I want to be haunted by memories forever.”

“Nothing is forever.” Thor said. “Trust me, I’m old enough to know that now. This will pass, slowly you’ll go longer and longer between these attacks. Time is the only cure you need now.”

She slumped onto the back of the couch, curled up into the fetal position and looked at Thor almost forlornly. He sighed and gave her knee a pat.

“Sometimes I miss it.” She said after a moment. “Being a hero.”

“Truly?”

“It’s just…I thought I missed it because I didn’t know anything else. So I learnt to paint, and I started knitting and I created new techno-magic spells. I got a new job and I made new friends. I…I’ve made a life you know? It doesn’t have anything to do with fighting any longer.” She said. “My friends back home didn’t think I could do it but I did and…”

“You still miss it.” Thor said with a small smile.

“I do.”

“There’s no shame missing something that allowed you to do good for the world.” Thor said after a few seconds of thinking “But you don’t have to return to that, you already help everyone around you in other ways. You don’t have to fight to be a hero, Holly. You are one, with or without the death defying fights.”

She didn’t know she was crying until Thor told her not to. She sniffed and rubbed her face clear with an arm.

“When did you get so wise?”

“I’m not sure.” Thor admitted. “It must have been very recent, I’ve been stupid for much of my life.”

She giggled and Thor grinned, proud of his own joke. Holly spread out her body so that she was sitting more properly on the couch.

“Normally when I have nightmares I get my knitting out.” She said. “I’m working on a baby blanket right now for my godchild.”

“Godchild?” He asked unfamiliar with the term. She explained that Hermione, one of her best friends, was going to be giving birth to a baby soon and she was asked to be the godmother. Meaning that if something happened to Hermione and Ron, then Holly would be the one to raise their child. “I see, so you’re making a blanket for the baby?”

“Well yes, but I’m out of the yarn I wanted to use.” She said. “I’ll have to go to the store soon, there’s this place not far from here that’s open like all the time that sells the softest wool you’ve ever felt. Perfect for a baby.”

“If it’s open all the time, then why don’t we go now?” Thor asked.

“Now? Thor it’s not even 4 in the morning!”

“Is this store open?”

“Well…yes probably but…”

“Then let us go! It’ll be a noble quest to get the materials needed for your new family member.” Thor perked up excitedly. Gone was the wise god who’d comforted her with words born of experience. Now she was looking at a golden retriever turned human who was pulling her off the couch and asking questions about what human babies were like and what an appropriate gift for one would be.

She vetoed the dagger set.

Holly managed to get her shoes on her feet and pull her still slightly wet hair up into a bun that was stuck in place with the elder wand. She cast a spell on both of them that hid their identities and then together they left her apartment building. As they walked Holly described in depth how a human baby develops and what Thor would need to know if he wanted to hold one, or interact with one without causing the baby to burst into tears.

Asgardian babies were much sturdier according to the god. It wasn’t even fair to call them delicate by aesir standards. Their babies were practically born invincible, which made giving birth a rather…arduous experience. The babies were tougher, larger, and more developed than their human counterparts at birth. They certainly didn’t need their neck supported.

Thor took her explanations in stride though, committing it all to memory with an intelligence and dedication few suspected he possessed. Thor was glad to know these things it seemed. He was going to be on earth for as long as it took to capture his brother, which might be very long indeed, and he wanted nothing more than to be able to acclimate well to his new home. He was also overly optimistic about the chances of his teammates having more children while he was on earth and he wanted to be prepared to be a good uncle to them.

Holly had found the craft store during one of the few times she’d attempted to explore New York before getting her job as a cleaning lady. She’d been unable to sleep and had started wandering the dangerous streets of New York, partially hoping for a fight with someone. A fight would have distracted her mind for a least a few moments. Instead of a fight she’d stumbled upon a well-lit muggle shop that advertised 24 hour service, supplies for any craft imaginable, and free tea.

It had been a haven. The comfortable chairs they set up for anyone to use to work on their craft and the free hourly tea was a combination that meant Holly had spent perhaps more time ‘shopping’ for yarn than she normally would. Her time spent in the store was also often increased by the store owner, Kari. Kari loved to chat and Holly loved to indulge her.

Kari was a beautiful woman with a body that was shaped like an H, sturdy and just wonderful to admire from a distance. She was soft and curvy, unlike Holly who still remained pretty boney and thin over the years. She had caramel sun-kissed skin and a laugh that made Holly’s very bones feel warm.

So she might have had a little bit of a crush.

Sue her!

Kari definitely wasn’t interested and there was no harm in thinking about her sometimes with a smile on her face. Holly shook herself and led Thor up to the store doors and pushed them open. Thor looked politely around the store, barely getting his huge hulking figure in through the door. She was just thankful she’d convinced the man to leave the hammer back at the apartment.

“Come on. The yarn is this way.”

“This is a quaint store.” Thor said, looking at the various displays with curiosity. “How did you learn to knit?”

So Holly told Thor the story of Molly Weasley and her ability to knit a sweater three days before it was needed while she was in a foreign country just because she got an owl from her son who told her that his best friend wasn’t going to get gifts for Christmas. Thor had been so impressed it was as if she’d told the man that Molly had slain a dragon with nothing but her pair of knitting needles.

“So, I learnt how to knit from her. It was supposed to help me calm down after a night like this and I’ve kept it up.” She finished, walking up to the aisle that had the yarn she needed. She’d found this lilac colored yarn that was so soft it made you want to rub your face on it.

“Holly?” Holly and Thor both turned to see Kari standing there, smiling at her. “Holly! It is you, I haven’t seen you around in a couple of weeks. I was starting to think you’d forgotten about me.”

“Kari!” Holly greeted. “No, how could I ever forget about you? Work’s been a bit busy recently and I’ve not been coming in at my normal times.”

“And…who is this?” She asked.

“Oh! Apologies, where are my manners?” Holly turned to Thor. “Kari, this is my friend from work.”

“Just a friend?” She asked strangely, her voice sounded almost disappointed.

“What else would he be?” Holly asked totally bewildered. She looked over at Thor. Who seemed to understand way more about this situation than Holly could have ever dreamed to. He bowed his head to Kari like the prince he was.

“I am Prince Thor Odinson of Asgard.” He said destroying her identity spell in the exact way she’d told him not to. “I am attached to my Fair Lady Jane, Holly is a well loved friend but no more.”

Kari’s face opened in shock as she stared at the superhero standing in her store. Holly must have been imagining the relief that tinged her shock.

“I…Oh…I thought you said you were a cleaning lady.” She said.

“I am.” Holly said. “I clean Avengers Tower.”

“Indeed.” Thor said. “And never has there been a lady more noble in her duty. She’s fearless in the face of any mess that I and my shield brothers create in the aftermath of our battles.”

Was Thor…talking her up? Holly blinked weirdly at the man who continued talking about how brave, valiant, and kind she was. Kari was listening to Thor avidly, not a hint of annoyance in her eyes but a fair amount of amusement. Thor maneuvered her body so that she was standing in front of Thor in a way that made it clear he was for some strange reason showing her off.

Kari smiled at her, her round cheeks just slightly pink and Holly found her cheeks heating too.

“She’s really amazing isn’t she?”  Kari asked finally interrupting Thor’s mortifying monologue. “Have you seen her knitting?”

“I have!” Thor said. “She has made a wondrous sweater for our friend Natasha.”

“You made a sweater for the Black Widow?” Kari asked her.

“It was her birthday.” Kari laughed, absolutely delighted with Holly’s explanation.

“What yarn did you use?”

“The Prussian blue one? Is think it might have been…”

“Cashmere!” Kari snapped her fingers. “I remember you spent hours debating on the color. That’s a good choice for the Black Widow. Are you too here for yarn for another project?”

“Yes!” Thor said. “Holly has offered to help me learn this wondrous art, I wish to make my mother, the Queen of Asgard something. She assured me that you sold the finest wares in the land.”

She hadn’t. She hadn’t done anything at all but she just watched as Thor kept talking to Kari who had taken his declaration in stride and led him over to the tools he’d need to buy. Thor listened seriously as she handed him a set of knitting needles as well as a starter book. Holly just followed them in a daze as Thor consistently brought her back into the conversation, usually by embarrassing her by complimenting her on something.

The other way was by halfway complimenting Kari by telling the woman that Holly had told him this or that thing about her.

By the time they’d gotten the yarn Thor would need for his mother’s blanket and brought it up to the counter, Holly had nearly died of mortification and Kari kept giving her looks that made her stomach twist in a terribly unfamiliar way. Thor produced a card that Tony had gifted him with to pay for all of the materials and then took the bags. He then winked at Holly while saying that he had to use the bathroom and that he’d be right back.

Then she was alone, standing at a counter with a pretty woman who frequently sold her yarn at three in the morning. Holly shifted awkwardly and tapped her chipped and bitten down nails on the wooden surface separating them.

“So.” Kari said. “Cleaning Lady for superheroes?”

“It’s not an easy occupation.” Holly said. “You wouldn’t believe what sort of stains I’ve come up against. You know I’m practically a superhero in my own right for all the mess I clean up.”

Kari laughed and placed a hand over Holly’s own. Holly looked up to see the pretty woman biting her bottom lip and pushing back some of her curly brown hair behind her ear.

“I…I hope I’m not reading this wrong but…do you think maybe we could get drinks sometime?”

“Drinks?” Holly asked.

“Yeah…you know like a date.”

A blush so red it might as well have been a Weasley erupted over her cheeks and Kari immediately began to apologize for misunderstanding.

“No! no…I just…I’d love to.” Holly said a little too loudly, the blush still vibrant on her face and neck.

“Really? Great! How about we have lunch together…today I guess. There’s a nice café near Avengers Tower that I’ve always wanted to go to. We’d have to go a bit early to beat the lunch rush…”

Holly probably would have agreed to anything to Kari suggested but a lunch date sounded wonderful. As they finished up solidifying the details Thor returned looking far too pleased for a man who’d just returned from the bathroom. He bowed low to Kari and then led Holly out of the store. Once they were outside he lifted up his hand, summoning Mjolnir from the windowsill that he’d placed it on.

He held her to his side and told her to keep a good hold of their purchases.

“Thor.” She started to say before the man leaped up into the air and started spinning his hammer at a high enough speed to give them lift. She barely held back a yelp of alarm as they flew at high speeds to Avengers Tower. Once they landed on the roof after only a few minutes of flight, Thor whooped excitedly.

“This is great news!” He said. “You have a date!”

“It’s just lunch. That’s like the most casual of dates.”

“It’s a date! It’s going to be amazing, Holly I knew it from the moment I saw that wonderful woman.”

“What the hell was that about?” She asked. “Back at the shop?”

“Holly.” Thor said his eyes alight with mischief. “There’s a reason your ancestors called me the god of fertility.”

She couldn’t stop the laugh that burst out of her, didn’t want to if she was honest. She nearly bent halfway over from the force of it. Thor had set her up that conniving bastard!

“Just for that! I’m teaching you how to knit. Come on. Let’s get inside.”

She pushed the also laughing god into the tower, Jarvis welcoming them very warmly. They settled in the penthouse, Holly summoning her own knitting from her apartment. For the rest of the early morning she attempted to teach Thor how to knit. As the sun slowly rose over the city filling the penthouse with pale light Holly found she couldn’t stop giggling at Thor’s mismatched stitches. Thor was both amused by his failure as well as frustrated by it. It seemed Thor had never tried to use his hands for delicate work like this before.

But Holly was determined, Thor was going to give his mother a blanket.

She just hoped the woman had a sense of humor because it might not be a very good one.

When the morning came in proper Holly left Thor to continue to attempt to knit and got breakfast started. Now that she was confident her magic wouldn’t harm Jarvis, it was easy to just wave her wand a few times and get the food cooking itself. Jarvis was kind enough to wake all of the Avengers by letting them know that a full English breakfast waited for them in the penthouse.

Holly made the mistake of not swearing Thor to secrecy about her date. She should have seen it coming but she’d been blindsided by the insane fact that she had a date to even consider the implications of others knowing about it. Her only hope was that someone would latch onto the fact that Thor, God of Thunder, was trying to learn to knit. She wasn’t that lucky though. The moment all of the Avengers were there Thor announced the date like it was a royal wedding.

She endured the ensuing interrogation with as much grace as she could muster.

Where had she met this mystery girl? How long had you known her? Is she cute? What’s her name? When’s the date? Where is it? What are you going to do for it? On and on the questions went until one hit her like the broadside of the barn.

“What are you going to wear?” Tony asked.

“I…uhh…this?” She said motioning to her work uniform.

“No.” Tony said.

“You can’t!” Clint said. “Come on Holly, this is a date you can’t go to it looking like you just crawled out of a dumpster!”

“Hey!”

“I stand by what I said. We’re not letting you go out in that.”

“I am fine just the way I am.” Holly said sternly. All of the Avengers looked mutinous.

“Thor.” Natasha said suddenly. “Grab her.”

Holly tried to jump away from the mostly empty breakfast table but Thor managed to catch her around the side. She started to wrestle herself free but before lost his grip on her Steve had come up on the other side and trapped her. She shouted promises of revenge and abuse as the two super strong men carried her fighting body to Natasha’s floor. All of the Avengers were talking over one another trying to determine how best to dress her up.

Steve held her still while Natasha, Bruce and Clint lifted up different dresses and outfits over her body until they found one they liked. Thor and Tony weirdly enough started work on her hair. She had no idea where those two men had learnt their hairstyling skills from, but they managed to somehow get her hair into a fabulous braided updo that made her face look ethereal. Bruce painted her nails in a bizarre turn of events. Steve did her make-up. Explaining sheepishly that he’d learnt how to do it from the ladies in his bonds-selling show before he started actually fighting in the war.

As they prepped her they tried to give her tips on how to act on the date but Holly ignored most of them. None of it seemed very applicable and most of them sounded very silly. Especially Thor’s advice that she talk about the great creatures she’d defeated. She was also about 89% sure that Clint and Tony were honestly just messing with her for the fun of it.

By the time her early lunch date came around Holly looked almost like an entirely different person. The only thing that was exactly the same were her glasses which she’d refused to replace. The woman in the mirror no longer looked like a Potter. Strangely enough she looked like an Evans, all of her mother’s features outshining her father’s for the first time in her life.

“Do not spy on me.” She said as she left. “I’ll know it if you do.”

She knew they were going to do it anyway but she felt it needed to be said. The team didn’t even bother to pretend that they weren’t going to spy on the entire date. Instead of being annoyed she felt rather fond. She walked to the café, a small hipster like place that advertised their homemade cheese and organic honey, in a pair of Natasha’s shoes. Apparently, her black clunky work shoes weren’t appropriate.

Honestly, they were acting like she was going to go eat with her soulmate or something.

Holly snorted at the idea and waited outside the café for her date. When she saw Kari get out of a cab, she was suddenly absurdly grateful that they’d made her dress up. Kari was wearing a beautiful blue sun dress and she looked so pretty Holly’s tongue felt like lead in her mouth. Kari spotted her and smiled excitedly.

“Holly! You look amazing.”

“Thanks…so do you.”

“Let’s go in and see if we can grab a table.”

Holly didn’t know why she was surprised that Jarvis had called in and gotten them a reservation in her name without telling her. She just rolled her eyes and tapped her bracelet once in thanks.

Once they were seated and they both ordered their drinks, tea and soda respectively, they started to talk. To her relief Kari didn’t make a big deal about her working for the Avengers. She was more interested in talking about knitting projects and what each other’s favorite colors were. Kari asked about what bands she liked and freely told Holly about her own interests. It was a wonderful experience, Holly had never found someone who was this interested in her when they didn’t know who she truly was.

Their conversation was briefly interrupted by their waitress taking their lunch orders. When she left, Holly asked Kari about her family. The plump friendly woman talked fondly for over ten minutes about her amazing loving family. Parents who were supportive but not suffocating, a brother who was protective and funny and a sister that she could share anything with. In the past Holly would have felt bitter about Kari, unable to imagine them connecting when her life had been so picturesque compared to Holly’s. But now Holly had her painting and knitting to talk about. She even felt comfortable enough bringing up her godson that she was helping raise.

It wasn’t difficult to talk to Kari. It never was. Not when Holly stumbled into her store at 3 in the morning looking for a distraction and not when she went in the middle of the day desperate to find the perfect color of yarn. On a date it was no different. The woman was affable and easygoing. She didn’t seem to have one mean bone in her body. Holly loved how simple it was, how Kari never pushed to know about her parents or her life back in Britain.

They stopped speaking for a few minutes to try out their dishes. Holly’s seafood tasted wondrous and Kari seemed very pleased with her sandwich. As they ate Holly could feel the future unfolding before her. This was something she could do. Easy dates and fun conversations. Dressing up for a beautiful woman who made Holly feel warm when she looked at her. It wouldn’t be challenging to fall in love, to be happy. She could have it, she could forget about her past life entirely and become Holly the insomniac knitter/cleaning lady. Even if she told Kari about it she got the feeling that the woman would let Holly forget about it if she wanted to.

“I’m just so happy with the shop you know?” She said. “It’s…It’s what I always wanted to do. I’m my own boss and I get to work with my favorite things every day.”

“So, you want to run your store for a long time then?”

“Oh, I hope to do it until I have to retire. It really is lovely, I get to meet so many new people who come into the store to knit. People like you.”

“Hopefully.” Holly said feeling bold. “You don’t treat everyone who comes into the store like you do me.”

“No. Only the pretty ones.” Holly blushed a little and lifted a small forkful of food up to her mouth.

She tried to imagine it. Working as a cleaning lady and coming home to a woman who wanted nothing more in life than to sell craft supplies and meet new people. It felt foreign but at the same time Holly knew she could be at peace in that world. Kari exuded peace and Holly knew that she’d probably be a wonderful calming presence even on nights that were tough for Holly.

But could she understand why the nights were so hard?

Before she even got the chance to wonder where that thought had come from an alarm started to blare. The Mayor of New York had installed special alarms all throughout the city that would play whenever the Avengers were attacked by something. The alarm meant that everyone should get indoors and stay there until further notice. Kari paled, fear filling her features as she looked out the café window trying to spot the danger. Holly straightened up, ready to draw her wand or throw a punch.

Someone yelled for the staff to turn the TV on the wall to the news, it had been playing HGTV but it was easy enough to change it to a channel that was livestreaming the attack. It looked like the Avengers were fighting in Central Park against four super powered aliens. One was a huge hulking figure that seemed to have no problem taking on the actual hulk. Another was an alien with a squid like face who could fly and use telekinesis. There was a woman with pale skin and blue paint over her eyes. The fourth was a gray skinned man dressed completely in black.

Holly lifted a hand to her mouth as she saw Natasha get thrown like a ragdoll. She didn’t breathe until she saw Tony catch her. Kari grabbed her hand and held it tightly as they watched the Avengers fight. Together they watched the Avengers start to lose. The four aliens were powerful and they’d managed to subdue the Avengers, at least partially.

And suddenly Holly knew she had a choice to make. Stay with Kari and commit to trying to have a peaceful life or leave and fight against four beings powerful enough to defeat an entire team of superheroes. She looked over at Kari and felt her aching heart ease. The beautiful woman was so wonderful, and anyone would be lucky to have her in their life. But…

But Holly didn’t want serenity. She’d thought for a while that was what she needed but that hadn’t been it.

You don’t have to fight to be a hero, Holly. You are one, with or without the death defying fights.

All around her muggles cowered in fear as they watched the Avengers take a serious beating and Holly felt something in her resolve. She squeezed Kari’s hand and then moved away.

“Holly?”

“Kari. This has been amazing, but I need to go.”

“What? You can’t leave! It’s dangerous out there.” No one was looking at them, they were all too focused on the small TV on the wall.

“I know. Just keep watching the TV, and don’t tell anyone yeah?”

“Don’t tell anyone what?”

Holly gave the woman a smile and disappeared with the world’s quietest crack. She had a world to save, but this time, it was her choice.

Chapter Text

Loki’s fall began long before that day on the Bifrost. It began, on a sunny hill outside the city of Asgard, mourning in Odin’s arms. His mind had been overwrought with grief and denial, weak from pointless magical exertion. Pointless because it had failed.  From that moment, the moment in which he knew he’d failed, and that Ralston and the other humans were gone, from that very second on Loki had started to fall. He fell into denial there on that hill, begging Odin for it not to be true.

After that first day, he began to fall into despair. He spent the first century falling in Asgard. He just wandered the halls of the palace like a specter. Each thing he saw reminded him of all that he lost and all that he never got the chance to have. His favorite Aesir food tasted like dust because he remembered sneaking some to earth to share with his friend. The other food tasted worse because he’d never gotten the chance to see Ralston’s face when he tried it. Every waking moment was filled with painful memories or torturous regret.

Eventually that falling transformed from pure pain to something tainted with rage and regret. Thor and Frigga, the two people in Asgard who had done their best to slow Loki’s fall were the first to witness this new sort of fall. The kind where he blamed everyone for what had happened, but most of all himself. Why hadn’t Frigga foreseen this tragedy and warned him? What good were seers for? Why hadn’t Thor pulled his head out of his ass and helped? Isn’t that what warriors were meant to do? Protect the people weaker than them?

Why hadn’t Loki been better? Why hadn’t he spoken to Odin and asked for help earlier? Why hadn’t he stayed on earth and fought to the very end? Why hadn’t he come up with a plan? Why hadn’t he foreseen how fast the muggles would act? Why hadn’t he protected Ralston better?

Why? Why? Why? WHY? WHY?

Was he truly so useless? So pointless a god that he couldn’t even save his people? Those wonderful magical mortals that had needed him and why hadn’t he been enough for them? He cursed himself in the night and his sleep was wracked with nightmares of the torture, the burnings that his people had gone through, unable to defend themselves. In the day he spit venom at anyone who neared him, forcing them to feel the same level of poisonous grief and guilt that he did.

The questions haunted him, burned his very soul with a scorching flame. But no answers ever came and in their absence a bitter resentment took root in his heart. The farther he fell the stronger that bitterness grew. Every year they moved closer to Thor’s coronation the hatred for Odin, for Thor, for every damn god in the pantheon grew.

Loki tried to forget his plans, the half-formed ones that would haunt him in his dreams like phantoms. Plans of creating a new hidden realm on earth, one where magic users could be free. One where he could live with Ralston and his wife, and their children. Where he could forget about Asgard and just be Loki, brother of Ralston. He dreamed of a house, a home that he knew had been real at one point but was no more, where a bedroom was always set aside for him. Where he was wanted. Sometimes, on particularly cruel nights, he dreamed of two golden apples that he’d stolen from Indunn’s Garden when no one was looking and hidden in Ralston’s house, for Ralston and his wife. A fantastic vision of what would never be. An eternity with his two great friends, made gods by his stolen gift.

 Those plans weren’t real, just the feverish wantings of a falling man.

As the years passed Loki fell out of despair and fully into rage. The cruel whispers of the court and Thor’s growing pride stung worse than they ever had before. Loki now knew what it was to be loved and valued, he also knew what it was to lose such a thing. Without Ralston and with the torment of his death, Loki was too vulnerable to Asgard’s scorn. That scorn watered the seed of resentment in his chest until he fell further and further all the way into treason.

He could claim, and he actually had at one point, that the plan with the Frost Giants had been because he knew Thor wasn’t ready for the throne. It was true enough. Thor hadn’t been ready. But that wasn’t why Loki did it. Any love he held for Asgard had been eroding away for 4 centuries at that point. Asgard having a good or terrible king meant nothing to him. In fact, Loki might have even enjoyed watching Asgard fall down around it’s ears under Thor’s ‘leadership’.

But Loki enjoyed revenge even more.

He brought those Frost Giants into the vault during Thor’s coronation because he wanted to ruin the day for the arrogant fool. He wanted Thor to suffer even just a little. Thor loved the idea of being king with almost the same fervor that Loki had loved the magical people of earth. Almost, because nothing could ever compare to Loki’s love. Being denied the throne, even if only for a little, would be just as delicious to Loki as it would be painful to Thor.

What happened after was just the straw the broke the camel’s back. He finally had his answers. He’d failed the earth and Ralston because he was a Jontun runt. Not even good enough for monsters to care for. A monster that’s what he was. And monsters didn’t save, they destroyed. The sharp truth of that started his fall into madness. And really? Wasn’t letting go of Gungir and falling into the void just the most logical conclusion to all of this falling? It was about time he made it literal.

 The void was everything Asgard wasn’t. It was empty of anything close to wealth or vanity. Gone were the constant rumors of war, bloodshed, and arrogance. Replacing those things with nothingness. Because the void was nothing. True blackness, not even the vast cosmos of space to distract him from the festering wounds within his soul. Wasn’t that the point of it, in the end? The void was a perfect place for a monster to rot and decay further into madness.  

Loki didn’t stop falling even when he was caught by The Other and the Chitauri. Physically yes, he was no longer falling through a never-ending, madness-inducing blackness but their treatment of him ensured that his heart and soul continued in their ungraceful, painful descent.

It was important to note however that The Other was the first being that made Loki truly want to stop his fall.

Not due to any kindness from him, or understanding words. No. It was the beast’s cruelty that made Loki pause, truly pause for the first time in his centuries long fall to try and slow down. Because The Other and the rest of those who followed the Mad Titan wanted something that not even a falling monster like himself would agree to. They wanted to destroy the earth, rob her of whatever treasures she held, and leave the humans to rot.

At the very mention of their plan Loki had started to fight, scrambling to stop his fall by any means necessary. Ralston! He could never betray the man’s memory! It was Ralston who had begged Loki not to destroy the muggles, who had wanted nothing more than peace and mercy for both sides of the conflict. Ralston, his soul screamed trying to use the very name as a method of flight.

But Loki had been falling for far too long, he must have reached terminal velocity centuries ago. He couldn’t stop the fall, couldn’t stop the torture they used to speed it up either. With everyone one of his screamed-out denials they pushed him further with pain and threats and promises of future torture. He scratched at the walls of his confinement so hard his nails were pulled out of their beds trying to escape before he fell too far and right into the place Ralston had lived.

Then one day, Loki didn’t know he was falling anymore.

He’d thought he’d finally landed.

The Other had whispered threats if he failed and placed a scepter in his hands. The moment the cool metal touched the skin of his palms the sensation of falling halted. His eyes began to glow blue for half a moment as he landed, his final destination a conqueror and destroyer of the only world that mattered to him anymore. Gone was the resentful weed he had in his chest instead of his heart. Forgotten was the centuries of painful grief and mourning. Now all he had was a thirst for vengeance against the norns, against Odin, against Thor. Against earth.

Against everything!

It wasn’t mind control, not really. He was still Loki. He still remembered everything that had happened to him. He could still choose what he wanted to do. At least he was quite sure he remembered everything, that he could make the choices he wanted. But all that mattered once he’d touched the scepter was the rage that had been brewing in him since he’d started falling. For the first time since he saw Ralston killed right before his eyes, the ground felt sturdy beneath his feet.

It made it easy to open up the branches of the Yggdrasil and walk the familiar paths to his once beloved home. One tiny, almost suffocated part of him tried to fight every single step he took but he ignored in favor of the whispered words that promised peace and power if he took over the planet. These useless muggles had killed Ralston and his wife and his young children and all that mattered now was making them pay. No more mercy and no more tears.  

There would be justice and there would be silence.

Loki didn’t realize he was still falling, farther and farther from the light and love that Ralston had gifted him all those years ago until the invasion had started and he found himself with a broken spine laying in a Loki-shaped crater, courtesy of one bright green beast. Why was it green anyway? No, don’t think about that now, think about surviving. Loki laid there in that hole, surrounding by crumbling marble and felt the blue that had tinted his vision recede with the pain.

He was still falling, and he deserved it. He’d become the monster he truly was, and he’d betrayed the only person who had ever truly mattered. Ralston would never forgive him for leading Thanos here, for killing humans and stealing their eyeballs. Ralston would have fought alongside the Avengers and he wouldn’t have hesitated to take Loki down with the very spells Loki had taught him when they were both children.

He closed his eyes, his spine slowly knitting itself back together. Around him, New York screamed in chaos as its buildings were attacked and its people killed. The Chitauri worked quickly it seemed. He remembered in that moment with a crystal clarity that hadn’t been available to him in some time exactly what Ralston looked like.

Black messy hair that he kept short at the nap of his neck and slightly longer on the top, so that it’s ends covered the tips of his ears. It curled and stuck out in every direction humanly possible no matter what he did to try to tame it. That pale milk white skin that was marred only by the scars he’d gained over the years, from his tumultuous youth to his heroic adulthood. His short stature and petite frame that Loki enjoyed teasing him about even if it had been caused by malnutrition as a child. His green eyes that were always partially hidden behind those hideous spectacles. Loki could even recall the green and gold armor that Ralston always worn when they went to fight.

It was a gift from Loki, one that Loki had had commission back in Asgard after Ralston had been hurt in a fight against some muggle knight templars. It was made of Uru and crafted by the greatest armor smith in the nine realms. Green was Loki’s color, and gold was one of Ralston’s colors, the silly Gryffindor. So, Loki had commissioned the armor in both and enchanted it himself to protect against anything he could think of. He’d even had two hooks added on the top of the chest plate for Ralston to attach his silly invisibility cloak to.

Not that the armor had saved his friend when it mattered most.

Loki remembered it anyway. How it had looked on his small human friend, how it made him look powerful and unstoppable. Ralston had joked sometimes that with it on he could have been mistaken for a god himself. A memory of Ralston standing in a forested clearing, surrounded by enemies with his sword raised in one hand and his wand in the other hit him full force and a sob escaped his mouth. He would’ve blamed it on the broken spine if anyone had been in the room with him at the time to hear it.

