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Heir Descendant

Chapter Text

Inside the tiny courtyard of a certain well-hidden ministry, Ed Subtle, junior Unspeakable, strained with fatigue and perhaps a little too intoxicated for that hour of the night, stared down at the sky. His sneakered feet were firmly affixed to the ground but his head was still reverberating with the force of the breaking notion within: miles below him, the material of a universe was undulating outwards, rushing past stars, swelling with strange planets and flowing to unfathomable depths.

My head is hanging in a chasm, Ed thought, a little bit dizzily.

A sudden noise startled him and he stepped backward, half surprised to find his footing on hard stones. His mind abruptly snapped back, and he blinked as down returned to being up.

"Stargazing, Subtle?" said the soft voice at the door.

Ed glanced at the berobed figure and jerked in surprise. "Master Flamel!"

Alexander Flamel was one of a long line of the alchemist's descendants to conduct his studies at the ministry. Even amidst a department full of them, Flamel was a bit of a mystery, working alone and communicating little. Ed wasn't sure he'd ever heard the man's voice before at all.

The man didn't respond.

"I was just contemplating," Ed said, a bit flustered.

The balcony, the Unspeakables' equivalent of a break-room, overlooked a rather dull sector of muggle London, backdropped by night. Out in the distance, a tired siren wailed, and Ed spared a brief hope that that it was one of the regular muggle things and not You-Know-Who's followers prompting the distress call. Such dangerous days these were becoming…

"Do you know what travels farther than starlight?" Flamel said abruptly.

Ed glanced back up, shaking his head.

Flamel turned.

"Come with me," he said, his robes swishing as he retreated into the building.

As Ed moved to follow, his gaze caught the sky and he reached for the railing, faltering. After a second, he let go, casting another wary glance at the heavens. As if I'd fall, he thought, disconcerted. Imagine that!

A moment's reflection was enough to restore his faith in his own reasoning. It was the drama of the night, he thought. Unnerving, even for an Unspeakable.

The route Flamel took him was familiar. He strode down a small corridor to a set of lifts, unobtrusive as any other such arrangements sprinkled throughout the ministry. Ignoring the buttons, they waited a few feet from the rightmost elevator, which opened after precisely forty-seven seconds. They stepped inside.

Ed had always hated this part of the process.

"Please state your name and business," the lift said.

Ed and Flamel ignored it.

"Please state your name and business," the lift said, more insistently.

Flamel rubbed his fingers together impatiently, though he was careful not to make a sound.

After a moment, the elevator jerked to life, sinking into the floor. Inwardly, Ed cursed whatever inspired initiative had the Ministry hiding the access-password in its department names. Whenever the issue was raised at meetings, Bode argued that requiring visitors to perform no magic, nor indeed, speak at all, would be bafflingly counterintuitive to any invading force. Privately, Ed's worst nightmares involved being laughed out of the international sphere following an infiltration by mute muggles.

Flamel led him to the Hall of Prophecy. It was empty, the contents of its high aisles slowly gathering dust. Ed expected Flamel to show him one or another of the egg-shaped vessels, but the Unspeakable just paused in the middle of the fork, gesturing widely.

Ed shrugged, gazing around helplessly until the man burst out, "Prophecies, Subtle!"

"Sorry," Ed said, glancing at the shelves. One of the newer orbs jumped out in the gloom. Harry Potten, or something. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

Flamel took out his wand, and Ed tensed, but the other man merely muttered a spell that allowed him to draw a squiggly blue line in the air.

"I'm only explaining this once," Flamel said. "This is the Grand Current through which all reality flows. We and all the other realities move along it this way, towards the Future."

"Sorry, realities?" Ed said.

Flamel paused to draw another line, this time in the other direction.

"Prophecies," he said, "are a kind of psychic undertow. They are stories so powerful they resist the drag of the current and stick around for those with the talent to hear."

"So, you're saying prophecies are descriptive, not proscriptive," Ed said, his mental haze breaking up. "That's amazing! With that, we c—"

"Yes," Flamel said, moving again. He made a sharp turn and tapped a bland-looking wall. Yellow-office light pooled into the aisle. "Quickly now. There is not much time."

Ed glanced around the office, which he realized must be Flamel's own, and saw that the desk had been pushed out of the way to make room for a large, square device. The clock on the wall had five hands.

"Prophecies always come true," Flamel said, "because the reality from which we draw is so close as to be virtually indistinguishable from our own. Do you understand?"

"You're saying… the differences are so slight that any matter of prophecy that we are close enough to hear has to occur," Ed said. "But why are we here?"

The thin smile Flamel gave him was enough to send shivers down his spine.

"I'm glad you asked," he said, digging into his pockets and withdrawing a small, red stone.

"That isn't— that couldn't be—" Ed faltered.

The stone was placed on the device's bronze dish, looking innocuously small and lusterless.

"Let's see how true they become if we jump the current," Flamel said with a grin.

At that moment, Ed realized why the Flamels were kept sequestered in little-used corners of ministry basements. They were utterly insane.

"Don't look so nervous, Subtle, I've calculated the jump to a fraction of a degree. With a powerful enough channel," he nodded at the stone, "we should be able to move the magical representation of this planet crosswise into a branch-off stream."

"So, you're not really moving anything, then?" Ed said.

"I wouldn't say that," Flamel said. "I wouldn't say that at all."

The clock's second hand was departing twelve. In the short interim preceding its return, Ed was split four ways. The first impulse, corresponding from about twelve to two-thirty, marched back towards the elevators to turn Flamel in. The second actor, the largest part, apparated home and tried to pretend none of this had happened, with tolerable success. The bravest, horrified part drew his wand and quietly stunned the scientist. And the smallest, remaining piece of Ed, the part of his mind shaped by a year and a half at the department of mysteries and a night spent staring at the skies, that had withstood the last three flitting thoughts and remained to watch the second hand cross eleven, this version of Ed turned to look Flamel square in the eye.

"What do I do?"

"Just cast a spell you know well, putting all your energy into it," Flamel said. "I will perform the ritual."

Ed cast the strongest lumos he knew, but instead of emerging from his wand, the light seemed to be going into the stone. Flamel pricked his finger and began chanting in Latin while pacing around the square device. The blood disappeared as soon as it hit the dish. Eleven thirty-five and twenty-three seconds, Ed thought, watching the light disappear. January 25th. He was already regretting assisting this mad ritual, but it was too late to back out now.

After a while, Ed stopped watching and focused instead on the sensation of magic streaming from his chest. The effort of the spell, almost negligible to begin with, had faded to nothing— Ed didn't think he could stop even if he tried.

Around him, Flamel began to blur and double, and he blinked to clear the tearing of his eyes. He wasn't sure how long he'd been standing there, staring at the floor before the stone. His world had dimmed to faint chanting and the ache of magic in his chest. Gradually, it seemed, Flamel seemed to be everywhere— mirrored around the room, the chants echoing and blending eerily. The sound and pain grew to almost unbearable heights, and Ed felt his hand seared with his wand's increasing heat.

After a moment, the stone shattered, Flamel fell back, and the wand in Ed's hand dropped. He picked it up numbly, staring at the black swath of his right palm. It felt different. Lighter, somehow.

Flamel was white and still on the floor.

Ed wasn't sure what, if anything, had happened, but part of him was suddenly terrified. He tried to apparate, but the telltale rush of air never came. So instead, he turned, robe-tails whipping, and rushed headlong for the elevators.

The Earth Ed knew had made a fantastic journey, cleaving its way through a relatively wide swath of universe before colliding with this particular time, but the London street was dark and quiet, and Ed was focused on something less grandiose.

"Lumos," he muttered as he ran, glancing down at his wand-tip. "Lumos. Lumos. Lumos."

But the spell would not come.

His robes flapped crazily in the wind, his breaths giving the words bad form. "L'mos, Lu… mos— come on."

Like a winded marathon runner long past the finishing hour, Ed panted and ran down the quiet streets until his knees found the wet lawn, spent. He knelt there for a long time, cold soaking into his knees, quietly weeping in the dark.

On the night that would become the same night, the golden halls of Asgard were lit with revelry. Dogs and young children ran underfoot, snatching pieces of food and miming great sword-fights. Odin leaned atop several tankards of mead, trying not to fall asleep. He did have an image to maintain, after all. Further along the gargantuan table, Thor and the Warriors Three were on their fourth go-round of "I Am the Jolly Prince of Drinkers," assisted reluctantly by Sif. Loki had left his projection to be scolded by Hoder while he turned the shoes of drunken party-guests to lead.

His last mark was Odin himself, and had Loki not turned to watch his progress, he would have missed entirely the sudden shock that lit up the sky. The young prince took a step out of his corner, then stopped abruptly as a tremor pulsed through the building, and his finely trained vision burned with magic. Loki nearly stumbled, his mind recoiling from the sudden blaze of what seemed to be every spell in the vicinity's dying burst.

Sensation returned to the sound of screams.

"Jotun!" someone cried. "Frost Giant!"

Loki smiled blandly, ready to step in, because whatever magic disturbance they had just witnessed, it had certainly not been Jotuns, when he caught a glance of his hand.

After that, it was only the barest vestiges of dignity and wispy denial that kept him from screaming too.

James Potter read the auror reports in bed. If asked, he would have said that he was prudently sparing himself from falling asleep on the hard kitchen chairs. Really, he preferred to be near his family at night, where he could keep close watch. For the first few months after the prophecy, he had watched his wife and the unborn baby like a hawk, until Lily had indignantly declared that there was a reason she hadn't married Mad-Eye Moody. He glanced down at her now, her red hair splayed over the pillows, brows creased with worry, even now. Circumspection had worn them both out, though a good part of that could be attributed to a certain eight-month old.

James smiled fondly. The wonder of watching Harry grow was unlike any other in his life, save, perhaps, the occasional, old rush of incredulity when he remembered Lily was his. Still, it was hard to believe that the baby who still babbled nonsensically, who had dumped whole pints of mashed carrots over the side of his floaty-chair, who burst into mournful tears when Miss Tabby fled his affectionate ministrations, could be someday have "the power to vanquish the dark lord." When he had time to spare from work, James sketched out some vague plans of how he would train his son, to make him strong and keep him safe. He knew Lily was performing some similar research, though he hadn't caught up on her findings.

The clock slipped from eleven thirty-five to eleven thirty-six, and James yawned, extinguishing his wandlight. The auror reports could wait, he decided. The Fidelius charm shone on, and the Potter family was safe for the night.

The magic had failed. That was the source of the Bifrost's terrible collapse and the disgrace of the young impostor prince, as well as a thousand other disturbances, large and small, throughout the planet. Most of it had returned immediately, of course, but much was still broken and the elder royals had been busy trying to repair the damage. They had heard Loki's questions. He had demanded, and they had answered, those that he had once called his parents. They had answered ill.

He had fled to his rooms, anger and disgust erupting in his chest so fiercely he thought he might die, and several times since had he dismissed the glamors and attempted with a dagger to extinguish the source. Of his brother, his perfect, false brother, he had made no requests, and had barred his doors by magic to preclude attempts at communication. The last time, the cries of a mob had gathered below his window, and he'd considered going out to fight them, taking as many as possible before they slew him. No doubt Thor would have done as much. But he'd just stared at the people, invisibly, clutching the sill so hard it dented, until they passed.

Something had changed after that. Loki had taken up his dagger— it was never far from his grasp now, held it to the light, and flipped it, watching the double-edged mirror flash with green and gold and pale. He'd cracked a smile.

Because the commoners, those specks on the horizon of their betters, would do well to fear him. There was a power near-at-hand, something greater than anything before seen to have so threatened the balance of Asgard. If Loki could harness it, possess something that Odin himself was struggling to control, they would all come grovelling back to him.

Chapter Text

On February 2nd, 1981, Loki made landfall on an empty field Midgard. Sunlight glinted off melting patches of snow, and the wet grass yielded beneath his feet. In the distance, a few cows looked up, then resumed grazing, unconcerned. It had been centuries since Loki had last visited this remote corner of the galaxy, but his sources on other realms had concurred. The disturbance had started here.

One of the features that had made Midgard unpalatable to other realms in the first place had been the lack of easy transportation between provinces. Vanaheim had great winged beasts to carry travelers between civilized locales; Nornheim, local dimension gates. Both Asgard and Jotunheim had a web of magic just beneath the surface, allowing practitioners of magic to jump from any one point to any other. If Loki looked closely, he could see a similar structure beneath Midgard's own skin, but it was cool and hostile to his touch. He rolled his eyes. The roads looked well-paved, at least.

The road was quiet, but for the occasional passing vehicle. The first had caught him unawares, roaring down the road like a Nidhoggr, but once he realized their purpose, he was able to board a communal one invisibly. He had disembarked at a quiet station with a series of ladder-like tracks set into the ground, where he was soon treated to a different type of vehicle, which ran faster and stopped less. This too, he rode until he reached a sprawling metropolis.

Midgard had certainly changed since his last visit, Loki noted. The city around him bore a superficial resemblance to Asgard, with impossibly tall buildings competing for dominance over the horizon. By comparison, Manhattan seemed a dull facsimile of the golden halls; grayer, hungry, begrimed. Midgarians rushed about, with so many of them pressed so closely together that Loki had the impression of ants escaping a crumbling hive.

They passed him with barely a glance. A beggar proffered his cup and Loki turned away, disgusted. They were so weak, every last one of them, and so ignorant. What power could they possibly have?

Clenching his hands into fists, he turned off the busy street, following his shadow as the short day waned. He saw hardly a glint of magic in the buildings and crowds, let alone the planet-strength force he'd envisioned.

At the edge of the city, the noise and rush subsided. A man sat on a bench by the river, looking dully tranquil.

"Mind if I join you?" Loki asked, approximating regional dialect for the river-gazer.

"Sure," the man said. He was pudgy and unshaven, with large, circular glasses. At his feet was a small pack.

"Thank you," Loki said, flashing a smile as he took his seat on the bench. "I'm not from around here, you know."

"Yeah, couldn't tell," the man said sarcastically.

Loki flashed a smile. "I actually came to investigate that disturbance last week," he said.

"Disturbance… you mean that family?" The man scratched his head. "Terrible news, but it's the same everywhere. Fires, murders… you're never really safe."

The man fell into a pensive silence as Loki absorbed this comment. Crime was endemic every realm he had visited, though Heimdell's service did tend to drive down the numbers in Asgard. Still, this told him nothing about the quality of the newfound magic here. He decided to be more direct.

"I was referring more to disturbances of the magical kind."

"Um, what?" the man said.

"Sorcery, alchemy, seidhr," Loki said.

"Very funny," the man said weakly, edging away. His face radiated a sudden nervous comprehension, mixed with pity.

Loki stood up too, snapping his fingers and conjuring a small green fire. The man froze, his eyes fixed on the dancing flames.

"I am referring to this, Midgardian," he said, forcing a polite tone. "Have you seen anything of the sort— any workings, conjurations, or spells? Anything you couldn't do a week ago?"

The man shook his head slowly, entranced.

Loki gritted his teeth. Typical, that Midgard should come across one of the most powerful forces in the nine realms and have no concept of the thing. As the Midgardian watched the fire dance across the surface of his right hand, Loki palmed a dagger with his left, neatly planting it in the man's chest. The man stepped back, gasping, then buckled, the fire giving his face ghastly hues as he took great, gulping, ragged breaths. The river glinted, then faded to black as the light went out.

Loki took several swipes of the dagger on the grass, both to clean it and to get his frustration under control. How dare the man look at him with such scorn!

He vanished the body and shuffled through the man's bag, pulling out a pair of muddy shoes, which he also vanished. There was also a kind of strange machine, a small leather container with native currency enclosed, a lifelike portrait of a young woman, a small blue book, and a "British Airways" ticket, dated February third.

He turned the ticket over in his fingers, considering. He wondered how likely it was that the man's disappearance would be noticed. Perhaps it wouldn't. Hadn't the man himself said something to that effect? Fires, murders… he'd said, It's the same everywhere. At the same time, Loki was alone and friendless, with no idea of the Midgardians' crime-solving capabilities. Moreover, the residents of this city had plainly never heard of magic. Traveling to this other province might bring him wiser men. And if it just happened to entail leaving this shabby mock of a city, well, that was only a bonus.

Just over a day later, Loki walked the streets of yet another Midgardian city, disregarding the stares his black and green attire was drawing. After discovering the purpose of the passport books, he had successfully boarded the plane as the man he had killed, but he saw little reason to wear a disguise out on the streets. No one here reported to Odin, and so what if they did? He hadn't done anything too illegal yet.

This city, like Manhattan, seemed the most hopelessly confusing arrangement of mortar and flesh imaginable. Unlike Manhattan, the lack of order seemed almost by design; Loki wondered why this province hadn't utilized a grid pattern. He needed some height on the city, he decided. He heard some pedestrians cry out as he transformed into a bird and shot towards an immense and ugly tower at the city's center.

He had taken the form of a sharp-eyed hunting bird, and hadn't even landed on the rail when something bright caught his eye. Not the greater gold of a certain swath of London, or the little star-like pinpricks of the people wandering the streets, this was a distant glimmer in the sky, a temporary, bright, and malignant one. It was as if someone had raised a banner for him, albeit in the form of a rather macabre snake and skull.

Loki swooped off the building. The rest of the city could wait.

It took him half an hour to reach the grassier neighborhood, full of squat, ugly houses. A quick cycle around the banner proved the residence below to be under attack. Two individuals knelt, fear-frozen, on the ground, surrounded by a ring of Midgardians in dark cloaks and masks.

The man was enormous, his bulk almost concealing the baby in his arms. His wife, by contrast, was thin as a rail, her face soaked and red as she clutched at his beefy shoulder.

Loki dipped closer.

"—where he is!" one of the masked men snarled.

"I don't know!" the woman said frantically. "We're not close— I didn't even know she had a baby until a few months ago. Please- you have to believe me!"

"What about that baby?" one of the masked men said eagerly. "Maybe the Dark Lord will reward us if we bring it along."

Loki's ears sharpened. So there was a leader?

The couple's protestations grew even more fervent.

"No, please—"

"—Not my baby!" the woman wailed.

"Don't be a fool, Nott," a drawling voice interrupted. "The Dark Lord doesn't want a muggle."

A couple of people sniggered.

"Silence," said a haughtier, more commanding voice. Then, turning to the couple on the ground, he added, "Some pain might loosen their tongues. Crucio."

The masked men cackled as the woman collapsed to the ground, screaming.

Loki shifted from foot to foot, a little discomfited. He didn't think he'd balk at torture, if it meant achieving his goals, but that didn't make it a comfortable experience to witness.

Loud cracks sounded in the air as five or six other berobed Midgardians appeared, causing the masked group to break rank and start shooting bolts of colored light at the attackers. Though Loki was confused by their methods, he was gratified to finally confirm the presence of large-scale magic on this idiotic realm.

He flew down to the street, unnoticed, and shifted back. It was time to make his entrance.

The five newcomers were being driven back, one wounded. He walked up to their side and unfurled a particularly detailed illusion, something he rarely had the chance to do with enemies wiser to his tricks. As it was, Midgardians on both sides did a double-take to find themselves transported to the edge of the rainbow bridge. This illusion was one of Loki's best, incorporating gravity and temperature adjustments to complement the visual confusion. In a moment of inspiration, Loki had also made the bridge narrower and tilted the illusion ever so slightly for maximum disorientation. He flung out the daggers between his fingers, feeling them connect with solid thuds into the necks of several masked minions as they recovered from their bewilderment. The commander looked disheveled, long blond hair slipping past his hood. He was hissing at his allies, "It's an illusion, you fools! Shields up!"

Having been caught out, Loki let the illusion begin drifting, land and space altering confusingly on a repeated track, and set off some bright, noisy flashes, keeping his concentration on the magic while his fingers unleashed more daggers. The mens' newly erected shields successfully deflected red bolts but for the most part let the daggers pass. A green light hit him in the leg and he volleyed with another knife, frowning when it glanced off the man's shield. He switched his knives to bone. The dagger stuck and the man fell, cursing.

Five and six were down now, out of an estimated fourteen. The attackers at his side, though equally disoriented, had taken heart and were slinging crimson bolts into the crowd with increased vigor.

Loki saw the one who had protested the baby's abduction dodge one of his daggers and fall to a stray bolt. The masked men clumsily re-commenced shouting and slinging green spells at him, or now, at the place he'd left the illusion of his body.

The Asgardians had never liked that trick.

Laughing, Loki ducked invisibly amongst the group, stabbing a couple more in the back while dodging red bolts from the ones on his side. His opponents were panicking now, and one or two disappeared with a crack. The leader pressed his fingers to his forearm, awakening a thick magic that made Loki tense. But after a moment, when nothing happened, Loki resumed his assault. His opponents seemed to have caught wind of his fake double, so he vanished it and created another in the opposite direction, investing it with the focus to appear as though it was shooting daggers and dodging, at the expense of the detail of some of his larger illusion.

The masked men were down to near equal numbers with the attackers, so Loki chanced dropping the illusion to cast a rather nasty working that seared the vocal chords of anyone caught in its range. This meant dropping even his invisibility for focus, but by that time none of the group was in a fit position to retaliate.

"Wow," a female voice exclaimed a couple of meters away, out of his spell's range. "Who are you?"

Loki turned to respond, then tensed as a dark magic flared in his periphery. A moment later, a tall, pale man seemed to burst into existence before them, bearing another stick in his thin fingers.

"So you've incapacitated my death eaters?" he asked, glancing down at the masked men dispassionately. "You'll not defeat me, whoever you are."

Loki licked his lips in anticipation. So this was the group's true leader? Excellent.

He flung a dagger at his opponent just to test his reflexes, but it was lazily intercepted with a piece of summoned debris.

"Has Dumbledore finally given in to murder?" the man said in a softly mocking voice. "How far to fall for our Champion of the Light."

Loki sidestepped his green spell, returning with a blast of red fire.

"I'm afraid you have me mistaken," Loki said, smirking. "I've never met your Dumbledore."

The man shrewdly shot a couple more spells in his direction- one of which traveled far less visibly than the others, and which Loki was forced to disperse with a shield. He volleyed with a complex working to transmute blood to water.

"Have we been introduced?" the dark lord said with a roguish smile. On a younger man, it would have appeared charming. On the dark lord, the stretching of his lips only made him appear more snake-like.

"Not personally, no," Loki said, pulling a glass ball from his pocket, activating it with the press of his second and fourth fingers. Accounting for distances, he threw it in an arc, waiting three seconds before the pressurized spell exploded it into sharp fragments. The dark lord should have thickened his shield as the glass penetrated, but surprisingly, he dropped it completely, instead conjuring a wind to send the fragments back towards him.

Loki did the sensible thing and shielded himself. He heard shouts of alarm behind him from the Midgardians whose side he was ostensibly on.

"I am Lord Voldemort," the man said, waving his conductor (from the magic he'd seen emanating from it at various times, Loki had to assume) and conjuring a giant snake.

"Attack him," he hissed, in a tone that seemed to strike fear into the hearts of allies and enemies alike.

Loki wondered what would happen if he instructed the apparently cognizant snake to simply stand down, but decided it wasn't worth the time.

"I'm Loki," he said, dispatching the snake with a bone knife. "The one who's going to kill you."

Lord Voldemort laughed. "Avada kedavra avada kedavra avada kedavra."

Loki dodged two of the spells, but the third caught him in the arm, stinging as he felt a tiny bit of something leave his body.

He let the knife fly towards Lord Voldemort's shocked face. An enormous pulse of energy radiated from the dark lord, momentarily forcing Loki back, before the sorcerer disappeared without a sound.

Loki cursed. In the heat of the battle, he hadn't thought to track the man. Likely, 'Lord Voldemort' was recuperating somewhere and would return to fight another day.

"That was amazing!" someone shouted behind him. Loki blinked, finding his five allies standing and mostly intact. Apparently, someone had found a way to deal with the glass.

The one who had spoken walked up to him, extending a hand. "Sirius Black," he said, pumping Loki's arm up and down enthusiastically. "Where did you learn to fight like that? And all wandlessly, too?"

"Self-training," Loki said dryly, extracting his hand. Secretly, it was hard not to feel gratified, even if that had been the effect he had intended to produce.

"Well, we're very thankful," a man of about the same age said, shooting Black a stern look. "Remus Lupin," the man said, extending a hand.

Loki smiled, clasping the man's hand firmly then turning his attention to the others.

"Frank and Alice Longbottom," said the one who'd congratulated him earlier, presumably Alice. Her hazel eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. "And that's Marlene McKinnon," she added, jerking a thumb in the direction of a taller, darker woman who was nursing her arm.

"Yeah, yeah, introductions," Sirius Black said impatiently. "Longbottoms, can you go deal with that lot?" he pointed to the house. At some point, the victims of the attack must have taken refuge inside.

"Memory wipe too?" Alice called back.

A pop sounded behind her.

Black nodded resolutely. "Yeah, better had," he said.

Loki raised his eyebrows. They could 'wipe' peoples' memories here?

"Excuse me, Rita Skeeter from the Daily Prophet," a bleach-blond woman interrupted, tucking a chain into her crocodile-skin handbag. "Is it true that you are responsible for the singlehanded defeat of fourteen death eaters and the repelling of Lord Voldemort himself?"

Black stepped back, a look of distaste marring his features.

"How did you get here so quickly?" he demanded. "The battle just ended a couple of minutes ago."

"Oh, friends in high places," Skeeter said airily. "Now, I don't believe I've ever met you," she said to Loki, her voice almost a purr. It was only with the aid of centuries of practice that Loki kept his face polite.

"Skeeter's the seamiest of seamy journalists," Black said, trying to pull him away.

"Nonsense," Skeeter said, rolling her eyes. "Sirius here hasn't liked me ever since that teensy article about his family life rolled out. Now how would you feel about an interview, Mr. …"

"Loki," Loki offered, smiling pleasantly. "I have a few minutes to talk."

"Excellent!" Skeeter said, pulling a quill and pad out of her purse.

Surprisingly, Black stayed by his side, though he still looked furious. Lupin had cast a silvery spell and workers were beginning to pop in, taking care of the survivors. Not a few of them were throwing incredulous glances over their shoulders.

"So where are you from, Loki?" Skeeter asked. "The ministry? Or are you one of Dumbledore's vigilantes?"

"Oh, an independent interest," Loki said, meeting her gaze forwardly.

"Intriguing," she said, taking it down.

"The war with You-Know-Who has been raging for three years," Rita continued, sounding incongruously thrilled. "Where have you been all this time?"

"Norway," Loki lied smoothly.

"Are you Norweigan then?" Skeeter asked. "Why did you decide to come to England?"

"I thought the war stood in need of better leadership," Loki responded. "Black, I assume you'll be returning to report?"

"Er, yeah," Black said, looking surprised, though Loki didn't see why. If Black was truly the leader of his motley group, there'd be no resistance to speak of. He was no match for the dark lord.

"Excellent," Loki said. "Thank you for your interview, Lady Skeeter. I look forward to seeing it in press."

Skeeter looked a bit annoyed at being cut-off, but smiled graciously, flashing gold fillings, before she went to pester the disgruntled-looking McKinnon.

"Right," Sirius said, extending a dog-whistle to Loki. "Hold on."

Bemused, Loki grasped the whistled and then stumbled as his spine jerked forward, the world spinning crazily around him. He landed on all fours on a stone floor, retching.

"What was that?" he demanded, getting to his feet.

"Portkey," Black said. "Er, sorry. Some people have a bad reaction."

Loki shot him a dirty look and drew himself up. "I'm fine," he said. "Where are we?"

"You wanted to see Dumbledore," Black said with a shrug. "This is his school."

Loki's eyes narrowed. "Dumbledore is a student?" he asked disbelievingly.

"What? Of course not," Black said. "Dumbledore's the headmaster. His office is this way."

It is well-documented fact on Asgard that in the especially clever, or witty, or charmed, there can sometimes be found eyes that cannot help but reflect a little of the inside iridescence, and throw around a revealing brilliance absent in the merely average. Odin had been one such person, before the Jotun war. Albus Dumbledore was another.

"Lemon Sherbet?" Dumbledore asked, breaking the silence that had fallen since they'd locked gazes.

"No thanks," Loki said, rubbing his temples. It was a wonder anyone could concentrate with such an irregular medley of hums, tweets, and brrrrings filling the room.

"I'll take," Black said cheerily.

As Black explained what he knew, Loki regarded the castle around him. The stones were absolutely brimming with a magic that warmed him where it touched. He had not erred. There was power in this place.

"—ve done everyone an invaluable service today," Dumbledore was saying kindly. "I know you called yourself an independent interest, but I don't suppose you'd be interested in joining our defense group?"

Loki was decidedly uninterested, because joining would mean sacrificing whatever goodwill he'd gained in this realm to Dumbledore's apparently considerable influence, but he was curious about the so-called 'Champion of the Light.'

"What do you plan to do if you win?" he asked.

"Do?" Dumbledore said, raising his eyebrows. "Why, return to teaching my school in peace, I presume."

Loki narrowed his eyes. He was sure there was more to it than that; no one turned down power that easily.

"I'm afraid I have to decline," he said with feigned regret. "I've set my sights rather higher than that. But you're welcome to be my ally in the Dark Lord's defeat."

The implication that he could defeat Lord Voldemort, with or without assistance, hung heavy in the air.

"That depends," Dumbledore said, his eyes suddenly looking very hard, "on what kind of leader I would be helping to install in his place."

Did he suspect? Loki's mind spun as he groped for words to soothe, to remedy.

"I don't plan to sit quietly after the war, if that's your wish," Loki said. "But I hardly think you'll want to hinder my defeat of your resident menace. As for afterward, well, I'll more favorably look upon those who've been kind to me."

"I see," Dumbledore said, his brow tightening. "In that case, I will consider your request."

Black had a wicked grin on his face. "You know, it takes some pretty special skills in defense to repel You-Know-Who himself. And we've had such a lacking of Defense professors ever since Gideon Prewett. Don't you think, Dumbledore?"

Dumbledore chuckled, and the atmosphere of the room seemed to lighten. "Despite Mr. Black's meddling approach to our current staffing crisis, his supposition is not incorrect. Would you be interested in working here as a Defense Professor for the upper years? Currently, the position is on rotation amongst the staff."

Loki considered it, but not for very long. The magic of Hogwarts called to him, and nowhere could be better for learning these Midgardian wizards' strange magic and gathering his army.

"Very well," Loki said. "We'll negotiate on the contract."

Chapter Text

After some deliberation, Loki decided to stop by his rooms, then visit the library at the other end of the castle. He opened a small, arched doorway just in time to witness a large, floppy-eared owl burst through the window, an envelope tied to its leg. Loki eyed it in bemusement before shrugging and cutting the envelope off. He conjured it a mouse for its service and retreated back toward the rooms. The chambers he had been assigned were surprisingly good quality for what he had seen on Midgard. When he had walked into the room, the soft furnishings- hangings, sheets, and cushions, had changed from gray to silver and green. Loki wasn't sure if the scheme corresponded to his attire or his mood, but it felt right. Not that he planned on using the room much anyway. He had little need for sleep.

He'd just torn through the official-looking seal when a knock sounded on the door.

"Yes?" Loki asked, which was apparently all the invitation Black needed to come barging in.

"Hey Loki, I just wanted to invite you to— is that a letter?" he asked.

Loki rolled his eyes. This Black was worse than Thor, he thought, suppressing the violent, hungry feeling that always accompanied thoughts of his brother.

"It is a letter! And from the Ministry, too!" Black said, snatching it off the table and affecting a pompous voice. "Dear Mr. Loki— huh, that's funny. I thought Loki was your first name."

"Your point?" Loki said, piqued.

"Alright, hang on. 'The Ministry cordially requests your presence at our coming Eclipse Party, Wednesday February fourth, which will meet in the Ministry Reception Room.' They'll probably portkey to Australia or something for the actual event. Lucky for you, Loki!" He dodged Loki's inkwell, returning to his pompous voice. "Formal dress. RSVP by owl. Sincerely, M. Bagnold, Minister of Magic."

"Thank you for clearing up those doubts about your literacy, Black," Loki said, picking the letter back up to confirm the missive. The invitation boded well. He needed to learn all he could about the realm to confirm its source of power, and where better than this "ministry of magic" itself?

Black laughed. "You've never been to the Ministry before, have you?" he asked. "Do you even have dress robes?"

"My formal attire shall suffice," Loki said imperiously.

"If you say so," Black shrugged. "Anyway, in less formal mode, Lil— I wanted to invite you over for dinner sometime as thanks for saving those Muggles."

"No problem," Loki said smoothly, wondering what a Muggle was meant to be.

"You've never been there before, so you can't apparate, but the address is 36 Tottenham drive and I'll owl you the details, okay?"

"Of course," Loki said.

Black turned to go, then paused. "Keep your guard up at the ministry," he said. "Something strange happened about a week ago— an Unspeakable died and another went missing. Most think it's Voldemort, but Dumbledore doesn't think so."

"I'll be fine," Loki said.

Over the next few days, Loki became abruptly immersed in the chaos of Midgardian wizardry. First, there was Hogwarts. Whenever he was not bogged down with the experience of teaching, he would accustom himself to the castle's many floors, feeling the swirl of loose magic rub up against him, sinking into his skin and animating his clothes. The sheer abundance of it was such that Loki had never seen in an inhabited place and he wondered that it didn't turn the children wild. Certainly, the building itself had taken on something of a forestlike aspect, with steps that moved and vanished irrationally, the little bits of walls and doors infused with wills of their own. On his second morning in, Loki had witnessed a teacher step halfway into the second-floor stair. Apparently wizarding Midgardians were totally blind to the architectural overlay. That these so-called "wizards" used magic without seeing it had shocked Loki until he had noticed their methodologies. Apparently, all wizards, young and old, skilled and otherwise, casted with the aid of a conductor like Loki had seen in the death eater raid, and an (often inexplicable) code word.

Which brought that to his current predicament.

"Cast that again for me please, Mr. Shacklebolt," Loki said, ignoring the sighs of the yellow and blue marked students— Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, he now knew.

"Lumos," Shacklebolt said again, with impressive forbearance.

Ridiculous. What did saying "Lumos" have to do with creating light? Did these children even know what they were doing? When he was a child, Loki had studied light in different forms— sunlight, moonlight, candlelight, reflected light, phosphorescence. He had learned about energy and wavelengths as it traveled through the ether, and at last, when his schoolmaster had deemed him ready, he had Called a ray of sunlight to his hand. He didn't even know what these students were using to illuminate their wand tips; it was always the same, eerily identical glow.

Some of the students were shifting impatiently, forcing Loki's attentions back to class. "Thank you, Mr. Shacklebolt," he said, spelling the chandelier's candles back to life.

"Tell me," he said, watching the children's wary faces as Shacklebolt took his seat. "As English wizards, what is the one defense you are never, ever without? You?"

"Magic, sir?" a blond, blue-badged boy volunteered.

"And if they take your wands?" Loki asked. Yesterday, Loki had 'borrowed' a wand off a younger student and been reluctantly impressed. Apparently, Midgardians had engineered their conductors so as to preserve every possible bit of their fleeting lifespans. From what he had seen, a wand took only exactly what energy it needed to execute a spell. More frustratingly, he had not been able to make the device work for him at all.

"Accidental magic," the boy said.

"If it's accidental, how can you rely on it?" Loki asked rhetorically.

The boy fell silent, uncertain. Loki created the illusion of an hourglass.

"The Slytherin class answered this question in less than one minute," he prodded. He was quickly developing favorites as to the class combinations at Hogwarts. Slytherin and Ravenclaw was the best; Slytherin and Gryffindor, the worst, though thankfully only had only happened twice. This combination was mediocre.

One of the Ravenclaws answered. "Lying," she said with a smirk.

"Good," Loki answered. "Five points to Ravenclaw." He didn't understand the whole reward and punishment system here, but so long as it worked, he was happy to play along.

"But I was only joking. You can't lie under Veritaserum," the girl who had answered protested.

"Correct," Loki said. "Can you think of other exceptions?"

