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Evil Author Day Snippets

Chapter Text

September 1st, 1970

 

Dear Mum,

This letter comes to you from the first year boys Gryffindor dorm.

Yep, you read that right, Gryffindor. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

You done? Great.

Looks like phase two of project ‘Trick the Wizarding World’ is off to a brilliant start.

On the Express, I stuck with Cousin James Potter. He’s an awesome straight man and a typical Gryffindor. I’m sure that we’re going to be ‘best friends’, and I have no idea how Great Aunt Dorea let her godson grow up so clueless.  

We ran into this redheaded Muggleborn girl early in the trip and, of course, he fell instantly in love. She’s best friends with Cousin Eileen’s son Severus, you know my ‘nemesis’, so we threw fake insults at each other before dragging our friends off to separate compartments.

 You were right about the train journey being all about politics.

Groan….

Many of the older purebloods who are into that sort of thing came by to try to figure out where I fall in terms of the family. My favourite visit was when old Lucy Malfoy stopped in during his ‘rounds’ as a new prefect. He tried to bribe me with the ‘secret’ to sorting Slytherin.  Of course, he didn’t talk about the Hat directly, but kept telling me; ‘focus on your Family ambitions when the time comes’. I nearly laughed in his face.

It wasn’t his fault that our family shares the secrets of the Sorting Hat before we arrive at Hogwarts. After all, our ancestors helped with the original working for the bloody thing.  

One of the many good things about being a Black, I was early in the sorting line, third this year. Harvey says hello and that he misses teatime. I promised him that I’d try to live up to your example.

He loved my idea of sorting Gryffindor, said it was a prank worthy of Slytherin and Gryffindor (aka Sal and Ric). He said that they were best friends back in the day. We chatted for a long time, so I looked like a hat-stall. We even made it look like we were arguing. When he finally shouted GRYFFINDOR you could hear a pin drop, everyone was so shocked. I’ll show you a pensieve memory over Yule.

Finally, Jamie started cheering, which broke the ice. He joined me at the Gryffindor table later, naturally. Dumbledore’s eyes looked like stars they were twinkling so hard. You know he’s going to try to use this to get me on his side.

 

Your move,

Siri

Chapter Text

“Sir?”

The sound of Jarvis’ voice broke through the haze of Tony’s current distraction. Looking up from where he was fiddling with a soldering iron, Tony Stark narrowed his eyes in confusion.

“I told you that I was not to be disturbed. I’m on the trail of something awesome.” He stated as he set the iron back in its cradle, lightly blowing on the circuit board that he had just been working on repairing.

“Yes, sir. But there is someone at the front door.”

“Front door? Pfft, you mean the gate?”

“No, sir. The door. He appears to have made his way past the external security measures.”

“Okay, J. Show me what you’ve got.”

A holographic screen appeared, floating above the table where Tony had just been working. On it, live footage from the front door camera was displayed.

In front of the door stood a handsome young man, mid-twenties in age, dressed casually with an old army duffel set by his feet. Mere moments after the feed activated, he looked up directly into the camera as if sensing its activation, showing off clear blue eyes and an attractive face.

“Who are you? And what are you doing at my house?” Tony asked, keying the intercom outside.

In the image, the man looked down for a moment, and then returned his gaze to the camera. “My name’s Callister, and my dad told me to come see you if I needed help. That is, if you are Tony Stark.”

“Sir,” Jarvis interrupted before he could respond. “There appears to be someone trying to hack into my network.”

“What?” Tony asked, surprised.

“He’s quite adept, I must say,” Jarvis continued as Tony pulled up a second screen to see the intrusion. “The source appears to be coming from our visitor.”

Tony hummed in agreement even as he typed furiously, trying to disable the intruder’s probe. Almost absently, he reactivated the intercom to ask, “Of course I’m Tony Stark. But you, you are something else. Asking for help even as you invade.”

“Invade?” Came the confused response before it almost instantly shifted to apology. “Oh… Sorry about that, it’s automatic.”

Tony froze, even as he continued working at the keyboard. “J. You see what I’m seeing?”

“Indeed, sir. It appears that our hack was some form of…” the AI paused, “greeting. However, there appears to be a virus attached to the greeting, which my systems registered as a hack.”

“Hah,” Tony grinned maniacally, even as he stared intently at the screen. “There you are, you little bugger.” Typing in a few more lines, he added. “Bounce that back at our visitor would you J?”

He glanced over at the monitor just in time to see Callister stumble back as if struck. “Well, it seems our hacker there has some kind of internal link to his tech.”

“Indeed, sir.”

Man and machine went back to work, refining their attack on the virus based on the response they received. Meanwhile, their visitor had dropped into a seated position beside his bag. His head was down and braced between his hands as if he had a severe migraine.

After what felt like an eternity to Tony, but was probably no more than ten minutes, Tony crowed victorious. “Hah, that ought to do it.”

He looked over at the outside view and watched as Callister fell backwards, body locked, and then started to seize.

“Thank… you,” he gasped through clenched teeth, fighting off the convulsions ravaging his body.

After a moment, Jarvis asked, “Shall I call the police sir?”

“Not yet,” Tony replied, his mind whirling. “I’m going up there first.” He headed out the door of the lab and up the stairs towards the front door to the Malibu estate.

Jarvis sighed. Sometimes his creator could be so reckless.

“At least take a weapon with you, sir.” He called as Tony approached the door.

The man activated the less sophisticated interface beside the door, pulling a pistol from the lock box mounted in the wall beside it.

“Naturally, J. Anything happen while I was on the move?”

“Your visitor’s convulsions continue, though their intensity appears to be decreasing.”

Tony grabbed the door, thankful that it opened inward. Looking down at his visitor, Callister, he reminded himself. Wait, where had he heard that name before? Nothing? Nope. Anyways.

“So, what’s happening?” He asked as he looked down at the convulsing body. “Do you need me to call an ambulance, or something?”

“No… Hospital…” Callister gritted out between shakes. “It’s just… the corrupted data… being purged.” Looking closely, Tony thought he caught a glimpse of something strange hidden in his eyes.

“Wait a minute, data?” Tony snapped his fingers. “That’s where I know your name. Nathan! He was raving about this new programmer of his.”

Callister managed a weak smile. “Father,” he agreed, even as he gritted his teeth through another wave of convulsions.

Tony tapped a finger to his lips as he thought. “Well then, if you don’t want to go to the hospital, what shall I do with you?”

When Callister started to respond, Tony interrupted.

“Hsst, that was rhetorical. I’m thinking.”

“You make it past the first level of my security, attempt to hack my computers using some kind of bio-mechanical interface, and are connected to my favorite big brother.”

“However, despite your claim, you’re far too old and have the wrong coloring to be his biological child. That leaves lots of options. Adoption, fostering, I suppose, though I doubt that one. Protégé of some kind seems most likely.

Through the rapidly lessening shakes, Callister smirked, prompting Tony to exclaim. “That, that right there is definitely Nathan’s though.”

“Well… you’re not completely wrong…” Callister agreed. “But… you haven’t got it… yet, either.”

Tony waited for a minute or so until the shakes dissipated to the point that they were barely noticeable.

“You’re not secretly planning to hurt me are you?” he asked Callister.

“Would I tell you if I was?” came the sarcastic response.

“True, but you did ask for help. Was that sincere?”

“Yes.”

Tony stared down at the face below, and then sighed. “Okay, then. I’m going to trust my gut and give you a little leeway. Let’s see how far you take it. He tucked the gun into the back of his waistband, making sure that the safety was engaged before he did so.

“Can you get up?” he asked.

Callister put in an effort, managing to prop himself up on his arms for a moment before collapsing back.

“Guess, not, huh. Well, it’s a good thing I’m used to helping incapacitated friends then.”

Tony manhandled Callister up into a sitting position, shoving the duffel behind his back to keep him upright. Then he went downstairs to grab one of the small platforms that he used when working on the underside of his cars.

Working together, the two men managed to situate Callister onto the platform, move him to the living room and get him seated on a low couch. Once Callister was in place, Tony collapsed beside him with a huff.
“That was way more physical work than I was looking to do this afternoon.” He climbed to his feet and headed for the room’s minibar.

“I need a drink before we continue our conversation, you want one?”

“No thanks.”

“Your loss.”

Tony poured himself a couple fingers of whiskey, pulled the from behind his back and set it on the bar, and then took a seat facing Callister.

“Oh, and before you say anything, I should probably introduce you to the other participant in this conversation. J!”

“Good afternoon, Callister Raynes. My name is Jarvis, and I run this house.”

“Along with most of my life,” Tony added fondly. “Jarvis stands for ‘Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.’ He’s an AI, but he’s every bit as intelligent as you or I. Actually, he was the main one who figured out how to deal with your little ‘virus’.”

Instead of being startled, the most common reaction when people were introduced to Jarvis, Callister beamed.

“No wonder Father suggested you, you’re just like him.”

Looking towards the nearest camera, Callister added. “It’s wonderful to meet you Jarvis. I appreciate your help with my illness.”

“Now then,” Tony asked, “what’s the what?”

Chapter Text

“Whew, that was a close one.” Jack commented as he looked out from the mouth of the cave at the ‘rain’ that fell outside the cave where they were sheltered. “That stuff looks nasty.”

Instead of water, the objects that fell from the sky looked like silvery threads. That is, until they hit something living. Then they turned into monstrous, writhing worms that rapidly consumed all organic material within reach and multiplied as they ‘ate’. The tall grass that the team had just run through was rapidly devolving into a sea of moving threads.

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed.

“Carter?”

“I don’t know sir, but this is probably why the address is on the prohibited list.”

“Ya think?”

SG-1, made up of Colonel Jack O’Neill, Major Samantha Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson and Teal’c, was scouting the latest gate address spit out by the dialing computer. They were particularly curious about the planet because Teal’c recognized the gate address during the mission briefing. The address led to one of the planets that were banned by the Goa’uld. 

However, when the Mountain first dialed the address and sent a MALP through, all readings came back normal. The video camera showed tall grasslands in all directions, undisturbed by any signs of civilization.

“Oh boy,” Jack had joked when he realized that the undergrowth was almost as tall as he was. “That’s going to be fun to hike through.”

Now he was looking at the annihilation of that same undergrowth with shock and awe.

 

While the rest of the team was watching the spectacle outside, Daniel was more interested in the interior of the cave. Shining his torch against the far wall, he caught a glimpse of what looked like writing. On closer inspection, Daniel saw that it was actually the first image in a sequence of scenes painted on the wall. The story told through the paintings was simple, but impactful.

In the first scene, a group of humans and Jaffa came through the stargate, with the gate address to the planet written below the main image.

The second scene showed a village with people cultivating and harvesting a crop of a particular native plant. In one corner of the scene, a close up image of a single plant was included. The village looked like a permanent settlement with homes built of brick and thatched roofs.

The third scene was the stuff of nightmares. Rain fell on the village, but where it hit, it consumed people, livestock and belongings alike. It was clear that the rain was the same as the silver threads that fell outside the cave.

The fourth scene was one of heartbreak. In it, a few people were picking through the remains of the village. Most of the homes had become low walls of brick, with the exception of a single stone building that was mostly intact. This building, apparently the only safe shelter from the ribbons, must have been where the survivors had sheltered during the ‘threadfall’.

The fifth scene was the conclusion. In it, the few remaining settlers fled through the stargate even as a second ‘threadfall’ approached in the distance.

 

As Daniel followed the images along the wall of the passage, it curved until he was out of sight of the rest of the team. A low ‘chirp’ interrupted his examination of the surface. Turning, he allowed the torch’s light to follow the sound to where an oddly shaped lizard stood beside a pile of eggs.

Before he could do anything more, Daniel was hit by an odd feeling, as if someone was greeting him inside his head. It was sense of welcome/hope/friend that made the man smile in fascination at the odd method of communication. He tried to project a similar greeting, hoping that the unknown being could read as well as project.

A second pulse, this one of confusion/curiosity, followed the first, even as the strange lizard unfurled wings and flew up to hover at eye level. The lizard’s skin had a golden sheen and its large multifaceted eyes gleamed in the light of the torch that Daniel still held in his hand.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Daniel whispered as he stared at the creature. “You’re the one in my head.”

The creature gave another chirp in response.

Jack poking his head around the corner interrupted the moment.

“What the hell, Danny!” he exclaimed as he shifted his gun into shooting position.

At the same time, there was a series of popping sounds and several more flying lizards appeared out of thin air. They hovered in formation around the original golden beast.

Daniel yelled, “don’t shoot,” and placed himself between the lizards and his teammate even as Sam and Teal’c came round the corner to join their leader.

“Danny…” Jack warned, trying to get him to move.

“Jack, they’re not hostile!”

His message was somewhat weakened by the gout of fire that emerged from the throat of one of the lizards.

“Easy,” Daniel begged while projecting a sense of calm/misunderstanding/peace as best he could.

When no further gouts appeared, the rest of the team lowered their weapons.

Apology/greeting was projected; but this time Daniel was not the only one who felt it.

“What is that?” Sam asked.

“I think it’s how they communicate,” Daniel explained, even as he held out his arm. As the original golden beast landed on it, Jack grinned.

“Well, Danny, it looks like you’ve managed to make friends with a mini dragon.”

Chapter Text

"Everyone, freeze."

An authoritative voice broke through the noise of moving figures and the growl of shifted wolves.

The whole mess: Alpha werewolf in half shift at the center, with his clawed hand around the female Hunter's throat surrounded by two Beta werewolves also in half shift and four teenagers, two boys and two girls, armed with either self-igniting Molotov cocktails, a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, or a miniature crossbow with silver tipped bolts, turned at the sound. From behind a tree, the source of the voice emerged. He was a lean, weathered man of early middle age dressed in casual clothes with a long hunting knife clearly visible in one hand while he kept the other behind his back.

