A/N: I know, this is one of those miracles they speak about in the [insert religious text of your choosing here], an update not even a month after the last one? But I was really excited about this one.
Dina Whitfield, one of the higher-ups in the presidential advance team and Olympic gold medalist in stressing her own self out, decided to regret every career choice she'd ever made when she found herself at five in the morning standing in a cathedral that looked like it should be haunted, discussing the merits of potted plants with one of her fifty volunteers.
"They're gross," Lane, the daughter of one of Oregon's former senators and aspiring first-lady said as she poked at one of the potted plants in questions. "They don't even look real. We should just take them out, we could do it quick. Ian could help me."
Another volunteer who Dina just went ahead and assumed was Ian shook his head as he walked past, never even breaking stride. "Nope."
"I could do it quick."
"Lane, honey, no," Dina sighed, "We've got too much to do and even though you're right," and she was, the trailing, waxy leaves dangling over the sides of each pew looked out of place in the otherwise immaculate venue, "changing them out is not life or death. Leave the plants, you can help me in the back."
"What's in the back?"
The president wasn't the only public figure appearing at the memorial; a few semi-famous singers were scheduled to perform tributes, what felt like every politician in the borough of Manhattan, and some award-winning poet, and they all had accommodations that Dina and her crew were in charge of making sure didn't interfere with Ellis' comfort and safety.
Lane at least was more than happy with the aspect of the job that required poking through each of the guest's assigned areas.
"Are the Avengers supposed to be showing up at all?" she asked.
"We had them on the guest list, but the powers that be vetoed it, made it explicitly clear that none of the Avengers were to attend. They never gave a reason why, but we all could guess."
It didn't take but a second for Lane to put two and two together. "Because this service is honoring all the people they didn't save?" Her face screwed into an expression of indignation. "That's stupid. If it wasn't for the Avengers none of us would be here."
Dina shrugged, she didn't disagree but…"When the Secretary of the World Security Council says the superheroes shouldn't get an invite, we heed their advice."
"I know but…still, superheroes," Lane breathed. "Who could have guessed this would be the world we're living in? Aliens and superheroes? And you've heard the rumors too? Of witches."
Dina laughed at the very thought. "Don't believe everything you read online, Lanie. Those task force guys are a bunch of nuts right up there with the tin foilers going on about crop circles."
"But Miss Dina look where we are, what we're doing, and why. Those tin foilers turned out to be not that far off."
And, well, she wasn't wrong.
Alexander stood in the center of a whirlwind of coordinated chaos, the only motionless figure in a crowd of HYDRA's finest all working in perfect tandem to prepare for the greatest day of any of their lives.
In just an hour Strucker's mages would be in a van on their way to St. Joseph's, and in another, their entire world would be changed. But for them to make it through their task with no trouble, the soldier would have to complete his own.
He was being prepped as Pierce watched; already dressed in his tac gear and boots, but still reclined in The Chair with the paneling of his left arm opened to reveal the wiring beneath. His usual dead-eyed stare was fixed somewhere in the middle distance, blank as always, but there was a furrow between his brow that made Pierce worry. That look meant the Asset was thinking, and that almost always led to trouble.
Steel grey eyes locked on him in an instant, a lesser man might have shuddered under their intensity.
"Do you understand the importance of this mission?"
"High priority." His words were barely a rasp. Super soldier or no, being kept in that cryo chamber for years at a time had led to atrophy in his vocal cords, an affliction not helped by their habit of putting him in a muzzle while awake.
"Highest priority," Pierce dragged a chair forward and settled in so he sat knee to knee with the asset. "This day is the first of our final campaign for humanity, the first battle of the last war. Your part in it is essential, without you there will be no victory."
He received one slow blink in response.
"Clear your head, you weren't created for thought. Heed my orders alone and your work will be done. We're clear?"
"Good." Pierce pushed away from his chair and turned his back on the asset. "How long until he's ready for travel?"
"Now, sir." The paneling on the shining prosthetic latched shut and the tech used a nearby rag to wipe away excess oil.
"His opiate levels are low," another tech reported, "he'll need another dose of Fentanyl before departure and the EEG is showing signs of increased neural activity."
"He's healing," Pierce concluded. "He's been awake too long. Do we have time to wipe him?"
"Yes, of course, it wouldn't take more than a few minutes. But he's always off-kilter for some time after, and if he needs to be at his best…"
Pierce sighed, he knew that, of course he did, but he'd hoped. "We'll have to send him out as is then, it's a risk but no bigger than attempting a wipe now. Increase his dosage, we just need to get him through this last job and this won't be a worry any longer."
The Asset had been awake for two days, eleven hours and there'd been no mission.