He paused to scan the room. This question hadn't failed to unearth new information yet, though the source was running dry as he worked his way down the years. Here, no one volunteered.

"There is no potion, spell, or mind-art capable of overcoming completely your own free will," he explained. This was something he knew from his own experiments. Legillimancy, like several of the Midgardian mind arts, touched on things he had only ever encountered as theory. He had heard of a Mind Stone that would let a sorcerer read and control others' minds, but that was a unique artifact, lost somewhere in the reaches of the galaxy. Loki knew, he'd looked. Theoretic or not, the laws of magic were incontrovertible. A person's will could be dominated with power, but never extinguished, which made loopholes paramount.

The students were looking skeptical, so Loki summoned a bottle of clear liquid.

"This is Veritaserum," he said. "A single drop will make you speak the truth. Who wants to try it?"

The students still looked reluctant, so Loki added, "You will all sample it today, so whoever volunteers to demonstrate will only earn points for what he would otherwise be doing."

That got their attention. A few glanced towards the Hufflepuff who had volunteered the illumination spell.

"I'll do it," Shacklebolt said, looking resigned.

"Excellent," Loki said. "I am going to ask you today's date, and you will attempt to deceive me. You may have a moment or two to prepare."

He reset the hourglass and let it trickle down for forty-five seconds before saying, "Time's up." He conjured a muggle eyedropper and filled it with the potion, handing it over to Shacklebolt to take.

The teen looked bemused, but obligingly squeezed a drop onto his tongue. His flat affect showed the potion had done its job.

"What day is it, Mr. Shacklebolt?" Loki asked.

"Ethan's birthday," Kingsley responded immediately.

Loki grinned. Most of his volunteers hadn't managed even a prepared deception. "Note that the best solution is to think your answers through to ensure they will be at the ready when the potion compels you to speak. What year is it?" he asked.

"My fifth year at Hogwarts," the boy responded.

"And the date?" he asked.

Shacklebolt paused for the briefest second before the potion forced his tongue. "The first," he answered.

"An acceptable attempt. Five points to Hufflepuff," Loki said, taking note of the child as a potential resource. "Now, line up. You are about to be as deceptive as possible in a conversation with your partner. Since you will both be under Veritaserum, I recommend you choose a friend."

A few minutes later, his once quiet class was reduced to utter chaos. Most of the Hufflepuffs were giggling hysterically, one of the boys was sobbing, and the two nearest Ravenclaws were just, under magical restraints, prevented from erupting into an outright brawl.

Loki felt a little tingly, leaning back on his chair and juggling seven active spells. He laughed openly. And he'd imagined teaching to be a bore!

One of the students levitated a wad of paper and Loki incinerated it midflight. He was beginning to think he was wrong about the power on Midgard. He had expected something powerful, some resource to be mined or plucked from the bowels of the earth, but the more he learned, the less he was convinced. Midgard had power- potions, trinkets, nonsense spells and whimsy, but they were all just things, the products of their makers. And their makers were, Norns help him, these ludicrously Gifted mortals.

"What am I going to do with you?" he murmured.

"What?" asked a Ravenclaw girl in the first row.

"Homework!" he said, just as the bell rang and the students began packing up. "Practice deception in conversations with your friends. Expect to be quizzed over the next few classes..."

Finding his way to the ministry that Wednesday had been more difficult than Loki had anticipated. Once he'd realized that jumping into a fireplace was the optimal method, there'd been the matter of floo powder to attend to. He'd pawned a galleon off an unwitting student to see if he could replicate it, but discovered a complicated mess of spells that would prove difficult, if not impossible, to reverse-engineer. Luckily, floo powder went for seven sickles a pouch in the nearby "Hog's Head," and careful probing of the innkeeper revealed that though Hogwarts was not connected to the main network for security reasons, use of the inn's fireplace was one copper coin, or free with the purchase of a drink.

After that, it was simple enough to walk back down to the village and confidently proclaim "Ministry of Magic," before stepping into the green flames. A table of placecards had been set out, with some quite august-looking titles quilled in gold. Loki's own just said "Loki," with traces of magic along the edges that made Loki suspect Black was right about the portkey aspect. Not particularly eager to throw up on arrival, Loki paused before the table, frowning. He couldn't stop the inertia, but perhaps…

Loki cleared his mind, letting the wide room around him fade away as he cast the most detailed illusion he could manage— on his own senses. The illusion was a perfect replica of the room around him, but the casting had frozen it in time. He couldn't see himself pick up the card. He could barely even feel it. He still felt a faint pull as he changed locations, but he was surprised at how well the trick worked. He couldn't keep a smug smile from his face as he walked into the viewing room.

The room itself seemed designed to impress. Though open to the heavens like the Great Hall of Hogwarts, it was built on a smaller scale, with white gilt paneling and marble floors. Waiters flitted between standing tables with drinks and refreshments, and Midgardians stood in clusters, adorned in flowing, varicolored robes. From his reading, Loki recognized Millicent Bagnold, Minister of Magic, chuckling, a glass of red liquid in-hand. None of them seemed to have noticed his entry, other than the blond man beside her, who was giving Loki an assessing gaze. After a moment, the circle around her burst into polite laughter, and Loki wrote them off as sycophants. A couple of other social circles rested nearby, including quite a few faces Loki had seen in the papers that week. The rich and influential rubbing elbows. That was something Loki had seen often enough in Asgard.

At the far corner, by contrast, was a pair that didn't seem to be having fun at all. The man, gaunt and graying, seemed to be leveling a glare at the whole room. The square-jawed woman stood stiffly beside him, a few sparks of magic only Loki could see jumping off her clenched hands.

He walked over, curious.

"Are you not partial to eclipses?" he asked, glancing heavenward. The moon had taken its first bite into the sun.

"I have better things to do with my time than to sit staring at the sky," the man said harshly.

Happy to take advantage of perceived dissent in the current government, Loki prodded. "Surely it can't be that bad. It's just a party," he said.

"Just a party?! Just our defense budget being frittered away on tea and cakes!" the man snapped, drawing a couple of eyes, including the blond man's.

Loki was tempted to act obtuse to see how much attention the man would draw to himself, but the woman interrupted, stepping forward with a cursory grimace.

"I'm Amelia Bones, Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," she said. "This is Mr. Crouch, the DMLE head. I'm afraid we haven't made your acquaintance…?"

"Loki," Loki said, shaking her hand as seemed to be the custom here.

Bones' gaze shot to his face and her surliness vanished. "Indeed? We were very impressed by your work Monday night. How did you come to be fighting death eaters?"

"I saw a need," Loki said, donning that expression that had always led Thor and his friends back into his plans, knowing he had fooled them dozens of times before... And how did that work out? A voice in his head murmured, and then the image rose of another golden room, blue, a horrified face... Forcefully Loki narrowed his eyes and yanked his mind back into the present. Revenge, right. He would have revenge.

" vigilantes often find themselves on the wrong side of the law," Bones was saying. To Loki's relief, she seemed not to have noticed his mental lapse. "But if you were to work within the government..."

"How kind of you to offer," Loki said, his tongue, as always, a few steps ahead of his brain. "But I'm afraid I've just taken a job."

"You have?" Bones asked, looking surprised.

"With Dumbledore, no doubt," Crouch said haughtily. "I don't know what he's playing at, diverting our manpower like that."

"I've taken a teaching job," Loki clarified, smiling now. Now this he could work with. "Defense Against the Dark Arts. I'm no mercenary."

Crouch snorted, plucking a clear drink from a nearby table.

Loki glanced across the room, and Bones followed his gaze. The minister was still gripping the empty wineglass, her head thrown back with laughter and a hint of desperation in her eyes.

"Magical Britain's safety is very important to me," he said, inflecting his voice with sincerity. "I would never shirk defense."

Bones raised her eyebrows, and he knew his implication was clear. Loki nodded, and walked back toward the crowd with his hands in his pockets.

He wanted Bones, he decided. Crouch was the worst kind of dross, and Dumbledore might be too clever for his own good, but Bones was someone with a head on her shoulders.

After that, Loki left to chat with the Minister, who nearly bubbled over in thanks for his victory against "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's" followers, smiling as her circle of sycophants honed in on him. Loki accepted the attention graciously, shaking hands, committing names to memory, tucking his smugness away for later. Several invitations to other such gatherings were offered, which Loki promised to think over. All the while, Bagnold smiled, face flushed with wine and happiness at her side's small victory, naively trusting in Loki's support. He almost had to pity her. The idea of parties as a morale-boosting gesture was not a bad one, if one had the force of personality to act as if all was well. Bagnold was as transparent as a bowl of glass. It was no wonder her supporters were ready for change.

As if called by his thoughts, the last of the circle approached, a young gray-eyed man with a face like marble.

"Lucius Malfoy," the man said with a trace of haughtiness, his tone almost familiar.

They shook hands, and Loki noticed a blot of magic lurking around the man's forearm, visible through the cloth to his magic sight. The memory flashed back to him, a hood askew, blond hair flowing beneath the mask, fingers pressed to a forearm, a dark and heavy presence. Loki's grin sharpened.

"Why the sudden formality, Lord Malfoy?" he asked, his eyes merry. "We know each other already, do we not?"

Lucius Malfoy had learned from the best. It would take near super-human ability to see the slight tensing of the nerves in his face, the tiny beads of sweat gathering on his temples. Fortunately, Loki wasn't human and was thus perfectly able to appreciate his opponent's distress.

But with just the briefest of pauses, Lord Malfoy responded. "Can anyone truly know our world's rising hero?" he asked. "Even I have never heard you utter your surname."

Loki raised an eyebrow, surprised that Malfoy had managed to worm out of his verbal trap. Pick a name? He didn't know enough, other than that to do so would be to enter the sticky mess of blood factionalism that categorized this realm. Stay nameless? Even worse, in some ways. The Midgardians were too purity-fixated to let the question rest. Now that the question had been raised, it needed to be addressed, or it would become a political millstone.

Loki turned back to Malfoy, eyes innocent with all his supposed youth. "It's no secret," he said, as if it wasn't news to all present. "My parents died when I was a baby. I never knew my last name."

And now to turn the focus back, he added, "As for our prior dealings, well, it never came up."

In his haste to get back at Loki, Malfoy had verified their association. While keeping up the fiction might be a risk to Loki's reputation, it was definitely a liability for Malfoy's relationship with Lord Voldemort, who would no doubt suspect his servant of keeping secrets. At the same time, it was an opportunity for Lord Malfoy to latch onto Loki's own rising reputation.

"Well, whatever your origins, you are a man of great wisdom to defeat those fiends," Malfoy said, and Loki noticed a couple of people nod in agreement. Apparently, Lord Malfoy was as influential as he was rich. "I've heard tell that you plan to defeat the Dark Lord yourself."

Loki met the man's eyes, letting the man see the truth there. "He'll be dead within the year."

Around the room, he heard people gasp, but he ignored them in favor of Malfoy's reaction. The blond man's eyes widened, and he bent his head ever so slightly. A nod, an almost-bow.

"Of course, help is always welcome," Loki added lightly, and a few people laughed, breaking the stunned silence.

After that, Loki did not stay long. He didn't want the Midgardians to get too used to his presence, and he had accomplished what he'd needed to and more tonight. Now, it was back to the books, and, perish the thought, to teaching.

He portkeyed back with another self-illusion, frustrated anew that he couldn't connect to this realm's network. The Midgardians apparently had no problem appearing and disappearing off the lines, and if he didn't feign it occasionally, it was only a matter of time before someone caught on to his inability. There were ways of linking to a planet's magic, weren't there? Odin must have done it to him for Asgard. As Loki drew out his floo powder and spoke his destination, he added apparition to his list of things to look up, which was growing ever more formidable. Not to mention the rolls of papers in his office, piled higher than possible by any natural means. Next time, he promised himself. The next time he had a few paltry minutes to string together, he was going to the library.

Chapter Text

Sirius Black carefully levitated five plates over to the table of his flat. Ever since he'd hooked up his little apartment to the floo, he'd been having guests at all available opportunities, which wasn't easy when one's best friend was hiding from the most evil wizard in existence. Even if Loki hadn't saved Lily's hapless relatives, Sirius had been planning this meeting for weeks, as a Marauder get-together. It was only because Wormtail hadn't been able to make it that he could even accommodate Loki in his tiny flat, since extension charms were out of the question in a muggle residence. Sirius frowned, sending the assorted debris gathered in his main room into his closet. The plump man had been very busy as of late. He seemed to have less and less time for his friends. Between that and James' forced inaccessibility, it was hard not to feel like the Marauders were drifting apart.

Just as he'd finished transfiguring the foldout chairs to something comfortable, a knock sounded at the door and James stepped in, followed by plaintive wailing.

"Padfoot!" he said, smiling brightly and handing Sirius a covered basket.

"Nevermind you, where's Prongslet?" Sirius demanded, just as Lily walked in, bouncing Harry on her hip and shushing him.

"Hush, hush. It's okay! We're done apparating!" she exclaimed, yielding Harry to Sirius's eager grasp.

"Hey pup, look!" Sirius said, conjuring a stuffed bone toy in the hand that wasn't full of baby. Harry stopped crying, grabbing the toy with sticky fingers and trying to fit it into his mouth.

"See? He takes after me," Sirius said.

"Can James transfigure a crib?" Lily asked anxiously. "It's well past his bedtime."

"Already ahead of you," Sirius said, opening the door to his bedroom with a crib standing where his bed had once rested. Transfigurations usually took months to revert, but if something went wrong, it was better that the original item provide a safe surface.

Gently, he lowered baby Harry into the crib, then walked back out, shutting the door and wincing as the tears returned in full force.

"Wait it out," Lily advised, looking a bit weary.

"You know," James was saying as he regarded Sirius's banner-covered wall, "I don't think there's nearly enough Gryffindor pride here."

"You dare impugn my house's honor?!" Sirius said, with mock outrage.

"This table, for instance, is a dull and uninspired shade of brown most unbefitting of a true Gryffindor," James said, tapping it with his wand and turning it fire engine red. "Not to mention these plates…"

With another tap of his wand, the plates' plain black and white design became Gryffindor lions.

"Hands off my plates, you loon!" Sirius said, shooting red and gold color change spells at James' robes and hair, which James laughingly returned. "No one wants to eat off a plate that looks like it's eating them!"

The floo flared green and Moony stepped out, blinking sharply as he glanced around.

James and Sirius turned to each other.

"You know…" Sirius started.

"Our Moony's looking awfully grey," James finished, as a hailstorm of color-change spells shot out from their wands, pinging off odd stones of the fireplace, the lampshade, and Moony's robes, but impressively for his dodging abilities, not his tawny hair.

"Boys, enough!" Lily said, before Sirius and James could resume their barrage. "I know you're happy to see each other, but your non-Marauder guest will be here soon. Behave."

"Yes, Lily dear," James said meekly, lowering his wand and seating himself down to the right of the table head. "So what did you make?" he asked.

"Wait and see," Sirius said, mostly to annoy James.

Remus had taken the seat next to him on the other side, which meant Loki would be across from Lily and next to the werewolf, which was probably for the best.

As the clock struck seven, a knock sounded at the door, and Sirius rose to get it.

"Punctual fellow, isn't he?" James said, hurriedly shushed by Lily.

The door opened and the man who'd scared Voldemort away stepped in, the man who, if auror-department rumors were to be believed, was angling for Bagnold's seat. Loki had fought like no one Sirius had seen, flashing around the battlefield without a sound, hurling knives with deadly accuracy, at alternate times laughing and deadly serious. Now he just looked faintly bemused.

"Pardon the decor," Sirius said, pushing a strand of red hair out of his eyes. "James went a bit crazy before you showed up."

Loki's eyes found the golden-haired James, who was smiling guilelessly back at him.

"Have a seat," Sirius said, falling into the position of a host with practiced ease. "You've already met Remus here. This is James Potter and his wife, Lily."

"We're very thankful for your actions last Tuesday," Lily was saying.

As Sirius rose to get the soup, he could see that Loki looked pleased by the compliment.

When he returned, levitating a large tray with his wand, James and Remus were attempting, quite loudly and with frequent interruptions, to catch Loki up on a lifetime of pranking stories. To Sirius's surprise, Loki seemed to enjoy the tall-tales. He wouldn't have expected it from the man.

James seemed to be thinking along those lines. "Let me guess," he said, stealing one of Lily's breadsticks for his soup. "Straight-O student, adored by professors and parents alike."

"No," Loki said, his voice suddenly dangerous and somehow brittle. "My brother was more for adoration than I."

There was something in that that Sirius recognized; a familiar resentment. Before he could comment, Loki continued, the darkness falling off his face like a bad mask. "But I did attract my fair share of trouble," he added. "The gardeners and cooks were told to avoid us if possible, and we were constantly banned from various establishments."

"Gardeners— you mean, house elves?" James asked, surprised.

"Hired staff," Loki said, without elaboration.

"People?" James asked incredulously.

Lily quieted him with a nudge. "It's not uncommon in the muggle world. Were your staff magical, though?" she asked Loki curiously.

"They were not skilled practitioners," Loki said. "They were only capable of a couple of workings."

What a strange word for spell, Sirius thought. Old fashioned.

"What kinds of pranks did you pull?" Remus asked, and Loki launched into an elaborate story involving covering the main hall in floor-to-ceiling spiderwebs.

"You might've given us a run for our galleons," James said with new respect, as Sirius started clearing soup plates.

"Here, I'll help," Remus said, scooping up Loki's bowl before following Sirius out.

Loki watched him go, feeding a thread of magic into the tracking charm he had affixed to Lupin's arm so he could hear what would be said in the kitchen. He was so focused that it took a second for him to realize Lily Potter had addressed him.

"Run that by me again?" Loki said, flashing a smile.

"I just was wondering how much you know about obscure magic," Lily said. "That web trick isn't something you see every day."

"It was somewhat complicated to engineer," Loki admitted, half an ear toward his tracking spell. "Why do you ask?"

"There's something I'm working on," Lily said, pulling a plastic writing implement out of her pocket. "Sort of a shield; it looks like this."

"That's a Muggle pen," James explained for Loki, smiling fondly as Lily began to sketch in precise, elegant strokes.

A basic body, crisscrossed with lines like woven wire. Loki recognized some magical intent in the patterning, denser at physical weak points and looser where ambient magic tended to aggregate. He conjured an illusion of the diagram in three dimensions to float above the table, a blank white mortal form surrounded by golden lines of magic.

"Bloody hell— is that…" James started.

"Is this how it would look?" he asked.

"Almost!" Lily said, her eyes light. "But you don't have to overlap the weave where the lines cross- they blend together."

"They blend?" Loki asked, frowning. "But then— this is all one thread."

"Do you know how much power it would take to complete every independent line and then overlay them?" Lily asked incredulously. "I— well, the idea is to start the whole structure at once, and slowly feed the power in in the correct patterns until they are permanent."

"It will be more vulnerable this way," Loki said. "Especially the starting point."

"Just one point," Lily said, though she looked somewhat disheartened.

"Hey, you did a great job, Lily," James said, rubbing her hand. "And anything's better than no protection."

"Who is this for?" Loki asked. Lily and James exchanged glances, and in a second, he knew. "Of course," he said flatly. "Your son."

He had been told Frigga had done something similar for him, all those decades ago, sacrificing a drop of her magic so he might have his own. Had she known then, what he was? How could she not? And yet…

Loki thrust aside those distracting thoughts, redoubling his focus on the diagram.

"The structure is well done," he admitted. Especially for a mortal. Who would have thought there were some capable of such ingenuity? Of course, there was at least one glaring issue.

"Why do you want to hamper the flow of magic through your son's left hand?"

"What do you mean?" Lily asked, tucking a strand of red hair behind her ear and surveying the diagram with a frown.

"The lines here are as tight as in the rest of the body," Loki said. "A sure impediment to wandless magic."

"Most magic is done with a wand here," Lily said, though she looked troubled.

"But not all," Loki said. "It's much better to loop the lines between his fingers like on his right."

"Thanks," Lily said. "I'll adjust it."

The input from his tracking spell suddenly increased in volume, but Loki ignored it, fixated on the diagram.

"How are you initiating the transfer?" he asked. "Do you have a conductor?"

"Blood," Lily said. "Donated over several weeks."

A permanent transfer then. Did she realize she might be left without magic herself if she accomplished what she intended? Loki opened his mouth to ask, but his eyes were drawn to the window, or rather, the magic slipping past it like a dropped curtain. The next moment, the kitchen door burst open.

Chapter Text

"I hope you don't mind that I left Loki with Lily and James," Remus said, passing the soup bowls to Sirius and, for some reason, rubbing his elbow.

"Eh, he can take it," Sirius said. "Are you going to rinse those?"

Remus set to washing dishes. When he'd finished the first bowl, Sirius transfigured it into a large plate and levitated the chicken out of the oven.

He could hear the murmur of low voices in the other room and wondered what they were talking about. He could open the door, of course, but Remus had looked like he'd wanted some privacy.

"Not that I'm not thrilled and all," Sirius said, "but why did you follow me here?"

Remus frowned. "I want to trust him," he began, "But I don't think Dumbledore does."

The headmaster had implied something to that effect during their last, hastily arranged auror meeting, though he hadn't outright criticized the defense professor.

"Loki, you mean?" Sirius shrugged. "Let him worry. But I don't see the problem. If he fights with us, he's one of us."

"Well, he's not exactly with us, is he?" Moony pointed out, drying a dish with a flick of his wand.

"He's against Voldemort," Sirius said, letting the dark gravy flow down the chicken and pool at the bottom of the dish. "That's enough for me."

A crack sounded and Sirius's wand hand jerked, splattering gravy across the cabinet. He cursed.

He felt a pulse through the wards just as Moony's head jerked towards the kitchen.

"James," he said, and Sirius cursed.

Lupin slammed open the kitchen door.

"Go!" he shouted, gesturing at Lily and James.

The couple tore into the bedroom where Loki could hear them arguing about whether James should stay.

Sirius had followed behind, frantically waving his wand in elaborate patterns that Loki suspected was meant to resurrect the fallen wards."Get out!" he roared, looking over his shoulder.

Lily reached up to take James' hand and the family disappeared.

A blast of magic disrupted Sirius's delicate working and another smashed through the wall, letting death-eaters pour in.

"Go easy on the flat!" Black cried.

Loki grinned, summoning a blast of fire. He wasn't sure whether the death eaters had intended to target him or not, but they had made a fatal mistake. Falling into a formation, his opponents volleyed curses, but Loki was a master of evasion, flickering in and out of invisibility, his superior reflexes allowing him to dodge the bolts of light with ease. He created the illusion of himself between two death eaters, laughing as the green bolts passed through and the casters dropped. He threw columns of magical fire at the enemies, setting a robe ablaze. The rest of his opponents quickly muttered charms that seemed to neutralize the fires' effects. Several of the casters turned their wands towards him, and a chair flew past in a blurring golden tail before exploding into flamesLupin had defended him.

"With me," Loki whispered invisibly to Black, making the man jump. He gathered Lupin too, letting the wizards cast shields and adding his own shielded illusion. Then, tucking himself out of the way, he prepared a more complicated working.

He could hear Black ask what he was doing and flapped a hand urging him to shut up.

The most complex spells were the most powerful, but their advantage lied in surprise.

The death eaters advanced, shooting straight passed him, putting Black and Lupin on the frantic defensive.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed their uncoordinated spellcasting with displeasure. He would have to train them better when assumed command.

The death-eaters had backed the pair into a corner nearby. Loki began to chant, ignoring a curse that slashed into his side with bright hot pain.

Loki murmured the last word of his chant and stepped back into his circle of allies, suddenly visible. A couple of feet outside their corner, the floor collapsed completely, spilling death eaters down into the floor below.

"Cast!" he ordered, firing knives out into the apartment below. Black and Lupin followed, shooting red and blue bolts into the crowd. Luckily for the muggles downstairs, no one was else was in the kitchen. To Loki's disappointment, the eight foot drop didn't seem to have injured any of the death eaters very seriously, though it gave them enough of a shock to make dispatching them easier.

Loki had seen their magic flare, seemingly instinctively, as they hit the ground and flung down workings more viciously, knowing that they were close to defeat. Lupin cast a spell that brought several wands flying up to him. With one last flurry of knives on Loki's part, the remaining death eaters disapparated.

Black let the shields fall, regarding the gaping hole where his living room had once stood. He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "Gryffindor… enough…?" and leaned against the wall dejectedly.

"You've been hit," Lupin said, looking back at Loki.

Loki looked down, surprised the man had been able to see the wound against his black clothing.

"Foolish of me," Loki said, pulling back his shirt. He'd been so caught up in his spell, he hadn't thought to duck. The white flesh was marred by a deep gash, like a slice with a sword. The rest of his body was beginning to feel chilled and feverish against the burning pain in his chest.

"Snivellus," Black said, his voice ugly with loathing.

Loki stiffened. "What?" he asked sharply, closing his clothes back over the wound.

"Severus Snape," Lupin explained, shooting him a worried glance. "I think we should go to St Mungo's. Can you apparate in this condition?"

"I'm fine," Loki said harshly. "I'm not going to your hospital." He felt like his chest was caught on a hook, bursting with pain every time he inhaled.

"Sectumsempra is a nasty curse," Black interjected. "You should go to Madam Pomfrey, at least."

"Fine," Loki said, resentful that they had made him speak and waste his painfully acquired air. He would go back to Hogwarts and sleep until his magic rendered him stable enough to return. No need to bother about with mortal physicians.

"Alright," Lupin said, taking his arm in a surprisingly strong grip. "Shall we side-along to Hogsmeade?"

Sirius nodded. Loki saw Lupin's magic reach out and seize one of the ley-lines out of place, before, with a sensation that felt like being squeezed into a tiny hole, the ruined apartment was replaced with Hogsmeade's streets.

"What was that?" Loki asked, wrenching his hand out of Lupin's grasp.

"Apparition, mate," Black said, looking concerned.

"Obviously," Loki said. "But why did you stand in between the lines and wrench at the them in the most nauseating manner instead of standing on the intersection—"

Loki coughed, new blood escaping his chest in a splatter.

Lupin and Black exchanged glances.

"No idea what you're on about, but can we discuss this at the castle?" Black said, trying, unsuccessfully to pull him toward the Hogs' Head.

"Fine," Loki said, once he had finally caught his breath. It hardly mattered anyway.

"You were right to bring him here," Madam Pomfrey said when Loki was at last seated, glaring, on a the white bed. "St Mungo's is no safe place to be these days, with that last Death Eater attack…"

Loki rolled his eyes. The wound was painful, sure, but he had been hurt far worse. He wasn't sure he trusted whatever passed for medicine on this primitive realm.

"Remus, could you get one of Wiggenwald's pain reducers from the blue cabinet?" the nurse asked.

"Sure, Madam Pomfrey," Lupin said with a smile that looked almost nostalgic.

"Alright, now let me see," Madam Pomfrey said, examining the gash. Loki could see some of the blood clotting already, but the nurse exhaled sharply. "Sirius, this man should have been portkeyed here immediately," she said. "Not mangled through the fireplace and apparition."

"My portkeys were destroyed with my house," Sirius complained. "And we sidelonged him."

"Nevertheless," Madam Pomfrey said, tapping a wand to the uninjured skin below the gash.

"What is that for?" Loki demanded.

"Disinfection," the nurse said curtly.

She cast another spell, sending hazy blue spirals into the air and finishing them with a flick of her wand. The magic dissipated into the air.

"And that?" Loki asked.

Madam Pomfrey was frowning. "That should have healed it," she said. "What curse did you say was used?"

"Sectumsempra," Sirius said. "I think it was meant for me."

"Are you sure?" Madam Pomfrey asked, frowning, as Lupin returned with the potion.

"I saw him cast it," Sirius said. "I wasn't sure it hit until the end of the battle, but nothing else got near."

"Here," the nurse said, pouring the draught into a wooden cup.

"I'd rather not," Loki said, leaning back onto the pillows with his hands on his lap.

Thankfully for his blossoming temper, Madam Pomfrey did not contradict his decision.

She tried the spell again, with similar noneffects, then a darker, more complicated version that looked to Loki like an older variation of the same spell.

"I have never seen…" Madam Pomfrey murmured, casting another spell over Loki's chest. He rolled his eyes and tried to hear past her to the Black and Lupin's whispered discussion across the room. Luckily, his tracking spell was still in effect.

"…how they knew," Black was saying.

"It might have been a coincidence," Lupin said wryly. "You're not exactly a low profile target yourself, and Loki…"

"But the one night the Potters were here," Black insisted. "And remember, just last week, the Dursleys— he's obsessed."

Voldemort was obsessed, Loki mentally translated. But with the Potters?

"I don't understand why he would be," Lupin said, and Black fell silent.

"I don't think they knew about Loki," he said at last, "or they would have sent more people."

Loki grinned, causing Madam Pomfrey to snap, "What, exactly what do you find so funny, Professor?"

"Your incompetence," Loki wheezed, dissolving into quiet gasps. He missed the beginning of Lupin's next words.

"…all the people who might have betrayed them…" Lupin said.

"He was fighting on our side!" Black hissed.

Lupin's voice dropped even further, and Loki strained to hear over Madam Pomfrey's mutterings, "…unintentionally, or…"

"He couldn't," Black said. "I didn't tell him about the Potters when I invited him. Moony…"

Loki raised an eyebrow at the strange pet name. Were they lovers?

"Then I don't think anyone could have betrayed them," Remus was saying firmly.

"Perhaps not," Black said, sounding dissatisfied. He stood up. "Look, I'm going to find Wormtail. Kip by him for a few days, maybe see if he knows anything about all of this."

Lupin laughed. "I'm sure Peter will be thrilled," he said. "I assume you haven't told him this yet?"

Loki was revising his nickname theory. It seemed they all had them, which was either curiously suspicious or a weird cultural quirk.

"What are you casting now?" he asked. At some point, Madam Pomfrey had retrieved an old, green tome, and she was muttering a spell that sent thin tendrils straight through his skin.

"A diagnostic spell," she said, and Loki narrowed his eyes.

"To diagnose what?" he asked as she shut her book abruptly.

"Take this," she said, handing him a potion with an unsettling red tone. "It's a blood replenisher."

Loki reluctantly complied, swallowing the slimy concoction in one gulp.

"I'll be back shortly," Madam Pomfrey said. "Do not, and I repeat, do not move or you'll have worse than a chest wound to worry about."

Black whistled.

"Hey, remember when she used to say that to us?" he asked.

"You mean every single month?" Remus asked dryly.

"You have it easy here, prof," Black said, nodding at Loki.

Loki opened his mouth to ask what reason they could have for seeing Madam Pomfrey every month, and Remus shot Black a glance.

"I volunteered here when I was a student," Remus said, though Loki thought he looked a bit shifty about it. "Sirius and James liked to come mess around."

Not a complete lie, Loki thought, but perhaps not the whole truth.

"We were helping," Sirius said, putting on a wounded expression.

"Right," Lupin said. "If we leave you here, do you think you'll be okay?" he asked Loki.

"It's fine," Loki said, flapping his hands at them. He didn't need one nursemaid, let alone three.

"See you," Black said, raising an arm in a lazy farewell as they walked out of the infirmary. "Sorry about dinner."

A moment later, Pomfrey walked in, followed by Dumbledore. Loki suppressed a groan. Of all the people he would have see him in a moment of weakness, the headmaster ranked somewhere just above Lord Voldemort and Odin.

"So there have been some difficulties with the wound?" Dumbledore said, looking thoughtful.

"My spells were designed to work on humans," the matron said. "I'm not a Magical Creatures expert."

Loki bristled at the implication. "I am no creature—" he got out before falling into a horrendous bout of coughing.

"Don't talk!" Pomfrey admonished. She turned back to the headmaster. "Do you— have you ever seen anything like this before?"

"I'm fine," Loki hissed, as the door swung open and a first year Hufflepuff walked in, covered in pink spots.

Her eyes widened into near perfect circles. "Professor Loki?" she squeaked.

This time, Loki did groan, though it put him into a coughing fit so consuming that his vision blacked and his fingers splattered with blood. When he could open his eyes again, Dumbledore was standing over him with a grave expression, casting a spell that cleared the blood away from his chest. In the corner, he could hear Madam Pomfrey talking to the girl in a soothing tone.

Dumbledore waved his wand and a flood of colors fell, like tiny bubbles, toward Loki's chest, where they bounced off and disappeared.

"I confess, when I learned this spell, I had never expected to use it for anything more than alchemical research," Dumbledore said cheerily. "It seems you possess some degree of magical resistance that prevents certain spells from reaching you, similar to the hides of dragons and giants."

Loki had already come to that conclusion, seeing the way the mortals worked their magic. There was no flexibility in their memorized codewords to account for someone like him. Of course, Loki thought bitterly, the knife spell seemed to have accounted for him just fine.

"In the case where a more efficiently designed spell cannot do the job, in many cases the solution lies in base transfiguration," Dumbledore continued, "of which I can, humbly, claim mastery. I am going to carefully regrow the gaps in those organs which have been breached. The magic-aided sutures will break down over time, allowing your native magic to heal you gradually."

"What… will they break down to become?" Loki managed to ask, slowly.

"Nothing," Dumbledore said. "May I?"

Loki spread his arms wide. Go ahead.

Dumbledore did quiet, quick work, and Loki was reluctantly impressed by his skill. He seemed to have both the control over raw magic necessary for delicate detail and a medical familiarity Loki had never bothered with. He supposed he was lucky that the inside of his Asgardian form was not too different from that of Midgardians.

A few careful minutes in, something righted in his chest, and Loki felt his breathing ease once more.

"Why did the Sectumsempra spell succeed where other spells failed?" he demanded.

"I am not sure," Dumbledore asked. "The student who designed it was very talented, and very angry at the time. Perhaps he envisioned a knife that could cut through anything, regardless of species."

"Who designed it?" Loki asked.

"I'm afraid I cannot say," Dumbledore said.

"Snape," Loki guessed, and was rewarded with a flash of concern on Dumbledore's face.

The headmaster fixed his gaze back on the healing wound, and Loki glanced down, refusing to acknowledge the nauseating pain of his organs being slowly melded back together.

"You're very resilient," Dumbledore noted. "Most wizards would find such an injury remarkably debilitating."

"Are you done?" Loki asked, irritated to find himself slightly flattered by the mortal's claim. But on Asgard... Loki forcefully tamped down on that thought. No resentment- not here.

"Almost," Dumbledore responded pleasantly. Loki had almost forgotten he'd asked. "If you don't mind a rather crudely phrased question, what, exactly, are you?"

Loki watched his skin zip back together, leaving nothing but faded scar.

I am a god, he thought, touching a finger to the edge of the scar. I am a monster.

He stood up, magically mending his robes.

"The future," he said, striding out. As he left, he cast Dumbledore a backward glance. The headmaster was absently clearing blood off the sheets, a thoughtful expression on his face. He could almost see why the wizarding world respected the man so much.

He could be helpful, Loki thought, Or he could be very, very dangerous.


Chapter Text

Lucius Malfoy apparated back home with a crack, stumbling onto the carpet. The first light of dawn was peeking through the curtains. He had been up all night.


Narcissa took hold of his arm, steadying him until he could settle into his green wingbacked chair and retrieve his cane. Though she looked as elegant as ever in her fine robes and neat chignon, she had evidently been sitting here for hours, waiting up. She raised her wand as if to begin a diagnostic spell, but he reached for her arm and brought it down.

"I'm fine," he said.

"He didn't—" Narcissa began.

"Just the potions," Lucius said, taking them— three in quick succession, as she procured them. Cruciatus potions, a family recipe. There was nothing to be done for the pain of the curse, but they went a ways in repairing the nerve damage Cruciatus wrought.

"Lucius…" Narcissa said, taking his hand. "I was thinking, maybe, we could take a vacation. Take Draco, go to Cannes, or Naples for a few months…"

For a moment, Lucius actually considered it. Himself and Narcissa on a beach somewhere, little Draco running around in the sand, away from the madness of Great Britain's power struggles.

After a moment, he shook his head, dismissing the fancy.

"If we flee, there will be no returning. We stay in Britain."