Loki laid there, falling and falling, as the invasion began to draw to a close. It took Loki seeing the man he’d thrown out a window fall out of the closing portal to move. Slowly he pulled himself up, still sore and weak, and stumbled to the roof of the building. It was deserted but for an unconscious Selvig and the device Loki had used to open the portal. Carefully Loki picked up the tesseract from where it was nestled inside and the scepter from where it had been dropped. Foolish mortals for leaving them behind.

He had failed Ralston in all the ways that mattered. He looked down at the group of heroes who had done what Loki had never been truly capable of and then at the destruction he had wrought. The scepter hummed in his hand promising him things he knew he didn’t want, and he pushed down the blue that threatened rise.

“I’m sorry Ralston.”

There was only one thing left for Loki to do. He had to hide these things so that Thanos never found them and then…then he could just keep falling. Loki closed his eyes and opened up the Yggdrasil once more, he wanted to go someplace far away, someplace safe. He took a step forward and tumbled out all too quickly. Instead of some barren meteor that no one would ever see in the middle of nowhere he fell into an overrun garden.

He looked up from his position in a sharp-thorned rose bush and a strangled cry erupted from him. He knew exactly where he was.

“Ralston.”

He scrambled up to the old house, the home he and Ralston had built together, having totally forgotten about the two weapons of mass destruction he’d just stolen. Aside from the creeping plants and the dust on the windows it looked exactly as Loki remembered, down to the type of wood they’d chosen for the door. It was impossible but Loki could feel the wards he’d placed on the property still humming around him. How could it be?

He opened the back door, it swung open on slightly creaky hinges and he gaped. Everything was just as it should have been. Centuries worth of dust covered every surface and Loki blamed the tears streaming down his cheeks on the coughing he was doing due to the dust. Every step he took sent huge puffs of dust into the air, proving what he’d always known. No one was here waiting for him. There never had been. He stumbled up the stairs and pushed open the door on the right, the one that belonged to him.

Loki shouldn’t have been surprised that his cleaning spells had held up for so long but he was. His bedroom was literally just as he left it. Not a speck of dust, not even a little decay on his blanket that Amaryllis, Ralston’s wife, had made him for Yule all those centuries ago. Loki creeped slowly over to the bed, weakened and injured beyond belief. He fell face first onto the bed. The blanket still smelt of the soap Ralston always made to clean things with.

Abruptly he stopped falling. There was no where else to fall to, no where else to run. He had been falling all these years back to Midgard, back to where things mattered. An inhuman noise escaped him as he curled into a small, pitiful ball. It was a noise of pure grief and pain, something that would have torn at any soul unlucky enough to hear it. But Loki was alone, he always would be.

Loki began to cry, to scream, to truly mourn. He tore at his armor, his godly strength ripping at the hardened leather. He screamed at the fates, at Ralston, at himself and he let himself grieve. Tears burnt hot and purifying tracks down his face and his throat felt raw and swollen. Yet he could not stop crying, would not stop. He would cry until he shriveled up and died.  

Eventually he lost consciousness, exhausted from the failed invasion, his wounds, and the hours of writhing agony he put himself through. When he woke up, a week had passed, and his injuries had mostly healed themselves. He felt weak and dizzy from dehydration and hunger. When was the last time he ate? The last time he drank? When was the last time he felt this raw? His hours of crying on that bed had stripped him of the armor he’d built up and then let him land hard without any protection. He felt as if he were spinning and far too vulnerable.

He stumbled down to the kitchen, unsurprised to find it barren and dusty. He managed to find one of Ralston’s mugs and filled it with water from the nearby well, it still has the sweetest tasting water in all of Britain. Once he did that, he remembered the blasted infinity stones he’d stolen and cursed. He rushed back and breathed a sigh of relief at finding them sitting there, happy as clams on the top of a giant ancient rose bush.

“I remember planting this.” He whispered to himself. “Ralston don’t you remember? Amaryllis complained that the garden was boring, that she didn’t want to just grow herbs and carrots…so I went all around the world and found as many different flowers as I could and you and I…we planted them all together. All except Amaryllises of course.”

He laughed a little remembering the beautiful woman’s giggle when she’d woken up to find them covered in dirt and passed out in her new gigantic garden. She’d been only slightly displeased that her namesake hadn’t made the cut. He looked around the garden and saw that many of those flowers, the ones that had a lifespan longer than a season at least, had survived. A miracle perhaps.

He spent the next week in the garden, eating fruit from the fruit trees that they’d planted once, and bringing the unkempt garden back to rights. He stowed the infinity stones in the coat closet and he worked in some old trousers and a shirt he found. He spoke to Ralston and Amaryllis and their children. At first it was only apologies but then…then he told them about falling and mourning and hating.

Then he apologized some more.

He knew that the Avengers were looking for him, that Thor would scour the realms for him. That Hiemdall’s eye would never stop searching. But Loki found he didn’t care at that moment. He was still oddly fragile in the following weeks after the invasion. He felt as if he’d been reborn in some odd way, and now he had to be careful lest his new heart be cut by something. Loki had fallen to the very depths and now he felt that he could stay there in the safety of his landing place and never leave it. No one would find him beneath these wards anyway.

After the garden Loki went back inside, he kept up a monologue to his long dead friend as he cleaned the house and fixed what had been broken over the years of disuse. It took time because he refused to use magic, this was something he had to do with his hands. He had to touch each surface to prove that it was real and not some desperate hallucination.  

The first time he left the Potter Home was when he grew tired of fruit and everything was clean. He carefully used magic to hide his identity and then he ventured to the nearest muggle city. Even then, two months after the invasion, all the news could talk about was the tragedy he’d caused. Loki threw up the first real meal he’d had in ages right at the table of the small restaurant he’d crawled into. He left the half un-eaten plate and the vomit right there before the waitress even knew what had happened.

He tried again a week later, this time a town farther away. He bought food, a lot of it, with fake conjured money and tried his best not to take in information about the Avengers and his failures. It didn’t work and he returned to the Potter Home, feeling angry for the first time since coming there. Loki had fallen and found peace, but even this lovely protected place couldn’t keep his demons at bay forever.

Loki didn’t even know exactly what it was he was angry at. Himself? Thor? Odin? The Avengers who had stopped him from destroying Ralston’s world? All he did know was that he was angry. He wanted to destroy something, he looked around at the home he thought he’d never see again and knew he couldn’t stay, not until the anger left. He abandoned his groceries and went out to find a fight.

To call the following fights he had with the Avengers in the next year tantrums would be accurate, even if Loki would die before admitting it. He appeared only to cause chaos, his mind his own just enough to keep from going too far, to keep from killing any humans or heroes. He just had so much rage to burn away, all the rage he’d been letting fester and rot inside of him and he just had to get rid of it. Anytime it grew too much he’d leave his safehouse in the British Countryside and threaten to blow something up until Thor appeared and he could fight him with all his viciousness.

The Avengers hated him, and Loki swore to himself that the feeling was mutual. A lie. Of course, it was. Each Avenger, the human ones at least, had a part of them that reminded him of Ralston, and he wanted to hate them for it but found he couldn’t. Barton’s archaic weaponry and excellent aim reminded him of how talented Ralston had been with his spells and bow. Stark’s creativity and curiosity, along with the short stature and slightly messy hair, smacked of Ralston in all the most painful ways. Rogers had the same heroic heart as Ralston. Romanoff’s lack of biological family and her love of the family she had found was…well Loki tried not to think of it. Loki even saw something of Ralston in Banner of all people. There was a time that Ralston had hated the power he’d been born with just as much as Banner hated his beast.

Loki could never hate the humans who had bits and pieces of his best friend in them. Besides they were the only people on this planet who could give him the release he needed. So, he made sure never to hurt them too much. He knew all too well how fragile humans were. Sometimes, when he wasn’t being blinded with rage, he even helped those heroes. Not that they ever noticed it. A spell here and there in their battles to keep them from snapping their necks in a fall or keeping debris from crushing their squishable bodies.

That was his schedule now. He’d pitter and patter around the Potter Home, talking to the invisible ghosts of his friends about what they’d missed in the last 400 years interspersed with apologies. When he left it was either to get food or to attack something, anything at all. The scepter and tesseract remained hidden in that closet, beneath a coat that had fallen to the floor at some point in the last 400 years. Every time he spoke with a human, either in a village or in a fight he saw flashes of the humans he loved and did his best to ignore the hurt.

Which brought Loki to the present day. An oddly sunny evening in a small English town, he’d just ordered a nice large dinner from an inn restaurant. He went out to eat when he was feeling bored but not homicidally enraged. He’d go in disguise and pay for his meal with some of Stark’s money that he’d stolen when the billionaire wasn’t looking. He hadn’t attacked the Avengers in about two or three months now and knew he’d want to get into some sort of fight soon enough.

There was a small ancient tv stuck on the wall playing a football game, around him in the inn a majority of the customers were watching it and cheering for the team dressed in red. Just as Loki was about to tuck into a wonderfully cooked steak someone shouted out that they should change to the news channel.

“There’s been an attack on the Avengers, there has!”

The Avengers despite being mostly American were the world’s heroes and most people around the globe watched their fights with interest. These superhumans were their line of defense against the evils of the nine realms, why wouldn’t they be interested? Loki didn’t look up as the channel changed. Instead he began cutting into the steak that gave way to his knife like it was made of butter. He closed his eyes in appreciation of the taste and then heard a shout of shock from the crowd.

He looked up at the screen and saw something that horrified him to his bones.

The Black Order.

All four of them! They were here, on earth! And Loki knew exactly what they were here for. The tesseract, the scepter and Loki’s immortal soul. He watched as Cull Obsidian punched the Hulk so hard in the face that he flew back and landed on the ground, unmoving and beginning to grow smaller and less green. Off to the far side of the screen he saw Thor fighting Ebony Maw and being stabbed with those damnable black shards that man carried with him everywhere. The camera zoomed around to show Romanoff being thrown by Proxima Midnight while Stark fired weapons from his suit to try and protect his teammates.

Something whispered in Loki’s ear, a voice he hadn’t heard in 400 years but was still as familiar to him as his own.

Well what are you doing sitting there? There are people to save!

Loki swallowed down his mostly chewed bite of steak and placed the knife onto the table. He couldn’t. If he went, the Black Order would take him and torture him until he told them where the two infinity stones were. They wouldn’t kill him, and Loki was damn sure he’d never tell. So…it would be a torturous eternity indeed for him. He couldn’t risk it, he wouldn’t. Not even for Thor and the others that reminding him so much of his dear friend.

Loki, you’ve spent all this time falling. Maybe, it’s time to rise?

Ralston’s voice pushed him up to stand, his chair sliding back and hitting the person who was sitting at the table behind him.

“Mate! Sit down! You’re blocking the screen.”

Don’t worry, my friend. I’ll be right there with you.

Loki’s hands fisted themselves and he let the glamor on him fall. No longer was he a short mousy blonde man. Instead he was a god, the god of mischief and magic and fire, golden horns and all. The person behind him screamed but Loki didn’t bother to turn around. Instead he closed his eyes, prayed to Ralston, and let the fire of his teleportation take him away.

Loki landed a moment later in Central Park, mere tens of feet from where the fighting was. Just far enough away not to be noticed immediately. His eyes spotted the injured Avengers in the first 1/4th of a second he was there, they were still trying to fight but most of them were sporting serious wounds. Two were even unconscious. Then he noticed the presence that was right next to him during the rest of that first second. He flipped around at the same time she did.

“What are you doing here?” They both hissed at each other at the same time.

She was a mortal, a human, of that he was certain. She was dressed in a fancy dress with her black, the same shade as Ralson’s hair was, hair up in a stylish braided bun. She was short. The same height as Ralston. He pushed the useless thoughts about how this woman’s skin was the same color as Ralston’s and how she also had bright green eyes just like his.

“I said.” Loki hissed. “What are you doing here, you useless mortal?”

She glared at him in an uncanny resemblance to Ralston’s glare.

“I asked the same thing of you!” She snapped. “I’m here to save the Avengers!”

“Save the Avengers? Truly? Do you even know them?”

“Of course, I know them. I’m…I’m their cleaning lady.” Her cheeks had splotches of red on them, just like Ralston’s used to do when he grew too frustrated with something.

Loki laughed, just quietly enough not to be overheard.

“A servant! Ha, you mortals grow stupider by the day.”

“Just tell me what the hell you’re doing here!” She demanded.

“I’m here to gain my revenge against the Black Order.”

“Who?”

“The aliens who are pummeling your employers.” Loki said. “Now, don’t get in my way. If you want to save them then get them out of here while I deal with the refuse.”

“Now wait just a minute!” She said.

“No. There’s no time for me to pander to your delusions. Do what I’ve said, mortal.”

Any human who bore such a terribly striking resemblance to Ralston should be protected. Part of Loki wanted to magic the woman back to the Potter Home, so she’d be safe and sound. But there wasn’t time. He stalked forward, conjured a knife into his hands. He heard the woman curse at him from behind and then start moving in another direction towards where the injured Avengers had gathered around together.

Loki threw a knife and hit true right into the side of Ebony Maw who was questioning Thor rather painfully. The knife lodged itself quite deep and the alien stumbled before turning to see Loki in all his glory.

“Oh.” He snarled. “It’s the traitor.”

“Now there’s no need for name calling, Maw.” Loki drawled. “I can hardly be a traitor to an organization I don’t give a damn about.”

All four members of the Black Order turned to look at him. The Avengers safe for a moment. Loki could see the woman was adept at sneaking and was quite close to getting to them. Thor, the idiot didn’t move away though, he just looked at Loki like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“We gave you power, we gave you an army.” Corvus Glaive growled.

“No.” Loki said, his magic pooling green in his hands. “No, you tortured me and you expected me to be obedient. That was stupid.”

“You could have had this planet for your own.” Proxima Midnight told him as if he were the stupid one. “Our Father would have rewarded you with it if you’d given him what he needed.”

Your father” Loki repeated in his snarkiest tone. “is a madman and I will never serve him. The tesseract and the scepter are far beyond his reach now.”

“You will tell us where you’ve hidden them.” Ebony Maw threatened. “Or I will rend your skin from your bones.”

“Oh, Go fuck yourself.”

 And with those eloquent words the battle truly began. Maw sent out an entire wall made of black shards at him that Loki teleported out of the way of. He appeared right in front of Cull Obsidian who attempted to punch his head off. Loki lifted up a conjured magical shield to block the hit but stumbled from the force anyway. In the same movement he sent a knife directly into the right eye of the beast. Cull screamed and swatted out again. Loki dodged and teleported. He conjured three duplicates to appear with him and began to tease at the Black Order. He just had to hold the creatures off long enough to get the Avengers to safety.

He appeared behind Proxima and used a magically created spear to swing at her. She sensed him a second too late and he managed to get one hit in before she flipped around and began to swing right back at him. Around him, his illusions distracted the other three. He needed to down them all quickly. He shot a wall of flames at the woman who managed to dodge that while swinging at him with her magical spear.

They traded blows for a few minutes before Loki heard something come up behind him. He teleported just in time to dodge Glaive’s attack. Unfortunately, his illusions were not as effective on the Black Order as they were on stupider foes. He sent out a blinding spell to both of the spear wielding aliens and teleported into the air, just in time to miss being hit by more of Maw’s telekinetic attacks.

He appeared ten feet in the air right above Cull, the only brute stupid enough to have not figured out which Loki was the real one. Loki flew right down and stabbed his spear into the beast’s back, hopefully into its spine. Cull bellowed and reach back and managed to grab Loki by the neck. He flung him into the air and Loki transformed into a bird and righted himself before he landed on a tree.

As a bird he had to fly around and dodge Maw throwing every available thing he could find at him with his telekinesis. He dove low to the ground and transformed back into his aesir form with a roll. He sent a blast of magic at Maw that hit him dead on, sending him tumbling to the ground. With Maw’s concentration broken he dropped all of the debris and it landed with loud thuds around them. Loki cast a shield over his head to keep himself from getting hit.

From his left and right Proxima and Glaive came at him. Loki reached out with another spear and swept Glaive’s feet out from under him and then rolled to dodge Proxima’s downward stroke. He teleported again to slightly higher ground and thrust out at Proxima again. She hissed at him to stop teleporting, as if he would.

He started dueling both of the aliens as Maw got his bearings again. Loki used his skill with a spear as best he could to keep Glaive and Proxima at a safe distance. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the cleaning lady help the Avengers up and move farther away from the danger. Good, at least she wasn’t hurt. He didn’t know what he’d do if the woman who looked so much like Ralston was hurt.

He paid dearly for his distracted thoughts when Cull managed to hit him and send him flying into a tree. Loki grunted with pain as he felt a few of his ribs snap, but managed to get up anyway. Maw hit him with some of the shards, they cut through his armor and pierced his stomach. He groaned and ripped out the offending items, so that his magic could stitch him back together. Another, much larger shard hit him just below his lungs before he could dodge it. It sent him flying back into the tree, pinning him there painfully.

Blood trickled down from the wounds and he squirmed against the pain. All four members of the Black Order converged onto him and Loki knew he should teleport away.

“A good fight.” Proxima said. “But not good enough, was it runt?”

The pain made it hard to concentrate and something whispered in his ear, Ralston again.

Wait. It’s almost time.

What?

 “You think it’s over?” He coughed out, well aware the thing lodged in his chest was millimeters away from cutting into his lungs.

“Don’t bother with the bold words.” Maw said. “And sit still, I need to know where you’ve hidden the things you stole from our Father.”

Maw lifted up a hand and Loki felt the mental attack. He did everything he could to shore up his occulmency shields as Maw’s power bore down on him.

“Hey!” The Cleaning Lady shouted. “Over here!”

Inwardly he cursed even as the attack receded. Maw turned while ordering Cull to watch Loki. He looked between the legs of the Black Order to see the woman, still here and in her, nice and not at all appropriate for a battle, dress, standing in front of the injured Avengers. There wasn’t a trace of fear in her eyes.

“Mortal.” Maw growled. “Leave before I kill you in the name of our Father.”

“Your dad? Are you telling me that all four of you have the same dad?” She asked in disbelief. “What the bloody hell does he look like then?”

“Speak not of our father.” Proxima ordered. “He is far too great for the likes of mortals.”

“Right. Right. Still doesn’t answer my question. Who is he and how did he father all of you? Cause I’m just saying he must be really, really-”

“Our Father is Thanos, Destroyer of Worlds and Lover of Death.” Maw interrupted. “And he has sent us to prepare this world as a sacrifice for his Mistress. All life on this world will be taken and gifted to Death herself, in the name of Thanos.”

Lover of Death?” The woman repeated as if that was the disturbing thing about what Maw just said. “Wow! I didn’t even know Death could have a lover. Tell me, how does someone even have sex with an entity like that? Your dad must either be really sexually creative or…”

Maw, with his mind, lifted up shards to destroy this stupid, foolhardy human. She didn’t seem to notice as she trailed off. Then she clapped her hands together as if she’d had a realization.

“Wait! I know why you four are here! Father’s Day is coming up in just a couple of months! You must be here for a gift for him, right? And what better gift to give a lover of Death than the Deathly Hallows?”

Instantly the shards lowered themselves in shock. The Deathly Hallows were Thanos’ true passion, three objects that promised control of Death. But they were more myth than fact, weren’t they? Collecting the Infinity Stones and destroying all life in the universe to win Death’s affection was by far a more attainable goal. How did the mortal even know about those?

“Did you say the Deathly Hallows?” Maw demanded.

“I did!” She said smiling like the were all sitting around having a nice brunch. “You know the Death Stick, The Resurrection stone, and Death’s cloak. Three items that when owned by one person, create the Master of Death.”

What was this woman doing? How did she know of them? Why was she telling these obviously evil people about them?

“How do you know of the Hallows?” Proxima asked.

“Well some clever sod hid them all here on earth about 2000 years ago, can you believe?” She asked. “Most humans know where they are because they let off this terrible feeling, we can’t even pick them up because our bodies can’t handle the strain. I think we’d all be much happier if someone were to take them off planet.”

A lie. That last part had been a lie. Why? Loki focused on the Ralston-Look-A-Like who was smiling as if she was completely daft. Maw lowered his weapons entirely and tried to make his horrific squid-like face into something friendly.

“Of course.” He soothed, believing her lie without problem. “You poor humans would certainly want those things in the hands of someone worthy of them.”

“Exactly!” She said before clapping again, this time in excitement. “I’ve got an idea! How about I show you the Hallows. If you get them for your dad, then surely you can leave without hurting the Avengers or Loki anymore right?”

“You have our word.” Proxima said. “If you show us the Hallows then we will leave this planet without doing any more harm to the runt or the heroes.”

“Really? Oh, that’s so nice of you!” She chirped. “Alright then! Just give me a moment and I’ll show them to you.”

She turned slightly to look at the Avengers, more specifically at Tony Stark.

“Jarvis.” She said. “Would you mind terribly playing that song I told you about?”

“Right now, Miss?” said the computer butler Stark had in his suit, the poor thing sounded as confused as Loki felt.

“Yes of course, loud as you can please.”

“What are you doing, mortal?” Maw demanded.

“Just what I said I’d do. I’m showing you the Hallows. In fact, I’m going to be very gracious and do more than just show you them. I’m going to give you a practical demonstration. I think by the time this song is over, you’ll know exactly what mortals are capable of.”

Loki realized the trick the same moment the Black Order did. The Ralston-Look-A-Like transformed from a petite woman in a nice dress in a flash to a woman who looked so much like Ralston that it hurt. Gone was the dress and the nicely done hair. Instead she was wearing armor that looked like Ralston’s but with one new addition. A holder had been added onto the chest plate that held a large black stone right below where her collar bone would be. There was a familiar looking invisibility cloak hanging from the hooks on the shoulders and in the woman’s hands were a silver sword and a wooden wand made of elder.  

“Ralston?” He choked out, blood trickling from his mouth and down his chin.

In the next moment music began to blast loudly from Stark’s suit. Holly smirked as a chorus began to sing with clapping in the background.

Uh-uh Ay-ay. Uh-uh Ay-ay. Uh-uh Ay-ay. Ey-ey-ey-ey-ey.

Maw and the others hefted their weapons.

“Impossible.”

“Oh, darling.” She said.” Nothing’s impossible.”

I'm living' in that 21st century

Doing something mean to it

Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it

Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it

I guess every superhero need his theme music.

With those first words of the song Ralston, for it must be him, attacked. He, or was it she, teleported forward right into Maw’s space and began to rapidly fire a rainbow of spells at the alien. Proxima swung her spear at Ralston but he merely lifted up his sword and let the metal slice through Proxima’s spear. Something that was supposedly impossible. The top half of Proxima’s spear fell to the ground with a dull thud while she screamed in rage at having her father’s gift destroyed. Maw was attempting to dodge the literal barrage of magic and had to fly himself away to keep from being overwhelmed.

No one man should have all that power

The clock's ticking', I just count the hours

Stop tripping', I'm tripping' off the power

(21st century schizoid man)

Ralston turned his rage onto Proxima, letting Maw retreat, but was grabbed by his long hair by Cull. The hulking beast, half blind with a spear still in his back looked murderous. Proxima and Glaive skittered away, looking pleased that Cull was winning the battle for them. Cull lifted him up and shook him like a ragdoll. Ralston’s face twisted in pain and lifted up his sword. Not to Cull but to his long hair.

“Did you know?” He asked, looking Cull dead in the eye. “That there are about 100,000 hairs on the human head? I wonder what would happen if I put my transfiguration skills to use on that much material?”

Then Ralston cut his hair off, right at the nape, to the length it had been 400 years ago. Immediately Ralston dropped to the ground while at the same time saying a few Latin words. The bundle of long black hair in Cull’s hand expanded and began to writhe and lengthen out. Each hair that had been on Ralston’s head turned into a snake. The snakes slithered and crawled over Cull, the behemoth tried pulling the snakes off but there were just too many of them.

Cull screamed as the snakes began to bite him in droves, he stumbled back as venom was spit into his mouth, eyes, and nose. He looked no longer like a beastly alien but instead a den of 100,000 snakes feeding on one meal. Some of the snakes, a fair amount of them slithered away from the struggling Cull and towards the other Black Order members. Ralston shook his head at the loss of the weight and then looked over at the Order members.

Loki choked at how Ralston looked. There was no doubt it was him. Even if he was much more powerful than he had been before. The amount of magical skill required to do that many rapid transfigurations at once was insane.

In this white man's world, we the ones chosen

So goodnight, cruel world, I see you in the mornin'

Huh? I see you in the mornin'

This is way too much, I need a moment

“Now.” Ralston said. “Who’s next?”

All three of the Black Order members attempted to bum rush Ralston but he just clicked his tongue, something Loki barely heard over the blaring music. Ralston flicked the Death Stick and hissed at the same time. All of the free snakes immediately began to slither towards Proxima, who was still weaponless, while the earth itself lifted up and transfigured into a stone hand that grabbed at Maw like a cat trying to catch a fly. Maw started to dodge and attack the hand while Proxima picked up the sharp half of her spear and started fighting off the plague of snakes.

Glaive was the only one who made it to Ralston. Ralston immediately used his sword one handed to fight against the magic spear. Glaive used his spear to fire bolts of energy at him that Ralston dodged or teleported out of the way of with ease. Just like Loki had taught him. Ralston hit Glaive with a spell that made his legs turn to metaphorical jelly. The alien fell to his knees but still managed to swing and block with his spear.

Ralston moved closer and closer, dancing around the swinging weapon until he managed a lucky hit with his sword, chopping the Uru weapon in half like Loki had cut up his steak less than thirty minutes before. With the weapon gone and his legs useless Glaive still caught Ralston at the knee with his hands and sent him tumbling. Ralston literally dropped both his weapons with a smirk and lunged at the alien for some hand to hand combat.

Meanwhile Maw had damaged part of the stone magical hand and Proxima had been bitten three times by the snakes she was chopping in half. Each snake she killed just turned back into a piece of long black hair.

I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts

Got treasures in my mind but couldn't open up my own vault

My childlike creativity, purity and honesty

Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts

Reality is catchin' up with me

Takin' my inner child, I'm fighting for its custody

With these responsibilities that they entrusted me

Ralston managed to slam Glaive to the ground, they were rolling around over and over. Exchanging punches and wrestling holds. Within thirty seconds Ralston had gained the upper hand against the much larger opponent and used all of his strength, probably augmented by some magic, to slam Glaive’s head hard into the ground. Glaive immediately went limp and Ralston rolled off of him, right into Proxima who had gotten around the snakes and picked up Ralston’s sword.

Ralston teleported out of the way and summoned the Death Stick, missing Proxima’s swing by mere millimeters. He kept dodging the sword as if one mere cut would kill him and used magic against the woman. Proxima swiped at Ralston’s waist and Ralston literally vaulted into the air to dodge it. He flipped over in the air sailing over Proxima’s head. On his way down he fired a spell that blasted Proxima away and flat onto her back.

Proxima jumped up and the two danced around each other, both fast enough to mostly dodge the other. Behind them Maw had finished off his stone attacker and was now descending in the air towards Ralston. Loki cried out a warning in a pained strangled voice. Ralston managed to dodge Maw’s black shards, one of which stabbed Proxima instead.

“You need to wait your turn!” Ralston said before casting a spell that conjured a plume of fire.

Fiendfyre.

The bright red flames coalesced into a dragon the size of a bus. It roared sending flames into the air and rushed at Maw who, wisely, tried to get the hell out of dodge. Ralston turned his back on the fiendfyre and continued his fight with Proxima. They were well matched for the first few seconds. But Ralston managed to disarm Proxima with an expelliarmus. Then with both sword and wand in hand, Ralston fired another spell that sent Proxima flying away.

She didn’t get up again.

Lost in translation with a whole fuckin' nation

They say "How was the abomination of Obama's nation?"

Well that's a pretty bad way to start the conversation

At the end of day, g-ddammit I'm killin' this shit

I know damn well y'all feelin' this shit

With three of the four Black Order members taken care of, Ralston cricked his neck and faced Maw who had been doing his best to keep out of the fangs of the fearsome dragon. With a flick of his wand, the dragon began to shrink and fall back.

“Now come on!” She called out, teasing. “Didn’t you want to see the Death Stick? I don’t think you’ve gotten a good enough look from up there.”

Maw did not listen to his taunts and stayed high in the air. He began to lift up wads of snakes, the earth and the trees from the park. He flung them at Ralston who either dodged, teleported, or transfigured the attacks into something harmless like bubbles or flower petals.

“Oh don’t tell me you’re scared of one little ol’ mortal are you? Come on closer, or else I can’t keep my end of the deal!”

Maw conjured his black shards of torture and sent them with unerring accuracy towards Ralston in response. The shards were mostly immune to magic, although some powerful spells could block them. Ralston figured that out after one resisted his transfiguration and cut up his cheek when he barely managed to dodge. Ralston started teleporting more rapidly after that, dropping his sword on the ground in his haste.

Ralston fired off a few spells, sending them out in a wave pattern, one of which clipped Maw and sent him to the ground. Maw scrambled to his feet, looking out of breath, the arrogance finally chased out of him. Ralston stalked over to the alien, wand raised and menace in his gait. Maw used his powerful telekinesis to lift up one broken spear and send it flying towards Ralston. Loki called out but his voice just distracted Ralston who took the spear directly to the side. It landed in between the two parts of the chest piece. Ralston stumbled back a few steps from the attack but managed to stay up. Maw walked over.

“You will pay for this, I will make it so for killing my siblings.” He hissed, Ralston just stared at Maw for a moment, his face white with pain.