It was coming, he knew this because the handler with the (wrong) pale hair and (wrong) blue eyes had been to see him twice and both times he'd spoken of glory and purpose and all kinds of things the Asset had not been programmed to understand. But two days was still too long for no mission and no chair and he was degrading already.
There was another, not a handler but important still who wore one round lens over his eye and had a shadow who made his programming glitch. He saw the shadow and could smell gunpowder and campfire, could taste smooth cognac and blood on his teeth, could hear words whispered in a language he didn't know and rounded vowels dragging with grief.
There's no finding him.
He's gone but he's here.
The Asset and the shadow, they'd known each other once, before they were these two unnamed things. But the Asset had always been this and there was nothing of the shadow in his memory banks, so it was a malfunction. It had to be.
He needed the chair, the chair fixed all things. But first, there was the mission.
He was to kill (he was always to kill), but this time there was no target, only a directive: keep the ones called the Avengers from reaching St. Joseph's cathedral just long enough for the job within to be completed.
He didn't know what the job was, what these Avengers were trying to reach or protect, but that had never mattered before, he had his orders. And on day three, hour eight out of cryo, they finally pulled him for prep.
They put him in attire meant to blend in- the heavy black boots and dark pants remained standard throughout just about every mission, but they traded their favored jacket with all of its straps and leather, for a lightweight shirt with sleeves long enough to cover the silver of his arm, and a tactical vest that left most of his sides and belly open. It was substandard protection for a task of this scope, he could carry only one Sig in the single, concealed holster on his vest. But the soldier was resourceful, he'd get it done regardless. And the exclusion of one bit of gear made up for any other inconveniences.
The muzzle didn't "fit in", so it was replaced with a plain, black balaclava to pull over the bottom of his face. It was stuffy having that bit of cloth clinging to his face, but he could open his mouth, let his jaw hang, stick his tongue out between his lips and no one could tell the difference.
The whole look was still a little militant, a little obvious, but they said tensions were high in the city, that he'd fit right in where they were going.
There were others, STRIKE with a few from the team brought in by the shadow's handler. They were to act as his assist, to create maximum chaos, maximum casualties. But he was to lead the charge.
"All right boys," Rumlow rallied as they set off, shoved in the back of van stripped down of everything but the two front seats. "We've got our orders, we know the plan; get in there, kick the hornets' nest around, then fall back so the soldier can do his thing. Any of you get caught, you better use that false tooth because I'm not risking going toe to toe with Rogers to bring you home."
Rollins with his slicked-back hair and close-set eyes laughed. "That's all you've got for us?"
"Well if you don't know the way of things by now," Rumlow shrugged, "there's not shit for me to say to you."
"How long are we supposed to keep them busy for, anyway?"
The team lead consulted a binder tucked under the seat of the driver. "Fireworks are scheduled to start fourteen hundred sharp, those mages say they can be out in under half an hour, so we're looking at about that same time frame."
"Under half an hour with just the few of them?" Kemper, STRIKE's most recent addition, looked as if he didn't know whether to be skeptical or awed. They'd seen the work those mages had done, seen the confidence with which their head spoke, but there was still just eleven of them, and half of them looked scared out of their minds.
"Yeah, well the kid says they can do it."
Kemper went so far as to cross himself just at the mention of the mage's leaders. "Strucker's pet," he gave an overdramatic shudder, "that kid gives me the creeps. There's something not right about him."
This seemed like news to Rollins. "How do you mean?"
"I don't know what it is…he's normal, doesn't act any different than the others but just being near him…"
Surprisingly, Rumlow was the first to agree with him. "Yeah, kid's not right. Pierce handled his reconditioning, he told me all about what they did to him, how some of the stuff surpassed what they did to the soldier. But he's still human, he talks and thinks and smiles. And the way he looks at the Baron- it's like he loves him. Trusts him."
"You don't think they're….?" Rollins made an obscene gesture with two hands.
Rumlow shrugged. "Half of Strucker's guys seem to think so, but I don't know what to make of it. All I know is he's creepy."
The shadow, this was the shadow they were discussing, just the thought of him and green eyes made the glitches start up. But the Asset knew how to prioritize: the mission first, then he would figure out the mystery of the shadow.
"And here we are boys." Just a few minutes and the van was pulling into a lot just opposite the side of the street where an enormous crowd was already congregating. There had to be at least a thousand and more showing up every second. Some people were dressed lightly, clothing fit for the sweltering summer day it was looking like it was shaping up to be, carrying signs over their shoulders. While others made the soldier look right at home dressed as they were in similar gear in some shade of black, gray, or charcoal.
