A/N: I blame…Thor. It's probably all his fault, anyway.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard
And now the conclusion of: Blink of the Gods.
Blink of the Gods
I guess one of the ways that karma works is that it finds out what you are most afraid of and then makes that happen eventually.
Harry landed flat on his arse as Ronald landed on his face and Harry's trunk landed on top of him with a loud thump. His brows furrowed, taking a moment to take in the distinctive red-orange hair.
"Honk!" Ronald yelped, his arms flapping about as his body shivered violently— at least that is what Harry thought was happening, as he wasn't at all dressed for the frigid climate. All he could see around him was ice and snow as far as his vision allowed.
All at once, there was a circle of giant blue-skinned men moving to surround them, glowing spears gleaming in the gloom. The glow of their crimson eyes reminded him of the laser sights on Muggle sniper rifles from various movies and shows on the telly. Behind them, a ring of huge, vicious-looking beasts— tusks, horns, fur, and a great many teeth— approached from behind.
"Whoa now," Harry said. "Look, I just need to throw some clothes on my— um, this guy."
As Harry struggled to get his trunk off Ron, the giants spoke, but Harry couldn't understand the language. Their expressions were frankly suspicious, and their voices were the very opposite of friendly.
The circle parted as a voice called out.
There was something very familiar about that voice.
Harry tried to listen closer, even muffled by his hat, head coverings, and hood, but it was not successful.
The haze solidified as a stocky sabre-toothed tiger-looking beast trotted in— about as large as a shire horse of Earth— and none other than Severus Snape dismounted and gave the beast what appeared to be a large rib to chew on.
"Mr Potter. I see you brought along an unexpected guest." Severus' lips curled up in a familiar sneer. "Improperly dressed for the climate, I see. How very— unfortunate."
He turned and said something to the giants around them, and they nodded, shuffling to the side as one of the giants threw some sort of pelt over Ron and bundled him up like a cord of firewood.
"Let go of me-HONK!" Ron said, teeth chattering as he squirmed.
"I'm quite sure you don't really want that, Mr Weasley," Severus said, eyes narrowing. "Some of us are suitably attired for the occasion— or at least properly protected from the elements."
"F-HONK-ing Snape!" Ron bellowed. "Get me out of this!"
Harry's eyes widened.
"You should probably follow me, Mr Potter, unless you prefer to camp out here in the middle of nowhere," Snape said, gesturing for Harry's trunk. It obediently lifted up off the ground and set itself on the "smaller" feline-beast's broad back, where Snape lashed it securely with some sort of thin cord. He held out a hand. "Unless you feel like walking in a snowstorm, you will have to get in front of me."
Harry swallowed hard, wondering why Snape didn't seem to wearing even half the clothing he did until he got closer and realised the older wizard's skin was not pale blue because of the extreme cold.
He was literally blue.
His original fathomless black eyes had transformed into a startling deep crimson, and the robes he was wearing weren't at all heavy, rather more wispy in texture and they billowed impressively in the wind as if they would blow away at any moment.
Snape pulled something out of his robes and it extended into a long spear— much like the others he saw— and he thumped it against the frozen ground. The giants thumped theirs as well as they leapt onto the backs of their respective beasts, and they were off into the blinding snowfall that was far too blinding for Harry.
When the movement stopped, and Harry wasn't even sure it had stopped so much as the animal beneath him had simply stopped suddenly, and Harry went tumbling off into a "nothingness" of white. He landed on the ground with a resounding thump, groaning in pain as something round and hard pushed into his gut and tried to embed itself under his ribcage and displace his heart. Tears streamed down his face as he tried to suck it up and not burst into torrential tears, but between the cold, Ron having hijacked his portal, and being met by giants— it was a really stressful day.
He curled up into a ball, still groaning.
And then something wriggled up against him.
Harry felt something squirming against him, and he frantically tried to get up, thinking he'd fallen on someone in the snow.
Two golden eyes met his as a seemingly glowing blue-white dragonet peered curiously up at him. Loud yells came as the giants moved around him, yanking him back with his dragonet as they scooped up the other—
Oh, they were eggs!
He watched numbly as the giants bundled them up carefully, setting them in saddlebags on their beasts.
"You truly have the luck of the gods, Potter," Snape said, yanking him back up on his feline. "Hold tight to the wyrm. And don't let him singe off your face. We have a long trip more to go."