“You should have aimed for the head.”

“What?”

“Accio.” Ralston lifted up his free hand and his sword came flying from behind Maw and into his hand. The blade of the weapon slicing clean through Maw’s neck.

Maw’s head, still showing his last moment of surprise, fell to the ground and his body followed a moment after.

(21st century schizoid man)

The song ended at the same time Maw’s body thumped to the ground. Ralston dropped his sword and lowered his wand.

“Holy shit.” Stark said, breaking the silence. “Holly you okay?”

“Fine! I’ve had worse!” Ralston shouted back.

“That’s hardly comforting.” Rogers said.

“One second.” Ralston lifted up his hand and carefully removed the spear, with a very pained grunt. Then he pointed the Death Stick at the bleeding hole in his side and began whispering spells. Some to numb pain, others to stop bleeding, and finally a few to mend a few vital organs. “There. I should be fine until I see a healer.”

“Is there anything you can’t do?” Stark asked.

“Uhm…Drive a car?”

Of course, Ralston can’t drive a car, cars hadn’t been invented for him yet. Why would he bother learning it now? Loki coughed up more blood, his wounds were worsening and he knew he would lose consciousness soon. Ralston immediately looked over at him, worry and concern painted over his familiar face. The lightning bolt scar was new though. Ralston ran over calling for Thor as he did so.

“Ralston.” Loki muttered. “You’re here.”

“Loki, it’s going to be fine.” Ralston said.

Loki reached out and grabbed onto the hand he’d held so many times before, holding as tightly as he could.

“Ralston. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it, I didn’t. I swear. I just kept falling and falling and falling and there was…was no one to catch me.”

Thor showed up as he spoke, looking frightened and worried at the gruesome wound in Loki’s chest.

“Look, Loki. I have no idea what’s you’re talking about.”

“Ralston.” Loki said. “Please forgive me. Please. I can’t bear…” Ralston stared at him for a moment before swallowing.

“Okay fine. I forgive you, but you can’t do it again and…and you need to let me use some magic on you. Okay?”

His vision began to darken, Loki stopped fighting to keep conscious once he knew Ralston had forgiven him. His hand went slack but Ralston still held it up.

“You…you have never needed to ask…”

The last thing Loki knew was Thor yelling for him while he felt Ralston’s warm hand within his own.

Chapter Text

Holly was very good at pretending she wasn’t being glared at. She’d had plenty of practice through her 28 years of life. First with the Dursleys, then with Snape, then with Death Eaters and politicians. Which meant the situation she found herself in right then was more familiar than it was strange. There was an American healer working on the terrible stab wound on her side. She was out of her armor wearing a pair of sweatpants (courtesy of Tony) and a sports bra (also strangely enough something Tony had) so that the wound was open for the healer to work on. Her magic had been pretty depleted by the time she’d gotten stabbed and her healing spells might not have taken as well as she had implied to the Avengers.

Hence the glaring.

More specifically the Avengers glaring at her.

Okay so maybe she shouldn’t have waited until all of the team and Loki had been seen to before asking if the healer could give her a quick check-up too. Perhaps standing there while one’s own blood pooled inside of one’s chest plate wasn’t the best of plans. She hadn’t meant to worry any of them! Really the healer could have sealed up the wound in a snap but no, they’d insisted on checking over everything.

Apparently, the healer was aghast that not only had that spear torn through her side and ruptured a few key organs, she’d also cracked a few ribs, gotten a concussion, and had a very nasty case of magical exhaustion. The bones in her right hand were also pretty beat up from her punching that ugly elf alien in the face. There was also the deep cut on her cheek that had been caused by something resistant to magic meaning that it had to be taped shut.

The healer listed out all of her injuries for the Avengers to hear, growing more distressed and upset as they went.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone act so recklessly with their magic before! A transfiguration spell that large on top of a fully corporeal fiendfyre spell! It’s lucky you didn’t kill yourself.”

She rolled her eyes. Honestly that was a bit of an over-exaggeration. She tried to make eye contact with Thor to show how ridiculous the healer was being but Thor’s frown only grew more pronounced. Killjoy.

“Lady Potter are you even listening to me?”

“What? Yes of course. You were saying I was reckless right?”

“If you could attempt to take this seriously.” The healer whose name she had forgotten already asked. “I would really appreciate it.”

“Look…Healer…”

“Reed.”

“Healer Reed.” Holly said. “Sorry your name slipped out of my head, magical exhaustion and all that. Can’t you just give me a potion or two and let me be on my way? There’s really no need to make a fuss over me, Loki was far closer to death than I was.”

Loki had been very close to death all things considered what with that nasty spear thing in his chest. She’d insisted the healers see to him first after she’d used up most of her remaining magic keeping him from kicking the bucket back in Central Park. Loki had been installed in the medical bay in a private room. Steve had asked Holly to put some wards up on that private room two weeks earlier that would keep anyone from teleporting in or out. It was supposed to be for protection but now it would act as a prison, keeping Loki inside until they knew what to do with him.

“I would give you potions but with the amount of magic you’ve got in your system at the moment they won’t do you much good. You’ll just have to heal up the old fashioned way, three days of rest and then I can prescribe you the proper potions.”

“Three days?” She sputtered. “You can’t be serious!”

“Deadly serious. Three days, no physical exertion and limited magic use. If you could go without doing any magic at all that would be best.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Steve said, his voice dark. “We’ll make sure she takes it easy.”

“Well at least someone has some sense.” Healer Reed said.

“I don’t know if I trust your medical opinion.” Holly said. “Three days!”

The Healer’s cheeks reddened and they finally stood fully up from where they’d been prodding at her wound. She knew she should be careful about annoying someone who had just, in the smallest of ways, healed her. But honestly, how dare he tell her to take it easy! She ignored the Hermione-like voice in the back of her head telling her she was being ridiculous. What else was she going to do while this wound healed? Start learning the gavotte?

“Lady Potter. I have been working as the top healer here in New York for the past 32 years. Which is far longer than you’ve even been alive! My medical advice is without fault and you would do well to listen to it.”

She had to use all of her willpower not to stick her tongue out at the man. Instead she just glared at him a little. Healers had always made her a bit tetchy. It was part of the reason she’d learnt healing spells at all, to get out of dealing with them. Of course, learning healing spells was all well and good until one lacked the magic to cast them properly.

“Three days.” Healer Reed said. “And you’ll call me the moment something changes with his godship.”

His godship. Is that what they were calling Loki these days? She didn’t roll her eyes at the pretentiousness of the name, instead she plastered a smile on her face.

“Yes of course.” Holly said in the fake polite voice she developed specifically for politicians and healers. “Thank you ever so much for your help, Healer Reed. I don’t know what we would have done without you. I’m sorry for being curt earlier, it’s been a very long day.”

And as with all healers except for Madam Pomphrey who knew better, Healer Reed fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He looked very pleased at the compliment and apology. The middle-aged wizard looked at her, a slight gleam in his eyes that she knew too well.

“That’s very gracious of you to say Lady Potter. And I must say, it was an honor to heal you. It is not everyday that a man like me gets to…work on a body like yours.” Of course the man’s eyes gave her a totally unnecessary once over.

“Yes, well.” Holly said, awkwardly while the Avengers partially transferred their glares from her to him. “I think I’ll take your advice and get some rest.”

“Of course.” He said obviously forcing down his lustful thoughts. “Please, allow me the honor of escorting you to your home?”

“That won’t be a problem.” Tony interrupted. “She’ll stay here since we need her help with Loki Doki.”

“Right! I’d forgotten.” Healer Reed twittered. “Then I’ll just be on my way. I expect a call in a few days for another check up on both you and his godship.”

“I’ll call you when I need you.” Holly promised having absolutely no intention of calling on this man ever again. The healer was incompetent no matter what his credentials said. He had literally diagnosed her with severe magical exhaustion but didn’t even seem remotely curious as to how she was conscious. Madame Pomphrey would have never let her stay awake this long. Reed nodded feeling pleased and then disappeared with a crack. Good riddance.

She immediately turned to look at the team of superheroes. Unfortunately, now that Reed was gone all of their ire had returned to her.

“So.” She said. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

Silence but Holly didn’t let that deter her. Instead, ignoring the pain in her side, she lifted up both hands to clap them together.

“I mean really. We got Loki and two of those Black Order people locked up, and no one on our side died. I say that this calls for a celebration.”

“Holly.” Steve said, his voice taking on a very stern tone that she didn’t like at all.

“Oh, come on! You can’t possibly be upset with me!” She cried. “There’s nothing to be upset about!”

“You were hurt, and you didn’t say anything.”

“I thought my spells took, they didn’t. It’s a mistake anyone can make.”

“You were literally bleeding out.” Tony said.

“I…Well I didn’t really feel it.” Holly admitted. “I’ve gotten really good at just blocking out pain over the years. I really didn’t notice it hadn’t worked. I was more focused on making sure Loki didn’t die and everything else.”

Finally, the glares lessened, and they were replaced with understanding. She shouldn’t have been surprised that they understood. After all they probably knew how to ignore pain too, they were superheroes for goodness sakes!

“Fine.” Clint said. “But next time you go out there, you are letting someone check you over.”

“Whatever. Can someone please get me a shirt or something? It’s cold in here.”

It was Thor who carefully helped her into a shirt, one of his own with all its insane size and softness, his face etched with concern. She supposed he wasn’t used to having teammates who were so easily injured. So far as she could tell the Avengers didn’t get hurt all that often. When they did it was usually Steve who could heal up quicker than she could! Once she was dressed slightly more comfortably, Thor helped her up and led her to the couch. She would’ve pretended she didn’t need the help but honestly, she was exhausted.

When she was finally seated on the couch, or more accurately laid out on it like a hedonistic queen, Thor and Steve both spent far too long trying to get her comfortable. Bringing her pillows and a blanket and a cup of tea. They bobbed around her sticking soft and warm things around her body and asking again and again if she needed anything more. Could they get her something to eat? Did she need another pillow? What about her feet, were they cold?

She took all of this with all the grace she had, which is to say very little.

“Seriously if you don’t stop fussing, I’ll…Well you know what I’m capable of!”

“Speaking of which.” Clint said, looking at her with something close to awe in his face. “Holy shit Holly. What even was that out there?”

“Would you believe me if I told you it was magic?”

A beat of silence before they all started to laugh. Holly laughed too even though it pulled at the wound in her side. She held her arms around her torso and bellowed with laughter, around her the Avengers were doing the same. She fell back into the various pillows that had been placed around her as exhaustion finally crept up on her.

“Holly?” Natasha asked. The woman was sitting right next to Holly on the floor, she was in much better shape as the healers were able to heal all of the spy’s wounds leaving only a lingering exhaustion and soreness behind. “Are you okay?”

“It’s…it’s the magical exhaustion.” She said. “I’m all tapped out…”

“Do you need help?”

“Just sleep.” Holly said, looking over at Tony. “You weren’t lying about letting me stay here right? Because I’m about to pass out for at least the next 48 hours and I’d like not to be moved or touched during that time.”

“48 hours?” Tony squeaked.

“Mhmm.” She said. For all her fuss about that healer telling her to rest that was mostly because she didn’t like taking orders. Now that she was no longer in danger of bleeding out and the Avengers were safe, she could feel the siren call of sleep. “I’ll sleep until my magic regenerates itself. Could take a while, I used an awful lot.”

“We could move you to a bed?” Steve suggested. “Someplace private.”

She didn’t much care for that idea, and slowly she forced her eyes open to see that Thor was getting ready to pick her up.

“Here’s just fine.” She said, her voice was slowing down and taking on a lilting quality it didn’t normally have. If she’d been totally aware, she would have noticed the looks of adoration her tone caused within the team. Thor, especially, looked like he’d just seen the cutest puppy in all the nine realms make an adorable yawning noise. “I won’t wake up for anything once I fall asleep and I’d…I’d rather there be people around just in case.”

Now that wasn’t exactly true. When she was younger, and far less used to being magically exhausted, she’d often sleep for days without stirring. The first time had been when she was 11 and had fought Professor Quirrel over the philosopher’s stone. She’d been unconscious for three days from the rampant use of magic. It was normal for most magic users. If they used too much magic their body would, for lack of a better term, shut down. They’d fall unconscious and their body would lock up to save on energy as their magic slowly replenished itself. However, as an adult, Holly could and had woken up during this process. Her mind still too focused on being alert for danger that only a powerful magically induced coma would keep her totally out.

Waking up during those times was frightening. Her limbs felt like jelly and didn’t move in the way she wanted them too, if they even moved at all. Which often they didn’t. Sometimes, if she could manage to open her eyes, she would see things that weren’t there, hallucinate creatures that belonged in Luna’s magazines instead of in the real world. Most times she would just lay there, in the dark, her eyelids stubbornly shut and blocking out all input. The only thing she was capable of was thinking, fearing and listening. She preferred the darkness over the hallucinations.

She’d told Ron and Hermione about it and Hermione had called it Sleep Paralysis. They hadn’t really been able to find anyway to cure it beyond spelling her to sleep which she hated even more than the fear. So, her friends had done a few things to ensure her comfort if and when she woke up. They made sure someone was always in the room with her as she recovered, playing music or reading out loud from a book. Things Holly knew and would recognize as safe. If she opened, her eyes then they’d make sure to be in her line of sight and tell her clearly that no one was hurt except for her and everything was just fine.

The older she’d grown, and as a result, the more times she’d done something unnecessarily reckless, the more frequently these episodes would happen. The time before this she’d woken up almost every eight hours. It was as if her body was acclimatizing to the periods of magical exhaustion and now instead of her needing to be fully unconscious during the process she was so practiced at it that her body could spare the energy to wake her up once and a while. Hermione thought that theory was rubbish.

“You don’t want to be alone?” Clint asked, in the same tone he directed at his children sometimes, causing her to shake her head and scrunch up her face in a very soft innocent way.

“It’s…scary.” She said her voice growing even softer as she melted further into the cocoon that had been made for her. “Can’t move, can’t magic…can’t…anything. Like friends…near…sounds better.”

Her explanation sounded much better in her head, but her tongue and lips were no longer cooperating. Holly wasn’t even sure the words that had escaped her mouth had sounded like English. Her eyes fell shut and she knew they wouldn’t open for a long time.

“Go to sleep.” Thor rumbled. “I’ll make sure you’re not alone.”

She must have made a noise or something because the next thing she knew, there was a hand in her terribly short hair. The pressure of the fingers that were now running through the strands and lightly scratching her scalp sent her all the way into the darkness. She didn’t even hear the other words the Avengers shared.

Jarvis would tell her later that the Avengers set up a roster right then and there to ensure that someone was always in the penthouse with her. Natasha had picked up that Holly was mumbling about sounds so they all also picked something to do that would make noise. Jarvis would show her clips (funny, very funny clips) of the team testing to see if any loud noises would wake her but not even a loud clap of thunder, courtesy of Thor, got her to twitch. So, comfortable in the knowledge that she really wouldn’t wake up, none of them worried about toning themselves down.

The roster was simple, every two hours a new Avenger would come up to be there for her and at night it was Jarvis’ job to keep her company. They left her on the couch but not before making sure that the nest of blankets and pillows was the most indulgent it could be. Bruce even put some thick socks on her feet to ensure they didn’t get cold. With all of their hard work it meant that every time Holly did wake up, she wasn’t alone. Even if they had no idea she really was conscious.

The first time she woke up, if one could call gaining just enough consciousness to hear things and do nothing else, was only five hours after she’d passed out.

“I know you can’t answer me right now, obviously, but I can’t help but wonder if you know what the hell Loki’s deal is.” Tony said his voice moving at the speed of a bullet. “I mean seriously! We saw you literally create 100,000 snakes out of nothing and then make a dragon of fire! If you’re supposed to be as good as Loki then where the hell has that been? It just doesn’t make sense!”

She didn’t really take in any of Tony’s words. Her mind was too sluggish to do more than recognize that there was a voice and that it was a voice it knew. Comprehending his words was a bit beyond her capabilities. But she still liked the sound of what was reaching her ears.

“I still can’t believe what we saw you do! Me and Jarvis have been going over the security tapes of that fight. I wish I’d had the sense to install some magic sensors into that suit because I am seriously regretting it now! I’m just trying to imagine what your energy output was!”

The words continued going on and on about impossibilities and science and equations. Things that were far above her paygrade on a normal day. If she could she would have furrowed her brows in confusion. But she couldn’t, so she continued to float in the warm comfortable darkness with only Tony’s scientific babbling to tether her. Eventually she drifted off again, Tony’s ponderings about what exactly her sword was made of echoing around in her head.

She woke up again, in the same exhausted predicament as before, but this time with a new ear worm. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed and it took an embarrassingly long amount of time to recognize the sweet voice currently whispering promises of threats against people she didn’t know in her ear.

“If Fury thinks he’s going to get his hands on you he’s got another thing coming. SHIELD is practically banging on the doors trying to get in.” The voice said before it was cut off by a beeping noise. The voice made another annoyed noise and then spoke again. “Would you believe? It’s Hill! Again! I told her that there was no way I was going to let them inside. There’s no telling what SHIELD would do to you in this state and Holly I swear I won’t let them hurt you. If they try anything, they’ll deal with me.”

Who was that? Holly knew she should know them, but she didn’t. All she knew was this inky blackness that kept a grip so tight on her it might as well have been a Grindylow. Her ability to even tell where her body was in the darkness was gone. She couldn’t feel the pillow beneath her head or the blanket pushing her body down. She was a bit of nothing spread out in nothingness. The only thing that seemed real was how protective the voice sounded.

“Fury’s pissed that I didn’t tell him that our cleaning lady was more than just a nice British woman who enjoys knitting. I’m a spy, the best spy in the whole world, and Fury expects me to see through these sorts of things. I wonder how long it’ll take him to figure out I lied to him.” The voice continued. “I didn’t even tell him about any of my suspicions after the hammer incident and that was before you made me this sweater. You were too nice and sweet even then, didn’t want you on SHIELD’s radar. Well, any more than you’d already been.”

Now who was SHIELD? Holly had never heard of that. Unless the voice was talking about an actual shield. Since when did shield’s have radars?

“Jarvis was the one who told me that you’d noticed the stalking and SHIELD break-ins at your apartment you know. I stopped them from following you around, gave my word to Fury that there was nothing interesting about you. That I’d keep my own eye on you. All because you were worried and concerned about your privacy.” The voice said. “And now I’ve got messages from Fury that are so annoying I’m considering just having Jarvis block all messages from SHIELD for the next year just to spite him.”

She realized it was Natasha right as the darkness pulled her under again. She had the urge to force her mouth to move just to tell the woman ‘thank you’ but the urge disappeared with her awareness of the situation. She drifted deeper into unconsciousness for a time before resurfacing hours later. This time she heard the soft clicking of needles and for a moment she thought she was lying next to Molly Weasley.

“I love snakes you know!” Thor said cheerily. “They’re some of my favorite creatures. They were one of the first animals that Loki learned to turn into. Which…didn’t always work out well for me.”

Holly tried to push her eyes open, wondering if she could maybe just wake up all the way for once. She knew he magic wasn’t anywhere near back to a healthy level, but still, it would be nice to stop drifting. Unfortunately, her body refused to cooperate.

“Once when we were very young, Loki turned himself into a snake and then went somewhere so I’d find him. He was a handsome snake, just as pretty as the one’s you made out of your hair! I went right up to the snake and picked it up to admire it and then poof! Loki turned back into himself and said “Bleh! It’s me!” and then he stabbed me!”

Loki did what? The sheer absurdity of the situation actually got Holly’s body to react. Her eyes opened up about halfway to reveal a darkened penthouse. The curtains had been drawn so it was difficult to tell what time it was. Thor was sitting on the ground next to her, knitting as best he could. Which wasn’t very good at all. He was staring down hard at the missing stitches. He didn’t even seem to notice how ridiculous that story was. She wished she could laugh and beg for more details but the sheer effort of opening her eyes even partway was too much.

They slid shut again just as Thor cursed his knitting and let it drop to the floor.

“You make this look so easy! It’s impossible!”

She wanted to tell him that it certainly wasn’t impossible, but it did require practice and patience. Thor continued to complain about knitting and how his gift to his mother was going to look awful if she didn’t wake up soon and help him fix the mess he’d made.

“Another mess we have to fix is your hair!” He told her. “I loved your hair it was long and perfect and…now it’s all gone! Tony said that together he and I could fix it. We’ll have to cut a little bit more just to even it out and I think it’ll look very good on you.”

She fell back into sleep her mind rolling its metaphorical eyes as Thor tutted about the state of her hair. She loved the guy but sometimes his priorities were a bit messed up. She slept for hours, completely undisturbed. She woke up again this time with a bit more awareness. She could tell she was still on the couch and she could feel a slight stiffness in her limbs from lying still for so long. Not that said limbs would move when she asked them too.

Soothing classical music filled the room with dulcet tones and chords that reminded her of lullabies.

“The press is going crazy outside.” Bruce said, his voice a little distant. She thought he might be looking out the window. “They all want to know who you are and where Loki is and what happened out there. It’s been almost two days since the fight now and neither you or Loki have woken up. All of the press yelling like this reminds me of how crazy it was when they found out I was living here. It might even be a little worse. At least when I moved in Tony had had a statement already prepared.”

Bruce’s voice grew closer and then farther away as he talked, and she realized he must be pacing. She didn’t know Bruce paced. Normally whenever he got agitated, he’d either go to his lab to do science or try some meditation. Maybe he only did it when he was alone.  

“We’ve tried to hold them off for as long as we could but they were frothing at the mouth Holly. We had to tell them something! Steve is out there right now telling them a made-up story about you! Jarvis helped create it based on what he’d thought you’d prefer. We’re trying to keep you out of the spotlight as much as possible but it doesn’t look good.”

Well that was worrisome. She wondered what her coworkers were thinking about her right now. And what about Kari? Was she okay? She lacked the ability to ask. Bruce continued on his worried monologue unaware that his audience was in anyway conscious.

“It’s been two days Holly! You need to wake up already because I am freaking out! Thor says its normal for magic users to sleep so long and my friends back at the hospital say you’ll wake up when you’re ready but…ugh! The press is banging on our doors begging for any scrap of information they can get on the newest Avenger. As if that’s what you are. Do you even want to be an Avenger? No one knows why you even showed up at the park!”

Wow Bruce really was freaking out. He continued talking about how he wasn’t made to deal with this sort of stress. He was a scientist, he did research and wrote papers. She wanted to tell him to calm down and that it would be fine. She’d dealt with press before and she could do it again. Her friends from work and Kari would either understand or they wouldn’t. But she couldn’t. All she could do was let the man pace and work himself into a tizzy.

“Even the Hulk’s worried about you. I know you two haven’t met yet but he…it’s weird he genuinely seems to like you. I felt it at the park, he wanted to meet you really badly. I don’t understand that at all but he’s worried that you won’t ever wake up.”

Well that was terribly sweet of the hulk wasn’t it? Holly relaxed as she imagined what it would be like to spend time with a person best known for smashing and not much else. She wondered if the Hulk would like building things with legos and then kicking them down again.  Her imaginations and Bruce’s voice lulled her back into darkness, she’d already forgotten the fact that there was press conference going on about her in front of Avengers Tower.

The next time she woke it was too someone apologizing to her and explaining that everything was going to be fine. Her mind stiffened up at the worry she heard in the voice and she wanted to scream at them to get on with it and tell her what the bloody hell had happened. It occurred to her as no explanation came forth that maybe they already had before she woke up.

“I promise we’ll keep you safe until you wake up. You don’t need to worry about what they’ll do to you. Thor thinks they’ve retreated off planet anyway.” Steve said. “We should have been smarter about it but we weren’t.”

Who has retreated off planet? Why does she need protection? Is anyone hurt? Steve didn’t give her any of those answers and just kept telling her that she was safe. As if she gave a bloody damn about her own safety at a time like this. She swore that Steve was going to get a very stern talking to once she managed to get her magic back in working order. She fought against unconsciousness but the harder she fought the harder it pulled her back in.

The last thing she knew was Steve saying the words ‘I’m sorry Holly’ once again.

When she resurfaced the first thing she noticed was her worry about whatever Steve had been speaking of. The second thing she noticed was the sound of Mario Kart playing in the background. The third thing she noticed was that someone was sitting on her legs.

Clint

Occasionally Clint would poke her somewhere on the leg, stomach or arm. Sharp enough to be annoying but not to hurt. It was fifteen minutes of this annoying and childish behavior before she heard Clint huff.

“I was sure that would work! My kids never sleep through it!”

His daughter certainly would if she ever exhausted herself as much as Holly had.

“I mean come on Holly, how long are you going to keep doing this for? Jarvis how long has she been out?”

“We are reaching the 52nd hour sir.”

“Shouldn’t she be hungry or thirsty?”

“According to both Dr. Banner and Prince Odinson she will wake up feeling both but only when her magic is ready.” Jarvis said in a tone that both implied he was tired of waiting for her and tired of being asked these questions. “We have food and water ready for her when she does wake up.”

Poor Jarvis. Clint made an annoyed whine and then she heard the familiar noise of a blue shell hitting something. Probably Clint’s car in the game.

“How much magic does she have? I mean I felt it. I know it’s a lot, but it can’t take this long for her to recharge can it? Thor told us once that Loki slept for a full week after some heavy-duty spell casting and Loki’s a god! She can’t have as much magic as him…right?” Clint asked before poking Holly again in the stomach. “Wake up Holly! I have magic questions! You like answering those don’t you?”

Holly fell right back to sleep just to spite him.

Holly woke, truly woke up, with her body hers to control at 10:36 pm, more than two days after her fight against the Black Order. To be exact her fight with the Black Order had ended at exactly 12:34pm and it had been a total of 58 hours and two minutes since that point. Her magic buzzed under her skin teeming with energy and zapping in the air making it sparkle. She sat up immediately upon waking, her now terribly short hair sticking up in more directions than she thought possible.

“Ugh.”

Her mouth tasted like dirty socks and morning breath and her body felt very sore.

“Miss!” Jarvis said in delight. “You are awake.”

“Oh Jarvis.” Holly said. “What…what time is it?”

Jarvis told her, listing out a lot of other useful information as well. Things like what day it was and that he was telling the Avengers she was awake. They were all so very worried about her.

“I’m sorry.” Holly said looking up at a nearby camera. “I thought I said I’d sleep a long time.”

“You did Miss we just…were concerned the longer it went on. Besides, plenty has happened in the last 58 hours.”

“Like what?”

“SHIELD has attempted to break into the tower three times to question you. Each break in was foiled by Miss Romanoff and myself. Not only that but the team was forced to hold a press conference explaining who you were to the world. Someone recognized you from the records of the fight and leaked your identity. Then the two survivors of the Black Order, the man and the woman you did not kill but merely knocked unconscious, escaped from their holding cell to places unknown.”

“Well shit. Anything else you want to tell me?” Holly said swinging her legs out from under the many blankets she was under. She forced herself to stand ignoring the pained muscles in her body and stretched them out as she did so. Her stomach growled very loudly into the empty room.

“There is food in the kitchen waiting for you.”

“I love you so much Jarvis.” Holly said before teleporting the short distance to the kitchen to start scrounging for food. She reached out and grabbed the nearest thing on the counter, a protein bar. The wrapping shredded itself open without her even whispering a spell and she shoved it into her mouth.

Behind her she heard the elevator ding and she wasn’t surprised to hear Thor call out for her. She yelled back, her mouth still mostly full of granola. The Avengers all rushed to the kitchen to see her hunched over the counter like a goblin grabbing as much food as she could to stuff into her mouth, her cheeks were inflated like a meth-ed up squirrel.

“Sup.” She said looking up at the team, her mouth mostly full.

Chapter Text

“Okay, you’ve got to level with me. Thor in a wedding dress, truth or fiction?”

“What?” Loki croaked.

The voice came from his left and it was familiar in the same way that a gnat buzzing around one’s ear was familiar. Which is to say annoying and something Loki had the almost instinctive urge to swat at. Unfortunately, Loki’s limbs were a bit too lethargic to allow him to swat at anything. Loki’s entire body was complaining very loudly at him about his actions and he had that terribly familiar ache in his body that let him know he had overdone it.

“Thor’s wedding? You know, some old giant creep or something stole Mjolnir and ransomed it for the hand of some goddess? And then you came up with a ruse that ended with Thor in a wedding dress? Is that ringing any bells?”

The voice was becoming more familiar to Loki as his body woke up further. He knew that there were some magic users that upon waking up after sleeping for multiple days to recover from magical exhaustion tended to…sparkle. They’d hop around like drugged up creatures pawing for food and literally making the air shimmer with their newly returned magic. Loki wasn’t like that at all. He was far more graceful. Loki was the kind to wake slowly, with intent.

In this case the intent was to get whomever was talking to go away.

“I asked Thor about it of course but he told me it was ridiculous and made up. He acted really shifty though so I’m not convinced he was telling the truth.”

“Ralston would you please shut up?”

Silence. Loki sighed in relief and worked on slowly opening his eyes. He expected to see Ralston sitting next to him. The man would probably be wearing some ridiculous tunic with a new treatise on transfiguration in his lap. Ralston would also probably look wrecked and over-worried like he did whenever Loki got hurt. Sometimes Ralston would keep himself from sleeping if Loki was injured, there would probably be bags under his friend’s eyes.

What met his eyes when Loki opened them was not the sight his mind had conjured up.

Instead of the wonderful and welcome sight of his best friend, no matter how disheveled the man would probably look, there was what appeared to be a rabid magic user sitting in a large comfortable chair next to his bed. The magic user had hair that had been cut by what appeared to be a toddler. Every strand a different and yet still unappealing length, combined with that it curled and stuck up everywhere. They were wearing a shirt that looked like it was made for someone four times their size and they had an electronic tablet balanced on one knee while their entire lap was full of food.