And dispersed among the crowd were volunteers in bright, yellow shirts with megaphones pressed close to their lips as they shouted directives into the crowd. They were moving in less than fifteen minutes, starting their trek at Bryant's Park and marching all the way to the streets surrounding St. Joseph's cathedral and the dozens of news trucks already parked right outside.
The Soldier kept one eye always on the volunteer in her lime-colored shirt closest to them, taking note of everything she spoke, but the same couldn't be said for the rest of the team. Most of STRIKE hadn't even climbed out the back of the van yet, simply hanging around with the back double doors wide open while they waited for the word to move. At least they looked no different from plenty of the other protestors waiting all up and down either side of the street.
Somewhere near the front of the van, the soldier heard Kemper addressing one of his teammates, and instinctively redirected his focus to what was going on inside the vehicle, even while he kept up his subtle watch.
"What are these guys even supposed to be protesting anyway? These some of those anti-Avengers nuts we been hearing about?"
Another voice, unfamiliar spat a laugh around the shell of some seeds he'd been chewing on since they'd packed into the van "Wouldn't that make our job easier? No, this is another attempt of the middle class rising up to curse the rich. Most of the money coming from the relief funds they've put together for the city is going towards fixing up the skyscrapers and the banks, you know the buildings owned up the big guys like Roxxon and Sherwin Holdings, instead of the smaller businesses that really needed the help."
"So same shit they've been complaining about since capitalism was born?"
"Yeah well, what else have they got to do to fill their time?"
There was a quiet laugh from inside the van, mean and self-assured and the soldier kept watching, tracking the woman in her yellow-green shirt. Her sneakers were caked in mud, dirt dusted the fabric of her pants all the way up her shins, her hair was pressed flat instead of pinned up, and the way she darted quick and self-assured across the uneven ground made him think a pair of sharp heels would never be a part of her uniform. But he watched the way she rallied everyone she passed, drawing their attention with the quick wit shouted through her speaker, and all he could see were victory curls and stockings with seams.
But then there was a sharp whistle from between Rumlow's teeth and the soldier was headed back for the van, heaving himself into the back and the cover it provided. A bottle was pressed into his hands, unmarked glass filled with equally clear liquid with a strip of cloth shoved through the neck and sticking out like a wick. He knew there should be gasoline or a high proof liquor in the bottle, that's how these worked, but it didn't smell like gas or rum, but something sharper, acidic that burned his nose on the inhale. And the careful way Rumlow handled it spoke volumes.
"This should be enough to take our man down. But we've only got the one, don't waste it."
The bottle was tucked into the only available pocket he had inside his jacket, and that seemed to be enough for Rumlow who gave a sharp nod then turned to look at his men.
"All right boys, let's go start a riot."
Harry stood on the sidewalk before St. Joseph's cathedral, Mihaela on his arm and unfamiliar muggles pressing in on all sides, and he felt absolute calm.
It'd taken months (or had it been years?) of the most dehumanizing humiliations and the most primal sort of terror but he was here. He'd made it.
The muggle verifying RSVPs smiled as she took his, she was pretty, soft auburn hair cropped short at her chin and a gap that lent character to her smile, but her eyes were glazed over. He'd made sure his notice-me-not was so strong the memory of his face would be lost to her the moment he was gone.
Once their invitations had been verified, they moved toward the doors leading inside. He leaned in toward Mihaela as they moved, as if whispering something only to her, so all any cameras from up above saw were two dark heads bowed together. And then they were into the cathedral, walking through that short, arched entrance into the cavernous hall.
Their spot was the third row from the back, right at the end of the pew, as Harry slid into his seat, he swept a finger along the hanging vine of a pothos. For good luck.
"There are so many more than I'd imagined," Mihaela murmured, black eyes sweeping over the entirety of the hall so that Harry honestly couldn't pinpoint to what exactly she was referring.
The people? They'd known the exact number attending: one thousand, six hundred and thirteen. But seeing them all there, crowded in the room and entirely oblivious was a whole other thing.
Or maybe she meant the cameras because there were many. A good dozen, most aimed at the podium but a few occasionally sweeping the crowd, and surrounded by glaring lights.
Or it could be the secret servicemen; inside, outside, walking along the aisles, standing at every exit.
But whatever it was, whether it was one or all or something else entirely, they were ready. They could handle it.
The memorial started with a song.
Harry vaguely recognized the woman as one of the more mature artists Petunia followed religiously back before…everything. She sang beautifully, deep, long notes that warbled through the church's enormous space like an Augurey's song.
After that a poet who didn't actually recite any poetry spoke a few solemn words in introduction and then him, President Ellis stepped onto the stage.