"Chris, thank god you're here -" began the female Hunter as she squirmed uselessly in the grasp of the Alpha werewolf.

"Kate, be quiet," her brother, for that was who the new arrival was, interrupted. He turned to the Alpha werewolf, who held her tight against his body.

"Alpha of the Hale pack, I have only recently learned of my clan's serious wrongdoing against your pack. I know that nothing can make up for the losses which you have suffered, but I am here seeking negotiation on how we may make amends."

"Too late for that, Argent," Peter - the Alpha werewolf - growled as he flexed the claws that he held at Kate's throat. "This bitch will be punished my way."

He was prepared to rip her throat open, but before the Alpha could do so, all heard a strange whining sound. What looked like controlled lightning hit Peter and Kate, and they spasmed and collapsed, unconscious.

The Beta werewolves, Derek Hale and teen Scott McCall, as well as the apparently human teens Stiles, Jackson, Lydia and Chris' daughter Allison turned back from the sight of the collapsed figures to stare at Chris. He stood there, calm, with a strange looking weapon held in the hand that he had previously kept behind his back. It was s-shaped, with a ridged pattern around the outside of the brass colored metallic tube. The weapon was roughly the size of a handgun and the source of the strange lightning that they had just seen.

"Don't worry, they're merely unconscious at this stage," Chris remarked as he compressed the weapon into a smaller shape about half its original size and holstered it in his belt.

"Um, what the hell!" exclaimed Stiles, speaking for the entire group.

"I'll explain in a moment, but the stun blast only lasts a short time on Alphas." Chris went back to the tree that he had hid behind and retrieved a duffle that clanked as it moved.

"Hale, if you don't mind putting these on my beloved sister," he tossed two sets of hefty cuffs at the Beta werewolf. Derek caught them easily and securely cuffed Kate with her arms behind her back and her ankles together even as he relaxed back to fully human form. Given that she had been torturing him as recently as earlier that afternoon, he had no problem with making sure that she was captive.

“These are infused with wolfsbane, so you and Scott and any other werewolves’ best be careful. They will cause a rash if exposed to an open wound and are designed to prevent the wearer from using Supernatural strength to break them." Chris continued, educating the group as he pulled out a second, larger and linked pair and taking them over to the unconscious Alpha. He cuffed the man in a hogtied position, hands behind his back and linked with a short chain to cuffs at his ankles, but shifted the dead weight of the unconscious body to prevent strained muscles.

Once he was done, Chris gave his now shaking daughter a quick hug before turning to the rest of the group.

"Now we're ready for story time," he said, causing more than one quick bark of laughter. "Let me say what I think is going on here and you all can confirm or deny and we'll go from there."

Everyone nodded.

"Right. Several years ago my sister Kate there decided for some unknown reason that the entire Hale pack needed to die." He glanced apologetically at the battered Derek. "So she used her considerable skills, including, unfortunately, the seduction of an underage teen, to arrange the Hale fire. The attack left only three survivors according to my records. Laura, who those records state was the new Hale Alpha, along with two Betas: Derek, who was still just a teenager, and Peter, who was badly burnt and trapped in a coma."

Derek nodded in agreement, wincing at the reminder of his actions.

"Fast-forward to a few months ago, when Peter miraculously wakes up from his comatose state. He then decides that he should take direct, bloody revenge on everyone involved in the deaths of his family. I'm not sure how Laura ended up back here, but it appears that Peter killed her to gain Alpha status."

 "With his new status he continued his vendetta, but decided that he needed a pack to complete the task. This is presumably where the rest of you start to come in."

Stiles and Scott nodded; Peter had told them the story during his ramblings.

 "Meanwhile, the attacks also caught the attention of Hunters and me in particular. Ironically, I started hearing about the attacks after Victoria and I had already begun the process of moving to Beacon Hills. We had thought that it would be a good place for Allison to finish high school in part because there’d been no sign of supernatural violence in the area for several years."

"I'm still not sure how you all got involved or how much each of you knows about the situation and the supernatural," Chris looked apologetically at his daughter in particular. "I was hoping to keep you out of this life, Allison; but Kate and circumstances seem to have dragged you in despite my best efforts."

"Anyone have something else to add to my summary?”

The group all shook their heads, dumbfounded at the calm analysis of what was previously a very emotionally driven night.

“We have our two suspects rounded up; now we have to decide what happens next."

It was quiet for a minute as the group took the chance to digest the information. Naturally, Stiles was the first to break the silence.

“What about your weird stun gun? I've seen Tasers and stuff hanging out at the station, but never anything like that."

"That's a whole ‘nother story," Chris replied with a smile. "We can talk about it later, once we deal with more pressing issues."

"Right, Peter," Derek said with a sigh, rubbing his face with his hand.

"Can't we just kill him," Scott asked abruptly.

At his friend’s thoughtless words, Stiles face-palmed in exasperation and everyone else stiffened. "Scotty, you can't just say that, dude. He's still Derek's uncle and a person."

"But what about, you know, the story?"

Stiles groaned in response. "Dude, we don't even know if that works."

"What are you two talking about?" Chris asked.

"Um, we read online that if you kill the werewolf that bit you it will, you know, fix it," Scott tried to explain.

This time everyone groaned. "Oh yeah, that cleared it up perfectly," remarked Jackson, sneering at his rival.

Nevertheless, Chris got the gist of what Scott was asking. "Unfortunately that is just a legend. Killing Peter won't return you to human."

Scott's face fell on hearing the news, while Stiles patted him on the back in sympathy.

"What do we do with him then?" Lydia asked abruptly. "As one of his victims I certainly don't want him running around." In addition to several brief encounters earlier in the year, the redhead was attacked by the Alpha during the dance the night before. During that attack, she was bait to summon Stiles to the man's side.

"Obviously we can’t just let him loose, but I’d prefer to avoid killing the tortured victim of a hate crime. I have a few questions for Peter before I can suggest options, but I’d like to let Derek make the final decision as he has the closest connection to the man," Chris explained.

Since there was no benefit to standing around waiting for the stun to wear off, Chris sent the teens off to fetch the various vehicles stashed along the road and park them in the clearing in front of the destroyed Hale house. He had Allison fetch his SUV in particular as he had several items in the trunk that would be of use. These included bottles of water and snacks that the boys especially greeted with enthusiasm.

At the same time, Chris helped Derek clean up the various wounds left from Kate’s torture sessions. Most of them were minor and just needed to be cleaned out, but there were two that needed a couple of stitches to hold them together until Derek’s accelerated healing had a chance to kick in.

About a half-hour after the shooting Peter began to stir. Despite not being fully awake, he immediately tried to break free of the confining cuffs. When that failed, he growled at Chris, flashing his fangs and red eyes.

"The cuffs are infused with wolfsbane and are designed to hold Alpha werewolves," Chris commented idly as he watched the attempt. "You won't be getting loose that way."

"Thought you were different from your family, Argent," the Alpha growled. "At least that's what you said last time."

"You're still alive, aren't you," Chris replied mildly. The two had met years before, when Peter was still his older sister Talia’s Beta and second. Chris had swung through the area to drop off a packet of information to his father, who was there for a summit between the Hunters and a number of packs from the Western United States. Running into Peter while in town and recognizing him, Chris had taken the opportunity to discuss stable pack culture over coffee. The two had hit it off, although the Hunter could not stay in town for the summit as he was just passing through on his way to another call.

"Oh, and if you look to your left you will see evidence of my sincerity." Chris motioned to Kate's still motionless, bound form. The Alpha tried to lunge at his nemesis, but his bonds prevented him from reaching her body.

"Enough," Derek snapped. "Why did you do it, Peter? Why did you kill her?" Everyone knew whom he was asking about, his sister and Peter's niece, not Kate.

Peter sighed, looking up at his glowering nephew. "I wasn't fully aware of what was happening, my wolf was mostly in charge until after Laura was dead and I healed using the Alpha power," he finally admitted. "She deserved some punishment for just leaving me in that hospital in pain without any pack around to help me heal, but death is beyond even my most vengeful thoughts.”

“However, she failed to live up to her responsibilities both to me and to avenge the pack. Everyone else I killed deserved their punishment for taking part in the fire or its cover-up."

At this point in his speech, most of the listening teenagers interrupted Peter. Everyone who interrupted complained about their injuries at his claws and protested that they had done nothing to deserve that treatment. While they were distracted, Chris walked back to the SUV and pulled out a talisman shaped like a wolf's head on a leather strap.

He then pulled Derek aside from the group, knowing that Peter, and Scott if he was paying attention, would be able to overhear.

"Derek, the way I see it, Peter is in no condition to be allowed to run free, let alone stand as the Hale pack Alpha. As a Hunter, I would be following the code if I killed him in response to his actions. However, given his extenuating circumstances and my family’s involvement in his injuries I would like to offer an alternative to the normal Hunter practice. With this talisman," he waved the wolf's head pendant, "along with the aid of you and Scott as Hale Betas, I can strip Peter of his Alpha status and return him to his previous Beta state. I believe the power of Hale Alpha would then automatically transfer to you as the most appropriate successor."

"Once that is done, I would send him to the clinic of a friend of mine. The clinic specializes in helping the victims of supernatural related violence. These victims have included non-mundane clients including werewolves in the past. They have the facilities to keep Peter contained and give him help, as well as assess whether or not he will ever be able to function in mundane society again."

"My only condition in offering this alternative is the following: the Beacon Hills area, as a nexus of supernatural activity, needs a stable pack. Therefore, I ask that you either stay and take the role of Alpha for Beacon Hills seriously or cede the territory to another Alpha. If the region remains in limbo, the most likely scenario for the future of Beacon Hills is chaos, death, and destruction. As a sign of my sincerity, I also offer my services as emissary for the Hale pack if you remain in the territory. I have experience with the role and contacts with the larger community that I am willing to share to aid in the rebuilding of the Hale pack here in Beacon Hills."

Derek and Chris' quiet discussion was disturbed when Peter gave a loud scoff. He had been eavesdropping while fielding threats and complaints from the rest of the group.

"You can't trust a Hunter, Derek; especially an Argent," he said as he nodded towards the now awake Kate. "Look what happened the last time."

"He makes a fair point," Derek agreed, looking at Chris. “How can I know that your offer is sincere?”

"I believe that my reputation speaks for itself. People know me to be a Hunter who lives in peace with Supernatural beings who abide by the law and who follows the strictest definition of the Hunters’ code. However, since we don’t have access to unbiased parties right now I offer a more simple proof of my sincerity," Chris replied. "I give you the choice of my sister’s fate. If you want her dead for her actions I promise to keep your involvement secret and will even dispose of the body if you prefer."

Allison gasped at her father's offer and Kate yelled 'traitor' before Lydia gagged her with a scarf and nodded decisively. When everyone stared at her, she shrugged. "This whole mess is her fault, she has no right to a say in the matter."

"My hero," Stiles muttered, and Chris shook his head.

"As I was saying, she's dead and gone if you prefer. I do have an alternative to suggest though," he continued, ignoring Peter's disbelieving snort. "We could arrange to have her punished using mundane laws. After all, she is guilty of many things including mass murder, conspiracy to commit murder and statutory rape at minimum.”

“I have already begun compiling a file with documentation of her crimes for both the mundane police and the Hunters’ Council. If you are willing, I will take Kate to the Sheriff’s station, along with the mundane version of my files, so that she can brought to justice through the mundane courts. As is the Hunters Council mandate, I would first place a geas of silence on her such that she will be unable to discuss the supernatural elements of this whole situation. I’m sure that the Sheriff would be willing to hold her and push for prosecution given the information that I have collected. Stiles, I believe that your father has already been looking into the case on his own."

As the other teens looked at him in surprise, Stiles shrugged. "My dad was tracing the links between the various attacks, and the fire is an obvious link once you start digging."

“Regardless of your choice, I will be turning the unedited file with supernatural details over to the Hunters Council for their own investigation as is our custom. I offer you the opportunity to review the file before I turn it in to ensure that I'm not sharing any Hale pack secrets.”

Derek thought for a minute. "As proof that your offers are sincere, we will do the ritual," he nodded toward the pendant. "That is, if Scott is willing to lose Peter as his Alpha."

"What will happen to me?" Scott asked stubbornly, still hoping for a way to change his status as a werewolf.

Chris replied before Derek had to do so. "Peter will no longer have any control over you. You will instead get to choose between having Derek as your Alpha, which will allow him to help you adjust to your new instincts, or going it alone as an Omega and learning control without his help. The ritual is also known to help accelerate healing from any currently active injuries on all pack members."

Scott nodded reluctantly at the mention of his control issues as Stiles snickered and Jackson snorted.

“How do you think this asshole found out," Stiles teased, waving at Jackson, who just smirked back at the smaller teen.

"I don't have to do anything gross, do I?" Scott continued.

"The ritual itself is quite simple," Chris countered. "We need a bit of blood from all three wolves to be smeared on the talisman, then the two of you must say the following in unison, 'The pack rejects it’s Alpha'."

"Okay, then," Scott said finally, nodding in agreement. Given Scott's approval, Chris performed the ritual while ignoring Peter's perfunctory protests and Kate's muffled yells.

When the ritual was complete, all three wolves' eyes flashed their current colors: red for Peter, blue for Derek, and gold for Scott. Then Peter's eyes flashed a second time, only this time they were blue and he collapsed in on himself a little.

A moment later Derek gasped, arching his back as his eyes flashed red and he shifted into his half shift form, prompting the others' eyes to flash and their bodies to shift in response.