"Lucius, you have a nine-month old son," Narcissa said, gripping his hands with her own own white ones. "You cannot keep playing these games."

She didn't understand.

"That is exactly why I must!" Lucius said, extracting his hands and standing up. "Don't you understand? If we are not standing on the winning side when this all blows over, we have nothing. Draco has nothing."


A crack sounded in the center of the room, cutting Narcissa off. It was a very bedraggled house elf, who looked guiltily up at the couple.

Lucius heaved himself up and walked over, leveling his cane at the elf's midsection.

"What is it?" he hissed.

"Dobby is sorry, sir!" the elf said, twisting his ears pathetically. "It is being a visitor, sir!"

He pushed the cane forward into the elf's ribs. "Who?"

"It's me," a pleasant voice said, as Loki appeared in the doorway. "I hope you don't mind that I followed your servant."

Lucius drew himself up, biting back a curse.

"Not at all," he said, dismissing the elf with a wave of his hand. Narcissa left too, sending him a betrayed glance.

Just perfect.

Lucius sat down, gesturing to the another seat with his cane.

Loki picked his way across the room like a bystander in the aftermath of a battle. He raised his eyebrows at the empty potions bottles, but didn't deign to comment. At last, he sat down in Narcissa's seat and Lucius relaxed marginally.

Even wandless magic was more difficult to perform seated.

As if to refute that notion, Loki conjured a small green flame, idly passing it around his fingers.

"What is the Dark Lord planning?" he asked.

"There was the attack yesterday," Lucius hedged. It took some effort to avoid looking at his own hand, where Loki had inscribed an invisible glyph on their first such meeting. 'To keep an eye on you,' he had said. He was in deep. Narcissa didn't know the half of it. Lucius broke off that train of thought, straightening. Now was not the time for fear, no matter how cruciatus-addled his brain was.

"I wasn't involved— it was more the… less valuable people. I believe there was a tip-off from a new source."

"A death eater?" Loki asked, looking bored.

"Not necessarily," Lucius said. "We have sympathizers." And of course, people could be made to talk.

Loki changed the subject.

"Tell me about Severus Snape," he said, flicking the flame from his left hand to his right.

"What interest could he have for you?" Lucius asked, allowing a hint of his disdain to show on his face.

He knew, of course.

Snape had told the Dark Lord about the successful Sectumsempra, the first time Lucius had heard him speak in weeks. He had been even more reserved than usual lately, though Lucius didn't know why.

"A poor halfblood," he said at last, his eyes flicking to Loki, trying to catch a reaction. The strange man smiled blandly. Lucius continued. "He was acquainted with Narcissa at Hogwarts. He joined us— the death eaters, rather, right out of Hogwarts."

"And yet he knows how to create spells," Loki said, his expression unreadable in the flickering green light.

"Hmm," Lucius said, surprised. He hadn't known that. "He's the youngest potions master in the century."

"What is his relationship to the Dark Lord?" Loki asked, and Lucius almost laughed.

"That of a servant, of course," he said. "The Dark Lord cares no more for him than for anyone."

Loki nodded, absorbing the information without comment.

It had never bothered Lucius to serve a person like Voldemort. It was easy— easier than a lot of his relationships at the ministry. Loyalty and value were what counted, and Lucius had always been good at making himself valuable. He tried not to imagine what would happen if the Dark Lord heard about this little soiree.

"And to Dumbledore?" Loki asked, to Lucius's surprise.

"Nothing," Lucius said. "That I've heard of."

"What are his weaknesses?" Loki asked.

"His part in the war is minimal," Lucius said, concealing his impatience. "He has some talent for potionry, but he's not a leader, or even much of a threat."

Loki didn't comment, his face in polite but obvious disagreement.

"Anything else you can tell me?" he asked.

Lucius hesitated. Should he?

It was a little bit of insurance, something he'd been keeping to himself. It was what he always did, seeking all the information he could so he could predict when things were going badly. To keep alive. Everything else he'd done, he could pass for double agency to the Dark Lord. He would be ostracized and punished, but he would live. But after this… there was no going back.

Loki raised his eyebrow, passing the flame from finger to finger.

"There's a prophecy," Lucius said at last. "Snape delivered it. I don't know what it says, or who it's about, but I believe it concerns his defeat." He glanced sidelong at Loki's face.

Loki smiled widely, extinguishing the flame.

"Tell me more."

Lucius kept a blank expression, explaining the little he knew, despite the pangs of worry spreading through his stomach. Like he'd told Narcissa, a person had to take risks. And Lucius had seen something that no one else had. His killing curse had hit Loki in the leg.

Loki's rooms were as bland and neat as they had been on his first day. No clothes filled the little oak bureau; no photographs or paperweights graced the desk. Cold starlight shone through the open window and a lazy current of magic drifted around the room.

Loki exchanged his clothes for his soft nightshirt and pushed back the coverlet. He let his boots unlace themselves and drop to the floor, then crawled beneath the covers and extinguished the candles with a wave of his hand, feeling a slight twinge in his chest as the magic left his body.

The pillow was soft. Loki turned his head, looking out the starry window. How long had it been since he'd slept?

Too long, said the voice in his mind that reminded him of Frigga. But his mother— not-mother, had never approved of his sleeping habits. He remembered the debate they'd had during the renewing of the wards a couple of years back.

"A month of nights in the library," she had said, her normally gentle voice reproving. "Is it too much to ask that you get one rest a week?"

"I'll try," Loki promised, though they both knew he wouldn't.

Frigga had just sighed and shook her head.

"It must be the Allfather's influence," she'd murmured. "Both of you seem to think that if you don't work at all hours of the day and night, the kingdom will fall apart."

Loki angrily banished the memory, twisting in his covers. He'd been so pleased by the comparison. How had he gone all those years and never known? How could they have hidden it from him?

His hands were twisting knots in the blankets; he let them go, trying to relax. Sleep. He could do that.

A cool breeze blew in from the window, drawing sparks of magic off the current and sliding over his skin. If he looked down, he could see the smaller eddies of his power reserves, sluggishly circulating his body. Some sunk into his heart, the inches-deep gash that had yet to fully heal. What a drain.

He hadn't slept since Asgard, already one month ago. If not for the injury, he probably could have gone another month. Just one more reckoning for the curse-maker. Viciously, he imagined slashing a knife across Snape's chest, watching the wound spill over with blood and the horrified expression on Snape's face, which, for lack of imagination, took on Odin-like features.

Not an unfavorable transformation.

Maybe if he cut deep enough, he'd find his answers.

How come you never told me I was a monster? Was my life just a trick to you? Pretending that I was ever— that I ever could be as great as Thor.

He imagined putting a knife to the old man's throat and shaking the life out of him, but even in Loki's mind the answers never came, just a sad expression that remained even as his body sunk down the wall and the light faded from his eye.

I never saw you as any different, Odin said. Ha! His whole life had been in comparison to Thor's, one in which he had always fallen— in which he had been destined to fall— short.

Loki pulled the covers up, trying to force his mind to retreat. Sleep, he thought desperately. Don't dwell. It didn't help. His eyes stayed wide open. The swirl of magic in the room was throwing off sparks.

What did Thor think now? Was he disavowing Loki to the court, proclaiming his innocence of the ruse?

He pictured Thor addressing the nobles, a serious look on his righteous face.

I never knew he was one of them, he would say. I, too, was fooled.

Loki flung back the covers, rolling out of bed. Enough of this. He might as well get some work done at this rate.

He swapped and relaced his boots, ignoring the thinned-out feel using the magic gave him, and took to the corridors.

He stalked through the darkened hallway, his head still stinging with the faces of his faux-family. He was walking so quickly, he would have missed Remus Lupin entirely if not for an exclaimed, "Loki!" and the pattering of feet.

He paused.

Though the man himself looked only faintly agitated, there was a silver corona of magic around Lupin, sparking crazily. Loki had never seen an emotive aurora so powerful, never mind one attached to such an unassuming figure. Was he right in the mind?

On a better night, he would have questioned the phenomenon, but tonight it only reminded him of all the time he was wasting on this realm.

"What's wrong?" Loki said impatiently, as Lupin strode up the last few steps.

"Dumbledore is gone and Sirius is missing," Lupin said. "I need your help."

Loki bristled.

"I am neither Black nor Dumbledore," he said. "Do not presume to have my service just because of the company I keep."

Lupin's aura prickled, throwing out silver spikes, and he stepped up to Loki, speaking quick, sharp sentences.

"I don't care if you're human or not— far be it from me to judge. But you said you were on our side. Sirius is the best junior auror we have, and last week he may have saved your life. If you have the gall to back out after that, then you can take your allegiance and stuff it."

As he spoke, his magic loomed around him, rising until he stood, panting, fists curled, in the shadow of a silver beast.

Careful, Loki thought, raising an eyebrow. Don't provoke the man-monster.

"I didn't say I wouldn't help," he said. "Just that you should not presume. Explain the situation."

The creature shrunk back down to that prickling aurora and Lupin coughed, apparently unaware. "Sorry," he said.

"Not at all," Loki said with exceeding pleasantness.

"I'll tell you what I know on the way."

"Go ahead."

Lupin turned back towards the stairs, talking as he went. "The issue isn't fighting the death eaters to get him back— we have plenty of fighters, thankfully. But you can't fight what you can't find," Lupin said.

There were spells for finding people in the Asgard libraries without having tracked them first— dangerous, complex spells that Loki had never interested himself with. He was generally more concerned with finding things.

"Where was he captured?" he asked, following Lupin around a sharp corner.

"I don't know," Lupin said. "When I came over, Peter— the friend he was staying with, said he walked down the block to get some air yesterday and disappeared."

Disappeared? Sure, Loki thought. He put on a gentle expression though, for the sake of the man-beast.

"It may be… difficult… to accept, but if he was captured by death eaters, it is likely Mr. Black is no longer living," Loki said.

"That may be," Lupin said, somberly, his silver aura dimming to an outline, "But I believe Voldemort has reason to keep him alive, and it is the other thing I need your services for, if possible. Sirius Black is currently the only person alive who can reveal the location of the Potters. If Voldemort knows this, he won't just stop at Sirius— he'll go after James and Lily too."

"What do you mean the only person alive?" Loki asked. "What about you?"

"I used to," Lupin said, climbing down another set of stairs. "But it's hidden by a charm."

Loki frowned, bothered by that for some reason. He latched onto another thought instead. The Potters had thought they might be betrayed. So had Black- he'd talked to Lupin about it in the Hospital Wing and-

Loki stopped short. "It was Peter," he said.

"No," Lupin said, paling.

"Think about it," Loki said. "The Potters didn't trust him- they charmed the knowledge away. But when they left their safehouse, they were attacked. Not extensively; Voldemort didn't trust his source enough to commit his better warriors, but it was still enough to make Black suspicious that he had known somehow. And who better to suspect than the absent friend? Pettigrew must have panicked and called the death eaters, or perhaps killed him himself," he mused.

Lupin's face had progressed to the color of old milk.

"He wouldn't," he said again. "He's one of our closest friends— we'd, any of us would trust him with our lives."

Loki shrugged. He'd nearly gotten his closest friends killed several times in recent centuries, and been happily repaid in kind.

"Why would he do that?" Lupin said, his voice almost pleading. "It doesn't make any sense." He took another few steps after Loki. "Perhaps… the Imperius Curse…"

"Nevertheless," Loki said impatiently, "If you want to find Black, find him."

Lupin nodded, still looking like he'd been hit by a wampus.

"In the meantime, tell me what you know of the Potters' location," Loki said. "Perhaps I can find Voldemort and intercept him."

"You'll go?" Lupin said faintly. "They're- they were, near Dumbledore's house. Godric's Hollow," he said stopping by the fourth floor bathrooms.

Loki raised his eyebrows.

Lupin took a breath, seeming to find some inner reserve. "Come along," he said, pushing open the door. They walked to the far, mirrored wall, meeting dark, grim reflections. Loki glanced away from his.

"The passage to Hogsmeade is through here," Lupin said. "We can apparate from there."

"Fine," Loki said.

Lupin looked up, pausing a brief millisecond, then clasped Loki's hand. "Good luck."

"The same to you," Loki said, stepping back as Lupin walked through the mirror.

Loki waited a moment more, shaking his head. Lupin was on a fool's errand, he thought. But if Voldemort would be drawn out to the Potters… perhaps he could actually accomplish something tonight.

Chapter Text

Loki crawled out of the passage onto a wet Hogsmeade street. A chill wind rippled through his clothes, swirling past the dark homes and the closed-off shutters of the Three Broomsticks. He sped up, his boots clopping urgently against the cobbles.

The Hogs' Head was open, though its tables were empty. The sullen bartender was the only one there, wiping down mugs with a grimy rag.

Loki dropped a knut on the table, scooping some floo powder into his hand.

"Are you going after him?" the bartender asked.

"Yes," Loki said, walking over to the hearth. There was no need to ask who him referred to. Everyone knew of Loki's pronouncement.

The bartender grunted.

"Albus had a message for you."

Dumbledore? Loki thought. How—

"Protect the child," the bartender said.

Loki waited, fingers poised to throw the powder. The bartender failed to elaborate. "That's it?"

"It's not enough?" the man asked bitterly.

"No," Loki said, leaning over the bar. "When did he tell you this?"

"I don't know, Wednesday or Thursday," the bartender snapped. "Why does it matter?"

Loki eyed him, pushing aside his annoyance at Dumbledore's presumptuousness. There was something about that message, something strange...

He stopped abruptly, then ran for the fire, hitting the flames just as they turned green.

"Godric's Hollow!"

Then with a burst he was out, a hastily drawn spell taking him through the wall and sprinting down the slush-covered streets. The neighborhood cast a strange tableau, the peaks and wells of footprints and tire-tracks thrown into sharp relief by the bright glare of distant magic. The protection spell. He ran faster.

The Potters were the center of this fight. Voldemort knew it; it was why he kept returning to them like a fly on a chunk of rotting meat, instead of going after Loki or Dumbledore. Dumbledore knew it, had expected it enough to send a warning before Black was even kidnapped. And the Potters knew it, hiding themselves away from the world. They were the subjects of the prophecy. They were the ones who could defeat the dark Lord.

Loki turned a corner, throwing up a spray of snow.

So, who is it, James or Lily?

He strode ahead, reaching the small space between two houses where a little globe of magic burned like a tiny sun. He stepped through it and a jumble of bricks, magic, and flesh passed through his mind like a dream.

Wards— outrageously complicated ones. He'd seen something like them only once before, in the Mage's Library at Asgard.

Given a few weeks, perhaps days, Loki might have learned enough about the structure to disassemble it properly.

"Pity," Loki murmured. He summoned his magic and, bracing himself, hurled it against the wards. His form began to darken as magic streamed from his stomach, his chest, his legs. The globe heated up, brighter and brighter, then the Potter house exploded outward and he stumbled back, his whole torso burning from the exertion. Still, Loki grinned. When he'd tried this in the Asgardian Library, he'd passed out cold.

James Potter was sprawled out on the floor of a ruined living room, his glasses fallen from sightless eyes. He stepped over the body and ran up the stairs, waiting until just before he stepped into the room to invoke invisibility. Lily's face was tear-soaked, desperate, pleading, pathetic. And yet— something within Loki could not look away.

"Please, please not Harry— please not Harry—"

He summoned an invisible knife, grimly cognizant that this would be his last transfiguration tonight. He edged towards the side of the crib, making out a white face and dark hair, still damp. Thin golden lines cushioned the baby's form in fragile, weblike threads. And in the center of his forehead where the threads all met, a jagged pattern dabbed in blood.

"Stand aside, you silly girl—"

Loki raised the knife—

"Avada Kedavra"

—and pricked his index finger. A drop of blood fell onto the baby's forehead, at once gliding into the lightening pattern. The shield glowed, fiery, and did not fade.

A moment later, Lily dropped to the floor and the shield glowed again, brighter.

The last dregs of magic sustaining Invisibility drained away and he threw his knife, suddenly visible, at Voldemort's face. He caught it.

Loki dropped, aghast. No one caught his knives. Voldemort laughed softly.

"I was wondering whether you would show up," he said, raising his wand. "Avada Kedavra."

Loki dodged, suddenly cognizant of just how much he relied on his magic reserves. No illusions. No spells. Even his movements were sluggish.

"Petrificus Totalis," Voldemort said, and Loki fell, his arms and legs stuck.

"Avada Kedavra." Loki felt a sting, like another prick of the finger.

Voldemort turned back toward the crib, and Loki realized what was going to happen before it did. Protect the child. Not a command. Advice.

"Avada Kedavra." His wand tip glowed green. The last thing Loki saw was the light streaking towards Harry's body before the room exploded.

An agonized screech ripped through the air as Loki hurtled backwards, colliding with the wall in a burst of white hot pain. His chest had split open, his head roiling with an agonized scream. His entire body was on fire, hammering from the inside out so hard his ears were going to burst with the pressure. Wails split through the haze of smoke above and Loki felt with them in complete synchrony, they were dying; this was the agony of death.

The ash began to settle on his face and the pain slowly leached away to a dull lack of sensation. His body felt boneless and raw, like a discarded poppet. Loki glanced upward, listening as the baby's wails subsided to quiet, hiccuping tears.

He scrabbled along the floor and pulled himself up on the remains of a wall. He was no mortal. He would not be felled by… whatever that was. He forced a step on one limp leg. The explosion had thrown him out into the hall. Now, he carried himself back into the nursery, step by stumbling step. The baby's crib, the epicenter of the explosion, was tilted on two damaged legs, but otherwise, remarkably intact. Seeing the baby properly, Loki was surprised by how much it looked like himself. White skin, black hair, green eyes.

Though of course in his case it was all a lie.

He clutched the guardrail, too tired to silence the little voice in his head insisting that he could have done something, could have released those last drops of magic holding the monster in, could have reached out and left the mortal black and burnt with frost-

The child's sobs broke into his litany and he picked it up automatically, as he and Thor had done hundreds of times on procession. Support the head... The child quieted in his arms, its green eyes fluttering closed. Loki glanced down, suppressing the urge to collapse on the broken floorboards. He walked out on the street, the February winds whipping past and making the baby burrow deeper into his arms.

The Hog's Head bartender rushed down as Loki trudged in, still in his striped nightcap. Loki dragged himself over and dropped some coins onto the counter next to the infant.

"I demand… your very nicest room," he said woozily.

The bartender looked at him, then the baby.

"Alright," he said, turning up the stairs. "Is he dead?"

Loki shot him a scornful look, slightly impeded by fluttering eyelids.

"Thought so," the man mumbled. "I knew it could happen. Don't have any staying power, those dark lords. I always said... Hold a minute."

Loki stood in the hallway, swaying with exhaustion. The baby was heavy against his chest, already smudged with blood and dark magic and tears. The patterns in the wallpaper seemed to be flowing, or perhaps it was him, swaying on his feet.

At last the man returned with a cradle and opened a door, and Loki put the baby down and stumbled towards the bed. Then his eyes closed and he was falling into black.

Chapter Text

A few days later, Loki stepped out onto an upraised platform in Diagon Alley, smiling out into the cheering crowd. Reporters crammed up at the front, toting cameras and shorthand quills. Little Harry squirmed in his arms, trying to get a grip on his golden bracers. By his side, Lucius and Amelia Bones were doing a good job of masking their exhaustion. Ever since the news had broken, they'd been working frantically to organize everything. And now… Loki raised a hand and the clapping trailed off.

He walked slowly across the stage, drinking in the looks of cautious hope on their faces.

"You have heard the rumors," he said. "On February 28th, Voldemort entered the Potter home. He tore through the protections and slew James and Lily as they struggled to defend their only child. I chased after him, coming upon him as he stood in the nursery, ready to carry out the last of his murders." Loki smiled thinly. "I slew him first."

A great cheer welled up in the crowd, and he raised his voice, holding Harry aloft.

"Because of Voldemort's defeat, this boy now lives! But he is not the only one. How many of you did Voldemort slaughter like swine? How many survived their days in fear?" He saw the somberness in their eyes and continued, more softly.

"Fear no more. This boy who lived is the first of a generation of wizards that need not cower before an evil lord. Rejoice, for you are the generation who lived!"

The crowd roared, cameras flashing madly. Some people blotted at their eyes with colored handkerchiefs, others wept openly. Harry screwed up his face like he was about to throw a fit; Loki handed him to Lucius, who jiggled him inexpertly, looking sour.

He turned back to the crowd, raising a hand and achieving a near instant silence. He paused an extra moment to savor the feeling before speaking once more.

"Some of you are still dissatisfied," he said. "A year ago, you made a choice to prop up the incumbents, decadent and ineffectual though they were. What were seven more years when every day was uncertainty? What was a ruler, when his hands reached for all? You were beggars; you chose like beggars. But that time has passed."

He could see his words passing over their faces. The flitting suspicion, the hope in their trusting eyes. He stopped his smile and took a step forward, his golden helmet glinting in the sun.

"Why should you continue to submit to fear and shadows?" he asked. A couple of voices were murmuring in the crowd. "Why should you be held to a beggar's choice?"

He continued, raising his voice above the rumbling wave of their discontent. The power in it was breathtaking, almost heady.

"You prayed in silence for survival," he said, almost hissing the words. "Now, raise your voice, and forge a legacy of life!"

He stepped back as the crowd rose up in fervor.

"Down with the ministry!"

"Raise your voice!"

"Down with Bagnold!"

And best of all, one impassioned cry that rose from the back and quickly spread through the crowd.

"Loki for minister!"

Loki allowed himself to be escorted into the closed bookstore they were using as their base, an unfamiliar feeling blossoming in his chest. Not just triumph— it was the way he had once felt when showing Frigga a new spell, or besting Thor at their childhood games.

If only they could see me now, he thought. I knew I would be the better king.

The thought soured him slightly, and he sat down crosslegged on a conjured chair, listening to the crowd's muted calls.

Bones and Lucius joined him.

"That was well done," she said. "I didn't think they'd jump to pushing your candidacy."

"Who else?" Lucius asked disdainfully.

"If Dumbledore ran…" Bones began.

"He's not going to run," Lucius cut in, exasperated.

"We've discussed this," Loki said, taking the baby back from Lucius. "He seems willing to work with me. I do not think he'll throw my goodwill away on the off chance of winning an election."

He tugged his sleeve away from the child's grasp, conjuring small golden horse for him to play with instead. "I'm more concerned with the minister."

"I don't think that Bagnold is going to be a problem," Bones said. "She's never been particularly enamored of the position, and she has a strong sense of honor. If the people call for a re-election, she'll feel compelled to give in."

Loki nodded. "We will be ready when she does. What is the state of the death eaters?"

"Terrible, thankfully," Bones said. "Pettigrew, Snape, Goyle, and Bellatrix Lestrange are all in ministry custody. The Lestrange brothers and Crabbe were found dead, through suicide or attacks."

Loki glanced at Malfoy, nodding almost imperceptibly.

"We got Barty Crouch," Bones said. "I would never have believed it if I didn't see the mark myself."

"What about Nott?" Lucius asked idly.

"Fled, but we're reaching out to the French Ministry about it," Bones said. "You realize you're going to have to go to trial for that mark? Not even spies are free of culpability."

"I have nothing to hide," Lucius said loftily.

Loki ignored them as they went back to bickering about the best promotional methods and who should be tasked with them. He looked down at the floor, where the apparition lines glowed brightly. Was it his imagination, or had they been a less inclined to shy away from him as of late? He reached out with a tendril of magic, pushing against the resistance.

"—that hag running your press releases?" Bones asked disbelievingly.

"I have no preference on the matter," Loki said, snapping his magic back. "I trust your considerable abilities are up to finding a solution."

Lucius leaned in at that, looking hungry.

"Do I need to mediate any more disputes or can I attend to the other matters?" Loki asked sardonically.

"We're fine," Bones said.

"Very well," Loki said. "I leave it in your capable hands."

He stood up, grasping a disgruntled Harry in his arms and reaching out with his magic once more. The line trembled beneath his questing thread as if trying to escape, and then he connected and the room melted away.

Loki appeared outside a flat white house, somewhere in the countryside. He lifted the baby, looking for traces of magic. Was Harry the reason he could suddenly apparate? He paused, tracing a finger across his chest. Blood was a powerful thing, and he and the baby had been covered with magical residue after the explosion. Perhaps by pricking his finger he had unwittingly partaken of some ritual, and that was why he was accepted by the lines.

He placed two fingers on the baby's forehead, ignoring its attempts to pull them down. Some of the dark residue was still mixed into the scar, difficult to see. It was probably harmless, especially bound by the protection spell. The only danger was its obviousness, declaring the chink in his sensitive magic armor. Loki traced the scar with his finger, illusing it over with clear flesh. He kept the thread of magic between him and the working, rather than snapping it off. That way, it could last theoretically forever, and he'd be able to use it as a tracking spell in a pinch.

He had seized guardianship of the boy as soon as he'd woken, before Dumbledore could come pleading about kinship and fame. Harry was part of this; he'd been the vessel for Loki's protection to defeat the dark lord, and a piece of him remained with Harry even now. The boy was his.

But he was an inconvenience, and someone needed to watch him from day to day, hence his current errand.

He walked through the gate, past well-groomed flowerbeds and small pestlike creatures and knocked on the door. Lupin opened it, unshaven, his robes gray and patchy. He looked at Loki, then his eyes flicked down to Harry.

"Come in," he said hoarsely.

Loki walked in, wrinkling his nose at the small living space. There was a rough wooden table with just two chairs, overlooked by ugly floral wallpaper. He seated himself at one of the chairs, settling Harry on his lap, as Lupin glided around in a daze, pulling out kitchen implements and putting them back.

Eventually, he produced some tea and a bottle for Harry. His arms jerked, as if to take him, then fell back down helplessly.

Loki fed it to Harry, watching the look on Lupin's face. It was less longing than utter defeat, the face of a cripple watching the warriors' parade.

"So you killed him," Lupin said dully.

"My condolences for your friends," Loki said.

Lupin shook his head. "James, Sirius… I can't even…" He put a hand to his face, and for a moment, Loki feared he was going to cry. But when he raised his head again, it was with a lifeless expression. "You're going to be minister now?"

"I am," Loki said, stirring the tea. The cup was chipped.

Lupin fell back into depressed silence.

"The baby is fine, in case you were wondering," Loki said, and Lupin's eyes went back to Harry, losing a bit of their dullness.

"Dumbledore wanted to place him with relatives," Loki said, letting Harry knock the bottle onto the table.

The glaze was back. "I suppose if Dumbledore thinks it best…"

"I disagreed," Loki said. "And had him placed under my temporary guardianship."

Lupin was stirring his tea without looking at it, eyes fixed on Harry and Loki. He didn't respond.

"Do you have any questions?" Loki asked, trying to contain the irritation rising up. Did the man even care?

Lupin looked up at him, twisting his scarred hands. He'd hardly moved his gaze from the baby since they'd sat down.

"You'll look after him," he said, his tone tinged with uncertainty. "Will I… Can I visit occasionally?"

Loki tightened his grip. The rough table, the flowers on the wall, everything suddenly felt colder.

"That's all?"

Lupin seemed to shrink back even further.

"I could never…" he said. "My condition…" he ran a hand over his shadowed face, looking wretched. "It would be wrong."

"Then you may not visit," Loki said icily. In the back of his mind he was aware that this was a disruption of his plans; that he would have to find some other guardianship for Harry, probably with those muggle relations, but he was too angry to care. How dare he? Abandoning the baby to a stranger. He was a friend— almost kin to the boy's father, but apparently concepts of loyalty and care did not apply to a helpless infant.

Loki swept Harry up, turning towards the door.

"No, wait," Lupin said, rushing after him. "Wait, please!"

He walked through the door and apparated away, Lupin's calls whisked away to nothing.

He apparated into Godric's Hollow. Since his announcement about running for ministry, Loki had been loath to stay at Hogwarts for very long, despite his ongoing teaching job. He'd put his pay and the bounties on the dark lord to the new property, and since he knew of at least one ancestral wizarding property in need of renovations, he'd decided to return here. There'd been some talk of memorializing the Potters and leaving the house to rot, but that had been easy enough to redirect.

Now, a troop of mortal workers and house-elves were building a new home in its place, a manor suitable for the leader of this regime. The chief builder nodded at Loki as he came in.

"Almost done," he said, sending a coat of paint down the hall with a sweep of his wand. "We'll be ready by tomorrow, sundown."

Loki nodded, clearing the floor and setting Harry down. Then he began to chant. This spell was one of the most complicated spells— knowledge spells always were, and it had limited use, but he had memorized it all the same, for in rare times he had found it invaluable. He had to make adjustments for the thing he sought, for its shape and the brand of magic he was still yet learning; he slipped them into the spell and reshaped it as he spoke, the perfect expression of his will. And at last, the bright blue magic all around him snapped to a particular spot, between the wall and the soil outside. He reached his hand through— a cantrip without wards in the way, and picked up the wand.

The baby glanced up, curious.

The wand felt heavier in his hand, almost familiar. The words came to his mind almost instinctively, the motions fluid.


A snake and skull rose through the air before him and he quickly banished it, his smile going all the way down to his chest.


Lupin found him that evening, back in his rooms at Hogwarts.

He had washed up, his face pale and his eyes determined.

"I want Harry," he said without preamble, when Loki opened the door.

"He's mine," Loki said.

"You said you had temporary care," Lupin said. "That means they haven't decided yet, not permanently. If you want to keep Harry from me, you'll have to go to court over it."

"And if I allow you to visit?" Loki asked.

"Then you'll still have to go to court over it," Lupin said. "I realized today— I thought about what James would've said if— if he'd seen— Sirius, and— and Peter, and I shouldn't have left Harry for an instant. I do have… considerations, and I know it won't be easy, but I was a fool to let you walk away with him, and I'd be a fool to do it now. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to let you take Harry without a fight."

"I'd win," Loki said.

"Not necessarily," Lupin said. "I knew James. I'll have Dumbledore's support. If I get a vote on it before you reach office, then I have a shot."

A very long shot, Loki thought, but from Lupin's desperate gaze, he already knew that. Perhaps Loki had misjudged him. He'd thought the man apathetic, or at least, too depressed to care, but it seemed he could muster some thought for the child after all.

The werewolf was no frost giant.

"Sit down," Loki said, waving Lupin in, and sending his magic to ask a house-elf for tea service.

"You won't win," Loki said, "Even if you rush it. They'd never give a child to a werewolf, not in the public eye."

Lupin opened his mouth to argue, but Loki cut him off. "Your dedication, however, is admirable, especially given your condition, lycanthropy, and lack of funds. If I may suggest a compromise?"

"Go on," Lupin said warily.

"I will adopt the child," Loki said. "I have a bond of protection over him, and no one will deny me."

Lupin's silver aura spiked.

"But," Loki continued, "You may care for him, especially as he grows."

"You want me to raise him?" Lupin clarified.

"Yes," Loki said.

"And on full moons?" Lupin asked.

"I'll take him then," Loki said. Once a month shouldn't be too difficult. He could always leave the child by Lucius if it got too onerous.

Something gripped his wrists and he tensed, just catching himself from throwing Lupin across the room.

"Thank you," the man was saying. "I mean it. Thank you. I'll guard him with my life."

"I'd expect nothing less," said Loki.

Chapter Text

It was a dreary morning in the Janus Thickey Ward. The light filtering in through the square window was watery and weak. Remus sat by the white hospital bed, nursing his aching joints, nose raw with the overwhelming scent of cleaning potions. Only little Harry hadn't caught the mood— he yelped excitedly, clambering onto the bed with all the force of his chubby legs.

"Pa-foot!" he shrieked. Remus watched. Sirius's black locks had been cropped short and his white robes were fresh and uncreased. His face… Remus turned to look but at the last moment glanced towards Harry instead, watching the sixteen-month old crawl onto the white robed chest.

A waxen hand reached out, clumsily patted the baby, and Remus absentmindedly smoothed Harry's hair. A picture rose into his mind, Sirius, lanky and tall, gray eyes flashing as he charged at Severus; sixteen year old Sirius covered from head to toe in orange goo, shaking out his hair with a barklike laugh; twelve year old Sirius crouching by the tree roots, pulling Remus back into the light…

For an instant, Remus's gaze skittered over his Sirius's face, the corner of a vacant smile, dull gray eyes. He looked away.

Albus walked down the little row in the light of the full moon, the nighttime breeze stirring his silver hair. Godric's Hollow had long ceased to be a welcome place for the Dumbledores, but if Albus noticed it, or minded, there was no sign, except, perhaps, a slight heaviness in his stride. He swiftly turned ahead.

Very little had changed since his youth, from the tudor houses to the cobbled streets. Only Loki's manor was new, though it did not look that way. With its high turrets and steep roofs, it seemed as though the house had stood there a thousand years, while the hollow sprung up around it.

To Albus's surprise, Loki opened the door himself. He glanced down the street, then back up at the headmaster, quirking an eyebrow.

"Albus. What a surprise," he said. "What brings you down from your castle?"

"I was hoping we could have a chat," Albus said carefully.

The young man was still gaunt and pale; only mildly healthier-looking than the day they'd first met. Albus was so proficient at Legilimency these days that it was hard not to see a bit of someone's surface emotions when he looked at their face, but Loki had always been harder to read. Even his first real attempt, the day he had hired the man, had returned a tangled blur and a sense of misery so deep that he had retracted instinctively, even before Loki had begun massaging his temples. Not knowing Loki very well, he'd resolved to give the man a place at Hogwarts and some space, and offered his aid against Voldemort. The man had quickly proven himself as a schoolteacher and an ally, and it was only now that Albus had begun to wonder if he had been too hasty in helping him along.

Loki showed him to a dark office with a slanting roof. Stacks of paper and open ink bottles lined the desk, remnants of some interrupted calculations. Harry's crib was beside it in a window alcove- it was Loki's night to watch.

Albus went there first, resting a hand on the baby's head as an excuse to perform a few silent, wandless diagnostic charms.

"Can you teach me those?" Loki asked.

"Perhaps," Albus said.

He brushed Harry's fringe away, checking for the scar the boy had borne during Loki's speech, but it was gone.

He turned back to Loki, who had returned to sitting in his office-chair, and had conjured a chair opposite for him.

"Is something wrong?" Loki asked, looking up at Albus with his fingers laced together.

For a moment, Albus had a vision of a black haired youth in his transfiguration classroom, looking up at him with dark eyes.

Is something wrong, Professor?

He banished the image from his head. There was no reason to compare Loki to Lord Voldemort, or even Tom Riddle. Still…

"You made quick work of Minister Bagnold."

"I did warn you," Loki said, lazily rotating his chair back and forth. "You could have stopped me, if you wished."

"You give me too much credit," Albus said.

Loki shrugged.

"Rumor has it that a new auror subdivision has been commissioned," Albus said.

"To track down the rest of the death eaters," Loki said.

"It's led by Lucius Malfoy."

"Takes one to know one," Loki said with a grin. "He spied for me," he said sounding more serious. "He had his trial."

"So did Severus Snape," Albus said.

"Yet somebody got his sentence commuted," Loki said. "A fine reward for slicing a hole in my chest. I still have the scars."

Albus glanced, instinctively, at Harry, but the baby was sleeping peacefully, his forehead smooth and unmarred. Loki had told him the story of the night, how he'd performed a blood ritual to complete Lily's work, crafting a shield that repelled the killing curse. He understood the need for secrecy surrounding the ritual and the prophecy. He'd understand it better if Loki hadn't seized upon the victory to launch his new regime.

"What is your interest in the Ministry?" he asked. "Pardon my temerity, but you're not British, or even quite… human."

"Pointed questions for a headmaster," Loki said. "Did you give Bagnold this inquisition when she took the post?"

"Minister Bagnold is not the subject of a new golden statue in the atrium," said Albus softly.

Loki laughed. "That? A mere bauble, for the people. I have to make an impression, after all."

"I would think you'd find a better one in a looking-glass," Albus said.

"Ah, but mirrors are liars," Loki said, flashing a smile.

"Especially if a liar is looking," Albus said.

