Natasha smiled sweetly at Tony Stark as her cell phone began to ring in her purse, playing the melody that was reserved for Director Fury. "I must take this," she said.
"Yeah, sure 'cause we weren't talking or anything. Nothing important anyway, just about Stark Industries. Very professional of you and all. Yeah, I'll just keep talking to myself then, should make for intelligent conversation anyway, so no hard feelings or anything! You just go on Ms. Rushman!" the genius said sarcastically, babbling in a louder voice as Natasha began to move away.
Natasha just smiled again, taking out the phone as she walked out of the room. "Yes?" she answered, her tone all business.
"I've got news for you; personal news. Would you rather hear them now or in person?"
"Is the line secure?"
Natasha cast a quick look over her shoulder in the direction of Tony Stark. She moved through the house and stepped outside into the brilliant sun of California. She wouldn't put Stark above listening in on her conversations; rather she would be more surprised if he didn't try. "Tell me," she demanded once she was sure that the eccentric billionaire wouldn't be able to hear her.
"Recently a team investigated a base in Yaroslavl, Russia. They uncovered some of Filipp Romanoff's old journals."
"Go on." Natasha was starting to get affected; she had stiffened a bit at the name. It was nothing noticeable, just a slight tension in her shoulders. Her voice didn't betray anything, nor would anyone guess that her heart was pounding faster and that her thoughts were flying if they observed her face. Outwardly she remained stoically calm.
"The journals cover the late seventies and early eighties, and as it turns out Filipp Romanoff was not your father."
The only thing betraying that Natasha had heard was a sharp inhale.
"He needed a child, a daughter to shape into a weapon, but he wasn't willing to do that to his own flesh and blood, showing some strange form of moral. He searched for a child with the right features that she would appear to be the daughter of him and his wife. He found you. We've looked up the facts and they correspond." Fury paused. "Do you want me to continue?"
Natasha fingered a lock of her long, red hair. It was a nervous gesture, but it was deliberate. It allowed her to stay relaxed and fitted well with her cover; after all even if she herself was stoic and rarely showed emotions, Natalie Rushman wasn't supposed to be completely unfeeling. "Please, do."
"You were born Heather Jessica Evans on 22nd of November 1977 to parents John and Charlene Evans. At the time they lived in Cokeworth, England. You were kidnapped at an age of just over three years, in February of 1980. That age was chosen because you were old enough to be somewhat easier to care for compared to an infant, but not so old that you would remember anything of your childhood before the removal. Also they discussed that this was an age when they could be certain that you physical looks would be what they wanted.
"Your birth parents reported your disappearance the next day and an investigation continued for about a year before the case was closed. Nothing was ever discovered about where you had been taken or who was responsible for your disappearance, and you were presumed dead."
Natasha was silent for a short moment, taking in the information. The man who had shaped her into the woman she was today had never been her father. In her opinion it explained a lot. She couldn't see how anyone would wish a life like the one she'd had on their own child.
"Do I have any living family?"
Fury grunted in affirmative. "You do. You have a sister, Petunia Dursley, living in Surrey, England with her husband and their son. They also have the custody of your mutual nephew."
"John and Charlene are dead then?"
"Yes. A house fire, twelve years ago. Accidentally, a house fire was also the death cause of your younger sister Lily, hence why Petunia has the custody of her son."
"I see. Was there anything else?"
"Nothing that immediately concerns you."
Natasha knew what that meant. It meant that she had been told this simply because Fury had wanted to be good, but as long as she wasn't involved in a mission the details wouldn't be within her reach as they didn't immediately concern her. She however disagreed. This was most personal. "I would like to see the journals."
Fury grunted again. "It might be possible to arrange at a later date." Vague. Expected. But it also meant that she wouldn't be reprimanded if she pushed at a later date. She could work with that.
"That would be agreeable."
They were both silent.
"You'll wish for some time off, am I correct?" Fury asked in a resigned tone and Natasha quirked up her lips in a miniscule smile.
"Yes. A few days would be appreciated."
She thought she had left her past behind. Now it was back to haunt her and this was a past that might be worth allowing it to do so. This was a past where she might have had a good family, a normal life with siblings and love. It would never happen and she would not dwell on it.
However the future did exist and there were people in England who had a blood connection to her. She wished to meet them. After that she didn't know what she'd do. She only knew that she wouldn't be able to rest until she had explored the possibility of family and now was as good as any to investigate.
"It is not the most convenient time, but I knew that it was likely you'd ask for this once I told you, so I was prepared for the possibility. You can have a week on the condition that you during this time are prepared to leave within the hour should it be required."
"That is not a problem. Thank you, sir."
