"We should have stayed in Alfheim," Loki says as he pitches a tent for the evening, waving his hands so that the sticks and canvas arrange themselves correctly. They're camping in a dense forest in the middle of summer, and it's only after dark that Loki doesn't find himself uncomfortably warm. "Or Vanaheim—Freyr offered us his hospitality, didn't he?"
"He did," Thor nods as he rotisseries the freshly-caught wild boar over the fire. The woods hide their activities from the village nearby, though Loki doesn't worry about attracting attention; most of the mortals here take one look at Mjölnir and walk the other way.
"Then why did you insist we come here? There's no one for you to spar with." Tent set up, Loki takes a seat on the opposite side of the fire, watching the spit turn. His hand rises to fiddle with a locket hanging down against his chest—his mother had insisted on him wearing some sort of protective amulet, and it was either this golden, oval thing or a truly garish, diamond-encrusted atrocity. Its power is minuscule compared to his own, though, so Loki believes it's actually a beacon for Heimdall to find, so that he can watch them from the Bifröst.
"There is you," Thor says, glancing up with a small smirk.
Loki rolls his eyes. "There is always me, but why here? Fewer buildings to destroy?"
"Father did yell for a while about that tower last time."
"You should have aimed better, then," Loki says, and they both laugh. Their last spar was partly the reason they were here—Odin hadn't strictly banished them from summer festivities due to the loss of one of the energy towers at the edge of Asgard, but he had been rather adamant about them sorting out their restlessness before returning. All of it is Thor's fault, really; he's restless because there hasn't been any major trouble to resolve in the Nine Realms recently, and when Thor is restless, so is Loki (having finally excused himself from mandatory arms lessons).
When the roast is done, they exercise no etiquette and simply carve off pieces as they are hungry, sip ale from refilling goblets, and lean back against their packs and stare at the sky through the forest canopy. They laugh about the little village they had trekked through on the way up here—what sort of name was Gryffon's Hollow?—and the fun Loki had had luring (in secret) and dispelling (in public) snakes from one lord Salazar's household just the other day. It is all fun and games, and Midgard is their playground.
For a brief hour, life is wonderfully simple, and the drink and the food lull Loki towards slumber.
Crack! The fire whooshes as if from a strong gale, and they are both on their feet, Loki with a dagger in each hand and Thor gripping Mjölnir’s handle tightly . Two hooded figures stand with their backs to the fire.
"Oh, Rowena!" One of the figures turns quickly to reveal a young woman with a round face and auburn hair, wearing a yellow dress under her cloak. "Look at this; we've trespassed on someone's dinner."
"I don't remember anyone reserving this spot—" The second figure, Rowena, turns, and it's another woman of about the same age but with black hair, sharp features, and a blue dress. "...But it seems we have, Helga."
"Our deepest apologies," Helga says, curtseying.
"There is no need for apologies," Thor says, lowering Mjölnir and flashing them a grin. Loki stares at him with undisguised horror; he knows what's coming up, but he's powerless to stop it— "But only if you would be so kind as to join us."
"We were heading for the village, but...is this boar?" Helga steps forward, peering down at the half-eaten rotisserie. "Rowena, how about it? It looks delicious!"
Rowena takes a silent moment to look at everyone present, and Loki conducts his face into a mask of cordiality just in time. He even includes a half-hearted smile, simply because he doesn't want to hear Thor complain about this later, and that's enough for Rowena to step up and join them for the rest of their dinner. Loki puts away his daggers and summons two more goblets for them, and Rowena's expression brightens as she takes one.
"So you two are wizards," she says, taking a seat by Loki's side, "and not two jaded Muggles. Your names?"
Their names are known well enough in these northern regions, but they had already settled on this: they don't want to travel and live as the god of thunder and the god of mischief. They're here to escape all that attention and worship.
"Salazar Slytherin." The name slides from Loki's tongue like a new spell, utterly ridiculous but appropriate for the place and company...but Thor needs one, too. "And my dear friend, Godric Gryffindor." Loki glances back briefly at Thor for confirmation, who grins at him. At least they weren't claiming to be mortals, and the truth wouldn't be stretched to breaking. "And you are Rowena and Helga, I presume?"
"Helga Hufflepuff, and my cousin Rowena Ravenclaw," Helga says while taking a seat by Thor. She takes a tentative sip of the ale, and then grins. "Oh, this is so exciting! How long will you be traveling through?"
"Actually," Thor speaks before Loki can, but he does give Loki an acknowledging glance, "we were expecting to stay here for a season."
"For training," Loki amends, and he sees Rowena smile—but it's sly, knowing, not the bright and honest thing Helga wears at the same moment.
She's also leaning a little closer to Loki, and he sees she has brilliant grey-blue eyes. "While you're here, maybe you could help us with something." She draws an object from inside her cloak, and Loki tenses until he realizes that it's just a stick. "There is a group of children nearby that we're meant to tutor..." She waves the stick and manipulates the flames to aid her in her story, illustrating what she and Helga hope to accomplish.
A few more goblets of ale later, Thor and Loki agree to help the ladies with some 'magical education,' which Loki hopes isn't a euphemism for something else. The moon hangs high in the sky when they finally leave, spirits high, and the fire burns low and dim.
Loki curls up on a blanket in the tent while Thor does one last walk around the campsite before joining him. In the last glimmers of the fire Loki can see the glint of Mjölnir before Thor sets it aside, out of the way but within reach, and then flops down on his back next to Loki.
"What did you think of those women?" Thor asks, one hand pillowing his head.
Loki watches the slow rise and fall of Thor's chest for a moment before answering, "They're more extraordinary than anyone else we've met here; I think we could know them better, and help them teach their own kind. It'll only be a few children."
Thor smiles. "I never thought I would have to teach magic at your side, brother—this is truly exceptional, like those names you made. Godric Gryffindor? Salazar Slytherin?" Thor chuckles.
"I make no apologies for the alliteration." Loki does allow himself a small smile, though. "Hopefully it will be enough to distract them from your complete ignorance of sorcery...and you'll need a wand."
"What of Mjölnir?"
"Didn't you see them cast? Magic here is used with sticks, not hammers." Loki turned onto his other side, his back to Thor. "I'll fashion some in the morning before they arrive."
The next morning, Loki wakes at dawn. After nibbling on some jerky, he leaves Thor (snoring away) to walk through the forest, searching for a tree branch that might make a good mimicry of the wands he saw last night. First, he comes to a large oak tree and, knowing it is one of Thor's favorites, lops off a branch for his brother's wand.
One stick in hand, Loki searches for another tree that feels just as strong and majestic, but what he finds is a short, stocky elder tree whose bark hums at his touch. He takes a branch of that and returns to the campsite, where Thor is already cooking a full breakfast of eggs and sausages.
"Is that it?" Thor asks, pointing at the sticks Loki carries under his arm.
"Should there be anything more?" Loki replies, and he sits down by the fire to begin carving and preparing the wood.
By noon the oak and elder branches resemble the wands that Helga and Rowena had been using, but with more regal handles and a wider grip. The oak wand is thick and fourteen inches long, while the elder is slimmer and longer at fifteen inches.
Thor sits back and waves the oak back and forth as Loki imbues his magic in the elder. "It's so light."
"Of course it's light," Loki snaps, still trying to concentrate on the power in his hands. "It's not a hammer, and you should learn not to treat it like one."
Thor continues to swish it absently through the air under until Loki takes it, repeating the same process. Most of the magic is the same, but he throws in a few more physical protections, knowing how Thor treats most of his weapons. After another half-hour, Loki sighs and sits back on the grass next to Thor, giving the oak wand back. "Now, it should respond to your thoughts—"
Thor swishes the wand with a flourish of his arm, and with a great crack of thunder a bolt of lightning arcs from the tip to strike a tree on the opposite side of the meadow. Seeing that said tree is now on fire, Loki sighs and conjures water to douse the flames while Thor laughs.
"This is a marvelous toy you've constructed, brother," Thor says, giving Loki a congratulatory slap on the back with his other hand. "It's almost a match for Mjölnir."
Loki smiles, and his grip tightens on the elder wand. "Almost."
The students Rowena had mentioned the night before happen to be a cohort of about fifty children, age six to fourteen, all orphans. Not surprisingly, after a full day of getting to know them and showing them some magic (Loki doing most of the teaching), they flock to Thor, sitting around him in a large circle as he regales them with some story about Muspelheim without mentioning it by name. Then, some of them try to lift Mjölnir, and it becomes a popular game after everyone’s done with their dinner porridge.
"We can't keep doing this," Rowena confides in Loki, as the two of them watch from a distance. "There are so many of them...it's hard to move around without being seen, and few of our kind are wealthy enough to own land where they can stay. The Peverells lent us their manor, here, but we shouldn't tread on their hospitality much longer..."
Loki spins the wand in his hand, thinking quietly for a few moments. The children begin to combine their efforts to lift Mjölnir. "Find me empty land," Loki says, "and I will give you a castle."
Rowena stares at him, but Loki doesn't break into a smile, doesn't make it sound like a joke. "...I might know a spot—should we wait, or—?"