Loki opened his hand, sending a fountain of sparkles past his unimpressed face. "Touché."

Albus watched the display, fingering his own wand.

What are you?

Whether Loki was part giant or veela or whatever other species existed out in the wizarding world was hardly his concern, but what manner of person he was? It bothered Albus that after all of the choices he had seen the man make, he still didn't know.

"How long have you planned for this?" he asked. "Since you came to Hogwarts? Before?"

Loki stood up, kicking the chair back. "Why are you asking me these pointless questions?" he asked. "What did you expect? You know I have the means to keep Harry safe. You know I do it now by deflecting attention towards my own role in Voldemort's defeat. You told me about the prophecy, so I can only assume that was your intention all along. So what is the problem? You fear I lust for power? I not brought the country crashing down yet; rest assured I'll do my best to maintain that streak in the future."

Albus frowned. What did he expect? His thoughts had been foremost on the current threat, and only then on Loki's ambitions. Even the thought that Loki intended to rise one day had been a distant eventuality. But he had risen, and quicker than Albus would have thought possible, taking full advantage of his (admittedly formidable) accomplishment. And yet...

"I do not think you have answered my question," Albus said. "Regarding your intentions for the post."

"Why do I want to be minister?" Loki asked, dropping back into his seat and looking Albus in the eye. "Perhaps it is for the same reason that a headmaster sits inside his castle and meddles with the lives of witches and wizards all over the country. Perhaps it is why he listens to prophecies kept in the most secret of ministry departments, and directs an army from the shadows." Loki's green gaze bored into his. "Tell me, Headmaster, why do you come now? Do you really fear what I might do as Minister? Or do you just miss having unfettered access to the field?"

For a moment, the only sounds in the room were the baby's soft breaths and the tapping on the window.

Albus leaned back into his chair, more perturbed than he would have liked to admit. He was hardly as selfish as the picture Loki had painted, but he had long been among the most powerful and wise, and (if he admitted it to himself) the driving force behind much of Wizarding Britain's political sphere since the wars. Could part of his uneasiness be pure pique that a schoolteacher had upstaged him?

Loki had turned away from Albus; he was looking towards the crib, his brow creased. It struck Albus that the man was not so old as his talents and position would suggest him to be; in this light he looked young; hardly older than some of his recent graduates. He was... troubling, with his grandiose gestures and unconcealed ambition; Albus would be watching him closely now that he knew what the man was capable of. But following Loki's gaze to Harry Potter, sleeping safe inside his crib, a part of Albus wondered what might've become of Tom, had he treated him more kindly at the beginning.

"I apologize," he said gravely. "When you reach my age, you tend to see certain patterns; to the detriment, perhaps, of people."

"You could do well at the ministry, you know," Loki said. "You need not content yourself reigning over schoolchildren."

Albus chuckled.

Loki looked as if he had more to say on the matter, but he fell silent, giving Albus an even nod. Then he walked over to the crib, looking out the window beyond.

"There's another eclipse," he noted.

Albus walked over to the window, resting his hands on the carven wood crib and glancing up at the skies.

"So there is," he said, adjusting his spectacles to watch the moon fall into shadow. "What does it mean, I wonder."

Eventually, the hour passed and Remus scooped Harry up, smoothing over the sheets. He nodding to the nurse, opened the door, and almost bumped right into Lucius Malfoy.

"Watch it!" the blond man said, jumping backwards as if he'd been burned. "Ahem, I mean, excuse me."

"Are you alright?" said a gracious voice. Narcissa put a light hand on her husband's arm before fixing Lupin with an only slightly strained smile.

"What are you doing here?" Remus asked; the question coming out harsher than he'd intended. He winced internally- he was always a little snappier after a full moon.

"I came to visit Sirius," Narcissa said. "He was my cousin, you know."

Remus stared at her. In all their years at Hogwarts, he'd seen Narcissa acknowledge Sirius maybe twice.

"We made a thousand gallon donation to the hospital in his honor," Lucius added, in a tone that suggested that Remus should be shelling out similar amounts, if he could afford so much as a silver cufflink.

"Well, don't let me get in your way," Remus said, turning to go before he said something he'd regret.

"Is that little Harry?" Narcissa asked, stopping his retreat.

Remus mustered a polite smile. "Yes."

"Isn't he just adorable," Narcissa cooed. Lucius rolled his eyes.

"We have one his age, you know," Narcissa continued. "We'd be happy to set something up."

"Set... what up?" Remus asked, utterly bemused.

"A playdate! Wouldn't that be sweet, Lucius?"

"I suppose," Lucius said, glancing down the hall. He seemed to have trouble looking at Remus's face.

"Thank you, but no," Remus said.


"Sorry; one and a half's a bit too young for a date with death eaters, don't you think?" Remus said.

He made from the stairs, passing by Lucius's annoyed expression and Narcissa's affronted one on his way out.

"Accio parchment."

Loki lay on his bed the night after Dumbledore's visit, white wand in a loose grip and a spellbook propped against his knees. As he spoke, magic threaded into his wand from his heart and brought the parchment flying into his hands.

"Aguamenti," he said. Water failed to erupt from his wand. The book rested almost exactly on the long scar across his chest, glistening with rich, dark magic. As he turned the page, a couple of sparks shook loose, skittering across his chest and sinking into the scar.

"Avis," he said, watching the magic thread from the center of his chest all the way into his wand. Green birds burst from the wand tip.

"Reducto, Incendio, Expulso," he said, and two streaks of light left two explosions of green feathers. The third bird fluttered away, cheeping hysterically.

"Why?" Loki asked irritably, vanishing the feathers the true way. Most of the time he could use Midgardian magic nowadays, but there were some spells that he could absolutely not work. He was doing it right— he was sure of it. He could see when the magic fed through to his wand and when, inexplicably, it did not.

But the reason for it remained elusive. He swung his legs off the bed and pocketed the wand, annoyed. He still thought Asgardian spells were superior to the wizarding kind. The Midgardian ones were too simple— blockable, once he exploited their flaws. And casting them made his chest hurt most irritably. On the other hand, he couldn't deny their convenience.

A pulse came through the wards and Loki felt a tug in one of his tracking spells. It was Lucius.

He swung down from the bed, stopping by the mirror to vanish over the scar and button up his shirt.

"Is it true you're signing off on a mudblood scholarship fund?" Lucius asked when he opened the door.

"Hello, Lucius," Loki said. "How're the wife and kids?"

"Draco's fine, no thanks to your werewolf," Lucius said, seating himself in the chair Dumbledore had taken last night. "Well, is it?"

"It is," Loki said.

"Why would you…" Lucius trailed off, as the air grew noticeably colder and the normally invisible glyph on his palm darkened.

"Pardon?" Loki asked, a dangerous glint in his eye.

Lucius looked down.

"My Lord," he said, "Why would you do such a thing?"

"Why shouldn't I?" Loki asked.

Lucius stared at him.

"Because Muggleborns are scum!" he said. "They're the bane of our traditions; our culture!"

Loki shrugged.

"Believe what you like," he said. "And use your position as you see fit. But remember, I am the one who keeps you there."

Lucius fell silent. Loki could almost see the wheels in his brain turning, trying to figure out why he was turning soft. Perhaps he would make the connection to Dumbledore, perhaps not. It hardly mattered to Loki, anyway.

But Dumbledore, as he was just coming to realize, was a force of his own. Snape's changed sentence, the secret order within his auror force- he'd hardly have bothered to conquer the ministry at all if he'd known it was just going to be a proxy for Hogwarts. He wanted the headmaster in his control; either in his direct chain of command as a bureaucrat or at least as a manipulable ally.

"Do you have the information?" he asked at last.

"Yes," Lucius said, paging through a file. "There are about 10,000 wizards of combat age in all of Britain, though not since the days of Merlin has there been-"

"That's it?" Loki asked, taking the file from him. He was surprised.

"It's larger than anyone accounted for," Lucius said. "Even during the days of the war, it never got beyond several hundred on either side."

"Can we use the muggles for something?" Loki asked. "There are always plenty of those."

Lucius gave him a look that suggested he was quite insane.

"Fine," Loki said. "What's this?"

There were a couple of rows above Great Britain; Russia, then Germany...

"Oh, it has all of Europe," Lucius said.

Loki put the file away in his desk, crossing his legs and pondering how much credit he would need with Dumbledore before the man would let him invade France.

Chapter Text

Snow fell in the little graveyard, mixing into the mud around the open graves. The old man lowered the two coffins solemnly, then sealed them with a dip of his wand.

Albus gazed into the gray sky as the man carved the inscriptions in French and English. Nicholas Flamel. Perenelle Flamel. Of all the funerals that had plagued him during the darkest nights of Tom's dominion, this one had never even crossed his mind. He put a hand up to his face, rubbing the bridge of his nose under his spectacles. Why hadn't they told him?

Descendants from the French and English sides of the family went over to the graves, murmuring their last regrets and lighting candles. Albus waited for the them to trail away before he approached, stooping to place an iris on each plot.

"Thank you for coming all this way," a voice murmured.

It was an older woman in a dark, buttoned coat.

"Pardon," Albus said. "I'm afraid I don't…"

"Olivia," the woman said. "Nicholas spoke very highly of you."

"They were extraordinary people," Albus murmured. "I'm sorry for your loss."

Olivia smiled sadly. "I believe he had some notes for you. He said as much, before..."

Had he said anything else? Had she known? Albus opened his mouth, saw the grief in her eyes, and looked away.

The mourners were starting to trickle away. The snow was falling thicker, shrouding the world in white.

He nodded at the woman, his robes swishing as he turned toward the gate to apparate out.

She walked the other way, threading between the narrow rows of gray marble, around weathered crosses spilled over with ivy and polished blank angel's faces. She stopped at a little headstone, less than a year old, tucked away from the path. She drew a white flower out of her coat, standing over the grave. Then, a wind tore through the cemetery, bringing a swirl of snow and she, too, was gone.

"Fall in!"

The commander's orders echoed through the room, sending a pulse through the forest-green regiment. They coalesced into formation, wands at the ready. The new training hall was well-lit; a lattice of windows made up the ceiling, sending wide, crisscrossing shadows against the floor. Four dark semicircles marked the shadows of the balconies on the walls. If he glanced across the room, Loki could just make out Lucius chatting up some Ministry official— Wilkes. He hadn't met the man, but he recognized him off the employee records as an Unspeakable. And a fine job he was doing of it too, Loki thought.

"What temperature is this?" he asked, returning his attention to the Magical Maintenance worker. A panel of sixteen runes sat on the wall beside them, glowing quietly.

"0," Cattermole said, scratching a thin line into one of the runes. He pressed a different sequence and the room began to heat up. Some of the soldiers in the center of the room cursed, hastily removing warming charms.

"This one's 36-40. Desert conditions."

"What about the terrain?" Loki asked, toeing the wooden floor. "And the sky?"

"The windows are easy," Cattermole said, scrawling something on an empty pad. "Can be done in a day or two. But making terrain— that's not something we've really done before. Not much demand for it."

Loki took the pad, scribbled the word terrain, and handed it back.

"Clear enough?"

Cattermole paled and nodded.

Loki turned on his feet and apparated up to the balcony, ignoring the spasm of pain in his chest from the mortal magic. Wilkes broke off his conversation to Lucius, nodding to Loki.

"Minister," he said, turning to go.

"Wilkes," Loki said, making the man startle.

Lucius rolled his eyes.

"What do you think?" he asked when the Unspeakable had exited, resting both hands on his walking-stick to peer over the balcony.

Loki leaned against the railing, glancing down. The commander's turned, robes swirling around him, and shouted "Wands out… Fire!"

The crisscrossing pattern of shadows and light disappeared in the flash of a hundred stunning spells. The commander flew in, barking corrections and adjusting stances.

"Who is he?" Loki asked.

"Longbottom. He fought well during the war," said Lucius.

Loki turned back, but if Lucius retained any lingering feelings on the matter, there was no sign of it in his voice. Ever since their chat over the summer, he seemed to have made it a point to distance himself from his wartime associations. Loki suspected the man was still nursing grudges, but had found their expression imprudent. Not that Loki cared, so long as he stayed loyal.

He glanced back at meager formation, uncomfortably arrayed in their dark green robes. For all the fighting experience the last war had provided, they had little in the ways of cohesion. Hopefully practice would help with that.

"Come on," Loki said. "Let's go down."

Frank Longbottom stopped the exercise when they approached.

"Minister Loki!" he said with an eager salute. "Lord Senior Undersecretary," he added.

"Do you actually go by all that?" Loki murmured, smiling wickedly.

Lucius ignored that, drawing himself up.

"A moment, Commander?" he asked.

Frank nodded, sending his lieutenants off with instructions before opening up a conference room smoothly disguised as a wall-panel.

Loki took the head of the table. "How goes the hunt?"

"It's not bad," Longbottom said. "There are still a few loose ends to tie up, you know, Greyback, Rowle— but we're working on it."

"Greyback is still out?" Lucius asked sharply.

"Yes— we lost track of him near Auchlyne, but we have some people on the trail."

"Are you monitoring entry and exit points into the country?" Loki asked.

"Yes, we have portkeys through the Department of Magical Transportation and the muggle governments have been notified," Longbottom said.

"What about apparation?" Loki asked.

"It would be difficult," Longbottom said. "It's fifty kilometers at least from beach to beach, and most of the coast is still hemmed in with wards from the 19th century."

"The nineteenth century?" Loki asked.

"1815," Longbottom said. "Renewed in 1940 when the ruling party sided with Grindlewald, though they were overthrown in 1942."

"You know a lot about this," Loki said.

"I like history," Longbottom said.

Lucius snorted.

"And what about our current events?" Loki said. "What is their relationship to this country?"

"It's… complicated, sir," Longbottom said. "Their memory for conflict runs long, but they won't forget that it was England that defeated Grindlewald."

"They won't forget that it was Dumbledore who defeated Grindlewald," Lucius said, narrowing his eyes.

"Yes," Longbottom said with a nod. "He's something of a celebrity over there, but even that wasn't enough to get French aid at the ICW. However, they did agree to deal with any escapees, and they have no reason not to honor it."

"Splendid," Loki said, with a sigh. It would be so much easier if France held onto the death eaters, giving them pretense to attack.

Lucius looked like he was thinking hard, so Loki said, "We should get someone from Creature Regulation over for Greyback," he said. "I was thinking you could do it, Senior Underlord Secretary, was it?"

"Lord Malfoy. Please," Lucius said, getting up to leave the room.

Loki moved to do the same, but Longbottom addressed him. "Minister?"

With the logistics over, he seemed boyish, almost shy. He fiddled with a piece of paper in his pocket.

"I don't know if you remember me, but we fought together once, against You-Know-Who— against Voldemort. It was late into the war, and I'd… I'd just heard some things that had caused me to lose hope." He smoothed the paper over his robes, smiling sheepishly. "I remember when you came into that fight and started turning the tide. When you told him to his face that you were going to be the one to kill him…" Longbottom looked up, his face etched with awe. "And then you did it."

He smoothed the paper once more and turned it over, confronting Loki with a small, blond child, smiling from ear to ear.

"My eldest," Longbottom said. "Same age as yours. When I saw you giving that speech, holding Harry, I just kept thinking, it could've been him. But you saved him— saved all of us, and I just wanted to say, Minister, it's an honor and a privilege to serve under you."

Loki took that in expressionless, a strange mixture of power and pride thrilling through him. He still wasn't sure which one had won out when he turned back.

"Thank you," he said. "Commander."

He turned to leave once more, but Longbottom stopped him as he opened the door.

"One more thing," he said quietly. "This force isn't just to track down Death Eaters, is it?"

Loki opened his mouth to protest, but Longbottom wasn't done.

"You think there's going to be trouble with France, don't you?"

"Who told you that?" Loki asked, blankfaced.

"No one, sir," Longbottom said. "I just figured, since… you know… I won't mention it to anyone."

"No," Loki said. "We wouldn't want to… start any rumors."

"Right," Longbottom said, striding through the open door to catch up. "Of course. I just wanted to assure you; we're training hard. No one is going to catch us like Voldemort did, ever again."

"And our future enemies?" Loki said, looking out. Just beyond them, the forest-green phalanx stood at arms, blurring the pattern of crisscrossing shadows and light from the lattice windows above.

Longbottom joined him by the door.

"We'll give them something to be afraid of."

Loki glanced up, looking past the soldiers all arranged like little toys, past the balconies and the watching politicians, past the crisscrossing shadows into the open sky. He smiled.

Albus arrived at the Flamel residence in the evening, gingerly setting a high-heeled boot into the snow. The house was modest; old-fashioned and out of the way. It was also already quite occupied. A group of wizards in purple robes were buzzing about, levitating pieces of furniture out of the open doorway. Others darted in and out, issuing directives.

"Careful, John!" one of them called, as the corner of a trunk bumped against the doorframe.

"Excuse me," Albus said in a tone of deceptive calm. "What is going on?"

"Confiscation," a stern voice said, striding up to the front. Broderick Bode. He'd been in Albus's class all those years ago at Hogwarts. "We're not letting any of this get into the wrong hands."

"The stone isn't here, Broderick," Albus said. He knew enough about Flamel to know that he'd brought his secrets to the grave.

The head Unspeakable crossed his arms. "We'll see about that then, won't we?"

"Broderick—" Albus started.

"I found bottles!" an excited voice called, a wine-rack zipping through the open window.

Albus drew in a deep breath, the snow beneath his boots hissing and trickling away. With a sharp wave of his wand, all the windows in the house flew open. The furnishings floated out and assembled themselves neatly on the street.

The Unspeakables stopped and stared.

"Now if you are finished ransacking a good man's home, perhaps you could turn over the notes he bequeathed, to me," Albus said mildly.

Bode's papery face flushed maroon. "Are you threatening me?"

Loki strolled back to his office, still mulling over his discussion with Longbottom. Perhaps he should carry a picture of Harry. The boy was growing so fast; every month he looked older and bigger than before. In Asgard, it took centuries for children to develop. Loki's stomach turned for a moment as he wondered if frost-giants aged the same. Surely someone would have noticed?

An image sprang into his mind; Odin with himself and Thor, one hand on each of theirs, telling them both that they were born to be king. How amusing he must have found it, toying with his little hatchling monster. Loki clenched his hands, fixing his mind on the Allfather's face when the armies of Midgard came to his door. Victory would be all the better through a race he scorned. No one had ever accused him of lacking irony.

A knock sounded at his office door, scattering his half-formed plans. He stood up, shuffling and blurring his notes.

"Yes?" he said.

"Minister!" It was a young secretary with pink makeup and an accent from the annoying parts of England— Bertha Jorkins, he recalled.

Jorkins sat down without prompting. Irritating.

"It's Broderick Bode what sent me. There's been a dust-up with Dumbledore over the Flamel thing."

A dust-up with Dumbledore? Loki frowned, feeling the particular dread that came of being in trouble that he hadn't caused. Who on earth had thought now was a good time to pick a fight with the Headmaster? And who was this Flamel? Why was he the last to know? He turned back to Jorkins, who was examining her glittery nails on the arm of his chair.

"Flamel?" Better start with the basics.

"Duh," Jorkins said.

"Who?" Loki would gladly exchange all his newfound magical abilities for legillimancy and the promise of never speaking to this woman again.

"You know," Jorkins said, waving her hands. "Nicholas Flamel. From the chocolate frogs."

He narrowed his eyes.

"I dislike chocolate."

"Really?" she said, taking an actual step back.

Loki took a deep breath. "Listen to me, Bertha— Ms. Jorkins. You are going to explain to me what is occurring now, or I will eviscerate you, tie your innards into a knot, and heal over the cut until you wish you've never uttered the words 'chocolate frog' in your petty little life. Are we clear?"

Jorkins shrugged.

"Okay, mate."

Loki couldn't quite suppress his groan. It was that kind of a day.

By the time Loki arrived, the Unspeakables had set up a camp. He could see Wilkes and Rookwood tapping an old chest with their wands, searching for wards. Another unspeakable was levitating items over, a white doily passing centimeters from Loki's nose.

Bode and Dumbledore were standing next to each other— Dumbledore's face mild, Bode's red with rage. When Loki turned to him, Dumbledore looked back impassively.

Too soon, Loki thought. To have regained Dumbledore's trust, and then go behind his back like this… well he could understand why the man was less than impressed. Loki looked at Wilkes, narrowing his eyes. He somehow doubted the man's presence here hours after talking to Lucius was a mistake, but he couldn't deal with it now. Had to focus on the present mess.

"Minister, Albus Dumbledore is interfering with our search!" Bode said.

"And why are you searching this house, pray tell?" Loki asked. Jorkins had told him what she knew about Flamel and the stone, but he wanted it from Bode.

"We believed it to contain dangerous magical artifacts," Bode said. "The Decree for Justifiable Confiscation—"

"Is normally given to Improper Use of Magic Office," Loki said. "How did you hear about the will?"

Loki followed Bode's gaze over to one of the Unspeakables and sighed.

"Broderick, Nicholas… was my friend," Dumbledore was saying with a sigh. "He promised me that he had destroyed his research on the stone. You're leading a wild-goose chase."

"Really?" Bode said. "How convenient then that he bequeathed you two-thousand one-hundred fifty pages of his notes, containing absolutely no pertinent information at all. And what about the stone itself? Where is that, if you knew him so well?"

"I don't know," Dumbledore said, and though his voice was as serene as ever, Loki wondered if he didn't look a bit troubled at the thought.

"I imagine he destroyed it, given the circumstances."

"You see, Minister?" Bode said, turning back to Loki. "This man wants to stop our search for his imagination."

"Oh, are you asking my opinion now?" Loki asked politely.

Bode looked up, hesitant.

"Tell me, Mr. Bode, what does it say on that paper you're holding?" Loki asked.

"It's Flamel's will," Bode said, glancing at the parchment.

"I didn't ask you what it is," Loki said. "I asked you what it says."

"You'd like me to read the whole thing?" Bode asked.

"Go on," Loki said, conscious of Dumbledore watching impassively beside him.

Bode took out a pair of spectacles and perched them on his nose. He unraveled the paper, clearing his throat. Flamel had been generous— the gifts ranged from as little as an industrial-sized pewter cauldron (Olivia Bard-Flamel), to ten-thousand galleons and a Cleansweep two to Hermes Delacour.

French names, Loki thought. If his bifrost-trained-tongue didn't fool him, anyway.

and, "'my notes, to Albus Brian Wulfric Percival Dumbledore' but—"

"And look at that," Loki said, snatching the will. "No Broderick Bode and the Department of Mysteries, contrary to the evidence in sight. Now give back the notes."

Bode's face turned red. "Minister, I strongly urge you to reconsider," he said. "The notes must go to the Ministry. Even if we can't reconstruct the stone ourselves, you would give this up to those who have too much power already!"

"And you'd have me instead give it to a department acting outside of my interests and against my will," Loki said.

"So fire me," Bode said. "But know this— the Department of Mysteries is a closely-knit and closely-guarded operation— a single employee may possess a world of hidden knowledge, and I am its head."

"Very well," Loki said. He tapped his neck, magically amplifying his voice so that the workers in the yard could hear it. "Listen well. If you want to have a job tomorrow, you will bring every scrap of paper— no, every single item from this house to my office, where I will personally see to the terms of the will."

He bent down to Bode and whispered, "You may be Head Unspeakable, but I am a god of lies. Don't go behind my back again."

Bode glared at him but raised his voice. "You heard him!"

Loki glanced across the yard.

He turned to Dumbledore. "Would you mind waiting in my office?" he asked. "I need to see to something."

Dumbledore thought the stone destroyed. But that didn't mean it couldn't be useful.

Longbottom was running drills when Loki found him; pairs of wizards weaved across the room, dodging and throwing stunners.

"Longbottom," Loki said.

"Yes, sir" Longbottom said. "Did you need something?"

"Do England and France have an agreement regarding the stone on the event of Flamel's death?" Loki asked.

"I… don't know," Longbottom said. "I don't think so."

"Find out for me, please," Loki said.

"Yes, sir!"

"Oh, and one more thing," Loki added. "I need a guard for my office for a bit. Full time. I'd like to have some of your wizards switch off. See to it."

"Yes, sir," Longbottom said, glancing at the troops poorly eavesdropping around him. He walked closer along to the wall, and Loki followed him.

"Do you really have the stone?" he asked quietly.

"Would anyone believe me if I didn't?" Loki asked.

"Minister, this could mean war," Longbottom said.

"Earlier you said that I could trust you," he said. "Is that still true?"

"Of course!" Longbottom said.

"Good," Loki said. "Because we may not want a war, but we must not fear it." He placed a hand on Longbottom's shoulder. "I'm trusting you."

"I'll do it," Longbottom said earnestly.

"Excellent," Loki said. "Now, back to work."

Dumbledore was waiting outside his office.

"You still plan to give up the notes?" Dumbledore said.

Loki stood by the door.

"Albus, I do not know what you think I am," Loki said. "It is not my intention to steal from you."

"The stone is a powerful attractor," Dumbledore said. "Even good men can be swayed by immortality and perpetual gold."

"Are you trying to make me keep them?" Loki said, turning the doorknob.

"No," Dumbledore said, sounding distant. "No, merely saying thanks."

Loki smiled into the darkness of the office. He'd made it.

He sent a ball of light over to the chandelier and blinked.

The Unspeakables had delivered the furniture. They'd left it in a massive heap that towered over his desk, piling from floor to ceiling and blocking the windows from view. He supposed it was just revenge for parting researchers from their research material.

"I can…" Dumbledore said, raising his wand.

"Don't bother," Loki said with a sigh, working out a spell to wiggle the parchment out without tearing it.

Dumbledore watched, curiously. "If you don't mind, what spell are you using?"

"What diagnostic charms do you use on Harry?" Loki murmured, watching the notes pile up. They were in some sort of code, most of them— he couldn't read it offhand and he understood human languages. It was hardly his issue, anyway— he had no concern for immortality, and little for gold.

"Loki... a piece of advice," Dumbledore said, "Many of these items have French owners. I suggest you bring in a French executor to ensure that there is no trouble."

"Thanks, Headmaster," Loki said, still looking at the notes.

Dumbledore fell silent, taking his point.

The new pages were in a different hand, and in worse condition. One page, almost burnt to a crisp, had writing that looked almost familiar. Then the old hand took up again, interspersing with sections of the new one, like a commentary.

"Here," Loki said, thrusting them out at Dumbledore.

"Thank you," Dumbledore said, moving to take it.

Loki held on, staring at the last page. There were letters on the paper. Letters he recognized. Asgardian letters.

"Loki?" Dumbledore said.

Loki let the papers slide out of his grasp, cursing out loud.

"The stone," he said.

"Sorry?" Dumbledore said.

"Flamel's death— it was unexpected, right?" Loki asked, the wheels in his mind spinning furiously. He dropped his voice, almost to a whisper. "You thought they destroyed the stone. What if it was stolen?"

"You want the Ministry to look into it," Dumbledore said, his face hardening.

"No," Loki said. He needed France to think he had it. "No, I can't trust them with this. You saw how they were," he said, speaking low. "I want us to look into it."

Dumbledore frowned.

"You knew him best," Loki said. "He may have left a hint for you in his notes."

Dumbledore appeared to think about this for a long time. At last, he sighed. "Very well. What do you suggest?"

"When we leave, put a ward on this office door," Loki said. "Use the strongest spell you know. I'll do the same. Nobody comes in or out except the two of us, together."

"I will do as you ask," Dumbledore said. "But after thirty days, the Degree for Justifiable Confiscation will no longer apply. And I will be far more insistent."

"Insist away," Loki said, gesturing to the heap of items. "But let us start. I have an appointment at noon."

Loki walked down to the Ministry cafe, rushing a little. He was already a little late. The cafe was sparse and minimalistic, with little round tables, mostly ignored by the hurried diners. Above the counter was a sign encouraging workers to report suspected death eater activity in their neighborhoods, and one about werewolf registration. The diners turned and stared as he entered the room, but he ignored them, heading for a corner table occupied by one Harry Potter and an uncomfortable looking Remus Lupin.

"Unc'loki!" Harry shouted when he spotted him, running to give him a hug around the legs. Loki ruffled his hair, trying to hide a smile.

"He was very excited to see you," Lupin said with a wry smile. "Talked about it all day."

"How is he?" Loki asked, pulling Harry back to examine his face. Sure enough, his nose was running. "Is he getting sick?"

These mortals were so fragile...

"Just a cold," Remus said. "It happens. He's too young for Pepperup, but Molly lent me some of Bowdler's Sneeze Serum, and he's been much more like his old self since."

"Molly?" Loki asked, beckoning the waitress over.

"Molly Weasley, from the Order. I suppose her brothers were before you got in, but her husband works here. Muggle Artifacts or some such."

Loki recalled that from the employee lists. Arthur Weasley. Lucius had called it a dead end department, and pushed to shift most of its funding towards war expenses. Loki, chary about meddling with one of Dumbledore's pet issues, had refused.

He put a hand to his chin, thinking back. The funding, the Muggleborn Act, the Snape affair. He'd never told Lucius his plans for Dumbledore, but was it possible the man had connected the dots? If so, he was smart- smarter than Loki had assumed- and more devious. Start having the Ministry counter the headmaster, take away his power, and do with plausible deniability, so that if the plan failed, it would be hard to trace to Lucius and nigh impossible to trace it to him. He'd also bet that the Department of Mysteries had been itching to get hold of the stone already, and Lucius had merely facilitated things through Wilkes. It was a good plan, if not for the fact that it was utterly opposed to his own. He felt a flash of respect for his subordinate, followed by a much greater flash of irritation.

"Do you want any?" Remus asked, looking at him and then back at the waitress. She'd already summoned food for the other two. There was something wooden between his fingers- Voldemort's wand. He frowned, pocketing it.

"No thank you."

Harry was making a merry mess of the steak and potatoes while Remus vainly helped cut it for him, his own plate hardly touched.

"Here," Loki said, putting a hand on the steak. It fell into bite-sized pieces. Another spell cleaned his hand.

"Thanks," Remus said, but Loki didn't respond, already far off.

"The Department of Mysteries," Loki said the next day, sitting across the desk from Amelia Bones. He had decided to leave Lucius out of this particular meeting. "How concerned should I be?"

Bones frowned, looking up from the DMLE reports she was reading.

"They're powerful," she said. "But I've never seen them do something like this. They know they rely on the Ministry for funding. And they rarely venture out. I'm surprised they even knew about the death, honestly."

"Yes," Loki said. "Someone put them up to it."

"And you want me to do something?" Bones said.

Loki tilted his head, looking out the window into the artificial light. "No," he said. "It was well-intentioned."

"Very well," Bones said, making a note on the parchment. "What about the antiques storehouse in your office?"

"I'm redecorating," Loki said.

"Do you actually have it?" Bones asked, looking up.

"You don't need to know that," Loki said.

"I don't," Bones acknowledged. "But that bird doesn't come from these parts, and its owner is going to be asking the same thing."

Loki turned around.

There was indeed a black-and-white bird at the window. He didn't know the specific breed but he knew from his own self-transfigurations that it was built for speed. It had a letter tied to its leg, with a red seal embossed with 'AMN.' He opened the it up, and scanned down the page, gaze lingering on the signature. Ministre Lefèvre.

Loki turned the letter over. The other side was blank. He snatched a quill off Bones's desk, scrawled two words, and threw it out the window, letting the bird swoop down and bear it away.

Bones watched.

"Are we ready for this?" she said, looking back out the window.

"We will be," Loki said.

Bones nodded, returning to her papers.

"One more thing," Loki asked. "Do you know where I can find Ms. Jorkins?"

A knock sounded at the door and Lucius glanced up. Twelve o' clock, just in time for his meeting with Loki. He expected the minister would want to grill him about Flamel, but he had excuses for that, and it was all for the man's own good anyway. He was certain he could convince him of that fact, more or less. So it was with just the slightest of hesitations that he stood up, reaching for his walking stick, and opened the door.

And almost shut it again.

It wasn't the minister. It was that low-ranking temp from the third-floor. The one with the shimmering nails. The individual in question had stopped the door with a foot.

"Heya, Mr. Undersecretary?"

"It's Senior Undersecretary, actually," Lucius said. "What can I do for you?" He injected enough hidden venom into the phrase to give Salazar Slytherin himself pause.

Unfortunately, Jorkins proved oblivious.

"Sorry, mate," she said. "It's just- I'm s'posed to be here, you know? That's what 'e said."

"He?" Lucius asked.

"Tall, brooding, pretty green eyes. You know." She glanced at her fingernails, already bored.

"The Minister?" Lucius asked, incredulous.

"Duh," Jorkins said. "I mean I was listening to W.S, signing off on things for the Doc, and he comes over and says 'Bertha, I'm giving you a promotion.' Like, as if. No extra pay; no time off, just report straight to you as soon as I'm done. Says I'm to be your secretary.'"

"He- what?" Lucius asked. Deep in his heart, he felt something uncoil in horror.

"Yeah," Jorkins said flatly. "Says, tell him it's a present to his secretary, to show 'exactly what you mean to me.'" She emphasized the point with little finger quotes.

Lucius opened his mouth, and then shut it again.

"I know," she said. "Like what am I, his slave?"

She brushed past him, stepping into his office.

"Ew, dark green. Like, I can't even…"

Lucius put a finger to his temples, glancing up at the ceiling, and prayed to the spirit of Salazar Slytherin for swift and merciful end.

Chapter Text

In a little corner of Hogwarts, a tower room off the headmaster's chambers high up in the castle, Albus Dumbledore gazed through the windows. There were four, crude-carven squares. The room in which they sat was old, with many cracked stones in the walls and a fine dust in the high rafters that eluded cleaning charms. It had the look of a place that had fallen into disrepair and been hastily restored, which was fitting, since it was the truth.

The Watching Room had appeared off his office during the war, neatly displacing the storage closet containing several piles of student records and an excellent bottle of gin. This kind of thing happened with some regularity at Hogwarts- a particularly spectacular incident involving the Quidditch pitch came to mind- and he and Minerva had spent several days reasoning with the castle- enchanting, cajoling, and trying previous fixes such as tickling the door- before accepting that the room was here to stay. As it turned out, the room had its uses.

He walked forward now, his hands behind his back. The window frame behind him was icy. The sky was still dark over the mountains. At the top there glistened some ruins; an old, worn-down statue with a snake at the base. It was quiet; though every so often the sound of a thrown rock or a tree being uprooted would explode through the silence, echoes from far-off fights. He spared it only a glance. It was not his concern.

The window to his right showed only pale whiteness- the blinding gray of the sun behind clouds, or a bright snowfall, or perhaps some malfunction of the spell. Albus did not know which. The window had never shown anything else.

To his left was an obsidian tower whose sheer sides met at an angle, throwing a long shadow across the choppy sea. The sun that rose behind it glinted crimson. Though few had ever come close enough to see it, the shape of the black tower was imprinted in the mind of every magical British citizen before they were old enough to fly a broomstick.

With a pang, his mind traveled to Severus, perpetually reliving the worst memories in his short, unhappy life. He could see the regrets in his mind like atramentous points radiating outward- he should have spoken kindly to the boy, watched him closer, rebuked him earlier, spared him his bleak fate. Failure after failure after failure, spiraling to a fate worse than death in the dark tower. Even he had been spared that fate.

The dark sea shimmered with the ripples of water rising and falling with hardly a sound. His mind traveled back to Flamel. It was in these moments that he missed his mentor most; Flamel, who considered dwelling self-indulgent; perhaps the only voice Albus had trusted completely for many long years. At the very least, he'd have had some words of wisdom about the current predicament.

Albus turned, at last, to the fourth window. The sun shone white, wisps of cirrus clouds feathering across the sky. Waves lapped at the shore, tumbling over each other in the chill December wind. It was peaceful, though without beachgoers or even cheerful pedestrians, somewhat austere.

The sun rose higher in the sky. Albus kept his eyes trained on the horizon, waiting.

Sure enough, a speck appeared, almost invisible against the clouds. As it drew closer the features resolved into a white, feathered horse, topped by a white-robed rider. An Abraxan. As it reached the beach, the rider slowed the horse to a trot, scanning the coast and casting quiet spells before wheeling the horse around, back over the sea.

