Loki's office was covered in new maps, vaulted cathedral-like, with warm light pouring through the windows and his work-table moved out into the middle of the floor. He had coffee and tea laid out over the messy table, a globe in the corner spinning pensively.
He meticulously laid out the tea service, conjuring the sugar from midair to fall neatly into the little bowl. He added the tea leaves, with a faint sense of foreboding, a packet of chocolate. He forced his posture into a neutral one, consulting the clock above the door. Five past.
He drummed his fingers across the desk, adjusting Harry's photograph and straightening the old mail (urgent-looking envelopes with the ICW seal) beneath it. Seven past.
He glanced out the sunlit window, musing over the rough edges on his plot to do away with Dumbledore. His sources in Diagon Alley had yet to come through. Would he need to fabricate sources? He checked the clock, annoyed. Eleven past.
He poured himself some tea.
At thirteen past five, the door opened.
"Tell me," Loki said, taking a sip of his tea, "Why I should refrain from vaporizing you on the spot."
"Aw, don't go off your trolley Minister," Bertha Jorkins said, taking the chocolate and tearing open the packet. "You know I'm your best temp."
"I hope this means you have news for me," Loki said, raising an eyebrow.
"You know Allen and Lyall and I made a bet over if we would lose to France straight off or of if the fighting would go on for months and years until like all your loved ones and everything you fought for is gone, and I said it would take definitely less than five years, maybe six. Won a box of Christmas crackers and a baby kneazle."
"Fascinating," Loki said. "Can you get to the point?"
"Sure, def," Jorkins said.
She poured the cup. "Is this cold? Ew."
"It was warm fourteen minutes ago," Loki said. "You know, human ashes cool similarly quickly."
"Ew, did not need to know that," Jorkins said. "There's nothing to say, anyways. Lucy has been super-boring. He and Ruiz are best buds these days, trying to 'consolidate' or whatever. They hooked up the hospitals by portkey."
"No new plots?" Loki asked. "Did he say anything about the rise in the Muggle-Artefacts budget?"
"Duh," Jorkins said. "That's all I've heard about for days. 'Grumble grumble muggles, grumble grumble Weasleys'-" She waved her fingers in the air, then pursed her lips at her empty cup. "Do you have any more of this?"
Loki conjured another packet, resisting the urge to rest his head in his hand like an irritated teenager.
"Has he spoken to anyone outside the department?" he asked. "Booked any new appointments? Behaving in any way unlike himself?"
Jorkins shook her head.
"He's like, real busy with France stuff," she said. "Trying to 'stamp out feelings that are not… compliant with our new leader,'" she said, switching to an eerily Lucius-like cadence. She rolled her eyes.
"Good," Loki said. "What about Bones?"
"Doc is good," Jorkins said. "Talking about the ICW summons. Keeps trying to give me 'extra paperwork.' She like needs a life. Hasn't left the office before seven since the war."
"Not everyone can achieve your profound depths of work ethic," Loki said dryly.
"I try," Jorkins said, examining her sparkly purple nails. "Anything else you wanted to ask?"
"What is Bode up to?" Loki asked.
"Hate him," Jorkins said. "He never talks to me."
"That is rather the point of an Unspeakable," Loki said, drumming his fingers on the table.
"Yeah he does it like he means it," Jorkins said. "Barmy old man."
Loki smiled into his teacup.
"He's like, always sending letters to the Doc, complaining about Pandora Lovegood," Jorkins continued. "Mind, everyone thinks Mug-Art is the most useless department on the floor, and the money couldn't literally be going to a worse place if you poured it down a kelpie loch."
"You'll be surprised," Loki said, making a mental note to get something to Lockhart.
"Great," Jorkins said. "Can I go home now?"
Loki waved his hand.
"Gladly," he said. "Remember to keep quiet, or-"
"Yep, disemboweled, vaporized, organs in a knot…" Jorkins said, making for the door, waving- "Seeya later, Minister,"- and kicking it shut behind her.
Loki massaged his temples, looking at the picture of Harry.
Remus's white country house was cheerful in this season, ivy trailing up to the diamondpane windows, a new coat of paint on the old green door. There was a little, well-tended vegetable garden where he suspected most of the food was acquired, a chimney billowing smoke, a quaffle that Loki lazily levitated down from the roof to tumble on the lawn.
Remus opened the door when he knocked.
"Come in," he said. "I was just finishing up a lesson with Harry."
"Is it Loki?" Harry called from inside the house.
"See for yourself," Loki said, as Harry ran into the kitchen excitedly.
"Am I done for the day?" he asked, and Remus exchanged a glance with Loki.
"What is left?" Loki asked.
"Just a bit of sums," Remus said.
"Well go on," Loki said, beckoning to Harry. "That sounds useful."
Harry grimaced, but obligingly padded back into his room, carrying Remus's assignment under his arm.