“You.” Loki seethed at the Ralston look-a-like.

“Oh, so you remember me then?” The magic user asked, using Ralston’s face. “That makes things easier. So tell me, Thor’s wedding, spill the tea as the youth are saying.”

“I don’t know what realm you’ve come from or where you found that face but you had best run as fast and as far as you can, because if you are still here in the next five minutes there will be blood spilt.”

“Woah!” The Magic-User-That-Was-Not-Ralston said, lifting up her hands as if to pre-defend against an attack that wouldn’t be happening for a few minutes more. “Calm down, I’m not here to hurt you.”

“No I am here to hurt you and I will if you don’t get rid of that face and get off this planet.”   

How dare this upstart, whoever they were, even toy with the idea of wearing Ralston’s face as a glamor? Did they think that would soften him? Did they believe they could trick him with such a guise? No. Loki would burn them, he would burn every bit of them for the gall of this one act.

“Get rid of my face?” They asked sounding very bewildered.

“That is not your face you sniveling little pustule.” Loki snarled. “You’ve stolen it from someone you’re not even worthy to lick the boot of.”

“Look, buddy…”

“I am not your buddy you face stealing liar. Get out before I skin that face off of you!” Loki managed to lift up one arm and send a green fiery spell right at the magic user.

They immediately cast a shield blocking the spell while yelling at him that he needed to calm down or else someone else was going to come in here and that was the last thing he wanted. What Loki wanted was to kill this bastard for wearing Ralston’s face, for talking like him, for forgiving him in Ralston’s stead. He wanted to make them bleed.

His body still wasn’t as cooperative as it normally was and so Loki settled for casting as many spells at that monster in the room with him as he could.

“How dare you take his face!” Loki screeched as the magic user retreated with surprising agility.

“I haven’t taken anyone’s face!”

“I’ll kill you for this!” Loki promised. The magic user was escaping towards the door, blocking his spells and yelling back at him that he was acting insane.

“Fine! Fine I’m leaving.” She shouted, finally at the door. The woman wrenched open the door and stepped so that it was acting as a shield between them. She shouted out her last parting words. “There’s some food on the table!”

Food?

The door slammed shut and Loki felt magic take hold that promised it wouldn’t be opening from his end for some time. Locked inside. Excellent. Just what Loki had always wanted. How ever did they know that it had always been his dream to be a prisoner once again? He fell against the bed for a moment before slightly tilting his head. On his other side there was a table filled with warm steaming food. Perfect for a magic user just coming out of a coma.

Loki ignored the kindness from the face stealer.

He was a prisoner and that face was a trap. It could be nothing else. The face stealer had objects of great power, objects associated with Death Herself, and they stole faces. There was no way they’d been up to any good. Even if they claimed to be a cleaning lady, even if they’d said they were there to help the Avengers. Loki knew it was all lies. Lies and slander. Thor was probably far over his head believing whatever shit that magic-user was spouting. Not that Loki cared if his bro- if Thor was in trouble.

That wasn’t his concern and it never would be. Loki was smarter than Thor, always had been. The only thing that mattered was that he wasn’t going to be tricked. Whomever had trapped him wouldn’t get anything out of him and when they came back he’d make them pay for wearing Ralston’s face.

He ignored the pain that rushed through him. He had begged that face for forgiveness. Had pleaded for understanding and empathy from a falsehood. He had been deceived again and something in him ached. Would he never learn to stop hoping? Loki curled up as best as his tired body would allow and forced himself not to cry. Crying in this place, as a prisoner, would do no one any good.

About an hour after waking Loki found himself fully in control of his body and ravenous. He checked over the food with a myriad of spells and found it to be exactly what it appeared.

You should eat. Ralston’s voice whispered. The girl didn’t mean any harm.

Loki knew it was just his mind conjuring up what it thought Loki wanted to hear. Ralston was dead, had been dead for far too long to be whispering in Loki’s ear. But it comforted him anyway. Loki felt a swell of self-revulsion at how much comfort he felt from the fake voice. He picked up a roll and bit into without argument and he heard Ralston tell him that he was doing just fine. How pathetic. Loki didn’t need encouragement from a fake voice. He didn’t.

You’re going to be just fine, my friend. Have I ever led you wrong?

It took another hour to get through all of the food on the table, there had been an awful lot of it. When that happened Loki grew bored and when Loki got bored he grew resentful. At first he tried to escape, teleportation didn’t work and neither did his attempts at ward breaking. He grew very upset by that fact, and by the lack of stimulation. If they were going to torture him perhaps they should get on with it already!

Ralston told him to stop being so dramatic.

Loki told himself to stop listening to fake voices in his head.

In the end neither piece of advice was obeyed.

Loki prowled the length of the small room he was in. There was a door off to the far side that revealed a small bathroom, just large enough to contain a toilet, a small sink, and a shower that had a chair in it. Why a shower had a chair in it Loki couldn’t fathom. There was nothing in the bathroom that could be used to harm anyone, nothing that could be fashioned into a weapon, nor was there any means of escape.

The main room contained a bed, the magically conjured table and chair from the face stealer, and a window. The window looked out into nothing real, an enchantment had been placed on it to show a clear blue sky that blanketed a picturesque forest. On the surface it was another fake kindness from the face-stealer, an attempt to keep him from panicking about being trapped with enemies. Loki hated it. Hated not knowing where he was.

He tried breaking the window but the magic keeping him stuck, kept the thing from breaking no matter how much he banged on it. He kept hitting and hitting and hitting, growling and yelling at the world to just let him go already.

Loki stop, you’re hurting yourself.

Ralston’s voice had that begging quality to it that made Loki pause. He hated that tone, it tugged on whatever was left of his heart. His hands, now bloody and bruised, lightly touched the window leaving prints of blood on it. The blood dripped in little lines down the glass, a few drops landing on the floor. Loki swallowed. Fine, Ralston. He waved a hand banishing the blood and used a few healing spells to fix the damage with no one the wiser.  

Loki settled onto the bed again. There was nothing for him to do but sit there. He couldn’t summon anything into the room which meant he wasn’t even allowed the entertainment of books. He was certain he was under some sort of observation but he didn’t give his captor the pleasure of knowing he was bored. So Loki sat there and he glared at the exit, willing it to open.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The door opened just slightly, and a head stuck inside the room just a little. It was the face stealer. She looked exactly as she had before making Loki wonder how long he’d truly been inside that room. The woman hadn’t even bothered to change out of the too large clothing. Not to mention the hair.

Loki ignored Ralston when he pointed out that her hair looked like that because she’d managed what would likely go down in history as one of the greatest feats of transfiguration of all time. Ralston had always had such a love for transfiguration the hair-to-snake spell would have sent him into hysterical awe.

“I thought I told you to leave.” He snarled.

“You did.” She agreed. “And now I’m back.”

“If you’re trying to trick me with that face, you’ll find that you won’t succeed. The last people who tried ended up paying for it.” A lie but this face stealer didn’t need to know that.

“I’m not trying to trick you. Honestly! This is my face!” She stepped inside the room, the door swinging shut behind her. “Has it not occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, me looking like whoever this Ralph person-”

“Ralston.” Loki snarled. “His name is Ralston.”

“Ralston.” She repeated carefully. “Well I don’t know who that is and me looking like him is nothing, I swear. You can check me over for glamors or shapeshifting or anything, if you really don’t believe me.”

Loki’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as he stared at the woman. She really did look like Ralston in almost every way. She stood there as he stared at her from his position on the bed. The longer he looked the more differences he found between her and Ralston. Her cheeks were slightly more defined, her lips slightly fuller, her shoulders less broad and her muscles had slightly less bulge. The similarities still outshone the differences by a mile but Loki was beginning to suspect he’d overreacted.

“You’d let me cast a spell on you?” He asked, disbelief coloring his voice.

“I have a feeling you’re not going to work with me at all until we get over this face issue.” She said seriously. “If this is what it takes to get you to trust me, then fine. Cast away.”

He lifted a hand and the woman didn’t even flinch. Wordlessly he cast a spell that would remove glamors or other appearance changing magic. The spell went so deep it would even end a Polyjuice transformation. To Loki’s surprise the only change was that a few more scars popped up on the woman’s skin. A scar on the back of her hand as well as a few on her arms and neck. The rune shaped scar on her forehead also became redder and more distinct.

Oh.

“See?” She said. “Not a face stealer.”

“What are you doing here?” He asked forcing himself to keep his look of disdain and suspicion on his face. Just because she looked so much like his friend didn’t mean she wasn’t still his enemy.

“I’m here to talk to you.” She said. “I’ve got some more food too, I thought we could…have a discussion over dinner.”

“Not interested.”

“In the food or the discussion?”

He glared at her, daring her to get violent, to start a fight. That’s what Loki needed right then, an excuse to turn into the rabid monster he truly was.

“I assume I cannot have one without the other so I will have to decline both.”

“Really?” She said.

“I would rather starve than have anything to do with you.”

She flicked her wrist producing the Death Stick from wherever she’d been magically hiding it. Loki flinched against his better judgement but she didn’t notice. She was focused on casting a spell. More food appeared on the table. He looked at the food and then back at her with something like disbelief.

“Sorry, no starving today.” She said. “Against company policy and all that.”

“Your kindness means nothing to me.” He snarled. “I’ll never tell you anything, you won’t trick me.”

She looked at him, something tired in her too familiar green eyes.

“Not everything is a trick you know.”

Then she left.

It took Loki an hour to give up and eat the food. When he did he found that the empty plates turned themselves into books. Human books, fictional stories of all things, but books nonetheless. Loki picked up the first one, titled ‘The Hobbit’, and began to carefully read. The books had been left, likely as a way to soften him and lower his guard. Loki wouldn’t fall for such a trap but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make his captors believe he had. He read until the lights in the room dimmed and the sun had set in his enchanted window. He only stopped when Ralston suggested that he get some sleep.

The next morning he woke up and found that there was a set of clothing, human in style, sitting on the table along with some toiletries. The message was clear if unspoken. Loki used the too small shower grumbling to himself that he was only doing this because he wanted to. He wasn’t going to be deceived and he wasn’t going to trust that Not-Actually-A-Face-Stealer. Ralston told him to stop lying to himself.

When he emerged from the bathroom, clean and dressed in the comfortable clothing he wasn’t surprised to find the magic user sitting there and waiting for him. She’d done some redecorating while he’d bathed. The bed had been moved to the side of the room to make more space. The table was now larger and had two comfortable chairs on either side of it. There was also now a small bookshelf filled with more than just the four books that had been given to him last night.

The woman was no longer wearing the too large clothing, instead she was wearing a slightly baggy sweater with the letter ‘H’ in the center along with some jeans.

“You know.” She said, looking up at him. “I made a few calls last night.”

“I don’t see why I should care.” Loki snapped, she ignored his rude tone.

“I had to call one of my best friends and trust me did she chew me out, not only for that stunt I pulled in Central Park but for calling her to ask questions with such obvious answers.” She said. “Trust me, you’re lucky you weren’t there for her 15-minute lecture about paying attention in history class.”

“If you are going to begin torturing me by babbling I have to tell you that you ought to at least try to talk about something less stupid.”

She gave him a look and then motioned for him to sit down. The table was filled with breakfast food, bacon and waffles and eggs. It was still steaming and it smelt nearly divine. Loki stood stock still.

“I asked her if the name Ralston sounded familiar and she called me an idiot.” She said. “Apparently everyone in the world but me knows who that is.”

“Don’t.” Loki snarled. “Don’t speak his name.”

“We are talking about Ralston Potter, right?” She asked. “Born over 400 years ago?”

“If you value your head being attached to your neck then I suggest you leave.”

“Aren’t you curious to know what happened to him?” He couldn’t believe her impertinence!

“I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM!” Loki roared. He stalked forward, his magic sparking and burning in his hands. “HE DIED! RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! HE DIED AND I FAILED TO SAVE HIM!”

She jumped up from her chair just in time to dodge Loki grabbing the table and flipping it to the side.

“You don’t get to talk about him!”

“I can talk about him however I want!” She shouted brandishing her wand.

“You impertinent little worm.” Loki snarled sending a wave of pure magical fire right at the woman.

“Listen to me you arrogant asshole!” She snarled. “I’m trying to tell you about Ralston.”

“I will cut out your tongue if you speak his name again!” Loki rushed at the woman, a stupid thing since he knew what she was capable of. Despite her evident rage and frustration with him, she showed a minimal amount of mercy by only blasting him into the wall hard enough to bruise instead of hard enough to break bones. The drywall transfigured itself into bands of metal that looked suspiciously like Uru, trapping him there.

“Fine!” She shouted. “Fine! I won’t speak his name! But I will speak mine!”

Loki tried to use enough magic to banish her transfigurations, but her spells held strong. He put all of his godly strength against the bonds and felt them start to bend.

“I am Lady Holly Gemma Potter.” She spat. “Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter and the last of my line.”

Loki froze. Standing in front of him wasn’t Ralston, it wasn’t a face-stealer. It was his friend’s descendant. He made a shocked pained noise but she didn’t seem to care.

“And apparently!” She shouted. “My ancestor, Who-Shall-Remain-Bloody-Nameless, was your best friend and spent the rest of his life doing everything in his power to make sure that when you finally returned to this planet there’d be someone around waiting for your ungrateful, condescending ass! Fat lot of good it did him because no one in their right mind would want anything to do with you!”

Her sharp tone dug into his very heart, burrowing into already existent wounds and reopening old scars. She left then telling him ‘Good Riddance’ and that ‘This is the last time I bother with you!’ and ‘Threatening to cut my tongue out! After everything I’ve done! The nerve!’. The Uru bars holding him to the wall melted away back into drywall when the door slammed shut.

Loki fell to his knees and looked at the mess he’d created. The plates of breakfast foods had been smashed and the food was smeared across the floor. One of the table legs had broken off. He looked down at his hands and then let his eyes close shut.

“Oh Ralston, what have I done?”

The woman, Holly, was right. Loki wasn’t worth the effort or the time. He looked around the room again and saw the truth for what it was. The bed was soft and comfortable, the lights warm, and the room was safe. She’d given him food and books and kept coming back to try and offer him help. It wasn’t a deception, it was the last remnants of the person who’d loved him best reaching out only to be slapped away time and time again.

He didn’t know how Ralston had survived, or if it had only been one of his children. He didn’t know anything, and he didn’t deserve to know. He couldn’t even remain calm and polite enough to talk to the one person who could tell him for more than a minute. Loki ignored the voice in his head telling him that it was going to be fine. It wasn’t. Loki had been cruel to Ralston’s descendant of all people! It wasn’t Ralston but it was good as and he’d called them names and attacked them!

He should just rot.

Loki stewed there within the mess he’d created for close to thirty minutes, almost on the verge of tears for a majority of that time. He didn’t hear the door click open again, he did however hear Holly.

“Look.” She said. “I’m sorry, I might have been a little harsh this morning. But I’ve just got so much on my plate you know? Thor’s acting like the world’s most annoying shoulder monkey trying to get me to update him on you as if I know anything at all. Not to mention the sheer amount of work Tony and Steve gave me with that awful press conference they did and…Loki?”

Loki had looked up at the woman in awe, she was here. It wasn’t a hallucination. She was looking at him now, concerned of all things.

“You came back?”

“I…well of course I came back.” She said.

“Why?” She looked at him for a moment longer before sighing and running a hand through her short hair.

“Look. How about we start over?” She suggested. “Let’s pretend the last 12 hours haven’t happened and we’re just meeting now. How does that sound?”

“Uhm…alright.” Loki said forcing his body into a standing position. “I’m…My name is Loki.”

“I’m Holly Potter.” She said moving right in front of him and holding out a hand. He took it and they shook hands very lightly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. How are you feeling? Has your chest wound healed up?”

“I…yes it has. I feel just fine.” Loki said letting his hand drop back to his side. “I assume I have you to thank?”

“Well I was the one who called the healer.” She said. “I’m afraid I didn’t do the actual healing though, a bit too magically exhausted for that.”

“A…a healer?” Loki asked. “What realm am I on now?”

“Still on earth.” She said. “I think, yes I have something to give you.”

“Give me?”

She reached into her back pocket and removed a small leather bound book. She held it out to him.

“This Ralston’s journal.” She said. “It’s what he wrote about you and…and well everything. This is the truth, without any magical nonsense to blur it. This is truly what happened to him and I think you ought to read it instead of hearing it from me. Some of the entries in there are written directly to you.”

With shaking hands Loki took the journal, it felt far too heavy for its size. He looked at the brown and slightly cracked leather with disbelief. Carefully he opened it up and choked. There, right there on the page was Ralston’s handwriting, just as Loki remembered it. His fingers traced the letters as tears gathered in his eyes.

“I’ll leave you.” She said. “Call for me when you’re ready to talk okay?”

He made no noise to show that he had heard her. His eyes were far too focused on the journal. He didn’t notice that she cleaned up the mess of food and broken plates or that she put the table back together. He didn’t register anything that wasn’t the words on the page written by his friend so long ago.   

I first met Loki when I was 15, a young student at Hogwarts, and rather lonely. I imagine it is hard to imagine that I wasn’t always as famous and popular as I am now. But it’s true. In my youth I was a rather lonesome young man. My parents, neither of whom had been very talented at magical self-defense, had been killed in a witch hunt when I was a mere babe and I had been thrust into the care of the village church. All of the town remembered what my parents were, and I spent much of my time being ostracized or examined for proof of devilry.

Loki read for hours. Eventually he moved to one of the chairs but he couldn’t remember when. His entire mind was focused solely on the words his friend had penned. Even the entries that weren’t directly targeted to him were filled with little hints and clues as to how Ralston felt and how Ralston wanted Loki to feel.

Loki’s memories of spells that would have saved Ralston and Amaryllis, they hadn’t been the made up visions of a grieving mind. It had been real and it had worked. The magical world he’d thought a mere fantasy, was real, a place he’d made. Even if Loki couldn’t remember he knew that this was Ralston’s handwriting, no one could forge his words so perfectly, not even Loki could have done it. Ralston had lived, he had more children and grand children and he’d been happy, a hero till the end of his days.

The words on the page screamed one thing and one thing alone. It promised the things he’d never dared to hope he could have again.

Loki, you do not need this but you will want to hear it anyway. I forgive you for never coming back. I know if you could be here you would be. You would never have willingly abandoned me. I know you have given everything up for my safety and for the safety of our world. If you have died, then I will soon join you on the other side and I hope you have waited for me. If you live, then know that I will wait for you. If Death be willing I will do more than just wait, I will stand at the crossroads between life and death and I will reach for you. You are my brother, my friend and no matter what I will never abandon you.

When you read these words, know that if I have been gone for a long time, then my descendants will act in my stead. The Potters will always be your family and what’s more they will always be defenders of the world you created. This I so swear. I know that the fates can be cruel but I also know that nothing will keep us apart forever. Not time, not death, and certainly not Odin.

Your brother, forever.

Ralston

Loki had to put the book aside before his tears landed on the old parchment and damaged it.  He gently placed the journal on the table and lifted his hands up to his face. He cried then, his shoulders shaking and his soul quivering. The tears that escaped from beneath his hands were cleansing, divine. He could practically feel it, Ralston reaching for him, telling him it would be well. He could feel redemption.

And it felt like flying.

Eventually the tears stopped, and Loki was able to compose himself. He made sure a glamor covered up the red eyes and tear tracks and then he called for Holly. She didn’t keep him waiting long. The door to his room opened within minutes and Holly peeked in looking hopeful and wary all at once.

“Loki?”

“Holly.” Loki said. “Thank you for the journal.”

“Course.” She said stepping inside. “A good read, I hope?”

“The best.”

“Good.” She said. “Did you need anything?”

“I…” Loki trailed off unsure of even what to say. He felt as if there was so much he had to get off his chest. So many questions about the state of his magical world he needed to ask. Holly looked at him expectantly and he felt something in himself solidify. “Thor really did wear a wedding dress.”

“Really?” She squeaked happily. “You’re not messing with me?”

“And ruin a chance to bother Thor? Never.”

“Tell me everything.”

And Loki did, telling the whole story from beginning to very embarrassing end. Holly laughed, delighted by the whole thing. She had taken a seat at the table very early on and listened to every word from his mouth as if it were gospel. When he finished she clapped her hands together.

“That it absolutely brilliant.” She said her hands clasped in front of her face. “Truly brilliant.”

“Why did you, at the park, you played music didn’t you?”

“I did yes.” She said.

“Why?”

“Because it was awesome.” She said as if it were simple. “I mean really, you saw that right?”

Loki had to admit that the music had added a certain level of esteem to the already quite fearsome fight. It was just the right level of drama for Loki to truly appreciate it.

“And the Hallows? Fake I presume?”

“Oh no, those’re real.”

“What!?”

“Oh, don’t get it all twisted. The hallows are real but I’m not the Master of Death so far as I know. I’m still mortal, still human.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I.” She said shrugging. “But taking control of all three hallows didn’t make me immortal or all powerful. Not that I would’ve wanted that, mind you. I’ve owned these things for over a decade now and I’m powerful but still well within normal human expectations.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone, human or god, manage a transfiguration that huge.” Loki pointed out.

“I figured out a trick to lessen the amount of energy each snake required.” She told him with a sly smirk on her lips.

“A trick.”

She grinned and leaned forward.

“I came up with the snake hair idea like…ages ago. I knew if I tried it outright I’d kill myself from magical strain.” She said. “So I started prepping the spell way in advance. About five years ago I started imbuing magical energy into my hair through my shampoo.”

“What?”

“I enchanted my shampoo so that it’d put some magical energy into my hair. Every time I cleaned it up just a little more magic was stored inside.” She explained. “Now hair can’t actually hold that much energy…”

“But even just a little in each meant you’d only need what…half the amount of energy for a normal transfiguration for each strand?” He guessed making her nod. “That’s…brilliant!”

“Thank you.” She said. “Don’t tell anyone how I did it either, most people think I just did it, no trick required.”

“You have my word.” Loki said. “I have to ask, was it worth it? Five years of preparation for just one spell?”

“Oh hell yeah.”

Her sureness created giggles that escaped his mouth like bubbles. She started laughing too, excited to share her secret of success.

“Why did you tell me you were the Avengers’ cleaning lady?”

“Because I am.” She said.

“But… Why would you be here instead of the magical world?” Loki said. “Ralston’s journal said that it was safe and strong and-”

“It is.” She said. “Don’t worry about the magical world, not even your invasion did it much damage, your magical protections ensured that. I might be…technically in hiding from the magical world.”

“I’m sensing there is a story here.” She sighed, looked up to the ceiling, and then shrugged a little.

“Yeah alright. Settle in oh god of magic because we’re going to be here awhile. It all started with a prophecy.”

Loki listened in something like awe as the woman across from him bore her soul, her entire past as it related to the modern politics of the world Loki had created. A war over magical blood purity? What nonsense! What total and complete nonsense! The whole point of Loki’s realm had been so that all those gifted with magic would be free. Where did this Voldemort fellow get off thinking he could decide who did and didn’t belong? An entire war over something so pointless, an entire war that would have destroyed Loki’s greatest creation. Voldemort was quite lucky he hadn’t had to deal with Loki.

Although, thinking back to the sort of fight Holly put up against the Black Order perhaps Voldemort had been unlucky to be paired up against her.

Holly told him of being a child soldier, of an entire generation of magic users (her parents included) being decimated by a war that went on for 50 years. She spoke of that final battle, of how Voldemort had attempted to mimic the immortality of a god, and of dedicating the next decade of her life purging his fascist influence from the world. She had become a hero in every sense of the word, someone with far more honor and decency than perhaps anyone Loki knew.

“After it was done I realized I…I felt very empty, purposeless.” She admitted.

“You know.” Loki said. “After Ralston got his masters in transfigurations and started working he had a crisis. He didn’t know what he wanted to be anymore, he dragged me all around the globe looking for his dream, for his purpose.”

“And did he find it?” She asked.

“Eventually.” Loki said smiling fondly. Holly and Ralston had far too much in common. Both orphaned, both far too kind and too good. Both obsessed with becoming something greater unaware that they had already achieved greatness. “He became the hero of his generation, a defender for all magic users, great and small.”

“And I became a cleaning lady.” She finished. “It was supposed to be a temporary thing, you see I was just doing it until I found whatever it was that was suppose to fill me with purpose.”

“And have you found it?” Loki asked.

“I have.” She said simply, her voice getting slightly choked. “I truly have. Thor and the other Avengers helped.”

“Did they?”

“They gave me a choice. The Magical World for all its power didn’t give me that. I was their hero and nothing more. But the Avengers? They told me that they didn’t need me or my power and that I was free to be anything and everything I wanted. It was freeing.”

“And you choose to return to the life you knew, to fight against the Black Order?”

“It’s what felt right. Something in me just…knew that I should be there.” She said. “Although I hardly expected to see you there.”

“Well, yes.” Loki said. “It wasn’t like I planned on it either, something spoke to me.”

She lifted up an eyebrow at him and Loki knew he had procrastinated enough. It was time for the god of lies to tell the truth. He found looking at the woman, Holly, who was so similar to Ralston that it warmed him to his center, that talking was simple. He could tell her. She would understand. She would forgive in the way Ralston always did.

“The magical world may have had the truth but I didn’t. Something, and I do not know what, went wrong when I left earth to seal the wards in each realm. I don’t remember doing that, what I remember is watching Ralston being killed right in front of me and…and waking up outside of Asgard.” Loki told her.

“We might be able to figure that out.” She said. “Maybe a good mind healer might be able to undo the spells in your mind, if you’re willing.”

“I am. I’d…I’d like to replace my last memory of Ralston with something real.” Loki said looking down at the journal in his hands. “But first, I should tell you what I’ve done the last 400 years.”

“What did you do?” She asked gently.

“I fell.”

Chapter Text

Nick Fury wasn’t the sort of man to be intimidated by anything or anyone. Even back in the day when he was a young agent and he’d been fighting against shapeshifting aliens with an amnesiac superhero, Fury liked to claim he was cool under pressure. The idea that he was so cool under pressure because he always had a pager on him that would allow him to call said amnesiac superhero was something that was left unspoken. No one but him knew about the pager and that would stay his own little secret. After all, what good was the ultimate Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card if everyone knew he had it?

However. Even Nick had to admit that the last few days had been nothing but stressful as hell.

First his team, his personally picked and specially designed team, had gone out to fight four unknown aliens. This team, which consisted of a god, a super-soldier, a hulk, a genius, and two highly trained assassins, got their asses handed to them like their asses were parts of a Sunday dinner. That team, the team that Fury had claimed was Earth’s best and last line of defense, failed against four aliens that looked like they belonged on the set of Star Trek.

Which was stressful, to say the least.

Then just as Fury was desperately trying to convince the World Security Council that no, nuclear weapons were not an option and would never be an option, Loki showed up! Yes, that’s right. That guy. The guy with issues so bad that they made Stark look totally well adjusted. The guy who threw tantrums in major cities every other month because his Daddy didn’t hug him enough.

Part of Fury was relieved to see him because it seemed like Loki had beef with the four other aliens. If they were lucky Loki would kill those four and then succumb to his wounds from the fight and die too. Wouldn’t that be something? Two birds, one stone! Of course, Fury was never that lucky. Within 30 seconds Loki got his ass handed to him on a plate too. Although unlike the Avengers the four aliens seemed ready to torture Loki for standing up to them.

Fury ignored the audio he got from the fight, Loki could be lying about the torture and about the invasion. He was the god of lies! Still his left hand reached down into his pocket and his fingers curled around the old piece of plastic from the 90’s.

He missed the 90’s. It was better, simpler time.

So just as Fury thought he was going to watch his greatest annoyance be tortured by four of his newest causes of early onset heart failure, someone else showed up.

“Now who in the hell is that?”

“It looks like…the cleaning lady sir.”

“The cleaning lady?” Fury asked looking over at Hill.

“Yes, Holly Potter. She’s worked as the cleaning lady for the Avengers for the past few months. We did a full background check but it didn’t turn anything up.”

The so-called cleaning lady then changed from a nice dress into some sort of armor and started spewing magic everywhere. Fury’s jaw clenched.

“I want to know who the fuck signed off on that background check.”

“That would be Agent Romanoff and Barton sir.”

Well shit.

Potter ended up dishing out the ass kicking to the four aliens like it was something she did every day. She killed two of them, one in a swarm of magically created snakes and the other via her very shiny sword that had come out of nowhere. Watching her fight from their surveillance equipment, listening to the music she’d had Jarvis play for her…well it reminded Nick of Carol in all the wrong ways.

Too powerful, too quick, and too unknown.

When the fight ended Nick ordered his agents forward hoping to catch Potter before she disappeared, Loki was spiked to a tree so he should have been an easy pick-up. Easy. Right. Potter used some sort of spell to transport not just her, but Loki and all of the Avengers to places unknown moments before SHIELD agents got to the area. Romanoff and Barton sent him separate messages asking him to lock up the two living aliens for interrogation, as if he wasn’t going to do that anyway, but gave him no information about what the hell was going on.

 The next few days were nothing short of hellish for Nick. He had his own agents stonewalling him at every turn. Any attempts he made to gather intel or gain access to Potter were halted with the vicious sort of zeal that Nick had only seen Romanoff use when someone put Barton in danger. Jarvis was even pettier, whenever they tried to hack into him he parried and then hacked into SHIELD just because he could.

