Loki let himself into the house as quietly (slyly) as he could, crept (slunk) up the stairs, and hurried down the hall to his bedroom under the eaves (sneak sneak sneak). Closing the door behind himself, he crawled into the space in the corner, under the overhang of the sharply-slanting wall and hidden from the doorway by the bed.
Then he curled into a ball of misery, forehead on his knees and his arms wrapped tight around his folded-up, skinny legs, and cried. The crying was as quiet (sneaky) as everything else he had done, and at the same time his ears were alert for the sound of pursuit.
His older brother, and his brother's friends, were really angry at him this time. It was bad enough that he had followed and spied on them, despite Thor telling him in no uncertain terms that he was not wanted. When they had caught him, dragging him out of the bushes down at the rocky beach where he'd been hiding and watching their jinx duel, Loki had threatened to tell their parents about both that sorcery, and the Audito charm he thought they had used to catch him.
That part had been only a guess, since Loki (sneak) was quite sure he had not made enough noise to be heard over the racket the older kids were making with their jinx duel. And anyway, Loki was not at all confident their parents would think Thor's friends using underage sorcery, at least not here so far from any Muggles, was worse than Loki slinking and prying where he knew he wasn't welcome.
Thor must have come to the same conclusion, or perhaps he was simply too angry now to care about punishment later, because he had grabbed Loki as Hogun and Fandral held him-- by the throat, not the arm or the shirt or any place you might later say was harmless, meant nothing, but by the throat-- and had shouted into Loki's face that he was sick and tired of skulking and spying by people who were too stupid to know that nobody wanted them--
-- And that was when a lot of rocks, half the beach worth by the looks of it, had risen up in the air and flown at Thor and his friends. Loki had been hit too, although not by nearly as many rocks as the others. Thor and his friends had lost their grip on Loki, and he had fled before they could recover enough to do whatever it was they had intended to do when they dragged him into the open.
He hadn't meant to do that, he hadn't. He wouldn't get in real trouble even if Thor told: he wasn't eleven, not for another week, and nobody expected a kid who hadn't even started at Hogwarts yet to be able to control magic. Loki hugged his knees harder and told himself that, but he didn't really believe it.
The Ministry wouldn't pay any attention to these little spikes of magic, Loki knew. There was nothing much to fear there: Elder Cross was a magical village, and grown witches and wizards were doing magic all the time. The Ministry could tell where magic was being done, just not exactly who had done it. It was up to the adults to keep their kids from practicing underage, away from Hogwarts. It was Dad, and Mum too, who would deal out whatever punishment they felt was called for.
And if Thor told, Dad would be furious. Loki knew perfectly well there was a big difference between using Audito to watch out for spies-- or practicing the kind of spells you could use to defend yourself against attack-- and using magic to throw a hundredweight of rocks at someone, never mind whether you had really meant to do it or not. Dad would say that was Dark magic, and Dad had been an Auror for far too long to tolerate anything like that, even in a member of his own family. He'd lost an eye in the Second Wizarding War, ten years ago, fighting against Dark sorcery, and if he knew... if he thought for a second...
Loki shivered at the thought of what Dad might think was an appropriate punishment for an outburst like this. It all depended on whether Thor was angry enough to tell on him, and risk Loki giving him away over the listening charm, and the jinx duels, and a dozen other spells and charms and hexes Thor and his friends practiced here, thinking it didn't matter as long as no Muggles could see them.
Except Loki wouldn't tell on him, of course he wouldn't, and he knew Thor knew it. You didn't tell, not unless you wanted to make sure your older brother never spoke to you again ever. When Thor was in the mood, when nobody else was around, he could be really nice. Sometimes he even acted like he was proud of the amount of magic Loki let go when he was scared or startled. If Loki tattled on Thor, that would be the end of Thor letting Loki hang around him when none of his real friends were around.
Thor and Loki's dad was much older than most people's, and the family's holiday home was in a little enclave mostly occupied by elderly witches and wizards. There were no other kids except the little gang Thor had befriended here ages ago, who came to visit their grandparents and who were all with him at Hogwarts. The youngest of them, Sif and Fandral, would be third-years, Volstagg in fifth, and Thor and Hogun in the middle in fourth year. All of them were in Gryffindor. It didn't matter about their ages, they had banded together all that time ago because they were close enough. Loki wasn't close enough, and anyway, you weren't really a gang unless there were people who weren't part of the gang, who you could look down on as outsiders.
Loki understood that, he just didn't want the outsider to be him. He was tired of it always being him. At home in London, where he went to school, there were no wizard children, and of course he couldn't invite Muggle classmates to visit, in case he gave something away about the wizarding world. The kids in his class really were nice, nobody was mean to him, but if you never invited them over in return, they stopped asking you to their homes, and after a while you just played by yourself or read during breaks, and pretended you didn't mind. Loki knew his teachers had spoken to his parents about this, but Mum and Dad had explained he was like that, solitary, and after a while they had left him alone.