Harry could only nod as he clung to the feline's long fur with his mittens, pinning the wyrmling between him and the feline's neck. Oddly, the heat from the feline and the wyrmling made him feel so much warmer. He could almost hear the wyrmling's heartbeat and start to make out its thoughts— hunger. Gut-twisting hunger.
"Take this and feed him," Snape said, shoving a bundle into his lap. "It's seal jerky. Don't let him overstuff himself. Chew it in your mouth and then let him take the end from your mouth. Don't make faces at me, Potter. I can tell you are. If you don't provide food, he will find food on his own, and trust me you don't want that."
Harry flinched, grabbed into the bag awkwardly with his mitten, and pulled out a large piece of what looked like beef jerky. Thinking of England and trying not to imagine what seal tasted like, he did as he was bidden. Oddly the taste was not what he had thought it would be, and he gnawed on it, softening it, and then did as Snape had told him, offering it to the wyrmling while dangling it from his mouth.
The wyrmling snapped at it, chomping and chewing on it with enthusiasm, radiating pure pleasure, and Harry couldn't help but think it was like a baby bird taking food from—
It was like a baby bird taking food from the parent.
Harry resisted the mental facepalm and started on another piece of jerky. By the time he'd softened it, the wyrmling wanted more, and into his mouth went another piece of jerky.
The journey didn't seem as long now, and when they stopped (this time a bit less abruptly) he didn't kiss the ground with his face instead of his feet.
Severus grunted, pointing to a glowing snow shelter, where the flickering fires within seeped from inside through the small joints where snow brick met snow brick. A lantern hung outside the front, or what he thought was the front where two huge— were those jawbones?—bones rose up like twin arches.
As he shuffled in carrying the wyrmling against his chest, he felt very small. The door was obviously made for someone much taller. As he walked up a ramp to a living area where a warm hearth quickly took the chill away, he saw two giant felines laying on their sides watching him intently. The grey feline riding beast they had ridden on bounded in from outside and purr-rumbled and rubbed up against what must be its parents.
"Praise to the Great Frost Mother, we did not fall into the sea," Severus' distinctive baritone voice said from above him.
Harry backpedaled as a much larger Severus Snape strode in, banishing his robes to a hook as he stretched and cracked his neck. He sniffed the air and—
Snape was greeted almost instantly by two children who glomped onto his legs and chattered at him excitedly. "Please, speak in English for our guest."
"Father!" said one.
"Uncle!" said the other.
"Is this Harry?" the one asked.
"Harry Potter?" the other asked, elongating the syllables experimentally.
"Mmhmm," he replied. "Rona, help your mother with the food, please. Eirik, please fetch your parents a jug of fresh water for the drinks."
"Yessir!" they both chimed, scurrying off.
The wyrmling in his arms thumped to the ground and instantly grew very fascinated with Harry's dragonhide snow boots, wrapping itself around his legs until Harry wobbled.
"Severus," a feminine voice greeted, and a tall woman walked over and embraced him. "Your journey was safe?" Her English was heavily accented but understandable.
"Yes, and we found a nest of frost wyrm eggs, which Sigvard is taking to Arvid to be put in the rookery so the other wyrms can look over them," he explained. "One, however, Mr Potter introduced himself to with his body as he crashed on top of it."
The woman giggled. "That silly cub just doesn't know how to stop. He'll get better."
"At least it wasn't me this time," Severus muttered.
"You know you love him, my mate," she answered, giving him a kiss. She eyed Harry with an evaluating look. "You are welcome as a guest in our home, but it is not just one family that lives here. We have set aside a place for you until you are skilled enough in our ways in both language and culture, after which you will be taught how to build your own shelter."
"You really should name your wyrm," Severus said with a sniff. "Before it chooses one for itself that you will most likely hate. Ellisif, my love, what smells so divine?"
"Curried crab," she answered.
Severus grinned. "It will never get old."
Severus turned to face Harry. "Mr Potter, perhaps instead of trying to stare a hole into the back of my head, you would like to put your things up?" He pointed one long, blue finger to a cleared away living area.
The wyrmling wobbled its head back and forth, making a crooning sound.
"You trying to sing, mate?" Harry asked the creature, amused.
The wyrmling bobbed and crooned again.
"You're a right bard, eh?" Harry mumbled back to the creature. "Maybe that's a good name for you, hrm? Bard?"