Petunia Dursley was humming softly to herself as she watered the plants in the kitchen window. The red geraniums were flourishing with the arrival of springs and longer days filled of sunlight. Petunia thought that she might have to replant them soon. Or that she would have the boy do it in any case. She enjoyed her garden and took great pride in having some of the most beautiful roses on Privet Drive and her hydrangea bushes were by far the largest and most richly blooming in the neighbourhood. At this time though, Petunia was less interested in her flowers than the opportunity watering the pot plants gave her to spy out through the window onto the street outside to see what the neighbours were up to.
Mr. Holden of number ten was mowing the lawn for the first time this spring and Mrs. Criss of number five were painting their garden fence, while her two children played in the garden. It was nothing terribly interesting, but Petunia still found it to be highly enjoyable. She would be able to gossip about the fact that it was Mrs. Criss who was the one painting the fence, when it ought to be the husband in a relationship who did such things. She had heard that Mr. Criss had hurt his back. Had it perhaps gotten worse as to force Mrs. Criss to paint the fence? Additionally Mr. Richter was just exiting his house to walk his dogs, two terriers.
Her musings on the matter were interrupted as a sleek, blue convertible drove down the street. The roof of the car was up however so it wasn't possible to see who was driving. Mr. Holden, Mr. Richter and Mrs. Criss looked up, staring at the car as it pulled up by number four. They shared a glance and looked back at the vehicle.
Petunia felt her breath hitch in her throat. She wasn't expecting company. "Vernon, darling!" she called in the direction of the living room where she knew her husband was sitting by the telly.
"What is it, Petunia?" he grunted back.
"Are you expecting company?"
"A car just pulled up." Petunia barely refrained from pressing her nose up against the glass of the window. The door of the car opened and out stepped a woman in her thirties or perhaps slightly younger, with long, dark red hair falling down her back.
"Lily," Petunia whispered, feeling her face draining of blood and her heartbeat speeding up. The woman looked like she imagined an older version of her baby sister Lily would look. But it was impossible. Lily was dead, had been so for more than eight years! There was no way they would have been saddled with the boy if she was still alive.
Her thoughts went then to a tragic event in their family. She'd had an older sister. Heather. Heather had disappeared one day, shortly after Lily's birth. Their parents were sure it had been kidnapping. The police hadn't been as sure and the young girl had been presumed dead after a year of investigating with no result.
In the few photographs of the young family, the eldest of the Evans girls had, had strawberry blond hair. Lily had had that too until she turned seven. It was possible that Heather also would have grown up to have dark red hair just like this woman had.
The woman was dressed in a simple dove blue dress shirt, and a pair of dark gray jeans. She wore high heeled shoes and had a jacked casually draped over her arm. Petunia felt the same sting of jealousy she'd always held for Lily, this woman had the same easy beauty about her that her younger sister had possessed, and Petunia couldn't help but crave the same thing.
The woman outside looked impassively at the house, presumably at the large number four by the door, before she walked up the short pathway to the entrance. A moment later the sound of the doorbell resonated through the house.
"I'll get it, Vernon," Petunia said, only getting a grunt in response. As she walked the short few metres to the door, she smoothed down her dress and made sure that her hair had not begun to get loose from the bun at the back of her neck. Satisfied that she looked presentable, Petunia opened the door.
"My name is Natasha Romanoff. May I come in?"
Little Whinging and Privet Drive were not an area Natasha would have chosen to live. She got a claustrophobic feeling from the many streets with identical houses, all with a nice car parked upfront and a perfectly kept lawn and neatly trimmed hedges. She had preferred the drive through London, feeling familiar with the city and she had also enjoyed driving through the stretches of countryside she had passed on her way here. The farmland and open fields were if she allowed herself to be sentimental, beautiful, and it appealed to the agent in her as well for the reason that it made it more difficult to prepare an ambush out in the open.
Natasha followed Mrs. Dursley inside. So far she wasn't sure what to think. Her sister did not seem pleased to see her, that much she could tell. Other than that she had only been able to observe what the woman looked like. With blond hair that had a hint of strawberry tint to it, pale, almost watery blue-green eyes, a long neck, bony figure and slightly horse like teeth which showed between her parted lips Petunia was no beauty. Nor was her appearance was not helped by the garish yellow dress with a pattern of pink flowers she was wearing.
What she'd seen of the house so far did nothing to still her unrest. It appeared to be impeccably clean, it was too clean and the air would have fitted better in a hospital. Strong chemical cleaners irritated her nose and Natasha felt a bit uncertain about whether she should have removed her shoes or not. But as Petunia hadn't said anything she supposed it was alright.