"How has he been progressing in his studies?" Loki said, sitting down at the table as Remus got down a saucer from the cupboards and began boiling water. He looked calm- he nearly always did, but a bit of the wolf crackled silver around him.
"He has a bright mind," Remus said, placing Loki's mug down before grabbing his own. "Ahead of his level in math, and good at thinking on his feet."
"Has he performed any magic yet?" Loki asked.
"Not lately," Remus said.. "It's a relief, to be honest, after the last incident."
Loki snorted. Sometime before Harry's fourth birthday, his friend Ron's older brother had turned his toy into a spider, and Harry had jumped forward, waving his arms, and turned it into a dog. The transfiguration had lasted for two hours, after which point it had reverted into a very scrappy teddy bear. Harry had stood up, looking as war-weary as any of the Einherjar, had asked Ron if he was 'aright,' then promptly passed out.
Still, that had been some years ago already.
"Is it normal, the lack of instances?" he asked, and Remus nodded, sipping his cocoa.
"Most occurences of accidental magic are a response to heightened fear or stress. Harry doesn't scare easily, and I'd like to think he's had few causes for stress, these years."
"Certainly," Loki murmured, remembering a time Longbottom had departed, abruptly, in the middle of a practice upon hearing that one of his relatives had attempted to push Neville off a pier. Loki had never seen his face look so dark. Perhaps… but no. Loki brushed it aside.
"Harry told me you took him to the moors Friday," Remus said.
"Yes," Loki said, his white fingers curling around the porcelain mug. "We did something similar in- my own childhood, more as an experiment in memory than magic. Still, I'd hoped it would be taking some root."
"That's teaching for you," he said. "I wouldn't worry about it. He's still young."
Loki shook his head.
"He has talent," he said. "You'll see."
Remus opened his mouth to say something, a flicker of concern in his light brown eyes.
"So what brings this meeting?" Loki asked, and Remus straightened.
"I got an offer of a job," he said, handing Loki a letter across the table.
Loki scanned it, letting out a sharp laugh. A magical creatures preserve- that was one of his own initiatives with France.
"You have a job."
"I don't think of Harry that way," Remus said calmly.
"Strange way of showing it," Loki said.
"It's just a couple of hours a day," Remus said. "Part time, doesn't start til the summer, and it pays well- very well, actually. And the reserve has many creatures- they don't run regular staff on the full moon."
The note of eagerness in his voice was too much.
"You have a job," Loki hissed, standing up to lean over the table. "You have one job, and that time is more worthy than anything else you might put it in your mind to do."
"I'm not putting Harry second here," Remus said, the silvery cloud around him sparking with agitation. "But it's difficult to find a job that will accommodate my condition. Harry's old enough to sit with Mrs. Weasley for half the day, at any rate, and I can teach him in the afternoons-"
"If funds are your issue, you'll have them," Loki said coldly.
"I'm not asking for money," Remus said, his hand unclenching around the chipped mug on the table. "I've always- taken as little as possible from your funds-"
"I don't ask you to do that," Loki said, his fingers cold against the sleeves of his robes.
"I know, but…" Remus said.
"Six years ago, when I brought Harry to your doorstep, I asked you to take care of him," Loki said. "You said you would care for him-"
"I am!" Remus said, standing up so quickly that he clipped the saucer, hot chocolate sloshing out onto the table. "You don't understand what they say about werewolves- we live on handouts- we can't make an honest quid, well, this is a way for me to legitimately support Harry, not just live off your charity."
"I am legitimate!" Loki hissed.
A bang sounded behind Remus and they both whirled to find Harry, the doors slamming shut behind him.
"Stop it!" he cried.
For a moment, Loki felt like a child, caught in the act. He smoothed his face.
Harry walked across the kitchen, past the table until he got to Loki.
"It's okay," he said imploringly. "You don't have to yell at Remus. He can have a job if he wants."
"Harry-" Remus said, wiping his hand off and resting it on his shoulder. "You know I'm not doing this to- to get rid of you- or anything like that-"
"I know," Harry said, swallowing. He reached out and took one of Loki's hands in his warm ones, swinging it slightly.
"I want you to get along," he said, and Loki smiled wryly.
"Of course we do," he said. "But I need to make sure you are cared for as well. If you want for Remus to have a job-" he looked over at Harry, who nodded, "Then I will watch you in the mornings, at least for now."
"You will?" Harry said, excitement edging into his voice.
"Of course I will," Loki said, setting the glass to rights and returning the liquid to it.
"We'll see how it goes," Remus said, and Harry whooped.
"Minister Loki, of the United Kingdom," Kaiserin Graf said, as he entered the room, golden horns throwing reflected light across the hall. "Thank you for finally deigning to meet with us."
He surveyed the room- it was smaller than the ICW room but tiered the same way and lit with the blinding reflected light of the snow through the window. The tiers themselves were full of witches and wizards, representatives of different countries, most of them from Europe. Norway, Bulgaria, Iberia, Spain… Their faces were shadowy to make out, but none of them looked particularly pleased.