He was larger than the picture of him showed, bigger even than some of the servicemen walking alongside him; his shoulders were broad, capable. But the one thing the photo hadn't misrepresented was the warmth in his smile. There was nothing false in the way he looked at the crowd, he genuinely wanted to be there, to help these people through their difficult period of mourning.
Harry couldn't look away, but then Mihaela took his hand and he had to.
"Are you scared?" she whispered, barely heard over the thunder of the crowd's adoration for their president.
He shook his head. "No. Are you?"
That stopped him short. Determined, was something he'd expected from her, focused. But excited? "Why?"
"Because I trust you." She smiled easily, there was no tension anywhere on her, no fear. "I trust the man you are. I'm excited to see what you have planned for us."
Harry couldn't speak, overcome with some unspeakable emotion, but she didn't need him to, just squeezed his hand one more time then turned forward to listen as the President began to speak.
In between his new career in alien carcass disposal and working to coax any useful information from their new allies/refugees/the wizards, Steve had finally taken up Stark on his offer for room and board in his tower. He had an apartment of his own, courtesy of SHIELD of course, but he didn't trust the organization as far as he could throw them (especially after that whole stunt with the nuke) and figured their kind offer of a fully furnished apartment back in his old neighborhood had to have some kind of ulterior motive. Like listening devices sewn into the lining of his couch.
No, at least until he was comfortable enough in this new era to do some apartment hunting of his own, Stark Tower was probably the best place for him. And being out of Brooklyn and away from all those painful reminders of what he couldn't have any more would probably do him good.
There were still drawbacks, the roommates being the biggest.
It was really only Stark, Banner, and him living full time in the tower. Stark had extended the invitation to every Avenger, but Thor had returned to Asgard with Loki immediately after the invasion, Barton had muttered something about a place in Bed-Stuy and keeping it safe from tracksuits (?), and Steve wasn't sure Romanoff even slept, let alone required a whole place for rest. But they still came through often enough that it felt like they lived there.
Now being a perfect case.
"How is it that we are five superhuman individuals who have literally saved the world once before but not one of us is capable of putting together anything edible?"
Barton had stopped by to pick up an upgrade on a set of explosive arrows Stark had promised to have done for him, but that'd been early that morning, and since then he'd had two breakfasts, a snack, and was still hunting for food. He seemed to need just as much as Steve and his super-serumed metabolism.
Banner who'd taken over the whole of the breakfast bar with data and articles for another paper he was writing didn't even look up from his work to respond. "I told you before, there's red bean curry in the fridge."
"By edible he means pizza," Natasha said from her place on the couch, she had the tv playing news coverage of some event going on in the city, but most of her attention was on the polish she was applying to Stark's toes while he slept and/or lay dead across the majority of the sectional after a seventy-three-hour bender in the lab. "That's the only food group he acknowledges."
Steve looked between the two in bemusement. "I've been out of commission for a while, but I'm pretty sure they haven't given pizza a group of its own."
"It deserves a whole pyramid, not just one lousy group," Clint shouted, head stuck deep in the fridge. "Bread and cheese and meats and fruits, it covers them all."
He pulled his head free, blond hair sticking in all directions, long enough to nod sagely. "Tomato sauce."
"Just have JARVIS order you a pizza then," Bruce suggested. "I promise we don't have any tucked away for you."
"Olives, pineapple, and ham!" Natasha ordered; Stark didn't even stir.
Clint looked properly scandalized. "None of those things belong on a pizza. Except ham, but only in bacon form."
"I like pineapple on pizza," Steve protested.
"Of course you do, your palate is shit. I heard you guys boiled everything you ate."
And well, that wasn't a lie.
"Whatever you get, make it quick, I won't have an appetite once this memorial starts."
For the first time in what might have been hours, Bruce looked away from his work. "Is that what's on? I'd forgotten that was today."
"Memorial?" Steve questioned.
"For the victims of the attack," Clint explained, finally giving up and swinging the fridge shut. "They've made it into this huge production, there's performances scheduled, and the president is even supposed to be there."
"We weren't invited?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. I never checked, sitting among the grieving family members of the people I couldn't save isn't really my idea of a good time."
Well, when he put it like that…
"JARVIS put in an order at the place you introduced me to last weekend. Four pies; two mushroom and sausage, double chicken and spinach, one pineapple with ham, bacon form." Steve paused, looked over his waiting team. "And for you guys?"
Harry knew every nuance of Ellis' address from start to finish; every word, every dramatic pause, every breath between had been drilled into his memory so that he knew exactly when to move.
It started with a dramatic opener:
"Here and now, we reside in the most extraordinary of times."
Before moving on to the real heart of it:
"We've met gods, encountered aliens, seen heroes return from the dead, witnessed creatures that defied all logic, all fantasy. But nothing has left me more in awe than those here in this city, in this room."