"No." Loki stands, and offers a hand to Rowena. "Night will fall soon, and we all need shelter."
She nods, and the next thing he knows, they've disappeared from the field into quite another area entirely: a valley bookended by dense forests, with one end blocked by an enormous lake, the shore of which they stand on. The mountains don't slope smoothly; rather, one end has rocks jutting out to make a rough plateau. The entire place is defensible, secluded, and well-equipped for what Loki needs to do.
"You don't have to stay," Loki says as he holds up his wand. He rather hopes she won't, because building this place will reveal the true extent of his sorcery, and he prefers to have that information to himself.
"I'd like to, my lord Slytherin," she says, gently teasing, and takes a seat on a dead log.
Loki smirks. "Very well, my lady Ravenclaw."
The wand is nothing more than a decoration. Both of his hands move and glow, the mountain groans, hiding his quiet whispers. Pebbles shift under his boots, and the locket quivers against his chest, but they're only side effects of his magic. For a long moment, there's no noise or shift at all, and then Rowena jumps as a large, tall column of stone rises out of the plateau. "Is that—"
Loki blocks out the sound of her voice and the scream of the rock as he concentrates on the rest of the mountain. To replicate the palace at Asgard would be too much, so he takes pieces from the homes of the Vanir, from the towers of both of the elves, from the dungeons of the dwarves, and from his own imagination. It's a hodge-podge of turrets and halls and several floors that rise out of the mountain and assemble out of the broken shards of large boulders. It's the largest task with stone he's ever undertaken, and when he finally opens his eyes at its conclusion, he feels drained. The castle sits on the plateau before them, steaming from the heat of creation, and Rowena stands speechless beside him.
Nausea hits him like Mjölnir, and Loki sways before dropping to one knee with a white-knuckled grip around the wand. "Salazar?" She touches his shoulder, and Loki brushes her hand off, unsuccessfully trying to stand.
"We...we should return to the others," he says, breathless, "before they notice we're gone." Rowena's grip tightens on Loki's shoulder, and he's jerked into her rough take on teleportation. He swallows hard as he finds himself kneeling on soft grass.
"Loki!" He hears Thor call out, and he swears he can feel the weight of Thor's footsteps against the ground. "Are you hurt? Where have you been?" He crouches by Loki's side to help him up, but Loki waves off his assistance.
"Loki?" Helga questions, stepping over.
"A childhood nickname," Loki explains, sitting back on his heels while a cold chill spreads over his shoulders. "I'll sit here for a while, thank you, Godric. Rowena, you and Helga should transfer the children to the castle."
Thor sits by Loki while the witches take the children to the castle in twos and threes. In a brief minute, when they are both gone, Loki gives Thor a sharp elbow to his side where there's a gap in his armor. "Learn to call me by my current name, brother," he snaps in a low voice, "I've already revealed enough building our next shelter..."
"As you wish, Salazar," Thor teases, rubbing Loki's back. "Why do you insist on so much for these people? I haven't seen you so pale since we were children."
Rowena and Helga appear nearby and go to grab more children by the hand. They've progressed to the younger students now, distracting them from their continued attempts at lifting Mjölnir. Loki waits until they've disappeared again before speaking. "You could say that I have sympathy for children of magic who are surrounded by axes and swords."
Thor laughs and claps his hand on Loki's shoulder, giving it a playful squeeze. "Do not think some of them aren't warriors. Some of them would prefer to fight with both."
"Yes, well," Loki swallows another wave of nausea and bows his head. "You can take those under your tutelage, then."
After Loki recovers, he and Thor join the others at the castle. Over the next few weeks, they settle into different corners of the castle: Thor and Rowena take towers for their dwellings, albeit in opposite wings; Helga adores the trappings and warmth of the kitchen, so she takes several rooms near it; Loki, humble enough not to trust his own constructions too much, seeks a large, quiet room underground, where the summer heat cannot penetrate. It's blissfully cool.
They agree to split the children evenly between them for easier management. Thor plucks the boisterous ones, as Loki had suggested; Rowena and Helga already have their favourites; Loki welcomes the individual misfits who stand apart at the end, hesitant to join anyone, but when Loki opens his arms and his rooms to them, they flock to him fast enough. Cunning little creatures.
While Thor and Loki watch the children during the day, Rowena and Helga bring in supplies from the outer world: furnishings and food, then parchment, quills, and books. Loki asks not where they get it, and Thor doesn't care enough to inquire.
Thor orchestrates some tactical lessons by the lake, but Loki prefers to sit in the shade of a tree and read some of the books Rowena has brought already. Their spells are strange and not as intuitive as his own, but he'll manage. He can feign being a "wizard" for a while longer, so long as neither of the witches question what he and Thor really are.
As it turns out, Loki doesn't really need to know their spells—that falls to Thor, who insists on teaching them how to fight with magic. Loki gives him the books, and he's only mildly surprised when he sees Thor studying them diligently, as if he needs those foreign words to command his wand. His affinity for flying is less surprising, though after years of seeing Thor travel via Mjölnir, to see him play with a broomstick is quite comical indeed.
With Rowena and Helga teaching all manner of charms and spellwork, the responsibility of teaching the children about the magic of their world falls to Loki. He teaches them about plants and their alchemic uses, shows them how to tame animals for their own purposes, and finally shows them the wonder of the night sky and all the secrets it holds.
Then winter comes, and the issue of new clothes comes to the forefront.
"They won't survive the winter in their current clothes," Helga says when they meet after supper in the warmth of their own, adults-only common room. "We must find new robes for them."
Loki lounges across one couch, book open in his lap. "Are you suggesting uniforms, Lady Hufflepuff?"
"I suppose." Helga flicks her wand and tiny cakes float towards the air towards the other three. "Oh, they would look splendid if they all had robes to fit them."
"Especially in a bold color—like scarlet," Thor says from his arm chair near the couch. He grabs the cake out of the air and eats the entire thing in one bite.
"Don't be ridiculous, Godric." Loki takes the cake and eats it in two. "They'll be walking targets. Green would be much better for them."
"Green? Not all of them want to highlight their eyes, Salazar!"
"Gentlemen," Rowena speaks up, curled in her own armchair on the other side of Loki's couch. "We can each order robes for our own children—I daresay the tailors will care not about the color, as long as the order is there. However, I think we should agree that most of it will be black, as is the fashion, perhaps with the lining customized to our individual preferences."
"Agreed," Loki says with a look at Thor, who simply nods.
The green and silver that Loki chooses does look nice, not only on himself but all the children he watches over. He notices, too, how much the other students resemble their respective leaders once they wear the robes. Thor's children, once draped in black, gold, and scarlet, appear even warmer and louder than before.
On a field trip to the coast to see a sea serpent, they attract the attention of another wizarding family who is quite interested in the community they've created, and by the end of spring several other families have pledged their children to the school, which still doesn't have a name.
"Let the children decide the name," Thor suggests, laughing, one dinner—and the next week the children have settled on 'Hogwarts,' after some impressive statues Loki has set before the Great Hall.
Loki despairs privately in his office.
During the summer, they allow an extended lesson break. Children go swimming in the lake (which now sports a tamed set of giant squids) and organize their own games on broomsticks while Helga, Rowena, Thor, and Loki take a much needed vacation from the whirlwind of the past year. Helga cooks delectable summer feasts. Rowena leaves for days at a time to gather books and knowledge. Thor trains in the forests and the mountains surrounding the castle, spending some much needed time with his neglected Mjölnir. Loki, as always, sits underneath a tree and reads, with an occasional glance up to ensure all is well.
He reads about concealing robes that can hide one from sight, but it is all myth and fantasy—at least, in this realm. Loki could procure one from the engineers of Asgard and mages of Vanaheim if he so wished—for a very hefty price—but he thinks that with enough time he could fashion one here for himself. He has a length of cloth lying across the grass to test his skill.
Loki lifts the cloth in both hands and whispers incantations as his fingers move along the edge. The cloth shimmers, and then fades to be completely transparent. He grins, pleased—until a breeze blows by, the cloth flickers, and some opacity returns.
Well, it's a project, but by no means his only one. With so much free time on his hands now, Loki focuses on making the castle feel more like home. He ventures out into the world and brings back suits of armor, paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. Sometimes he goes alone, or Thor tags along, or they all go together.
On a whim, he decides to bewitch several suits of armor, and after discovering their wicked and strangely familiar sense of humor, he bewitches all of them. Their tendency to roam or switch places gives the hallways a dynamic, refreshing feel. But there is still something missing.
"The castle feels too simple," Loki tells Rowena as they climb up to the North Tower. It's where they keep more sensitive objects they don't want the children to get their hands on. "There's no challenge. Where I learned magic, the building itself changed without warning." Loki remembers the university in Asgard quite fondly.
They reach one landing, and Rowena stops, looking back at the staircase they just climbed. "What if the staircases moved?" she wonders aloud.
Loki stares at her, then grins. "Rowena, you are the most brilliant witch I have ever met."
It doesn’t stop at staircases. Loki adds vanishing steps whenever the fancy strikes him (Helga hates these), and sprinkles a few doors-to-nowhere that appear in random corridors, but Rowena approaches him when she can’t find her Arithmancy classroom.