The wyrmling jetted flame, albeit a tiny flame, and snuggled closer into Harry's chest.
Harry dragged his trunk over to the place set aside for him, pausing to run his hand over the incredibly soft fur that covered the sleeping area.
"Sir, I don't mean to be so thick, but how did you, I mean what, erm—"
Snape's eyebrow raised into his hair.
"You're not exactly human anymore, sir," Harry blurted.
"I should hope not. Far be it from me to make myself the like of Hagrid," Snape said. Seeing Harry's confusion, he sighed. "There are a few things that can happen when you settle here, Mr Potter. One, you could die the prey of something very large or by doing something very stupid. Two, you could offend the wrong king and get yourself struck by storms until you fall into the ocean. Three, you can learn the language and culture and eek out a decent life."
"There is option four," Ellisif said with a smile.
Harry looked at her in query.
She smiled wickedly. "Dedicate yourself to She-Who-Watches and become a hunter, then impress yourself a female like my mate did," she purred and gave Severus a kiss on the nose.
Snape growled lowly in response.
Harry's face twisted and wrinkled. "But— how can you already have children?"
Ellisif puffed proudly. "He was most excellent in pleasing me."
Severus' lips twitched as he attempted in vain to look somewhat less conspicuous.
"Time is fickle to those not rooted in Jötunheimr, Mr Potter," Ellisif said. "Those of Miðgarðr most of all. Of all the Realms, Miðgarðr is the center of all the Realms. Ásgarðr flies above them all, but your Realm sits in the middle, never quite in one direction or another. It makes those of your Realm more susceptible to the barrier She-Who-Watches puts on her domain. She guides and protects us all. Some find themselves wandering the same patch of ground for days upon days. Some find themselves parted from their Realm and time by many passings of the moon. It is hard to say which will hit and when, and even harder to say if one of your Realm were to survive the first few steps when the cold seeps so easily to the bone."
"Give him time to remember which way is up and discover which way is down," a familiar voice chuckled.
Harry looked up. It was Hermione's voice.
A large— no gargantuan— feline pushed its way into the entrance, yawning extra toothily as it rumbled by. It ignored Harry to rub up against Severus and Ellisif, dwarfing them both. It suddenly became clear why the shelter was so large— for it wasn't just the giants that seemed to need the space.
As the feline entered, the warmth in the shelter seemed to raise almost instantly to what Harry considered too warm with all of his layers, and he finally, bravely started to peel out of his coat, scarf, and under-layers. He raised his head as a woman came in carrying what looked like a bundle of fur with horns and spikes.
"Lady Gudrun," Ellisif greeted. She and the other woman approached and pressed their heads together. "I trust that _ whelped her litter well?"
"All except this one," the woman answered, laughing as the beast licked under her chin. "I'm watching him for now. For some reason, he was born with horns and spikes grown. Tore his mum up a little and she understandably doesn't want much to do with him after that. Poor guy."
"Ahhh, boys, that is what they do," Ellisif said with a grin. "Let's have look at you." She took the pup in her arms and pressed her head to his. The pup wriggled and licked and thumped his tail.
"Should we make room for a new beast now or give it a few hours for you to get over your denial, Hermione?" Severus said as he pressed his head to the woman's with a smug smile about his lips.
The woman smiled, and suddenly Harry realised that tall, golden skinned and blue-runed woman was none other than his childhood best friend.
"Severus," she said warmly. "You know you love hearth-beasts."
"I have enough with Fuzzbucket here," Severus said.
"That name," Hermione laughed. "It's— so you."
"No, Dunderhead would been his name if I'd— NNGH!" Severus was suddenly pinned by a enthusiastic pounce from the "smaller" feline.
Both women giggled into their hands, trying to be polite but failing utterly.
"My wife, are you causing mischief without me?" a voice pouted as a dark-haired man stepped in.
Hermione turned, her face radiating her smile. "And what if I was, husband?"
"I would ask that you save some for me, as it is I that is the supposed God of Mischief, and I am terrible at the entire empathy and rebirth thing."
Hermione stuck her tongue out at him and was immediately engulfed by his arms as a passionate kiss ensued.
"Hermione?" Harry blurted.
The woman turned, an amused expression on her face. "Yes, Harry?"
Harry's eyes bugged out of his head. "What happened to you?!"