"Awesome," Stiles murmured as Jackson watched jealously and Lydia shuddered at the scene from her nightmares. Allison stood by her father, stoic, as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She was coping with shock from the day’s revelations.

Derek stayed in half shift form for a minute, absorbing the changes from his new state. Then he turned back to full human and spoke to the group. "I need a bit of time alone before I can make a decision." 

"I understand," Chris replied. "Unfortunately we do have to at least decide if one or more deaths will occur tonight before anyone leaves the Preserve." He looked at his watch and saw that it was only about eight pm.

"Here's what we're going to do. I am going to call my wife Victoria, have her pick up pizza for dinner for everyone, and bring it out here. Meanwhile, you all," he gestured at the teens, "are going to call your parents and let them know that you're staying with us for the night."

"While we're doing that, Derek can go think things over on his own and decide how he wants to handle Peter and Kate."

"Before he leaves, does anyone have anything to say to Derek to help him make a decision? Remember that this is just about Peter and Kate, nothing else."

"If you don't want to kill Peter I still want him punished for what he did to me," Lydia said as Jackson nodded in agreement.

"That can be easily included as part of the rehabilitation arrangement," Chris replied as Derek nodded in understanding.

"I don't want my Aunt to die," Allison sniffed. "But I understand why dad is doing this," Chris once again hugged his daughter with sympathy and pride.

"Dad's really good at making sure criminals get what they deserve," Stiles commented. "If Mr. Argent's file is as complete as I suspect, along with the information I know Dad’s already gathered, I expect that Kate’s trial would lead to a conviction of at least 25-life in prison."

"Anyone else? Okay, Derek, the food should be here in an hour or so..." The newly made Alpha took off into the woods without a word.

Chapter Text

The noise was the first thing that penetrated the Imperius haze: the sounds of tens of thousands of people yelling and screaming in hundreds of different languages.

Vision came next, the lights and colour almost overwhelming in their intensity. He caught sight of the large golden hoops on the pitch and the sparkle from the various outrageous outfits that many of the attendees wore.

A memory swam up, from right before his father updated the Imperius on him.

---

“I’ve decided to give you a present; not that you deserve it. Today is the Quidditch World Cup. I was given a seat in the Minister’s box thanks to my position; but I will be far too busy actually working to use it. So, Winky will be taking you – under the cloak of course – to watch the match.”

Bartemius Crouch, Senior continued speaking, taking a more formal tone as he gave orders to go with the curse. “Imperius. You will accompany Winky to the site, where you will follow all of her orders precisely. You will make no attempt to contact any person, claim a wand, or leave her side. You will sit quietly, watch the match, and then wait for me to return you here.”

With that, young Bartemius – Mouse to his friends – fell back into the spelled haze that he spent most of his time trapped inside.

---

Now he was at the pitch, sitting in a prime viewing seat with an invisibility cloak covering him and Winky perched between his outstretched legs to keep anyone from trying to claim the ‘empty’ seat. He could feel her quivering, and managed to quirk a small grin. The little DEAR was terrified of heights.

He remembered taking advantage of that fact as a child whenever he wanted to escape her supervision. He’d head out into the woods and climb the nearest tree. From there, he had created a whole network of branch trails that let him wander far above the ground. One of his favourite games was pretending to be a Bane Sidhe – not one of those namby-pamby ‘light’ elves, but one of the Wild Hunt from Mother’s stories – and ‘hunting’ for prey in the branches.

Whenever Winky would brave the heights to fetch him, she would become the prey…

 In his distraction, he’d failed to notice the rest of the Ministry box filling up with attendees. On one side of the box stood Oran Nott and Lucius Malfoy, his old comrades-in-arms, having a serious conversation with a pair of swarthy Eastern European men in what sounded like German. At their side, a hapless Cornelius Fudge hovered.

The sight made Mouse snort internally; he’d endured listening to his father’s complaints about the man for years. The incompetent blowhard had ‘stolen’ the ambitious Crouch’s desired position and then proceeded to make it a laughing stock in the International Wizarding community. Between Fudge’s tendency to ‘change his mind’ about anything – including issues that affected International relations – whenever he got the right ‘motivation’ and Dumbledore’s heavy handedness, the Kingdom of Albion’s international reputation was in tatters. The bloody Yanks were the worst these days in the aftermath of the Black affair.

Mouse savoured the memory of that incident. One day his father had come home from work, furious. Sirius Black, a man whom Crouch Senior had personally sent to Azkaban, had been declared innocent by an ICW court. Even worse, the ICW trial had convened because the prisoner had escaped from Azkaban and claimed asylum with MACUSA nearly a year before, something that Fudge had kept a secret from Crouch Senior. And worse still, there was literally nothing that Crouch Senior could do about any of it.

 

At the end of the box closer to Mouse and Winky, a trio of teens stood clustered. There was a pair of boys: presumably Oran’s grandson and Lucius’ son. ‘Cius’ boy shared his father’s white blond hair and sharp features, though his eyes were the famous silver of his Black relatives. His name was a compromise between the Black and Malfoy traditions – Draconus, or something like that – Mouse remembered how excited ‘Cius had been to have an heir.

The other one – Theodore, after his deceased father – had been a balm to Oran, having been born several months after the first Theodore had died in a raid. The Notts had taken a step back in their support of the Dark Lord after that messy business. It was necessary to protect the Family’s interests, but their Lord had still been displeased. It appeared that young Theodore was growing up to be a close match to his namesake in face as well as name.

“Any word on who’s going to replace the werewolf?” The taller boy, Nott, asked. “Grandfather said that some of the families demanded his departure after what happened with Greyback.”

“If Father knows, he’s playing it close,” came the reply. “It’s a shame; Lupin was a good teacher, despite being a werewolf. He managed to treat us Slytherins fairly, even though he’s a Gryff.”

“True,” the boys’ companion, a beautiful blonde who appeared to be with the Nott Heir based on their positions, commented. “Did you hear about what he did to Professor Snape? Tracy happened to be using the lab next to Snape’s office to practice for exams and got to listen to the whole thing. Apparently, something happened when they were students,” – The infamous ‘attack’ that got Black kicked off the Gryffindor Quidditch team for a whole year “that Lupin had apologized, again, for at the beginning of the year. It seems that Snape’s been brewing the Wolfsbane for Lupin and poor Hannah all year.”

“Lupin thought that he’d finally put it behind him but, ‘revealing Miss Abbott’s secret as well as mine was shameful and extremely poor behaviour for a member of the faculty. If that young woman suffers any consequences due to your inability to compartmentalize, I will personally make sure that you regret it. Lycanthropy is an incurable condition, not a voluntary action, as you very well know.’ Tracy was cooing over how sexy Lupin sounded while in protective mode.”

In unison, the two boys shuddered. They didn’t need to hear about the fantasies of their female compatriots regarding the man. Sounds like Remus has gotten even better with age… while Severus has… not.

“I’m just glad that Greyback’s Kiss means no more Dementors,” Theo admitted. “I had such terrible nightmares last year. Speak of the devil though, Daph,” he continued. “Looks like our esteemed former Professor is joining us up here in the prime seats.”

Sure enough, Remus Lupin had just walked into the Ministry box, accompanied by the balding redheaded form of Arthur Weasley and a crowd of teens. The Weasley Patriarch was gesticulating wildly as he made a point to the former Hogwarts DADA Professor. Behind him, his children rolled their eyes before they and their friends headed past the Slytherin group to make their way to the front of the box.

“Malfoy. Nott. Greengrass,” one of the non-redheads greeted the trio as the rest of the gang headed past, their hands full with Omnioculars and other souvenir paraphernalia.

“Longbottom. How’d Weasley manage so many tickets?” Draco asked a touch snidely. “Ministry box is quite the coup.”

The Longbottom boy winced as his blonde friend, the only other one who stopped to chat, patted his arm. “Reparations from Fudge for the Dementor affair,” he said shortly.

“So it’s true then?” the Slytherin girl, a Greengrass apparently, asked. “You all got caught up in the mess with Greyback? Did you see it happen?”

“Yeah,” Longbottom muttered. “They almost got Professor Lupin and Hannah and were coming at the rest of us. It was lucky the Professor offered those extra lessons on the Patronus and so many of us signed up… None of us managed a clear form, but the mist from all of us was enough hold them off until the other Professors got there. Professor Dumbledore was FURIOUS. I didn’t know you could use Patronus messages as Howlers!”

“Apparently, Fudge offered seats to all of us who got caught up in the affair to try and drum up some good publicity. Hannah’s off with cousins, but the rest of us are here. He’s still not in good shape though; Gran says that the Dementor affair may be the last straw with the Wizengamut.”

“Come on Neville, Luna, leave the Slytherins alone. You have to see this!” One of the Weasley teens called from the front of the box.

“Go ahead,” the Nott boy gestured. “Talk when we get back to campus?”

“Sure. I’d like to get the Slytherin contingent involved in handling the Abbott issue. You know what Pansy and the brutes are like; we need to head them, among others, off before something happens.”

Malfoy nodded. “We’ll get the Dark Neutrals on board. I assume Madame Longbottom has already briefed you regarding upcoming events?”

A nod was the response.

“We need to make sure that our generation at least gives the best impression with the visitors.”

“Don’t worry… the wrackspurts are looking to migrate away from Hogwarts this year.”

“Thanks… Luna… that was… helpful.”

“Bye!”

With that, the spacey blonde – Luna, apparently – dragged the Longbottom boy off.

Glancing over at the crowd on the other side of the box, Mouse noticed that Remus – Merlin, that arse looks even better than it did back in the day. Used to be such a distraction when we fought, too – and Arthur Weasley had joined the other adults. The quartet who had been chatting in German and a statuesque brunette woman, along with the still hovering Fudge. Straining his ears, he established that she was the Minister of the Irish Magical Parliament, an auxiliary government that fell within the Magical Kingdom of Albion but handled its own internal affairs separate from the main Ministry in London. The two German speakers were revealed to be the Bulgarian Minister of Magic and an assistant, who appeared to be acquainted with both Remus and ‘Cius.

That was as far as Mouse got before the Imperius haze that had been threatening pulled him back under.

Chapter Text

Thump, thump, thump.

‘Not again,’ Bilbo thought as he lurched his way out of his entirely comfortable armchair and slowly made his way towards the front door of the smial. Bag End had seen far too many visitors since that day several weeks before when he’d returned home to find himself in the midst of an auction. Most of the things that had already been sold or claimed by relatives had made their way back into his possession, though there were a few mathoms that were still missing.

Besides returning his belongings, however, he’d also had what felt like the entire Shire come by his home. Ostensibly just ‘dropping in for tea,’ most of his visitors were shameless gossips who wanted to know where he’d been. In between scolding him for running off and worrying everyone, they tried their best to spy the ‘treasures’ that he’d supposedly brought back from far away.

Fortunately, most of the older hobbits who came to call followed the tradition of bringing food along with their visit. Otherwise, the small stock he’d acquired since his return would be running extremely low.

When he recognized his visitor, his immediate response was to say “nope,” and start shutting the door.

“Wait.” Lobelia Sackville-Baggins nee Bracegirdle lunged forward to stop Bilbo.

Balked of his ability to shut the door, Bilbo folded his arms across his chest, tapped one foot on the flagstone floor, and growled. “What do you want, Lobelia? Haven’t you caused enough trouble already?”

She puffed herself up in a huff. “It’s not my fault that you left without making arrangements…” then she trailed off.

“I’m sorry. I promised myself that I would do this right but here I am again, trying to justify my actions. Lobelia straightened her skirts, squared her feet, and spoke again, this time in a clear, carrying tone.

“Master Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, I am here to offer sincere apologies on behalf of my family for the damages done to your estate and person due to our actions in claiming the estate prematurely. As a token of my words, I come bearing gifts.”

She reached behind her and pulled out a large basket full of supplies: Canned food to restock his pantry, bottles of elderberry wine from her father’s Bracegirdle cellar, a freshly backed packet of raspberry scones, and, most significant, a collection of silver utensils and other small knick-knacks. These were items from Bag End that had made their way into her possession over the years, including a framed sketch of Bag End, as drawn by Bungo Baggins during the planning stages of its construction. It was this last item, which finally unbent Bilbo’s stubborn intransigence.

“Fine,” he humphed. “Come on in, Lobelia, won’t you join me for tea.”

“Thank you,” she replied grandly and followed him inside.

As the door shut behind her, a number of eavesdropping young hobbit faunts ran off to spread the word of the latest excitement up at Bag End. Meanwhile, others settled in to wait, hoping for further excitement down the road.

Chapter Text

Prologue

Falling…

Light blooming in the dark

Hundreds upon hundreds of identical voices screaming out their focus… destruction….

And then those same voices… ceasing

Dark again, more profound than before…

Still the falling continues… until…

Lightning and clouds crackle around him, the darkness turns into the light of the daytime sky, and all that remains of those identical voices, stop…

 

Part 1

A roar awakens Tony, alongside a blast of concern/care that is more confusing than comforting. Opening his eyes, he gasps, “What just happened?”

He’s lying on his back in the rubble, surrounded by three very anxious looking warriors with – oddly – animal companions. There’s Thor, looking surprisingly disheveled for a so-called god. He has a massive wolf leaning its head on his shoulder.  Or at least, it looks like a wolf, but even Tony knows that wolves don’t come in size huge.

Besides Thor, kneeling on the rubble is the body and unmasked face of Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. In his head, Tony can’t help but hum the ‘Star-Spangled Man with a Plan’ theme. Unlike Thor, Steve seems unaware of his companion, a rhino splattered with what looks like dust and alien guts who is scratching itself against a large bit of rubble.