HYDRA had helped to write it, Pierce himself had slipped in a few suggestions through his rats in the president's speechwriting team. But Harry sat still long enough to hear it.
"Just a month ago, we as a people were challenged. Everything we thought we knew had been taken, shaken, altered at its core and we were left with a broken city, broken families, and some of us believed that even we ourselves were broken."
These here were the last words Ellis would speak, and they were good ones. Harry figured he owed him as much as to listen.
"And yet here we are. Here you are. Carrying on, rebuilding, healing and I am in nothing short of awe at the resilience of these people.
"They thought they would come here and subjugate us, that we would kneel so easily at their feet, that we were the weaker of the species, but there is nothing weak about these people here who have endured the worst of horrors and experienced the greatest of loss and come through it thriving."
Ellis' composure slipped just that little bit; his overbright eyes swept across the hall and the congregation who'd only minutes before been solemn and subdued now stood and thundered their agreement.
Harry felt his heart speed up at the sound, this man was adored, revered, he was one of the good ones. But that didn't change the fact that time was nearly up, just a few more words to go and nothing would stop it. And really he didn't want anything to.
"We had no special suits…"
His hands got the chance to shake just the once before he clenched them tight, forced them into stillness. This was it.
His boots shifted forward, planting a little firmer on the ground.
"…no magic hammers or superhuman serums."
He moved forward, sliding off the pew. The notice me not cast over himself and the ten other mages fell away right as his hood pulled over his head, familiar, comforting.
"It was just-"
A horrible, grinding shriek cut Ellis off right at his peak before his mic shut off completely.
Harry stepped into the aisle.
No one noticed him at first, he was easily missed in the mix of residual excitement and mounting confusion and he didn't waste the advantage; his wand slipped easily from its holster and it took no time to aim.
Ellis went down hard, his face only just missing the edge of the podium when his feet were yanked out from under him and up above his head. The spell hoisted him well over ten meters into the air while down on the ground, his servicemen reacted just as they'd hoped they would; half the force formed a circle just below where the president dangled, while the remaining spread along the perimeter of the podium seeking out the threat.
He wasn't hard to miss then, even among the event staff and additional security standing along the aisle, he was sure he made a very distinct figure. Entire face lost deep in the shadow of his hood, hands clad in leather the color of old blood, and holding what was unmistakably a wand.
They didn't hesitate to raise their weapons to him but were still just a half of a second too late, Harry's wand had already fallen the half-inch he needed to readjust his aim and was sweeping along the row of their first line of defense.
There wasn't a single moment of hesitation, not even a fraction of a second where he wondered how or if he should even be able to do this. He just cast.
The glazed over eyes, blissed-out smiles were immediate, and the command was right after.
The first crack-crack-crack of gunfire was all the permission the audience had been waiting for to go ahead and panic, but Crane and Hogwarts had already set to work. Trailing vines had grown and stretched until they carpeted the ground, winding over feet and around ankles, turning the already narrow space between pews into a pileup of tripping, thrashing bodies.
And then Harry's team was at his back and by his side, slipping into place like they were made for it. And the reserves stood in place, steady, and confident in the plan.
He cracked his neck, readjusted the grip on his wand, and got to work.
Steve really hated to admit it, but he was starting to agree with Clint. It was a controversial opinion, allowing pizza its own pyramid, but sitting among the wreckage of the four pies he'd consumed all on his own, he couldn't find a single point to argue.
Meanwhile, Clint was back in the kitchen, foraging through the remaining stack of boxes for a spare slice. Bruce had relinquished his control of the breakfast bar to accommodate their impromptu team lunch and moved to sit beside Natasha, while Tony had woken sometime just before the pizza had shown up, and, after splitting the requested olive, pineapple, ham with Natasha, scrunched up against the arm of the couch so she could finish his toes.
Steve was full and sluggish, happy to listen as the Iron Man tried to school him in the history of some cult singer from the nineties (with helpful commentary shouted across the room from Hawkeye), while in the background the very same singer crooned a sad melody to a cathedral full of mourners. He didn't think he'd felt so content since before Kuznetsov.
"Yes, it's overplayed, overdone thanks to the stupid movie about the boat," Natasha hissed when Tony nearly had her painting his knuckle with all of the moving around he was doing, "but that first ten seconds, with the flute. Iconic."
"I don't know," Bruce hedged, "that cover she did, of Natural Woman back in the '90s…"
Tony booed and lobbed a throw pillow at his fellow scientist's face.
Steve figured now would be a good time to cut in. "You know, not that it makes much difference to me either way, but with all the talking you guys are doing, I haven't actually heard the lady sing."
"Irrelevant," Tony waved away. "Just take my word on this."