Natasha was lead into a living room where the first thing she saw was a large man seated in front of a TV. When he heard them enter his face adapted a disgruntled expression and he turned the device off, and got arduously to his feet, letting her have a better look at his purpling face, large black moustache and small greedy eyes.
"Mr. Dursley?" she said with false pleasantness, and when he caught eye of her, his expression shifted, taking on a simpering look which she could have done without, but she was far too used to it to let it bother her.
"Yes. I am Vernon Dursley," he said.
"I am Natasha Romanoff. Thank you for having me."
Petunia snorted lightly, the small sound showing that it wasn't by their choice, but also that they would never let a guest stand in the door. "Can I get us something? Tea? Or maybe you prefer coffee?"
"Whatever you're having will be fine." Natasha got a feeling that she would enjoy this visit far less than she'd hoped.
Harry sighed softly when he heard the doorbell ring. He had hoped to be let out of the cupboard this afternoon and he knew that as long as they had company in the house it wouldn't happen. His Aunt and Uncle didn't want people to know about him- He had never really understood why. Dudley was given anything and everything he pointed at with his fat hands, while he, Harry, had to do with table scraps and castoffs that would have fitted a baby elephant better than they did him. For some reason Aunt Petunia didn't want him to be seen.
He had heard her call him freak a few times, and mutter about his sort. It didn't happen often though. He thought that Aunt Petunia didn't like to think about whatever "his sort" was.
He listened now as the woman was served tea and they began to small talk.
"I believe it's time I told you the reason I came here," Natasha said setting down her half empty cup on the coffee table.
Mr. Dursley grunted, and Natasha interpreted it as "about time, you've enjoyed our hospitality for long enough."
"A few day's ago I found out that I was not who I had been led to believe. At the age of three I was kidnapped from my true family. The name my parents gave me was Heather Evans."
Petunia gasped. "You're Heather? Truly?"
"Yes. Journals kept by the man I believed to be my father, and whose name I carry, was found recently. His plan and the execution involving me were written in them."
"I-I…" Petunia stammered, her face had paled again and here eyes were large. "I almost thought so. You look so much like- like Lily did."
"Do you have any photographs I could see?"
"I- Yes. I'll go fetch them. I keep all the old things, the things I have that belonged to my- our parents and to Lily in the attic. Maybe you'd better come with me. You could look at it yourself."
Natasha smiled. The first genuine smile she'd given since being invited into her sister's home. "I would like that very much."
Harry had been sitting inside the cupboard listening to the conversation. It was dreadfully dull. Just the same polite drivel that always was the case when his aunt had company over. At least the woman wasn't one of Vernon's clients, so they weren't simpering or sucking up. That was the worst to listen to.
He had been nodding off when he noticed a change in their voices. They were sharper, more business like. Wanting to hear better he got off the cot and pressed his ear against the door. He heard his mother's name! Aunt Petunia was talking about Lily!
The woman, she was… No it couldn't be true. But it must be. She was his Aunt. He had a second Aunt! (Marjorie Dursley did not count.)
Harry felt wonder and hope beginning to grow in his chest and ruthlessly pushed it down. It wouldn't do to think anything would change. Petunia was his Aunt after all and she didn't like him. Why would this new one be any different? Still, maybe she was.
Sometime later Natasha and Petunia came back downstairs. Vernon was no longer there, having gone outside to run an errand.
Natasha had had a good time looking through the photo albums. She felt strangely melancholic looking at pictures of the family she had never known and the members of it that she would never get a chance to meet.
The albums that had been kept in the attic were filled with photos from Lily and Petunia's childhood and as far as she had gathered from how her sister acted, the memories were not easy for her to recall. Natasha supposed that it was because of the loss of Lilly and their parents, Petunia wouldn't want to be reminded of what she no longer had.
"Thank you for showing me that," she said politely. "It's beginning to get late and I should probably retire, but I had hoped to meet Dudley and Harry before I go."
Petunia looked a bit uncomfortable at the mention of the boys. "Oh," she said chuckling nervously. "I'm afraid that they're both at a friend's house and they won't be back until after dinner."
"Okay. Maybe I could return tomorrow? I am in England for a few more days before I have to return to the States."
"Yes, of course. You must come back."
There was something wrong with Petunia. She seemed to be very uncomfortable and Natasha couldn't see why, but she wasn't a master spy for nothing. "So do Harry and Dudley get along well?" she asked, paying close attention to her sister's reaction.
"Oh, of course, they are the best of friends." A clear lie. Petunia met her eyes, trying to seem honest, overcompensating for the falsity of her words.
"What is your son like? Does he like sports? Play any instruments?"