Then there’s Hulk. That magnificent beast is across from the others, staring intently at Tony, his mouth open as if he’d just roared. There is an odd lump on one of his arms, and it takes a moment for Tony to realize that it is another animal. Hulk reaches over and pets the lump, and it wraps an arm around the giant’s finger in response. The flexibility of the arm, and the suckers that Tony spots on the bottom of it give an answer to what the otherwise camouflaged thing might be. It’s an octopus!

As his brain struggles to explain the odd sight, Tony can’t help but quip, “Please tell me that no one kissed me.”

The responding chuckles are obviously forced and feel fake, but Tony is hardly surprised by that fact. He shuts his eyes, needing to reclaim his bearings from the fall before attempting to move. He can feel the aches and pains from banging against the inside of the suit, even with the padding he’s installed, and he knows that he’s going to be simply covered in bruises in the morning. Thankfully, though, he can feel/taste the arc reactor humming away in his chest, a sure indication that he is still in the land of the living.

When Tony opens his eyes again, the animals are gone. Must have been a hallucination from the fall, he thinks, and then mentally shrugs. He’ll process later. Raising an arm up from his side he offers it to Thor. “Help me up here would you, Hammer-Time?”

“But of course, Man of Iron,” Thor agrees cheerfully.

“Now then, I believe we have a certain… god, to deal with?”

Rogers gives a nod and Hulk roars in agreement.

“Shall we?”

 

A few days later, Tony finds himself once again in the company of the rest of the Avengers. This time their purpose is much less violent. They are merely sending the Asgardians home.

In the aftermath of the battle, Tony had made the early decision to avoid SHIELD as much as possible. After all, the outrageous decision of their overseers – the World Security Council – nearly caused his death by a nuclear bomb. Instead, he had spent the time in Stark tower and its surroundings, helping Pepper begin to sort out how the whole incident will affect the company. Beyond that, he had to clean up the disaster in his Penthouse including the damage done to his suits.

Iron Man just couldn’t be without the means to respond in an emergency.

Then there were the – odd – incidents. Tony had begun spotting semi-transparent animals everywhere. They were mostly accompanying people on their day-to-day activities, but sometimes they stopped and stared at him. Pepper had a red fox that would wind around her ankles when she lectured him, glaring, while Happy was followed by a stout bulldog that waddled behind him and slobbered over his shiny shoes. Tony had to admit that the latter one gave him a chuckle the first time he saw it.

Of course, none of the animals that he saw were as real or solid as the ones that Tony had seen in that first moment after his fall. Instead, they were faded and flickered as if they were mirages, drifting in and out of visibility.

Besides the animals, Tony found that his ability to read people had somehow been magnified. When talking to people face-to-face, he could somehow sense their moods. Were they happy, sad, angry, amused… he could go on. When the old one-eyed bastard, Fury, showed up at the penthouse the day after the attack, Tony could just feel the deception rolling off him in waves. It was actually impossible to tell when the spy was lying because everything was tainted by the man’s overwhelming projection of anger/deceit. It was an interesting combination.

One thing that did stand out, though, was Fury’s, for lack of a better word, fury, when he discussed the World Security Council’s despicable actions at the end of the battle. There was no way that Nicky-boy approved the choice of a nuclear launch. Also, there was something – hinky – going on with Coulson’s death. When Tony got to that part of his forced debrief with old One-Eye he’d caught a flash of relieved shame when Tony mentioned the other man.

Huh, Tony thought, will have to look into that later.

 

Now, Tony was standing in the heart of Central Park, waiting for the others to arrive from wherever SHIELD had stashed them. As he leaned against the side of his convertible, Tony caught flashes of surprise, recognition, envy, and even anger from the people walking by him. It seemed that despite Pepper’s press conference, some people still blamed him for the invasion. To be fair to them, the beam that opened the wormhole was very clearly shot from the top of Stark Tower and Iron Man was the literal cause of some of the damage done during the fighting.

As he stood there braced, the emotions crested over him in a wave.

Tony was grateful for his sunglasses, which helped to hide his wince of pain as he further braced himself against the vehicle’s side. He was pleased that no one stood too close or tried to touch him as he rode the waves of emotion. That would only make the pain worse, he’d already discovered.

Just as Tony thought he was going to collapse, he got a reprieve. The rumble of a well-maintained motorcycle approaching his position was enough to jolt him out of the emotional ocean. Tony breathed a sigh of relief at the interruption, though the fact that incident had even occurred was still deeply troubling.

The motorcycle rolled up with Rogers at the helm dressed in old-fashioned khakis and a plaid button up shirt that made him look like a hipster – or the young anachronism that he was. Tony snickered at the thought of SHIELD shopping for the man out of time.

I can just imagine some SHIELD drone flipping through shirts going – this one’s too bright, this one’s too fancy. Oh, there, plaid… perfect.

Behind Rogers, a black tactical van rolled up. The doors in the rear of the van swung open and out came Thor, dressed to impress with his armor all clean and shiny. A bound and muzzled Loki stood at his side. Tony winced as he caught a wave of the fear/shame/anger that the prisoner exuded. The feelings seemed to spike every time that the green armored man glanced at his ‘adopted’ brother.

On Loki’s other side, Tony spotted a truly massive serpent, one whose diameter had to be a meter across and whose full length couldn’t even be seen as it wove around the far side of the van. This wasn’t the first time that Tony had seen the thing. He’d also caught a glimpse of it when the Avengers had confronted Loki after Tony’s fall from the wormhole. This time, though, Tony was more accustomed to the sight of semi-transparent animals, so he noticed the details that he had missed before. The serpent was in terrible condition, its scales dull and patchy, with signs of healing wounds all over its back.

What could harm an immaterial being? Tony thought, puzzled.

Busy staring at Loki and his companion, Tony had missed Romanov and Barton’s exit from the van behind the alien gods. The pair of spies stood on either side of Thor and Loki, obviously acting as additional guards for the prisoner.

The last person to emerge from the van was a rumpled Bruce Banner, who tossed a worn duffel out of the back of the vehicle before hopping down himself. It looked like the dual-natured man was eager to leave SHIELD custody. Not that Tony could blame him. While the spy agency was not actively hostile like the US Army and General Ross, it still wasn’t a place where the scientist would be comfortable.

Perhaps I should offer Bruce a place with me? He thought.

The group headed towards Tony, joined by Rogers as they passed his parked bike. As they approached, Thor extended his arm to exchange a warrior’s clasp with Tony.

With the first touch of Thor’s arm, the emotional waves that were sweeping across Tony’s mind went blessedly silent.

Thor’s eyes went wide, and then he gave Tony a boisterous hug, maintaining his hold on Tony’s arm. “Shield-brother, such wondrous news! You have awakened as a Guardian of the Mind, much as my brother was before his fall!”

The confusion must have been visible on Tony’s face, because Thor continued speaking, offering an explanation for his comments.

“Does Midgard no longer possess such protectors?” He asked. “My father and the elder warriors told tales of the Guardians of Midgard who fought alongside them in the battle against Jotunheim, but that was long ago. Perhaps thy people no longer recognize their defenders in this manner?”

“I got no idea what you’re talking about, big guy, but it sounds like a compliment,” Tony replied calmly, though inside his head his mind was racing. He knew that if SHIELD found out about his emerging talents they would likely drag him in for testing and he might not come back out.

“However, now is not the time to talk about it. We’ll chat on your next visit to Earthgard, okay?”

Tony caught Rogers’ confused frown and prayed that the Captain would not queer his pitch. After the incident on the Helicarrier with the Phase 2 weapons, he thought that the other man would be wary enough of SHIELD, but he couldn’t be sure.  Fortunately, Rogers seemed to pick up his hints and didn’t ruin things. 

“Very well,” Thor agreed, missing the subtext. “I will look forward to our discussion, then.”

“By the way,” added Tony, “You might want to have your doctors take a look at Loki-dokie there before you toss him in the dungeons. He’s looking a mite poorly,” and his companion is worse. Tony glanced over at the snake thing, which Thor could apparently see as well.

“Indeed, friend Stark.” Thor agreed with a nod, catching Tony’s glance. “Our mother, Queen Frigga, will demand such a thing.”

Good. It’s not our problem, then.

Thor stepped back and gave a final farewell to ‘his shield-brothers and sister’. Then he looked up at the sky.

“Heimdall,” he said, with a soft smile, looking at the sky, “prepare yourself for our arrival.”

With his new senses, Tony could feel the love/affection that Thor felt about the person to whom he spoke.

Removing the Tesseract in its protective cover from the bag that Romanov held, Thor took one handle. He then offered the other to his brother, who grasped it reluctantly. Tony caught one last sight of the Asgardians’ giant wolf and snake before Thor twisted the Tesseract housing and the group vanished in a shimmer of light.

It seems that I have more research to do, Tony thought, his mind already racing ahead as he considered Thor’s surprising comments.

“So,” he asked, “I’m heading back up to the tower to work. Big mess, you know. What about the rest of you? Brucie-bear, any chance you’d care to join me. The labs… they’re Candyland, remember!”

Bruce gave a wan smile. “Thanks for the offer, Tony, but I need to get away for a bit. I can feel the Other Guy; he’s too close to the surface right now.”

As Bruce spoke, Tony could almost see the outline of the Hulk rising around him. The immaterial shade had a companion, the octopus that he’d been petting in that first encounter after the wormhole perched on his shoulder. Noticing Tony’s attention, the ‘beast’ smiled at the other man as his companion waved one tentacle.

Tony wondered how much crossover there was between Bruce and his alter ego, especially in terms of memory, but he chose not to pry.

“Well, the offer is always open, so feel to come by whenever. In the meantime, can I drop you somewhere?”

“The bus terminal?”

“Sure.”

Tony then turned to the others. “Natashalie, I’m sure that you and Feathers over there are headed back to headquarters. While you’re there, tell old One-Eye that I said hi, and remind him to keep his nose out of my business.”

Romanov scowled, while Barton gave a subdued smirk. Tony could feel deep sorrow/shame as well as a brief shot of amusement emanating from the archer, but he covered it well behind his mirrored sunglasses.

I’ll have to keep an eye on bird-brain, Tony thought. He’s got potential. 

“And what about you, mon Capitan, what does Captain America do in his downtime?”

Rogers frowned, but with his new powers, Tony could tell that he was more amused than anything.

“I’ve been cooped up at SHIELD since I woke up. This incident just reminded me that I haven’t really explored the new world where I’ve found myself living.” He gestured to the motorcycle. “I’m taking a bit of time for myself, might even go see the Grand Canyon.”

“Well, have fun then, Rogers. If you make it out to California, let me know. You can crash at my place in Malibu while you’re there. I could even fly out and join you.”

“You can call me, Steve, you know,” he said as he offered Tony his hand for a shake. “And I may just take you up on that offer.”

 

 

 

Part 2

“JARVIS, open a file. Call it… Guardian.”

Having dropped off Bruce at the bus terminal, restating his offer of a Sanctuary/lab space before he left, Tony had returned to the safety of his own private lab. Unlike the penthouse, Tony’s lab at the heart of the Tower was mostly unaffected by the Invasion. That meant that he could get straight to work.

“Right,” Tony tapped a twirled a stylus that he’d claimed from one of the bench tops as he thought. “So, Point Break said something about his pops visiting Earthgard before. If we take that as the origin of Norse myths, then we should start there. Look for any reference to Guardian, Jotunheim, Odin… oh and throw in anything about intangible, sometimes invisible, animals, would you.”

“As you wish, sir,” was JARVIS’ immediate response. “Search parameters entered.”

“While that’s running, J, I want you to try a wider search for any reference to guardians worldwide. Focus on older references, especially tribal stuff. I remember running across references to spirit animals before, see what you can find, there.”

As Tony spoke, he started going through the files that JARVIS had flagged, skimming them for anything that matched his own experiences. He pulled up one to take a closer look.

“Spirit Animals represent some part of an individual’s personality. Wonder what Rogers’ rhino means? I mean, Happy having a bulldog makes perfect sense, but I would have thought that Captain America would have something more patriotic, like a Bald Eagle.”

Then Tony frowned. He hadn’t spotted an animal lurking around him like the others.

Maybe my friend is shy… or maybe, maybe I just don’t have one…  Nah, that couldn’t be it.

Tony shook himself, not wanting to get lost in such depressing thoughts. It was hardly the first time such a thing had happened. While depression and self-flagellation had been a permanent part of Tony’s psyche since childhood, such feelings had gotten both better and worse since his captivity in Afghanistan. Better because he had Iron Man as proof that he was doing something good – and Tony had realized - because he no longer had Obie saying things to reinforce his poor self-image. Worse, because now his work for Stark Industries, which used to be what he used to use to battle such feelings, had been corrupted by Obie’s betrayal and the revelations that his captivity had generated.

Even Pepper and Rhodey, as much has cared for them, had times when they made things worse, not better. Pepper’s frustration at his ‘playing super-hero’ would nullify the benefits that he gained in thinking about his actions as Iron Man. Rhodey, on the other hand, loved the super-hero bit, but he was getting pressure from his superiors to push Tony towards giving the US Military more and more of his technology – such as the War Machine/Iron Patriot armor. This ran counter to Tony’s post-Afghanistan resolutions, which was a common source of conflict between the pair.

At least he had JARVIS and the bots. They were the only things in Tony’s life that had no real downside. He smiled as DUM-E nudged his armature against Tony’s side, distracting him from his depressing spiral. Patting the bot’s ‘head’ in thanks, Tony cleared his throat.

“That reminds me, J; throw in anything about people who can feel emotions, and similar powers.” With the last word, Tony added air quotes with his fingers as he spoke.