Steve snorted and leaned back as Bruce goaded the inventor into another mini-rant. He watched with half an ear as the singer on the television was replaced with an older, handsome woman that spoke a slow eulogy that doubled as an introduction in a voice rich as bittersweet chocolate. And then the president was stepping up to the mic and even Stark tapered off to listen.
"Rumor is he was censored pretty heavily," Clint said, voice pitched just low enough not to disrupt the rousing speech Ellis was giving. "He wanted some leeway in what he could say, but the writing team insisted on him going a specific direction, didn't want to upset their donors."
"How do you even know that?" Natasha snorted, to which he shot her a mock offended look.
"People talk to me. I'm approachable."
"No, of course you are, it's just-"
Steve's focus shifted from the distraction Natasha and Clint's exchange was causing to Bruce, the only one with eyes still on the memorial. Ellis was shouting into the microphone something about enduring and the crowd was on their feet, cheering him on. He had a camera at his back, set up a few good yards behind him, and high up above his head, so that it looked down upon him and the entire hall. They could see everyone and thing in the hall, including the figure that had caught Bruce's attention.
It was a man- Steve guessed from his stature and build- standing all the way at the back of the hall, just barely at the edge of the camera's field of view. There was nothing distinguishing about him only because he was covered from head to toe; a dark shirt with a collar that crept high up his throat, an understated pair of trousers, and a well-tailored jacket that hung open to his knees. Simple, all black that at first looked no different from the mourning attire just about everyone else was decked out in. But the weave of his shirt and trousers were strange, a breathable material meant for a wide range of motion. And the flare of his coat, it's perfectly tailored fit, and the heaviness of the fabric despite the sweltering temperatures outside spoke of an article of clothing meant more for function than simple fashion. And then of course there were the gloves, a dark, red leather, shocking in the sea of black, and the hood that engulfed his entire face in an unnatural shadow.
Steve took in the threatening sight this figure made in the half a second between his appearance and him drawing a familiar weapon. A long, thin stick of wood that he flourished in a confident grip.
He didn't need to say anything more than that, they were all up, all moving. He raced down the hall, up a back flight of stairs to the level his rooms were on and through to his private living room. The shield was right where he left it, propped up against the side table beside the couch.
He was back down in the communal area in less than half a minute, still in the flat gray workout set he'd been walking around in all day because he already knew shimmying into his complicated battle suit would take more time than any of them had at the moment.
Stark was behind the bar, crunching on the ice from the remnants of a drink while he attached a set of metallic bands to his wrist, Clint had retrieved the experimental arrows he'd initially come here for and was working through a series of stretches with Natasha, while Bruce was standing off to the side, waiting patiently.
The television was still broadcasting video from the church and it was absolute chaos, he caught the rattle of gunfire, the starburst of spellfire, and the sight of strange, dark creatures tearing into men. But then he forced himself to look away, to focus on his team and getting control of the situation.
"Where are we going?"
"Fifth Avenue," Natasha reported as she handed him a button-sized communication device to stick into his ear. "St. Joseph's Cathedral."
Tony was already moving to the open doors leading out on to the balcony. "I'll go ahead, see what I see."
Disassembled pieces of the suit flew around the side of the tower and began fitting themselves around his form, but Steve didn't stick around to watch, already stepping onto the waiting elevator. JARVIS, very aware of the urgency of the situation, took control of the elevator's speed and dropped them in what almost felt like a controlled fall to the underground garage in a matter of seconds.
Natasha flipped open a panel on the wall and grabbed a key fob to toss to Steve. "Take his Triumph, we'll ride behind you."
He had no trouble finding the bike, kicking it to life while Natasha, Bruce, and Clint climbed into a sleek coupe a couple of spaces down.
"Fifth Avenue, just past the Rockefeller center," she shouted over the roar of the engine, "We could make it in ten."
Steve shook his head, kicked off the ground. "I say five."
He tore out of the garage and heard the screech of tires behind him, he pulled onto the street just as Tony swooped over their heads.
"This isn't the attack of a discontented voter," he told them, voice coming through the comm loud and clear and a little breathless "we're dealing with someone other than human. He's done something to the church, removed all the ways in and out, and turned them to stone."
"Not just one, this is a team," Natasha said. "I've got Fury on."
There was a moment while the connection established, then the Director's weary voice spoke right into his ear. "Rogers."
Steve cut the bike into a sharp turn, he caught the sight of a few surprised looking pedestrians as he leaned forward and pushed the bike as fast as it could go. "I know."
"Okay. Cryptic," Tony snarked. "Please explain."
"Not enough time. But yes, Stark, you're right, these individuals are more than human, with a skill set similar to Loki's."