Dumbledore sighed. He cast a patronus, knowing its recipient would be awake.

Minerva, I'm afraid you'll have to attend to the reports today, he said, sending it out. There has been a… situation.

"Minister," Lucius said, with the air of one who had been pondering his words for quite a long time now, "I know that you are a wise and prudent leader, even if you do not always share the reasons for your decisions. I believe that I... understand the message you were trying to send, where Jorkins was concerned."

"Excellent," Loki said. He was leaning against the manor wall, lazily pushing and pulling Harry's stroller. One of Harry's fur boots rose up lackadaisically and then fell below the level of the hood.

"And I think, perhaps, that her presence in my retinue, however assistive, is… no longer necessary." Lucius said cautiously.

"Hmmm…" Loki said. He cast a tempus with Voldemort's wand. A quarter past. They were running late.


"Narcissa! You look lovely," Loki said, cutting him off. She was, in fact, resplendent in sky-blue robes. Behind her trailed Baby Draco in matching colors, a little hat on his head. "And the little one too, how nice."

He patted Draco on the head, ignoring Lucius's glares.

"You and Harry look quite well turned-out yourselves," Narcissa acknowledged.

Loki had foregone his usual battle-garb for blue-gray wizards' things.

The two of them glanced at Lucius, who stood apart from the pram with his arms crossed, still in his black velvet robes. His silver-snake topped walking stick glinted in the pale manor light. His gray eyes flashed with haughty irritation. The only concession he had made to their outing was tying his hair back in a black ribbon- an effect, Loki mused, quite like putting a bow on a basilisk.

"It appears everybody's ready, then?" He said brightly.

"I still don't see the point of this excursion," Lucius grumbled. "These boys have more possessions than half the children in England put together."

"Think of it like a paid holiday," Loki suggested, grasping Harry's carriage to apparate out.

They arrived in the middle of a busy Diagon Alley- store fronts and peddlers' stalls alike were bedecked with ornaments and lights from that inane Midgardian holiday. Loki was nearly blinded by a flashing, home-made advertisement blaring Meet Everyday Hero Gilderoy Lockhart! When they stepped out, the street fell into a hush, the crowd spreading to let them pass. Loki felt several hands brush against his robes and stiffened, casting an illusion of himself and Harry a second behind them, so that the hands would pass through.

"Let's go to Rosa Lee's," Narcissa said, beckoning them to a small shop with a wide window.

Rosa Lee was in the better class of inns in Diagon Alley, and its owner happy to usher people away from the doors. They were ushered to a secluded corner around an arching window facing the street, and a waiter dispatched. The room was quieter; besides for the murmuring that rose up when they entered and the occasional clink of china, it was quite the opposite of the alley.

"Oh look, they're playing," Narcissa said, watching as Draco prodded Harry curiously. The other boy inched toward Loki until the warm weight of him was pressed into Loki's side.

"Draco, stop that," Lucius said, and the bigger boy complied. "Loki, what are we doing here?" he murmured, checking his timepiece.

"Christmas," Loki said, smiling innocently.

"Yes, but why are now?" Lucius asked, lowering his voice. "France is on the verge of fighting us for a magical item we may not even possess."

"And what would you have me do about that?" Loki said, giving Harry a bite of his french toast.

Lucius fell silent.

"He thinks we should do what you think," Narcissa said, stirring her soup. "And smile for the cameras."

"Charming wife," Loki said, smiling prettily at her.

"But then- surely you're not trying to start a war?" Lucius murmured, batting Draco's hand away from the cupcakes.

Loki smiled widely.

"You gathered the soldiers, Lucius. What is that saying about having a hammer?"

"What if we lose?" Lucius hissed.

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Don't."

"Are you sure that it will come to that?" Narcissa murmured. "What if France sees through it?"

Loki shrugged.

"The stone is the kind of trap you can see through and fall for all the same," he said. "It was practically made for it. I doubt there's a soul on earth that could persuade them this is not worth pursuing."

Loki caught the Malfoys' exchanged glance in his periphery, the bulk of his attention on the shape working through the crowd.

"Smile," he said, as the white flash started behind the window.

"Perhaps we should try a different approach," Albus said. "I don't believe Nicholas even knew of the Gwyddion Cipher."

It was his and Albus's third night on Flamel's notes, trying to decipher their code. Loki had seen his fair share of cryptanalysis in Asgard; had even done research in the area. This, though… he could see the magic shifting and pulsing over the pages, forming shapes that were almost letters and almost glyphs, but always teasingly out of reach.

The only thing he could read was the Asgardian passage, but that told him nothing; some old poem about a tree and a church. Until he knew where it had come from, though, he couldn't write it off as innocuous or even coincidental.

He frowned.

The more he thought about it, the more it bothered him.

Flamel had ties to Asgard.

He fiddled with Voldemort's wand, twisting it idly between his fingers. The philosopher's stone story had never quite rang true to him. If he had such a toy, he'd be ruling all of Midgard before lunch. That a person- a mortal, even, could discover the secret to infinite wealth and eternal life and simply… walk away stretched the bounds of believability to the breaking point.

Unless, of course, it was all a farce. An Asgardian, living- hiding amongst mortals. In that case-his eyes swept the room, taking in the starlight in the false windows, high wooden rafters, Dumbledore peering over the notes- in that case, nothing was certain. Had Flamel seen through his schemes? Perhaps he wasn't even dead, perhaps- Loki's heart sped up- perhaps he reported to Odin. It wouldn't be the wildest scheme the old king had ever devised.

If he is… Loki thought, glaring out into the false starlight, I will gladly burn this world and every last person on it to destroy him.

Black motes rose into the air at that mental pronouncement, and Loki realized he was still clenching Voldemort's wand. His chest felt numb, like he had exhausted all his anger in a burst.

He returned it to its place, and glanced back at Dumbledore, who had put the notes down and was watching him quizzically.

"Just trying something," Loki said. A thought occurred to him and he asked, "Did Flamel use his wand? To cast, I mean."

"Sometimes," Dumbledore said. "He was proficient with nonverbal magic, but I think he preferred wand-work."

Loki frowned. Perhaps not then. Perhaps it was all an act. He tried to focus.

"What did he know?" Loki asked, trying to trace the glyphs on the page in the air, but they were changing too fast for even him to confirm.

"Everything, it seemed," Albus said, smiling sadly. "He was a master of Transfiguration, but he would be considered a Master of any subject at Hogwarts and quite a few that are not."

"Ancient Runes?" He traced another symbol he saw, or at least; he thought he did.

"Certainly," Albus said. "Do you think there is a runic component?"

"Perhaps," Loki said indifferently. Ancient Runes- Midgardian Ancient Runes- fell under the list of Midgardian magic he couldn't do. He traced a third glyph

"Hm," Albus said. His gaze settled on the letters in the air. "I would love to learn how you do that," he said, his eyes twinkling.

Loki opened his mouth to prevaricate, then reconsidered.

"Why don't we trade?" he said. "A lesson for a lesson."

Albus paused, considering.

"I will disallow certain topics," he said.

"Agreed," Loki said. He was fairly certain he could get something fruitful out of Dumbledore even disregarding the Dark Arts he shunned.

"Then I'm happy to consent," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. He leaned back in his chair, looking curious, as Loki got up to speak.

He stretched, relieved to be out of his chair, and deliberated over how to proceed.

"Illusioncraft is... different from most forms of magic," he said at last.

"How so?" Albus asked.

"You're skilled in Transfiguration, like Flamel, are you not?," Loki said. "Transfiguration is about creativity- imagination in precise detail."

He raised a tiny Dumbledore figure, wearing the same pensive look as the one currently seated across from him. Transfiguration had never posed much of a challenge to Loki- it was mostly a mental task, with some annoying limitations. He continued.

"Illusion is similar- less present, but more powerful. For instance, you cannot transfigure the weather." He raised his hand and the wooden ceiling darkened with storm clouds, casting a shadow over the room. A moment later, the illusory rain began to fall, drops flecking their hands and faces, wet as the rainstorm he'd taken it from. Albus glanced at the floor, watching the ink appear to stain and run, but said nothing.

Loki dismissed the illusion and the notes returned, the room lightening again.

"You cannot transfigure sounds, or smells, or sensation. That is the domain of illusion alone."

Loki cast again, this time altering the echo of the sound of his steps as he walked. The effect was eerie, as if he walked across a large hall, rather than a wooden office.

Albus looked up, looking genuinely curious, then pleased as he unrolled the rest of the room- marble floors, tiered balconies full of books, the spiral skylight high above. Dust motes rose, flickering in the sunlight.

"Where is this?" Albus asked, stepping forward. Loki raised a hand, not wanting him to bump into the very real office wall.

"It's not real," Loki said, amused. "It only resembles."

The edge of his good cheer diminished slightly, and he cancelled the illusion, returning them to the office.

Albus blinked, adjusting to the relative dimness of the candles and the starlight peering through the windows.

"An example," Loki said. "Though you'd be better served starting small."

"Is there an incantation?" Albus asked, raising his wand.

Loki laughed.

"No incantation would serve," he said. He traced a 'p' in the air, trying to articulate the process. "You must picture the result and let the magic follow. Not enough for a full conjuration; just a touch." He finished the r, neatly ending the curve. "Just enough to trick yourself into believing it's there."

Albus moved the page of notes before him to the side, conjured a fresh parchment and put his wand to the paper, creating a large S. Loki summoned a droplet of water- a real one this time, and let it fall off his fingertip onto the page, blurring the ink.

"Transfiguration," he said.

Albus didn't try again immediately, instead pausing to think.

Loki glanced down at his hands.

"Understand," he said, "You are not trying to bend the world to your magic, but your magic to your mind. You need to see it. And once you believe you see it..."

"The vision unfolds," Albus finished, tilting his head.

He put his finger to the parchment again and this time there appeared the face of a young girl, like a still portrait, looking up at Albus with sad eyes.

Loki stopped, somewhat taken aback. He hadn't truly expected the old professor to pick it up so quickly.

Albus was not looking up, but gazing at the parchment, watching the face dissolve, only to be followed by another; less ethereal, more detailed. The progression of faces sank into the page before them- thatched blond hair, black eyes like tunnels, a skeletal old man, a solemn young boy.

Albus watched as the images changed, transfixed.

"Who…" Loki began, but stopped. The canvas had settled, at last, on an old face with piercing gray eyes. The last one was Flamel.

Albus gazed down, frowning, and then at once his face relaxed.

"Ah," he said softly. "Of course."

"What is it?" Loki asked.

"I understood," Albus said with a wry smile. He stood, raising his wand. "Flamel wasn't interested in clever tricks. He was a teacher, much like you and me."

Loki blinked, unused to being so addressed.

With the scrape of chair against floor, Albus stood up. With a practiced movement, he brought his wand to his temple, drawing out a silvery tendril of magic. He let it pool in his wrinkled hand, like a bead of mercury, until it had collected, then blew on it lightly.

Paper-thin silver moths sprang out of the pool, swarming across the room and settling gently on the surfaces.

The wards concealing the parchment were crumbling away, but Loki found himself strangely transfixed, watching the iridescent moths fade. It wasn't that they didn't have this on Asgard. It's just that they would never have bothered with something so frivolous. Something sad, perhaps.

"That was a memory," Loki said, looking back at Dumbledore for confirmation.

He inclined his head. "Gone, now, I'm afraid."

He could not refrain from asking. "Would not a cleverer solution have kept the memory preserved?"

Albus was smiling, as if he had just expressed something particularly deep. "Wouldn't it? It is not a always bad thing, to let a memory go."

"Foolish," Loki said. More knowledge always trumped less.

"Perhaps," Albus said. "In this case there was a particular message in it as well- 'Do not miss me too much.' It is something of a comfort to know he had time to get his affairs in order, before the end."

Loki turned back to the notes, chilled. What would he do if Flamel was an Asgardian? If he was Odin's spy? The thought that he may have been toyed with this whole time; that he could, right now, be in one of the Allfather's elaborate tests was turning his stomach. He reached for the papers with the script, but Dumbledore raised a hand.

"Better we start at the beginning, I think," he said, and there was a gleam in his eyes that forestalled argument.

The matter had waited three days. It could wait a few hours.

And so Loki sat, dully conscious, as Dumbledore read.

"And so I plucked from the ether a magic stone. I read my death in the crimson of the twilit sky, and I knew that no one is truly immortal..."

Despite the imminent danger their author perhaps represented, Loki actually lost track of time in the notes. Flamel was a fairly intelligent mortal, and quite a few of his notes had dealt with intriguing magical theory. There were even some new ideas about one of Loki's specialties, magical substructures, that he had never encountered. He could see Albus was curious too, especially about some of the earlier theories, to which Flamel had later abandoned interest.

The early morning sun was just peaking through the windowpanes when the warning system Loki had set up around his office prickled.

"It seems we have a visitor," Albus said.

"You're early," Loki said, when the door opened a moment later. From the sound of a walking stick and his tracking spells he could tell it was Lucius without turning around.

"You'll want to hear this," Lucius said, his footsteps stopping just inside. He paused and Loki raised a forearm, beckoning him on tiredly.

"It's France," Lucius said. He still hadn't moved. "They've announced their cooperation in recognition of the theft of the stone."

Loki went cold.

"Who told them?"

He whirled towards the door. Lucius stood still. His hand clutching the walking stick was white.

But the voice that did speak came from behind him.

"I did," Albus said calmly.

Loki turned, the fingers curled over the notes suddenly more like marble than something attached to his own body.

That accursed meddler.

The dark spots of magic on his chest jumped to his fingers and he gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to incinerate the old man where he stood.

"Why?" he bit out.

"They were ready to go to war over the issue," Albus said.

"We would have won-" Lucius started, but Loki cut him off.

"It would not have come to that," he said, enunciating coldly. "However, making them think we had the stone would have forced them into a weaker spot diplomatically. Moreover, it would prevent them from attempting to search for the stone themselves."

"I apologize," Albus said, but Loki read the unspoken finality in the words. It had to be done. Better to interfere and ask for forgiveness later. Even after Loki had shown him good faith- had made concessions, even- after the headmaster had consented to some measure of trust. And- his hands were numb, not quite trembling, against the hard table, it was never going to change.

Loki stood up abruptly, setting the notes down.

"Please excuse me," he said, his voice calm, if cold. "I have some plans to adjust."

Chapter Text

Diagon Alley was much quieter in the morning, the Christmas-covered storefronts mostly locked up. Loki fluidly changed his form, stalking out onto the icy cobbles. He pulled out an empty flask of polyjuice and put it on his belt, a sort of double bluff.

The place he sought stood at the corner of Knockturn and Diagon alleys, pushed between the Daily Prophet and a dingy bookstore. He knocked loudly, and hearing no reply, checked his watch.

It only was half past five. He turned the corner and stood against the grimy wall, resolving to wait. His morning schedule was clear.

The alleys stirred slowly, shaking off slumber in a way that made Loki miss the military promptness of Asgard, whose stores ran sunrise to sunset, without exception. He leaned against the wall watching the alley with his eyes half-open, half-closed, lazily watching the street.

After a while he became aware that he was not alone. A blond man was pacing in front of the tatty bookstore, unloading a cart of yellow paperbacks. He drew out a piece of parchment, wrote something in looping script, frowned, crossed something out and then wrote it again.

When he saw Loki watching he crumpled the parchment and immediately pocketed it, flashing a blinding smile.

"Welcome, welcome- don't be shy! You're an hour early, but you're in luck-" he leaned in conspiratorially. "Never let it be said that Gilderoy Lockhart disappointed a fan!"

"That's a lofty proposition," Loki said dryly, uncrossing his arms and strolling out from the wall.

Gilderoy Lockhart was still smiling enormously, like a child in a candy shop. "So what will it be?" He asked. "Autograph? Photograph? Or is it a signed copy you're after?"

"I'll have them all," Loki said, vaguely amused to see Lockhart dissolve momentarily into paroxysms of delight. He recovered quickly, flashing his cheesy smile.

"Of course, of course." He fumbled with the papers for a moment before working it out so the autograph sat atop the photo, which he leaned against the book, proceeding to sign with an impressive flourish indeed.

"I have to say, I was expecting something of a… different clientele," Lockhart said, winking. "But don't let that dissuade you. I value each and every fan-"

"This?" Loki asked, gesturing in a vague way toward the body he was currently wearing. "It's a loaner, I'm afraid."

Lockhart's eyes widened.

"You don't mean to say you're…"

"I'm…" Loki prompted.

"The fairer sex?"

Loki leaned in, tuning his voice to a feminine lilt. "That's for me to know, isn't it?"

Lockhart remained rooted to the spot, blinking.

"Are you here for me?" he asked, a note of dismay in his voice.

"No," Loki said. "I have no idea who you are, actually."

Lockhart's face fell even further.

"You don't?"

"Afraid not," Loki said, plucking the book from Lockhart's unprotesting grasp. "Just needed a doorstop. You wouldn't happen to know what time they open?"

"Seven," Lockhart said, a bit dazed.

"Excellent," Loki said. He stunned Lockhart and walked over to the storefront, whistling a Christmas tune.

When he returned to his temporary office, Amelia Bones was waiting for him, together with an impatient-looking Lucius Malfoy.

"I hope it's good news," Loki said lightly. He glanced at Lucius, but the man's face was expressionless, which meant he didn't know.

"A little of each," Bones said perfunctorily, stepping inside. "One of my aurors thinks he knows where the stone is."

"And where is that?" Loki said, since Bones had paused expectantly.

"The USSR," she responded.

"And what would it be doing over there?" Lucius drawled.

"Take a look," Bones said, handing them a file.

It took Loki a moment to recognize- it was an auror report.

"We've had people on Flamel since the start of the war," Bones said. "Watching the house. You should have told me it was stolen weeks ago."

Perhaps he would have, if he'd cared a whit for its real location. He didn't bother apologizing, focusing instead on the document before him. It appeared that in June an auror named "Moody" had seen a man and a woman enter the premises who Flamel had, despite his warnings, conversed with. They had left via portkey, and Moody, whose description of the pair was impressively detailed, counted among their possessions five pages of instructions in jumbled Russian characters as well as clothes tags, labels, and a receipt in the same language.

"You're basing this off the word of Mad-Eye Moody?" Lucius sneered. "And I suppose Flamel just sat there and let them take it, rather than calling for help?"

"They could have quieted him," Bones said. "Or he could have been too proud to say anything; Merlin knows he was a strange man."

"And he didn't put up a fight," Lucius said. "Or do anything to alert Mad-Eye to come in? For that matter, why did he not?"

"Flamel forbade him," Bones said. "It's not the most compelling story, but the fact remains, the stone is stolen and they're by far our most likely suspects, unless you're pointing fingers at Dumbledore, or Flamel's favorite nephew Alexander-"

Loki raised an inquiring finger and she cut him off. "-who died months ago of a heart attack." She continued. "I talked to someone in the Department of Mysteries to ask how long Flamel could have not had the stone and still lived, and they thought it would have been at most six months."

"What do you think of this?" Lucius asked, turning toward him, and Loki, who in his mind's eye could still see the list of fighting wizards, for which Russia took the very top spot, said, "I think it's an excellent idea."

"In fact," he added, "we should mount an investigation. Take four, no perhaps five, including yourself, of the most elite wizards, and see what there is to see."

"Tread quietly," Bones cautioned. "Our intelligence in that place is almost nonexistent, ever since they withdrew from the ICW."

"Then it is long overdue," Loki said. "Who knows but we may need that information one day?"

"And is Dumbledore so above suspicion?" Lucius asked. "As I recall, he and Flamel were quite close, and he was the one who 'ended' the war with France."

"Yes well, that is the other thing I wanted to say," Bones said. "I wouldn't start counting them out. Even with the stone out of the picture, the war-hawks are calling for lost territories, magical items appropriated over the years- they have it so Salazar Slytherin was French, believe it or not, and they want his locket back-"

"Seriously?" Loki said.

"And some of them are refusing to listen about the stone at all," Bones added, and Loki's mouth curved into a smile.

He left the meeting in a very good mood that day.

After he had completed his business, Loki walked up to his old office on the first sublevel, passing by his guards unseen. He stood across from the door, examining the wards there. His tracking charm on Dumbledore was faint- something the old man did tended to burn them away faster than usual. Still, it was enough to see that he had traveled clear of the Ministry, probably all the way back to the castle.

He walked up to the wards and laced his fingers, stretching lazily. The protections blazed golden- two layers of wards; Dumbledore's and his. His was a weave, threads upon thread elegantly laid. Beneath it, Dumbledore's ward shone like a diamond cut into facets, pressing neatly against the weave, leaving no gaps. It wasn't powerful; not like Loki's protections or the wards of Hogwarts— Loki could destroy it with ease. But that would alert the caster.

The usual methods of ward-disassembling- attempting to break through chinks and crevices- wouldn't work on something like this- not without shattering the structure completely.

At least, in theory.

Loki reached out, drawing on his magic, and pulled, dragging the threads closer together. The magic in the ward beneath it, designed to be so bounded, condensed until it was the size of a beach ball.

"And that's why you always leave a back door," he murmured, twisting the handle with a satisfying click.

He stepped lightly over the piles, bending to the floor. He read quickly, pacing back and forth in the small clearing, eyes widening as he took in the words. He read it again, more slowly. He snapped and a green fire came to his fingers, its flickering tongues coming perilously close to the parchment.

Then, abruptly, he put the notes back down.

He smiled.

Dumbledore did not appear the next day, or the following, but by Monday he was back. Loki dissolved his ward, restored to full size, and let him in with a grand gesture.

Dumbledore stepped inside, scrutinizing him.

"I wanted to offer my apologies for the events of the other day," he said thoughtfully. "I trust that there were no hard feelings?"

"No hard feelings," Loki said, briskly arranging the notes and glancing out the windows. The sun had set.

Dumbledore's gaze stayed, focused on Loki's face.

"Know, Loki, that if something is bothering you, or if you need help or advice, my door is open."

"Noted," Loki said, with a touch of asperity.

Dumbledore took his seat at the table. Loki had moved the chairs around, so they were at an angle from each other; neither opposing nor side by side.

"How's Harry?" he asked.

"He does well," Loki said, taking his seat back-to-front, so he looked over the chairback at Dumbledore. "He's learning to speak."

"A worthy endeavor," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling.

"Yes," Loki said. "He's quiet, but quite precocious when he does speak up, or so I've been told."

"Yes," Dumbledore said, his eyes alighting on some recollection. "Yes, he would resemble his parents in that respect."

Loki fought down a bitter taste in his mouth. "Perhaps."

"Ah, but we are getting off track," Dumbledore said. "If there is to be any hope of locating the stone. Have you had any progress on the Ministry front?"

"None at all," Loki lied. "Perhaps if we focused instead on the more recent pages, we would discover what Nicholas knew of the theft."

"Ah yes," Dumbledore said with a rueful smile. "How easy it is to get caught up in the details of the philosopher's magnum opus; to lose the forest in the leaves."

Loki spread his arms wide.

"Your choice."

Dumbledore selected the previous year's January, and they fell back into their old rhythm, perhaps with fewer diversions. Loki, anxious to push ahead, let scholarly analysis fall to the wayside.

The new notes began in December. Dumbledore picked up the leaf, frowning.

"They're not Flamel's," Loki said. Or at least, not Nicholas Flamel's. They were in a different hand, thicker and more scrabbled, missing loops in the p's.

"Not originally, or indeed, anymore," said Dumbledore. "But I think we can assume they passed into his possession."

He indicated a thin scrawl in the margin, annotating the date.

"Shall we?"

Loki picked up the first page and began to read aloud.

Fourth day using the Listening Machine. It really is an amazing device— perhaps one day we will not need seers at all; just have researchers scanning the dimensions for echoes. Today I've adjusted the frequency, throwing my net further out. There's something interesting, at the range of 7dd to 9dd— almost the outer range. Through the translator potion, I can make out strange words— words like BifrostOdin, Thor.

In another hand— Nicholas Flamel's hand— was the word "gods." Loki stilled his hands, trembling with excitement, fear. One way or another, this was it. End of the charade.

It is not unusual to encounter a different language, especially this far out, but this is something new— something amazing. I checked the library— these very words appear in no fewer than three books of legends— Norse myths, mostly. There is some evidence ancient seers used certain drugs to enhance their range— perhaps that is the origin of those stories. Or perhaps it is something stranger; perhaps they were here and are now gone. The worlds with the myths show no sign of wizards. This is somewhat worrying. This language has many words for war, armor, and battles. A sophisticated race, but a violent one.

More notes from Flamel— stories, references.

One of the books I found has, I believe, a scrap of their language, at least according to the translator spells. I have copied it below and believe it to be directions relating to a Berserker staff, which is fabled to empower the warrior— and fill him with rage. What use would they have for such a weapon?

Loki scanned the floor, looking for the next few pages, picking them up. The notes continued in the same format, all on the topic of his 'Listening Machine.' Flamel seemed to have picked up all sorts of useful information, some relating to the war against Voldemort. Then, the tone of the writing changed, the hand shaky:

Something is different. The range of the machine has dropped— some of the further settings are no longer relaying. I mentioned the echo effect— the Machine relies on the Listening of the machines in the dimensions beside it, and so on, until the dimension where I do not exist to calibrate it.

Then, further down.

The range has dropped again. Getting closer. Disquieting.

He kept reading, conscious of Dumbledore's watchful gaze across the table.

I am resolved. I can't sit here and wait for the fate that befell the other Alexanders. Uncle has lent me his stone— perhaps it is foolish, but if anything can halt the advance of reality, it is that. I am working on a plan.

There were diagrams after that, schematics, dealing with the 'current,' trying to calculate an exact jump. Loki passed them over to Dumbledore to read, impressed. This was, perhaps, the most complicated spell he'd ever witnessed, outside the ancient tomes on Asgard. Even Nicholas Flamel was bemused- above one diagram there stood just a thin question mark.

Dumbledore exhaled softly.

At the very bottom of the page, in thin writing, was written. Alexander, what did you do?

Loki turned away, his hands shaking. "I feared something like this would happen."

Dumbledore looked up, the wonder still retreating from his twinkling blue eyes.

"Asgard," Loki said, his hardening his voice. He gripped the notes tightly in his left hand, grasping the table in the right. "It all comes back to them."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Dumbledore said.

Loki sighed.

"You'd have no cause believe it, anyways," he said. "It's hardly credible."

Dumbledore's gaze, fixed on his face, didn't waver, though he made no promises. Loki continued, supposing this to be the best he would get from the man.

"You know of other races. Dragons," he said, strolling through the clearing of notes. "Mermen." He toyed with the impression of the room, a subtle blurring that brought the focus to him. "Goblins." The debris faded into distraction until there seemed just two figures, one pacing anxiously, the other sitting still, eyes measuring, resting long fingers against his silver beard.

Loki turned back sharply, fingers with the pages trembling. "What if I told you that that's not the extent of it?"

He handed Dumbledore the notes, and the old man accepted them, as Loki spoke.

"What if I were to tell you," he said, speaking softly, "That there are others out there; beings of immense power and violence. Mighty. Long-lived." The room dimmed further, shadows lengthening around them. "They'd have a kind of magic, like wizards, and yet unlike. For… they are not creatures of peace." He looked down, the rough wood of the table flickering in the poor light. "Quite the opposite, in fact." In his mind he saw glinting metal and stilled laughter, Thor's face and dark ice, that night in the golden hall. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. "Monsters."

Dumbledore frowned, looking thoughtful.

"I would tell you of Asgard," Loki said, looking out towards the window. "How they destroyed the dark elves; massacred the Valkyrie; coveted the nine realms and all the lands beyond; oppressed the- the Jotun race." He shivered. Almost slipped up there. "Legends speak of their pride, their violence, their lust for power." He let hints of memories flash against the darkness of the study; soldiers, marching to war; a shining warrior slaying the linnorm, droplets of blood raining down upon him; the bodies on the ground after the battles on Svartalfheim, on earth. "All that they see, they desire, and everything they can reach, they conquer."

He sat down hard, running his fingers through his hair.

"I did not think that they could reach us here."

"How do you know about this?" Dumbledore asked slowly, letting the notes slide from his grasp. He was sitting at the table, hand still extended. By the pale light of the false window in the nighttime, his face looked grave and more lined than ever.

Loki looked up at him, then back down, a blur of notes above the fine-grained wood. For a wild moment, he imagined letting the tower of lies continue to cascade around him down to the last card, to lay himself bare to Dumbledore, mercy on the evil and savior of the lost. But of course, not to him. Such things did not extend to him.

"How do I know?" he said instead, dully. "Have you not put it together, Albus Dumbledore?" He gathered his magic back, hanging his head and letting his voice crack with a projected shame. "I am one."

He heard Dumbledore exhale, a tiny sigh of understanding, and for a fleeting moment the trickster in Loki marvelled at the scope of his deceit and saw complete satisfaction.

Of course, he thought, watching Dumbledore's face sidelong through dark strands of hair, I'm an entirely different kind of monster, in the end.

Dumbledore was quiet, staring out the window as if trying to piece a puzzle together in his mind, as if a whole galaxy was unfurled before him, as if he could make sense of it if only he had the skill.

Loki twisted a strand of magic in his fingers, his mouth curving into a smile.

You will be my help to conquer every piece of this gods-forsaken realm, he thought to himself. And then, I will destroy you.

Frank Longbottom checked his watch. Half-past one. He and the team- Lucius Malfoy, Emmeline Vance, Octavio Zabini and Abigail Greengrass- were gathered in a conference room inside the training hall, getting ready to go.

They were good men and women- well, except perhaps Malfoy, but Frank respected him and the spywork he had done to help in the war. Loki's aide was a good fighter, though he usually took a more bureaucratic role these days. He watched the man, who was sitting in a way that put Frank in the mind of a coiled viper, drumming his fingers on his silver walking stick. It still felt strange, sometimes, that they were all on the same side.

Vance was sitting behind the table, reading over their instructions for what he knew was not the first or second time. Her, he knew well- they'd fought together in the Order, and she had a keen mind for ciphers and hidden clues. He had chosen her for that, and because with Alice laid up, he could think of no one he'd want better to have at his back.

Zabini was laughing gently, playing with a small brown animal with a long snout and somewhat canine-looking ears. He had affixed a galleon to a string and was letting his pet bat at it. Zabini was not much of a fighter, but this specialty alone had been enough to recommend him for this mission. Knifflers- the niffler-canine hybrid most-skilled in tracking wizards, were incredibly rare, and to know a good handler was even rarer. The kniffler caught the coin and Zabini patted it on the head, speaking praises in Italian.

Frank smiled, resting an elbow on the table. Alice would be jealous about seeing the kniffler. She loved animals, of all sorts.

"What do you think?" A rough voice said from the corner, breaking into his thoughts. "We good enough for you, Commander?"

He glanced back to the edge of the table, where Greengrass was packing and repacking her purse. She was an older woman with close-cropped gray hair. Like Zabini, she wasn't much of a fighter, though she'd improved a lot since she'd joined up four months previously. In the age box on her recruitment form, she'd simply written older than I look. Longbottom didn't doubt that; she was a metamorphmagus.

He turned back to her, considering the question.

"You're the best we have," he said firmly, invoking all his conviction. "All of you. And I couldn't think of anyone better for the task." He glanced at Malfoy. On second thought, perhaps he should have deferred to the man, who was technically his superior, but the Lord Undersecretary gave a lazy wave, apparently uninsulted.

"Did everyone remember their potions?" he asked, as the door opened. He was, as far as he could tell, the only one in their party who actually spoke Russian, but that shouldn't matter so long as everyone took their linguistic potions every 24 hours.

A murmur of assent ran across the room, along with a "yes, sir!" from Greengrass.

"Excellent," came a murmur from the door, and Frank jumped up, saluting as the minister entered. The other four followed suit, except for Malfoy, who merely bowed.

Loki's eyes swept over the room assessing, and Frank felt a momentary panic; had he neglected anything?

But after a moment, the minister nodded affirmation and they sat, Zabini scooping the kniffler back into its dog-carrier.

"You're undertaking a dangerous journey," the minister said gravely. "I will not deny that our information in that area is scant, and what intelligence we do have is untrustworthy and strange. Believe me when I say that I would not risk sending you did I not believe the importance of the mission more than commensurate." His gaze fell upon each of them in turn and Frank met his eyes bravely, remembering his words the day of his victory- Forge a legacy of life- Minister Loki had said, and Frank would gladly plunge into danger to be part of building that future.

"You will be going into the depths of Russia, and even I know not what you may encounter in pursuit of the stone," the minister continued. "Know that even if you do not find the object of your quest, it is your knowledge, your intelligence, and your attention to detail that will make this mission succeed or fail. Watch everything, forget nothing."

He clasped Frank's hand, then the rest of them in turn. When he got to Malfoy, he said simply, "Good luck."

Frank swallowed. It was time to go.

Suddenly he had the urge to run back, say goodbye once more to Alice and the children. But he knew if he did, he wouldn't be able to leave. So instead he pulled a creased and faded photograph out of his pocket at the picture of his son, floppy hair falling in all directions, cheeks slightly red from the allergies, eyes crinkled as he smiled with his whole face.

He folded the photograph up, and stepped over to Loki.

"I think," he said, his voice unwavering, even as his sense of foreboding increased, "you had better take this for now, Minister. And tell my family, if I don't come back…"

For a moment, his hand remained there, outstretched, as Loki stood, stock-still, before him. Then, he nodded, taking the photo in his fingertips as if afraid it would burn in his grasp.

"Thank you, Minister," Frank said, and it was this last gesture that gave him the courage to turn, once more to his team.

"If that's all," he said, his throat strangely dry, "Let's head out."


Chapter Text


I have at last managed to secure a copy of Asgardian lore, the works of the late Helena Ravenclaw, though the stories she writes are at least a century older. The tales she tells are grim indeed. The carnage wrought as mankind worshipped first one faction, then another creates a troubling precedent. But humans have evolved with time- surely Asgard need not be as violent a neighbor as in the past? And if their nature has not, indeed, changed, are you certain they will see value in attacking this world?

Loki paused, dipping his quill to pen a response. Both he and the headmaster had been busy as of late, with the notes returned there'd been little reason to meet. However, he'd apparently succeeded in scaring the old man, which was a good sign.

He put it beside a small pile on his desk with the results of his Diagon Alley trip, information on the headmaster from a source of questionable integrity. There was little right now, a name here, a place there, but all information could be useful, in time. He skimmed the letter quickly, filing it away, then glanced out the window- it was almost nine.

With a frown, he checked the tracking charms. He hadn't heard from his intelligence force since they'd departed two weeks ago. The gray channel between himself and Malfoy arced northeast, stretched as thin as he'd ever seen it. Listening in only yielded a kind of static silence. He widened the channel between them, listening carefully, but he heard nothing. He leaned back, laying out his fingers.

The trip back was complicated, intentionally so. But dawn had come upon the region six hours ago already.

Loki put his quill down, going to the window, letting the owl, called to him with magic, swoop down and take the letter to his informant.

Perhaps they were being thorough, or there was more to see. He didn't want to jeopardize his agents' freedom if, indeed, there was nothing to worry about.

His fingers brushed the pocket of his jacket, the fabric above a creased photograph, but he found the vertex of two golden apparation lines and turned, letting his wooden study melt away. He had other countries to provoke first.

"Pierre Ruiz," Loki said softly, leaning with one arm against the marble mantlepiece in a many-mirrored room. Between reflections of the glimmering decor, Loki could get a fragmented picture of the French courtier- white hair, blue robes raised to the elbows, exposing arms with a feathered brown pattern and curved nails like talons. Loki's own reflection was absent.

The man whirled.

"Who are you?" the man asked. His eyes were a bright yellow, the color of a bird. The courtier was said to be a master of human transfiguration, and to have a rather barbed tongue himself.

"A friend," Loki said. "To you and your nation."

"Ah," Ruiz said, his tufted eyebrows coming together in a frown. "So you come to bribe me. I have turned down many such offers in the past."