“As you wish, sir. So far I have several thousand results compiled based on the previous queries. Would you like to see them?”

“Put them up, J.”

The holographic screen nearest Tony activated, displaying a wide range of files. They included such ordinary things as Wikipedia pages and other amateur websites, scholarly articles, and even a smattering of video clips. Many of them were obviously not in English, as Tony could see symbols that he recognized from various Scandinavian languages, Cyrillic script, Chinese characters, and other less familiar scripts.

As he started going through the English files, Tony could see JARVIS updating the foreign files with English translations and adding still more files to the list. “Alright, J, let’s see what we have.”

 

Several hours later, Tony leaned back from the table and rubbed his eyes with a sigh. Even given JARVIS’ skills, his search has been less than helpful. There was just so much information out there that it was hard to figure out what was genuine and what was pure fantasy.

He had found a few possibilities that require further investigation.

On the Asgard side, there were some researchers in Norse history and mythology whose findings jived with what Thor had mentioned. In particular, the Norse tales of berserkers seemed a good match given the limited information that the god had provided. Tony and JARVIS also found Norse references to warriors who battle so-called ‘supernatural’ evils using powers that matched some of Tony’s burgeoning talents. These warriors also often used animal companions or helpers in the tales.

Curiously, Thor’s comment of such guardians being common everywhere was sustained.  JARVIS had managed to dig up references to local Guardians with enhanced skills across multiple continents and unconnected peoples. Animal spirit guides are also common, both in the ancient records and in modern New Age philosophy. Several websites that JARVIS found discussed how a person’s spirit animal’s species was an indicator of their personality. While reading these, Tony couldn’t help but laugh at how well some of the characteristics associated with specific spirit animals that he’d seen matched their partner’s personalities. Some of the characteristics were familiar – like Happy’s dog and his stubbornly loyal personality – but others were new.

Of course, reading about spirit animals reminded Tony that he’d seen no sign of his own companion. Nope, not going to think about that.  He reminded himself.

There were a few more modern references to tribal protectors or Sentinels as the references described them. One was a monograph from the 1800s, written by the famous anthropologist and adventurer Richard Burton, entitled ‘The Sentinels of Paraguay’. In the monograph, Burton described Sentinels as warriors with enhanced senses, who used their skills to defend their tribes from physical attack. He also mentioned that said Sentinels were often linked to the tribe’s Shaman, the individual who protected the tribe from so-called spiritual attack.

A thoroughly modern scientist, Burton scoffed at the mention of the spiritual realm, but he did say that the Shamans seemed to be able to see inside the hearts and minds of others.

Perhaps, Tony thought with a smirk, Shamans were people who had talents like I’ve started developing, and it was easier for them to use the excuse of a mystical plane to explain their skills instead of trying to find a physical reason for them.

JARVIS had managed to find another reference to Sentinels, a discredited thesis from a graduate student in Washington State back in the ’90s which described an individual who had enhanced senses as Burton had described. The student had later claimed that the thesis was fictional, but his descriptions were still a good fit to a modern version of Burton’s Sentinels.

“JARVIS, see what you can find out about this… Blair Sandburg, would you?” Tony asked as he moved on to the next piece of research.

“Yes, sir.”

On the topic of Shamans, Tony found a number of references to an order of Sorcerers, based out of a place called Kamar-Taj. While the accounts that Tony found were second-hand at best, some of the descriptions seemed to match the abilities of the ancient Shamans, as well as his own burgeoning talents. To be fair, they also seemed to have other ‘powers’ as well, but that wasn’t enough for Tony to dismiss them. If his recent encounters with aliens, especially Thor and Loki, as well as his own odd new skills were any indication, people having powers beyond the human norm was actually common. These so-called Sorcerers probably just had an additional set of talents beyond the average human’s abilities that they had trained themselves to use.

He’d have to do a bit more research, see if he could track down one or more of these Sorcerers.

Chapter Text

Splash.

The sound off the port bow was unexpected enough to drag Caspian from his musings such that he was not startled when the call ‘man overboard’ was heard.

He raced to the railing and looked out to see one, two, three struggling bodies in the water.

Without hesitation, King Caspian X, current sole ruler of Narnia, dove from the bow of his ship, the Dawn Treader. Behind him, he could hear the shouts of his crew to lower a jolly boat.

Entering the water, he swam toward the thrashing forms. When he reached the nearest, he helped the young woman remove the bulky footwear that was weighing her down. Then he wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they tread water.

“Caspian,” she gasped. “I had hoped when I saw the painting that it was finally time for us to return.”

Caspian almost dropped her arm in his excitement. “You mean?”

“Yup, that’s Ed over there, with, surprisingly, our younger cousin Eustace.”

At that point, the jolly boat had reached them, and the crew helped Caspian and Lucy into the boat.

The sailors were shocked at the look of pure joy on their monarch’s face as he directed them to head for the others as quickly as possible.

When they reached the pair, they found Edmond too occupied with keeping a struggling Eustace afloat to notice much else.

“I’ve got him, son,” one of the sailors said gruffly as he took hold of the struggling Eustace to pull him to safety. In return, Edmond relinquished his hold and swam over to the side of the boat to grab the hands waiting to help him get in as well.

Once inside, his first thought was to make sure that his sister was safe. He caught sight of Lucy only to be distracted by her wide grin and hand pointing towards another wet body.

“Ed,” he heard a choked voice exclaim.

“Cas,” he breathed in response. Then he turned back to his sister to share a joyful grin.

“We made it back,” they said in unison.

“Just like Aslan promised,” Lucy added.

Then their panicking cousin diverted them as they focused on calming him while helping Caspian and rest of the crew load the jolly boat back onto the deck of the Dawn Treader.

Once settled on the deck of the ship, the first thing Eustace did was demand, “what is going on here?”

“Well, my dear cousin,” Edmond remarked as Lucy giggled in the background. “I’m sure that you remember your ‘crazy’ cousins’ discussions of Narnia.”

He opened his arms wide, “welcome, sir, to the Narnian ship…” Edmond paused and leaned over to the nearest sailor.

“What’s is this vessel called, my good man?”

“The Dawn Treader, sir.”

“Well then, welcome Eustace Scrubb, to the Narnian ship Dawn Treader, under the leadership of the King, Caspian, the tenth of his name.”

Edmond bowed to a laughing Caspian, even as the sailor who’d spoken before handed him a coarse blanket to help him dry off and warm up from the frigid swim. He took a seat and smiled at his sputtering cousin.

In response, Caspian, who was wrapped in his own blanket, responded with a bow of his own. “And, we, in turn, welcome back to Narnian soil,” he paused, and then added. “of a sort, their Majesties King Edmond the Just and Queen Lucy the Valiant.”

The entire crew cheered and then bowed to honor their returned monarchs.

“Who have returned as promised, and this time I hope for good?” Caspian asked.

“I believe so,” Lucy replied. “Aslan knows that we’ve been waiting long enough.”

“How long?”

“Three years.”

“Us as well,” Caspian confirmed, relieved. Despite what the lion had promised, they’d all worried that the peculiar behavior of time between the worlds would strike in Edmond and Lucy’s absence.

“And your elder siblings?”

“The High King and Queen have settled well into their lives in England. Peter is attending an Academy for military leaders called Sandhurst, while Susan is a member of the country’s diplomatic corps.”

“They instructed us to send greetings to everyone if we were to cross over,” Edmond added. “And give their blessing should we decide to remain with you all.” He eyed Caspian with a hopeful smile. “That, of course, depends on certain opinions remaining the same as they did before we left.”

The beam he got in response was all that Edmond had hoped for.

“Those opinions have only grown surer,” Caspian replied.

Despite their still sodden forms and clammy clothes, the two Kings cast off the blankets wrapped around their bodies and climbed to their feet. Meeting at a point halfway between their original positions, Edmond was the first to reach out and place a hand against the side of Caspian’s face. In return, Caspian leaned into the hand while reaching out with his own appendage to pull his beloved into a steamy kiss.

The entire crew on the deck of the Dawn Treader let out a cheer, followed by catcalls as the two continued making out. On the other hand, Eustace was nearly choking in shock. His cousin Edmond was kissing in public, and it wasn’t even a woman! The impropriety of the sight was scandalous, and even worse, no one else seemed to feel the same way. In fact, Cousin Lucy appeared to be leading the cheers.

Breathing heavily, Edmond and Caspian stood steady locked in their embrace despite the rocking of the ship and the noise around them. Even though they had ceased kissing, their foreheads remained in contact as they looked into each other’s eyes and smiled with pure happiness.

“Finally,” Lucy giggled from her seat on a nearby crate. “I’ve been listening to him pine for three years. Now then, my dear future brother-in-law and co-ruler, where are we off to on this magnificent ship.”

Chapter Text

Prologue

It was always dark now. The clock that hid his prison in its depths only let in a bit of light through its face and even then only when the room where it stood was illuminated.

After months trapped in the tiny room, without his wand and with bonds suppressing his wandless Magic, Percy was a mess. He had developed the habit of prowling the extent of his prison like a caged Nundu, a predator confined. The tiniest sound or change in the light coming in from the outside caused him to freeze, alert for anything that might lead to an escape.

 

It had been several days since the last time that his captor had paid Percy a visit, bringing fresh food and water and disposing of collected waste. During that visit, Grindelwald had tortured his prisoner for information and his own amusement.

As was usual, he was digging into the details of what Percy knew of MACUSA’s New York Headquarters and its staff. In particular, Grindelwald wanted to know the policies on the books about Magical Creatures, Accidental Magic, and the handling of No-Maj-born children and their families and how the official policy compared to actual practice. Besides policy, Grindelwald demanded details about Percy’s personal interactions with certain MACUSA staff, such as President Seraphina Picquery and his subordinates in the Office of Magical Security like the – apparently – demoted Auror Tina Goldstein.

“Goldstein is trouble,” Grindelwald commented at one point while taking a break from throwing curses. “She’s stubborn and is refusing to let go of her investigation of the Barebone family, despite her demotion. It is a bother.”

Almost casually, he shot off another hex, burning a fresh stripe across Percy’s scarred back. As the immobilized Wizard suppressed a scream, Grindelwald continued.

“It is true that the Barebone woman is a first-rate example of the kind of nastiness that the non-Magical are capable of showing. That is why I want her left alone. After all, how can I convince the Wizarding World that we need to take over if I don’t have examples? And how can I have a war without a non-Magical leader to fight?”

It was clear to Percy that Grindelwald’s question was rhetorical, but he couldn’t help himself. “Yes, because another war is exactly what we need right now.”

“Yes, we do.” Grindelwald ignored Percy’s sarcastic tone. “Wizards are meant to rule, not hide in the shadows. It is for the Greater Good, after all.”

He casually twirled the wand that he held, taunting his captive by reminding him that the villain was torturing him with his own wand.

“I’m still no closer to finding my prize,” Grindelwald mused, “though the child’s actions have been useful for other reasons. Still, you’d think poor, abused Credence would be of more use.” He gave a sinister smile, a sight all the more disturbing since he was wearing Percy’s face. “I’ll have to visit him again, remind him who his only friend is.”

With that, Grindelwald left the cell. Since he had not bothered to cancel the immobilization as he went, Percy was stuck. It would be several hours before the enchantment would weaken enough for his suppressed Magic to break it.

 

Trapped in the darkness, Percy had trouble in distinguishing day from night. He also had great difficulty in sleeping with his instincts screaming danger at all times. Still, he would occasionally drift off into a quasi-sleep, his body’s exhaustion forcing his brain to slow down for a time.

It was on one of these occasions that Percy found himself, in his dreaming state, in a strange, blue landscape.

Looking around, he was reminded of the mature forests of upstate New York, the playground of his childhood. He could identify beech, ash, maple, oak, hickory, and many others, all tinted with the blue of the environment.

The familiarity was a comfort as Percy wandered through the forest, glutting his senses on the sights, scents, sounds, textures, even tastes as he plucked and ate a small wild strawberry growing near the base of one of the trees. Indeed, the feeling of nature all around him after living in the sensory deprivation chamber that was his prison was a balm to his wounded psyche.

Eventually, Percy’s wanderings led to a clearing in the forest. There, perched on the stump of a downed tree, was a massive, black bird.

Its bald head and large size reminded Percy of the creatures that he had seen out in the battlefields of Europe. Such animals could be seen overhead during the battles, increasing in numbers as men fell and blood and magic were thrown around in increasing quantities. Then, after the fighting had ended and the survivors had retreated back to their camps to regroup, the beasts would descend upon the bodies left behind. Knowing that the birds would tear apart their dead if left untended, many of Percy’s comrades had cursed the scavengers, calling them the Eaters of Death, and doing everything that they could to eliminate them. Still, the beasts returned time and time again, often in greater numbers than before.

Unlike his peers, Percy had never felt threatened by the scavengers. He recognized that they were present for a reason. When Wizards made a mess, Mother Magic provided. So, he was unbothered by his company. Still, when he heard a voice inside his mind, Percy couldn’t help but flinch.

There you are, Sentinel.

The bird’s voice echoed inside of Percy’s skull. Its tone was distinctly female, maternal almost.

Welcome to my home.

Your home?

Yes. This is the spirit realm, the dwelling place of those who have agreed to partner with the Guardians that are called by Mother Magic to protect the Realm.

Then… Percy couldn’t help his frown of confusion. Why am I here? He paused, but then quickly added. Not that I am not grateful, ma’am, for the opportunity to visit. Your home is a place of peace.

Though the bird’s outward position didn’t change, Percy could sense her amusement at his words.

I am glad that you approve. And there is no need to call me ma’am. I am Pelles. You are here because I called you.

Called me?