"What does that mean?" Bruce asked, sounding very much like he didn't want to know the answer.
"Magic," Steve answered for Fury. "Powerful, deadly magic. These guys are dangerous."
"Hold on, Cap, you know these guys?"
"Not enough time," Fury repeated, cutting off Clint. "We've got a count of eleven, seven active combatants, four seem to be keeping the crowd in control somehow."
"Alive for now. He's out of harm's reach, but also his servicemen's."
"And they're trying to get to him?" Natasha asked. "Just the five?"
"Yes," Fury said grimly. "And they will. Rogers summed it up pretty accurately: they're dangerous."
Steve grunted, not even a little happy to be right. "How much time do we have?"
"They'll be done with the servicemen in I'd say another six minutes."
"We can be there in three."
"Right around the corner, I passed over some kind of protest," Tony told them. "It's a big one but they're staying off the streets so far, we should be able to squeeze by."
But that proved to no longer be true. Steve turned the corner into a snarl of backed-up cars and thousands of bodies filling the gaps between. It seemed they'd been marching in the direction of the church, the spires of which Steve could just see in the gaps between a few buildings, but a police line had formed-they were stopping anyone from passing with an aggression that was met equally by the massive crowd.
Natasha hissed furiously over the comm. "Fuck. Stark do you see a way through?"
The crowd roared when Ironman passed overhead; some were cheering, seeming happy to see him, but he still had to dodge more than a few wildly chucked bottles and even a few shoes. "There's a bit of space between the two far left lanes, Cap should fit through no problem. But no car's getting by, you'll have to backtrack, re-route to-"
He saw a flicker of orange just from the edge of his vision, the glint of sunlight off glass, then a bottle collided with the side of his helmet. Flames swept across the surface of the suit and the force of the explosion knocked him opposite of his repulsors and out of the sky.
He tucked and rolled, a well-practiced maneuver that sent the suit careening into the asphalt but not through any human bodies which he counted as an automatic win. He lay there for a moment, absolutely stunned while JARVIS voice garbled over the suit's speakers, but then it and his retina display flickered out.
There was no way that was just any old ordinary Molotov, a bit of gasoline in an old gin bottle couldn't take out the Mark VII. But then the crowd all around him engulfed him entirely and he stopped thinking about that really quick.
Steve watched Stark go down and get swallowed up in the crush of bodies horrified. The explosion went off overhead and everyone panicked, protestors and drivers hopping out of their vehicles all ran and pushed and trampled in every direction. And at the end of the street, trying to remain a strong presence between them and the cathedral, the line of cops screamed at the hysterical protestors, beating them back and setting off canisters of smoke into the mass of bodies.
"Stark do you hear me?" Steve scoured the street for any sign of red and gold. "Did anyone see where he went down?"
"Rogers," Fury's voice snapped him to attention, sharp with barely contained urgency. "We're nearly out of servicemen in there."
"We're not getting through this," Natasha said, "and they've got us blocked in behind now too. Go ahead of us, see what you can do."
He didn't waste time arguing. She was right. "I've got room for one more on the back."
"They're tearing through the president's guys no problem, so maybe we need someone with thicker skin."
Steve couldn't argue with that logic. He waited the handful of seconds it took Bruce to switch vehicles then redirected the bike to maneuver to the edge of the chaos.
"Good luck, have fun," Clint said and he bothered with no more of a response than a quiet snort.
Wizards, he was heading in to fight wizards most likely allied with HYDRA.
Seventy years and really nothing had changed.
It took eight minutes.
Eight minutes and all exits were sealed off.
Eight minutes and the one thousand, six hundred and thirteen mourners, forty members of the press, and thirty-eight surviving service members were rounded up and compliant.
They had not gone easy, the president's detail; all of Harry hurt, he was sure at least one rib was broken. Iola had taken several bullets for Angel that would have killed him, but left her only shaking from a bit of blood loss. And Hogwarts was dead, throat torn open by a bullet, but Crane hadn't faltered and neither did their plants.
The servicemen had been relentless, coordinated, and motivated, they knew what they were fighting for, even if they didn't know who, and they knew what it would mean if they lost. But that still meant little in the face of Harry and his Heart who was hungry.
Eight minutes, seven seconds after standing from that pew, the last body dropped and Harry's hand burned. Actually burned. The handle of his wand was blistering, searing the skin of his palm and sending smoke curling up from his grip. He was sure if he cast another spell the whole thing would go up and flames would consume him whole.
But there were more spells to cast, more work to do, and the president was waiting.
He was careful stepping over the twisted corpses spread all up and along the aisle and he took the stairs leading up to the dais slow as he considered what was left to do.