"Loki!" she catches him on the way to the gardens. "I think you have had enough with these disappearing rooms -"
He gives her a pleasant smile. "Your classrooms will alternate between the third and fifth floors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Rowena. There's no need to yell."
She frowns. "You'll inform me of any chances to the pattern?"
After extended word of mouth over the course of several years, they're approached by a mortal family with a gifted child. Rowena and Helga welcome the child with open arms, but Loki is reluctant to accept him with his mortal affiliation. He doesn't mention it in open discussion.
In the dead of night, Loki walks up to the Gryffindor tower, past the portal which swings open at his command, and up to the topmost room where his brother lives. The room is spacious enough, with a wide balcony that overlooks the lake, but Thor has filled it to the brim with furs and plush furniture, not to mention broomsticks and his own growing collecting of books and, of course, Mjölnir, who sulks on its wall hanging. When Loki enters, Thor is lying across a couch by the large fireplace, reading one of the newer grimoires Rowena has no doubt provided him. He makes lazy gestures with the same oak wand Loki furnished for him.
"My lord Gryffindor," he announces himself, taking his pointed hat off as he bows low in mock-courtesy.
"Loki!" Thor laughs (he never forgets Loki's name and never ceases to use it in private) and sits up, setting the tome aside. "Come in, sit down. I wasn't expecting you at such a late hour."
At the invitation, Loki takes a seat on the couch near Thor, setting the hat to the side between them. "I wanted to talk to you about that mortal-born boy we're about to admit."
"Geoffrey? What's wrong with him?" Thor turned in his seat to better face Loki.
"Not him so much as his family," Loki said, his own gaze fixed on the fire. "The children we first helped were orphaned because of the parents’ magic, Thor, and here we are risking their safety again by telling the mortals where they are."
"But surely, with their own child—"
"They could just as easily withdraw him and lure the mortal armies to our doorstep."
Thor frowned. "What about illusions to hide our whereabouts?"
"Around the entire castle?" Loki looks over at him, sighs, and then leans back in his seat. "Perhaps, if I can enlist Rowena's assistance, but I doubt a simple illusion will be enough to protect us."
"I think it will, for now." Thor reaches out to squeeze his shoulder in comfort. "We will discuss this with them tomorrow, yes? When we are both rested and not so paranoid?"
"Paranoid?" Loki repeats, offended, looking at Thor with narrowed eyes. "Do you think this is something to take lightly? Do you believe this castle can withstand a siege with only children to defend it?" The anger swelling inside of him isn't so much for the castle he created or even really about the children themselves—it's about the legacy he's creating here, founding one of the best magical schools Midgard would ever have thanks to his (and Thor's) otherworldly support.
Thor smiles with a devious look in his eyes that would normally make Loki proud; now, it annoys him. "You forget what we are, Loki. There is nothing these mortals can do that I cannot repel, and no force that can win against both of us."
"But we will not always be here, Thor," Loki sighs. His hands scratch the edge of the locket that he still wears, after all this time, though it's more useless than before. "I will discuss it in the morning at breakfast—hopefully Rowena knows of enchantments that can hold up to tools of war."
"Then you're leaving already?" Thor asks, brow creasing. Loki looks at him, tempted to stay, but he nods and stands. He clutches the brim of his hat in one hand. Thor stands as well.
"I am. I have to teach your children and mine about unicorns tomorrow, and we will be finding them in the forest beforehand."
Thor walks with him back to the door that leads out to the staircase. "Be careful."
The years tick by. The orphans they had originally helped grow up and leave the castle to spread all over England and Europe, marrying mortals or their own kind and more often than not sending their own children back to Hogwarts. Rowena constructs a self-filling book to keep track of the potential candidates, and sometimes Loki spends evenings watching the quill scratch back and forth by itself. Their student body grows until the four of them need assistance, and sometimes their graduates stay as teachers.
Geoffrey, the wizard with the mortal family, also comes and goes, only to be replaced with other mortal-born witches from ever stranger circumstances. Some even escape their families, leaving behind lives of privilege and security in order to live and learn amongst their own kind.
Everyone is remarkably accepting of all of these children and their circumstances—except Loki. He knows that if anyone is to be vigilant about admission it should be him, and this wouldn't be the first time he's taken the unpopular opinion. He doesn't suffer from it; his own students are loyal enough, in their own ways. They know he's right.
And yet, he still heads out with Thor to yet another mortal family who is reportedly uncertain about this school, magic, or even their own child. Thor travels because he finds it his duty; Loki accompanies because he likes to get out of the castle every once in a while. The dwelling they arrive at is much nicer than the thatched huts and cramped cities they have visited before: this is out in the countryside, a small but appreciable manor that lords over the surrounding farmlands and serfs.
The lord's hospitality is rich, and both Thor and Loki indulge their appetites like true Asgardians (though slowly, as not to alarm their host). After dinner, they all retire, so as to wake bright and early and discuss magic in the morning.
Then Loki wakes up with a man standing over him and his one (decorative) throwing dagger jammed into said man's neck, which just...ruins his robes. Irreparably. He scowls as he jerks his knife free and shoves the man out of his way, then rushes into the adjacent room where Thor is sleeping.
His brother's assailant looks better off—probably unconscious—on the floor. Thor looks up as Loki enters, and his eyes widen. "Are you—?"
"No," Loki answers, deciding to shuck the shirt altogether and use it to wipe the blood splatter from his neck. He can still feel some blood around the gold chain of the locket, but he'll wash it later. "Where's the girl? I, for one, do not think this is a very supportive household for magic."
They both snap to attention at a sudden, high-pitched scream that rips through the house, accompanied by many angry voices and the stamp of feet through the halls. Loki steps out, looks both ways down the corridor, then runs in the direction of the scream, Thor jogging behind him.
He comes to a halt in the front doorway, staring in disbelief as a peasant mob drags away the teenage girl whom Thor and Loki had come here to meet, tugging at her shoulder-length blond hair and her blue nightgown while she pleads with them. Her words seem mostly directed at the two people leading the processional: her own parents, the Lord and Lady with whom Loki and Thor had just enjoyed dinner.
"Stop!" he shouts after them, but they ignore him. Frustrated, he looks over to Thor, who has forsaken his wand for Mjölnir. "Stop them, will you, before they get to the square?" Then Loki blinks out, teleporting from the manor to the center of town, where the other peasants assemble faggots around a stake. It wouldn't be any harm—if the girl they intended to burn actually knew magic. He claps his hands together and the entire ensemble bursts apart into light and ash, eliciting screams from the gathered crowd already on edge. Next, Loki jumps—flies—because these people won't know the difference between a wizard and a god, and he needs terror on his side.
Thor has stopped the procession at the courtyard wall with Mjölnir's electric glow . Loki lands on top of it, his hands glowing green with pure ether. "How could you allow this to happen?" he shouts down at the lord, who doesn't meet his eye. "She is your daughter! How can you stand there and lead her to her death?"
"She is a witch," the lord murmured. Lightning crackles out threateningly from Mjölnir.
"She is your only child!" Loki yells, louder, and the entire crowd flinches back. He jumps down, and the mortals leap back and cower as he approaches. "But if you will not permit her to live," he says, voice low and cold now, "then surely you will not object to us liberating her."
The crowd makes a half-hearted attempt to injure Loki with pitchforks, but he throws them back with a wave of his hand. Once the girl is free, he rushes forward to embrace her with one arm, blinks to a spot closer to Thor to grab his brother's hand, and then teleports them all to the edge of Hogwarts' grounds.
The girl heaves a sob against Loki's shoulder, and he gently rubs her back before holding her at arm's length. A sleeve of her nightgown hangs off her shoulder, and a string of green gems stands out against her pale neck. She stares up at him with wide, grey eyes still spilling with tears. She’s too young, especially for this.
"Angrboda," he says quietly, "Godric will take you up to the castle, and our dear friend Helga will take care of you in the infirmary." Thor steps up and Loki gently guides her towards his encompassing embrace, murmuring with dull venom, "I should return before they burn all of our luggage."
He retrieves most of their belongings before they can be taken or burned, but the fight is not over yet. A small army appears in the valley the next week, but Loki sits with Angrboda and talks to her over a midday meal while Thor and Helga lead the mortals away and, hopefully, destroy them.
Angrboda settles in well enough after the ordeal, and Loki sees to it that she does, offering her a place in his House among his ambitious orphans who, ironically, welcome her into their fold without question. Things at the school begin to brighten again until Helga brings up the idea of another candidate from a similar background.
"No," Loki says in the after-supper meeting, "I will not condone this continued strategy of yours, to find wizards of mortal homes and introduce them to truths they may not be able to accept."
Rowena frowns. "But that girl you saved—"
"We saved her because her sentence was a result of my folly," Loki interrupts. "I told them too quickly; I didn't know how readily they would turn on their own blood."
Thor leans forward in his seat. "Salazar..."
"No, Godric, I won't condone it. Not now, not in this time." The look he shares with Thor affirms that Thor knows what he means—the mortals are too young to embrace something like magic, not while they're still so primitive and ignorant. Loki stands and leaves the room.