"Dudley likes video games and TV, and he's very intelligent, always does well in school."
Natasha watched with some detached fascination as her sister began to gush about her son. Pointing out the photographs of him that adorned the walls and sat in large frames in the bookshelf and atop the buffet. The boy in the pictures was young and like his father Dudley was overweight bordering on obese. He had a round, pudgy face with thick blond hair atop his head.
Having had enough of Petunia's praise she interrupted. "And Harry? What does he like to do?"
"Ehum," Petunia faltered. "Much the same as Dudley I suppose," she said, waving off the inquiry, she was stiff through, showing extreme discomfort once more.
"Do you have any pictures of him? I don't think I've seen any."
"Eh, I…" Petunia looked flustered, red spots had appeared high on her otherwise pale cheeks.
"What is wrong?" Natasha asked innocently. She did not like where this was going and a nagging suspicion she had been feeling since her arrival was growing more pronounced.
"Why are there no pictures of Harry? Your living room is flooded with pictures of your own son, but how about our nephew?"
Just then a small sound drew their attention to the hall. It was a slight creaking, as if a door which hinges needed oiling was opened.
"He wouldn't," Petunia whispered, her horror at the sound painfully obvious.
From the opening to the hallway a small figure appeared. It was a boy no older than ten years, younger since it could only be Harry who had yet to turn nine. He had carbon-black hair that was cut fairly short and yet managed to stand up in every direction looking very unruly.
Bright green eyes were hidden behind thick framed, circular glasses. He was dressed in clothes that looked to be at least three sizes too big for him, the collar of the t-shirt, which colour was grey though it had been some other bright colour once upon a time, hung low, almost showing a thin shoulder. The trousers were equally large, the ends of them had been rolled up and showed the boy's feet which were clad in large mustard yellow socks with as much as three toes peaking out at the front of the left foot.
"Harry?" Natasha questioned. It had to be him. There would be no other boys that age around number four Privet Drive and judging by the photographs this was not Dudley. The boy's eyes were also familiar. They were copies of Lily's eyes as Natasha remembered them from the photographs and they were additionally similar to her own.
"Yes, ma'am," the boy said, voice soft.
"Have you been listening to our conversation?"
He hesitated. "Yes."
"Do you know who I am then?"
"My mother's older sister."
Harry was timid, she could tell, but he answered her questions without looking away from her eyes, though they did flicker to Petunia now. Natasha followed his gaze and saw that her sister looked terrified, as she should be. Things were looking very bad for her now.
"Yes, I am." She smiled at the boy. "You may call me Natasha or Aunt Nat if you like."
"Aunt Natasha," he nodded slowly, putting the examples together on his own.
"Where did you come from?"
"Will you show me, please?"
He nodded and went back the way he came, Natasha following close behind. He paused beside a door that was now open. She hadn't paid any attention to it before as it was just the door to a small space under the stairs. Looking inside she saw a cot, with a thin blanket, a shelf holding two books and a few skewed tin soldiers. Besides that the cupboard was empty, excluding the dust bunnies and cobwebs.
"Do you sleep in here, Harry?"
"Do you like living with your Aunt Petunia, your Uncle Vernon and your Cousin Dudley?" she asked, keeping completely calm.
Harry bypassed her with his gaze, looking at Petunia no doubt.
"You can tell me the truth."
He looked back at her, squirming a bit. "No, I don't like it," he admitted.
"You ungrateful little freak!" Petunia hissed, making Natasha turn around and stare down the woman, who deflated.
"What did you just call our nephew?"
"Freak." It was Harry who answered. His tone was too resigned to belong to a soon to be nine year old, and it made Natasha's blood boil.
She may not be born in Russia as it turned out, but she had lived there for a large portion of her life, and the Russians, like their winter could be cold. She had embraced the snow and ice, making it part of her and it took a lot for her ire to turn from icy to fiery.
She shut her eyes for a brief second, to collect the anger she was feeling and she turned to the boy. "Harry, would you tell me why you don't like living here?"
"I, it's not so bad, but I wish that I could have some of what Dudley gets. He gets nice new clothes. He gets stuff all the time although he breaks it really fast. He can eat whatever he likes whenever he likes. I don't mind helping around the house or anything, so that's no problem, but getting locked inside the cupboard is no fun."
"They do that?"
"Sometimes, when something happens. I don't know how these things happen, I don't do them, but I get blamed and then I get locked inside the cupboard."
"I see. Harry, I want you to get your things from your room. Only the things you want to keep. Anything you need will be fixed later. Then I want you to go outside and get into the blue car that is parked there. Okay?"