Then the two aliens, who had been unconscious under what Nick assumed was some sort of spell, woke up. It shouldn’t have been a problem if they were awake. Nick had placed them in their strongest cells, the kind that would even hold the Hulk. Nick had been alerted by their security that the aliens were awake and then fifteen seconds later he was told that they’d disappeared.

Teleportation devices.

Of fucking course!

Sharing that news with the Council and the Avengers was about as pleasant as he imagined. Which is to say, he would’ve rather had his other eye dug out by Goose. Nick hadn’t appreciated Stark’s question about the press. As if Nick would release information to the media. He was the head of a spy organization, that was the opposite of what he did. Whoever told the press about Holly’s identity hadn’t done it on his order that was for damn sure.

So now here he was, standing outside Avengers Tower, a team of superheroes and two aliens short. He wanted to suspect that Potter had placed the Avengers under some sort of mind control but something in him made him suspicious of that. Maybe it was the memory of Carol, maybe it was the fact that so far he’d only dealt with one other magic user and he knew it wasn’t smart to act on prejudice when one could potentially make an ally instead.

Either way the entire situation was fishy.

“Romanoff.” Nick said into his phone. “I need answers.”

Silence on the other end of the line, despite Nick knowing damn well the woman had heard him. Nick’s jaw clenched so hard his teeth hurt and he had to keep himself from ordering a drone strike on the tower in front of him.

“Holly’s willing to talk.” Romanoff said. “Come on up to the penthouse.”

“If this a trap, Romanoff, I swear to g-”

“It’s not.” She said seriously. “I swear on Coulson that it’s not.”

Damn. Alright then. Fury hung up his phone and was finally able to walk inside the tower. No one stopped him and not even the AI made any snarky comments when he got into the elevator. It just took him straight up the 93 floors to the very top.  Nick honestly wasn’t sure what he expected to see when he stepped out of that elevator. Rogers and Stark fighting like two idiots. Banner trying to remain calm in the face of the stress of having an unknown magic user wandering around. Thor being way too positive for the situation at hand. Hell even Barton and Romanoff waiting at the elevator to act as guards would’ve been more probable than what he saw.

Because the penthouse had been absolutely transformed. Instead of the open floor plan with couches that looked fancy but weren’t very comfortable there were large, comfortable, plushy chairs all settled around the room. The chairs were piled high with soft blankets and fuzzy pillows, not to mention the copious amount of snacks that were littered around the room. Stark’s gigantic wall sized TV was playing…was that g-ddamn Mario Kart? It was! Romanoff, Potter, Rogers, and Stark were all playing Mario Kart while the three other Avengers cheered them on.

Fury stood there watching in horror as Potter launched a red shell directly at Stark’s car and then sped by him into first place while Thor cheered.

This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be real. It shouldn’t be real.   

Loki, g-ddamn Loki, was sitting on one of the comfortable chairs an old book in his lap and a cup of tea in his hand. None of the Avengers were attacking him like they should have fucking been and Loki wasn’t attacking any of them. It didn’t make any damn sense.

“What the hell is going on here?” Fury demanded, his voice cutting through the happy chatter in the room.

All of the Avengers froze up and turned to look at Fury like a bunch of children that had been caught doing mischief by their teacher. Loki stiffened and was now holding his body like a snake about to strike. Potter was the one who paused the game and looked at Fury without any hint of self-consciousness or fear. Once the game was paused she put down her controller and gave Fury a very frightening smile.

Frightening because Fury had only seen that smile on one other person in his entire life.

Carol Fucking Danvers.

“Hullo.” She greeted in a soft almost lilting accent. “I’m Holly Potter, you must be Director Fury. Natasha told me a bit about you.”

That was the voice, the body, the face, of a woman who could eat you for breakfast without even straining herself but wouldn’t because she had better things to be doing. A dragon who had a hoard the size of a continent and knew that one tiny knight wasn’t a match for her but was still willing to let them try. This was a nuclear bomb wrapped in a warm fuzzy sweater. The woman who was looking at Nick with a warm look on her face could make nations kneel and topple empires if given the correct motivation.

He remembered Carol destroying an entire armada of alien spaceships without gaining so much as a scratch and swallowed.

Alright Nick, you’ve done this once before, you can do it again. Befriending super powerful women so that they don’t destroy your planet is sort of the job you do best.

“Yes, Nicholas Fury.” He said. “Director of SHIELD. I have some questions for you ma’am, if you’d be willing to answer them.”

The woman’s green eyes sparkled from behind her glasses.

“Of course.” She said. “Come on in and get comfortable and I’ll do my best to answer.”

Which is how Nick Fury found himself sitting on a chair in a circle with the rest of the Avengers. Holly had gotten off her position on the floor to sit on the couch next to Loki. Loki had rearranged himself so that he was sitting in a way that practically plastered his body to Potter’s side. He was glaring at Nick with a ferocity that went well beyond the normal hatred their few interactions had had.

Loki’s eyes screamed threats to anyone who even got close to threatening Potter.

It certainly didn’t help that Thor sat on her other side and had the same sort of expression on his face, if slightly less murderous.

“So.” Potter said. “You had questions.”

She spoke like the woman who had two gods acting as her personal bodyguards and knew it. Nick did his best to speak like a man who knew that too.

“Right. I’m the Director of SHIELD, are you familiar with my organization?”

“A little.” She said. “I know that Nat and Clint work for you and that you were the one who brought all of the Avengers together. But I’m afraid I don’t know much more than that.”

“SHIELD was founded shortly after World War 2 as a response to Soviet Aggression, we are now a global intelligence operation with bases on every continent. Our purpose is to defend the world from threats of a…supernatural kind. So, aliens, mutants, and magic users.”

“I see.” She said. “And you want to know about what happened in Central Park right?”

“I do, you displayed abilities far beyond what we believe a human capable of.” Nick said because a little flattery never hurt a situation like this, even if it was a lie. He knew damn well what a human was capable of, Carol had made that clear if nothing else. “And SHIELD is concerned…”

“I don’t blame you.” She interrupted softly. “For being worried. I imagine my magic must have been very frightening, what with the snakes and fire dragons and everything. Especially since before this your only interaction with magic had been…less than pleasant.”

She patted Loki’s knee a few times in a way that was probably supposed to be calming but the god’s face still looked sour and put out at her delicate words about his entire life up until this point. Fury doubted anyone would describe their interactions with Loki as ‘pleasant’ and he made sure not to show that thought on his face.

“And I’m more than happy to tell you what you need to know to make sure you don’t see me as a threat to the world.” She said even though it was way too late for that. If she wasn’t a threat to the safety of any world she lived on Nick would eat his eyepatch. “If you can promise not to tell anyone else of course. The Avengers already know and they’ve agreed to a vow of secrecy, can I have the same promise from you?”

“Trust me Fury.” Stark said. “You’re going to want to hear this.”

Nick trusted Stark about as much as he could throw him while the man was wearing the Iron Man suit. But he was curious and he didn’t really see any other options. So he promised to keep it a secret.

Thirty minutes later Nick had a headache the size of Stark’s ego and his suspension of disbelief had been pulled like taffy.

An entire secret magical world. A world Loki had created to protect humans under attack. A world Loki, due to some grade A magical bullshit, no longer remembered creating.

Well fuck him sideways and into next week then.

“So, you’re from this secret magical world and while you were living there you were…”

“The magical version of the Avengers yes.” She finished. “For the last few years I’ve worked mostly solo fighting magical fascists, you know run of the mill sort of stuff.”

“Yeah totally normal.” Fury said, his voice only slightly strained. Damn Barton to hell for grinning at him. “And why exactly were you working as a cleaning lady?”

“Well there were no more fascists to fight and I…” She trailed off for a moment before speaking again. “I suppose I had a bit of a mid-life crisis.”

“A Mid-Life Crisis.”

“Yes. That’s what it was.” She said. “I spent all of my life up until that point dedicated to fighting evil and protecting innocent people and suddenly there were no more fights to fight and I felt very adrift. I moved to New York to try and find a new passion and ended up becoming a cleaning lady because when you remove all of my fighting skills I’m afraid I’m not qualified for much else. It was a coincidence that I ended up taking the job as a cleaning lady here.”

“And how did they find this all out?” Fury asked sending a heated look towards his two agents. This should have been something they told him months ago, heads would roll for this.

“Oh that would be Thor’s doing.” Potter said. “More specifically his hammer.”

Potter lifted up her hand and from the other side of the room Mjolnir came flying into her hand. Thor beamed happily while Loki’s mouth opened slightly in shock, Nick hated to admit that his face probably looked similar to Loki’s. That hammer was only supposed to move for people who were worthy. Worthy of what had never been very well defined but Nick had taken it to mean the hammer only moved for those who were worthy to be king of the gods. He might have to revise that notion.

“So yeah.” She said, handing the hammer to Thor. “Can’t pretend to be a normal cleaning lady if a magic hammer finds you worthy of great power. Things spiraled out from there and now we’re all friends.”

“Friends.”

Potter seemed more than happy to expound on that topic which is how Nick learnt about her magic-science experiments with Stark, her painting class with Rogers, her tutoring lessons for Barton’s daughter, Banner’s work with werewolves, and her knitting gifts.

She was even worse than Carol.

She was nice.

Not to say that Carol hadn’t been nice, but Carol had also been brainwashed by an imperialistic space empire so she could be a little harsh at times. Nick had preferred that. He didn’t know how to deal with someone who could kill him with a snap of their fingers but spent their free time knitting and learning how to paint. At least Carol had had a dark mysterious past filled with government coverups.

Nick needed to stop thinking about Carol.

He wasn’t going to work with someone like Carol ever again. Carol had had a head on her shoulders.

“Right.” Nick said deciding to try and get this train wreck of a conversation back on track. “Why the hell is Loki not locked up right now?”

“Do you honestly think any of them could lock me up?” Loki asked. “You couldn’t even keep the two remaining Black Order members in custody for longer than three days.”

“Oh I think we could handle you.”

“Do you really think so?” Loki asked. “Because up till this point I was led to believe you lacked the ability to think at all.”

“You really want to talk about that?” Fury snapped back. “You? You’re the guy who gets his ass kicked by the Hulk every other weekend. You’re insane.”

“You best watch your tongue mortal.”

“You should watch my gun when I shove it up your-”

“Director Fury.” Holly cut in, she placed a hand on Loki’s leg pushing him back into the couch while looking Nick directly in the eye. “Loki is no longer your concern.”

“No longer my concern.” Nick repeated. “He destroyed a SHIELD base, stole an artifact, mind controlled some of my best agents, and invaded New York.”

“Yes he did.” She said. “But it’s not what you think.”

“What I think is that the guy has Daddy issues of godly proportions and he’s decided to take them out on people who can’t defend themselves properly.” Fury said, Holly opened her mouth to argue back so Nick continued. “And I don’t give a damn if this magical world shit made him sad. Bitch please, being sad isn’t a defense that holds up in court.”

“That’s true but…”

“Loki is going into custody.” Nick said.

“I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen.”

“That’s not your call to make.”

“Yes. Yes, it is.” She said in same way Carol said she was going to explode something with her hands.

“Loki is a criminal wanted by literally every organization on earth.”

“Now that’s just not true.” She said. “Half of all earth governments do not consider Loki a criminal.”

It took a moment for Nick to comprehend that supremely stupid statement. Loki was grinning like a very smug cat who’d caught a very fat canary.

“Loki didn’t attack the magical world he attacked my world.” Nick ground out.

“He attacked New York.” She corrected. “Which is where the President of the Magical United States works, all things considered his attack would be considered more hazardous for my world than for yours. He could have destroyed an entire magical government.”

“He attacked SHIELD and his victims in New York were civilians.”

“Non-Magical and Magical alike.” She agreed. “Just because magic users have magic doesn’t mean they’re not civilians, Director. Most magic users are just as helpless in the face of an alien attack as muggles are.”

“So what? Magical people got hurt too so they’re the only one’s who matter?”

“No.” She said her face twisting a little. “Loki is a magic user, by law he should be tried under a magical court. That is how it has been for over 400 years. These are the laws between the two worlds that allow us to coexist.”

“And because Loki is the god of magic he’s getting off scot free. Excellent, I’ll be sure to explain that to the families of victims as best I can, Potter.”

Potter actually straightened up. This entire time she’d been practically lounging in her seat. But now, her posture was rigid and her face harsh. It took all of Nick’s self-control not to flinch or lean back.

“Listen to me, right now Fury.” She said. “You’re not getting Loki. No one is getting Loki. He is under my protection and will be for the foreseeable future. I’m not afraid to throw my weight around about this either. I may be from the magical world but that doesn’t mean I don’t have enough political clout to crush you like a little bug.”

“I do not have to listen to threats.”

“I don’t do threats.” She told him. “And don’t pretend like you don’t know exactly how dangerous I am. Unlike everyone else in this room you clocked me for exactly what I was the moment you saw me.”

His jaw clenched a little as she folded her arms in front of her chest and gave him a look. Around him the other Avengers had quieted down to a deathly silence. Potter continued once she was sure that Nick wasn’t going to say anything else.

“Loki attempted to commit suicide over three years ago in Asgard.” She said. “After 400 years grieving the magical world of earth, he was then knocked down by the reveal of his adoption. Under magical law, Loki would not be considered culpable for his actions in Asgard, which includes his attack on the small town in New Mexico. A large amount of a magic user’s mental health is tied into their identity and with Loki’s literal sense of self under attack, no magical court worth their salt would let him go to trial.”

That didn’t make any sense! Why would Loki having an identity crisis absolve him of guilt? Nick bit his tongue to keep himself from asking the question. Holly seemed to sense his question anyway because she explained. Magic is powered by a magic user’s desires, their intent. You cannot know your desires or your intent if you do not know who you are. Magic invades every part of you; body, mind, and soul. If your soul, your identity, is rocked to its core by grief and by betrayal then your mind and body are just as damaged by your magic.

Simply put, Loki wasn’t in his right mind, spiraling and falling out of control with nothing to cling too.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong.” Holly said. “It was a dick move attacking innocent humans with the Destroyer. But by law Loki can’t be punished for it, he wasn’t well. Best we could do for that town is send aid to repair anything that still hasn’t been fixed, as no one actually died there’s very little for anyone to do.”

Nick glared at the woman but she didn’t care. She continued to stare right back at him, her eyes almost hypnotic.

“Now, the invasion.” She said. “Before arriving on earth Loki was captured by the same man who sent the Black Order, those aliens who trashed Central Park. He was held in captivity for over a year and tortured. He was starved, beaten, and burned so that he would lead the invasion on earth and retrieve the tesseract.”

Fury’s mind flashed back to how truly deranged and dirty Loki had looked when he’d first emerged from the tesseract in that SHIELD base. Even then his mind had screamed that the guy wasn’t right, that something wasn’t right. But he hadn’t had the time then to digest those tiny clues. He was beginning to regret that now. Because once he was on that train of thought more and more clues were beginning to emerge.

Loki’s invasion plan where he bottlenecked his forces with a tiny portal despite having the ability to open multiple much larger portals.

Loki disappearing the scepter and the tesseract and never using them ever again.

Loki’s attacks after the invasion never resulting in civilian or Avenger casualties despite Loki certainly having the ability to kill them.

Loki’s eyes that now looked more green than blue.

“Loki only arrived on earth after being handed a scepter. A scepter well known for it’s ability to mentally manipulate people through touch.” Holly said. “Simply put Director Fury, Loki was not well. According to laws the international magical governing bodies of earth passed 6 years ago, Loki is not culpable for the invasion due to evidence of mental manipulation and torture. I do not condone his actions, nor do I believe that nothing should be done to help those who were hurt by them but at the same time I am not going to punish Loki when the true villain is still torturing and killing people on the other side of the universe. I have better things to be doing and I imagine you do as well.”

“And what do you think I should be doing?” Fury asked.

“Preparing for the real invasion.” She said. “Loki’s intel has made it clear that the Black Order was only the beginning. Earth is going to be the location for the battle for all life in the universe.”

What?”

“Thanos wants the tesseract and the scepter.” Loki said his voice low. “He wants them so that he can destroy all life in the universe. That is his plan. It has always been his plan. He is insane and if he comes here he will bathe in the blood of all humanity if we do not stop him.”

“Thanos is known among our people as the Mad Titan.” Thor said. “We thought him to be a myth, or perhaps some distant threat that would not make itself known for millennia more. The nine realms are woefully unprepared for him.”

“Does this have anything to do with those aliens calling him the lover of death?”

“Yes.” Holly confirmed. “Thanos believes that there is a being who is a personification of Death itself. Think the Grim Reaper. Whether or not that being exists is irrelevant. Thanos believes in them, more importantly he believes he can win the heart of this being. His plan is to destroy all life in the universe as a gift to Death, thus winning its affections. Currently his plan is to gather six objects of immeasurable power, the infinity stones, two of which we know are on earth, and put them together to form a weapon of mass universal destruction.”

“However.” Rogers said. “Holly revealed that she owns three magical items called the Hallows. The myth behind those say that if any one person owns them then they Master death itself. Holly says that the myth is false but Thanos won’t think so. He will either come to earth to fight Holly for the Hollows or to fight Loki for the tesseract and the scepter.”

“Or both.” Fury finished. “Shit.”

“That’s the conclusion we came to.” Barton said. “Fury if we fail on earth we’ll lose not only this planet but the entire universe.”

Call him selfish but Fury didn’t really give a shit about the welfare of other planets at this point. He had enough on his plate just trying to keep one planet afloat amidst a flood of chaos. But he knew that letting Thanos win was unacceptable.

“I’m going to start marshalling the forces of the magical world to action.” Holly told him. “They’ll follow me and when Thanos comes he won’t be massacring civilians, but the magical world is only half of the equation.”

Nick decided not to point out that when he’d come in they’d been playing a children’s video game which is about just as far as one could get from ‘marshalling forces’. He wasn’t an idiot and he knew better than to further annoy an already shaking rattlesnake.

“I’ll get to work.” Nick said instead.

“Good.” She said. “We don’t know when Thanos is coming but I know that together we can be ready for him.”

Damn did he miss the 90’s. Things were so much simpler then. In the 90’s you only had to worry about an alien invasion once a decade. There was only one superhero and she was competent and preferred to keep her fights off of the planet’s surface. In the 90’s the internet wasn’t the world’s biggest security risk. In the 90’s Nick didn’t have to deal with gods or with hulks. He certainly didn’t have to even think about magic. The 90’s were a better time.

Potter held out her hand and Nick took it. They shook once and then Potter gave him a very shark-like grin.

“To war, Director Fury. To war.”

“To war.”

Chapter Text

“You have to fix your hair.”

Holly gave him a look from over where she was currently inscribing runes into the metal casing of his newest arc reactor. Now that they knew how to protect electronics against magic, his arc reactor was first on the list to be warded. If that thing blew, Tony would literally die so he needed it done ASAP.

“I’m serious. You’ve been awake for almost a week now, I know you could fix it with a snap of your fingers.”

Holly’s first look transformed into a new one, this one just as expressive. Her hair was truly a mess and it seemed to be growing worse by the hour. Each lock was its own length and unique configuration of crazy. Normally Tony was all for crazy but this was just plain unflattering. There were so many reasons for Holly to get her hair fixed and yet somehow no one had been able to convince her to agree.

“Look. Glinda.” Tony said the nickname rolling off his tongue before he could stop it. “I know you’ve got some sort of Xena Warrior Princess thing going on with the hair. And yeah, I get it. The tale of 100,000 Snakes is something to be proud of, but can’t you be proud of it like a normal person?”

“A normal person?” She asked, putting down the soldering iron she’d been using.

“Yes. Get a tattoo or something.”

“I don’t see what the problem is.” Holly told him.

“Have you looked in a mirror?”

“I have.” She said. “And my hair is always a mess, least now I don’t have to spend hours trying to comb through it.”

“We can keep it short!” Tony urged. “Just like…all the same length of short.”

“But if we cut it all down to the same length it’ll be a buzz cut.”

“You’re a witch! You can just grow it out again.”

“Magically grown hair never feels quite right.”

“Now you’re just making excuses.”

“Well yes.” She said. “That was rather the point. Can we get back to your arc reactor now? I’ve only got a few hours before I need to pop out for a meeting with my landlord about ending my lease early.”

Tony held back his very smug grin about that. It had taken four days of never-ending pestering until the witch in front of him agreed to move into the tower. In the end it had been a combination of the mob of reporters outside her apartment building waiting to eat her alive and Jarvis admitting that he liked the idea of her being closer for her to agree. Tony was still taking credit though.

He’d been the one to design Holly’s rooms! He’d even given the woman her own lab, for potions and all sorts of magical nonsense. She’d started the move in process just yesterday. Thor and Steve had gone with her to do the heavy lifting despite Holly telling them repeatedly that she had magic and didn’t need the help. The resulting images that had surfaced online of Captain America and the God of Thunder trying to carry a large bookshelf down a flight of stairs while trying their best not to argue with each other had been way too funny.

Thor had dropped the bookshelf on Steve’s foot and then Steve had cursed in the way that the army had taught him back in the 40s.

Tony didn’t think he’d ever been happier to watch a security feed.

The moving process wasn’t complete by any means. Holly still had that meeting with her landlord, which Tony had told her he could take care of. Holly had told him that if he involved himself, she’d prank every coffee maker in the tower to only make sleepy time tea.

“No, we can’t just go back to the arc reactor.” He said. “We’re talking about your hair.”

“But why?”

“Because you need to fix it. I don’t care how but seriously, even Loki’s getting annoyed by it.”

Loki was a weird situation altogether. The team had agreed that Loki was not at fault for all of the shit he’d pulled but that didn’t erase a year’s worth of strife overnight. It didn’t help that their least favorite magic user had latched onto their favorite magic user like a limpet. Where Holly went, Loki was sure to follow. Like a sad orphaned puppy. It was hard to get Holly alone and honestly?

That sucked.

Tony had gotten used to having dedicated Holly-Time a couple of times a week. They all had. Steve had his art classes, Bruce had the time they spent in the magical hospital, Clint had his video game time as well as the tutoring sessions for his daughter that he got to be a part of. Holly and Nat had lunches together and worked on a project that was secret enough that Tony didn’t know the purpose of it. Thor had daily conversations about Asgard and Earth with Holly. Tony had his lab work with her.

They all got time with her and Loki had ruined it. In the past week Holly had been on almost constant Loki duty. When Loki was awake she was busy catching him up on 400 years of earth history or healing him with magic. When Loki wasn’t awake Holly was busy contacting the magical world and working on preparing her world for war. Which meant that there was very little time for the Avengers. Only Jarvis still got his fill of Holly-Time because he was an AI and knew exactly when she was free for a chat.

Tony was beginning to feel like a neglected sibling being passed over for the new baby. It was not an emotion he particularly enjoyed but it was there all the same. Loki was a magic user too. Loki had an actual connection to her family. Of course, Loki would be Holly’s new favorite. Pretty soon she wouldn’t even want to spend time with them.

“Loki can go suck a lemon.” Holly said without hesitation. “Also, the implication that I should change my hair just because a man is annoyed by it was one that I find rather offensive.”

“That is not what I meant.” Tony backtracked.

“Well then what did you mean?” She asked. “Because it sure sounded like you think I only do things if Loki wants me too.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“Tony.”

“You have to admit you’ve been doing a lot for him! Surely you’ve noticed?”

“Well who else is going to?” Holly asked right back.

“You could give him over to the wizarding government. Then he’d have hundreds of people to dote on him.”

“Loki isn’t in a place where he could handle the IWC.” Holly said sternly. “Tony that’d be downright cruel to leave him with them.”

“Cruel? You’d be leaving a god with a bunch of worshippers.”

“Exactly! They’d fawn over him and never do anything that will actually help him get better. Healing Loki’s mind requires hurting him you know. I have to dig into his very being and rearrange things, break down barriers. It hurts and no one in their right mind would do it to someone 6 times as strong as they are.” Holly said. “Loki would literally languish in insanity and pain with the IWC. Besides I placed him under my protection, I can’t just ditch him.”

Tony had to admit that he’d seen Loki’s face after one of his ‘sessions’ with Holly. Calling what the guy had a headache would have been a severe understatement. Holly had been spreading out the healing sessions with days in between them to give Loki time to recuperate. The only benefit as far as Tony could see was that Loki spazzed out far less after each session. In the beginning Loki tended to lash out in a rage, he even stabbed Thor a few times. But now a week later he was able to stand in the same room as Thor without snarling.

Progress.

“Well I don’t see why that means you have to always be with him.” Apparently, Tony’s attempt not to pout totally failed because Holly was looking far too amused now.

“Tony Stark, are you jealous?”

“No.”

You are!”

“I’m not! Holly I’m trying to have a serious conversation about this-”

“Anthony Howard Stark this is the most adorable thing I’ve ever experienced.” She declared. “You miss me!”

“Oh shut up!” The smug smile on her face was about as far from shutting up as a facial expression could get. “It’s not just me either Holly! You told Steve you couldn’t go to the painting class and Bruce has to take himself to the hospital now. You postponed your tutoring sessions with Lila too!”

“I…” The smugness fell away and she looked down at the desk in front of her. “I thought you all understood what…Do you not want my help?”

“It’s not about that.” Tony promised.

“We haven’t really talked about me showing up in the park last week.” She said. “I know I just…did it. But I didn’t think you all would mind. It was my choice right?”

“Holly.” Tony said stepping around his own work table and stopping right in front of her. “I don’t care if you join us or not. You’re my friend and I’d love to have you on the team in whatever form you want. Even if that means you’re not actually an Avenger and you just show up when we are getting our asses handed to us.”

She giggled a little at that and ran a hand through her ugly, awful hair.

“If you don’t mind me asking Miss.” Jarvis said. “Why did you come?”

She hadn’t told Jarvis that yet? Maybe Jarvis hadn’t been getting as much Holly-Time as Tony had thought. She looked up at the nearest camera and smiled a little before looking back at Tony.

“I was on my date with Kari.”

“Yeah, how was that going?”

“Great. She was, no she is amazing. So soft and warm.” She said her voice very dreamy. “And the entire time I was there with her I just, I just knew we could be good together. She’s so peaceful, her entire aura is just so calm and wonderful.”

“And you left that? We would have gotten out of it, we always do.”

“I didn’t come because I thought you all were going to die. I mean don’t get me wrong I was worried but…” She said. “I could have been at peace with Kari but that’s it.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Tony all this time I’ve been trying to find something to fulfill me, make me feel alive and give me something meaningful to do.” She said. “And to find it I’ve been denying a lot of what makes me, well me. I love dueling and standing up to evil. I can’t describe how good it feels to protect someone, to use my powers and make a real difference in the life of someone. I like to fight and struggle and…Honestly Tony I like things when they’re difficult. And I realized when I was with Kari that she could make me feel peaceful but that didn’t mean she’d make me happy. Not in the way I want to be.”

She stood up, her eyes literally sparkling with excitement. Tony watched his own eyes a little wide as she continued her passionate monologue.

“And for first time in my life it was my choice! Can’t you see how miraculous that is? I could have stayed in that café with Kari. I could’ve had that. Nothing, absolutely nothing would have stopped me. But I knew what I wanted was to be there with you all, to do what I do best. I want adventure and heroic deeds and I got to pick that!” She said. “It was my choice and it was absolutely brilliant!”

Holly’s joy was quite literally infectious. A smile burst onto Tony’s face without his consent and he felt something like a giggle try to bubble out of his gut.

“Why would I have a problem with that then?” He asked. “All we wanted was for you to be happy.”

“I am, Tony, Jarvis. I really am.”

“Then that’s that. Welcome to the Avengers.”

“Don’t I need some ridiculous superhero name to be an Avenger?”

“Oh don’t worry about that. The media will take care of it. That’s how I got my hero name.”

“Really?”

“Don’t worry Miss.” Jarvis said. “If you don’t like it we’ll ensure it gets changed.”

“That’s alright then.” She said. “As long as it’s not something ridiculous like Scarlet Witch, it’ll be fine.”

“Scarlet Witch is an excellent hero name.” Tony would tell Jarvis to get rid of that one off his list of name ideas when Holly wasn’t around. Holly snorted and rolled her eyes.

“Sure it is Tony.” She said. “Now if you don’t mind me helping then what exactly is the problem?”

“Look. I get that this is different from before for you.” Tony said. “Because you choose to jump in there and fight the Black Order and help Loki and everything. No prophecy forced you. But that doesn’t mean it looks different.”

“I don’t…”

“You told me once that fighting Death Eaters swallowed up everything in your life. That basically every free moment you had was filled with fighting them. That you didn’t have time for hobbies or even for yourself.” Tony said. “And I am literally the worst person to talk to you about a healthy work-life balance but seriously, how is what you’re doing now really any different than before?”

“It’s…Well I chose it.”

“Do you really think that you’re still not going to burn out like this?” Tony asked. “You literally had a mid-life crisis at 28 because you spent too much time being a hero.”

That made her laugh a little and settle back onto the stool she’d been sitting in. She waved her hand and another stool appeared out of nowhere right next to her. Tony took a seat on the stool and looked at the ridiculous woman who had wormed her way into their lives.

“So…maybe I might be a bit too…much.” She said. “At least with this hero stuff. It’s the same thing with my hair if I’m honest.”

“Please explain what the hell that means.”

“Did you know I’ve had my hair the same style for basically my whole life?” She asked. “It’s been that exact length since I was 5 years old.”

“What? No.”

“It’s true.” She said. “It was a bit of accidental magic when I was a kid.”

“What happened? I thought accidental magic was something that happened when kids were upset?”