He has a private lesson with Angrboda, anyway, to help her catch up on her studies.
Hogwarts does not go without its mortal trespassers from time to time, and this just pushes Rowena and Loki to create new, stronger illusions that not only keep them at bay but turn the mortals' minds against them. The air around the school is always thick with enchantment now, both from the protections and the lessons, and the surge of magic in Loki's veins has never felt so hot.
The constant need to repel mortals leads Loki to study lesser known, darker arts, but it is not all for himself. He joins with Thor in creating a balanced course of offensive and defensive magic. Inevitably, Loki ends up showcasing the more malicious spells due to his greater skill, and that cements his reputation with the children outside of his House: dark, mysterious, intimidating.
His own children continue to listen to his every word, to exceed and surpass the magical challenges he sets for them—especially Angrboda, who flourishes under his tutelage and among her peers. With their success comes his own as he cobbles together their young insight and his old magic.
Most of them have a dark sense of humor that mirrors his own, though Loki is careful to ensure their mischief doesn’t lead to harm against the other students. He recognizes that most of their pranks are just their brilliance without an outlet (being guilty of the same symptoms as a child), and he wants to give them a safe area to practice whatever they need. So he creates a dynamic room behind an ugly tapestry on the seventh floor that changes to their needs, and lets their imagination do the rest. His students grow in power and skill, which only helps Loki.
Through (undocumented) luck and a few thestral hairs one of his students brings him, Loki is able to make a cloak of invisibility that does not fade and which even Thor cannot detect. It's much more relaxing to wear to see what Thor does in his classes than his own enchantments, which take time, energy, and concentration.
Sometimes Thor asks him how Loki knows his spells so well, and Loki laughs and says (while all the children are listening), "I can read your mind, Godric, of course." And they believe him, which is far better than anyone knowing the truth, including the fact that Thor is still his brother, and after so many years, Loki knows what he does and will do.
And in spite of the little duels that they perform for their classes and the constant use of magic throughout the years, none of it is like sparring against Thor in true Asgardian fashion. They can't spar anywhere on the grounds where the children might see and question them, and Loki doesn't want trees to get in the way, nor does he fancy a hike up the mountain.
The idea comes to him during dinner, as he stares up at the enchanted, vaulted ceiling of the Great Hall, pleasantly clear and reflecting the night sky one spring evening. He'll simply build a hall underground and annex it to his rooms. Private, quiet, and secure—what could be more suitable?
It's a new project to distract him from how much he's beginning to yearn for Asgard and the other realms. He could leave any time, Loki knows, but he'd also be leaving the school behind, and who knows how far Midgard will have progressed when he returns. Yet they'll have to leave soon. Wizards here are long-lived but not so long as Asgardians, and Thor and Loki are beginning to look younger than Rowena and Helga. Loki believes that Rowena has silently questioned his nature since the day he built the castle, and looking eternally youthful will not help her suspicions.
However, Loki seems to have luck on his side: Rowena marries an older warlock from France, and their intellectual jaunts to the continent every summer keeps her from asking why Thor and Loki remain ideal twenty-somethings while her dresses (and Helga’s, too) have to be tailored a little bigger.
While she’s gone, Loki continues tweaks the castle in small ways. He manages to get a few of the portraits to move and talk like the armor; he adds a tunnel or two that leads to the growing village outside the grounds; he hides Helga’s kitchen behind a giant portrait of fruit because she complains about the number of students dropping in for an afternoon snack. It takes her half a day to find it, and Loki trails behind her under his cloak, fighting to keep his laughter to himself.
Thor, to credit his ingenuity, clears a part of the fields on the castle’s plateau to make for a flat, manicured pitch. They play some sort of game with balls which Thor bewitches himself. Loki isn’t really surprised when Helga yells at him for one of the balls that has a nasty habit of breaking arms and throwing people off brooms. Thor earns her forgiveness with his traditional “kicked puppy” look. Loki rolls his eyes.
After six years, Angrboda exhausts the lessons plans for the school's curriculum, and to no one's surprise, she stays at the castle after she's done. Loki needs an assistant to help with all sorts of magical creatures that have moved into the forest and lake, and as Angrboda is already familiar with most of them, she makes the ideal candidate.
Though, these days, Loki will find himself momentarily distracted by her long, platinum-blond hair, or the unreserved, trusting smile that she gives him. He reminds himself that this is not his realm, that he is still an Asgardian and she is not; building the underground chamber focuses him away from such impolite thoughts.
One day, while they are both walking through the forest to meet the centaurs, Angrboda finds a little wolf cub, abandoned and alone. It's small and brown, otherwise unremarkable, but Angrboda bundles it in her scarf and takes it back up to the castle. After a week and seven nourishing potions, the pup is active, enthusiastic, and very popular with his children. Angrboda coos over it, and often remarks, "Salazar, look, little Fenris wants to follow you to class. May he?"
After a year or so, Fenris outgrows the castle, so Loki has to encourage him to wander the grounds instead. Sometimes he disappears for days at a time into the forest and returns sated—like today, a crisp spring afternoon on which Loki stands by the lake in his thick fur cloak, as it's still cold enough to warrant it. He pads up to Loki's side, near silent, and Loki places a hand at his back; at the withers, Fenris is nearly five feet tall.
"I trust you didn't cause too much trouble in the forest," he says, and Fenris' giant head slumps down towards the stone beach, guilty. Loki sighs, but then Fenris starts to growl and he almost pulls his hand back—but it's something about the lake. The calm water starts to ripple, and Loki feels an arctic chill in the air that is almost familiar—
Loki gasps in the sudden stillness, and Hela stands before him wrapped in a flowing cloak of shadow that hides her pale face. The water under her bare feet trembles, and droplets clump together to escape towards the sky. "Hello, Father," she greets him in an airy voice that reminds him of dark winters and vile magic and makes his stomach twist. Of course, he's not her actual father—that is some poor, half-wasted man on Asgard—but she won't let him forget the hand he had in her creation so many years ago, when she had just been a dying girl and he had been a naïve sorcerer.
Odin had been unusually forgiving after that fiasco, possibly because Loki had told him when Frigga was right there. It was Frigga, too, who had suggested that Helheim needed a ruler from a trusted hand...and here she is, Queen of the Ninth Realm, with power enough to send Loki to his death, godhood and all.
"To what do I owe the pleasure, Hela?" he asks, gripping at Fenris' thick fur to keep him from leaping forward.
He sees her smile, as she reaches one pale hand out to his face, as if to cup under his chin; Loki holds his ground, and her hand stills. "I have heard whispers echo down to my realm," she says as the shadows twist around her, "about two princes who are sorely missed in their own kingdom."
"We have only been here for fifteen years," Loki points out. "If they are so worried, they can send a messenger."
"And why do you think I am here?" she breathes a laugh that send a chill up Loki's spine, and then draws her hand away. "I will not come again, dear Father...at least, not to warn you. Though it is a shame you spend so much time in such a boring realm." Hela bends down to pick up a stone from the beach, and for a moment Loki sees her as she once was: a curious, though unfortunate, little girl.
She tosses the stone three times between her hands and then throws it at Loki. Out of habit, he catches it, but as soon as his fingers close around the smooth surface he dreads it. Is he about to die, now? Will his existence now end on Midgard of all places?
"A gift for you, in case you find you miss those you have left behind."
"How generous." Loki gives her a tight smile.
"Indeed, though I'm afraid it exhausts all the kindness I'll have for this century." Hela sweeps her arm out. "Goodbye, Father," she says, bowing low, and sweeps the shadows around her to disappear in a fast-fading mist.
Fenris relaxes, and Loki pats him gently on the back as he looks over the stone in his hand. Reasonably, he should toss it into the lake and forget this entire meeting happened, but there is something strangely captivating about this ordinary stone and the way it gleams in the sun. He pockets it and commits to studying it later.
The more he studies magic the darker the material becomes; there just aren’t as many kind and gentle spells in this realm, or none that he can bring to the classes he teaches. He starts to find magic that rivals the knowledge on Asgard—that's when he wears his cloak and ignores the finer points of mortal and wizard law. He has to find more. He has to wring this realm of all it can offer him, or else why has he spent his time here?
One autumn morning, Loki eats breakfast with Thor, and they discuss what to teach their most advanced students. "I have found a spell which is most peculiar," he says. "It can control an unsuspecting opponent completely, and which most cannot resist...would you like to see, Thor?"
Thor looks up from cutting a sausage, ponders, and then sets both knives down. "Very well." He stands and steps away from the table. "I trust you won't humiliate me too much."
"Not at all," Loki says with a smile as he takes his wand from inside his robes. "Imperio." A little ball of light leaves his wand to strike Thor in the chest, and he can see the moment Thor feels the weight of the spell: his eyes glaze and his muscles relax. Loki feels an intoxicating wave of power that he's never known before. He wasn't so confident Thor would agree to this, and now that he has, Loki is almost unsure of what to do with the opportunity.