"Many, but not all," Loki said, lifting an eyebrow.

The man's eyes narrowed, and he crossed his taloned arms, drawing attention to the strange pattern there.

"I am, and have always been, nothing more than a true patriot."

"You don't believe that," Loki said. "Though perhaps you did, at one time. Or perhaps you are merely a good liar."

The man crossed his arms, refusing to dignify that with a response, and Loki's eyes were drawn again to the pattern of feathers beneath the surface of his flesh, like a tattoo in three dimensions.

"Funny thing, transfiguration," Loki said, looking at the man's feathered arm. "The flesh itself acts as a barrier, preventing direct interference on that which is connected to it. Man, bird, no matter." He nodded to the talons at the man's fingertips. "To allow direct transfiguration on the flesh, a creature must give consent- not verbal, but magical. It requires significant experience." Something he had not been aware of himself until after Dumbledore had healed him those many months ago, testing his magical control.

The man looked back impassively, his face revealing nothing. It was only in his eyes that Loki saw that flash of fear, and he smiled sharply, reveling in the final blow.

"It was an accident," he concluded. "Polyjuice gone wrong?"

Pierre's face paled, and his eyes shifted, jumping around the mirrored room.

"What does it matter?"

"Consider it… a gift," Loki said, tapping his chin. "From me to you."

"A gift… how?" the silver-haired man asked, narrowing his yellow eyes.

"In that," Loki said, opening his hands so a silver parcel appeared to float in the air between them. "I have returned to you a secret."

The man raised his eyebrows.

"Yes," Loki said, "It is yours to keep. I can even make sure it never passes certain ears, so it is never whispered that Pierre Ruiz is a failure, so that the people look upon you with fear and awe rather than scorn."

Ruiz reached up to touch the parcel, and Loki clapped his hands. The gift disappeared, replaced by ten more.

"Unfortunately," Loki said, "You have no dearth of secrets."

The man looked at the little gifts, face wary.

"Now," Loki said, the closest present spinning in the air. "What can you offer me in return?"

Harry and Lupin were standing outside his office when he returned. Loki checked the time, cursing. It was half past twelve. He was forty minutes late.

"I got him something from the cafe," Lupin said, as he undid the wards to get in. With Flamel's things gone from the room, it was sparse, arching wood ceiling over windows that looked, inexplicably, out into the British countryside. "He couldn't wait..."

Loki nodded, sweeping his piles of letters into his filing cabinet with the flick of his fingers, using a little mental trick to keep them organized in the drawers.

"It was something with France," he said, feeling compelled, for some reason to give the excuse, and Lupin nodded.

"Are they still rearing for an attack?" he asked, looking out the window, into the cloudy sky. "I thought they had backed down."

"We'll see," Loki said.

Harry had toddled over to the window, peering over the low sill.

"Whas dat?" he asked, pointing a chubby finger up at the sky.

Loki followed him.

"That's the sun, child," he said. "It's what warms this little planet."

"Why?" he asked.

Loki considered that for a moment, his mind finding and discarding considerations of matter, light, energy, and philosophy.

"Because it can," he said.

"Why?" Harry asked again, and Remus laughed good-naturedly.

"You won't get him to stop that easily," he said. "He just loves asking questions these days. The books say it's normal, but after the first two-thousand you have to wonder."

"Nothing wrong with a little curiousity," Loki said, lifting Harry onto his shoulders so he could get a better look. Harry smiled and waved.

"He's been talking about this all week," Lupin was saying, and Loki flashed him a brief smile, checking his tracking charms again. Lucius's hadn't moved an inch. What was going on? He glanced down, looking at the network of apparation lines that crossed the room in neat, even-spaced yards. Perhaps he should… no, that was rash. The scouting party would return, or it would not. There was no one truly irreplaceable in the group, though Lucius would be an inconvenience, and Longbottom was useful to have around. If something had happened…

Lupin cleared his throat and Loki blinked.


"I was just saying, if you are able to come, it would mean a lot to Harry."

Come? Loki mentally replayed the past few minutes of conversation. Something about a dinner they were hosting.

"Ah yes, the holiday," he said. "I'll see what I can do."

Remus sighed.

"Okay," he said.

Loki ruffled Harry's hair and Harry smiled up at him, trying to pull down his hand.

A knock sounded, and Amelia Bones walked in.

"Sorry to disturb," she said, looking pointedly at Remus.

"Not at all," Lupin said, picking Harry up. "We'll see you Friday, Minister."

The door closed behind them, and Bones took their place before his desk.

"Dumbledore has returned to the French," she said.

"In what capacity?" Loki asked, taking his seat.

"Same as last time, to beg for peace," Bones said. "Not sure that would be a bad thing myself, but you asked me to let you know."

Loki nodded. All part of the plan.

"And?" he asked.

"The scouting party has not returned," Bones said. "As you are no doubt aware. They are eleven hours late."

"I'm aware," Loki said.

"What are you going to do?" she asked bluntly.

"What do you recommend?" Loki asked.

Bones frowned, adjusting her monocle.

"I didn't like this mission," she said. "Sending Longbottom and Malfoy, it seemed unnecessarily hasty."

"But now?" Loki asked.

Bones sighed.

"Cut them loose," she said.

"You want to leave them." Loki said. That did surprise him. Bones was no Dumbledore, but she did seem to lean heavily on his side of the moral scale.

"Of course I don't," Bones snapped, throwing off orange sparks. "Emmeline Vance was one of mine." She sighed, the magic subsiding into her skin. "But they were our best. We can't afford to throw troops at the situation- not without provoking an international response. And anyone else we send is liable to meet the same end as them, if they are gone, and not just late."

"And the information they carry?" Loki asked.

"Malfoy and Longbottom have the spells," Bones said. "They won't crack. As for the rest, they probably already have, for what it's worth. They've been out for two weeks already- you might not like to see what condition they arrive when they return."

She rubbed her temples.

"I don't like it," she said. "But you have to know when to admit defeat."

Loki frowned.

The problem was, she was right. He shouldn't have sent out his best players- to do so had been gross overconfidence. He had treated them as pawns, and they had been lost in the field- hadn't he even said something to the effect those weeks ago? But he hadn't truly thought that Russia would pose a threat- not to operatives trained in the heat of battle. And now…

His mind traveled, inexplicably, to the look on Longbottom's face, when he'd left- through some trick of familial resemblance it was the same look as the boy in the picture had for the camera-holder. Loki's fingers brushed his pocket unconsciously. As with all his clothing, the inside was much larger- his fingers closed around Voldemort's wand. Beside it, a vial of polyjuice, light healing potions, a spare knife…

"You shouldn't do this," Bones said. "It's too much of a risk."

"I'll be fine," Loki said.

"And the country?" Bones said, adjusting her monocle. "If France decides it's a good time to attack?"

Loki stepped away, leaving an illusory double behind.

"I'll keep an eye on things," Loki said.

"Can your little trick govern, or is that left to me?" Bones asked.

"Just don't give it any papers," Loki said with a grin.

Bones sighed.

"I suppose you'll want another portkey from Requisition?"

For mortals, intercontinental apparation was a hazardous preposition. Portkey travel was used to bridge the gap between countries- from what Loki gathered, it connected a system of ancient runes throughout the world inscribed on the so-called dolmen doors. Only a person whose name was inscribed on the doors could create a portkey to that region, and portkeys into Russian territory were famously difficult to come by. The Ministry did have a cache of German portkeys, however; some leftovers from an old war that they'd used to give Malfoy's team a jump, and to disguise their trail. From there, Malfoy's tracker had swiftly traveled north and east interminably, until it had arrived at its present location, far away from the initial target.

"I don't need a portkey," Loki said. His name was inscribed on the doors, but his ability to work with runes, like certain other magics, was sorely limited. Luckily, he could apparate much farther than a mortal.

Bones shrugged, giving him a whistle on a chain.

"Take this one," she said. "In case you need to get people back."

Loki took it, giving a mocking bow. Then he took a step, finding the intersection of two golden apparation lines, and disappeared.

Loki vanished himself and performed the apparation in one jump, evaporating into golden light until he felt himself being abruptly thrown back where he landed, hard, on the ground with his breath knocked out of him.


For a moment, he saw nothing- just shades of dark gray in all directions. A wind was whistling fiercely, tearing up and down the cold landscape. The ley-network he had apparated from was gone- he cast his eyes about, alighting, at last, on a single golden line, almost invisible beneath the rocks. He breathed a sigh of relief.

For a moment, he'd feared he had been transported much farther.

His own form was invisible but otherwise in good repair- a Midgardian wizard might have splinched, but he was made of tougher material than that. The ground beneath him was rocky; lacking trees or bushes. Instead he saw only patches of brown grass struggling beneath the dark gray sky. It took him a moment to realize that the sky ended fifty feet above him, and below it the land sharply rose up, then fell away into shattered and broken bits that rested before his feet.

He checked his tracking charms. Lucius was ten miles away still. This was the closest apparation point on this sparse part of the world. He looked around, swallowing, and lit a fire.

It had been awhile since Loki had been alone, well and truly alone, and now he felt like he had stumbled across some rare uncharted part of Midgard, some place they did not tread, or perhaps dared not. It was not a surprise; most of the galaxy was empty, after all, but it was quiet here, just the broken stone and whistling wind and slate gray skies away from Heimdell's roving gaze.

Not that it could catch him anyways, but the loneliness was grating; it gnawed at him like the rough edges of the rock, and the silence felt dense and damning and he longed for the mental chatter of a spinning plot, for the child's questions, Lupin's quiet presence, even Dumbledore to match wits against. Somewhere in his mind the other half of him was working quietly but that felt lightyears away instead of mere miles, somewhere that couldn't be reached in this desolate place.

He had never been the hero.

Loki turned a corner and the ravine widened, the cliff falling away into a rocky plain.

He was not a selfless person; did not see himself as the type to foolishly rescue those whom fate had abandoned. What did he care for the lives of five mortals, compared to his own? He would lose a good servant in Longbottom, perhaps; a clever and useful one in Malfoy. And the information they had gathered, though that possibility was looking less and less likely.

So why had he rushed off, charging in like Thor- more foolishly than Thor, with no friends to back him- it made no sense, was antithetical even, or self-deluding… He stumbled on a loose stone and for a moment a picture flashed in his mind, the face of Longbottom the day he'd shown him the photograph. He caught himself, moving forward. Vanity. Dangerous vanity. It was alright to play a role, so long as one did not become too attached to the part.

Perhaps, a small, dangerous part of his mind suggested, It doesn't have to be.

The sound of tumbling gravel made him tense, cutting off the mental debate as he glanced up.

Clambering down the hill, at great speed and with few concessions to balance, was a large muggle man. Focusing on the figure, Loki could make out more details- a black vest, utility belt, a mask, goggles and a gun half his own height. He moved his arm to adjust his goggles and what Loki realized that what he had mistaken for a metallic sleeve was actually his arm.

His gaze locked on Loki and he tensed.

He can't see me, Loki reasoned. He can't hear me. It's only a coincidence he has looked this way.

The man pulled his gun off his back.

He was still looking in Loki's direction, gaze invisible through his red goggles.

Loki's heart beat faster. Pure coincidence, he thought, pulling into a crouch. Nothing here to see.

The man fired and Loki leapt out of the way, cursing. A couple of the bullets bounced off his armour, and one cut through and bounced off his skin. Feeling slightly more confident, Loki stood up.

The man was walking forward, looking completely unfazed.

"Who are you?" Loki asked in Russian. "What do you want?"

The man continued to advance.

Loki raised his hands in the universal sign of the unarmed.

"No need to fight," he said, his breaths frosting in the air. "Why don't you tell me what it is you want and we can talk about it?"

If the man so much as blinked, Loki could not tell. His face was blank as he raised his gun and fired again. This time, Loki threw up a shield, letting the bullets bounce off.

He rejoined with a blast of fire, hot enough to scorch steel.

The man held up his arm; whatever it was, it was strong, and didn't melt, though his sleeve caught fire. He closed his fist around it, putting it out, then shook out his brown hair, crouched down, and leaped in a smooth, swift motion, landing atop Loki before he anticipated this and the metal arm was squeezing his throat- squeezing painfully, and though his need for oxygen was less than it could have been he was beginning to see black dots as he writhed and fought, ineffectually against the stranger's incredibly strong grip and this wasn't like fighting a man- this was like fighting an Asgardian- he couldn't change with something touching him, he tried to vanish the hand and it was immune to that too so he illused the floor dropping off and the man glanced down, but continued to squeeze, unphased, and he began to cough, horrible choking, and wouldn't it be just princely irony if he was killed by this mortal- who wasn't- wasn't even a wizard-

At that thought Loki cursed-

He clamped his hand around the other man's arm and sent out a pulse of magic, destroying the electronic device powering it, which was in retrospect a bad idea as the man jerked around and the hand was frozen and somehow he slid himself free, massaging his neck and coughing horribly. He scrambled backwards quickly- the man was still coming and he had the presence of mind to throw up an illusion- a useless illusion, no- he conjured a knife and threw it, watching as… A microsecond's pause, as if he were trying to deflect with his left arm, then the soldier threw up his other arm, blocking the knife to his neck with his flesh and leaving a bloody wound without pausing his advance.

Loki continued to scramble backwards, the vestiges of an idea surfacing in his mind. He clambered up, illusing not him but the area around him. There was a small overhang, a place where the cliff jutted out… He ran forward at an angle, letting the scenery flicker back and forth, bifrost-cliff face-bifrost-cliff face always angling it ever so slightly, running ever so slightly at an angle, and then he switched tracks abruptly, dashing for the overhang with all the speed in his immortal legs. The soldier followed, turning once more, running almost as fast, on legs that could not be mortal, surely. He ran, and lost his balance, teetering on one leg as the land gave way. Then he plunged, badly. Loki dispelled the illusion, watching dispassionately as the soldier disappeared into the mist. He wasn't even sure if that had been enough to kill the man, inhuman as he was.

What exactly was he dealing with here?

Chapter Text

Loki checked his tracker. It led straight up the crest of the hill where the man had emerged. He walked carefully, keeping to the shadows, using skills he'd had little need of since Asgard. The air was buzzing, a strange, metallic sound. It sounded somehow wrong to his magic senses.

He crested the hill, raising a hand to his eyes to block out the sudden light. He was standing before some kind of encampment. Pylons rose out of the stark ground fifty meters high. They formed a circle crackling with electricity, though there was no fence between them. Within the ring were four concrete towers shining harsh electric light in all directions. In the shadow of the nearest one, Loki could make out a guard wielding a large gun. Between that, a set of squat buildings that were surrounded by-- Loki blinked. Were those wards?

He kept looking; now that he knew the auroral pattern he could make out the shimmering dome, almost invisible in the pool of light from the towers. He frowned, looking between the light and the ward.

Something in him, perhaps the time he had spent among candle-flames and torches in Hogwarts, found the juxtaposition strangely dissonant. He drew his hands around himself, strengthening his warming charms against the cold, dry, wind. There was a notion, somewhere, that Midgardian technology did not work well around magic. That was why the wizards did not wear muggle watches, or use the contraptions the surrounding world had spawned.

Two soldiers on the ground crossed paths, saluting and barking out a signal. There were guns slung across their backs, strange gray vests that Loki could not see through to any traces of magic.

Loki could have flown above the pylons, if he willed, but he decided to withhold the magic, for now. Instead, he recast invisibility and crossed the grassy plain over to the space between the poles, where the hum of electricity was almost unbearably loud. Midgardian magic would certainly interfere with such devices, Loki thought. Perhaps that was what had alerted the troops, perhaps it was a ward of its own. It was surprisingly clever.

Nevertheless, he crossed it easily; he was no child, unable to control the flickers and vibrations of his magic. He passed the guards and the soldiers without a sound, and the ward admitted him without a sound. It was made to prevent exit, not entry, though its constant oscillations made it weak. The walls of the nearest building were solid concrete, no magical properties that he could divine. He cast a spell and walked through, hovering up to floor-level.

Inside the building there were more soldiers, walking up through the main corridor on patrol. Every so often they would rap on the door and the occupant would answer.

Loki followed one of them, looking through the glass windows; they were laboratories, small, white-tiled and stainless. He saw what looked like a potion brewing on the bunsen burner, magic rising off of it in coils of steam. Another held a half-dissected wand, augury feather poking out.

Then there was a room with more mechanical apparati; a lathe, a glowing forge, and several others Loki did not recognize at all. He walked through the wall to the fourth such laboratory and the light flickered suddenly on. There was a half-finished gray vest like the other soldiers wore, which he took, and a metal arm lying on the workstation, which he did not. He could see scorch marks on the walls that looked like the result of a weak incendio, though the target was impossible to make out.

Outside, he could hear the soldiers stirring.

"Who's there?" the first one asked in Russian, his voice muffled slightly behind the door.

Loki did not answer, opting to wait invisibly, tucking himself behind the lathe. A moment later, the door banged open and the soldiers let loose a hail of bullets.

"Is that the way to greet a stranger?" he asked, projecting his voice behind them.

"Koldun," one of them muttered. Sorcerer.

"We have ways of dealing with your kind, little volshebnik," the first one called out in English, pulling on the set of red goggles the door guard had worn. "Come now, back to your friends."

His gaze swiveled and locked on Loki's place. He walked sideways, trying to get around the lathe. The other one was speaking into a small device, getting help.

"You've made a mistake, I'm afraid," Loki said in Russian, keeping the machine between himself and the man. He could probably throw up a field but...

As the bullets flew towards him, he dodged, throwing himself out of the way, and flung his knife, full strength at the soldier's neck. For a moment the sound of gunshots and metal on metal echoed throughout the room, as they pinged off the machinery. Then the soldier dropped, and all he could hear were the metal casings rolling around the concrete floor and the quick breaths of the remaining soldier.

"I called the others," the soldier said, with much less bravado than the first as Loki walked up to the fallen man, hefting his gun.

"They'll be coming for you." He was trembling, the weapon in his hand unsteady.

"Yes," Loki said, "I expect so."

He pulled the trigger and the soldier dropped. Loki fell back too, not expecting the backward heave as it fired. It felt different from anything he'd used before.

He shrugged, returning it to the dead soldier. He worked quickly, reshaping the second man's clothes into wizard robes, changing his face and hair to something vaguely Malfoy-esque; conjuring a stick to put in his hands. He stepped back, surveying his work. With the bullet wounds, it looked as if the wizard had stabbed the soldier, who had managed to shoot the wizard before giving out.

He pocketed the first man's goggles, then he himself changed, copying the form of the second fallen soldier, changing his battle-garb into a perfect replica of the man's uniform, right down to the strange insignia, a grinning skull with six arms.

He was just finishing up when a second squadron approached, checking the room carefully before the leader entered.

"Soldier," she barked.

Loki saluted.

"The quartered eagle falls and perishes."

Loki racked his memory, calling up the words the soldier he was pretending to be had spoken into his pager…

"The head of the bear regrows anew," he said, somewhat nonsensically. This was going to be slightly embarrassing if he had misheard…

But the soldier nodded.

"Hail Hydra," she said, glancing down at the corpses on the floor. "What happened here?"

"A fight," Loki said meekly, going off his scant impression of the second soldier. He'd been hoping to press onwards before the reinforcements caught up with him.

"Hmm…" The other soldiers shifted nervously as the captain took out a thin, polished wand. "He's not one of the enchanted."

Enchanted? Loki thought. Did he mean the Imperius curse? Had wizards built this stronghold using muggles?

The captain was still frowning, bending down to prod Loki's dead wizard.

"Not an escapee," she said, turning back. "How did he get in here?"

"Infiltration, I expect," Loki said, edging away from the body as the captain continued to investigate. She had pulled out the empty lining of the corpse's pockets and was raising its wand, frowning.

"Captain," the soldier behind him spoke up. "We just received a report-- the Winter Soldier has not checked in from patrol."

The captain paused.

"Infiltration, you say?" She turned around, holding the corpse's wand aloft as she turned back to Loki.

"Tell me, soldier," she said, looking Loki in the eye. "What kind of infiltrator is capable of dealing with our premier super-soldier but not Sergeant Dee from Capital Base?"

"Maybe he burnt out," Loki suggested, straightening up.

"Wrong answer," she said, levying bullets into his chest. The illusion flickered and disappeared and Loki skipped up the stairwell, invisible once more as alarms began to ring through the building.

Loki ducked through a sliding metal door-- these didn't have wards, even though they were clearly meant to partition the building-- and slipped into the wing on the left. He emerged in what seemed to be a control room-- eight screens flashed on the wall, showing the dark insides of rooms flickering with blue light. A pair of guards sat behind them, eyes trained on the screen. They wore no goggles-- Loki supposed they interfered with eyesight in some way.

"Alarms again," one grunted. "Better check on the enchanted."

Loki peered closer at the screens, trying to get a better view-- these were the enchanted?

"Why do I always have to do it?" the other one complained. "I did it last week."

"Because you're a capital reject, Sergeant," the first one said. "You don't know pain until you spend a year with your saliva freezing into needles."

The other one rolled his eyes.

"Remember the code words on the new one, Sarge!" The first one called after him. "Wouldn't want the guy to rip your face off."

The exiting guard shot a rude gesture at the first one, and Loki followed behind at a safe distance, musing over the exchange. Code words? That wasn't the Imperius. That… sounded more like muggles keeping wizards than the other way around. Or perhaps it was more complicated than that, and a subset of muggles and wizards were controlling the rest. He and the guard entered a long hallway, and the guard turned left, away from Malfoy's tracker.

Loki turned. The doorway was open. The door, the walls, and the floor looked extra thick, as if it had a second layer to it. But that wasn't what he first noticed. He frowned, reaching out for the doorframe. There was a flickering blue light emanating from the room, a quiet sound that began to resolve itself as he stepped inside.

There was a single person in the room, stripped down to undergarments and pale flickering flesh. Arms and legs bound to their frame, proud head enmeshed in a structure that refused to let it hang low. It had been shaven. The mouth was bound with silver tape. And the eyes… Loki looked, simultaneously horrified and fascinated. Two small, metal tabs had been hooked onto the upper eyelids, and were attached, by chains, to the frame above the head. They were red, bloodshot, and yet, they moved with the flickering of the screen, adjusting every so often. If not for the eyes, Loki would have doubted that Lucius Malfoy was alive at all.

There was a voice sounding from the corner, an automated voice on a track in Russian.

podchineniya budet voznagrazhdeno.

Compliance will be rewarded.



sdaytsis, i vy naydete smysl.

Surrender, and you will find meaning.

Loki reached out with his magic and touched the metal frame, letting it disintegrate. He caught the man before he flopped to the floor.

He shot a bolt of fire at the recorder in the back, and another at the projector for good measure. Then he shook Malfoy.

"Get up Lucius," he said. "There's work for us yet."

The man stirred slowly, looking around the room. Loki flickered into visibility. Lucius stared at him for a moment, then blinked again.


Loki inclined his head. "Can you walk?"

Lucius was still staring out, perhaps trying to distinguish truth from fiction. Loki wondered how long he'd been hanging like that, and whether he was going to have to fight his undersecretary now. At least the mystery of the wizards in the camp had been solved-- someone, or some organization, had been gathering them up and turning them, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, despite the dictates of magical governments everywhere that existed to protect that very secret. It occurred to Loki that he'd thought such laws existed to protect muggles from wizards. He'd never thought they might be protecting wizards from muggles.

Lucius was struggling to rise up against the smooth wall. Loki conjured a walking-stick and tossed it to him, then a pair of robes. There were footsteps in the hallway-- he stepped out, burying two knives in the guards from the control room.

"Where are the others?" he asked, listening for more soldiers. Sooner or later, they would realize that he wasn't trying to leave the compound, and he wasn't looking forward to what would happen when they did.

"In the cell," Lucius said, still sounding somewhat out of it. He straightened, pulling the robe onto his left arm, and stepped forward. "I think I can find it. Do you think… my wand…?"

"People first," Loki said. "Catch me up as you go along."

He began to levitate the other man down the stairs, but he shook his head, trying to walk, so Loki left it at a small hovering charm, to reduce the weight.

"How long have you been there?"

Lucius's face went blank.

"A few hours. No more."

"And what about before?" Loki asked.

The man pressed down the stairs, as quickly as he dared. Loki had rendered him invisible, but the outline of his magic still shone in his sight. There was no hiding his own spells from him.

"They found us quickly," Lucius said. "Wizards and muggles-- we were poking around Moscow, but they overpowered us and brought us here. Greengrass is dead," he added.

Loki accepted this without comment.

"And the rest?" he asked.

"We were put in cells," Lucius said. "Stripped, fed. Questioned."

"Did they get anything?" Loki asked, quieting the sound around them as they crossed the stone compound to a building opposite.

"Not from me," Lucius said, the ghost of a sneer flitting across his face. "Perhaps from the others. But this is all about the stone, to them."

Loki nodded, accepting this.

"This is where they keep the wizards," Lucius said. This time they had to pass through the door, as Loki was not confident that his spell would extend to Midgardians.

Loki examined the lock on the cell door, casting a couple of short spells. Then he cast something else and across the compound, every locked cell door simultaneously clicked open.

"You search this floor. I'll take the next few," he said to Lucius, and ran.

He found a blank-eyed Zabini sitting in his cell, his eyes haunted.

"Come. You can come out now," he said.

Zabini shook his head, silent. In the corner of his cell, in a pool of sticky, drying blood, was a dead kniffler.

Longbottom was in the next cell.

"I knew you'd come," he said weakly, when Loki flickered into visibility. "I knew it."

Loki cast a spell on him and he disappeared. Zabini, also invisible beside him, didn't react. Lucius came, dragging out a tired but stoic Emmeline Vance.

"Come," he said, leading them out.

The Obliviator's office was quiet, this late in the night-- or was it daytime? Loki had lost track of time between shifts.

Things had proceeded rather quickly after they'd arrived. As the most senior ranking government-official that had not gone on the trip, Bones had taken charge of the debriefing, calling the relevant healers and ministry officials, dispatching aurors to notify the families, though they seemed to be operating on a skeleton staff.

"Everything's fine here," Bones said, when she saw Loki's questioning gaze. "France stayed quiet. You look like you've been through the wringer."

Her eyes fell on Zabini, who hadn't spoken, and had barely moved since the portkey had deposited them in the Ministry Atrium.

"Since you said there was mind control, we're going to do a check," Bones said. "The Imperius is undetectable by magic, but since this was something else, we're thinking we might be able to weed it out with Legilimency, amongst other things."

"Good," Loki said.

"You can sit in on the others' interviews, assuming you're cleared."

"I?" Loki said indignantly. "I was hardly there a day."

Bones looked at him seriously.

"With all due respect, Minister; you can never overestimate the damage of mind control," she said. "Let's not repeat the mistakes of the last war."

Loki's anger rose at the condescension; he quashed it. She was right.

"Very well," he said.

Several most irritating hours later, the ministry officials filed out, looking dazed.

"Cleared," Bones said heavily, rubbing her temples. "Who's next?"

"Longbottom," Bode read off the scroll.

"Commander Longbottom," Loki said, annoyed.

"Yes, well," Bode said. "Come in."

It was a small room with peach colored walls, bland by ministry standards. Loki took a seat at the side of the room with Bones as the Obliviator gave Longbottom some Veritaserum.

"Frank Longbottom," Longbottom said, looking nervous.

"How long were you imprisoned in the Russian base?"

"Two weeks."

"And were you attached to the device pictured?" The Obliviator glanced at Loki, who summoned an illusion of the device.


"For how long?"

"Fourteen hours," Malfoy said blandly.

"And the device told you to serve an organization called Hydra?"

"I presume."

"Are you loyal to Hydra?"


"If the correct code word were spoken, would you be loyal to Hydra?"


"Are you loyal to the British Minister?"

"Yes." Vance crossed her arms, daring anyone to disagree.

"Are there any gaps in your memory from when you were taken?"


"Were you obliviated, or your mind modified in any way when you were taken, other than through this device?"


"Is Greengrass dead?" Bones asked, sharply, from the side.

"As far as I know." said Vance.

"What is your name?" Bode read, and Zabini's eyes widened as the potion's magic rose, compelling him to speak.

He opened his mouth then shut it, his magic flaring wildly, and Loki jumped up, ready for anything, as Zabini bent over, heaving.

"Stop it, stop it!" The Obliviator said. "We cannot ask him questions in this state. He needs to see a mind-healer."

Loki reached for the man, helping him up as the Obliviator summoned help. He affixed a tracking charm to the man's hand and nodded, allowing him to be taken by the mediwizard.

Bode raised his wand to Longbottom's temple with a rough smile. "Legilimens."


Lucius Malfoy leaned back, looking bored.

"Do it," Vance said. "I want to go home."


"We have been unable to determine any traces of a foreign mental influence at the current time," Bode said, looking Longbottom in the eyes. "However, that does not mean it does not exist, either through latent or undetectable means. In some such cases, it has been found that locking away of the pertinent memories may lead to a removal of the influencing factor. Therefore, we are requesting that you undergo a voluntary obliviation of your memories of the trip."

"Refusal to participate will not result in any loss of work or status," The Obliviator said, passing him the consent form. "By the Employee Rights Act of 1980, this request is purely voluntary."

Longbottom looked at Loki.


"No," Malfoy said, tearing the parchment.

Vance raised her eyebrows.

"Oh we have rights now?"

"Sign the form, Vance," Bones said, putting a hand to her forehead.

Vance shook her head, frowning, and signed.

"Well, that's it," Bones said, as they rode up to the atrium. They'd sent the rest of them ahead, newly cleared, and affixed with Loki's trackers.

Bode and the Obliviator had been Obliviated in turn, though it itched Loki that Bones still had her memories. Not being able to cast the charm himself, he'd had to rely on her spell, with the excuse that two minds on the problem were better than one.

Which might still be true. Greengrass was dead-- they'd all attested to it under veritaserum, though no one seemed to have seen the body. The thought of a rogue metamorphmagus roaming the world made his paranoid instincts itch. Not to mention the idea that his undersecretary, or commander, or even trusted soldier had some latent Hydra enchantments.

The atrium was dark, though several people were sitting there on makeshift transfigured chairs.

"The families," Bones said, hoisting her bag. "Which, speaking of, I'd better be off. Have a niece to see about a present."

Loki stood, watching them leave-- Vance, throwing her arms around her husband while her mother sniffled, Longbottom, thanking him profusely and taking the photograph back. When at last Narcissa Malfoy came, locking shaking hands with Lucius and apparated away, he stood up, feeling somewhat at loose ends.

He walked back through the ministry-- the halls were dark, and even the ever-persistent chattering, the sound of Jorkins' laughter usually emanating from Malfoy's office, the scratching of quills and scritching of owls was gone. He took the elevators up, emerging in the main lobby. It was utterly empty, but for the giant golden statue and the quiet trickling of the fountain.

Outside, snow was falling in drifts. It had plainly been falling all day; cars had left sludgy tracks through the snow. Now, though, fresh flakes stuck among the impressions; the cars had stopped coming. He passed a house with a wreath on the door, comprehending the silence at last. It was that Midgardian holiday.

There would be no getting work done tonight then, no letters to Dumbledore, nothing to do but go home and review his double's memories. He looked down at the glowing network, crossed so much more densely than in that other place, resolving to go to the manor and revise his plans, but at the last moment, he turned and apparated somewhere else instead.

He stepped into the little white house, banishing the snow off his coat and boots. Remus and Harry were sitting at the table. Someone had put great effort into decorating the kitchen; Loki noticed a couple of hand-drawn scribbles along the walls. The little tree in the corner was similarly heaped with shiny material. Three chairs were set out; the table was dressed with a modest but clearly carefully prepared meal of roast-chicken and potatoes.

Loki stared.

"Thank you for coming in the end," Remus was saying, "I know it's not much--"

"Of course," he murmured, taking a seat.

Silence fell as Remus carved the chicken and Loki glanced at all the scribbles on the walls. Harry had already been given some potatoes to eat; he was picking them up with his fingers, the fork he was gripping with his other hand unnoticed.

Remus made light conversation, talking about Harry's healer appointment the week before, the snowman they had made and the sweater Mrs. Weasley had sent for the holidays. Loki listened and ate; for such modest fare, it was surprisingly good. The chicken was seasoned with Midgardian spices; he didn't know which ones but the combination was pleasing, and the potatoes and squash left him feeling fuller than he'd expected.

For dessert Remus brought out gingerbread that he and Harry had made-- Loki had eyed the somewhat uneven human shaped cookies with some suspicion, but had to admit, upon sampling them, that they were very good.

Then it was Harry's bedtime, or long past, as Remus put it, which made Harry tear up until it was arranged that a story would be read.

"Why don't you do it while I wash up," Remus suggested, and Loki followed the child to a  little bookshelf filled with what appeared to be small, colorful imitations of books, bearing nonsensical names like Tales of the Beedle and Bard, and Hop on Pop.

Harry walked up to the shelf and after a long and thoughtful deliberation, pulled out a bright red one with a strange creature on the cover.

"Right," Loki said, taking the book. "There shall be no literature until you are ensconced in your blankets."

He helped Harry clamber up onto the bed and sat in the big chair beside it, glancing at the illustration on the cover; a strange furry yellow creature with a hat.

"What is that supposed to be, a Mortlog?"

Harry grabbed the book at an odd angle, his hands scrabbling against the page.

"Story," he said insistently.

"Very well," Loki said, crossing his fingers that this never made it to Heimdall or, gods-forbid, Thor. He could always murder them if they started to talk, he reasoned. Thus reassured, he began to read. "I am Sam."

He looked at the next page, then flipped back, frowning.

"It's the same thing."

He turned the page. Of course.

"Sam I am."

He was beginning to wonder at the intelligence of Midgardian writers. Was the redundancy a subtle attempt at enforcing compulsion in small Midgardian children? Or perhaps the books were written by two year olds as well as read; it would certainly explain the outlandish illustrations.

"Look, Harry," he said. "Now it says that Sam I am. That Sam-I-am. That Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-Am!"

He turned the page.

"Ah, an allusion to the title," he said. "Do you like green eggs and ham?"

Come to think of it, he was fairly sure that eggs on Midgard were yellow inside, or perhaps orange. Perhaps a color-change charm was at work.

Harry was looking at him expectantly.

"I do not like them, Sam-I-am," Loki continued. There was a droning sort of meter to the books; it was easy to fall into a rhythm. He fingered the pages, glancing at the child. The book was entirely redundant anyway; surely if he took two between his fingers instead of one… he glanced sidelong and read the page.

"Would you like them in a house?"

"No!" Harry said. "I do not like geen eggs an' ham."

"If you know all the words, why am I reading it to you?" Loki asked reasonably, and Harry fell silent.

He turned the page pointing back.

"What does this say?" he asked.

Harry fell silent.

"Would you like them…" he began, trailing off.

"He or thewe?" Harry continued. He turned the page. "No."

"I would not like them here or there," Loki continued, sighing. "I would not like them anywhere…"

At last, Harry's attention had been exhausted, along with several other of the baby books. He might have put a little of the sleep suggestion in his voice towards the end, though no witnesses could lay claim to such a thing. He tugged the blankets over the toddler, smoothing back his hair to check the scar. Behind his glamor, it was the same as it had ever been, a long, jagged mark mixed in with black residue. He smoothed the spell back on, renewing his tracking charms, and crept out of the room.

"Ah, there you are," Lupin said. "I was wondering if you'd fallen asleep in there."

He was sitting at the table nursing a cup of tea, looking tired but a little less hollow. The dishes had been put away and the floor swept. Loki walked over to the table and stood so that one hand rested on the weathered chair.

Outside the window, snow was falling from the clouds that sheathed the air, the little house from the great wide galaxies, the cold stars and the watchers and the void. There would be a reckoning soon, with France, and Russia, and with Asgard most of all. But for now, snow continued to fall outside, covering the world beyond the lacy drapes outside the warmth.

"Sit up straight," Narcissa said automatically, as Draco squirmed in his chair. There were three plates set at the table, Draco's set with the full accoutrements, minus one or two of the more dangerous knives. He pinched the fork carefully between his fingers, his face screwed up with concentration as he attempted to spear a piece of turkey on his plate.