Pelles mantled on her perch, flaring her wings as she shifted position. As she did so, he caught a glimpse of white on the underside of her wings. Then, the sense of amusement vanished.

Yes. You have been called, Percival Graves, by Mother Magic, to protect her Realm against the evils that threaten her. This is a calling that you have already accepted, as your past actions have shown. Now, Mother Magic offers you a gift, a new set of abilities that will help you in your calling.

Abilities?

You will see.  She paused for a moment and then added. But for now, our time is at an end.

Percy could feel something tugging at his mind, drawing him out of the peaceful forest and back into the real world. As the blue forest faded from his mind, he heard one final statement.

I look forward to meeting you out in the world, My Paladin.

Chapter Text

Prologue: The Visitor

The path from the Apparition point was dark. Enshrouded within a dense canopy of trees, its roughly paved surface only served to enhance the intended ambiance, sending shivers down the spines of unwary visitors.

Of course, there were those for whom the atmosphere had little to no effect. For them, it was simply their normal walk to work.

It was one of these individuals who made her way through the forest. Despite the familiarity, her breath still caught as she emerged from the shadow of the tree line and her destination came into view.

Nurmengard.

The ancient fortress perched on a mountainside above the forests that surrounded it like a raptor scouting for prey. Its weathered grey stone, a match to the cliff on which it perched, still bore signs from the conflict, which had transformed it from a fortified stronghold into a prison for its one-time Lord.

Over a half-century of service as a prison was not enough to erode away the majesty of the old Lady. Instead, the additions simply made Nurmengard that much more intimidating to observe.

Shaking off her moment of contemplation, the mysterious witch continued onward. Upon reaching the guard station that marked the fortress’ perimeter, she veered off from the path to the main entrance. Instead, she headed down a much smaller passage that wound along the inside of the retaining wall for some distance before it reached a large – but not massive – old wooden door.

Reaching out, she lifted up the latch and pushed through, into the fortress proper. The room in which she now stood was massive. Along one wall stood a series of fireplaces, each configured for a different type of cooking. The centre of the room was dominated by a series of hewn wood trestle tables, while storage cupboards lined the walls. The room was filled with noise and life, with a group of off-duty guards grabbing a meal in one secluded corner. Meanwhile several cooks were hard at work preparing food for the remainder of the guards and prisoners who inhabited the prison.

The contrast between this lively environment and the absolute misery that pervaded even the staff areas of Azkaban prison was quite dramatic, and she couldn’t help but compare the two. Staffing at Nurmengard was not a punishment. Rather, it was almost a way of life for many in the local Wizarding community.

“Annalise,” one of the cook staff called, spotting the witch. “Thank Gerda, you’re here.”

“Blessed Morn, Inga,” she replied as she shrugged off the long cloak that she had worn on her walk through the woods to reveal the same uniform worn by the cook staff. Hanging it up on a peg, she snagged a long apron from the nearby pile, tying it on with practiced hands. “What can I do for you?”

Unlike the rest of the staff, her German held a hint of an accent that spoke of time spent in the British Isles. Still, she was clearly competent and comfortable speaking in that language.

“It seems that Matilde, that wretched girl, has decided to call out unexpectedly, so we’re short staffed today.”

“Oh?” Behind her calm façade, her mind tensed with hope.

“Yes. After you finish your regular duties, I need you to feed the old man his breakfast.”

Yes!

“Of course, Inga.”

 

With a lightness that she could barely hide, the woman called ‘Annalise’ practically flew through her typical routine. One of the guards even commented on it when she delivered his tea.

“What’s got your wand core in a tizzy, Anna?” He asked with a smirk. “New beau?”

“Just some good news from home,” she replied. “My brother just made me an Auntie, again.”

“Congratulations,” he said, his smirk transforming into a more genuine smile. “Boy or girl?”

“Boy. He already has twin girls, but had yet to gain an heir for the family.”

“And what is this young heir’s name?”

“Marvolo.”

 

Roughly two hours after she had arrived at the fortress, she was finally done. Making her way once more to the kitchen to collect the tray, she then began the arduous climb up through the stairs and passages of the fortress until she reached the base of the tower.

Along the way, she passed a number of guards and other staff, offering each a nod or a smile. Over the past several years, she had done her best to build relationships with as many of the fortress’s staff as she could manage. It was how she had managed to become trusted in that tight knit community despite her status as an obvious outsider.

And, after all that time, it had finally paid off.

Nodding to the guard at the tower door, she hefted her tray in an obvious explanation for her presence.

“How’d you get stuck on feeding duty, Anna?”

“Tilde’s playing at being sick.”

He snorted. “Of course she is. It has nothing to do with the excitement yesterday evening.”

“Of course not,” she agreed, mimicking his dry, sarcastic tone.

Young Matilde Stein was the most comely and flirtatious of the local young witches. As such, she had incited more than one drunken duel between her various admirers, the most recent of which had been the last night. Likely, she had decided to reward the young swain who had been ‘victorious’, to the detriment of her ability to work the next day.

“Your first time up there, right?” He asked kindly.

She nodded.

“Don’t worry. The old bastard’s pretty harmless these days. Though you do have to watch out, he has a slippery tongue. We’ve had our fair share of attempted break-outs over the years thanks to that s-“ The guard cut off his rant before he could really get going.

“Sorry. I just… the bastard… he’s ruined far too many lives. Anyways,” he continued. “No wands or other magical foci are allowed in the tower. You can tuck it in there,” he waved towards a small cupboard mounted to the wall. “It’ll lock so you’re the only one who can open it once the wand is inside,” he added when she flashed him a sceptical look.

“Ja,” she hesitated for a moment, and then nodded, fishing her wand out of an inner pocket on her uniform. The sun coming through the nearby window glinted off its surface, bringing out the reddish hue of the wood for a moment before she tucked it away.

Just as the guard had said, when her wand was in place and she went to shut the door she felt a tingle pulse down her skin and saw a momentary flash of white light.

“See,” her companion said as he demonstrated his inability to open the cupboard, “Goblin-Warded.”

With that, he reached out and grasped the tower door’s handle. It swung open with a groan, revealing a narrow staircase that spiralled up around a large interior column.

“Just follow the stairs all the way up. Franz should be waiting near the cell’s door.”

It was a tiring slog, climbing all seventy-seven stairs without her magic lightening the load in her arms, but she did manage to reach the top without dropping anything.

As she stood there catching her breath, the expected guard walked over and claimed the tray.

“Here,” he offered her his chair, “Catch your breath. The old man can wait a minute.”

Pouring water from a pitcher set on a small table beside the chair, he offered her a drink.

With a nod of thanks, she took a couple of sips.

“It gets everyone the first time,” he commented mildly. “Felt longer than it should, right?”

“Ja.”

“It’s part of the magic of this place, the suppressing Wards. Bad enough for us, worse for him,” he gestured over his shoulder at the still-closed cell door.

“You ready?” he asked after a moment.

She nodded, and upon climbing to her feet, reclaimed her tray.

“Just knock when you’re done. I won’t hear anything otherwise,” the guard, Franz, commented mildly. “Keeps me safe from his whisperings, you know,” he added.

Perfect! She thought, but all she did was nod.

With a flourish, he took the massive old-fashioned brass key off the wall where it hung. A turn of the lock and the door was open. Giving her a flirtatious bow, the guard waved his guest inside.

Then, once she had crossed the threshold, the ancient timbers shut with a thud. The woman known as ‘Annalise’ was now alone inside the cell of the defeated Dark Lord Grindelwald. Looking around, there was little to see besides the bare, undressed stone walls and wooden floor. A set of glazed windows provided the sole source of illumination for the dreary space.

Against the wall that lay opposite to the door sat a rough-hewn wooden bed, with a single chair and small table at its side. Making her way over, ‘Annalise’ slid the heavy tray onto the table before glancing at the bed’s occupant.

The man lying there looked nothing like the charismatic and powerful Dark Wizard from the history books. Instead, Gellert Grindelwald looked old and worn. His once thick platinum blonde locks were now merely wisps of snowy white, while what could be seen of his body was wrinkled and emaciated.

But then he opened his eyes and, for just a moment, she could see it. That sense of presence that had once made him a leader of men.

“Good morning, Mister Grindelwald,” she said calmly. “I’ve come with your meal.”

Reaching out, she helped to shift him into an upright position. As she did so, the shaking of his hands was quite evident, explaining the need for a nurse to help him eat. The shift also caused the sleeves of his shirt to ride up, revealing a line of runes tattooed along the inside of one arm. It looked almost like a number in the dim light, visible evidence of the Wards that held him as a prisoner in his former stronghold.

Almost absently, he smoothed down his sleeve with one quavering hand, hiding them from view.

“Clever men, my first wardens,” he said with a cough, the first words that he had spoken. “It’s amazing what a powerful force vengeance can be.”

She hummed noncommittally, claiming a seat in the chair beside the bed.

“Before you begin your meal,” she said, leaning forward. “I was hoping that you would answer a few questions.”

“What do you want to know? Why did I try to take over the world? How could I cause the loss of so many? Am I insane?” He managed a weak smirk at the last question.

“No. Tell me, Gellert Grindelwald. What do you know about Obscurials?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Graduation

“Ladies and Gentlemen; Witches, Wizards and other Assorted Beings. I am pleased to present to you: the newly graduated Ilvermorny class of 1998!”

The auditorium erupted with screams and cheers of celebration, as Harry and his classmates, along with their families and friends responded to the Principal’s announcement.

With the ease of careful practice, the rows of – now-former – students removed their mortarboard caps and wandlessly, silently levitated them en masse into the air over their heads.

But then the synchronization broke down, as each graduate used their favourite spell, charm, or hex to modify their airborne cap. There were explosions in a multitude of colours, spectacular transfigurations into new and strange objects, even conjured creatures swarming through the skies.

Initially, Harry’s choice of modification was subtle. The dark haired teen’s cap simply continued to rise until it had nearly reached the ceiling. Then, the square block of the mortarboard began to distort itself, compressing and expanding simultaneously. Meanwhile, the red colour bled out of the satin, turning it a matte black. Given its position, it practically disappeared from view in the shadows.

This was all a part of the plan.

A sharp grin spread across Harry’s face, highlighting the shape of his eyes, as a dull red glow appeared in the shadows where his modified cap had hidden. Then, a low rumble began. Nearly inaudible at first, it grew and grew until it had captured the attention of the entire audience below. By that point, Harry’s grin was practically ear-to-ear, though his attention remained focused on his working.

The roar reached a climax, and a burst of flame shot out from the shadows. It was immediately followed by the soaring figure of a dragon, its black hide accented with glittering bronze spikes. Those in the know would recognize the model for the transfiguration. It was Minunat, the Hungarian Horntail that Harry had faced during the Triwizard Tournament over three years before.

Despite the mess that had been the end of that event, Harry’s encounter with the mother dragon had been one of the highlights of his school years. So, he wanted to celebrate it. And if he got to show off in the process, well, so much the better.

The faux Minunat continued to dive while still roaring until she had nearly reached the heads of the assembled audience. Then, in a moment stolen from the Lord of the Rings, her dive was redirected into a soar. She shot across the auditorium, rapidly approaching the now vacant podium, where she exploded into a shower of fireworks.

After a moment of shocked silence, the entire audience began to cheer. Out of habit, Harry’s eyes went to where he knew Pads had positioned himself. His restless guardian was – unsurprisingly – leaning against one of the room’s walls. In fact, he was quite close to one of the exit doors. Amidst all of the noise and hubbub, Pads was an island of calm.

Catching Harry’s glance, the older Wizard shot him smirk and a nod, a complement to a well-executed prank. In addition, Harry felt a pulse of warmth – approval – pushed down their bond. It was a comfort. Even with all of the progress that he’d made over the years, Harry would always bear the scars of his abuse – that little voice inside that told him that he was a worthless, good-for-nothing brat.

But through it all, Paddy was always there, his rock.

 

The sun was warm on Harry’s face as he shut his eyes and tilted his head back and into the light.

Graduation had wrapped up several hours ago, giving way to numerous parties for the various individual graduates. Of course, Pads’ status as a member of Ilvermorny’s staff had given the Gramander Clan first choice in claiming a spot on campus for their celebration. And since it was a beautiful sunny May afternoon, naturally they had staked out an out-of-doors location.

The lawn beside the Ilvermorny sciences buildings was substantially covered by a wide variety of blankets, cloaks, and other seating, with a large barbecue pit and table, loaded with leftovers along one side. These were the detritus of a summer feast, one that had only recently been consumed.

Now, however, the area was mostly empty. Its former inhabitants had scattered across the campus, visiting others. All that remained were Harry, his adopted Grandfather Percival ‘Percy’ Graves, and his current backrest – a happily snoozing Padfoot.

“How does it feel, grandson of mine?” Grandfather Percy asked with a smile. His salt-and-pepper locks had long ago faded into grey, and wrinkles distorted his features, but the old Wizard’s eyes were still sharp as he gazed upon his son and grandson. The affection in his eyes was unmistakable, a mark of the joy that the unexpected, untraditional family had brought to him. As always, the sight gave Harry a mixed sense of comfort and awed disbelief.

“What?” He asked, flushing. He’d missed the question.

“Being a graduate.”

“Oh.” Harry shrugged. “Doesn’t really feel real yet, I guess. I mean, I know in my head that I’m done, but it hasn’t really hit me here.” He reached up and patted his chest.

“That’ll come,” the other man said.

“I know,” Harry agreed. “Penny says the same thing.”

“Well, she would know,” Grandfather agreed. Harry’s cousin on the Scamander side, Penelope Wakefield, had graduated from Ilvermorny the year before. She was now enrolled in a program for Magical Medicine in New York City.