“My aunt happened.” She said. “I was about to start school and she hated my hair, hated it. She decided to cut it the night before my first day of school gave me an awful buzzcut, uglier than what I’ve got now. She left this awful fringe on my forehead to cover my scar but I was practically bald otherwise. I was devastated just thinking about it. I’d hoped at the time that school would be an opportunity to make friends and I knew no one would be friends with me if I looked like an ugly freak.”

“What a bitch.”

“Yeah she was…she was a piece of work.” She said. “And I prayed that my hair wouldn’t be so bad. My aunt had called me ugly every day of my life and I wanted to be pretty. And what’s pretty to a little girl? A princess of course.”

“You gave yourself Disney Princess hair.” Tony said. “If it was bright red it would’ve been just like Ariel’s!”

“Exactly!” She said delighted that Tony had recognized her source of inspiration. It was actually sort of adorable now that Tony thought about it. This entire time she’d had Disney Princess hair.  “The magic meant that nothing could cut my hair, it also didn’t grow any. It was just stuck at the same length and style for over two decades. Now that I’ve destroyed the spells I accidentally placed on my hair it’ll actually start growing and…being hair-like. I’ve never had split ends before and I’m not honestly looking forward to it.”

“So you’re not cutting your hair because you finally have the opportunity to cut it?”

“You’re not letting me finish.” She said rolling her eyes.

“Well then, please. Finish.”

“So you wouldn’t know this but when I was a kid most everyone compared me to my parents.” She said. “All of my magic teachers, pretty much every adult I interacted with during the war said the same thing. I looked just like my father but I had my mother’s eyes. The only thing that was ever any different was my hair. Neither of my parents had hair like mine. My dad’s hair was short and shaggy, and my mum’s was shoulder length and pin straight. My hair was mine. It was important to me that I had something that stood out, something that I choose.”

“Being compared to your parents can get really old.” Tony admitted. “Especially after they, once they’re gone it gets harder.”

“Yeah.” She agreed. “It was hard. I didn’t know anything about them and I started hating my face and my eyes sometimes because they were permanent connections to strangers. I didn’t want them to be strangers. I wanted them with me but they weren’t and all I had were strangers telling me how much like them I was.”

“Okay so the hair is complicated, doesn’t mean you can’t play around with a new style that suits you.”

“It’s mostly Loki’s fault.” She said. “He…He’s just like those adults.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you know how many times the guy has accidentally called me Ralston in the last week?” She asked. “15.”

Holly placed her left elbow on the worktop and rested her chin despairingly on her hand. She looked at Tony almost wistfully.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to be constantly compared to someone who died long before you were born by someone whose supposedly your family?”

Tony’s first gut reaction was to giggle. Honestly, was there a more perfect question for him to answer in the entire world? His next reaction was to admit he finally got the hair. Tony had done worse things in an attempt to deal with his dad’s expectations. An ugly haircut was hardly the worst thing, besides it sort of made sense. No one had ever had a hair cut like this. Hard to compare her to Ralston when she had hair that was so devastatingly Holly.

Tony did neither of those two things.

“Jarvis?” Tony asked. “Get that suit ready, I think it’s time Holly learned how to fly Stark Style.”

“Of course, sir.”

“What?”

“Come on Holly get up.” Tony said. “I’ll fly on my broom and you’ll fly in my suit. You’ve got to see the New York Skyline the way it was meant to be seen.”

“Tony, we were talking about something…”

“I know, trust me. It’s suit time.”

He grabbed the broom Holly had gifted him and then pulled her from the work table towards the elevator and right up to the penthouse. When they got there his suit assembling apparatus was ready.

“Tony I can’t even drive a car, what makes you think I can handle your suit?”

“Don’t worry about that. Jarvis does most of the work for me anyway.”

“Indeed.” Jarvis said. “Do not worry Miss. I will not let you fall or hit anything.”

“Okay.” She said. “Fine. But why?”

“Just trust me. Let’s get you inside this suit.”

She finally agreed and stood up on the platform. Tony instructed her on how to hold her arms and place her legs so that each piece of the suit could be attached.

“This doesn’t look like your normal suit.”

“It’s not. It’s…new.”

“Why does it look like it’s meant for a different body?” She asked motioning with her free hand at the slight curves in the chest plate to make it more comfortable for someone with breasts.

“Maybe because it is?”

“Tony.”

“Just put the faceplate on.”

She grinned at him and Jarvis placed the faceplate onto the complete suit.

“Okay.” Tony said. “Flying in the Iron Man suit 101. You activate the foot thrusters first either by flexing your toes or by just telling Jarvis to do it.”

“Most of these instructions can be boiled down to informing me of what you wish to occur Miss.” Jarvis interrupted.

He ignored her laugh from behind the faceplate.

“Once you’ve flexed your toes you’ll feel the thrusters turn on. It should hum right? It won’t go full power until you stretch out your ankles so that the top of your foot is parallel to your calf. So flex your toes and then get on your tip toes alright?”

“Got it.” She said wisely not trying out any of his instructions just yet.

“Once you’re in the air keep your feet perpendicular to your legs, as straight as possible. The thrusters will turn on their own when you try to turn so keep your legs still and let the suit do the work.”

“What about my arms?”

“Getting to that.” Tony said grinning. “You’re going to use your arms to steer alright? It’s different than a broom. You should keep your arms mostly straight back.”

He continued to explain how she had to hold her body and how she should move her hands to turn, speed up, and slow down. Of course, she asked how to fire the weapons and he told her that too because who the hell wouldn’t be curious? It’s not like she wasn’t already constantly weaponized. Tony was deeply protective of his suits. The only people who had ever been in one other than himself was Rhodey and that had been…a less than stellar situation for him what with the arc reactor poisoning he was dealing with.

But he didn’t even feel a twinge of paranoia as Holly copied his movements. There was something inherently trustworthy about Holly. Maybe it was the fact that she didn’t need his suit to be dangerous. Most people who wanted to get their hands on his tech could never dream of creating anything better. They wanted power and they didn’t care who they hurt to get it. Holly already had power, power that was far beyond the scope of his current suits. (Maybe in the future Tony would be able to keep up with her.) Sharing his suit with her was easy. She was his friend and she was already way too badass.

Tony knew the reason he wasn’t bothered by Holly in that suit was because he’d made it for her. He’d designed something for her because he’d seen her when she’d been flying on her broom and had the urge to share his own flying style with her. Holly had been brilliant in the air and she’d shared that with him without hesitation. He knew she’d appreciate his suit, love it even. Holly didn’t need his suit because it was a weapon. She didn’t even need it to fly. Tony was gifting her with something she didn’t need but that he had no doubt she’d adore. 

The suit Tony had designed for Holly was essentially the same design as his own. Changed slightly to fit her body structure but not much else. She was a red and gold girl just as much as he was.

“Alright.” She said. “You remember how the broom works?”

“I’ve been practicing. Isn’t that right, Darling?” Tony asked the broom in his hands. It hummed happily. Tony settled the broom in between his legs. “You start and I’ll follow.”

“You sure you can keep up old man?”

Tony’s jaw dropped in offense while Holly laughed. The boot thrusters activated and she lifted up one hand to salute him.

“Race ya!”

Then she flung herself off the landing pad the flight thrusters kicking in half a moment later, sending her flying towards the sky.

“She did not just do that. Come on Darling, we can show her.”

He wasn’t worried about flying on that broom in the middle of the city. People were used to seeing weird things flying in and out of the tower. But more than that the story they’d concocted for the press meant that no one would suspect there was a whole magical world that used these brooms all the time. Holly might have had complaints about their ‘final descendant/survivor of genocide story’ but at least most people weren’t going to give her shit for her magic. At this point most of the public was more curious than fearful, that’s how they wanted it to stay.

So he shot off following after a way too cocky Holly Potter.

They danced around each other in the air. Shooting insults at one another and trying to do tricks. Neither of them were very good at flying like that. Tony was as graceful as a bird in his suit but on the broom? It was a bit more awkward. Holly kept trying to fly like she was on a broom and without Jarvis she probably would’ve crashed.

Good ol’ Jarvis.

Despite their lack of skill they still had way too much fun. No one seemed to notice their nonsense as they flew past the windows of office buildings. They started an impromptu game of tag within twenty minutes, hundreds of feet above the concrete jungle they tried to catch one another. Two birds that had calls that sounded far too much like cackling. It was easy to forget problems you were having when you flew. There was no pressure, not even gravity could touch you unless you let it.

But eventually you have to land.

They still had time until Holly’s meeting with her landlord. But Tony had a feeling that the conversation he thought they should have would take long enough. So he landed on a roof somewhere in Queens. A tiny apartment building, one that unknown to him held a future hero with a heart of gold, a hero that was still a bit too young for a spider onesie. Holly landed right next to him and the faceplate slid up.

“Take a seat.” Tony said patting the roofing material. Holly looked at the roof and then at her suit and made a face.

“I’ll conjure up some chairs.” She said waving her hand in a sweeping motion. Two comfortable chairs appeared out of nothing and Holly took her time sitting in one, still awkward in the bulky suit.

“It takes getting used to.” Tony admitted. “Some practice moving around anf it’ll feel natural.”

“That’s what he said?”

Tony gasped at the childish joke. He looked over at Holly who was clearly trying to hold back laughter. One second of eye contact and they both bellowed. Below them a young boy who had an apartment on the top floor with his aunt and uncle got up from his legos and opened up his window. The boy listened to their laughter for a moment before figuring out who they were. The window quickly closed again.

“Okay okay.” She said. “I’m sorry. Really.”

“No you’re not.”

“No, I suppose I’m not.” She said. “It was a very childish joke but…I never really got to tell those much.”

“Making up for lost time?”

“It’s never too late for a teenage rebellion. I already had a mid-life crisis maybe I’ll start that one next. Starting with an ugly haircut.” That made Tony snort. If Holly called chopping off her own hair with a sword while simultaneously turning each cut strand into an individual snake then Tony did not want to know what else she wanted to do in the name of rebellion.

“I…My father and I never got along.”

Wow Tony. What a cool way to start that conversation. Holly didn’t laugh. Her face turned soft and serious, her head tilting slightly to show she was willing to listen. And listen she did. Tony awkwardly stepped over his words trying to convey what he meant and how he’d felt. Through it all Holly sat right there, gleaming in red and gold. It didn’t take as long as Tony feared to explain it all in a way she understood.

Maybe it didn’t take long because she’d lived a version of it. She’d been haunted by the ghost of her heroic parents since she was 15 months old. Tony had been haunted by Steve Rogers since the day he was born, maybe even before that. Steve didn’t know, Tony could never explain that Howard saw Steve as his greatest creation and his own son as a thing that could never equal it. Steve would hate that and so Tony had never told the truth. No one really knew the truth but him and Rhodey. Rhodey only knew because the guy had actually met his dad once or twice.

And now Holly knew too.  

As Tony talked a young boy managed to sneak out of his apartment and onto the stairwell. He was now attempting to quietly pick the lock to the roof access door. Neither hero noticed, too caught up in their conversation.

“Loki keeps looking at me, expecting me to do things, and I just know I’ll never match up to Ralston. Ralston was his true family and I’m just the left over scraps.”

“I was never as good as Captain America. Never strong enough, never smart enough, just lacking. My dad never let me forget it.”

“I just hate that when he looks at me he sees what he’s lost. I spent so much of my childhood with that look and I’m tired of it. Am I ever going to be my own person?”

“Dad missed most of my birthdays flying out to the Atlantic to look for Steve. I didn’t get it then. I hated that Steve was more important than me. But now that I’ve met the guy I…I sort of get why most people would choose Steve over me.”

“Tony.” Holly said taking his hand, holding it gently in her own still armored one. “Steve and you are incomparable.”

“What?”

“Your dad was full of shit.” She said seriously. “And it’s impossible to pick you or Steve because it’s like comparing apples to oranges. You’re both wonderful friends but you’re wonderful in different ways. Your dad should’ve been smart enough to see that.”

“Well Loki shouldn’t be mistaking you for Ralston. It’s been 400 years and you’re your own person.”

She smiled at him a little.

“I want to meet his expectations so badly and I hate that.” She said. “I shouldn’t care what he thinks, I don’t know him but…”

“But he’s family.”

“Exactly.”

They fell into silence, their hands slowly drifting apart. Around them the afternoon sun beat down on Queens. There were cars filling the street and people milling about on the sidewalk. There was peace between them. They hadn’t come to any real solutions and yet there was something calming about admitting there was a problem at all. Tony knew Holly hadn’t fixed her hair because she wanted to stand out against Loki’s expectations without outright breaking them. He also knew she was working so hard to help him because she wanted to be the person he expected her to be. Loki was the closest thing she had to living relatives that weren’t sucky like her aunt and uncle. She was torn between two warring desires; break expectations and meet them. Holly knew why Tony sometimes shied away from Steve, why there was tension between them that nothing seemed to truly fix.

Behind them the roof access door burst open and a young boy in an Iron Man t-shirt fell onto the roofing with a clatter. Holly and Tony both jumped in shock while the boy started babbling apologies. Tony looked at the kid taking in the messy brown hair and the still slightly baby face with the chubby cheeks. Tony’s entire frame froze at the mere sight of the very adorable kid. He did not do children. Holly however seemed to melt.

“Oh hello.” She said, cooed was probably a more accurate description. “Are you alright?”

“So…sorry Miss Potter I mean Lady Witch or…I’m…” The kid stumbled.

“It’s Holly.” She said. “And this is Tony. Who are you?”

The kid scrambled up and tried to tug his t-shirt into place.

“Pe…Peter.”

“Nice shirt Peter.” Tony said motioning to the Iron-Man shirt. The kid blushed and looked down at his socks, which were also Iron-Man themed. “And socks.”

The kid’s blush went all the way down his neck and Tony grinned. This was way too fun.

“You…You’re on my building.”

“We were having a flying contest.” Holly explained. “Tony offered to let me borrow one of his suits and I let him borrow my broom. Any good witch has to have a good flying broom.”

“So…so you’re really a witch?” Peter asked. “My aunt says that’s not a nice word…”

“Well…I fly on a broom, I brew potions in a cauldron, and…” Holly snapped her fingers and a large black pointed hat appeared on her head. “This is one of my favorite hats.”

“No way! Why haven’t I seen that before?” Tony demanded.

“Because I knew you’d act like this.”

“Your…your skin isn’t green.” The boy said. “And you don’t have any warts!”

“I’m more of a Glinda sort of a witch.”

“Oh.” Peter said his eyes still wide in eye. “That’s not a normal suit. It’s not the right size.”

“Obviously. I made one for her.”

“No. I mean…the alloy in the normal iron man suits would make a suit heavy enough to dent my roof.” Peter explained further when neither of them interrupted. He told a long winding story about how he and his friend ‘Ned’ got into an argument about if Iron-Man could really land everywhere and they calculated what sorts of roofing materials could handle the weight. Peter’s apartment apparently couldn’t handle much as old as it was.

Tony couldn’t believe how many words the kid could fit into a minute, nor could he believe how smart and oddly adorable the kid was. He had no idea what to say to any of what the kid was talking about. Part of him wanted to explain that he was trying out a new material that was much more lightweight since this was supposed to be a flying suit and not much else.

“Wow.” Holly said. “You must be brilliant! How old are you Peter?”

“Uhm…” Peter cleared his throat and tried to speak a bit more maturely. “I’m almost 14, ma’am.”

14? They were making teenagers smaller and smaller these days.

“That means you’re in…I’m sorry I’m not familiar with the American school system as much as I should be quite yet.”

“I’m in middle school Ma’am.” He answered. “I’m going to go high school next fall, in a few months.”

“You going to Midtown?” Tony found himself asking, Holly had a confused look on her face and he explained. “Midtown is a high school for little tech and engineering geniuses. Best one in New York I think.”

“I can’t go to Midtown.” Peter said his blush returning to his cheeks. “It’s a real expensive school.”

And the kid lived in a building that had a roof weak enough to not hold a normal suit. How had he not seen that coming?

“Don’t schools like that normally have scholarship programs?” Holly asked. “Have you called Midtown about that Peter?”

“No.” Peter said. “Those scholarship programs are hard and I’d never get one…”

Tony opened his mouth to say that any kid who could calculate roof strength vs. Iron-Man suit pressure was probably smart enough to get into MIT if he wanted too and a scholarship application for Midtown was going to be nothing comparatively. The kid kept glancing at him nervously though and it made the words die in his mouth.

“Tony?” Holly asked. “Can I open up the gloves of the suit?”

“Why?”

“Because I need to use my hands, obviously.”

“Jarvis, open up the hands.”

The gloves on the suit began to fold and pull away, Peter watched the entire motion with awe in his eyes. Tony peeked over and realized the kid was on his tip toes trying to get a better look. He reached out and grabbed the kid’s t-shirt pulling him closer. The kid didn’t even seem to notice, way too obsessed with the suit.

At least he had good taste.

“There.” Holly said. “Just wait one moment Peter, I have an idea about this Midtown thing. That is…do you really want to attend that school?”

“Yeah…I mean yes I do!”

“Then I think I’ve got a spell for you. I’ll put it together right now.”

Peter actually whimpered as Holly conjured some sort of glass bauble in her hand and began to mutter mangled latin into it. The ball began to glow and Peter swayed at seeing someone do magic that wasn’t intended to blow something up.

“You were right about the suit kid.” Tony told him. “I’m trying out a new alloy. It’s lightweight.”

“But didn’t you use the nickel-titanium alloy because it’s easier to reform? And wouldn’t anything different be less flexible?”

Peter continued to rapidly fire questions at Tony while Tony just looked at him unable to believe the smarts coming out of the kid’s mouth nor at the speed at which they were coming. He was used to only talking that fast after having something with 16 shots of espresso in it. Eventually Tony thought he saw the kid’s lips turning blue and he spoke.

“Kid, breathe!” Peter finally stopped talking to take in a huge breath. “I can’t answer any of your questions if you don’t give me a second!”

“Sorry Mr. Stark.”

“It’s Tony.” He said off-handedly.

“I’m done!” Holly said proudly interrupting their conversation. The woman was holding out a glass ball about an inch in diameter. It glowed with blue and red lights. “Here Peter, this is for you.”

“What is it?” The boy asked taking the ball with wide eyes. He cradled it in his palms very carefully.

“It’s a wish-maker.” She said. “Sort of like a genie in a bottle, except it’s not out to get you or anything. I’m the only…well there aren’t any other human magic users to make them anymore but they grant wishes.”

“Woah. How does it work?”

“Well inside is a bit of my magic, a little bit more than a bit.” She said. “And it’s condensed into a…neutral form. That way when you make a wish the magic stored in there can escape and become whatever sort of spell it needs to be to help make that wish come true.”

Based on what little Tony knew about magic that tiny little bauble would have had to been incredibly difficult to create. Holly probably was the only magic user on the planet who could do it. Peter just looked at the bauble in awe.

“Now, before you call this Midtown to ask about their scholarship program I want you to make a wish. Be specific. The more specific the wish the better it’ll work. If you just wish you can go to Midtown the magic might just organize a fieldtrip for you, you see.”

“It really is like a genie.”

“Yes.” She said. “But I promise it won’t hurt you. It just might not get you exactly what you want if you don’t ask for it right.”

“This is amazing.” Peter said. “Thank you!”

“It’s no trouble. There’s not much magic in there but it should be enough for one wish. You can keep using it until it stops glowing. Don’t worry about it breaking either, it’s quite sturdy.”

“Thank you.” Peter said. “Thank you so much, ma’am!”

Holly smiled at him and then leaned forward a bit.

“Promise me one thing Peter?”

“Anything!”

“Don’t use your wishes to hurt someone else, alright? Magic is very powerful and you could really do some damage.”

“My uncle always says that with great power comes great responsibility.” Peter recited. “I promise I won’t use it for bad things.”

“Good.” Holly said. “I trust you Peter. I can tell you’re a good kid.”

“Really? How?”

“Magic.” Holly said with a wink. Peter grinned and held the wish-maker closer to his chest. “Now, go on inside. Tony and I need to go.”

“Yeah. Good luck with Midtown kid.” Tony said. “Trust me, you can totally get that scholarship. Magic or not.”

“You think so, Mr. Stark?”

“Are you kidding me? You’re already smarter than half the guys working at Stark Industries. When you’re actually old enough to work a job hit me up.”

Tony got up then already uncomfortable with the look of awe and hero worship that Peter had on his face. He picked up his broom while Peter babbled his thanks at the both of them. Holly seemed far more comfortable with Peter which rankled just a little. Was she good at everything?

“Goodbye Peter.” She said activating the foot thrusters. “Race you back to the tower Tony!”

“Oh no you don’t!”

Tony jumped on his broom and shot into the air right as Holly took off. They left a starstruck Peter Parker on the roof. They flew straight back to the tower and laughed together once they landed. Holly was really very awkward as Jarvis helped remove the suit. She tripped three times, something Tony wasn’t going to let her forget anytime soon.

“Why did you give that kid the wish?”

“It felt right. I dunno Tony. Sometimes my gut just tells me I should do something and I do it. Peter is going to need it.”

“Well.” Tony said. “Let’s make sure he has enough magic for whatever it is. Jarvis. Call Midtown. Get a scholarship program running, pays for the full four years for low income kids with promise. Stark Industries will cover it. Keep it on the down low too. You know the drill.”

“Of course, sir.” Jarvis said.

“You big ol’ softie.” Holly said smiling at him. “My magic would’ve gotten him in.”

“Yeah and now your magic can do something else for him. Like I dunno…give him confidence to talk to a girl.” Holly laughed at that and lightly slapped his arm telling him that she was sure Peter would be excellent with girls when the time came.

Clearly she didn’t know how nerds worked.

“Holly.” Tony said. “You shouldn’t worry about trying to meet Loki’s expectations. If he doesn’t see how awesome you are then he’s just as stupid as Howard.”

“Thanks Tony.”

“And you should really cut your hair.”

Chapter Text

Two figures prostrated themselves at his feet. Their injuries and exhaustion were apparent, as was the lack of the two others he had sent. But he felt no pity, he felt nothing but disgust. Failure was not tolerated. The air was filled with the familiar stench of blood and bile and he wondered if the smell of urine would soon make itself known. The room was dark and the stones around him crumbled as he shifted in his throne. He listened as they explained, their faces and mouths nearly licking the stained, diseased floor.

His mind wandered coming up for the appropriate punishment for his two failed children. There was no excuse for failure, especially against those mortals. His mind stumbled over itself at two words.

“What did you say?” He growled, his voice echoing strangely across the barren wasteland.

“The Hallows, Father. The mortal wielded all three, she was the one who killed Maw and Cull.” Proxima said, her voice shaking with pain and fear. “She had no mercy and power beyond imagining.”

“Impossible.” Thanos spat. “No mere mortal could weild The Hallows.”

It wasn’t possible. Mortals could not ever hope to command Death. The gall and pride it would require to claim such a title was incalculable. His lover would kill them for the insult of it all. No one but him could ever be worthy of her touch, of her power. He would destroy that insolent mortal, take their soul and gift it to his lover to honor her name and her dignity.

“Father, she cast impossible magic.” Corvus said. “She created 100,000 snakes that consumed Cull where he stood. She conjured a dragon of fire, she killed without hesitation. I saw the Hallows myself, I felt their power.”

A thought occurred in his mind. It slithered and slunk around, moving between what he knew and what he hoped. It gathered it all up together, a snake tying itself into a knot. There was no way a mortal, a weak Terran, could ever dream to Master Death. And yet, and yet, and yet. The only way to know was to test. He must know for sure before he acted. His beloved deserved nothing more than exactness. Surely, she would approve of his plan.

I will serve you my love.

“Get up.” He growled kicking out at his children. Both of them jumped up, fear poorly hidden in their visage. “I require something of you, you must not fail me or my wrath will be swift.”

“Anything father.” Proxima promised.

“Please tell us your will.” Corvus begged.

“I want that mortal dead.” He snarled. “Leave me and gather as many monsters and beasts as you can find. The most fearsome and dangerous, capture them and send them to earth. We will grind this impudent woman into dust beneath my heel. She will not keep me from my victory.”

“Yes father.”

“We will leave at once.”

“No distance is too far. No price is too high.” He said. “You will destroy her before I arrive on earth.”

They nodded and bowed, Thanos glared at them.

“GO!”

His voice shook the very ground as his two failures rushed off to fulfill his will. He settled back into his throne. Carefully he reached out and created an oval of glass, with a few whispered words in the lost language of his people the glass began to glow. When the bright light faded, there was a moving image. Thanos watched as a tiny mortal woman with messy hair and a lightning bolt scar mixed paints onto a canvas, a smile on her face. Plans filled and solidified in his mind, his heart beating just a bit quicker.

Soon my love. Soon we will be together.  

*****

Steve stood by the elevator watching the scene with amusement bubbling in his gut. Holly, her long hair having finally magically grown back overnight and thicker than ever, was fussing over Loki. They were supposed to be heading to their art class together, Holly having finally agreed to start going again. But first she had to make sure that Loki wouldn’t explode or anything while she was gone. Thor was meant to be babysitting, he had yarn and knitting needles ready, with plans on teaching Loki a skill that he had yet to master himself.

Loki did not look pleased.

“I don’t see why you have to go.”

“Because I want to.” She said simply.

“If you want a painting why not just enchant a brush to do it for you?”

“That takes all the fun out of it. Now stay here and don’t stress yourself out. Thor knows how to contact me if you really need me.”

“Must you leave me alone with him?”

“Don’t fret.” Thor said. “You’ll enjoy knitting brother.”

Loki glared at Thor and Holly used that as a chance to sneak away. She hurried over to Steve and pulled him into the elevator all the while yelling out her goodbyes. When the door to the elevator closed and they started moving down she leaned against the walls with a sigh.

“I thought I’d never get out of there.”

“You have a lot of patience for him.”

“I guess.”

“I like the hair.” Steve tried again. The hair was different. It was long again, perhaps even longer than it had been before. But this time it had been cut and styled. Tony had dragged Holly to his stylist and the man had done something magical with how he layered the dark curls. Her hair looked less like a hopeless mess and more like something Holly had done on purpose, even if it was still wild.

“You do?” She asked reaching out to pull on one of the shortened curls that framed the sides of her face.

“It’s nice.”

“Thanks.” She said. “Tony finally wore me down on getting it fixed up.”

“It suits you.” Steve decided.

“You tell that to all the ladies?”

“I’ll have you know that when I was doing my monkey dance for war bonds back in the day I helped a lot of the ladies in my troupe with their hair. I know something about style.”

She laughed at that and finally stood up from where she’d been letting the elevator hold her weight.

“How’d you grow it all out anyway?”

“Just a couple of potions to speed up hair growth.” She said. “Easy enough to buy and it’s better than just charming your hair longer. This is my actual hair, not a magical construct.”

“And you decided to keep it long?”

“The short hair wasn’t working for me, and not just because it looked ugly.”

“Well it’s nice.”

“So you’ve said.” She deadpanned right as the elevator opened up to the ground floor. She snapped her fingers and Steve felt the familiar identity hiding spell go over his skin. “Hey, do you mind if we make a pit stop after class? There’s something I need to do. I’ve been putting it off.”

“Sure.” Steve said. “I’ve got no plans for the rest of the night.”

“Great. Then let’s get going. Are you sure you’re comfortable apparating there?”

Apparating wasn’t by any means comfortable but it was quick which is what they needed if they weren’t going to be late. He nodded and held out his arm. She took it and within a moment Steve felt the semi-nauseating sensation of being squished and squeezed through a too tight tube. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself in the alley right outside where they has their class.

“You okay?”

“Fine.” Steve said. “Let’s get inside.”

She smiled and gave his arm a pat before leading him inside. They’d been going to these twice weekly classes for some time now and neither of them felt very awkward anymore. The originally rude but now rather endearing woman at the front desk greeted them by name, unaware of their famous identities. They went to their classroom and greeted the other students with ease as they found their normal spots. Steve glanced over to the drying wrack where his painting and Holly’s from the last class were still laying side by side.

Holly had made some progress in the class. She could now reliably make shapes and have other people correctly figure out what those shapes were. Her work could, at best, be described as abstract. But Steve thought it was nice. He was much more of a realistic artist but there was something raw about Holly’s art now. You didn’t understand what you were looking at but it still made you feel something.

“So.” Holly said as she set out her art supplies. “How’s Peggy?”

“She’s great.” Steve said. “She’s really enjoying retirement now you know. When I visited her yesterday she made me paint her house for her, she decided the white was too boring.”

“Do you always end up doing manual labor for her?”

“Once she asked me to go intimidate her neighbor into moving their car.” Steve said. “Which she could have totally done herself but she really enjoyed seeing that guy nearly piss himself when Captain America came to look at him in disappointment.”

Holly giggled trying to keep herself quiet as the instructor came in and started to explain the lesson. Today they were supposed to try to paint the person next to them. Holly and Steve exchanged looks and Steve knew he was probably going to regret this. They moved their seats around so that their canvasses were hidden from one another and they were facing each other. Steve watched for a moment as Holly started putting colors onto her palette that she probably shouldn’t be before deciding to just accept it.

 “Peggy wants to meet you.”

“Really?”

“Well now that she knows that the person who healed her wasn’t a hallucination, she’s curious.”

“I won’t admit to being involved in such illegal activity.”

“Right. I told her I’d bring you over for dinner. She’ll make something British, she said.”

“And how could I possibly refuse such an invitation?” She asked.

Steve suppressed the shiver that ran down his spine. For some reason he feared the day Holly Potter and Peggy Carter met, but he feared Peggy’s anger if he didn’t bring Holly over more. His romantic feelings for the woman may have finally faded but the fear she’d inspired in him on day one was still as strong as ever. So, he’d extended the invitation signing what would be his own doom. The conversation continued, Steve talking about Peggy and Peggy’s niece Sharon that Steve had met on one of his visits. Sharon was nice and tended to tease Steve a lot, it was good to know Peggy had family though. Holly listened in interest as Steve talked about what he’d been up to since the fight in Central Park.