He swallows, dispelling the first thoughts that come to his mind about what to make Thor do; he had given his word. "Walk around the couch," he orders, and Thor does so, his steps becoming a little mechanical as he finishes the first loop.
"Stop—take off your robe," Loki orders next. Thor discards his red robe to a heap on the ground, leaving him in a thin shirt and loose trousers.
"Come here." Thor walks up to Loki's side. "Kneel." He does.
Then Loki gives him another smile, more sickly-sweet than before, and flicks his wand. Annoyance and determination flood back into Thor's eyes, a frown crosses his lips, and he rushes to his feet. "I do not approve of this spell, Loki," he says as he returns to his chair, picking up his knives.
"Well, of course it's unpleasant on the receiving end—"
"No," Thor says again, firm and uncompromising. "It could be easily abused; we are not here to train criminals."
It is Loki's turn to frown, his grip tightening on his wand. "Are you insinuating I am a criminal?"
"Not at all, but you must admit it is not an honorable spell."
"I wasn't aware that chivalry was so awesome a weapon," Loki says as he stands, "that it will protect our students from those that would harm them. But if you would rather leave them honorable and defeated, then..." He simply leaves it at that, wipes the corner of his mouth, throws the napkin down onto the table, and leaves.
Thor shouts something after him, but Loki can't hear it over the roar of his own angry thoughts. His feet carry him all the way to his chambers, past the false wall which hides a new room that's unfurnished save for a large stone porthole, at least seven feet across, with multiple snakes carved into it. They coil tightly around the center, granite bodies overlapping one another, and open mouths reach out towards him at random intervals, fangs bared. Snake-speaking seems to be a rare gift in his country, so it's one of the few ways he can keep everyone, including his fellow founders, out.
"Open," he hisses, and the stone slides away to reveal an entrance to a large chamber.
After Loki steps in and the stone slides back into place, he waves his arms to light the nearby torches with green flames. The light reaches all the way up to the high vaulted ceiling, which is still leaking from the lake above no matter what Loki tries. Everything else is bare stone—he'll get some statues later—but the chamber gives him quiet solitude, which is perhaps what he needs, right now. He conjures a chair and sits down heavily with a sigh, and his hand rises to move his locket back and forth along the chain.
He's not sure how long he sits there staring up at the ceiling and thinking nasty thoughts about his own brother, but the scrape of stone breaks him from the reverie. Loki jumps to his feet, wand held up out of habit now, ready to send this trespasser running—
"Angrboda." Loki blinks and lowers his wand. "How did you manage...?"
"Parseltongue," she says with a shy little smile, stepping up to him. She has a faint red blush on her cheeks, and the light from the torches catches off the emeralds of her necklace. "It's...I don't use it often, not after that night my parents found out..."
Loki's brows furrow, and he takes her arm gently in his free hand. "Was that why they tried to burn you?"
She looks away and shrugs, and Loki pulls her into a tight embrace. He can't imagine being cast out like that for such a gift (though to be ostracized for it, perhaps). "You should have waited to come in here," he whispers. "I could have furnished this place better."
"I didn't come for the chamber, Salazar." Angrboda says, and Loki feels a strange pressure around his chest—she's hugging him. It's an unfamiliar feeling. "I saw you walk past, so stiff..."
"Ah." Loki smiles, that same half-hearted one he's been giving everyone lately, and he pulls back to look at her face. Her cheeks are still flushed. "It was only a disagreement between myself and Lord Gryffindor."
She frowns. "But you were upset, as you have been more recently, every time you come down from his tower..."
"Angrboda, please. Let's not talk about this." Loki kisses her, just to emphasize his point, and that seems to be enough to distract her attention.
For all Loki's cunning arguments, Thor refuses to change his mind on the nature of the Imperius Curse three separate times, and after each denial their dueling demonstrations are very loud and powerful, shocking their students into a silent sort of awe that lasts for at least a month. They both try to act like everything is normal (and everything is, because what do brothers do besides fight?), but Loki notices that both Helga and Rowena are watching them more carefully.
Loki sits against the gentle slope of the valley, feigning interest in the cattle below but also examining the stone in his hand that Hela gifted him. He still hasn't unlocked its secrets.
Helga appears with a faint pop a few yards off—Loki stuffs the stone into his robe pocket—and walks over to sit next to him. Her yellow dress fans out around her, and she tucks her auburn hair behind her ear. She has a few strands of grey around her forehead, though Loki’s not sure why. The house elves she found last year have lessened her work considerably, and now she only cooks for the four of them, preferring to leave the rest to her army of fifty elven chefs. "Salazar."
"Helga." He gives her a glance, which isn't strictly an open invitation for conversation, but she always seems to talk whether anyone else wants to or not. It's one of her more endearing qualities that she shares with Thor.
"Is there some feud between you and Godric?" she asks, and Loki snorts but doesn't answer. "If there's something Rowena and I can talk to him about..."
"Our teaching methods differ, that's all, and it's not unexpected. Neither of you should be worried. It'll pass." He gives her a soft smile. "You and Rowena have your disagreements, too, if I recall."
"Of course!" Helga laughs. "But Rowena is kind enough to see reason most of the time—I am not always sure with you and Godric."
"I should be offended, my lady," Loki says in half-hearted shock. "But for the length and depth of our friendship, I shall not be." He lies back against the grass, staring up at the sky. "If you must know, I won't have time to argue with him this summer. I plan to travel to the Northern Countries for more...research."
"Alone?" Helga sounds worried. Loki can't help but laugh—if she knew the trouble he had made in those lands before, how utterly invulnerable he was to anything they had.
"No. Angrboda will come with me."
"Oh? She's a good assistant for you, then?" Helga sounds thoroughly interested in this piece of news and no longer focused on any visible feud between him and Thor. Success.
That summer passes in a whirlwind of excitement and intimacy. While Loki and Angrboda uncover magic that has not reached the Isles and find spells half-finished from their creators, Loki also shows her the things he likes most about the region: fjords, vertical cliffs, magical forests, and rivers that wound through flat meadows where he had spent his childhood (long before her ancestors were born). It's just them and his spells, and sometimes not even the latter, when Loki holds her close under a starry sky.
Briefly, he wonders if Heimdall still watches them.
Sometimes, when Angrboda and the rest of the world are asleep, Loki will take out Hela's stone, still so plain but magical, and examines it by the firelight. It reveals nothing to him in all the months of their travels.
When they return back to the castle for the fall, they bear gifts for many. For Rowena, he brings a stack of grimoires more ancient than anything they have in their small library and a fine silver diadem stolen from an equally ancient treasure trove. Helga receives a golden cup and several plants unique to the Northern mountains that are both pretty and tasty, as well as several new recipes for her collection that will liven the winter feasts. His favorite children receive little magical trinkets he's found along the way, like charms that grow into small Viking boats, and fireworks that burst into shimmering green and silver dragons. The jealousy of the other students is palpable.
For Thor, he waits until they have a quiet evening in Gryffindor tower, and then enters with a package under his arm, wrapped in one of his older cloaks that is now more grey than black. Loki glances at the couch, the table, and the bed—no Thor—until he looks out to the balcony and sees his brother's back. After dropping his hat onto the table, Loki walks up to the archway. "Thor."
Thor turns to look and smiles. His gaze falls to Loki's parcel. "Is that for me?"
"Do you believe I would bring you nothing?" Loki raises an eyebrow at him. "Though I would prefer you open it inside, if you don't mind."
Thor walks back into the room and Loki joins him on the couch before hanging the package over. He watches as Thor carefully unwraps it and makes careful note of how his eyes widen when they catch sight of rubies and silver.
"This...this is a magnificent blade, Loki," Thor says quietly, drawing the sword completely out of the cloth. Holding it up to the firelight to inspect it, he laughs when he sees the blade right above the hilt. "Inscribed with my mortal name—tell me, which dwarves did you trick for this?"
"Goblins," he corrects, leaning back, relaxed and pleased that his gift has had as much impact as he anticipated. "Though they look the same in Lade...and there was no trickery involved."
"You cannot expect me to believe that."
"Perhaps not." Loki tips his head back against the couch back, staring up at the pointed ceiling. "But more importantly, Thor—I uncovered more spells in our former lands that I believe would benefit our students."
Thor looks at him with suspicious eyes, and he stands to balance the sword against the side of the fireplace. It catches the light brilliantly, and looks almost as regal and powerful as Mjölnir. Loki knows that his brother will enjoy possessing it. "Are these spells like the one you showed me before?"
"No. They're more powerful." Loki gives him a little smile that is meant to be reassuring; it probably looks more manic. How can he help it? He's found wondrous things on his travels.
"Loki..." Thor returns to the couch with his brows narrowed, sitting to face him directly. "What is more powerful than being able to control a man's every whim? Why would you want more power than that?"
"Is that an honest question?" Loki scoffs, lifting his head and also turning in his seat to better face Thor. "When someone has wronged you, when justice can only be given by your hands, you want the power to repay it in equal suffering. When your life is threatened, you want the power to threaten theirs in turn, to end it before they can murder you."