In past years, there'd been more at this table; Narcissa's sister Bella and her husband, the other Blacks, Severus Snape, even Lucius's father. Funny how she hadn't noticed as they all began to trickle away. There were other people; friends and associates who would be at the Christmas Party the next night, but strange how oppressive the emptiness felt, without any of the people they were used to surrounding themselves with.

She shot another glance at Lucius. When she'd first seen him in the atrium, she'd wanted to cry-- all his beautiful hair, gone, and his eyes-- he looked like he'd looked during the worst days of the Dark Lord's regime, worse, even. She'd looked behind Lucius just then, for just a moment, and saw the minister, sitting with his legs propped on the table, passing a green fire between his fingers. He'd flashed a smile at her and for a moment, she wondered if he was quite sane.

Lucius said he'd seen things, that the man had resisted the killing curse and wielded arcane magic with ease; that he wasn't in Dumbledore's pocket and was wise to the ways people got ahead in the world, but all she could think was; what kind of person picks a fight with France and then sends my husband into Russia to be tortured?

She looked across the table, watching him cut up the turkey on his plate, cutting with mechanical efficiency. She wouldn't bet against a potion made with the three quarter inch cubes on his plate. He stabbed at them with his fork and ate. More quickly than usual? When she'd hugged him she'd thought he'd lost weight.

"Narcissa dear," Lucius said, looking up at her.

"Yes?" she said.


She glanced back down, cheeks flaming. Draco was looking between them curiously. Before they'd come down she'd given him a thorough dressing down warning him he must not ask Father about his hair, his appearance, or anything about the past week, and he'd been following along quite obediently, despite his evident curiosity. He was such a good boy.

The meal seemed to last forever. Narcissa put some food in her mouth, though what it was she couldn't say. Lucius ate with swift, but measured movements, and she watched, afraid that any moment he would break down, or explode.

But he did neither.

When the meal was cleared, he picked up baby Draco, kissing the top of his head, before handing him off to her to put to bed.

She did so quickly, tucking the corners before walking quickly-- though not running, Malfoys always maintained their bearing-- back to the bedroom.

Lucius was there, sitting on the side of the bed in the half-light of the hallway.

She walked around and sat beside him, feeling the weave of his formal robes up against the sleeves of her silk ones, brushing every time he exhaled.

He did not look at her, his gaze on a fixed point somewhere in the darkness

"Lucius," she said at last, the words coming out calm as always despite the wrenching inside her; an old memory rose to her mind of coming across a swan in the park that Bella had slashed across the side, watching the red-stained feathers rise and fall as it labored to take its breaths; she felt a bit like that swan right now, trying to breathe, but she was still as she sat beside Lucius.

He didn't say anything. She looked where he was looking-- the room was too large for the light of the hallway to penetrate, just a black wooden floor and then a window to more darkness.

She put a hand on his shoulder, feeling its solidity-- muscles, skin, robes-- searching for hurts, but he did not react, not even to wince.

She reached up to his neck but he grabbed her hand.

"I'm fine, Narcissa," he said. "They healed me. I'm fine."

"But…" Narcissa said. But you're not fine.

"You won't even look at me," she said instead, her voice hollow.

He turned and looked at her, and she wished he hadn't. Then his gaze passed over, and he stood up, tapping his wand against his arm.

"Where are you going?" she asked, a note of alarm creeping into her voice.

"Out," he said, stepping over to the night table. His hands lingered on a paperweight, transfigured from an old mask, and for a moment Narcissa's feared… but instead he took from the closet a cowl, that when he wore it, concealed his face but for a mask of darkness, and opened the door.

Her heart sank.

"When are you returning?" she said, the coldness leaching back into her voice, and he turned his head back as if to say You don't know?

And then he was walking out the door. In the distance by the gate she could make out the other hooded figures, just two or three this time, all wearing the same dark cowls. He must've signalled them after dinner.

In the moonlight in the window, she resembled nothing so much as an marble statue, watching impassively over the black cloaked figure as it wound down the gravel path to the gate, joining the other pinpoints in the darkness.

He would be okay, she knew. He would be careful, find an innocuous little muggle house out in the middle of nowhere, another country, perhaps. She'd thought, under Loki--  For a moment the grey marble of the statue's eyes changed slightly in aspect, like a trick of the light, but then it was gone. But no. He would come back and it would be okay. And she would have her husband back.

The statue turned away from the window.

The door shut.

"You don't have to talk about it," Alice said, her hand finding his beneath the sheets.

They'd been through the whole thing; dinner and presents with Neville and the baby and Augusta and the uncles, and the look on Alice's face had been enough to deter anyone's questions.

"I know what it was like, before, when people would ask…" Alice said, smoothing the blanket over the lump made by their hands. Every time they'd fought before, during the Order, they had always been together. In sync.

"It's not that…" Frank said.

They were fundamentally similar at the root of things-- neither had much of a heart for violence, though over their years with the Order, they'd learned to tolerate it. But at the end of the war, Alice had left the ministry, while Frank had… floated. He'd joined the army because he was good at it, and because he believed in what Loki was doing. He wanted to give back.

He thought back to that evening, staring at a form with his signature, black letters on white parchment and complicated explanations of all he'd said and done, and--

Alice stayed silent at his side, hand entwined with his, the presence of her not-questions almost more pressing than if she'd uttered them.

Are you okay? What happened?

That was the thing. It was like a perennial itch in his mind, an open wound that he couldn't touch and couldn't help but try.

What happened?

"I don't know," Frank whispered, gripping tighter. I don't know.

End of Part 1.

Chapter Text

"Come in, come in," Dumbledore said, opening the door with a quick glance at one of the dials on his walls.

"Sorry I'm late," Loki said, shaking off his umbrella. "The festivities…"

"Ah, yes," Dumbledore said. "It's your day, isn't it?"

"Harry Potter day, more like," Loki said, though he couldn't quite hide a grin as he vanished the glitter from his robes.

It had been a while since he'd entered Dumbledore's office—perhaps a year or a year and a half— but the irritating sounds had not changed a bit; if anything, it seemed like he'd added one or two knick-knacks, though Loki would be hard-pressed to name them. He examined a twirling ball on a pedestal, then flinched away— the other side was a mirror.

There was a basin on the desk, glowing softly with magic. A pensieve.

He bent down, idly examining the carvings on the side.

"It was Flamel's," Dumbledore said, rifling through his desk. "I'm sorry; it seems the time has slipped away from me yet again. If you can spare a moment?"

"Of course," said Loki politely.

Dumbledore drew a key from the desk and knocked twice on a section of wall, then twisted his key into the lock that appeared there, disappearing up the stairs.

Loki glanced around, taking in the other additions since his teaching stint. There were a few new mechanical devices whose purposes he could not divine, a red bird on a perch. The pensieve was empty, disappointingly. He thumbed through the correspondances on the desk- notes on students and behavior. There was a tray of lemon drops, and a well-thumbed book on Norse mythology.

So he hasn't forgotten, Loki thought. Good.

Dumbledore finally came back down. He had changed into purple robes with a silver trim. As he crossed the room, the bird launched itself off its perch and came to land on his shoulder, red feathers flashing with hints of gold.

"Is that a phoenix?" Loki asked, looking up at the bird.

There was something… beautiful about it. Pure, like fire. It met his eyes regally, unblinking.

"Yes," Dumbledore said. "This is Fawkes."

Loki stepped closer, though Fawkes did not budge an inch. He had read about phoenixes. There were many rumors; few concrete facts. Phoenixes had healing tears. Their feathers were given willingly, or not at all. A phoenix could transport the pure of heart through fire, though the impure would be incinerated.

He looked into Fawkes's eyes, black, with rims of yellow flecked with orange.

"Well," Loki cleared his throat. "Shall we portkey?"

They appeared in a dark room with a broad window, overlooking the Swiss Alps. Wrapped around the three other walls were several tiers of standing space, hemmed by rails. Here stood the most powerful, diverse, and argumentative crowd of magic users in the known world; delegates of the International Confederation of Wizards.

Albus nodded at Kaiserin Graf as they passed, taking their seats beside the Ugandan delegation. Loki was looking around with open curiosity at the delegates, taking in the wizards and witches of different countries- Southern Italy, Portugal, Egypt. The last ICW Conference had been two years ago, just before his appointment as minister.

"Ah Dumbledore," a new voice said, slipping in beside them. "Nice phoenix. Did I make it on time?"

"Ms. Harrison," Dumbledore said cordially, surprised to see the American representative was the same as it had been last time.

"I'm afraid we haven't met-"

"Loki," Loki interjected smoothly, holding out a hand to shake. "The Minister of Magic."

"Ah yes," Harrison said, shifting her coffee to her other hand. "I do remember something about that now…"

She levitated the coffee with a flick of her wand and pulled out a sheaf of typeset papers, balancing them against the railing and scanning through them quickly. From what Dumbledore gathered, the American Ministry was a nominal institution at best, serving little capacity beyond what was needed to uphold the Statute of Secrecy.

By contrast…

He glanced around, finding Lefevre across the room. The aging French dictator sat in a chair, surrounded by advisors. Lefevre had been ruling magical France for a hundred years now, and, if the rumors were true, the muggle government had fallen to her influence in recent times as well. Lefevre waved at him, a lazy lifting of the fingers.

He turned to the advisors she had brought. A minister and a general; Pierre Ruiz and Aicha Hamidou, if he recalled correctly. The latter gave him a nod.

A tapping sound rang out and Kaiserin Graf approached the lectern. "Let the 148th Annual International Confederation of Wizards Conference commence," she said, casting a regal eye around the room. "As per usual, we find some absent delegations, as well as some new faces among us."

Loki smiled. Albus swept the room, catching expressions ranging from curiosity to outright suspicion. Rasmos Munter and Yvette Pelle exchanged glances. He could guess what they were thinking. Bagnold had had a reputation for being honorable and perhaps, a little naive. Loki, by contrast, was a warlord.

Graf was continuing.

"...present your grievance here and the confederation will hear it out."

"Southern Italy would like to open a case for the return of Cyprus," a young man said, approaching the lectern, and Albus suppressed a sigh. Year after year, the same issues were raised, debated, discussed.

He saw Harrison begin to take notes as the Ugandan delegate tapped the railing. Across the room, Ruiz seemed to be trying to catch Loki's eye. Fawkes shifted on Albus's shoulder, discomfited. The last time Albus had been here, it had been to beg for assistance with Voldemort. Wrong place, wrong time. Now he was back, listening to the squabbles of countries while the world was at risk.

The French delegation stood, the advisors floating Lefevre's chair between them, though she did not speak in public, as was customary. Instead, Ruiz took the lectern, responding to some invisible signal.

"Her Majesty Lefevre," he said, "Would like to request the return of several items stolen by our British neighbors."

The other delegates swiveled toward them. This was old news; France had been peddling the same story for almost two years now, but they wanted to see how the new British Minister would react to the affront.

"Britain denies all such claims," Loki said.

"We have several articles of proof," Ruiz said, lifting a sheet of parchment. "Including a document of origin for the Philosopher's Stone, the rights to which have been denied our country for generations."

"The philosopher's stone has been destroyed," Loki said.

"Forgive Her Majesty if she finds that difficult to believe," Ruiz said. "No invitation of proof has been offered by the culpable party."

Loki leaned forward. "It would take more than a philosopher's stone to revive Your Majesty," he said, looking Lefevre in the eye. "And your greed on the subject discredits you."

Albus winced.

"You are a young minister of a war-torn country, and for that you have Her Majesty's sympathies," Ruiz said. "But if you do not rescind your angry words, she will defend her honor and the honor of France."

Loki raised an eyebrow, and Albus stepped in before the situation could further devolve. Merlin, it was almost like he wanted to start another war!

"Please," he said. "There's no reason for this to get out of hand. We fought together as allies, more than once. I'm sure we could find a peaceful end to this debate, given the chance."

"Yes," Ruiz said, his yellow eyes narrowing. "We will send you our list."

Albus sighed.

"Right," Graf said, as the French delegation returned to its space. "Next issue?"

"I would like to speak," Loki said, and Albus turned, surprised.

"Yes?" Graf said warily.

They approached the lectern, Harrison watching curiously.

"What news have you on Russia?" Loki said, an illusory map of the USSR unfolding behind him. Albus saw surprised faces- not many had been treated to that particular trick, apparently.

Graf was not among them.

"The USSR left the ICW over fifty years ago, when they cut off all relations," she said. "We've had nothing from them since, other than a steady stream of refugees."

"Then let me enlighten you," Loki said. The image behind him changed, becoming a skull with curving legs. "European delegates may recognize Hydra, the muggle terrorist organization not long ago defeated in Germany."

Albus recognized the symbol. Hydra had been a strong fringe group in Grindelwald's war.

"What is the significance of this?" Graf asked. It looked like she recognized the symbol too, and was not happy about the reminder.

"The group is now operating in Russia," Loki said, looking around the room, "Aided and abetted by wizards."

This time, the surprise around the room was audible. Lefevre raised an eyebrow, President Essam was frowning, and Rasmos Munter had a slight sneer.

"That is a serious allegation," Graf said.

"I have it on good intelligence," Loki said, "But the rest of you are welcome to verify, if it is within your capabilities."

"What are their aims?" someone asked.

"That I do not know," Loki said. "But the might of magic paired with a force of muggle proportions is something to be feared indeed." He sounded more impressed than afraid himself.

"I don't see what we have to fear from wizards so debased they would comingle with muggles," Munter said.

"It represents the highest breach of international law," Graf said, sounding angry. "And an affront to the very purpose of magical governance. We will impose sanctions, reinforce our borders, and put an end to this madness. All in agreement?"

This got the votes of most of the room; everyone understood the importance of secrecy from muggles.

"Very well," Graf said. "Next?"

"Spain," and now another delegate approached the lectern, "Would like to contend with Iberia over the recent closure of the northern dolmen doors against the tenets of the portkey coalition treaty of 1799..."

The sun was setting when they returned at last to the Hogwarts grounds, Albus's nerves worn from the hours of political posturing and debate.

Loki, by contrast, seemed enlivened.

"They don't realize," he was saying. "Russia is sitting like a vast old spider and-" he cut off as Dumbledore opened his office door, Fawkes launching off his shoulder to rest on his perch across the room. He gazed into the open space.

He had forgotten to secure his office, he realized belatedly. Had anyone come in?

"You look tired," Loki said, and Albus looked back at him.

"Merely busy," he said, after a pause.

"You should get some rest," said Loki, his voice almost kindly.

"Yes," Albus said, his hand still on the doorknob. "Perhaps I should."

Loki looked back at him, frowning.

"Good," he said, at last.

Albus waited for him to leave, a slight smile on his face, then closed his office door. He tapped the desk with his wand and a long drawer rolled out, empty but for some papers. From inside that drawer unrolled a smaller one and then another, continuing until the final drawer, barely large enough for a single pouch.

Albus whispered something to the pouch, tipping it over. The weight of the vial dropped into his hand, and he wrapped his fingers around the cold glass.

He turned back to his desk, raising the silver vial with shaking fingers. The liquid splashed in unevenly, rising above the level of the basin before settling in the center. A luminescent figure floated out, Loki sitting with his head bowed.

Everything they can reach, they conquer.

The image dropped back into the bowl, and Albus leaned over it, steadying the basin between his trembling wrists.

A few more hours tonight, perhaps. A few more hours in the pensieve, reviewing memories of books, reviewing plans. A few more hours trying to think, trying to save the world.

Perhaps he would even think of something.

The moon was rising above the Hogs' Head inn.

"One firewhisky- no, make that one for everyone here!" Gilderoy Lockhart proclaimed, spilling a pile of galleons, sickles, and onto the counter.

If he was hoping that someone would ask for the cause of his generosity, he was sorely mistaken. Instead the bartender raised thick gray eyebrows over sharp blue eyes.

"You're going to count that," he said flatly, turning back into the bar.

Gilderoy did, making sure to factor in the buxom blond in the back of the bar and her beautiful dark-hooded friend, and was just trying once more to subtly call the barkeep's attention when a black-haired lady stepped in, letting in a summer breeze.

To his surprise, she walked towards him, dropping a galleon on the counter.

"One firewhisky," she said, turning to the bartender, who was suddenly standing right there.

"Please, allow me," Gilderoy said smoothly, putting his hand on hers before she could finish paying.

She gazed at him with cold green eyes until he removed it, then shrugged.

"If you insist."

"I suppose you're wondering what could be the occasion!" Gilderoy said, gesturing grandly at the bartender, who glared at him over twelve full glasses.

"If I were to guess," The woman said, lifting her glass to the light, "The breathtaking exploits of some gallant hero you obliviated."

For a moment the words refused to parse, then Gilderoy's heart leapt in his chest and he stepped backwards, a hand edging toward his wand.

"But never mind that." She sat down. "I have a proposition for you."

She leaned in, her voice deepening to an almost masculine tone.

"How would you like to break some international laws?"

Chapter Text

November 1984

"Happy Birthday!" Harry said, bounding into the white hospital room. Remus, followed at a more sedate pace, carrying an enthusiastically decorated red and gold cake. He set it down on the night table with a sigh. He'd always found St Mungo's a particularly depressing place, even before the night he had brought Sirius here, almost three years ago. A couple of cards had gathered on his nightstand, a photograph of Harry and an old one of Sirius and James, but Sirius was the same, fingers fiddling with the trailing threads of his white robes, spittle gathering at the corner of his lips, dark hair falling past his handsome face, a little paler and gaunter than before.

Harry placed his card on the nightstand and clambered onto the white sheets, unphased. He was dressed in his festive best-- custard yellow robes and a shiny red party hat Remus had found in a muggle convenience store, though he had not been able to cajole Remus into wearing the same.

"Can he blow out the candles?" Harry asked as Remus took his customary visitor's seat, conjuring a little tray for the cake in his lap.

"He may need a little help," Remus said, smiling as Harry seemed to take the admonishment very seriously, holding Sirius's hand and teaching him how to blow out the candles. His 'instruction' knocked out half the flames alone, and Remus quietly extinguished the rest with a spell.

"Good job!" Harry said, patting Sirius on his waxen hand as Remus cut three pieces of cake, setting aside the third one to feed to Sirius. He put the card on Sirius's night table next to the other two with a grimace. Twenty-five. Ten years since they had taken their Owls, sauntering out in the sunshine beneath the beach trees. Three years since he had pulled Sirius's broken form out of the death eaters' lair, just fending off a half-mad Crouch. Lucky, they'd said. Not lucky enough.

"Remus?" Harry asked, looking up from the cake he was munching on.

"Yes?" Remus asked, a little apprehensively.

"What if a giant goes to the hospital?" Harry asked.

Remus blinked, pausing with the spoon midway to Sirius's mouth.

"I don't think many giants go to St Mungo's," he said. "They mostly live by themselves in the mountains."

"Oh," Harry said. He considered this, tugging on the elastic string of his red hat. "Do house elves go to St Mungos?" he asked.

"I-- I'm not sure," Remus asked, a bit ashamed for not knowing. "Why do you ask?"

"Malfoy has a house elf," Harry said, scowling. "He's a mean git."

"Harry," Remus said warningly. He glanced at Sirius, and spooned out another bite of cake.

"But he is," Harry protested. "He broke a vase and lied about it and then Dobby had to iron his fingers."

Remus winced. Damn those awful Malfoys, and damn Loki for making Harry go over there and witness such things.

"I'll talk to Loki," he said. "You're not going back there."

"But what about Dobby?" Harry asked.

"I'll… talk to Loki about that too," Remus said lamely. He doubted the man would care, but Harry nodded, the frown disappearing from his face.

Remus glanced across, at Sirius's limp hanging hair. Harry had edged forward and was quietly telling him a story. From what he gathered, it involved Harry and Ron Weasley flying all the way to space on their broomsticks. Sirius was gazing vaguely in his direction; the healer said he probably didn't understand what was said but it was difficult to tell.

Remus stood up, casting a scourgify and a dusting charm on the cards; the healers never seemed to do that. He dusted the curtains too, and cast a preservation charm on the remainder of the cake.

Harry was squinting into the air as he spoke, and Remus frowned. His own baseline vision was a little different from a human, non-werewolf man, but he suspected Harry had inherited at least some of James's nearsightedness. The way he squinted across the room to see… Hopefully the oculist would sort it out.

"Boom!" Harry exclaimed, clapping Sirius's hands together. "And then we went a zillion times faster to hyperspeed!"

Remus smiled faintly. It was something the marauder would have enjoyed, he thought; a half-mad concoction of an imaginative five year old. Actually, some of the stories Sirius had told weren't much different, and at a rather older age too. He glanced back at the photograph, James, looking out into the distance, saying something somber until Sirius cuffed him on the head and they both exploded into silent laughter. An afterimage flitted through his mind; a white figure on a dark rug.

Harry finished the story, wrapping up with much gesturing and explosions and Remus checked his watch. Almost time for the oculist.

"You ready to say goodbye?" he asked, and Harry nodded, sliding off the bed and letting go of Sirius's hand. "Bye Sirius!"

Remus gave a half-hearted little wave, glancing away from Sirius's empty gaze.

It was overcast in Diagon Alley when Remus apparated in, gray and white clouds advancing across the blue November sky.

They were making good time-- Harry's appointment was in thirty-five minutes, just enough to be there half an hour early. Remus took hold of Harry's hand as they navigated the crowd. It wasn't school season, but the alley was still surprisingly busy for the middle of a weekday. He spotted Mrs. Weasley leaving Gladrags with a couple of her younger ones and waved.

"Am I gonna get glasses?" Harry asked as they wove through the crowd.

"You might," Remus said, putting a hand on his shoulder as he suddenly slowed his pace. "Remember how you had trouble seeing the page the other day?"

"Oh," he said, twisting the string of his red hat.

"I think that your father got his around this age," Remus said, and Harry's frown lifted a little.

"What color were they?" he asked.

"I'm not..." Remus frowned, trailing off. Was that a light in the sky, arcing above the building ahead? There was a crowd gathered around Quality Quidditch; peering through the store windows; a new broom was out. The wind was picking up; he tightened his grasp on Harry's hand as someone brushed past them, the hairs on his arm prickling. Strange…

The building exploded in cascade of bricks.

He felt himself flung backwards, his hand losing Harry's in the hail of glass and dust, his back colliding with a stone wall hard enough to reverberate through his skull. He staggered forward, dull pain shooting down his spine-- Harry, where was Harry? People were screaming; hands rushed past him and his back pulsed hot and red and he couldn't see Harry; he pushed past a woman with blood streaming from her hands and a man on the ground with a broken wand, shouting, trying to see through the haze of dust. He was choking, falling and catching himself on the wall, familiar nausea rising in his throat be okay please be okay His ears were ringing-- was that laughter? Another building shook and began to topple.

"Harry?" A pale white figure on a dark rug, with gray vacant eyes like all the color had faded from the world…

He crossed the storefront quickly in a panic and then crossed it again, unable to move slowly-- he had to be around here somewhere unless he had gotten scared and run or-- please be okay please be okay please be okay The image of a lithe man with straw-colored hair bending over a body, he shot back-- a child was crying-- but it wasn't Harry, a blue trainer on the ground-- he swerved, the world coming in glimpses and fragments against his chest-- the shattered remains of an apothecary stall, beads spilled across the cobbles, wood blowing through the air.

please be okay

Someone was shouting quite loudly and persistently, carrying above the ruckus, glass blew through the gaping storefront-- someone shoved past him and he stumbled. His heart was still and frozen in his chest above a yawning precipice.

There-- a red glimmer under a pile of bricks and broken glass, the color of Harry's cardboard hat.

Remus let out a tortured sound that was half a gasp and half a growl and tore through the pile, extracting a black haired too-skinny five year old kid by his wrists. He pulled the boy into his arms, inhaling heavily, too overcome even to sob.

He turned to apparate but it didn't work and he thought he felt a pulse but it was hard to keep his hands steady so he wasn't sure and the angle was bad...

"Stop, 'm okay," Harry said, squirming.

Someone ran past them; a young man, bleeding from his face.

"Shh," Remus said, feeling some of his sanity trickle back in. He loosened his grip a little. He was bleeding a little. Harry looked okay. How…?

"What happened?" Harry asked, blinking, as Remus scanned the alley.

"We're under attack, somehow," Remus said, glancing around. Where were their assailants? Got to get out. He turned towards the edge of the alley, the direction of the crowd, keeping his grip on Harry's breathing, shifting form. Another arc of red raced over his head and he dove into a protective crouch, but wherever it hit there was no following explosion. He risked a glance back toward where the spell had come from-- there was no one on the roof, but there was a flash of movement above-- where? Ahead of him was a massive pulsing crowd, shouting and shoving as they poured down the alley toward the Leaky Cauldron.

Another light flashed from the sky, splashing harmlessly across the surface of Gringotts and he tightened his hold by reflex as the crowd surged around him, nearly pushing him to the ground.

"Look!" Harry shouted, and Remus turned and saw a cloud breaking apart. No , he realized, not a cloud at all-- winged horses, camouflaged against the clouds, ridden by shimmering, white-cloaked soldiers. He growled, shifting Harry to one arm and drawing his wand. Harry looked up excitedly.

Out of a nearby building spilled dozens of green-cloaked figures before them who paused, mounting broomsticks, then suddenly the sky was filled with green as the newcomers swarmed the Abraxans. There were scores of them; more than the whole auror force surely; more than had ever fought on either side of Voldemort's battles, Remus thought.

Wards mushroomed through the air and the crowd resumed its retreat, Remus pushing forwards doggedly, Harry's quick breaths pressing against his chest. Spells flashed above-- red and green and others he didn't recognize at all. A figure dropped, falling from its broomstick and, without thinking, Remus shouted "Immobulus!"

He checked behind him to confirm the rider had, in fact, been incapacitated and rushed forward, trying to find space in the crowd as muted shouts rose above them.

He held Harry tightly, pressing his head down to avoid spellfire. They were almost at the edge-- where the entrance to Diagon Alley had once stood, someone had blasted a hole in the Leaky Cauldron wall and the crowd was streaming through, ushered by two more soldiers in green. A crash sounded through the alley and Remus glanced back-- for all that they seemed to be mitigating the damage, for all that their troops outnumbered the enemy, they could not seem to get above the Abraxans, could not halt the rain of spells.

We're going to lose , Remus thought.

And then another building began to topple and the crowd broke and surged, and something hit him in the head, hard. He clutched the boy to his chest and was borne aloft breathless and dizzy as the crowd rose, spilling into the street. A hundred cracking fireworks of people, blinking in and out around him. A purple figure reached out a hand and they were gone.

Seven Months Earlier

The map in the center of his desk was sculpted with perfect accuracy, from the curve of the Pyrenees that rose above the table to the dip of the frozen blue channel. Red pins had been stuck into the landscape over Northern France and Southern England, more gathering by the day.

Loki sat down in the chair and the wooden walls around him faded out as he closed his eyes, perusing images. A brick wall, a bit of starry sky, a swing, swaying in the breeze.

He had used an old standby and placed small bits of magic across the magical settlements of Britain; extra eyes, though he could sense through them as well. It didn't cost too much of his focus, and he had plenty of magic to go around, these days.

He flashed through them quickly now-- a clay roof, shattered glass, seagulls, a rhododendron bush. He saw the inside of a dark room; Harry's probably. Those lacy drapes had probably been there since before Lupin's time. Lupin himself was sleeping fitfully, his head in the crook of his arm.

He saw the inside of Dumbledore's office, a wrinkled hand smoothing the edge of a faded parchment on old Asgardian weaponry. He hardly slept at all, these days.

Lucius Malfoy was walking on the edge of Portsmouth, his black boots raising clouds of sand.

"...a waste of time, with their scouts equipped with Foe Glasses," he said.

"I agree," Longbottom said. He looked out past Malfoy, his uniform muddy, every bit the commander, up until his earnest face. The last few years had brought a few shadows there, or perhaps some of Russia was etched into his skin, even as it was erased from his mind.

Loki wondered sometimes what were the effects on a person. Had he truly walked away unscathed? Or did the memories linger somewhere beneath the surface of his dreams? It was an unknowable thing-- you couldn't obliviate yourself.

Malfoy finished saying something and Longbottom shook his head in response.

Loki changed the pattern of the tracker and Malfoy stiffened, covering it with a velvet sleeve.

He paused for a moment to conjure a silver teapot and fill it with a working.

The image changed as Loki continued his check of Portsmouth, but the battle seemed to have well and truly wound down. He moved onto the Hogsmeade trackers, then London. Was that an enemy agent, crouching to write on the wall in the dark?

"I was just about to contact you."

Loki opened his eyes. Malfoy was in the doorway, darkly attired, blond hair falling in one long sheet past his shoulders, fingers curled around his silver walking stick. He looked clean, an administrator returning from the battlefield.

Malfoy glanced at the door, then walked inside, taking a seat.

He hadn't fought in the wars, not since that night.

"Where's Longbottom?" Loki asked.

"On his way," Malfoy said.

Perhaps it was Loki's imagination, but he thought Malfoy was a little sharper; a little quieter and quicker to anger since that night two years ago, and though he'd been cleared of all traces of mental control, a part of Loki didn't wonder if somehow, something had gotten to him all the same. There were many ways to break a man.

A dry black street, shimmering with evaporation off the muggle cars; a swinging gate, a tabby cat.

"Are you sure it's alright to be meeting now?" Longbottom asked, coming through the open doorway and closing it behind him. His hair was wet, his face scrubbed and shaven, though there were dark circles under his eyes. He spotted the chair and poured himself a cup of coffee, then a second one.

"I'm monitoring the situation," Loki said distantly.

Longbottom nodded, dragging his chair up to the table.

"How was Caen?" Loki asked.

Longbottom exchanged glances with Malfoy.

"We were winning," Longbottom said, frustration in his voice. "And then all at once they disappeared. Portkeyed out."

Portkeys were an unusual wrinkle-- Loki was still getting accustomed to planning strategies against an army that could, at any moment and with very little fanfare, disappear. At least they couldn't portkey in the same way.

"What about Portsmouth?" Loki asked, though he had a feeling he already knew the answer. Bricks, cobbles, broken glass…

"Fought them off, but we lost a lot of men," he said.

Loki shifted, tapping his silver teacup against the table.

They should be doing better than this. After all the years of fighting, they should have bested the French in any battle he cared to name, let alone such small ones. It was irritating. He hadn't accounted for the sheer dominance the French had over the skies. Their leadership was also impressive, for a country well-accustomed to peacetime. He had seen through his eyes the near victory over the enemy in Essex, one moment fighting, filling the air with spells, the next melting away.

Still. He wasn't concerned, not yet. There were other avenues to try.

"Have you gotten ahold of any Abraxans?" Longbottom asked, turning to Malfoy.

"A few," Malfoy said, lifting his cup. "The operation is… delicate."

"Probably won't have time to train them, anyways," Longbottom murmured.

The winged horses complicated things-- their hides and wings were resistant to most offensive spells, and the ones that they had were… flawed, to say the least.

"Loki?" Longbottom asked, and Loki brushed the dilemma aside.

"If you can't stop them for portkeying out, you should attack somewhere else that means something to them ," Malfoy said.

"Easier said than done," Longbottom said. "We can't get close, not without the scouts bringing the whole damn army on our heads."

"What about the dolmen doors?" Loki said.

"What about them?" Malfoy asked.

"If you found them, you could portkey into the heart of France, take them by surprise," Loki said. "Their scouts would be utterly worthless."

"It's been done before," Longbottom said. "But not since the time of the Mongols. An enemy getting to the doors is like… like ripping the heart out of a country." He looked up from his coffee cups, his eyes serious. "There's no overcoming it."

"Lefevre's not stupid," Malfoy said. "There will be wards on those doors going back to the time of Flamel, if not Merlin. And there are dozens of facsimiles throughout the land."

"All the same," Loki said, letting his mind flash to sand, mountains, Hogwarts castle. "Keep a wary eye."

"We need another strategy," Malfoy said..

"Yes," He looked into the deep crests of the map, the swirls of the clay sea, the lapping waves of the real one. "Play cautiously for now. If you see a fight you can win, take it."

"Is that all?" Malfoy said, and Loki nodded, looking outward. Evergreen forest, chalky cliffs…

Malfoy nodded, and let himself out.

"For what it's worth, Minister, I think we'll do it," Longbottom said, pushing in his chair and picking up the two empty coffee cups. "They're not a match for us, or you."

The spiralling staircase outside the minister's office curved and descended for stories, the smooth wooden banister curling for stairs upon stairs falling into darkness. Loki took them quickly, passing through the sublevels quickly-- Support Staff, DMLE, Accidents and Catastrophes, Creatures, Co-ops, Transport…

There was a grand set of doors, leading to his training barracks. He crossed the hall-- it looked like a city today-- and took a second staircase to an ancillary room. It had a doorway with a glass window, with a sign taped to it that said Muggle Affairs.

He knocked.

"Come in," a voice called, and he entered, though he had to shuffle inside. The entryway was cluttered with piles of books. He ran his hand over a spine-- Thermodynamics in Real Time . It hadn't been there last time he'd visited. In fact, the whole stack was new.

He pushed past the books into a kind of laboratory. Wires crossed the room overhead, clothesline-like, clipped with fabric swatches. A human-sized clay figure slumped in the corner, wearing red goggles and a gray vest with the Hydra label stripped off. Every available surface was cluttered, a silver cauldron brushed up against a phial on a bunsen burner, which burned carelessly close to a wicker basket piled with bars of different precious metals.

"I see you're making good use of your extensive budget," he said, hefting one of the ingots.

"Oh, I wouldn't touch that, if I were you," an absent voice said.

He glanced up.

The speaker was a woman in bright orange robes and safety goggles that flashed over her eyes.

"They're rather… volatile," she said, and Loki carefully replaced the bar. He had learned to trust Lovegood's judgement in such matters.

"Have you progressed on the vest?" he asked, nodding to the gray one on the figure.

"Oh yes," Lovegood said, looking up at the lines. "Yes, we're working to synthesizing the metallic components. We should have it in a couple of years, perhaps two."

"And the goggles?" Loki asked, suppressing his impatience with difficulty. Two years was a trice; a moment to one such as him.

"There is a factor we still don't understand," Lovegood said. "Arthur has commissioned more books. Did you see them? They're quite lovely."

"I need something now ," Loki said. "Or the French will start tearing chunks out of London as well as the countryside."

"As I told you, I do not deal in war," Lovegood said, a faint chill entering her voice.

"Then what can you give me?" Loki said, crossing his arms.

Lovegood rooted around the laboratory, filling the blue phial and adjusting the wicker basket before pulling something out of a drawer.

"I have this," she said.

"What is it?" Loki asked, turning it over in his hands. It looked like some kind of fabric bundle.

Lovegood's eyebrows rose above the level of her goggles.

"It's a parachute," she said.

Loki stood on the edge of a precipice, in the tower that was his office. Where his wall should have been was a rift in the air, a place where the room did not so much end as fall off into another piece of the world, a tower in a town on a little island in the sea.

The whitecoats swept above him in a horde, throwing stunners and Confringo's , bright orange bombardment spells that consumed the air in their path. The green troops cast more slowly, golden sparks their opponents couldn't seem to see. A couple of green bolts flitted through the chaos, but most glanced off ineffectively. The killing curse required too much mental energy for most soldiers to cast at all, let alone repeatedly on command.

He did not feel the wind, but he could see soldiers straining to keep an even keel as they cast. Petrificus Totalus. Unwieldy, dangerous if misspoken, but it was the best they had.

At the head of their formation, Longbottom pulled downward-- getting closer to the town, almost level with Loki's own vantage. They were moving in a new formation, trying to stay directly below the whitecoats, even as they were forced below the level of the building. He craned downward to see-- the tower on which his spell rested was the tallest in the town, hardly four stories high-- and the air around it was filled with broomsticked soldiers. The enemy commander was just above them now, directing a volley of spells downward, weakening hastily cast shields.