"I found myself," Hermione answered, visibly amused. "Literally."
"And me," the man said, giving her the eye.
"Hrm, i suppose."
He pushed out his lower lip in a pout. "My lady, you wound me."
Hermione smiled, putting her hand to his cheek. "Harry, this is Prince Loki of Ásgarðr, God of Mischief, and my sometimes husband when he is not giving birth to foals."
Loki's head jerked around as he flushed. "That was strictly a one-time occasion, my love."
Hermione tilted her head. "Mmhmm."
"You doubt me?"
"I doubt any permanency or truth in the gods of Ásgarðr, my Prince."
Loki growled softly. "Just Loki." He pressed his head to hers.
"Just Loki," Hermione repeated with mischief.
Loki looked like he was going to say something to her when there was a soft thud as Harry fell back against the sleeping furs and let out a gasp of air.
Hermione walked over, shrinking herself down to her human size as she ran her hand over him. "He's fine, he's just— having a moment."
Loki and Severus arched brows simultaneously.
Hermione lured the wyrmling over, crooning to it, and it nuzzled her chin before curling up against Harry and going back to sleep. She pulled a cover over them both to help Harry feel "warm" enough to sleep. "It's not like he had proper preparation for the adjustment.
"He didn't exactly deserve one," Loki said, brows furrowing.
"He will have a chance to prove himself, as we all did," Hermione
said. "Besides, Bard seems to think he's worth something."
"He's a baby."
"They can grow up together," Hermione said, eyes smiling for her.
A knock and a head popped in the door. "Pardon us, my friends, but we seem to have a strange situation with the other male we brought back," a younger Jötunn said.
Hermione tilted her head. "The other male?"
"Well, we think its male. It's so hard to tell when their parts are so tiny," the Jötunn answered.
"Uffe, did you just insult their parts?"
The Jötunn flushed purple. "It is true!"
"I will come and see what you brought back, Uffe," Hermione laughed. "Please tell your mother many thanks for the extra sewing awls."
Uffe laughed. "My lady, Gudrun, she is so grateful for your Halvor's return and his addiction to hunting snow weasels. Their ribs make the best sewing awls."
Hermione laughed. "True, but your mother makes them far better than I."
Uffe smiled. "I think I can safely say, my mother would gladly make your sewing awls for what you and your mate do to bring stability to our people once more."
Hermione clapped her hands on his shoulder and pressed her forehead to his. "No thanks are necessary. Please let the other hunters know we will come and join them very soon."
Uffe smiled. "I will. The bundle is making a truly atrocious amount of noise."
Hermione sighed. "If it is who I think it is, noise is what he makes best."
Uffe scratched his head. "Do Midgardians always honk?"
Hermione blinked. "Pardon?"
"Honk! HONK! HOOOOONK!"
A fat ginger-coloured goose was flapping wildly around the living space, almost setting itself on fire, throwing itself into a stewpot, and getting tangled in a rather large spider web with a few extremely confused-looking frost-spiders.
The staring spiders seemed to make the goose freak out even more, as it kept getting even more tangled and frantic. It shot out from the silken web, destroying it, and it took off out of the shelter, honking hysterically.
Loki looked at Hermione; Hermione just shrugged.
"Do not look at me, husband. I do not use Transfiguration as punishment," she said.
Loki made a face. "I do."
Hermione looked skyward. "So, are you to blame for this?"
"No, but I have to admit a certain admiration for such a flamboyantly coloured goose," he said.
"Same colour as your supposed hair, blood-brother of Odin," Hermione teased.
Loki groaned. "Please. I look horrible with flaming hair."
Hermione purred. "I much prefer raven hair."
Loki, peeked, murred at her. He jolted. "I am not the blood-brother to my father!"
Hermione laughed as she ducked out of the shelter. "Let's find the silly goose before he sets the entire camp afire and distresses the spiders."
"Bloody hell!" Harry's voice yelled from the neighbouring shelter. There was mad honking before Harry cried out again. "BLOODY HELL!" he cried.
Hermione and Loki rushed toward the shelter, perhaps imagining some sort of goose attack on Harry mixed with the wyrmling eating the goose— or perhaps Halvor or Fuzzbucket.
As they burst back into their living shelter, they ended up tripping comically over a huge pile of bronze coloured eggs as if they were treading on marbles. Harry, up to his torso in eggs, groaned.