“Yeah. I’m sure that once I head across the pond it’ll start feeling a bit more real.”

“Quite. How are preparations going there, anyway?”

“Well,” Harry paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “Um, Uncle Isaac put us in contact with one of the porters at Oxford. See, he’s a squib from one of the old families and is still in touch with people on the other side. Turns out, that there are certain Warded apartments in the college that are currently unoccupied.”

“They were originally designed for younger scions of the Magical Nobility back when it was traditional for them to pursue a Mundane education. With Pads’ status as Lord Regent Black, it was easy for him to open one up for our use. It’s a proper house in miniature, too – with a private lab and small courtyard for growing plants – so Pads will have room for his research.”

Then Harry smirked. “Not that he’ll have much time for that. Mister Black’s already been sending over lots of letters in preparation for Pads’ arrival. Apparently, he wants to make sure that his House’s position remains secure once he finally retires.”

Grandfather chuckled, turning it into a cough as Padfoot stirred in his sleep. “Yes, Pads did mention that. Not that I blame Sig. He doesn’t really have anyone else to groom, at least not yet. I think that he’s still hoping one of his grandsons might take up the job eventually.”

“But of course Rigel and Eddie are far too little, now.”

“Indeed. Well, between Sig, Lucius, and our Artemis, Pads will be in good hands there.”

“…so long as he doesn’t get too hex-happy.” Harry couldn’t help but chime in.

“Quite right, my young grandson, quite right. Now, I’m certain that you must have friends to see; you don’t have to hang around here and keep this old man entertained.”

“Oh, I don’t mind, Grandfather.”

“Nonsense. This is your last chance – at least for some time. Go, have fun.”

“Fine.”

Leaning forward, Harry pushed himself off the blanket where he sat. A bit of over-compensation had him bouncing on the balls of his feet for just a second. The breeze from his movement felt good against the warmth of the sun, and he couldn’t help but smile.

He knew exactly where he wanted to go.

“See you later, Grandfather!” he called, before darting off.

“And you.”

Glancing back, Harry was struck by the image. If a Mundane were to stumble on the sight, they would assume that it was just an old man and his dog, enjoying a sunny afternoon. For Harry, however, that was his family.

 

“Uncle Moony!” Harry shouted as he bounded up to where the man stood, chatting with a group of young Witches and Wizards. Taking advantage of his momentum, he leaped onto the werewolf’s back.

Thanks to the older Wizard’s enhanced strength – a side effect of his Lycanthropy – and long experience with the teen’s habits, Remus Lupin had anticipated the leap. Thus, he was able to remain on his feet despite the additional weight. Still, he couldn’t help but grunt at the impact.

“You’re far too big to be doing that now, Harry,” he said with a growl. “After all, you are the big, strong Ilvermorny graduate, are you not?” Of course, Remus’ gruff words were just a front. His actions said otherwise, as he swept an arm behind his back to help Harry get a better position there.

“I’ll never be too big, Moony!” Harry responded, taking advantage of the offered aid. Despite the rapid approach of Harry’s eighteenth birthday, he was still several inches shorter than his uncle at only 5’5”. Between genetics, the abuse, and his Magical parasite, the teen was unlikely to grow much further. He would forever be stuck as one of the shortest people in the room.

Still, it did have its upsides.

“Don’t get too comfortable, there, midget,” Nymphadora Black Tonks proclaimed from Remus’ side. “I still owe you for that shock earlier.”

The colourful Metamorphmagus was in the midst of an Auror exchange year in Boston, which made it easy for her to pop up to Mount Greylock for the weekend ceremony.

“But Dora, how could I possibly have shocked an intelligent, diligent Auror like you? After all, what does old Moody say – ‘Constant Vigilance’?”

Rolling her eyes, Tonks had chimed in on the last two words. “Not when I’m off duty, squirt. Excellent job on that dragon, by the way,” she added, offering him her fist to bump. It was a habit that she’d picked up from one of her American co-workers, and had gleefully introduced to the rest of the family.

Tightening his hold on Remus with his other three limbs, Harry reciprocated the greeting. To no one's surprise, instead of finishing the gesture Tonks took advantage of Harry’s outstretched arm. Grabbing hold of it with both hands, she attempted to pull him off Remus’ back.

“Aaah!”

The resulting scuffle was short but intense. In the end, all three of them ended up collapsed on the ground panting, with those around them laughing hysterically at the absurd sight.

“I’ll get you for that… Nymphadora,” Harry huffed with a laugh of his own.

“Don’t call me that, you… brat!” his cousin retorted.

“Here,” a hand was thrust in front of Harry’s face, as all three ‘combatants’ were helped to their feet by those around them. “Thanks for the free show,” his helper said, teasing.

“No problem,” Harry replied with a flirtatious wink. Most of the gathered Witches and Wizards, including Harry’s helper, were past or present members of Ilvermorny’s ‘pack’. In an effort to support the members of their student body who were Lycanthropy positive, the Ilvermorny staff had organized a club, a wolf pack.

Given Pads’ secondary canine form, he, and Harry had easily become auxiliary members of that club. Interestingly, though Harry had yet to find his own second – animagus – form, he was still able to spend full moons with the pack. It seemed that something about his parasite was repulsive to transformed werewolves. While they’d never actually test it, Harry and the others had hypothesized that the Obscurus would prevent Lycanthropy from taking hold in his body even if he was bitten. After all, the disease was a sort of curse, something that the parasite wouldn’t want its host to bear.

Glancing over, Harry saw that both Remus and Tonks were also upright, brushing the dust off their clothes with efficient swipes. They were each chatting with their own helpers as they did so, obviously continuing earlier conversations.

From his spot off to one side, Harry noticed the quick glances that each of them shot the other. While he knew that Dora’d held a long-standing crush on the older Wizard, this was the first indication that Harry had seen that the inverse was also true.

Grinning, he reached out to tell Pads the news. Harry was expecting to find his guardian’s mind still in a state of drowsy contentment, as it had been when he left the man’s side. Instead, he was hit with a muted spike of new grief.

But before he could dig any further, Pads’ Patronus came bounding over to Remus’ side.

“Remus, Harry, I need you to help me round up everyone and come back over to where Percy and I are sitting. An unexpected Owl Post just showed up, and….” Pads’ voice grew hesitant and sorrowful. “There’s been a Death.”

 


 

Chapter 2:

“Thank you for coming and showing your support. The entire family is grateful for the goodwill that we have received from the entire community during this trying time.”

The phrase was repeated on rote for one final time, before the Floo activated and the last of the visiting mourners – Wilhelm Scamander’s colleague at the law firm, Mister Pucey, and his family – left the Scamander estate with the telltale whoosh.

As if the sound was a trigger, the shoulders of the entire receiving line of Scamander Family and close allies dropped. It was almost like they were all old-fashioned Marionettes whose strings had just been cut.

Harry let out an audible sigh, saying what everyone else was thinking. “Thank Merlin that’s over.”

The passing of a seated Lord was always a big event, but the Scamander family’s position of leadership among the Neutral faction of the Wizengamut made things worse.

It almost felt like they had had the entirety of Albion’s nobility come to call over the last several weeks, in addition to friends and mourner from around the world. The spectacle had culminated with the official funeral, followed by an absolutely massive Wake hosted at the Scamander Estate.

But now, it was done. They had a bit of a break.

Harry slumped against Cousin Draco’s side with a groan.

“Why did I agree to come back to England again?”

“Because you missed all of this?” The other teen teased, gesturing to his body. Harry had to admit that his cousin had grown up into a fine figure, though he was a bit irritated that the prat had managed to outgrow him by over half a foot.

“As if,” Harry said with a shove. Then he raised his arms above his head, stretching out the kinks that came from the long hours of politicking. As ‘the-boy-who-lived’, it was an unavoidable part of any time spent in Wizarding Britain. The past few weeks had been a reminder of why he had decided to stay in America for school, where he could just be another of the extended Gramander family.

Still, he had decided that the chance to attend Oxford and apprentice with a world-renowned mind healer at the same time was worth the discomfort. The recent stress hadn’t changed his mind.

“I need a break,” he mused aloud, “no more talking.”

“Flying?”

“Hell, yes!”

Pads?

What? Pads’ mental voice was distracted, and when Harry glanced over, he saw that the older man was already engrossed in conversation with Aunt Artemis. Debriefing? Harry mused, absently, before sending another message.

Drake and I are going flying.

Ok. Have fun, pup.

Paddy! Harry couldn’t help but whine. What had been a precious gift of a nickname back when he had been a kid had become a bit embarrassing for him as a teen. Fortunately, Pads’ comment had been purely mental, or Drake would have been teasing him mercilessly – again.

Oops.

Pads’ mental snicker was audible through their bond. The older Wizard thought Harry’s embarrassment was funny, the wanker.

Reaching out, Harry grabbed Drake’s hand.

“We’re good,” he said as he dragged the other teen out of the reception room, “let’s go before we get stuck doing something else.”

Draco followed willingly.

 

Chapter Text

Opening Sequence (Setting the scene, which is right around Rickon's birth so pre Game of Thrones canon)

It was a busy time at the Northern fortress of Winterfell. 

 

Getting Arya into the Wardrobe

In the midst of all the chaos, the older children of Lord Stark were forgotten.

Left on their own without minders, Robb, Jon, Sansa, and Arya were forced to entertain themselves. The pouring rain made playing outdoors not an option. Still, Winterfell Keep was an extensive complex, even if one remained inside.

“We could play a game; perhaps Knights and Princesses?” Sansa suggested. She loved the tales of courtly romance that their Septa, Mordaine, had told her.

“Ugh, that’s stupid,” Arya protested.

“It’s not stupid. Everyone knows that Knights are the protectors of the Seven Kingdoms, and their job is to take care of Ladies, and especially Princesses.” Sansa sighed, imagining having a knight of her very own – not that she knew what Ladies did with knights, at least not yet, though the septa said that she’d learn when she was older.

 

“Let’s go explore the Old Tower!” Robb suggested.

 

Arya Goes Through into Narnia

Arya poked her head into the room. Inside, she saw a few chests, no doubt filled with old clothes or something boring. At the far end of the room there stood a wardrobe. Unlike the roughhewn planks of the chests, the wood that made up this piece of furniture had been extensively worked. The exterior of the wardrobe was covered with intricately carved scenes. There were animals like the lions of the Lannisters, the stags of the Baratheons, and the wolves that were the Stark sigil. Then there were other, odd-looking creatures that looked like something out of the tales that Old Nan told at bedtime, the ones with grumpkins and snarks. Front and center, there stood a carved lion; the Lannister-like sigil the reason the wardrobe had been relegated to the Old Tower.

Reaching out, Arya stroked the carved mane that formed the cabinet’s door handles. She opened one door carefully, hoping that it wouldn’t squeak from disuse and give her presence away. After all, she was still looking for a good hiding spot.

Inside the wardrobe, Arya could see rows of fur cloaks, no doubt meant for use during the winter. The masses of cloth would provide a perfect hiding spot, and if she kept the door partly open she could watch for visitors to the room without giving away her location. Carefully propping the door open, Arya climbed in, pushing her way through the mass of wool and fur towards the back of the cabinet.

To her surprise, she didn’t hit wood after the first few layers.

It must be built into the room’s wall, she thought. Looking backward, she could still see the light from the wardrobe’s door. So, she decided to press forward.

As she kept moving without finding a back, Arya became convinced that this must be a secret passage. 

Perhaps I’ll find a hidden treasure of our Ancestors.

After a while, she noticed that there was light coming from in front of her as well as behind.

That must be the other end of the passage.

When Arya realized that she was pushing through branches rather than cloaks, she grinned. It seemed that her new secret passage led out into the Godswood!

The crunch of snow beneath her feet negated that idea. As she pushed through a last layer of branches and reached a clearing, she realized that her new location was not where she had assumed. In fact, she appeared to have arrived somewhere unfamiliar.

The trees of the clearing were subtly different from the forests around Winterfell. Worse, there was a thick layer of snow on the ground, much more than Winterfell ever saw during the summer. It was also significantly colder than it had been back in the room. Arya shivered, wishing that she had taken the time to grab one of the cloaks before she left the passage.

She was about to turn around and head back when she spotted an odd light, filtering through the trees somewhere in front of her. Her curiosity overwhelmed the cold, and she pushed her way through until she reached an iron post. At the top, a globe burned with some kind of odd multi-hued fire. The color reminded Arya of the stories told about dragon fire, and she wondered if it was some relic of the Targaryens.

As Arya stood staring, she was startled by the sounds of another figure approaching through the woods. Was it a friend, or foe? Before she had time to react, the figure, bundled up in layers of wool, emerged from the woods and crashed right into her.

With the force of the collision, the pair ended up dumped into separate snowbanks, the parcels that the other figure carried flung in all directions.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” Arya’s companion murmured scrambling for the dropped packages. “This simply will not do.”

At first glance, the figure appeared to be a man of middle years. But then Arya started noticing a few odd things. For one, the man wore what looked like fur trousers, shaped oddly, and at the bottom, they ended in what looked like a pair of deer hooves.  Then there were the stubby horns that Arya spotted poking up from out of his hair.

Still seated in the snow, Arya asked, curious, “what are you? I mean, you look like a man but…” she waved at the being’s feet.

In response, her companion jumped. He had apparently forgotten about her presence. “I- I beg your pardon.” He looked a bit closer, even as he retrieved a package that had landed near her feet. “What do you mean, what am I? Don’t you know a faun when you see one? And what are you, then, some kind of large dwarf, or perhaps an oddly dressed dryad? You do seem poorly dressed for this cold.”

Arya shivered at the reminder of the cold. “A… faun? What? And I am Arya Stark, daughter of Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and Lord Paramount over this part of Westeros.”