This was normally how these things went. It was through these art classes that Steve had found closure for a lot of the lingering emotions he’d been holding in since his time in the ice. Holly had urged him to talk to Peggy and getting to know the woman as she was now, learning that she had lived a good and happy life had helped Steve move on. He still missed his friends but now it was more of a dull ache instead of something that threatened to swallow him whole.  

They hadn’t had much time to spend together since Loki had woken up. Steve didn’t blame Holly for being busy. Loki was rather…needy. He was just glad she was able to make time for their class again. Carefully Steve began to mix together colors until he’d created the right pinkish pale color of Holly’s skin. Without thought he started to sketch out and paint Holly as he knew her. He remembered her complaint of that magical painter who’d made her dainty and feminine. He knew he could do better.

“How are things going in the magical world?”

“Some politicians are being less than…cooperative.”

“About what?”

“They don’t see why we should offer aid to the muggle world.” She said. “After all the muggle world has never offered us aid. Never mind the fact that we’ve hidden ourselves so well that it would be impossible for anyone to help us. Never mind the fact that if we don’t help the muggle world, everyone will die. Honestly I just want to shake some of them!”

“Are they really that upset about helping?”

“It’s difficult. A lot of the old crowd is of the opinion that anything that the muggles deal with is not our concern.” She said. “Trying to convince them of anything different is nearly impossible. But I refuse to let the universe die because of some stubborn old men.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

“Loki is honestly my best bet in convincing them, but not until he’s better.” Holly said.

“Never thought I’d hear that.” Steve muttered causing Holly to laugh.

Her laugh trailed off and a strange look crossed her face. She put her brush down and looked around the room.

“Is something the matter?” Steve asked his hackles rising a little in response.

“No…I mean…” She shook her head. “A strange feeling just passed over me.”

“Strange? Are you feeling sick?”

“No. Sorry it’s gone now. For a moment I felt as if I was being watched.” She said. “It’s probably nothing. There’s no magic user on earth who’d get around the spells I have up to block scrying. Loki might’ve tried something, but I don’t think he would.”

“Right.” Steve said. “Well, just let me know if it comes back. You know I’ve got you covered.”

“Thanks Steve.” She said picking up her brush again. “I know you’re here for me. But honestly I’m fine. It’s probably my paranoia acting up again. I’ll check over my wards later and find nothing wrong with them.”

Steve nodded and let the conversation continue. To his lack of surprise Holly continued to look a bit jumpy for about thirty minutes more, he purposefully kept the conversation light and meaningless until Holly looked comfortable again. Eventually, as what normally happened at these classes, the conversation trailed off and both of them focused on their paintings. Steve thought his was going quite well.

He painted Holly in one of her sweaters, it was red with a golden ‘H’ on the chest. He carefully added onto the outfit a silvery cloak, and a necklace with a black stone. He placed a belt on her hips that held a scabbard and painted out the sword of Gryffindor in her left hand. In her right he added her wand. He knew that this painting would probably require more than one session to finish, and he wasn’t surprised to hear the teacher confirm that they’d be working on this project for the next few weeks.

The rough sketch still made her look incredibly fearsome. Above all else, he wanted to display how in awe Steve had been of her when she’d fought off the Black Order. Steve wondered how difficult it would be to get her hair just right. Because the hair had to be right. As he worked he tried not to think about what Holly was painting. She probably wouldn’t be too mean. Not like Bucky would’ve been.

When the class ended Holly hailed them a cab and gave an address that Steve didn’t recognize. He trusted her though and followed her lead. The cab let them out right outside a hobby shop, some sort of 24-hour place that sold crafting supplies. Holly dropped the identity spell on them as they walked inside.

“Hello?” Holly called out.

“Holly?” A trembling voice asked. “Is that you?”

A woman Steve had never seen before but matched Thor’s description of Kari very closely popped up from behind a shelf. She looked stressed beyond all belief. Her hair was limp in its bun and there were bags under her eyes.

“Oh, it is!” Kari said rushing forward. “I’ve been so worried about you! What happened out there? One minute you were with me and the next you were making snakes out of nothing! Are you okay? You got hurt pretty bad in that fight? Oh, my goodness you’re dying aren’t you? I tried to contact you, but no one was answering anything and I could hardly believe what I saw on that TV!”

“Kari. Kari.” Holly said reaching out and taking the woman’s hands her voice calming. “I’m fine. The reason I didn’t respond was because I’ve been unconscious for the past while. I woke up and there was so much to do, now I’m better and I wanted to talk to you in person.”

“I don’t understand.” Kari said gripping Holly’s hands right back. “The news is saying you’re a witch, Holly! Nothing makes sense!”

“Can we talk?” Holly asked. “In private? I promise I’ll explain.”

“But my shop…”

“Steve here can watch it for you, isn’t that right Steve?”

“Yeah.” Steve said. “Of course, it’s nice to meet you ma’am. I’d be happy to keep things calm out here while you and Holly talk.”

“Captain America.” She breathed. “Captain America is in my store.”

“Call me Steve ma’am.”

“Oh my goodness.” She said looking over at Holly. “He wants me to call him Steve.”

“Yeah he’s a regular guy most of the time.” Holly said. “Come on, let’s get some tea and talk. Steve’ll make sure nothing happens out here.”

Steve watched Holly usher her date away from him and towards the back where he assumed Kari’s office was. He didn’t mind being relegated to cashier, he didn’t even question why Holly had asked him to come with her. She had after all helped him with Peggy and all of those complicated romantic feelings he’d had. Steve wanted nothing more than to be there for Holly in the same capacity, no matter how her conversation with Kari played out.

Steve stood vigil behind the register. It was thankfully simple enough that he knew how it worked. He didn’t honestly expect to see anyone but to his surprise it seemed that New York was filled with night life knitters. That late in the evening, plenty of people were still coming in to roam the shelves and buy yarn and other supplies. Some of them recognized him, others still paused when they saw his face and then decided it was a coincidence, some were so out of it they didn’t know him at all.

He sold things and helped people get what they wanted off of higher shelves. By the time 45 minutes had passed he was completely confident in his role and hardly noticed the passing time. Even when people asked for selfies or asked him why he was working the night shift at a craft store. He allowed the selfies and told those who asked that he was just trying to repay a favor. Just when Steve was considering grabbing a broom from the nearby closet and doing some sweeping up for Kari, Holly returned.

His friend had slightly reddened eyes and her shoulders were stiffer than normal.

“Holly?”

“She said she needed time. To think.” Holly said. “Which is fine.”

“Fine?”

“Let’s go.” Holly said. “She’ll be out in a minute.”

“But I was going to do some cleaning up for…”

“Steve.”

“Right. Let’s go.”

He followed her out of the store and then again when she started walking towards the tower instead of getting a cab. She was walking very quickly through the partially empty sidewalk so Steve jogged a little to catch up with her.

“I told her the truth.” She said. “What I was and why I left. And then I told her that…that I liked her a lot and that if she still wanted to… that we could. Because she’s amazing and kind and sweet and we could be happy, I think. But she. Steve I could tell, she’s not. She doesn’t want me.”

“You don’t know that.” Steve said. “She could just be overwhelmed. I mean that is a huge thing to unload on someone.”

“Yeah, right.” She scoffed, hugging herself around the middle. “She was interested in me when I was a cleaning lady who knitted, she doesn’t want someone who swings a sword around and doesn’t feel bad when she kills someone in a fight.”

Steve winced at her tone. He wanted to reach out and comfort her but he wasn’t sure if that would be welcome.

“And who can blame her?” She asked. “It’s not like I’m that much of a catch. I probably terrify her now. Of course, she’d want me to go away. I’m not fit for this. I shouldn’t have even tried to go on that date in the first place.”

“Holly.”

“What Steve? Are you going to tell me I’m wrong? That love is real and I just have to wait to find someone who isn’t terrified of me?”

“I was just going to say that if I have to be optimistic about love then so do you.”

She paused and actually looked at him, a huff of laughter escaped her. She’d been constantly telling Steve to stay positive, to keep his heart open and that eventually he’d find someone he liked. It hadn’t been easy to take her advice in the beginning but things had been much easier now. Steve wasn’t going to let Holly give up if she wasn’t going to let him give up.

“Just give her time.” Steve said. “And if she’s scared of you then that’s her fault. Everyone who really knows you, knows you’d never hurt someone like Kari. You deserve to have someone who knows you.”

“Thanks Steve.” She said.

“Anytime. Now, let’s go back to the tower and break into Tony’s ice cream stash. I’m thinking there’s a movie night in our future.”

Chapter Text

“So let me make sure I understand this correctly.” Loki said, doing everything in his power not to sound incredulous. “The reason you didn’t stab Proxima or Glaive with your sword is because the blade is poisoned. With basilisk venom.”

“Yep.” Holly said before taking a sip of butterbeer.

Loki looked at the woman, disbelief shining in his eyes. Around him the other Avengers were lounging, some of them having their own conversations, but most of them listening in on his.

“And you know it’s covered in basilisk venom because you were the one who got it tainted with it in the first place. When you fought a basilisk. When you were 12.”

“That’s right.”

His mind buzzed slightly with pain, the headache potion Holly had given him had for the most part banished the side-effects from their latest healing session. There was still a lingering pain though. He thought it was worth it. He felt more himself than he had in centuries. Just yesterday he’d stabbed Thor with the man’s own knitting needles and he didn’t even aim for someplace fatal. The rage and pain that had been his near constant companions for the past 400 years had been pushed back and he could finally think.

You slew a basilisk at the age of 12. With Godric Gryffindor’s sword.”

“Where exactly have I lost you?”

“12!”

“Yes. I was 12, it was about…oh I dunno 4 or 5 months before my 13th birthday.” She said. “I hadn’t even technically finished my second year of magic school yet.”

“And now.” Loki said as if she hadn’t even spoken. “You have a sword that will kill anyone with one hit, one nick is all it takes for a near instant death.”

“It’s more inconvenient than anything.” She shrugged taking another long sip of her drink and then leaning back against the multitude of pillows she’d gathered around herself. “I mean if I’m trying to just bring someone in for questioning, or arrest them, I can’t hardly even use the sword. I only brought it out at the park because I didn’t much care if I nicked those guys.”

“Oh, you made that much clear with what you did to Cull.” Loki said. “I just…you wrestled Glaive, right? I didn’t imagine that? You just wrestled him so you wouldn’t kill him immediately with Godric Gryffindor’s sword.”

“I thought one of the aliens should be left alive for questioning. Not that Fury managed to do any of that.” She snorted. “And are you going to get over the Gryffindor thing?”

“Am I going to get over the Gryffindor thing?” Loki scoffed. “Listen to yourself! That sword was legendary even when I was a child and now it can’t even be used because it’s covered in the most potent venom of all time.”

Holly tilted her head thoughtfully. The entire room was relaxed. There hadn’t been any real trouble in the world since the Central Park fight. A calm before the storm that everyone was determined to enjoy with all they had. No one knew when Thanos would act, or when another villain with far less style than Loki would attack. But for now Holly was free to go to her painting classes and any other nonsense she wished to do.

Even if all of that was an absolute waste of time when Loki was right there. What use did Holly have for Captain America when Loki was available? What did Stark have that Loki lacked? Loki shook himself, now wasn’t the time for these thoughts.

“I suppose.” Holly mused. “That I could design like a…safety spell on the sword. Like a microscopic layer of something around the blade so that I could use it but the metal wouldn’t actually directly touch anyone’s skin. That way the basilisk venom on it couldn’t do it’s thing and I could stab people without worry.”

“And mute all of the other properties of the blade?” Loki asked.

“It’s not like I need those properties most of the time. I’ll just take the spell off when I need to get down to business.”

“I just can’t believe you wrestled Glaive. The man is three times your size.”

“And he still sucked at it.” Holly declared while reaching into a bag of chips that was floating next to her. She popped a few of the oddly orange triangles into her mouth and then motioned with orange tinted fingers to the bag. “Want some Doritos?”

“I’ll pass.”

“Your loss.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“You know if you’re going to be on earth for the foreseeable future you really should lean into it. Learn to enjoy humanity’s greatest hits as it were.”

“The magical world is the only thing that could be called great.”

“You haven’t even seen it yet.” Not for lack of trying. Holly, despite Loki’s incredible progress, still refused to show him any entrances into the magical world. She wasn’t certain Loki was ready for the ‘stress’. Loki hated that she was probably a little right.

“I don’t have to.”

“Muggles have come up with some pretty great stuff.” Holly argued, her face amused. “Doritos. Rock music. Novelty Toasters.”

“Oh however could I have missed such glory.” Loki deadpanned. “Truly, what is the wonder of the Bifrost compared to a novelty toaster?”

“Just try the crisps.” She pushed on the floating bag and it gently moved towards Loki’s end of the couch. He lifted up a hand to stop its movement and looked at the red bag in consternation.

“I’ll try one and then you must drop it.”

“Fine.”

He reached into the bag as carefully as he could. Using his thumb and pointer finger he pinched the corner of one of the broken chips, ensuring as little of his skin as possible touched the orange dusted surface. He lifted the so-called food up to his face and inspected it. If he hadn’t seen Holly eat one mere moments before, he would be certain that it was poisoned. That color was just not natural.

He moved the tiny piece to his mouth, trying to find a way to eat it without physically having to taste it. Holly and more than half of the Avengers were watching him. He wanted to summon up some annoyance. For the past year he’d been plagued by bouts of homicidal rage but Holly had managed to smother those at the source. Part of his ‘treatment’ plan was to spend supervised time with the Avengers each day to ensure that his magically-caused hatred of them was actually disappearing.

It was because of that, that Loki couldn’t bring himself to snarl at the nearby Clint Barton who was looking far too amused for his own good. Just as Loki was about to actually let the bright orange thing touch his tongue the room was filled with a crack. Standing right in the middle of the room was a magic user, he was tall and gangly with a smattering of freckles and Dorito red hair. On his arms were strange twisting scars.

“HOLLY!” The magic user howled as all of the Avengers and Loki jumped at once with their nearby weapons at the ready.

“Password?” Holly asked.

“Draco Malfoy is a Ferret! We don’t have time for this Holly! It’s happening!”

“Really?” Holly said hopping forward and grabbing at the other magic user’s hands. “It’s time?”

“Yes! Oh Merlin what am I going to do? It’s all going so fast. What if it goes wrong? What if someone gets hurt?”

“Ron. Breathe.” Holly ordered. “This is what we’ve been training for.”

Holly snapped her fingers, summoning her armor onto her body. All of the Avengers stiffened from where they had slightly relaxed at the sight of the battle armor.

“We have to go. Who knows how long we have!”

“We’ve got a least a couple of hours, probably much more if you do it right.”

“Ahhhhh.” Ron whined.

“Holly what’s going on??” Thor demanded. “Who is this?”

“This is Ron, my very first and greatest friend.” Holly said. “We met almost 20 years ago and we’ve been near inseparable since. He and Hermione, my other best friend, were the two people who stuck by my side during the war. Without them I would’ve never defeated Voldemort or most of the Death Eaters.”

“Hey.” Ron said his voice unsteady and afraid. The man looked close to hyperventilating.

“What’s wrong with him?” Tony asked.

“Just nerves.” Holly said. “Hermione and him are married and Hermione’s just gone into labor with their first baby.”

“I’m gonna be a dad!” Ron said. “Oh Loki, what was I thinking? I can’t be a father! What if the baby takes after me?”

Loki blinked at his name being used as a swear. As if he were…well a worshipped god.

“Maybe don’t pray to the god while he’s in the room?” Holly suggested making Ron nearly scream in shock when he spotted Loki who was standing there with a smirk on his face.

“Warn me next time!”

“Come on.” Holly said. “I told you I was living with him, what did you think that meant?”

“I don’t know! Don’t ask me! I’m frazzled!”

“Ron.” Holly said placing her hands on the taller man’s shoulders and looking him dead in his blue eyes. “Your baby is going to be just fine and you are going to be an amazing father. You’ve spent the last month perfecting your diaper changing and baby burping skills on literally any baby you could get your hands on. You’ve built, by hand, and warded the greatest nursery I’ve ever seen. You’ve saved up and put away enough money to not work for the next three years so that you can focus on the baby while Hermione works on her political goals. You, Ronald Weasley, willingly read books about baby development. You’ve been more excited about this baby than anyone I’ve ever met. You Ron, the greatest of your brothers, are going to be an amazing father. You were born for this. Now stop panicking! Your wife needs you!”

Ron took in a deep breath and then breathed it out, the tension draining from him. Loki had to admit that if all that Holly had said was true then the man’s dedication to his unborn child was quite impressive.

“Right.” Ron said. “You’re right. I can do this. I fought Voldemort. I’m a war general! I can be a dad.”

“Exactly.” Holly said. “Now come on. Let’s get going.”

“Why are you in your armor?” Steve asked. “Are you expecting trouble?”

“It’s tradition.” Ron answered, still mostly calm. “The expecting father has to stay with the mother during the birth since during labor the mother can…lose control of her magic.”

“Labor is intense enough that most women will destroy things during contractions with their magic.” Holly added. “The healer has to focus on keeping the baby protected from the magic, and make sure that the mother doesn’t accidentally banish the baby out before it’s ready.”

“Which means it’s my job to protect everything else from Hermione’s magic.” Ron said proudly. “I’ll be too busy to protect against attack, so traditionally the couple’s best friend will stand as guard during labor.”

“It’s a great honor.” Holly said, grinning. “Hence the armor. Need to make sure I’m ready for anything.”

“Are you expecting trouble?” Loki asked.

“We’re all…pretty politically important.” Ron admitted. “Hermione is actually getting ready to run for office in the next couple of years. The three of us have plenty of magical enemies, if anyone wanted to take a shot at us-”

“This is the best time.” Holly finished. “There might be trouble which is why we’ve got a plan. A plan we need to set in motion, like right now.”

The two magic users looked very serious and Loki stepped forward.

“Do you need help? I could offer more protection if you think it’s needed.”

“Hell.” Tony said. “We all will.”

Plenty of the other Avengers agreed and offered their help. Ron’s eyes were stuck on Loki though, even when Thor offered his hammer.

“Really?” Ron squeaked looking at Loki in awe. “You’d…you’d do that?”

“Of course. Any magical baby deserves safety.” That had been the whole point.

“If you want to help I won’t say no.” Ron said. “The more the merrier.”

“Great.” Holly said. “The delivery is going to be at Hogwarts, you still remember where that is right?”

Loki nodded.

“The warding systems changed, best to teleport to the front gate, I’ll send someone to let you in. Tony bring the portable Jarvis. Thor, bring the wrapped gift from my knitting box. Everyone else, bring whatever you think you’ll need to stand guard for anywhere between 2 and 18 hours.” Holly said rapidly. “We have to go now. Hermione needs us. See you when you get here.”

And with that Holly disappeared with Ron, leaving with two loud cracks. For half a moment Loki felt a huge wave of panic engulf his mind at her disappearance before he pushed it down.

“Well?” Loki asked. “What are you waiting for? Let’s get going!”

He couldn’t believe he was going back to Hogwarts. Hogwarts where he had spent some of his happiest years. The place he’d met Ralston. He wondered if it would look the same, he feared both outcomes. Around him the others scrambled to get into armor and gather their weapons. Loki himself didn’t need to cast more than a couple of spells before he immediately had what he needed. He created a teleportation device that would take the entire group to where Holly had instructed. He knew the exact coordinates as if they’d been inscribed into his heart after all.

It took them 15 minutes to be ready to go, and once they were all reconvened back in the penthouse, Loki explained how the teleportation device would work. He thought Holly would like it if he was kind to the Avengers for their first teleportation experience. They all listened to his instructions and held onto the ribbon he’d made with a firm grip.

“Ready?” Loki asked.

Once he’d gotten confirmation from everyone, he said the activation word and away they flew. A swooping sensation in the gut and a spinning pull at the navel was all the warning they had before the world around them blurred. An immediate eternity later they all landed on the gravel pathway leading up to two large ornate iron gates. Everyone but Thor and Loki felt to the ground in various states of nausea and pain. Groans and moans filled the air as the muggles got their heads on straight.

Loki paid them no mind. His eyes were trained on the gleaming castle. It was dark, well past sunset here. The only light came from the stars and the windows of the castle. It looked exactly as he remembered, down to the last gray stone. An invisible hand reached into his chest and gripped his heart in a white knuckled fist and he tried to swallow away the lump in his throat.

“Brother?” Thor asked.

“It’s the same.” Loki said lifted up two hands and gripping two of the iron posts. The multiple towers of the castle gleamed in the starlight, calling to him. “Everything.”

“It’s very beautiful.” Thor said. “It rivals even Asgard I think. I can feel the magic in its stones.”

“I met Ralston here.” Loki said. “He…he loved this place. Considered it his home. And it’s still here.”

“Oh brother.” Thor said placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing lightly. “I’m sorry. You were taken from him, from this place too soon.”

Loki closed his eyes and forced them to remain dry. It took him three deep gulps of air before he felt in control of himself. He pushed himself away from the gate and turned back to the Avengers.

“So.” Steve said, looking up at the castle with awe in his eyes. “What is this place?”

“This is Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is the oldest european magical institution on the planet. There are of course older schools in Egypt, India, and China, those schools are still arguing about which one is older I imagine. But in Europe, none rivals this one. It’s over one thousand years old.” Loki said. “This is where Ralston Potter trained, it is also where Holly learnt her magic.”

“Why are we meeting her here?” Bruce asked. “Shouldn’t we be going to a hospital?”

“The school has a healer.” Loki said. “And if memory serves me, this is one of the securest places in the world. The warding system here is so complex that no one has ever successfully laid siege to this school. Holly probably insisted they go here for the delivery for the security.”

“How do we get in?” Natasha asked.

“Someone has to let us in. It would take me days to break through the wards.”

“Don’t worry buddy.” Tony said patting the metal case that Loki assumed was the portable Jarvis. “Hogwarts is gonna love ya.”

Loki snorted. Honestly, of course Holly would take this opportunity to introduce the two sentient buildings to one another. He wasn’t certain if a castle as lovely as Lady Hogwarts would be interested in Jarvis, a mere infant by comparison but he held his tongue. Now wasn’t the time. He heard a crunch and turned back to the castle to see someone walking towards the gate, a huge hulking figure. Much larger than even Thor. They were carrying a lantern on a staff, the warm yellow light barely lighting them to reveal a large bushy beard and clothing made of animal hide and fur.

“Hello?” Thor yelled out. “We are the Avengers, we’re here to help Holly Potter.”

“I know who you are!” A deep voice said as they stepped right up to the gate. “ ‘Olly told me you’d be here, mighty nice of ya to come all the way out here for the delivery. Now let me see.”

The gigantic man snapped the fingers of his free hand and produced a large floating mage light that immediately lit up the area. The huge man had warm brown eyes with thick brown hair that had streaks of gray in it. He was taller than Thor by two or more feet and about twice as wide.

“She said there’d be…six of ya. A woman with red hair, there you are. Two gods, check. An archer, a man with a light in his chest and one other who’d look normal.” The man said pointing to each of them in turn. “That looks about right. Names Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper o’ the keys of Hogwarts and Professor of Care of Magic Creatures. You can call me Hagrid, any friend of ‘Olly’s is a friend of mine.”

“Is she here?” Loki asked.

“Got ‘ere ‘bout ten minutes ago with ‘Ermione and Ron. They’re already settled with Madam Pomphrey in the healing hall.” Hagrid said. “I’m supposed to take you up to ‘em. Let me just get out my key and I’ll get this gate open for ya.”

They all stepped back as the man reached into his very furry coat and rummaged around for a few minutes before finally pulling out a large iron key. The man stuck it into the lock on the other side of the gate and Loki felt the waves of magic as the wards were opened just enough for the gates to open and allow them entrance. Hagrid heaved the gates open and then motioned for them to come inside. It was odd to feel dwarfed by someone so large, Loki was used to being one of the tallest people in the room. He didn’t like having to crane his neck.

“So.” Steve said. “How do you know Holly?

“‘Ow do I know ‘Olly?” The man laughed. “I’ve known her since she was small enough to fit in my palm I have! I remember when ‘er parents were students here, I even knew her grandparents I did.”

Judging by the size of the man’s palms he was quite sure Holly could fit into them now.

“I took care of Holly when she was a baby, right after her parents died, took her to her safehouse where she grew up.” Hagrid continued. “I remember that, dark times, it was. Losing both James and Lily that night…never a couple more in love ‘ave I ever seen and to leave behind an orphan. Couldn’t stop crying for weeks.”

“You knew James Potter?” Loki asked.

“That I did. We were in the Order together, fought in the war against You-Know-Who under the same banner.” Hagrid said. “They were good friends o’ mine, they were.”

They continued to walk up the path towards the castle, around them the air was cool and calm. Loki could sense no danger on the grounds. The only thing he could sense were the powerful wards closing shut right behind them.

“Uhm.” Clint said. “If you don’t mind me asking, how are you so huge?”

“My dad was an adventurous man.” Hagrid said. “Found a woman he loved and said damn to the rest o’ the world. My mum was a giantess from the mountains, you see. So I’m only half human.”

“Woah.” Clint said. “That’s…pretty cool.”

“Mighty kind of you to say. Wasn’t always such a forgivable thing.” Hagrid said. “The war wasn’t kind to those like me. My blood wasn’t pure so the Death Eaters wanted to get rid o’ me. Not that they managed it, o’ course. Bloody stupid war it was.”

“Holly mentioned that she’d worked on changing laws when it came to blood purity in the last decade.” Steve said.

“Yes, indeed she did, bless her heart. Thanks to her I got to finish my magical education, I’ll be graduating in a few weeks.”

The main doors to the castle were quite close now. Loki turned to look at the elderly half-giant.

“What do you mean finish?” Loki asked.

“I went to school with You-Know-Who, or Voldemort I suppose.” Hagrid said. “Bloke didn’t like me much on account of my mum. He framed me for the murder of a student when I was 12, got myself expelled and my wand snapped. Since I wasn’t all human couldn’t leave the magical world and since I couldn’t use magic I was in quite a spot of trouble. ‘Eadmaster Dumbledore let me stay at the school and earn my keep as a groundskeeper. Don’t need magic to grow pumpkins you don’t.”

“That’s awful.” Steve said. “You were just a child.”

“I’ve ‘ad a good life. All that happened back in the 1940s, practically a lifetime ago it was.” Hagrid said sounding unconcerned with his lot in life. “After the war, ‘Olly campaigned for my innocence and got my name cleared. Then she took me to London, bought me my wand and my books and I’ve been studying ever since. Going be a full-fledged wizard this time in three weeks.”

“Well congratulations.” Bruce said. “Really, that’s excellent news.”

“Thank you. I’m mighty pleased with it myself. I’m gonna be traveling to France to celebrate.”

“France?” Thor asked. “Why France?”

“Well you see, the ‘eadmistress of Beauxbatons, that’s the French magic school in Paris. She’s invited me to stay with her to celebrate and I’m planning to propose.” He shared the last part with glee. “I ‘aven’t told anyone about that yet, meant to be a surprise. I couldn’t marry ‘er until I ‘ad a name for myself.”

“You sly dog.” Tony said grinning. “Tell me is this headmistress beautiful?”

“She’s only the most beautiful woman in all the world.” Hagrid sighed, a smile on his face. “I tell you, nothing makes me happier than ‘er not even my dog Fang.”

They spent the rest of the walk listening to Hagrid talk about his lady love and inwardly wondering how a human womam and a man that large would…well… For that matter how had Hagrid’s father managed to help conceive a child with a giantess? It probably didn’t bear thinking on. Hagrid pushed open the doors to the castle and welcomed them in with a bright grin.

“We’re going right to the healing hall, Olly’ll give you a tour later I’m sure.”

“That sounds great.” Bruce said. “I hope nothing’s happened yet.”

“Don’t you worry. No place safer than Hogwarts. But after everything those three ‘ave been through, it’s better safe than sorry.”

The man led them up the grand staircase and down to the healing hall. It was in the same spot Loki remembered. Holly was standing there waiting for them, sword on her hip and wand in hand. The Avengers were looking at the magical portraits and other magical devices in the castle with awe.

“You’re here!” Holly said. “Thank you for getting them Hagrid!”

“Anything for you ‘Olly.” Hagrid said stepping forward and pulling Holly into a hug. “‘Ow’s it going in there?”

“Her water’s broken.” Holly said. “Madam Pomphrey thinks it’s going to take about 9 hours for the delivery. So far nothing’s happened.”

“No news is good news right now.” Hagrid decided. “Well, I best be letting the ‘eadmistress know you’re set up here. She’ll likely want you to spend a few days ‘ere.”

“I suspected as much and it won’t be a problem.” She said. “Go on, Hagrid. Don’t stay up too late, you’ve got finals starting tomorrow don’t you?”

Hagrid did indeed have exams tomorrow. Holly wished him luck and warned him to get a good night’s sleep. NEWTS weren’t a joke, Loki knew. He doubted they’d gotten any easier in the past 400 years. Once Hagrid left, Loki turned to Holly and asked the first question on his mind.

“Is his so-called girlfriend real?”

“Madame Maxime?” Holly asked. “Of course, she is. The two of them met when I was 14 and started going steady once the war ended.”

“And she’s…Look, I’m sorry I’ve just been trying to visualize.” Tony began.