"Bloody hell," Harry moaned.
Suddenly the amount of eggs in the shelter rapidly multiplied as the ginger goose on top of the pile produced an unnatural quantity of enormous bronze eggs.
Severus, who was sitting on a significant pile of eggs as he flipped through a tome, lowered the book to peer at his wife. "Omelets for breakfast, my dear?"
Ellisif who was buried to the waist in freshly-laid eggs, seemed baffled. "It seems we have more than enough to share."
The ginger goose on top of the pile let out a faint honk, spread-eagle on the mountain of eggs, wings spread and beak parted as its sides heaved in exhaustion.
Hermione, having fallen with Loki onto Halvor, who had his head sticking out of a pile of eggs as if swimming through pudding, gave a rumble of confusion. The kitten, however, had a mouth full of eggs and was trying to bury them— under still more eggs— somewhat unsuccessfully.
Stunned, Hermione shook her head and groaned. "Bloody hell."
The ginger goose honked frantically as even more eggs were added to the pile.
Hermione clapped her hands over Loki's mouth, shaking her head frantically.
He stared at her, giving her expressive eyebrows.
Bard, who had managed to escape being buried alive by eating his way out of the predicament, belched flame on the nearby egg. It crackled and turned golden, splitting open in a perfect deviled egg. The wyrmling gobbled the two halves down hungrily and burped, belly finally full.
As Hermione released her grip on Loki's mouth, he grinned from ear to ear. "We must invite mother to breakfast," he said.
The ginger goose, which seemed to have grown larger with each laying of eggs, honked wearily from the top of the piles. Now significantly larger, a jagged. swirling emblem of sorts seemed to be emblazoned on the middle of the goose's head, made more obvious by the goose's increased size.
"She-Who-Watches' Mark," Ellisif whispered reverently.
Harry struggled to free himself from being buried in goose eggs. "What the blo—"
"NO!" Hermione and Loki cried together, tackling Harry into the pile of eggs and clamping their hands over his mouth.
Days later, the encampment built an improved enclosure for the village's first curse-on-demand-egg-laying frost goose, whom the children named Agni. Hermione had very carefully sound-warded the area to ensure that no more egg avalanches occurred, especially when the Jötunn children because altogether too enthusiastic in "testing" if the goose would actually lay on demand. While frost geese were nothing new to the Jötunn, they had always relied on luck in finding one for food, and eggs— finding a nest was next to impossible— were a luxury they had never experienced before.
Ron, or rather Agni, started to brood over her nest of eggs, provided she could fit over them, and goslings didn't take too long to make themselves known. How such a thing was even possible without a gander remained a mystery to all, but the Mark of the Great Frost Mother was enough for most of the Jötunn to just accept it as "one of those things." One thing for certain, the Jötunn were not complaining about extra sources of food. Neither were the wyrmlings after Bard shared his trick to the others.
"What happened to him?" Harry asked as he tried to help the other "children" slice the meat to dry and smoke around the hearthfire. Despite his human age, his knowledge level was less than a child's to the Jötunn, and he was expected to do what the children were capable of.
"She-Who-Watches judged him," Eirik said, sticking a cord through the lip of one of the fish and tying it to the drying rack.
"You can tell because of the symbol on the head," Rona said, tracing it over her forehead with one finger.
Harry, still a bit gobsmacked, scratched his head.
"I'm Eirik, Son of Loki," the boy said, pulling a cord with his teeth.
"I'm Rona, Daughter of Ellisif," the girl said laying the meat out on the rack in careful movements. "You seem to have problems with names."
Harry flushed. "More I forget whose parents you are." He looked sheepish.
Both children looked at him oddly, perhaps wondering how anyone could forget something as basic as whose parents were whose, but they shrugged and kept working.
"Why do you say that— 'Eirik, Son of Loki' and nothing about your mother?" Harry asked.
Eirik tilted his head. "Everyone know my mother because she's the mate of my father."
Harry stared blankly.
"They don't forget my father because my name calls to my mother," Rona said. "They are a mated pair."
Harry continued to scratch his head.
"You know, when mother and father make each other very happy as we might get a new sister or brother," Eirik said, completely blase. "I would like a sister, so Rona has someone else to pester."
"Hey!" Rona said, giving Eirik a playful shove as she smacked him over the head with a fish.