Thor's eyes do not widen in wonder, but in fear; Loki sees one of Thor's hands curl into a tight fist, and he feels caught between the thrill of invention and his own fear. "Is this what you have found in our old lands? The power to torture and kill? And you wish to bring them to our students? To children?"
"They won't be children forever, Thor! And why shouldn't they have that power in this realm? The mortals here have hundreds of methods to inflict pain and death—they should have a counterattack!" Loki shouts, every word honest to his convictions, and the flame in the fireplace swells.
"It is one thing to swing a sword with the intent to kill, and it is another to think it and have it be so!" Thor shouts back, and there's an idle thought at the back of Loki's mind that wonders when he last saw Thor this angry, his entire being tense with it. "This is too much power, it will destroy them—"
"You can say that only because you have an alternative, brother," he hisses, now seething with cold fury. "It has never occurred to you to have a true alternative to your strength, because you'll always have your bare hands and your hammer should your magic fail. But what of us who don't possess such things, and magic is our only savior? Would you rob us of the ability to protect ourselves, to be just as dangerous as any man with an axe or a sword?" His hand trembles from clenching it so tightly; Loki knows he should go, before Thor says anything more to feed his shortening temper. The heat of the room is stifling.
He stands, but Thor grabs him by the wrist, stopping him from stalking off. "Loki, please, consider—"
"I will not allow magic to be subordinate to strength!" Loki shouts him down, jerking his hand back. "Not when it is on the cusp of equality, if not superiority!"
This realm is not Asgard, and Loki can't allow it to become Asgard.
He walks out.
Stewing in his anger isn’t productive; Loki knows this. Instead, he opens one of the magical creature books he had found in Denmark. Some of the creatures sound preposterous, completely fictional, biologically impossible - so Loki decides to test their knowledge. He takes a chicken egg from Helga’s kitchen and charms a toad from the lake into obedience, though it looks uncomfortable sitting atop an egg more than half its size.
What hatches is the ugliest little serpent he has ever laid eyes on, with a large, spikey head. It’s completely obedient to everything he hisses, but it won’t open its eyes. Loki deems it too weak to live in the forest, so he creates a nest for it in his chamber.
Thor and Loki gradually work their way back to normal speaking terms by the beginning of winter. When the first snow dusts the campus, Loki sits on the front steps to the grounds and surveys the white land before him. Thor comes out to join him, and they sit side-by-side in comfortable silence. It was all just another disagreement between them, one of thousands, and Loki tries to make himself believe that. For now, he succeeds, and he can lean his shoulder against Thor's without a second thought.
He mentions it to Angrboda that night in his private sitting room as he grades papers alongside her, recalling small and meaningless details—until she sets her quill down and stoppers the red ink bottle.
"Salazar," she says to gather his full attention. "There's something I must tell you...that I feel you should know before anyone else."
Loki stares at her, his own quill perfectly still and blotting the essay he was grading. After one terrifying moment, he knows what she's going to say, because he can see her rest one hand on her stomach, and his mind's eye flashes back to one private summer night in the forest when the moon had been bright and seductive.
This shouldn't have been possible.
"What am I going to do?" Loki asks aloud for the fifth time in a sullen moan of despair, staring down at the mead in his tankard.
Thor, sitting beside him, laughs and slaps his back with a heavy hand. Loki's not sure how much he's had to drink, losing count in his own, but he's sure that Thor would need at least five more before it noticeably affects him. "Let her have the child," he says, still as jovial as he was at the beginning of this awful evening. "Raise him until he is a man and can defend himself—what more is there to do?"
"What more is there to do?" Loki repeats, staring at him. "What about our mother and father, do you think they will take the news so well?"
"They need not know until you tell them."
"Oh, think for a moment, would you!" Loki takes a large swig from the tankard, and then slams it back down onto the pockmarked table. The ale isn't as potent as what he remembers from Asgard, and he loathes that fact right now. "The gatekeeper sees everything—I wouldn't be surprised if he's already told Father."
"And?" Thor laughs again.
Loki pitches his voice low, quiet. "I imagine he would disapprove of little half-Asgardian children running around Midgard." He slumps in his seat, sulking.
Thor takes a swig of his own drink, then sets the mug down a little carelessly."Ah, but what can he do! It'll be your child, and I am sure you will protect it from any harm, even from the All-father."
"Your confidence is inspiring."
"I hope it is!"
There are many more drinks to be had after that.
He tells Rowena and Helga about the pregnancy soon after that, and they meet the news with a mix of concern and secondary happiness. Helga, who has herself just become engaged to a man from Wales, takes it upon herself to care for Angrboda's nutrition, urging her to eat double helpings at dinner time. Rowena leaves her cousin to it, but drops several books about child-rearing onto Loki's desk, some penned by herself in the aftermath of her own child, born a couple years before. However, Loki notes how much she has aged in such a short time since then, now carrying less forgiveness, fancifully combed white streaks, and faint crow’s feet around her eyes.
One morning, he wakes up from a horrible nightmare where the stress of raising a family turned his hair white like Odin’s and his stomach fat like Volstagg’s. At breakfast he only ates one strip of bacon unlike his usual five, and Thor asks him if he is ill.
Not only does the upcoming child weigh on his thoughts, but also the idea of marrying Angrboda in the proper rules of this realm. There is no doubt in his mind that he should, but by who, and when? He would rather not be out in the snow for too long, but the baby would arrive in spring...
And unrelated to all of these thoughts comes the nagging issue of his students’ defense: he still wants to teach them the curses he's acquired, regardless of how dangerous Thor thinks their power is. Loki won't let this knowledge go to waste, and he won't leave these wizards unprotected from their mortal foes.
Through the next several months, he hardly gets a moment to rest and think. Along with his classes and studying the stone Hela gave him, he worries about Angrboda and the child, and the pregnancy isn't easy. Not that Loki expects it to be, but he does what he can to make it easier—he won't dare mix any potions Helga suggests, though. She still thinks he's a wizard—Angrboda does, too, and Loki winces at the thought of telling her—and she doesn't know why he can't risk the child for Angrboda's comfort.
He lies with her, holds her close, kisses her forehead, and apologizes countless times—but she can't possibly understand what for. The most he can do for her is cement their engagement, and when he expresses his desire to do so to Rowena, she says they can do so right here in the castle (he only needs to ask). Loki can't thank her enough and offers to cover all of her classes for a week, if she needs that much time to draw up the magical contracts.
It's a quaint, quiet ceremony in their shared common room. Thor sits by his side, grinning like a fool. Helga sits at Angrboda's elbow. Rowena officiates, drawing the beautiful runes in the air, which shimmer briefly in the air before they untangle and twine around Loki and Angrboda's joined hands.
As spring draws nearer, she doesn't help him with his classes as much in the field, but she grades papers with him still, now closer to his side than across a desk. Perhaps, he thinks, it will be just like this—quiet and dark and easy, for all energy they put into this.
Not a chance.
He wakes up from a swift kick to the shin one April morning, and sees Angrboda sitting up in bed next to him, muttering dark swears. The next steps are a blur; somehow they get to the infirmary, and Helga and Rowena shut the door in his face, and Loki finds himself slumped against the wall just off to the side.
The muffled sound of raised voices reaches him through the wall. He hasn't felt so helpless in so long.
After a time, Thor drops by and sits against the wall next to him. At first, Loki thinks it's going to be one of those comfortable silences, but he doesn't want that, not right now, when so many thoughts rattle around in his head.
"...I never imagined I would have the first child," he says quietly, staring at the other wall across the corridor. His hands fiddle with the locket, now feeling heavy and cold against his fingertips. "I thought it would be you—you and your queen—and then all the gifts of Alfheim and Vanaheim would be presented at the throne..."
Thor chuckles. "And who did you expect my queen to be?"
Loki glances over at him. The first woman he thinks of is Sif, because they have always been close in Asgard and on the battlefield, but then he thinks of a few other young ladies who have a tendency to fawn over Thor—both of them, actually, now that he remembers court life—and Loki starts to laugh. It's part genuine amusement and hysteria and desperation and, he finally realizes to his great horror, homesickness. Twenty years late.
His legs fold up towards his chest, his elbows rest on his knees, and he hides his face in his hands, trying to control his laughing and breathing before it devolves into something more pathetic and emotional. He's Loki, prince of Asgard, he reminds himself, but he's also Salazar Slytherin, founder of Hogwarts, and one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Isles if not all of Midgard. And yet he's still a child in some respects, facing situations he shouldn't have tempted and still wearing a locket given to him by his mother.
He takes a deep, shuddering breath and feels Thor wrap a strong around his shoulders. It brings him little comfort when Loki knows he's still aware of Angrboda's suffering and the uncertainties of the future for all of his new family. Would this child even be allowed into Asgard, or was it doomed to wander this lesser realm? Would Loki dare ask permission in the first place? And what of Angrboda, the mother of his child—would that be enough importance to bring her to Asgard?
Loki shudders at the thought of facing Odin with that inquiry. Thor squeezes his shoulder.
The labor consumes the entire day. Loki eats little, and Thor only leaves his side to bring him a goblet of wine and some jerky he can gnaw on. Once or twice he hears a cry, but he can't be sure. Finally, after the sun dips below the horizon and the torches burn bright in the hallways, Helga opens the door. She wrings her hands on an old white cloth.