Ellis hung at the height of the room like a particularly appealing bit of bait; his face was starting to turn blue from the pressure his organs were putting on his lungs, but he still looked properly defiant as Harry began a slow circle below him. The shark to his bait.
Somewhere beyond his focus, a siren was wailing, something outside shook the stone of the church, but the creeping arrival of a familiar presence at his back kept him slow, serene. Death draped over him, as perfectly fit as his father's cloak once was.
"Mmm," the entity rumbled, low and anticipatory right in Harry's ear. "That feeling rattling your bones, what is that?"
Harry didn't waste a response; he didn't need to. Death already knew the answer.
His wand slashed above his head and Ellis fell down, down. A half a meter from cracking his neck on the ground Harry caught him and lowered him gently the rest of the way. He didn't bother binding him, even when the president slowly got his feet under him.
"Okay," Ellis said, his voice pitched to sound soothing, placating, his hands went up too, as if to ward off a frightened animal. "You've got my attention."
Harry cracked a smile. "Apologies, Mr. President, that's not what we're here for."
"We have a point to make."
He forced the man back down on his knees, aiming his wand at the ground and pushing until an invisible force buckled Ellis' legs from under him and pitched him forward.
"One that your kind seem to be intentionally missing." Harry stopped at his back, looming over his shoulder; he grabbed the back of his head and pulled until Ellis was stretched as far as he could while still on his knees. "Again and again."
There was a spot, right below where his jaw met his throat, where his pulse was visible, pattering quick as a rabbit's. Harry placed the point of his wand there and said. "Finish it."
Ellis kept still, he didn't understand the order.
"The rest of your speech," Harry elaborated. "Finish it for us."
He dug his wand in, just to show how serious he was, and beneath his touch, Ellis began to tremble. He didn't look afraid though, and that little bit of defiance he'd been hanging on to had fled the moment his knees met the dais. He only looked resigned now. And…sad.
"This won't help," he whispered. "Whatever you want, whatever it is you're trying to prove, this is not-"
"Will I have to imperius you as well?"
Ellis was a world leader, the president of the country, he knew wizards, had been introduced to MACUSA right at the height of the war in Britain, and so knew exactly what an imperius did.
"Let these last few moments at least be yours."
That did it, Harry watched the president's shoulders drop barely a centimeter as he gave in.
"We had no special suits." He didn't have a microphone this time, so Harry made sure to amplify his voice so that these last words would reach every corner of the hall, and (most importantly) be picked up by the cameras, still set up, still broadcasting to the entire country and further. "No magic hammers or superhuman serums. It was just us; humans doing our best and finding that it is more than enough."
Ellis raised his chin and there was that defiance, back again as he looked directly into the cameras, speaking with all the fervor of a man who knew this was it.
"We found that there was no force too great, no enemy we couldn't fight back, no horror we couldn't overcome. Our unity surpasses whatever powers any superhuman, any wizard, could possess, it is our might. United we are unconquerable."
Harry smiled then (because how could he not?) a gleaming, gash of white disrupting the dark inside his hood. Ellis had gone off script there near the end, but it worked, better even than anything Pierce could have planned. It was a call to action, a call to war, and if the muggles watching adored him even half as much as those within the church did, it would be answered.
Death had said this much would happen, and he'd cried and he'd raged at the unfair truth of it. But the Heart demanded it's due; first pestilence, then famine, now it would have its war and Harry was okay with that. For the first time since their unwilling union he and the Heart were of the same mind, they were in agreement.
Because it turned out that Amos and Robards, that pretty french woman, or any of the ICW he'd slaughtered weren't enough. Because they weren't alone. These were a people who'd looked to him as savior nearly from birth, expected a child to play their hero, a boy to save them all, and who condemned him when it still went wrong. When his youth and inexperience brought along a power worse than Voldemort, they'd refused to see their own fault, but were happy to condemn just him. They'd handed him over for torment and inevitable death as if his entire being and purpose hadn't revolved around saving them. As if he wasn't one of them.
The wizarding world was rotten to its core, it needed cleansing, and he and the Heart were happy to see it done.
Killing Ellis needed to be a spectacle, not just the attack on his men, but the actual act of ending the man's life. He couldn't use Avada Kedavra, it was to clean, too dignified, and he needed these people foaming at the mouth. So he went back to simpler times and the hexes he'd learned with the singular intent to help protect his muggle allies fighting their muggle war and he chose the worst of them.
But before he cast. Before Ellis rose up into the air again (higher than even the levicorpus could manage) with a spine of blackened wood turning blacker with blood torn through his chest and gripping so tight he hung there, suspended like a horrible mockery of christ. Harry leaned forward so he was just scant centimeters from the president's ear and he said to him and the world watching.
"Magic is might."