“She’s a half-giantess. Although if you say that she’ll say she’s big-boned and make you regret saying anything else. A lifetime of prejudice will do that to a woman.” Holly said, rolling her eyes. “They’re the same height when she’s not wearing her heels. The two of them were practically head over heels for one another the moment they met 14 years ago. How did you even get on the topic of her anyway?”

“He told us he was about to graduate and since he’s a bit older than 17 we needed some context.” Bruce said.

“Did Voldemort really frame him for murder?”

“Yep.” She said. “And no one really cared about it either. Even though it was obvious Hagrid wasn’t at fault. A lot of the government at the time was just looking for an excuse to get rid of Hagrid and Voldemort gave them one. Don’t worry, I made sure nothing like that would ever happen again.”

And Loki believed her. Holly insisted they all get comfortable. She conjured chairs for them and everyone did as instructed. Holly told them that she’d connected her magic to the wards of the castle, and she’d be warned if anything happened.

“For now, we just wait.” She said. “And hope for good news. Thanks for coming, it’ll be nice to have company.”

“What are friends for?” Clint asked. “Now tell us more about this place. I expect a tour after the baby is here.”

Holly laughed and began to tell them stories about Hogwarts and her time there. With these stories as well as the ones that Loki was able to offer up the night passed quickly. Loki did his best not to focus on the ghosts in his mind or Ralston’s voice whispering in his ear. There were three powerful surges of magic that rattled the doors to the healing hall behind them during the night. On top of this Loki could hear Ron’s pained yelps on more than five occasions as he did his best to take control of his wife’s writhing magic. When people got tired, cups of coffee and tea would appear out of nowhere to help keep everyone awake.

The whole delivery process took 9 hours and 15 minutes. The sun had risen and breakfast had been served to them there in the hallway by the time the baby was finally born. The surges of uncontrolled magic crescendoed the closer the baby came to coming. It got to the point that even the muggles could feel the magic. It was thick, giving the air a syrupy feel. When the baby was born, there was a crash on the other side of the room that sounded like breaking glass.

“Is everything okay in there?” Steve asked.

“It’s fine.” Holly said, trying to hide her own panic. “They would’ve called if they needed me. Oh I hope the baby is alright.”

Five minutes later the door to the healing hall opened and out stepped a significantly more haggard Ronald Weasley. The man had bruises all on one side of his body and his clothing was torn in places. He looked wrung through but uncaring. In his arms was a small bundle that he was staring at in complete awe. Holly jumped up and walked over to Ron. She stood at his side and looked down at the baby.

“They’re beautiful.” She cooed.

“She’s perfect.” Ron said. “Look Holly, she’s got my hair.”

“You picked out a name yet?” Holly asked. “I know you and ‘Mione have been argued about it for months.”

“I…Well I do have an idea. Haven’t talk to Hermione about it yet. She’s getting cleaned up now and Madam Pomphrey’s giving her a few potions. I’m supposed to bring the baby back in real soon for her first feeding. I just wanted to let you hold her.”

“Oh Ron.” Holly said. “I’d be honored.”

Holly held out her arms and took the precious bundle into them. She held it to her chest as if she’d been holding babies her whole life. She cooed and bent her head down so that she could place a kiss on the baby’s brow.

“I was thinking.” Ron said shifting on his feet.

“Loki?” Holly interrupted. “Would you mind healing Ron, he looks like he’s going to fall over?”

“Of course.” Loki said getting up from his chair. With a few waves of his hands the man’s bruises and other injuries disappeared.

“Thanks.” Ron said. “Seriously. Hermione did not hold back. Not that I blame her or anything.”

Loki waved off the man’s thanks. His eyes were focused on the tiny baby, and on the magic he could sense in the infant’s body. He sniffed a little at that. There in Holly’s arms was proof that the magical world lived, that it continued on after Ralston. The red-faced baby truly was beautiful.

“What’s her name?” Loki asked, his voice hushed.

“Well.” Ron said before swallowing a little and looking over at Holly. “Holly, I know that all the women in your family’ve been named after flowers and I was thinking that…if you were okay with it…maybe we could name her Rose.”

“Ron.” Holly croaked. “She’s not…”

“You’re practically gonna be her third parent don’t deny it.” Ron said. “Besides we’ve been family for almost 20 years. Bout time we shared a tradition or two. Yeah. I’m sure. She’s gonna be Rose Granger-Weasley. It’s the perfect name.”

Holly sniffed and a single tear escaped her eyes and ran down her cheek. Loki resisted the urge to wipe it away. Instead he looked back down at the baby.

“Might I be allowed to give her my blessing?” Loki asked. “You’ll have to be sure of the name before I can give it.”

“Merlin.” Ron breathed. “Course I’d…I’d be honored if you would. But…Hermione’d never forgive me if I let you bless our baby when she wasn’t around. Give me a few minutes and I’ll tell her.”

And with that Ron disappeared right back into the healing hall, leaving the baby behind in Holly’s arms. Holly went back to gently rocking the baby and cooing at it. The other Avengers got up to gather around the baby.

“Isn’t she the most darling thing you’ve ever seen?” Holly asked. “Oh I love her so much.”

In truth the baby looked rather average. A tuft of light red hair on the top of her head, red skin and wrinkly. And yet Loki couldn’t find it in himself to see anything but a wonderful creation.

“She’s wonderful.” Thor declared, looking at the human infant in interest.

“She’s small.” Tony decided. “I don’t know why, I always imagined babies as bigger.”

“Any bigger and women wouldn’t be able to birth them, idiot.” Clint said. “You sure it’s alright for the baby to be out here? Their immune systems are pretty bad at this age.”

“Magic babies are a bit sturdier.” Holly said. “Don’t worry, she’ll get cleaned up with a few spells before going back to Hermione.”

The baby made a gurgling noise and then opened its eyes. They were the blue, almost grey.

“Oh hello.” Holly said, her voice so soft. “Welcome to earth little one.”

The baby started to make noise, crying for food Loki supposed. Holly comforted it and lifted it closer to her chest.

“Let’s go bring you back to your momma, huh? How does that sound? I bet she’s got some lovely milk for you. Come on, Loki. Let’s see if we can both give our blessings before Hermione and this little one have to rest.”

“You’d allow me inside?” Loki asked, stopping a moment. She would trust him with that?

“Course. Come on. We’ll be right back guys.”

Thor gave Loki’s back a pat and then pushed him to follow Holly into the healing hall. The large room, filled with empty beds, was clean and lit up with the morning sun. On the far end was a woman with bushy brown hair. The woman looked wrecked, but she was laying in clean sheets and wearing a clean robe. Ron was holding her hand.

“Baby coming through.” Holly called. “She’s hungry.”

The woman, Hermione, looked up and smiled at Holly.

“Holly.” Hermione greeted. “and, Loki I assume?”

“Yes.”

“Ron says you want to give my baby a blessing.”

“If that’s acceptable to you.” Loki said, suddenly unsure. “I won’t force myself on her.”

“I didn’t think you would,” Hermione said. “and we’d be honored if you’d give your blessing to Rose. After Holly, of course.”

“Rose?” Holly asked, her lips trembling.

“That’s her name.” Hermione confirmed. “Rose Granger-Weasley. Now hurry up and bless her, she needs her food.”

Holly carefully freed one of her hands, still cradling the now slightly fussy baby to her chest. She placed her hand on the baby’s forehead and closed her eyes. A moment later the woman began to glow golden with her magic. She looked absolutely ethereal, holding that baby with enough tenderness and love to rival Frigga herself. Then she spoke, her voice echoing with power.

“I, Holly Gemma Potter, give my blessing to Rose Granger-Weasley. May she grow up in safety and comfort. I bless her with friendship and loyalty. I bless her to know love all her days.”

Loki felt Holly’s magic seep into the air, a promise and blessing all at once. Holly was promising to provide the blessings she was gifting Rose with. Holly would ensure that the world was safe and comfortable for the infant in her arms. She would offer friendship and loyalty to the girl, she would love her with all her heart. Holly’s magic faded back into her body and the baby calmed.

Carefully Holly held out her arms and Loki paused looking at Ron and Hermione for permission. He couldn’t believe he was allowed to touch the precious infant. They nodded and still he hesitated. A voice only he could hear whispered in his mind.

Come on Loki, just don’t forget to support the head.

Loki reached out and gently took the infant into his arms. His hands that had hurt and killed without remorse were now cradling a being of pure innocence. Did the humans around him not know of his sins? How could they be so open? So trusting? He swallowed back the lump in his throat and placed his right hand on the baby’s chest. It had been a long time since he’d blessed a baby, not since Ralston’s children. But he still knew what to do.

“I, Loki of Asgard, bless Rose Granger-Weasley with power and strength. I bless her with courage and with surety. May she never doubt her place, may she always know her heart, may she never fall.” He spoke out, praying that the infant in his arms would have the things he’d always wished for himself.

And as Loki felt his magic pour into the baby sealing his blessing on her, a distant part of him felt something click into place. He was almost sure the norns had heard his prayer.

Chapter Text

Once Holly and Loki had returned sans baby, Holly had ushered them all up to some guest rooms. She told them not to worry about being welcome. She assured them, without having asked for permission from the headmistress, that she was sure the Avengers were welcome. The guest rooms turned out to be a whole section of the castle that had small rooms with a comfortable bed and a bedside table. There was also two bathrooms as well as a common area for relaxation.

“I’ve got so much to do now that the baby is here.” Holly said. “But please, feel free to rest and relax. If you need anything ring this bell and a House Elf will appear.”

“What is a House Elf?” Bruce asked.

“They’re small creatures, historically they’ve been essentially slaves to wizarding kind but over the past decade their position in society has improved dramatically. Think of them as the cleaning staff and cooks of the castle.” Holly said. “They’re very nice I promise. Just tell them what you need and they’ll be happy to bring it.”

“And where are you going?” Steve asked.

“I have to go let Hermione’s parents know that their grandchild has been born and bring them to the castle. I also have to drop by Ron’s parents to get the message out to all of his family. Then I need to pop over to the Ministry and get the documents together to properly announce the baby’s birth.” Holly said. “I have errands and it’s my job as godmother to do them all, just like standing guard last night was.”

“When will you be returning?” Loki asked politely.

“Oh definitely by dinner but probably sooner.” She said. “Just…stay in the guest rooms alright? The castle’s floorplan is ever-changing. You all could get seriously lost or hurt on your own.”

“This is a school isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be safe to be in?”

Holly only smiled at Tony’s question and left them. It was easy enough to do as they’d been asked and rest. They had been up for nearly 24 hours at that point anyway. Natasha had long ago trained herself to sleep at anytime and in any place. One never knew when one wouldn’t have the safety to sleep so it was better to take it when you could. The only ones who didn’t rest were Loki and Tony. Loki because he declared he knew the castle forwards and backwards and was going to explore it. Tony because he was trying to hype Jarvis up for his ‘date’ with the castle.

When Loki came back it was with a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes. Natasha, quite wisely, decided she didn’t want to know. Unfortunately not all of her teammates were so smart. Thor asked what Loki had done and Loki had snarled at Thor, immediately on the defensive. It seemed that the argument that had been waiting in the wings between the two brothers was breaking free now that Holly wasn’t there to keep the peace.

“I didn’t mean to imply that…”

“You’ve always thought the worst of me!”

Clint settled down next to Natasha and lifted up a bowl that was somehow, magically, filled with buttery popcorn. Tony picked up the portable Jarvis and scurried towards his bedroom, clutching his AI protectively to his chest. Steve put down his sketch pad and Bruce lowered his book. All of them watched as the two Asgardians tore into each other. Bringing up century old wounds and brandishing them like particularly sharp daggers at each other.

Natasha took a handful of popcorn and leaned back as Thor waved his hammer around a bit too close for comfort.

“So.” Clint whispered. “How long until one of them stabs the other?”

“Loki’ll stab Thor within three minutes.”

Loki didn’t even last a full minute before he conjured a knife and plunged it into Thor’s chest. Thor didn’t even blink, just called him childish and told him to grow up. Natasha got the feeling that the two gods were enjoying the argument, finding it more cathartic than painful. A chance to finally air out all that dirty laundry. When it became clear that the argument was probably going to continue for some time, or at least as long as Loki could keep conjuring knives to brandish around, Clint whispered to her again.

“So. It’s been a while since your birthday.”

Natasha stiffened a little and then let herself relax. Holly had promised that she’d get things together to help Nat find her family but nothing had really come from it. Normally Nat wasn’t the sort of woman to tip toe around a subject but Holly’s silence had made Natasha keep her own.

“Holly’s working on it.” She said.

“So there’s been no news.”

“These things take time.” Natasha said with all the confidence of a woman who had no idea how long these things actually took.

“Right. And…how are you feeling about that?”

“Maybe I should ask Loki for one of his knives.”

Clint lifted up both hands to show his surrender and let the conversation die an awkward, abrupt death. They ate popcorn and watched as Thor punched Loki in the gut, sending Loki flying into the table behind him. The table shattered and Loki growled, jumped up and threw himself at Thor.

“Okay so maybe I’m…nervous.” Natasha said. “What if…she doesn’t find anything?”

“I’m sure she will.” Clint said. “She can do anything. You’re right that it’s gotta take time. I mean we don’t even know for sure if you’re Russian or not.”

Loki stabbed Thor three times, jabbing a knife in and out into the thunderer’s back while Thor grappled his squirming brother and finally managed to throw him off.

“What else would I be?”

“I dunno. Bulgarian?”

Steve jumped out of the way and moved towards Bruce as the two gods rolled around on the floor wrestling and punching each other. Three chairs were overturned and broken in places during the struggle.

“Bulgarian? Really? Might as well make me French.”

“If you’re French I’ll eat my bow.”

“I could be Swiss.”

“Ha. Because you’re all about neutrality.”

The wrestling gods rolled closer to them and Clint and Natasha both just lifted up their feet and let them pass, not even looking down at the writhing brothers. Natasha snagged another handful of popcorn as they both lowered their feet back to the ground.

“Anyway.” Clint decided. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not Russian. Although, if you’re birth name is…Karen I’m probably going to have to disown you.”

“Do you honestly think Laura won’t choose me over you if we split up?”

“Fair point.”

“How are things back on the farm?”

Thor and Loki finally stopped wrestling, partially because Thor had managed to pin Loki using Mjolnir while Loki was throwing bolts of magic, forcing Thor to nearly dance out of the way to avoid getting turned into a rat.

“Good.” Clint said. “My baby girl’s pretty much gotten her magic under control now. No problems at school. I talked to the school about the bullying.”

“And that helped?”

“No but Holly did something when she found out who the girls were that were bothering Lila.” Clint said. “Now the girls don’t even notice Lila, their eyes just slide over her. Like magic.”

“I thought magic on muggles was illegal.”

“I’m not gonna snitch.”

Loki’s magic got so close to Thor that he summoned his hammer to block it on reflex. Loki jumped up and tackled Thor into a couch, splintering the wooden frame and sending them both tumbling to the floor again. Bruce excused himself muttering about needing some meditation while Steve was glaring at the two gods. Natasha hoped he decided to involve himself. It would be really funny.

“And Lila? Doing anything cool with her new found powers?”

“She’s learning how to ride a broom. Picked up a cauldron too. It’s weird all the magic stuff that’s just…around the house now. It’s almost normal?”

“I should come around for your next trip. Wouldn’t do for Cooper to feel left out.”

“You kidding? Cooper loves our visits. Holly always does something really cool just for him before going to go teach Lila. Last week she enchanted his toy cars so that they’d race each other.”

“That’d do it.”

Steve stepped forward and pulled Loki bodily off of Thor. He started lecturing both of the gods on respecting the place they were staying in and learning to control their tempers. Thor looked abashed while Loki mostly just barred his teeth at him while being held up by his collar like a disobedient dog.

“You don’t think Cooper’s going to get jealous when he’s older?”

“I hope not.” Clint said. “It’s not like I can give him magic. Maybe I’ll teach him how to shoot a bow…you know to even it out?”

“As if Lila isn’t going to force you to teach her that too.”

Loki didn’t stab Steve. Nor did he turn Steve into a golden retriever. Instead he snarled, waved his hand and fixed all of the broken furniture. Then he declared that he was leaving and he wouldn’t be back until dinner.

“And before you ask! No Thor I’m not going to go ferment anything!”

The door to the guest suite slammed magically shut behind him.

“Well that was fun while it lasted.” Clint declared and Natasha hummed in commiseration.

That was the third argument Loki and Thor had had since Loki had started living in the tower. The first two had happened while Steve and Holly had been out of the tower and the two gods had fought until they were exhausted and then called it a day. Steve apparently didn’t like this method of conflict resolution. It was probably a good thing then that he had never officially joined SHIELD.  

 True to Loki’s word he didn’t come back for hours. In fact Holly returned before he did. She came back to the guest suite and beamed when she saw Natasha settled comfortably on a couch sipping on some tea and reading a book on magical dueling. Holly looked very different from how Natasha normally saw her. She wasn’t wearing an ugly pink cleaning uniform. Nor was she wearing a handmade sweater with jeans that were just a bit too big or her armor. No, now the woman was wearing robes that billowed around her as she walked and had far too many buttons on them to be considered practical.

“Nat!” She greeted. “Are you busy?”

“Do I look busy?”

“Great! Come on! We need to get to the dungeons.”

“The dungeons?” Thor asked trying his best to pretend he hadn’t chased his brother off in a snit again.

“It’s just a thing.” Holly said waving her hand. “Something Nat asked me to get together for her. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes and once it’s finished up we’ll come back and I can take you all to dinner. You can meet all of my favorite teachers!”

Natasha felt very stiff. It couldn’t be. Could it? Clint nudged her leg with his foot and she jumped up, letting the book fall from her hand and to the couch.

“Let’s go.” She said.

“Great!” Holly said, she turned on her heel, her dark red robes spreading out around her in a wave. Natasha almost felt underdressed in her own clothing. Which was not something she’d ever thought she’d feel in relation to Holly Potter.

“You were…vague back there.” She said once they were out of the room and on their own.

“Well I figured you wouldn’t want anyone to know about it. You were pretty secretive on your birthday. I am sorry it took me so long to get something back to you. In all honesty I wasn’t sure what to do at first.”

“It’s fine. I mean as long as you do have something now?”

“I do.” She said. “I asked around, discreetly, and there’s a potion that will do what we want. I paid for a potions master to brew it up so I knew it would be accurate. Now all we have to do is go down to the dungeons, put in the last ingredient and find out where you’re from.”

“And the last ingredient is?”

“Three drops of blood. Oh don’t give me that look how else is the potion supposed to do what it needs to if it doesn’t have some part of you to work with?”

“Just three drops?”

“Won’t even hurt. I promise. Now come on. Professor Malfoy is just down here with the potion.”

“You hired your old professor to make my potion?”

“Malfoy is not, nor has ever been, my professor.” She said darkly. “He’s a git.”

“I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you call someone a name.”

“Well he deserves it. The git.” Holly said as they went down a set of stairs. After a few more moments of walking she stopped outside a door. “His lab is right here. Remember. He’s a git. Don’t let anything he says get to you.”

Then she pushed open the door. It revealed something out of a fantasy novel. A dank dungeon room lit by magically floating candles. The walls were lined with shelves which were filled with jars. Some of the jars were opaque while others were clear glass and filled with parts of animals that should never see light of day. In the center of the room was a dark oak table that had a small golden cauldron sitting on it. It was being hung above a small magical flame and something was bubbling inside of it.

“Well, what sort of filth decided to get out of bed today?” The blonde man that was standing by the golden cauldron drawled.

“Do you say that every time you look in the mirror or something?” Holly shot right back.

“No. I’m just appalled by your consistently ugly hair. Did you spend all day rolling around in the mud to get it looking like that?”

“No. I just thought about what your mum looks like and did my best to copy her.”

The blonde, Malfoy she assumed, scowled at Holly’s quick retort. His eyes slid over to her and he scowled further.

“And who is this? A muggle?” He said it in the same tone one would refer to a rat.

“She’s an assassin who could break your neck. Be polite.” Holly corrected. “And the reason we even have to talk. That the potion?”

“If you’d paid even the slightest attention in class you’d know that it was.”

“Well excuse me. I was far too focused on, you know, saving the world to give a shit about potions.” Holly snapped.

“Is that what you were doing? And here I thought you were just trying to make everyone pity you with your orphan act.”

“The only person who kept bringing up their parents was you.” She pointed out. “How is your father these days anyway Malfoy?”

“Just get over here.”

One point to Holly.

Natasha had no idea who this guy was or why he and Holly seemed to have a history even more fraught with tension than Thor and Loki’s but she had to admit it was at the very least interesting. Holly stalked over to the table, Natasha following at a more sedate and calm pace. Holly reached into the left pocket of her robes and pulled out a leather bag. She dropped it on the table. Malfoy looked at it and then back at Holly, carefully he picked up the bag and opened it. It was filled with literal gold coins.

“You’ll forgive me if I count it?”

“That’s only half. You get the other half when the potion actually works.”

“Do you honestly think I’d give you a faulty potion? Me?”

“I’m not doubting your pride Malfoy, only your actual ability.”

“All it needs is three drops of blood. It’s perfect. And the best you’re going to get from anyone in the world.” Malfoy said putting the bag back down. “Now, you. Come here. If Potter isn’t going to be reasonable, let’s prove it.”

He spoke to her like a servant and Natasha gave him a very fearsome glare. Malfoy had, at least, the decency to blanch a little in fear.

“Please.” He added. Natasha smirked and stepped forward. He took her hand and produced a golden needle from somewhere. “I’ll just take the blood from your finger and add in the three drops.”

Without further explanation he stabbed her pointer finger hard enough to draw blood. Natasha didn’t flinch as he squeezed her finger over the gurgling golden cauldron. Three fat drops of blood dripped into the blue liquid and then Malfoy pushed her hand away.

“Honestly. Do you have zero people skills?” Holly asked Malfoy. “Sorry about that Nat. Let me heal that for you.”

“It’s just a pin prick. If she’s honestly that hurt then I despair for the constitution of all muggles.”

“I’ll show you pin prick.”

“Oh very scary, General Potter. Honestly I can see why Death Eaters tremble before you.” Malfoy said as he picked up a silver stirring stick and began to stir the small potion together in a complicated motion. “Look at me. I’m shivering in my patent leather boots.”

The potion changed from a vibrant blue to red, it swirled internally forming spirals of color and sparkle. Holly growled at Malfoy while taking Natasha’s hand and casting a small spell to heal her finger.

“Why’d you even want this potion for a muggle anyway? Their blood isn’t any less dirty no matter where it comes from.”

“You kiss your mother with that fascist rhetoric dirtying up your mouth?” Holly snarled. “Because I happen to have a bar of soap I can shove down your throat if you’d like.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes and continued to stir. Natasha finally spoke, looking at the blonde with the slicked back hair.

“I was kidnapped as a young child by a muggle group known as Hydra. They are very similar to Death Eaters in their goals. They raised me to be a killing machine, to fight in their name. I defected as an adult and started fighting against them. Still there are no known records of who I was born as.”

Malfoy’s hand jerked only a little, not enough to damage the potion but enough to reveal that what she’d said had meant something to him. Something beyond the usual pity or horror that most people felt.

“I…I see.” He said looking down at his work.

“Natasha. This is Draco Malfoy, or as I like to call him, the worst Death Eater alive.” Malfoy’s head shot up and he glared at Holly for the insult.

“I am not…I mean I am but I’m not…” His words trailed off into a frustrated growl. Holly continued her description.

“His dad was Voldemort’s right hand man. Raised Malfoy here to be his successor in the New World Order that Voldemort was going to create. A little Death-Eater-In-Training, at least he was until the end of the war.” Malfoy sniffed at her description, disdain dripping from his posture.

“I was nothing if not…”

“Malfoy during the final battle you threw me your wand so that I could kill the bastard.”

Oh. Well. Natasha lifted up an eyebrow at the man who huffed and spoke very defensively.

“He was torturing my mother, and me. As if I was going to be loyal to a maniac who couldn’t even see what an asset I was.” He said. “Besides, it was obvious Potter wasn’t going to die. She’d already been hit with the killing curse twice. I knew who was going to win and I’m opportunistic.”

Natasha could respect both the sentiment and the truth that Malfoy’s words tried to hide. The man, a boy at the time, had been tired. In truth Malfoy had probably been frightened out of his mind and just praying for a way out. It reminded her of some of the other Black Widows, the ones who hadn’t made it far.

“I also saved his life about five minutes before so…” Holly said her voice sounding far too amused.

“We agreed never to talk about that again.”

“You mean never to talk about how you desperately clung to my body as I flew us both out of the burning room of requirement on my broom? Or how you…”

“Shut it Potter.”

“You defected.” Natasha said ignoring Holly’s smug grin. “Doesn’t matter why only that you did.”

“Yes well…” Malfoy said. “That was the conclusion the tribunal came to as well. I was allowed to gain my potions mastery and get a job working here instead of spending the rest of my natural days rotting in prison like many of my peers.”

The potion was turning orange now, it looked more like syrup instead of soup. Natasha looked down at the progress and wondered how much longer it would take. How did it even work? Her finger gave a faint spasm in remembered pain.

“Why did you…” Malfoy began. “Although I suppose it doesn’t matter, you are a muggle. Your motivations don’t mean anything to me.”

His silver-grey eyes betrayed him of course. Natasha looked over at Holly who was rolling her eyes at the blonde’s arrogant tone. In truth her defection from Hydra hadn’t been a dramatic moment during a final battle. No. First she’d left Hydra and gone freelance, trying to stick it out on her own. Prove she didn’t need them, that she didn’t want to be like them. Then Clint had fallen into her life and things…progressed from there. She found it much easier than she expected to answer. It was surprising she wanted to at all

“Someone saw something in me.” She said simply. “A potential for more. They offered me the chance to clear the red in my ledger and I took it.”

Malfoy nodded and then removed the stirring rod. The potion was a mild yellow now and had the slurpy consistency of molasses.

“It’s done.” He said. “All I have to do is pour this liquid onto some parchment. It’ll bleed into the parchment and dry. Once it’s dried all that will be left is your family tree. It’ll start with you and go back six generations on both sides. It’s entirely accurate I can assure you.”

“I’ve got the parchment right here.” Holly said removing a roll of vellum from her robes. “Here.”

Holly unrolled the very fancy parchment so that it lay flat on the table. Malfoy cast a spell and the golden cauldron gently floated up and over the parchment. It tilted forward pouring the still steaming liquid over the parchment. It spread out like liquid gold and seeped into the parchment staining it. Natasha watched in awe as the liquid dried at an accelerated pace. Slowly the words began to form and she forced herself not to read any of them until all of the parchment was dry.

Slowly she reached out and picked up the parchment. She ignored the tremor in her hand. She took in a deep breath and read the name at the bottom of the page.

Irina Adrianova Popovic

It wasn’t Natasha Romanoff. It wasn’t anything like it. She had almost hoped reading it would strike something in her. Childishly she’d wanted the name to feel real. But it was just three names on a piece of paper. They weren’t special, no matter how magical their origin. Just a name. A name that belonged to a different girl than the one she’d become. Slowly her eyes trailed up to the two names on top of her own.

Adrian Alexievich Popovic

Nadia Petrovna Popovic

Her parents had been Nadia and Adrian. Just names on a sheet of paper. Nothing more. Nothing like she wanted it to be. Natasha’s eyes kept going up looking at name after name after name. None of them meant anything. They were just letters on parchment. Blue and Black little squiggles that meant nothing. Her jaw hardened as she prepared to drop the parchment and never think about it again.

“Nat?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” Malfoy said. “It can’t be that bad. They’re just names.”

They were her names! Hers! And they didn’t feel like it! They felt just as fake as every other name she’d ever used in her life. Natalie. Natasha. Natalia. Nat. Black Widow. Agent. A thousand names she’d had in her life and they were all just as fake as the ones she held now.

“Can I see?” Holly asked her voice gentle. Natasha held out the parchment and Holly took it with extreme care. She looked at it and read out the name. “Irina. It’s pretty. Malfoy why are some of the names blue?”

“The blue names are living family members.”

Nat snatched the parchment back and looked at the names again. Her name was in blue, her eyes went back to her parents and to her shock, so were theirs.

The parchment drifted back down to the table and Natasha stood there, swaying slightly. Not once had she ever thought that her parents would be alive. Never. Surely Hydra would have killed them. If they were alive why had they not come for her? Had they not cared? Had they sold her? Were they Hydra too?

“Nat you need to breathe.” Holly ordered. “It’s going to be okay.”

She felt like a child. Like an abandoned little girl crying into a rag hoping that her captors wouldn’t hear her. She hated it. She wanted to scream and fight and kill this feeling.

“It’s not! None of this is real. They can’t be alive! And I…It’s not my name!”

“Malfoy, give us some privacy.” The man did as he was told, not even offering a token complaint about this being his office. Holly slowly pulled Nat closer until they were nearly hugging. “Nat. I promise you it’s real.”

“It doesn’t feel real.”

“You know magic didn’t feel real to me either.” Holly said. “Neither did the pictures I found of my parents when I first got them. I couldn’t believe I was seeing them. But they were real and so is this. It’ll take time to feel real but…I promise you it will.”

“How are they alive?” Natasha asked. “Hydra…Hydra said they were dead.”

“I don’t know but we can figure this out. Together.”

Holly finished pulling her into a hug. All at once the helpless feeling fled in the face of Holly’s warmth. Just like the sweater Holly radiated such love and peace. Natasha nearly collapsed into it. She sucked in a breath that sounded like a sob even though no tears dared escape. It took a few minutes of desperately clutching Holly’s robes before Natasha felt ready to speak.

“Together.”