"Your wife and child live," she says with a bright albeit tired smile. "Though it was a fight—I have never seen a bigger newborn!"
Loki allows himself a small, sheepish smile, while Thor laughs outright. They both stand, Loki still a bit dazed from all of this, and they follow Helga into the back room. Angrboda, hair matted to her neck and temples, against many pillows in bed; in her arms she holds a bundle. She smiles at Loki as he sits down at her side and reaches up to tentatively pull the cloth away.
The baby sleeps, uncaring of the rest of the world. Loki wonders if he was so quiet. "He—"
"She," Angrboda corrects him, her smile broadening. "She's a girl."
"Oh," Loki feels ridiculous now, not being able to sense whether it was a boy or a girl, but he blames it on his own worry-induced state. He holds out his hands. "May I?" Angrboda holds the girl out to him and Loki takes her carefully in his hands. Loki doesn't know what Helga was talking about—the girl is so small.
"Sit over there, Salazar; she needs her rest." Helga shoos him to another bed at the other end of the room while Angrboda receives a restoring potion and falls into a light nap. At least, that is what Loki thinks happens; he can't take his eyes off his little girl. The bed dips (and creaks rather dangerously, too) as Thor sits beside him. He claps a hand on Loki's shoulder.
"You should have a gift for this occasion," Thor says, voice only hushed for the baby's sake. "Is there anything you wish to have?"
Loki doesn't answer for a long moment, continuing to stare down at the girl and memorize everything about her round cheeks and little nose. "...yes," he murmurs quietly, as if directed to the child in his arms. "I want to reveal my spells to our classes—the spells you haven't let me mention."
Thor's grip tightens at his shoulder. Loki knows that Thor's honor is too great to renege on his gift, though, and that brings a sense of contentment he hasn't felt since summer. "...Very well. You may mention them," Thor answers, and he stands up and leaves.
Nothing really settles down once the baby is born. It takes Angrboda and Loki nearly a week to settle on a name. At first, she wants to name her Frida; Loki refuses on principles he can't reveal to her. They go through a foot of parchment, ticking off nice names Angrboda had heard in the northern countries which Loki can't accept, knowing most of the women behind them, until finally she reaches "Sunniva," and Loki accepts.
Sunniva grows quickly under the constant care of her parents, along with the help of Rowena, Helga, and Thor—at least, Helga says the pace is quick. Loki has no reference.
One night, after a long walk with Fenris by the lake (and some much-needed quiet time), Loki returns to his quarters. Angrboda reads on the couch. Sunniva sleeps.
"I think I want to give her something—something to keep as she grows older," Loki says as he sits next to Angrboda, taking her hand in his. "But I'm uncertain as to what."
"Maybe your locket?" Angrboda looks up from her book. "It's rather handsome. She'll love it when she's older."
Loki looks down at the locket against his chest and lifts it up for closer inspection. He supposes it's a nice trinket, with its smooth gold finish and secret compartment. "Perhaps..." It's nothing terribly special, he tells himself. He can part with it.
After staring at it for a few moments, Loki thinks of an idea to make it more specific. He takes it off to hold it a little further away and then takes out his wand. He taps the tip against the surface of the locket, and a deep 'S' is carved into the gold. "Will this suffice?" he asks, holding it out.
Angrboda smiles and takes it in hand. "It will, for now." Her other hand comes up to touch the necklace that encircles her own neck, the same green gems that she had worn the night they met. “Though it could use a feminine touch.”
Spring starts to meld into summer, and Thor still hasn't let him demonstrate the spells he's forged. Soon, the overwhelming feelings of being a new father can't stave off his frustration of Thor's constant re-directions and surprise lesson changes that do nothing to hide his intentions but does everything to upset Loki's preparations.
Finally, when he's watching Thor teach a class down in the valley by the cattle and Loki is sick of looking at Hela's mysterious stone, he stalks down to join them. He grips the stone tight in one hand while he holds his wand in the other—maybe the stone requires active conditions before its powers will come to light.
"Lord Slytherin!" Thor greets him as jovial as ever, holding his hands up as Loki walks down the hill. "Would you care for a joint demonstration?"
"I would, my dear Lord Gryffindor," he says with a grim smile, though he turns to the students assembled with a more compelling mask. Fifty young wizards and witches stare back at him, some wearing the black-and-green robes of his own house.
"Watch as I demonstrate the Cruciatus curse," Loki starts before Thor can. "One of the newest developments from our Danish cousins, who believe the rack and the iron chair should not be limited to our mortal neighbors." He can see Thor raising his wand once he recognizes what Loki is talking about, but Loki is too fast: his arm shoots out, wand stabbing at the air. "Crucio!"
Thor—the mighty Thor, god of thunder, prince of Asgard, Godric Gryffindor and the best duelist of the Isles—falls to his knees and hunches over, screaming, and Loki admits he might be beginning to appreciate the pose. He holds Thor's sanity in his hand, now, and Thor cannot will the pain away; he cannot do anything but wait until Loki feels mercy.
He does, eventually. It gives a demure twang in his heart, and Loki waves his arm to the side to cancel the curse, and Thor stays there on his knees, breathing heavily. Loki turns his attention back to the students, who now stare at him with a varying mix of awe and fear.
"This is an especially powerful, dark curse," he says, walking in front of them. "It cannot be used lightly. Do not use it for a petty feud—save it for when someone has wronged your very life, and justice escapes them at every turn."
Now, Loki is close enough to Thor that he can reach down to grab his arm and jerk him to his feet. Thor sways, still breathless, but Loki doesn't support him for long—he steps away and up the hill towards a cow. It grazes, ignoring him and the group of students that follow behind a few paces. Several yards away from the large animal, Loki stops. "Hold this." He tosses Hela's stone out of his hand towards a gaunt young boy in the crowd, who stares at it dumbly. Loki rolls up his sleeves.
"There are more despicable people in this world, as some of you know. They would kill you for what you are; they will stop at nothing to destroy you, and for these threats we have another tool at our disposal."
"Loki, no—" Thor's voice, desperate and strained, sounds so different than what Loki is used to that he almost doesn't notice his brother's slip.
"Avada kedavra!" Loki shouts, his arm pointed at the unsuspecting cow. There's a burst of green light, and after the air feels very still. The cow falls over with a heavy thud, dead.
"—And that is the killing curse," he says, turning back to the crowd of students. "More effective than an arrow shot to the forehead..." He notices that they step back as he turns, their innocent eyes wide with fear. He snorts, looking down at the grass for a moment. Of course they would be frightened—
Loki's wand goes flying across the grass, and Loki looks up to see Thor with his wand raised. Loki stares at him in shock, which quickly melts into seething rage. Thor seems to have recovered, which means this is a fair fight as any.
The students take another step back as Loki sweeps out his hands. He doesn't call for his wand; he has more magic than it could ever give him, and its enhancement will be negligible against what he wants to do. He's tired of handicapping himself in this realm.
He whispers Asgadrian spells, and his hands glow green before they clap together. Green flames burst out from his palms and lash out towards Thor like a thick whip. They meet a blue bolt of lightning with a crack! that sends a concussive boom outwards across the valley, and the students are knocked backward to the grass. When they recover, they scramble for the castle. Loki hopes they run fast. The flame from his hands sweeps out in a wide arc across the grass towards Thor's left side, and his dear brother barely catches it in time with another thunderbolt of his own.
"Loki!" Thor shouts; he seems to willingly discard all pretenses now. "Why do you attack me?"
"Attack?" Loki repeats, and then laughs as he dispels the fire. "I'm not attacking you, brother. I think it's time we had a proper spar, just like old times."
Ether, green and caustic, shoots from his hand. Thor dives out of the way, leaving the grass singed in his wake. Thor rolls back to his feet, turns, and jumps for Loki, who jumps out of Thor's reach. If Thor grabs him, that's it, this is over; Thor can hold him and silence him. A few years in this realm hasn't led Loki to forget that.
What Loki has forgotten is what it feels like to unleash all of his magic without restraint, which is still the most powerful thing this realm has seen.
His thoughts are a constant litany of spells and curses, only a tenth of which actually passes his lips. Thor lunges in between Loki's spells. Lightning and golden energy snap out from his wand. Loki hisses as one stream clips his shoulder and throws back flames. Thor throws himself under it, and Loki unleashes a blast of formless energy that rips into the soft grass and earth and knocks Thor back. Loki takes the opportunity to jump back a few more yards, breathing hard. His shoulder burns.
"Loki!" Thor shouts after him. He stands and sheds his robes to just wear the shirt and trousers underneath. "Stop this!"
"Make me!" Loki cuts his good arm across the air, breathing a single rune, and his magic rushes forward with a sharp scream through the atmosphere. Thor stands his ground—stupid—and it draws first blood in a gash across his chest.