“Lord Stark? Westeros? I have never heard of such a person,  nor of this place which you call Westeros. Rather, this lantern,” he gestured towards the strange iron torch, “is the boundary marker for the western border of Narnia, ruled by the Queen, Jadis.”

 

In the end, the faun, whose name was apparently Tumnus, invited Arya to join him for a brief repast.

“After all, it is quite cold out here, and you appear to be shivering. Also, I have books and maps in my home.”

When Arya hesitated, he continued, “it really is not far.”

He offered his arm, and, out of curiosity, Arya accepted. Looking back, she knew that the distance to the passage back to the Old Tower wasn’t far away. Besides, it wasn’t as if the… faun… carried a sword or any other weapons that she could see. He seemed more like Maester Luwin than anything.

Following a short walk of no more than a few minutes, Arya and Tumnus arrived at his home. The house was carved into the side of a rock, a sensible idea to Arya’s mind given the cold weather. In her lessons, the Maester had taught the importance of thick walls to keep out the cold in winter, and you couldn’t get much thicker than a cave. Inside, the cave was surprisingly comfortable, with tapestries and bookshelves on the walls and a thick rug in an unfamiliar style covering most of the stone floor.

Arya happily exchanged her sodden outer layers, including boots and socks, for a warm blanket, and curled up in a chair in front of a roaring fire. Warming up, she watched as Tumnus puttered about, hanging wet garments on a rack off to one side of the fire to dry, his non-human features even more noticeable without the winter gear.

When Tumnus brought over the tray of food, Arya had to bite back a giggle. Besides baked seed cakes and the tea, there was a small bowl of clover that wouldn’t be out of place in the stable back in Winterfell.

As the pair of new friends sipped their tea, Tumnus hesitantly brought up something. “Arya… you wouldn’t happen to be a daughter of eve, would you?”

“Daughter of who? My mum’s name is Lady Catelyn.”

Tumnus sighed, making Arya giggle. “Pardon me; I believe that we are speaking cross purposes once again. What I meant to say was, are you… perhaps… a human.”

“Oh, well, I mean the Maester says that the Starks are descended from the First Men, so I guess so? I don’t think we have anyone other than Men where I’m from, anyway.”

“I see.” Tumnus leaned back, taking a mouthful of the clover that had made Arya giggle. He chewed pensively, before offering. “And brothers and sisters. Do you have any of those?”

Arya smiled. “I have several. There’s my older brothers, Robb and Jon, and then my…” she rolled her eyes, “ older sister, Sansa. Then there’s my little brother, Bran, and the new one, the one that hasn’t come yet, who’ll be either Rickon or Lyarra.”

“Indeed? So four eldest are two sons of adam and two daughters of eve, that is two boys and two girls.”

“Um, yes?”

“That is interesting,” he mused. “Well then, I wonder, if this place, West-eros, where you’re from is so different from Narnia, perhaps their music is different as well.”

He walked over to one of his many bookshelves and picked up a set of pipes. Reclaiming his seat, he blew through them once, letting out a rough sound that made Arya giggle. Then he began to play in earnest, a beautiful melody that, in combination with the warm fire, the snowy walk, and the food she’d just eaten conspired to put Arya to sleep.

 

When she awoke what felt like hours later, Arya surprised to notice that the fire had nearly gone out. This had left her new friend seated across from her and watching her sleep in the dim light. She stirred, stretching and yawning, and he jumped, startled.

“A- Arya!”

“How long was I asleep?”

“Oh, not- not long, an hour or two at most,” he replied.

“An hour! They must be looking for me back home. I really should be getting back.” Arya’s eyes narrowed when she caught his shifty look. Her older brothers had said something about not being too trusting of strangers, especially as the daughter of Lord Stark. “Did you keep me on purpose?”

Tumnus stuttered. “I- well…” Then he heaved a big sigh. “When I first met you, I did think, that is…”

He hesitated for a moment, and then went on. “You see, there is a curse on the land of Narnia, one that makes it always Winter.”

Arya’s mind immediately went to Old Nan, and her tales of the Land of Always Winter, but she said nothing.

“This curse was placed by our Queen, for she is a witch, the White Witch. Not only has she made it always Winter, but she treats her subjects quite shamefully. Many of our people have died or disappeared thanks to her cruelty, and her spies are everywhere.”

“Now, there is a prophecy that says that the witch may only be defeated when siblings, two sons of adam and two daughters of eve, sit on the thrones at the castle of Cair Paravel, on Narnia’s coast. This has led the Queen to order that any humans who are found in her domain be brought to her. To my shame, when I first met you I thought to surrender you to her.”

He held up a hand, asking her to keep listening. “But as we talked, I realized that you were just a child and didn’t deserve that, especially as one who is just a visitor to our lands. However, we must return you to your home before your presence can be discovered by those more loyal to the Queen. Come, come.”

Tumnus went over to the drying rack, collecting Arya’s now warm and dry outerwear and helping her put them on. He wrapped a woolen cloak around her over the top, pulling up the hood to further hide her features.

“There, this will keep you from being identified as human by any spies who we encounter.”

 Taking up his own winter garments, Tumnus bundled up as well. Opening the wooden door of the cave home, the mismatched pair stepped out into the falling snow. As they moved out, the footprints they left behind were as odd as their owners and quickly disappeared as new snow fell.

 

 “Jon! Robb!” Arya’s shout’s echoed through the corridors of the Old Tower. “I’m back!”

“Hsst! Shut up, moron, do you want to give away our position?”

Sansa moaned as she peered out from behind a set of moldering curtains. She had just managed to find a good spot to hide, and now Arya was ruining it with her yelling.

“Sansa?! What are you talking about? And why aren’t you wondering where I’ve been?”

Sansa sputtered, about to say something like, what, since five minutes ago when we split up to hide?

The pair of sisters were interrupted by a groaning Robb. “Come on, you two. It’s no fun to play hide and find if you don’t actually hide. I guess Jon’s the only one who knows how to play.”

His rant was interrupted when Jon poked his head inside, “Arya, why were you yelling? Is something wrong?”

This only made Robb groan louder, burying his face in his hands. “Seriously!”

“But… but… I’ve been away for hours and hours!” Arya exclaimed, confused.

“Um, no, we just started playing. You left to go hide just a few minutes ago.” Robb replied. “You must have been imagining things.”

“But I wasn’t! I found this secret passage in the back of the wardrobe in the other room. Somehow it led to the Land of Always Winter. I even met one of the Children of the Forest, but he said that he was a ‘faun’. We had tea and snacks, and I even slept for a while at his house.”

All three of Arya’s siblings groaned this time. “Arya, it was just your imagination,” Robb said, patting her head patronizingly.

“But… but it was real, come on, I’ll show you.” Arya grabbed Robb’s hand and dragged him into the other room, Sansa and Robb following along reluctantly. She opened the door to the wardrobe and pushed her older brother inside. Bemused, Robb played along, feeling his way through the rows of cloaks until he reached the solid wood behind.

Making a fist, he rapped his knuckles on the back wall of the wardrobe. “Nope, no secret passage here, Arya.”

“But, but…” Arya shoved past her brother and was astonished to find the same thing. Her mysterious passage had vanished as if it wasn’t there.

 

Sansa and the Queen

The strange woods were quiet and still, all sounds muffled by the gently falling snow. The setting reminded Sansa of certain long-forgotten memories from her childhood. Memories of visits to Winterfell’s Weirwood with her father, joying in the time spent together even as he helped her to walk down the snow-covered paths. In that time, the new, red leaves of the Weirwoods were barely visible. Rather, they were mostly hidden by a layer of newly fallen snow – heavy and wet on the branches and other surfaces.

Sansa’s musings were interrupted when a sound broke the silence. It was an unfamiliar sound, almost rhythmic, which brought to mind the sound that a broom made as it swept across the floor. This regular sound was periodically punctuated by a sharp crack, the snap of a whip in the air. Before Sansa could make any further identification, such methods became unnecessary as the source rapidly entered her field of view.

It was some form of oddly-shaped cart, pulled by the strangest cross between the deer that her Father and others often brought back from hunts and the horses that they rode. The cart itself was elegant and beautiful, constructed of white wood with a finishing of some silvery metal, including a pair of long metal beams that held it above the snow. It was a far cry from the rough contraptions used by the woodcutters who foraged in the Wolfswood – the only equipages with such beams instead of the more common wheels used in the area around Winterfell.

Besides the driver, a short man with a long beard, the vessel carried one other person. And what a sight that person was to Sansa’s dazzled eyes.

For, seated in the back of the elegant sledge was the most beautiful woman that she had ever seen. Dressed in a white gown, topped by a fur cloak of grey and white, Sansa was certain that she had to be a noble lady.

Glancing down at her own gown, Sansa was suddenly grateful that she had convinced the handmaid that the shortly-anticipated birth of her youngest sibling was a good reason to dress in a fine gown, instead of one of her more mundane dresses. While the blue gown, covered as it was in detailed embroidery of grey and white, was nowhere near as fine as the Lady’s, at least it wasn’t a complete embarrassment. Not like Arya’s would have been.

Dipping down into a well-practiced curtesy – as Septa Mordane had taught – Sansa offered the Lady her best greeting.

“Good morrow,” she said with a polite smile.

Chapter Text

Bang, bang, bang. The sound of someone pounding on his bedroom door startled a teenage James Potter out of a sound sleep. Rubbing his eyes, the Potter boy sat up, confused. Given his family’s extensive wards, only a few people had access to the house and none of them was prone to knocking so loudly.

“James!”

The female voice calling his name stumped him for a moment before recognition struck.

“Lyra? Is that you?”

“Oh, good, you’re awake. Can I come in?”

“Fine,” James agreed with a yawn as he scrambled for his spectacles.

What was his best friend doing at his house in the middle of the night? Shouldn’t she be at home in bed?

Before he could get them on, a disheveled body pushed through the door and came barging straight into the room. It collapsed on the bed where James had been sleeping with a huge sigh.

Eyeing his friend, James noticed that despite the traveling that she must have just done, Lyra was still dressed in sleeping robes. The robes were rumpled and coated with the sooty remnants of Floo powder. Meanwhile, bags under her eyes and a haunted expression on her face painted a haunting picture.

He hadn’t seen her looking so scared for a long time. Not since the night that Snivellus had cornered her in the passageway to the Shrieking Shack when she was on her way to join Moony on his run. If James hadn’t been right behind them, who knows what that greasy git would have done.  

Shaking his head to drive the memory from his mind, James refocused himself on the present. He asked a simple question, one that he was certain his friend could answer.

“How did you get here? I thought you were staying at Grimmauld Place for the Holidays.”

“Snuck in through the Floo; Mum and Da Potter gave me permanent access, remember.”

Then, still not looking at her friend, Lyra continued. “You do realize it’s the middle of the night, right?”

“Sure, of course,” he said hurriedly, wanting to keep her talking.

“Riiight. Well, this was the first time I’ve managed to get access to the fireplace since the announcement.”

“Announcement?”

“Yeah, well, you know how my parents have not yet arranged a betrothal contract for me. We’ve been assuming that it was because most of the Black family allies were offended by my sorting and such, right?”

“Sure.”

“Well, it turns out they’ve managed to find someone willing to overlook those little foibles.”

Lyra choked back a sob and then continued.

“A few days ago, I was summoned into my father’s study. There my parents informed me that they had finally found a use for me. I was to be betrothed to ‘the Dark Lord’. Mother bragged that the contract they’d negotiated would give him complete control over me. ‘You will no longer bring shame to the Black family by consorting with mudbloods and blood-traitors’, she told me. They went on to explain that the contract signing would occur on New Years Day.”

“If I sign with a blood quill as my parents plan, the magic of the contract would bind me to the terms of the contract even after I reach my majority. In other words, I would have to follow through with the bonding ceremony or lose my magic and probably my life.”

As she spoke, tears began to stream down Lyra’s face. Reaching out, James pulled her into his arms for a hug.

“Fortunately, even though we are not close anymore Regulus still doesn’t agree with what Mother and Father are doing. Or at least as far as forcing me to marry that monster is concerned. He helped me sneak out tonight.”

Having spoken her fill, Lyra finally allowed herself to break down into full sobs.

As he held his bawling friend, James said soothingly, “it’s okay. You’re safe now, Ly, they can’t get you here.”

“But don’t you see, James,” Lyra gasped out between sobs, “legally, they can. I’m still underage, so when they figure out where I am they can use that power against us. The Ministry will force your parents to hand me over or be arrested for kidnapping.” Her sobs increased in frequency, even as James patted her back.

In an effort to stop the tears, Lyra gave in to a new habit when her emotions grew too overwhelming for her mind to handle. She shifted into Padfoot.

A large black wolfhound bitch, Padfoot would have been mistaken for a grim if it weren’t for her eyes. Instead of the glowing red eyes of the grim, hers remained the same lustrous silver that they were in her human shape.

The simpler brain of Lyra’s Padfoot form served its purpose. It couldn’t become consumed with abstract worries in the same way that her human mind could. As an animal, she could finally relax enough to fall asleep. Sprawled across her best friend’s lap, she was at peace.

James looked down at his friend with a fond smile.

“Don’t you worry, Padfoot, Prongs will help you get through this,” he whispered as he pulled his glasses back off his face. Then, reaching an arm out fully, he shoved them back onto the nearby nightstand.

“May Morpheus grant you pleasant dreams, and may you find peace.”

James yawned, and with a sleepy smile, leaned back. He let himself drift off to sleep. Tomorrow they would figure out a solution to Pads’ problems. She would not be forced to marry anyone that she hadn’t chosen.