"Well well," he said. "I hope I'm not in trouble."
"Do you recognize why you were called here?" Graf said, her voice coming clearly from the podium at the front.
"I-" Loki began, just as Graf raised up a hand.
Loki stepped aside, obligingly presenting Harry. A murmuring roared up, as representatives whispered to each other-
"A miniature him?"
"-boy who lived-"
"Quiet," Graf ordered, uncharacteristically sharply, and everyone fell silent. "Who is this child?"
"He's my godson," Loki said, smiling pleasantly. "His father is at work. We were hoping to have the day out, but as you see, other plans were in the arrangement."
"We gave you ample opportunity to respond to our requests," Graf hissed. "Sit down, this is not a nursery."
Loki shook his head with mock disappointment, giving Harry the big chair and conjuring one beside it for himself. This had the unfortunate position of Graf directly facing the boy, who was attempting to create a tower out of cards on the table.
"Now," Loki said, as the delegates seemed to have gotten distracted watching Harry arrange his cards. He saw Pelle, the Swedish delegate, regarding him with a kind of incredulity. "What seems to be the problem?"
"The problem is France, as you very well know," she said. "You had no right to seize that territory."
"Actually, I think you'll find I was," Loki said. "By France itself, in fact."
He added another two cards to Harry's table, and he grinned.
"Nevertheless, what you did was forbidden by international law, which exceeds the rights and privileges any given country can provide," Graf said sharply.
"I don't know if you recall," Loki said, "But France attacked my country. France initiated this war, from beginning to end, against the sincerest wishes of every British citizen. Not only did they incite a long and dangerous campaign of aerial assault; they struck into the population centers of Britain itself."
"And you expelled them, as you had the rights to do," she said. "And then you seized control of their government, which you had no right, by article 4, section B of the International Codex. Moreover, we find disturbing reports of treatment of rebellions in France."
"An exaggeration," Loki said, waving his hand aside. "The French have been welcomed in Britain like our own citizens, with all rights and privileges thereof. In fact, life in France has improved immeasurably in the months since our governments have come together. Economic output, health and innovation, standards of education- these things have all improved for France. They invited us, and so we came. Hardly the bloody coup you're painting."
He added another pair of cards, and Graf's mouth thinned.
"Where is Albus Dumbledore?" Graf asked. "We were expecting him here today."
"He is busy," Loki said. "You'll have to contend with me. Well, me and Harry here." He smiled at the boy, who waved shyly.
"Do not bring the child into this," she said sharply.
"Funny you should say that," Loki said. "Harry, where were you when the French attacked Diagon Alley?"
"Going to the oculist," Harry murmured, and Loki quickly amplified it across the room, watching the delegates' expressions.
"You see?" Loki said, shuffling the cards. "There are many chores and appointments that encompass a child's daily life; many false steps and mishaps." His voice grew hard. "Not one of them- not one- should involve being bombarded by explosive spells, being hurled into buildings, hiding in the rocks and rubble while your guardian frantically calls your name. Not one," he repeated, his voice lowering to a hiss. "In his short six years of life, Harry has experienced more war than the rest of you have seen in lifetimes," he said. "I intend to see that he- that any one of my citizens- is never again so threatened."
He stood, looking into the eyes of the councilmen and women. The Balkan delegation was looking away uncomfortably, and Harrison grimaced. "Have I done wrong?"
"It is easy for France to smile," called Pelle finally from the upper tier, "When Azkaban is filled with its dissidents."
"We put those who insist on violence with all criminals and would-be-assassins," Loki said. "We could hardly leave them on the streets."
"So you left them in the care of dementors," Pelle said.
"In the care of the British justice system," Loki said. "Do I question how Sweden does its housecleaning? Or does the lack of dementors free it from the moral culpability? I daresay you'd think differently, if you had them on your shores."
Pelle folded her arms, exchanging a glance with Munter, who stared at Loki with undisguised resentment.
"You dropped a Jack," Harrison said quietly from the front row, bending down and giving it to Harry.
"Thanks!" Harry whispered, quickly taking it up and adding it to his tower.
Loki rolled his eyes. A couple of tiers up, the Bulgarian and Egyptian delegates had erupted into outraged whispers at the disruption.
Graf shifted through papers, clearing her throat in an obvious attempt to regain control over the room.
"These matters are of no consequence, so long as they remain in-house," she said. "But if you take another step past that border, you will find no friends among us."
Loki looked around the room, briefly resting on Pelle's scowl before finding Harrison's closed-off expression.
"Thank you," he said wryly. "I shall take that into account."
"Do," Graf said coolly.
"Now, if we may take our leave?" Loki said, indicating the table. The tower had fallen, and the cards were reassembling themselves in the air in a working of his own. "I think we're done with games."
A/N: Sorry for the longer-than-anticipated break! Job stuff, moving, you know the drill. What did you think of Infinity Wars? Sincerest thanks to those of you who took the time to review; it means a lot to read them!