Another wave came half a moment later and bolts of red-orange came raining down; one of them hurtling towards his building, a tongue of fire rising up to fill his view with a roar. For a moment, he caught a glimpse of a green parachute amidst the inferno, floating on the wind. Then the spell blinked out.

Chapter Text

April 1984

Rain pattered against the windows of Hogwarts, the sky colored ceilings were lost in a tempest of mist and the headmaster's office tower was awash in fog. Albus scratched out an idea on the parchment, committing it to memory, then vanished the illusory words. He lifted a teacup to his lips, the lukewarm liquid doing little to ease the pounding in his head.

He cast another warming charm.

Asgardian weaponry, as witnessed, falls into three distinct categories, he wrote, shifting one of the books. He touched one of the diagrams, the three pronged spear.

There was a sound behind him, filtering through the haze, a kind of scratching. He had the feeling that it had been going on for some time. He stood up, opening the window to let the owl in. Droplets of cool rain blew in as he took the letter down, turning it over-- it was a single page in familiar writing, perfectly, unnaturally regular.

It has begun , the letter said, and cold fear gripped Albus's chest. He read the rest frantically, eyes skating over the words several times before letting their meaning sink in. They struck by surprise in Cornwall, incurring heavy losses. With allies like these, we should hardly need enemies. Is there a human spell to kill one such as an Abraxan? If not, could one be created?

He set down the paper, feeling a rush of relief. Merely France.

He read through it again, frowning-- heavy losses in Cornwall. Could he have prevented this war, had he been less preoccupied? He had returned so many times, trying to smooth over their ire.

He cast that line of reasoning aside. Could he help now? He quickly scanned it again. There was an implicit request for aid, though he did not think he could truly answer it. Instead he turned the paper over, and wrote on the back.

I am sorry to hear that. You may know that the Abraxans' hides are resistant to many common spells. I have heard Petrificus Totalus can work, if cast accurately.

He added an extra note inviting Loki to use the school library, if he thought it might be of use, and let the owl out. He closed the window, casting another charm to dispel the flecks of water from outside, and bore down on his notes.

August 1984

The spells Loki knew for finding things did not work on dolmen doors. It was the obvious solution-- have Longbottom inscribe his name on the French doors and there would be no barrier or front to hold them. They could portkey an army into the ministry itself.

Unfortunately, either his understanding of the doors was lacking, or the wards were successfully repelling him, or the earth itself was shielding them, or some combination of the three, because he'd failed to make any headway in the last three hours. He stopped pacing and threw himself down on the futon, drawing Voldemort's wand. As he did, he was aware of a familiar prickle in his chest, though casting a spell had the opposite sensation, a kind of numbing at the center. He cast lumos and twirled it between his fingers, cataloguing his lack of progress. So far he'd had nothing from Dumbledore but sentiment, though the larger plot was going well. He'd found a charm to speed up deployment of the parachutes-- he had the bitter suspicion that Lovegood had only given it to him because it was more likely to take soldiers out of the battle, albeit with their lives secured. He was losing.

And after all the effort he had put into this war. What was that Midgardian saying, about watching one's wishes?

A rush sounded from behind him and he swung himself up, looking into the suddenly green flames.

"Commander," he said, flicking through his trackers to judge the level of urgency. "Come in."

Longbottom ducked through the stone fireplace, brushing ash off his robes and looking around Loki's sitting room with curiousity. Loki looked too-- he had no need of furnishings outside his chambers, but over the past year and a half, he had begun to fill in some of first level rooms, as the fancy took him. This room was white-- sofas, bookshelves, chandelier. A clock with no numbers ticked over the zodiac, and a bowl of clear liquid rippled on the table next to his books on magical creatures. The floo powder was a brilliant green in a china bowl on the mantle. The room looked how well-to-do wizard's sitting room was expected to look, to Loki's mind, and he was proud of the effect.

"Tea?" Loki offered, and Longbottom glanced at him for a moment before shaking his head.

"No thanks," he said, turning back to the now orange fire. Loki waited, the flames casting shadows across the commander's face.

"We lost Guernsey," Longbottom said.

"Yes," Loki said, "I know."

"I really thought we stood a chance," Longbottom continued.

Loki looked into the flames.

"We lost Davies, Brown-- good people. And soldiers--"

"Yes," Loki said. The bill was rising and rising.

"I keep seeing it in my head; where it went wrong," Longbottom said. "I keep thinking about how I could've stopped it. But I couldn't. I didn't."

Loki looked at him, the flickering shadows on his face.

"I came to resign," Longbottom said hollowly. "No one else need die on my watch."

Loki gazed into the zodiac clock, ticking away. He was losing Longbottom. He was losing. He was--

"To whom should I give the post?" he asked coldly.

"Sorry?" Longbottom said.

"Who would you have me install as your replacement?"

"Perhaps Malfoy," Longbottom said, and Loki laughed.

"And induce a revolt?"


"Lucius is a good strategist, but it is you who inspires their loyalty," Loki said. "When they fight it is only because they know they stand behind someone who would give his life and soul for British wizardry."

"What about you, then?" Longbottom said. "You can fight like no one I've seen before--"

"And leave the governing of the country to whom?" Loki said. "I cannot be everywhere."

"Somebody else then," Longbottom said, faltering. "I'm sure someone--"

"Soldiers are dying," Loki said savagely. "They will die faster without your assistance. By washing your hands of guilt you only damn them to the incompetence of others."

"Only if those others are more incompetent than me," Longbottom said.

"Is that what you think?" Loki said. "Then you think I am a fool for appointing you?"

"No," Longbottom said. "No-- of course not."

"And France? Would you have us give into their fire?" Loki said, looking into the hearth. It was burning up; the street, the city, everything.

"No--" Longbottom said.

"Good," Loki said, clenching his fist. "Because I need you at your post."

Longbottom closed his eyes, then opened them.

"Okay," he said heavily. "I'll help."

"Sit down," Loki said. The fire was raging behind him, swirling in his head. Losing losing losing losing losing. All his toys were not enough.

He summoned a coffee pot and poured two teacups, pushing one into Longbottom's hands.

"These little battles do not favor us," Loki said, ignoring the poisonous thoughts. "Their horses have no time to tire, and their spellcasters can deal explosive strikes. We need a longer engagement."

"That is difficult to arrange. At any moment they can disappear back to base," Longbottom said. He was sitting hunched over, looking too tall for the couch, the fire flickering behind him.

"Indeed," Loki said, standing up, and Longbottom followed him back to the mantle.

"You tire of the deaths of soldiers? Then let us win this," Loki said. "The next time we strike we will strike at the Ministry." Bring it all down, he thought wildly. It would go at once, in a big conflagration, or not at all.

"You think we can beat them?" Longbottom said, hope in his eyes, and Loki blinked out his previous impulse, resting a hand on the cool stone above the hearth. Perhaps, if they could just outflank the Abraxans on broomsticks; if they could just develop right spells; if they could just get close enough before the French spotted them from the skies...

"Of course," he said smoothly.

Longbottom nodded.

"Alright then." He looked almost lively now, in stark contrast to his earlier demeanor, as if Loki's word alone could protect them from a massacre. An image flashed through Loki's mind; a figure, hung from a metal frame, eyes forced open, shaven head.

"So much trust," he said, despite himself, "Can be a dangerous thing."

Longbottom turned back, his face serious.

"It is," he said. "But we allow ourselves heroes all the same."

Loki nodded stiffly.

"I'll go prepare," Longbottom said, dipping his fingers into the china bowl. "Talk to Lucius about stepping up recruitment, pushing the budget. Talk to the new lieutenants, pull in the reservists. Maybe this could all be over by winter."

"Excellent," Loki said, gripping the white armchair.

Longbottom dipped his fingers into floo powder and tossed it into the flames, and then he was gone.

He'd done it. His words had worked, as they always did. That was good.

The fire went out, leaving dark afterimages in his eyes.

It was overcast in Diagon Alley when Remus apparated in, gray and white clouds advancing across the blue November sky. He looked anxious, checking the time as they walked out. The child waved at a redheaded boy across the street, and the werewolf took his hand.

"Am I gonna get glasses?" the boy was asking, and Loki had a sudden image of James Potter, twenty years older, but similar to Harry in all but the eyes.

There was a strangeness in the air, a gauzy shimmer like the world had been doused in a spell. Loki looked up, jumping trackers from Remus's arm to the building ahead to see a spell arc down from the sky and the building begin to tumble. He jumped, quickly, finding Harry's forehead-- there was a pulse there if he concentrated very hard, magic bright amid the dark of the rocks. A turning, shifting, and he suspected Harry was burrowing in, his breaths coming loud and fast.

Loki jumped again; the veins on Remus's elbow pulsing as he stumbled, half maddened in pursuit of the child. There was little Loki could do from this vantage but keep checking on Harry-- he did and then jumped back to the street, tracing the Abraxan assault, getting the measure of it. Anti-apparation wards had been effected just below their lines, giving them unimpeded access to the alley-- and keeping civilians trapped like flies in a jar. He opened his eyes, as vision slammed into his body, hands clenched on his chair. He stood, brushing off the vertigo, and strode downstairs, sending signals ahead to his trackers as he reached the hall of war where Longbottom prepared the troops.

"They're here," he said, as they began to fly out.

Loki perched invisibly on the wall, watching the alley explode into battle. The air churned as the tower collapsed into its composite parts, bricks and dust and glass soaring outward in every direction. Even used against him, there was something satisfying about bringing so much destruction, about knowing that he could . He had caused this, in the end-- this explosion of fire and fury, with just the barest touches of some silver words.

His soldiers had managed to get beneath the Abraxans and were driving the white horses upward, patches of white and green soldiers spiraling higher into the clouds. But the whitecoats had chosen the right day-- their mounts blended in perfectly with the cloud cover, making them hard to hit even with the spells they had.

Remus had found Harry, was pulling him to his chest like one who'd been mortally wounded, though he was the better off of the two of them. Longbottom was straining to cover the holes in their ranks as the horsemen blasted through stone and man alike. A fire had started in one of the buildings.

What about you, then? Longbottom had asked, those months ago by the hearth, and Loki had evaded the question. The army was supposed to stand on its own-- if they couldn't defeat mere mortals, how could they beat Asgard?

Does it matter? He glanced down. The thread of escaping civilians was thinning now, the evacuation assisted by his ground troops as the white-cloaks demolished the alley. It was breaking open, spilling with glass and pearls and shards of broomstick. He thought of Remus and Harry, adrift in the crowd. One of them was falling. Does it matter?

The next spell arced downward.

Loki dove, shedding his avian form amid the blast. He unleashed an incantation-- he'd been shaping it in his head, unconsciously. A curving ward sprang to life, blocking the brunt of the explosion.

"Minister!" one of his soldiers shouted, and the shouting grew louder as people glanced up to see.

"Soldier," Loki said, holding out a hand.

The soldier saluted, deftly tossing him her broomstick. Loki grabbed it and launched himself into the air, the alley shrinking away beneath him. The Abraxans scattered as he slammed into the center, welding green fire. His hand pulsed and a rider fell from the sky, blackening with soot. He unleashed another blast, setting white robes ablaze, dodging stunners with ease. His own troops roared with approval and rallied, forming a cone as they rushed the main contingent. Loki rose through them, a cat among pigeons, a god amongst mortals, raining fire from the sky.

A wave of spells streamed from behind him and he saw horses' wings stop beating, frozen in space. He roared with approval and followed up with more fire, causing the nearest formation to break and turn. He laughed, letting them flee with scorched tails.

A violet bolt shot toward him and he sidestepped, turning toward the new opponent. It was the French general, Hamidou. She signaled and a battalion of soldiers spread into a vertical formation below, engaging Longbottom's defense as she rose, whipping another bolt at Loki. He volleyed lazily with a ray of green fire. She sent a third one, this time taking just a little more time to form the spell. Loki narrowed his eyes, wondering what it was exactly this spell did as the bolt came racing toward him. He whipped to the side and it followed, nearly bisecting him. Instead he dropped and it collided into a wall not far from his soldiers. He frowned, watching them engage the platoons. Something seemed odd about their formation…

Another bolt flew past his hand and he snapped back to the general. She had an intense look of focus on her face as she cast, ceaselessly now, forcing him to expend more effort into dodging. He put up a shield and she immediately switched tactics, casting silent sleeping charms, which ignored most shields. He shot back a silent body bind into her path and her horse froze, dropping, buffeted by wind.

She tapped out the countercurse and rose back up, but the pause allowed Loki to see what the engagement had concealed-- Abraxans were dropping, then retreating back into the cloud cover. He looked closer, searching for the portkey. One of the soldiers reached upwards, toward his neck.

Got you , Loki thought, smiling. He scanned the crowd and swooped down to the nearest platoon-leader wearing a charm on a leather cord. A knife to the throat bisected the cord, and he shot downward, collecting it. He gave it a shake to get some of the blood off, then went to try it again.

A purple bolt caught Loki's attention and he reared up, turning to face Hamidou's onslaught. She'd drawn a shield that she could shoot through, something that blocked his fire. He shot a knife half-heartedly in her direction and dove, going for another platoon-leader. Violet lightning arced over his head.

He dodged it, reminded annoyingly of Thor, and sent an illusion while he picked off another patrol leader.

Longbottom's troops had them surrounded now at the outer edge of the last bordering ward, flying almost down to the rooftops. The remaining Abraxans were falling hard, pressed against the rooftops and the wards. Hamidou looked distracted despite herself, glancing forward at Loki and back at the troops, muttering and throwing half-hearted spells. Loki threw the knife, slicing through her shields just as she turned , droplets of blood splattering through the air.

The border ward broke and the French contingent vanished, spells blasting into the stones where they had fought moments prior. Hamidou turned around, blood streaming from the cut just beneath her eye. She nodded, once, then she too vanished.

Across the sky, Loki met Longbottom's eyes with a grin, grasping his gathered portkeys.


The week after the twin battles at London and Paris, wizards and witches poured into Hogsmeade, clamouring up the station and the Three Broomsticks, filling the inns and the bookshops. The holiday shopping season had already begun, and though magic did wonders for property repairment, each mother and father had independently decided to stay away from Diagon Alley just then. But there was another brand of customer wandering around in the drizzle, more curious than rushed; more awed than anxious. Those were the ones who lined up at the newsstand, putting down two knuts and picking up a copy of the Daily Prophet. Every so often, someone would be drawn into the line after spotting the headline. The headline read: France to Accede Sovereignty to British Gov.

And they read.

ACM council forced Minister Lefevre into early retirement after critics within France publicly denounced her for the spectacular defeat. The defeat came as a surprise attack after the whitecoat's own assault on Diagon Alley (see page 6).

In the Hogs' Head, the bartender scowled, lifting yet another glass off the shelf for the gathering crowd. They swarmed in, tracking muddy boots on the floor-- the weather had turned rainy again.

"Do you have a spare paper?"

"Somebody read it--"

A couple of people glanced around fruitlessly before a hag with a balaclava stepped onto the table, enunciating slowly.

In an almost unprecedented move, the British army used the enemy's own portkeys to gain access to their base, catching them completely unawares. Though the battle had been raging back and forth, the last assault, ending at the ministry gates, decimated the French army, coming close enough to destruction to force a surrender from Paris, and its monarch.

Why did Lefevre step down?

In a bed in St Mungo's, Remus folded the paper between his fingers, frowning. Stepped down ? What were they going to do with France? Harry was sitting at his bedside table, drawing pictures of exploding buildings in crayon. He rubbed his temples, soothing his aching vision, and turned the paper back over.

Despite her age, the Levefre has historically been vehemently opposed to abdicating. However, a council led by her former advisors gave her no choice but to do so. A particularly salient factor in the council's over 400 page statement was Lefevre's refusal to listen to repeated offers of peace on the British side. As pundit Jacques Minuet put it, "Dumbledore practically begged her to call off the battle and she didn't; how thick can you get?"

And in Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, high above, overlooking so many things, the last piece fell into place.

Chief Advisor Pierre Ruiz is slated to step up in Lefevre's stead, though he in terms of surrender he has agreed to defer, in all things, to Minister Loki . This unprecedented move has wizards and witches wondering-- what comes next? Who knows? Whether the minister is looking to build an empire or start a barrier against the USSR is uncertain, but one thing's for sure-- life in France will never be the same.

"I see," Albus said, his voice hollow. His elbow was digging into the desk. "The stone, the council…"

He had been played, and masterfully so. If he hadn't gone to beg so publicly for peace, would Lefevre still be in control? She would let France die rather than be taken over by the British, of that he was certain.

Loki had arranged this; it was the only thing that made sense. The stone, his belligerence at the council; all this time he had been pushing them slowly, inexorably towards war. Albus had thought he'd been playing aloof, badly, that his movements with the stone and the council had been a bungle, not a plot. And now…

A second shockwave hit him like a lightning bolt. Something that Loki had said, some days after they'd read Flamel's notes, when Albus had still been searching for information.

We'd never be able to defeat them , the letter had said in his strange, even handwriting. Not like this.

"Not like this…" Albus murmured, fingering the newsprint. No, not as they were. But united, perhaps, under one force…

Yes, Albus saw it now, the outlines of Loki's scheme. He thought back to the questions, the insistence on letting the troops fight for themselves, of coming up with a spell that could defeat a magic-repelling creature-- the bloodshed would not be ending here at all. Many more countries would fall-- would have to fall before they came anywhere near possible to defending themselves. Germany would be next perhaps, or Bulgaria, or Egypt. There would be thousands of casualties; tens of thousands perhaps.

And Albus would not be the one stop it.

He would help it along, even.

Because if that was what it took to stand up against the great and terrible force that Loki had shown him; the force that lived in the history books, then ten thousand lives was just a drop in the bucket. They could tear the world to shreds.

Albus Dumbledore folded the paper, laid his head on his arms, and wept.

"What is a hero?"

Loki strode across the corner of a rooftop on Diagon Alley, looking out over the metal rim. It was the same rooftop on which he'd stood during the battle, in fact, though the battle was long since gone.

There was an immense pleasure in looking down at his city, over his reign. He had wrought this; the war, the conquest, and now this peace.

He glanced up in the drizzle, banishing a stray thought.

"To be a hero, one must protect," he said, looking through the fog. He thought back to Longbottom, earnest but weak, much too weak, to accomplish his goals alone. "One must be able to protect," he amended.

"But capacity isn't everything, of course," he said. "If you lack the will to use it."

He thought of Dumbledore, trusting the best in everyone, constantly fettered by moral constraints. Had he grasped Loki's ploy yet? What would he make of it? Loki still had his final plan, slowly gathering pieces of information to discredit the man.

A lone shop-woman bent before the ruins of a building, poking through the rubble.

One way or another, Loki would destroy him in the end.

"A hero," he mused, "Is not naive."

How could he protect them if he wasn't looking over their shoulders, seeking out the threats? He needed to stay six steps ahead; gathering information, bribing, blackmailing, coercing.

"Is that ignoble?" he asked, smirking. "Well, say I am a better kind of hero, then."

The magical construction workers were positioned around a ruined store, beginning to cast.

Beneath him the building was slowly putting itself together, bricks and glass and masonry slipping off corners and out of cracks.

"I am the one who watches in the night."

A wind blew, rustling his hair.

“Who guides wizard-kind."

Droplets of water fell against the metal rooftop. His shadow was amorphous in the silver-gray light.

"Who finds and shapes you into something… better."

Inchoate clouds swirled overhead, the uncertain promise of a storm.

He smiled benevolently onto the city below.

Chapter Text

Loki woke Harry Potter after moonrise. The little boy yawned, stepping out of the room in his silk nightshirt; it was summer now, so he was not cold, even in the big manor house. Loki took his hand, and they walked up the stairs, a lot of twisting stone stairways, until they were outside, onto the top of a high tower, standing in a gentle wind.

Loki looked up at the sky, and the boy mimicked him, taking in the stars and the light of the full moon. Asgard had no moons, though the view from the bifrost was unparalleled, there was something beautiful in this too, if crude and unrefined. The child was quiet; he was a generally quiet boy, something the late hour did not meliorate. He was staring up at the sky curiously, not in any great wonder, except, perhaps, because he was looking too.

Well, it was time to change that.

"You see that star?" Loki asked, pointing to the Andromeda, the star system two thousand sky-knots away from here, as Asgardians counted them. It was closer to Asgard, though not by much.

Harry nodded.

"That star is like the sun," Loki whispered. "Like many suns, in fact. In the center is a great burst of energy, energy greater than anything within you or I, and it is bursting with light. Can you do that, Harry? Can you make light, too?"

He looked down at the boy, where the golden net had sunken into him, one contiguous thread brimming with golden light, and a dark shadow in the center of the scar. Beneath it, the light of his magic, gathered at the center of his body the way it was with all the mortal wizards. He was untrained- there was no telltale path of magic towards the right hand, just a strong thread within, like an instrument to be plucked. Loki conjured a light, a derivative of the light of the sun but thousands of degrees dimmer, though it was still bright enough to light up the whole balcony, and held it out for Harry to take.

Harry reached out his fingers and withdrew another shining globe- smaller than the first, but separate, for light did not diminish, when it gave of itself.

"Good," Loki said. He closed Harry's hand and the light went out- both lights. "Now you try."

He watched Harry close his eyes and open his hand, breathing loudly and unevenly. The magic within him trembled a couple of times, but did not stir.

Loki frowned. His observations had shown that magic in Midgardians responded less to exact specifications and more to pure force of will (though both methods worked for both species, as when he had hurled his magic at the wards of Godric's Hollow). Strong desire was needed to pull the magic out of the core where it was buried in humans (as opposed to the easy second nature of using the magic gathered in one's fingers or wrists). There also was an intuitive element that seemed to come more easily to humans, if the presence of accidental magic was indicative. Nowhere on Asgard were there stories of magical outbursts; getting one's magic to conform to one's will was the result of training one's intuition and resonance so well that one could brute force it if necessary- it was the product of vast skill and training, not the other way around.

But Midgardians didn't have thousands of years to grasp the fundamentals of the universe; to learn to calculate quickly and easily the exact movement and duration of the spell, to memorize long series of calculations into workings that could be tweaked or adjusted at will. Something else- some other part of the brain, or some other brain did those calculations for them, or had done them already, and Midgardians were able to build off the knowledge to cast spells that they themselves were ignorant of. Loki still didn't understand it, but if that was the case, even a young wizard should be able to jump over some of the baseline understanding and cast a simple spell. He looked up expectantly.

Harry stood there concentrating, his face screwed up and fingers cupped tightly as if waiting for something to drop into them any second, but there was no response from the magic inside.

At last, Loki laughed, smoothing his hair.

"Perhaps not tonight, young one," he said. The books had also spoken of children straining their magic attempting tasks too great for them, and that was the last thing Loki wanted. Instead… he thought back to his own studies as a child, before he had been allowed to use magic very much at all. It was strange, when rubbing one's two fingers together was liable to create a spark, that the humans' magic was buried so deep inside.

"Perhaps we'll strengthen your willpower instead, then," he mused. When he and Thor were that age, they had been cast out into the wilderness for a month to learn independence. Perhaps something similar? But it seemed that wilderness survival skills did not carry much weight here as they did on Asgard. Something else, then…

Harry woke up the next day to the sun shining through the gap in the thick green curtains in his room in Uncle Loki's house. He crawled out of the blankets, feeling very warm and comfortable, and padded across the wooden floor on his bare feet to the big wooden bureau across his bed. He swung it open, looking up at all the clothing- robes and shirts and trousers in his size, in every color. He had asked Remus once why they couldn't just get clothes from Loki instead of going to the store and counting out all the money from the money pouch, and Remus had said that Loki was the Minister and that it wouldn't do to bother him over such things.

When he went to Loki's though he wore them because he didn't want to make Loki feel bad.

He went through the shirts, finding one that was bright green, like the shirt Loki wore, though that looked a little different 'cause it was armour. Then he went through the trousers, frowning. Most of them were black, and a couple of them were brown or blue, though there was a green and gold pair too, and a couple of skirts, even. At the very bottom of the pile was a pair of red corduroy trousers which he pulled out, grinning triumphantly. He got dressed all by himself, not even needing help with the buttons on the trousers (though he left the laces on his shoes undone), and clattered down the staircase at full speed. Even though Uncle Loki lived in a big ginormous house, he was all alone so Harry didn't have to worry about waking anybody up, so it was okay to run in the hallways. He ran all the way to the kitchen, pretending he was flying a broomstick, like his father the Quidditch Captain or like the British soldiers when they'd whipped the French soldiers arses (Ron had told him that, outside the range of Mrs. Weasley, and then when he'd repeated it to Remus, he'd looked very stern and told him there was a polite way to speak and that wasn't it). He kept running, racing so fast he almost skidded into Uncle Loki in the kitchen.

Uncle Loki was sitting at the counter with his legs crossed, looking amused.

"Um… did you get the breakfast yet, Uncle Loki?" Harry asked politely. Sometimes Uncle Loki had to get the food in the morning 'cause he didn't have any. Harry hadn't exactly believed him the first time he'd said that. He'd looked through all the cupboards and cabinets, but it was true- there wasn't anything there, not even a couple eggs or a half-open jar of jam. Which was weird because even when he and Remus went grocery shopping they had some food left, and Loki was Rich because he lived in a big house but he didn't have any.

Ron had told him this was probably because Loki was a vampire and didn't need to eat any food, just human blood, but Harry was skeptical of that notion, not least because he'd seen Loki go out in the sun. Remus said probably Loki didn't know how to cook.

"No," Loki said. "Unfortunately, I was too busy to pick up some food. I'm afraid it's down to you today, Mr. Potter."

Harry had never gotten groceries by himself before. But if Loki thought he could do it, then he was going to. He nodded quickly and turned around. -

"Harry?" Uncle Loki said, and he stopped at the threshold. Loki snapped his fingers and his shoelaces tied themselves.

"Thank you, Uncle." Harry said, opening up the door. As he opened the door to the outside, it lingered for an extra moment, and he thought he caught a glint of gold, but he blinked his eyes furiously and then it was gone.

He walked out onto the cobbled streets. There was a grocer's down the hill where he and Loki usually picked up the food, but as he got to the door he realized with dismay that he didn't have any money. It was very important to have money when you went into a store, Harry knew, because if you didn't pay the shopkeepers then it was stealing and they wouldn't be able to feed their little children.

He sat on the ground, thinking about it. He could go back and ask Loki for money, but perhaps Loki knew he didn't have any money and had sent him out anyway. Everyone always said Uncle Loki was very smart; Harry knew he wouldn't have forgotten something like that. Sometimes Loki did things like that.

There was food in Diagon Alley, and Hogsmeade, he thought. And… the Weasleys had food- perhaps he could floo there. But Remus wouldn't like it if he just went to the Weasleys and asked for food; he said they should never accept charity. Perhaps… he remembered him and Remus walking through a big marble building, full of strange people called goblins. The building was a bank, Harry knew, and there people could take out money for free.

Thus settled, he got up abruptly, spinning around and running back up the stairs and through the long hallways of the big house. He found a jar of green floo powder, sprinkled it in the fire (Remus never let Harry do this before, but Loki wouldn't mind), and said "Diagon Alley!"

He came out in the Leaky Cauldron- it was full of adults talking and drinking, loudly clinking glasses. They seemed very happy. A couple of people turned towards the fireplace, but nobody glanced down.

He walked into the back, where people were coming in and out of the big brick archway- he ran through quickly before it shut.

The street was much quieter than the pub. There was a great big hole where a building should've been, and a quiet sound kind of like someone crying, though when he looked around he didn't see anything. He stopped and stared, wondering what had made such a mess. He crouched on the ground where a huge rock had fallen unevenly on top of a smooth stick- no, a wand. It was short. With a huge effort, he heaved the rock off the wand and cleaned it off, wondering if he could use it to do magic like Remus.

"Sad, 'int it?" a booming voice said behind him. He whirled, coming face to face with… a giant knee. He looked up, his eyes widening. It was a man- the most enormous man Harry had ever seen. He looked like he could pick a building off the ground and drop it himself.

"H- hello," Harry said, putting the wand in his pocket and raising his hand to shake. "How do you do?"

The giant bent down, extending one massive hand, and gently… very gently, grasping his to shake.

"Well hello," the giant said. "You're looking a mite small to be out here on your own."

"I'm getting breakfast," Harry said.

"Huh," he said. "Well, p'raps it's me getting things wrong. How old are you, Harry?"

"How do you know my name?" Harry asked, astonished.

"Well…" the giant looked uncomfortable now. "Everyone's heard of Harry Potter. Yer a bit famous, you know."

Harry shook his head.

"Well, I'm Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts," the man said. "I were friends with your father and his mates, back when they were at school. Good man, James. Such a shame…"

"Do you know my dad, Remus?" Harry asked.

"Sure I did," Hagrid said. "He were a quiet one, I think. Very studious."

"What about my uncle, Loki?"

"Er…" Hagrid said. "He didn'a go to Hogwarts, I don' think. Foreign-born or somethin', not that there's anything wrong with that. Here, I'm a little busy- gotta get the feather regrower back'ta Professor Dumbledore at the castle, but if you come with me, I'll make us some breakfast down at my place. Wha'd'ya say?"

"Er," Harry said. Remus had a very clear policy for going off with strangers, and the answer was no, not ever.

"...that's okay," he said. "Prap's another time. I've got to get back to… my dad."

"Is he nearby then?" Hagrid said, looking concerned.

"Yep- just around the corner!" Harry lied, running around the corner by Madam Malkins.

When he was sure he was safe, he sat down sadly. He was really starting to get hungry. Perhaps… he took the wand out of his pocket, swishing it wildly, willing for some eggs and sausage to appear. Nothing happened.

He peeked back around the store to see if the giant was still there, but he was gone. There were still those strange sobbing noises, and he followed them around the side of the building, all the way to the back, where he saw a pile of robes, or rather- a man with his knees pulled up to his head.

"Hello," he said uncertainly, reaching out a hand to touch the man's knee, "Hello, are you okay?"

The man's head rose and Harry saw a pair of big, silver eyes, slightly bloodshot. He had wild white hair, Harry saw now, beneath his cowl.

"Yes," the man said, "Yes, I'm fine. Just… thousands of years of wandcraft and lore, all lost to a petty international spat. Did you know, Mr. Potter, that there were wands here dating to the beginning of the Roman conquest?"

Harry blinked.

"Oh, for all the French moaned and cried about our unicorns and thestrals; there were wands in this collection rarer than even Godric's sword!"

"I found a wand over there," Harry said, giving him the one from his pocket. "Maybe we can find some more of them?"

The man peered at him, seeming to focus for the first time.

"Would you, Mr. Potter?" he said.

"Sure," Harry said. "Only… perhaps you could get us some breakfast as well?"

Privately, he thought the man could use the food himself. Mrs. Weasley would've said he needed fattening up.

"Yes," the silver-eyed man said thoughtfully. "Yes, I'll go get some food and you poke around. You have very good eyes, child, despite those spectacles of yours."

The wall on the back of the shop was a little higher than the front, and Harry had to climb a bit to get over it. He reached for a grip, accidentally touching some jagged glass, but when he looked at his hand it was fine so he kept going.

He scanned the debris, looking for another wand. There was one poking out from under a big pile of rocks. There were a couple that were just splinters, and one that made his heart hurt- it was broken into pieces and had a red feather poking out of it. He gathered up the pieces, putting them in his pocket for later.

Soon, the man got back and helped him.

"Summoning wands, you see, is a delicate task," he said. "Many of them are buried, and those would just bash themselves against the debris. A travesty!"

He looked considerably more cheerful now. The two of them sat on a part of the wall that the man had transfigured into smoothness, eating mutton sandwiches between two thick pieces of bread with mayonnaise while the man talked about one of the wands in his hand and how it was made by taking the wood out from under particularly grumpy bowtruckle and a feather from the finest augury in Sweden.

Harry found eighteen wands and was feeling very proud of himself. The man found eleven. At last, though, it was getting late. He went back to the Leaky Cauldron, ready to floo back, but then realized with dismay he'd used all his floo powder getting there.

Perhaps… perhaps if he waited here Loki would come to fetch him?

He sat down on a stool in the corner of the pub, kicking the wall. Why had Uncle Loki made him come all the way here? Now he was stuck without anyone and it could be hours before he got home.

He fidgeted. No one was coming. He had to go to the bathroom, so he went to the one in the back of the pub. He finished up and washed his hands. Then he went back and sat down in the stall, trying not to cry. It was a long day, he wanted his da. He wanted Uncle Loki. He wanted to go home.

Perhaps… he went outside, where the fireplace was. Perhaps if he took some of the floo powder from the flour-pot…

But no, that was stealing again.

He watched as a large man entered the flames, shouting an address. It took a couple of seconds for the fire to turn green afterwards. Perhaps if he just went in after, the green would last long enough…

Harry waited for the next person to shout the address, and he ran in after, shouting

"Godric's Hollow!"

He felt a warm sensation tickle his skin and then the fireplaces passed in an orange rush and he was getting hotter and hotter and then everything went black.

"That's quite enough," a dry voice said, as Harry blinked and his eyes fluttered open.

"Where... " he started to say, but his voice came out in a croak.

A cup was raised to his lips and he swallowed obediently, then coughed it up a moment later when he realized that it wasn't water at all, but a nasty tasting potion.

"Drink it," the voice said gravely, and he knew that he must listen to this voice. This time, he let the potion slide down his throat and sit there like a slimy thing. A moment later, his breaths were coming far less ragged and he could speak again.

The glass was raised to his lips again and this time, it did contain water.

"Well," Loki said, for it was, of course, him. "That was not quite what I intended when I meant that you should learn independence, Harry. Tell me, do you have a death wish?"

"What-" Harry said, twisting the sheets in shame. "What's that?"

"Do you want to die?" Loki said.

Harry looked down to his hands.

"No," he said. All the pride and triumph from earlier had disappeared into his stomach, leaving him feeling small and ashamed.

"Harry, children do not go to the backs of alleyways to talk to strange adults. They talk to them in a public place, where everyone can be seen, if necessary, and not at all if possible. They also do not run around touching broken glass, and they certainly do not throw themselves into a fire."

"But…" Harry said, torn between anger and tears. "But you said I had to get breakfast."

"So go to the grocery store and take some," Loki said. "Or, having made your way to the Leaky Cauldron, ask someone there to buy you some. Certainly no one would refuse the Boy-Who-Lived."

"But-" Harry wasn't sure what to say to that, other than that Remus wouldn't have liked it. But he wouldn't have liked Harry getting hurt either. "It's not fair!" he said, feeling tears welling up.

A hand touched his shoulder and he looked up again.

"It's never fair," Loki said. "You must never think that it will be, because there will always be people stronger and better than you. And when that happens, you must cheat. You must," he said, above Harry's shaking head, "because playing fairly is for people with advantages. Do you understand?"

Harry wasn't sure he did, but he nodded.

"Good," Loki said, sounding satisfied. "Then let us go down. I've had quite a scare, but you aren't half as badly off as you should be so we might as well take dinner. Don't be so sad; it was not a bad first effort. I shan't tell you what- what others did, or would have done in your place, but suffice it to say, it is good that you have all your limbs attached. And you did end up with something useful, in the end," he said.

He pulled out the wand Harry had found. It was scorched; the casing was in splinters, barely hanging on, but the feather had survived the heat completely.

Loki reached out and on the top of the feather appeared a golden cap, the gold spiralling into the base, and the cap attached to a leather cord. He tapped the feather again and it shrank down again until it looked like a red feather charm.

"Here," he said. "A phoenix feather. I've never seen one myself, but I'm told they have magical properties. It'd be good to have one around."

Harry nodded, letting him clasp the necklace on. He was now thoroughly confused, but it seemed like things weren't so bad, after all. The weight of his charm felt significant, like he was carrying something within him now.

"I suggest you don't tell this story to your guardian," Loki was saying, opening the door. "He'll be less-than-impressed by your life preservation skills, and I think you've had enough scolding for the evening, don't you?"

"Yes," Harry agreed fervently. He touched the feather, feeling just the slightest tingling around his fingers, and then skipped down the hallway, trying to catch up with Loki for a very late lunch.