It would be different when he was at Hogwarts, Loki chanted in his mind. When he was at Hogwarts, the other students would be witches and wizards too, and he wouldn't have to worry about giving anything away. There would be a whole year's worth of kids his age, and someone would want to be friends with him. They had to want to be friends with him-- Loki resolutely pushed away the fear that nothing would change, that he would spend the next seven years scuttling alone from class to class, with nobody talking to him, ever.
He pushed away his other fear, too, that when Thor's Hogwarts letter arrived this summer it would be the only one, that Loki would be left out again and have to go back to Muggle school all alone. That couldn't happen, could it? He had lots of magic, lots of it. Even Thor admitted that. They had to let him come, even if he sometimes did Dark things when he got scared and angry.
They had to, Loki told himself. He would be allowed into Hogwarts, and he would be Sorted into Gryffindor, he would, because that was where his family was always Sorted, his brother and father and mother and everyone. And then, and then Thor would like him after all, even though he was a lot younger, and Thor's friends would too, because he would belong, and they would let him--
At this point Loki's imaginings broke down, because he really could not picture a circumstance in which Thor would want to spend time with him unless they were the last two kids left at the school. And no matter how hard he tried to picture himself in robes with the Gryffindor crest, the red-and-gold tie and the edging on the collar of his jumper, he was still tormented with--
Green and silver. Slytherin. That was where Dark witches and wizards were Sorted, the spiteful kids who used their magic to hurt people when they were angry. Thor hated Slytherin, as well as you could hate a lot of people you hardly knew, because of course he and his friends never talked to Slytherins, never asked them home in the holidays or befriended them. If Loki was Sorted into Slytherin, Thor would never speak to him again, never. His whole family would be ashamed, and they would... they would never...
My whole family has always been in Gryffindor, Loki insisted to himself, a bit desperately. And it wasn't as if the Dark things he did, the rock throwing and the other nasty little tricks his magic played sometimes when Thor told him to get out and leave him alone-- it wasn't as if he planned those things, or did them on purpose.
But maybe that was the point: maybe it was what your magic did when you couldn't control it that told you whether you were Dark or not. Thor did things to Loki too, sometimes, but that was only on purpose, Thor could decide to do them or not. Maybe the only magic Loki had was Dark. How could he know, since it only showed when Loki was upset and angry?
Mum said he used to turn on the light in the nursery, Loki consoled himself. He didn't like to be alone at night, and Mum would find the lamp lit when she came to check on him. He had stopped doing it after she put a night-light in the room, but surely there was nothing too terrible about a baby being afraid of the dark? Cowardly, yes, but not evil.
And at about the same age, Loki vaguely remembered summoning his favourite soft toy, a floppy rhinoceros, when it had been left on the floor instead of put in his cot with him. He had hated-- still hated-- to get out of bed when the room was all dim shadows by the night-light-- there could be anything under the bed, waiting to grab his ankles in its claws. He was a coward, yes, but he had wanted his rhinoceros, wanted it so hard that it flew into his arms, all by itself.
Surely that meant he could do magic that wasn't bad or evil, Loki told himself. Surely that meant he didn't belong in Slytherin.
It certainly means you're not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, his mind told him. Loki hushed it, the nasty little voice that told him those things. Then he crawled out from behind the bed to his bookshelf. He found a piece of parchment and some coloured pencils and went back into his hiding place, to try again to draw the beautiful short-eared owl that had arrived in Eeylops Owl Emporium just after the Easter holidays. She was just fledged, all buff and brown mottling, with heavy black markings around her gleaming yellow eyes, just like long eyelashes, the prettiest owl he had ever seen.
Loki sketched and scratched out and tried again, making up stories to comfort himself. He would get his letter, and he would be allowed to go to Hogwarts. In a week he would be eleven, and maybe his parents would even give him the owl for his birthday-- he had been talking about her for months now, had gone to look at her every time they visited Diagon Alley, then would come home talking about her. He tried to imagine the big traveling cage waiting by his place at the table on his birthday next week, when they were back in London.
It would not quite come into focus, any more than the picture of himself in Gryffindor robes would-- he wanted it too much, and things he wanted as much as that never seemed to come clear in his mind, he could never quite imagine being allowed to have them. It was like imagining Thor coming to find him in the Gryffindor common room, and proudly telling everyone they were brothers-- he told himself that story, but he could never really see it in his mind...
A big wet drop fell onto the parchment before him. Loki rubbed at it, and then at his eyes, and moved his pencil to a dry spot to begin his drawing again.