Loki grins. He can't believe Thor would let that happen—except, maybe he did, and Loki's grin fades. Thor starts to run towards him, charging, and Loki leaps back again. Pebbles shift under his feet; he's at the lake. His arms swing wide, and with a yell that makes his lungs ache, he throws his hands forward. Water curves over him, making a wind rush through his hair, and two pillars aim for Thor's chest. Thor shouts something, Loki hears a sick splintering sound, and an enormous cloud of steam combusts between them and engulfs them.
He can't let Thor grab him. He can't step back into the lake. Loki jumps to the side, desperate to get out of the fog that wets his face and thickens the air in his lungs. When he emerges, stumbling and ether gathering at his hand for another blow, he hears a faint whistle that grows louder with each second. Loki looks up to see something diving towards them from the castle. Dark clouds gather in the sky. Panic swells in his chest, but he laughs—until Thor grasps Mjölnir by the handle and thunder resonates in Loki's chest.
This is a real fight.
Loki's too quick for Thor to throw Mjölnir at him, but he has the storm on his side with the rain and the wind and the lightning. A light drizzle turns into a torrential downpour that makes the ground slick and muddy. Loki slips several times but catches himself with well-timed ether blasts, and the last one he feigns until he spins around and lets loose a dagger from his hand.
It hits Thor's unguarded shoulder, sinking into the muscle. Thor shouts and reaches over to wrench it out—blood snakes down his arm—and Loki pauses for too long to watch him.
Mjölnir smacks him across the face, knocking Loki back into the wet ground. He screws his eyes shut. Loki tastes blood, but a tentative feel to his jaw tells him it's not broken. It should be. Thor's still holding back. That stokes his anger—anger at his brother and this realm that muffles his magic and the sickening realization that he can't win here. Loki pushes himself up onto his hands and knees.
Thor's footsteps squelch through the mud behind him. Loki waits until Thor is close enough that he can swing his leg back and knock Thor off his feet. A minor distraction, that's all he needs. Before Thor's hit the ground Loki disappears with a faint pop.
It's the one loophole in the illusions he and Rowena put up, but it only gets him as far as the forest. At least Thor doesn't know to follow him here.
For a long time he just walks, pushing between trees and stumbling over tree roots. He's drenched, but he can't be bothered to dry his clothes; his body aches from the sudden rush of magic he has used in such a short time. It's another reminder that this realm is not really his home. For what he leaves behind—Thor will take care of that. His honor compels him.
Fenris finds him. The wolf now stands six feet at the withers, but he is no more frightening to Loki than he was as a pup. Loki embraces him around the neck, sinking his fingers through wet fur. "I want to travel north," he murmurs. Fenris nuzzles at him, and he runs with Loki far out of the forest and to the coast.
When he can finally see where the sky meets the ocean, Loki turns back to Fenris. "Return to the school," he says, scratching gently behind one of Fenris' large ears, "and watch over the children, especially Sunniva...you'll still obey Angrboda, yes?" Fenris nuzzles his arm. "Good."
The wolf pads away as if he is following orders, and then he stops, turns, and sits. Loki doesn't have the heart to tell him off, not when he can also see the smooth humps of a sea serpent out among the ocean waves. There are many things about Midgard he will miss.
He looks up at the grey sky and shouts, "Heimdall, open the Bifröst. I wish to return home."
Nineteen Years Later
An Einherjar guard interrupts his breakfast on the garden terrace with a simple message: "Heimdall wishes to speak with you, Your Highness."
Loki wolfs down the rest of his blueberry pie (it had been a difficult week, more boring than the rest), finishes his fruit juice, and then walks down to the stables to grab his steed, already prepared by the stable hands. They leave the stables in a trot, but once they reach the long stretch of the Bifröst, Loki urges him into a gallop.
Heimdall stands at the entrance to his observatory, watching with his usual indifference as Loki all but throws himself off his saddle. "Well?" Loki asks him, reining in any hint of excitement from his voice. He straightens his jacket. "What news do you have?"
"Thor has requested to return to Asgard," he says calmly.
"And?" Loki's hands fist at his sides. "Why haven't you recalled him?"
"He is saying his farewells."
"Oh." Loki looks to the side, casually. His stallion snorts and tosses its head. "May I wait here until he is done?"
"As you wish."
Loki gives Heimdall an appraising look, trying to determine if the stoic man is actually laughing at him on the inside, but then decides he doesn't care. Heimdall can see and hear everything; surely he has better things to do than mock him. Satisfied, Loki steps inside the observatory, takes a seat on the steps leading up to the pedestal, and waits.
As he has nothing to do in the meanwhile, he starts to ponder what Thor might be doing as he sheds his identity as Godric Gryffindor. He imagines a feast in the Great Hall, perhaps a nostalgic walk through the corridors (but Loki dismisses this; Thor is not that prone to sentiment), maybe gathering his belongings and once more lifting Mjölnir off the wall. Hopefully, Thor will not be so careless as to call the Bifröst in the fields surrounding the castle—he would have to walk out through the edge of the illusions, the castle shrinking behind him, find a hidden grove like the one they first camped at.
In the end, he just hopes that Thor won't be stupid about returning to Asgard, because Loki is exasperated enough (still) and it wouldn't be healthy for Thor to earn more.
The heavy sound of Heimdall's sword sliding into the pedestal jerks him out of his thoughts. Loki stands, pulling at his jacket. The outer shell of the observatory begins to spin. Lightning branches out towards the ceiling. The portal whirls with colours, spiraling out to the abyss, and then Thor's form rushes into existence at the threshold.
Thor wears black, scarlet-lined robes that are on the shabbier side, and he carries Mjölnir in one hand and a large sack in the other—it's their old camping bag. Something else seems different about him, too, and after a few more moments of staring, Loki realizes why: his blond hair is darker, more red (with a few grey hairs sprinkled at random), and he wears faint wrinkles that match those Odin wears now. Loki can’t believe Thor went through all the trouble, though he supposes that being twenty-something for forty years wouldn’t be wise on Midgard.
"Thank you, Heimdall," he says with a nod, first—then he walks up to Loki, who stands by the steps with his hands fisted by his sides. With each step, the age illusions on Thor fades, until he is blond and youthful (and perfect) once again. "Brother." Thor gives him a grin, and Loki punches him across the face. Thor has the gall to look surprised for a moment, and then he laughs as he rubs his jaw.
"Why didn't you return sooner?" Loki shouts at him. "Do you know how boring Asgard is without you? I've had to fill in all of your royal duties, including one awful trip to Svartalfheim—no, release me! I'll not forgive you that easily..." Thor grabs him in a tight hug around the elbows, pinning his arms down. Loki's annoyance softens as Thor refuses to let go, and he returns a sharp hug around Thor's middle. Thor laughs again and releases him.
"It is good to be home," he says, squeezing Loki’s shoulder before leaning down to pick up the camping bag. Heimdall's indifference looks closer to amusement now, but he says nothing. "Perhaps," Thor says as he throws the bag over Loki's saddle (a placement that forces Loki to walk with him), "you can tell me of all that I have missed."
"Later." Loki takes the stallion's reins. He and Thor begin to walk the long bridge back to the palace. Loki can't help but cast a wary glance down at Mjölnir. "Tell me of Midgard. Angrboda, Sunniva—?"
"They are well. They moved to the eastern shores after you left, and Angrboda did seem to think I was guilty for your leaving," Thor says, sounding completely innocent. "Though Sunniva did attend the school for seven years. A clever girl—she once managed to defeat me in a duel!" He laughs again, though Loki wonders if he would be so humble if it were a real fight.
"And the school? Rowena, Helga?"
Thor's good humor fades slightly, though the smile still lingers. "Helga still remains at Hogwarts—Rowena is dead."
Loki looks over sharply. "Dead?"
"It was a terrible year, Loki." Thor's brows furrow as he looks ahead. "First, her husband was struck dead in a duel on the continent, and then her daughter robbed her of the diadem you gave her. She sent one of our former students after her...but they were both killed in the end."
The story makes Loki frown. It seems illogical and unreasonable, and of all people it seemed that Rowena would live at Hogwarts the longest. "...well, if you are here, is Helga alone to teach them?"
"The staff has expanded threefold in the last decade—there are more than enough teachers for them all."
"But who will separate the students into the houses? Helga may have good judgment among her own students—"
"Ah, you remind me, brother!" Thor's grin appears again, threatening to blind all of Asgard. "The strangest thing happened after you left. I found your wand and your hat, intending to bring it to Angrboda, but she refused. Then I was sitting in the tower, thinking of what to do with it, and I thought how useful it would be if your hat could speak to me as you do."
It's the most brilliant and awful idea Loki has heard from his brother in a long time. "...Thor, you did not use my wand to...?"
"Indeed I did!" Thor's swelling with pride; Loki can feel it. "It worked, just as if it was my wand—which splintered, by the way, fighting you—and now there is a mind as bright as yours to sort them into their houses."
"Congratulations," Loki deadpans. "Is there any chance you'll continue studying magic here in Asgard?"
"Not a chance, Loki," he says with a hearty laugh that completely deflates what Loki has been hoping for all this time. "I know where my strengths lie. It was fun for a time."
"It was." Along with everything else they had done in Midgard—but it is time to return to their normal lives, though Loki is uncertain if that's truly what he wants now.