Harry looked at Petunia; saw her pinched look and cold eyes. He looked back at Natasha whose expression was neutral. He came to a decision. "I don't need anything," he said.
"Go on then. I'll be with you in a moment."
He nodded and did as he was told, dragging his feet a bit as he went, he pulled on a ratty pair of trainers and went outside. As soon as the door closed behind him Natasha allowed her emotions to run freely.
"How can you treat him like this?" she asked heatedly. "I know that his story is true about spoiling your own son. Just looking at his picture will confirm it. What has Harry done to deserve this?" She towered over her younger sister, glaring harshly, giving a look that had made men tremble.
"You have no idea," Petunia hissed, her nostrils flaring and though she showed signs of being affected by Natasha's glare she didn't hesitate. "You never knew, Lily, never knew what she was, what sort she consorted with. The boy is just the same. We've already seen signs of it."
"The strange things he's been punished for?"
"It's no mere coincidence. I know he was responsible, whether he is aware or not."
"Are you for real?"
"Quite. I just wish he wasn't."
Natasha couldn't believe the words the woman had just said. "As I'm sure you have gathered I'm taking him with me. You'll be hearing from the authorities and you won't see Harry again."
"That suits me just fine."
"Well then. Goodbye, Mrs. Dursley."
"Goodbye, Ms. Romanoff."
Harry couldn't believe his luck. For many years he had dreamed that some unknown relative, generally from his father's side of the family, would show up and whisk him away from the horrible, mundane existence on Privet Drive. And a couple of weeks ago it had happened; his rescuer had come in the form of a beautiful woman with red hair and green eyes.
His mother had another sister, one who had been kidnapped and now she had found her long lost family and thinking that he hadn't been treated right she had decided to bring him along.
At first Harry thought that she would grow tired of him, waiting to get dumped back at the Dursleys, but so far that hadn't happened, and it seemed less likely to occur for each passing day.
They weren't even in England anymore! They were in Monaco of all places. Harry was sitting on the balcony of their hotel room, feeling the breeze of the Mediterranean blow in his hair and the sun warming his skin. Down below he could see the water, the palm trees and the fancy houses of the city.
The first days following his rescue from Privet Drive hadn't been all that much fun. He been dragged around, forced to meet people who were officials of some sort or another. They had asked him a lot of questions that he had reluctantly answered causing them to frown and scribble down pages with notes.
He'd also been to see a doctor. She had frowned as well, a steely glint appearing in her eyes once the results came back from the lab. She had been rather nice though once it was clear that Natasha wasn't responsible for his condition. The only thing that changed after his appointment at the doctors was that he had to eat a pill with vitamins to each meal and he had been given a few nutrient bars to snack on between the meals.
Harry felt like he hadn't eaten as much in his entire life combined compared to the last couple of weeks, logically he knew that was an exaggeration, but never before had so many meals left him feeling full and satisfied.
Natasha was the first adult to ever be nice to him, except perhaps his own parents he supposed, but it wasn't like he could remember them.
They had been living in a posh hotel in the heart of London and when Natasha found out that Harry never had seen the city they had gone sightseeing, though their first stop had been the shopping streets, as the woman sternly told him that he was lacking many things and it couldn't be allowed, not now that the was under her care.
Natasha had bought him new clothes that fit, weren't faded from use and didn't chafe. It was brilliant. They had also gotten him new glasses and Harry had to wonder how much he must have missed before. His old glasses might have been right for his eyes when he got them, but that was a few years ago and they didn't fit any more. With the new ones perched on his nose the world was so much clearer and he could see so far! It was amazing and he had thanked her profoundly, going so far as to make her blush a bit.
Besides clothes Natasha had bought a few other things for him such as books and when they happened upon it she had also gifted him with a teddy bear, an event that had left them both rather embarrassed, but Harry couldn't have been happier. He might be too old to have a soft toy, but as he couldn't remember ever having one it felt right.
When one week had passed his Aunt Natasha had sat him down and asked if he would like to live with her, she had to get back home soon and he had to make a decision. She didn't want to force him into anything, she wanted him to be happy and there would be no trouble finding him a nice family willing to take him in if he wanted to stay in England. She made sure that he understood that if he answered yes he would have to move to the United States. She also made certain that he understood that she wouldn't be home much. She would try to be there for him, but there would be periods when she would be gone and he would have to fend for himself mostly.
It had been a no brainer for Harry. Anything would be better than the Dursleys and here he had a blood relative who was nice to him, who wanted him and who spoke to him like he mattered.
She has smiled when he said yes and enveloped him in a warm hug. It was one of the few she had given him, as neither of them seemed to be too comfortable with physical contact, but in that moment it felt perfectly right and he was so happy to have answered yes.