Eirik grinned at her, and it was clear they had no less love for each other despite their banter.
"What's your full name?" Rona asked.
Harry fidgeted. "Harry James Potter."
"Son of?" Eirik asked.
Harry frowned. "James Potter."
Rona eyed Eirik. "Harry James Potter, son of James Potter. That's a really long name."
Harry tried to say something then stopped. He thought a moment, tried again, then stopped. "I— That's not my name, I mean, that's not my real name. I mean—"
The children stared at him.
Harry fidgeted. "Please, just call me Harry."
Bard nipped his chin, crooning hungrily.
"Are you ever not hungry?" Harry asked.
Bard made a sad sound, his stomach growling loudly. Harry grabbed a bag of seal jerky and chewed on it, leaning over to feed the hungry beast before he started rummaging for himself.
"So," Harry said, his mouth half-full of jerky. "Does every family have an animal with them?"
"Hearth-beasts are not just animals," Rona said.
"They are family," Eirik said. "If you don't have a hearth-beast, people question your heart because, erm—" He seemed to be struggling for words. He and Rona talked back and forth in another language. "If your heart cannot accept the hearth-beast, then how can it know love or faith?"
Harry frowned. "For a couple of kids, you're awfully deep."
The children shrugged. "Wait until we're a thousand!" They giggled at each other and reveled in Harry's boggling.
"A— thousand?" He muttered.
"Or however long it takes to become a hunter," Eirik said with a grin.
"A grown hunter," Rona corrected.
"And what makes a grown hunter?" Harry asked.
"Being grown," the children answered.
Harry made a face as the wyrmling snapped the last of the jerky from Harry's mouth, making happy crooning noises.
"Children," Snape said as he stuck his head in the door. "Please go help Hauk and Livunn pack Halvor. Lady Gudrun must travel the villages and bring food and medicine to the far camps."
The two children scurried off quickly.
Severus sighed as he entered the shelter, sending his robes to hang off a hook.
Harry stared, still a little shocked to see as much bare skin as he did on his old Potions professor.
Severus' lips tugged into a smile as he walked by, summoning tea with his hand as sat at the table. "I trust they aren't breaking your mind any more than usual, Mr Potter?"
Harry swallowed hard. "No, sir."
Harry sat down at the table, setting the wyrmling down on the sleeping area where it burrowed under the covers and became a large lump.
A snoring lump, at that.
Severus poured the tea. "You seem to be uncomfortable with the native fashion, Mr Potter."
"I—" Harry made a face. "I suppose it's more seeing the people I thought I knew, erm, wearing less than I expect," Harry confessed.
"Well, it is summer, Potter," Severus said deadpan.
"THIS is summer?!" Harry wheezed.
Snape snorted, eyebrows raised with mirth. "Peace, I am pulling your leg, as it were," he said. "You arrived in the dead of what Earth would called winter."
"Does it actually ever get warm here?" Harry asked, hopeful.
Severus chuckled. "I fear if you are expecting the spring of the tundra, you are in for a most serious disappointment. This is Jötunheimr, and the seasons here on the frozen wastes are always at least partially frozen."
"Sir— how is it that you are so, er, acclimatised?"
Snape sniffed. "There are those that acclimatise and those that are assimilated, Mr Potter. You can live here without being one of the people, but I chose to become one of the people. I learned the language, the ways of the hunt, and I became a hunter. That attracted the attention of my lovely mate, who made her intentions known by throwing down a sealskin in front of the elders and dragging me down on top of it with her. She said I was missing her more subtle hints and so she decided to go for the obvious."
Snape's lips curved upward, obviously cherishing the memory. "You see, She-Who-Watches tests all those who come into her domain, one way or another, but those who truly embrace the life and her blessings— they become a part of her chosen people. To some it is here amongst the frost giants, and to others the mountains that lie far beyond the ice floes. All of Jötunheimr is her domain."
"I thought Loki was the king of this place?"
"No, that is Útgarða-Loki, a Jötunn sorcerer who believes since he can control the weather, it makes him king. He rules over the city Jötunn and those who live in the more temperate regions where an ice and snow storm is actually a threat, tricking those foolish enough to enter his city and not pay him respect."
Harry scratched his head, baffled. "There are two Lokis?"
Snape eyed Harry. "Are you the only Harry?"
Harry's expression shifted as he facepalmed. "Oh."
Severus' expression softened slightly. "It is a lot to take in. I'd imagine more so than the first day you came to Hogwarts, only instead of magic, you find yourself having to learn skills that will keep you from dying the moment you set foot outside."
Harry looked down. "Sir, why did Hermione bring me here?"
"So keen to leave, are you?" Snape asked.
Harry shook his head. "No! I would never—" He looked to Bard who was snoozing under the covers. "I would never abandon him. I just— she could have just left me to suffer."
"If you think she is the type to not give second chances, then you have not been paying attention, Mr Potter," Severus said quietly, his voice sounding very much like the one used to teach first year dunderheads. "Do not mistake her wish to give you a chance to prove yourself as an easier path, however."
Harry shook his head. "I don't. I just— after what I did," he said, staring down at his teacup.
"This is not Purgatory, Mr Potter," Snape said. "You can have as good a life here as you are willing to work for. Nothing more, nothing less. But, there are no shortcuts to success. No quick paths to make it faster, shorter, or any less grueling. The only thing you will find that can help you here are the allies that you make and finding faith in the right places."
"That being said, tomorrow, I will help you go through your things just in case your… friend left you any unexpected cargo that you are unaware of," Snape offered.
Harry nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"For now, I recommend you sleep. The cold tends to seep into your bones here until you get used to it, even with that portable heater you have hogging your blankets over there."
Harry eyed Bard and grinned. "Yes, sir. I think I will."
Snape watched Harry as he curled up next to Bard and pulled the covers over them both, his crimson eyes narrowing as he eyed Harry's trunk.
As the soft sounds of sleeping filled the shelter, an unknown hitchhiker crawled out from the myriad of items stuffed into Harry Potter's travel trunk. Having noshed her way through a package of Eccles cakes, she had no idea how long she had been in the Boy-Who-Lied's trunk.
That stupid bint, Granger, had been a perfect ride into Potter's unremarkable lair, and it hadn't been too hard to sneak into his stuff to go wherever it was the boy was planning to escape to.
But where the hell was this place?
Conversations had been confusing. She recognised some of them by the names and some by the voices— especially that Granger bint. She'd have recognised her anywhere. She'd been following her since she got out of Azkaban, writing stories about how the little slag thought she was actually Ronald Weasley. She was seriously mental, that one. The things she said? The things she did? It was almost as if Granger believed she really was that Weasley boy. Why would anyone want to be that youngest Weasley son after the way he'd shamed himself and his sister without her help? There was a certain irony in that...
But these people had a strange accent and an even stranger way of talking. They spoke of places in a completely different manner, as if it wasn't on Earth. They even spoke a different language entirely, and that was even more frustrating. Wherever this place was, it was out there.
Way out there.
As she crawled out of the trunk, she shivered. It was oddly chilly for her tastes. She saw the odd blue-white hearth fire and wondered if her beetle vision had gone pear-shaped. Her antennae wriggled and she looked around for any dangers. It was oddly quiet— the strange chatter that seemed to come from all around had all ceased, as if bedtime was universal. Where the hell did that happen?
Merlin, they were all asleep. That little bint— with that frizzy hair she'd know anywhere—was sleeping with some man with his arm wrapped around her. They seemed oddly larger than life, which annoyed and disgusted her. Was he blue?
Rita rubbed her leg over her eyes and looked again. Damn the weird lighting in this place.
Wait, was that the long missing dungeon bat himself sleeping here too? Who was that woman he was cuddling in his sleep?
She had presumed the bint was talking to Snape using a Floo—
But the evidence was clear. They were all here. Wherever here was.
Rita dropped onto the floor and immediately regretted it. The floor was ice-cold! She scurried over to a nearby rug and huddled into it to try and keep warm.
What the hell?!
Rita scurried in a panic as something came down on her from above. She wriggled and squirmed to get free and then dashed for the nearest dark place to hide in or under.
Mrrrrrrrooowl, came a deep rumble.
A cat? Oh, just wait till I'm out in the open, cat. I will hex you into next year.
The crevice she chose to hid in suddenly moved, and she looked up to see a large— more than large, impossible oh Merlin, huge— sabre-toothed cat regarding her. The feline's dark grey tail was poofed up with excitement as it pounced.
OH HELL NO!
Rita channeled the best magic that she was able to use while in her Animagus form and gave the beast a strong, painful jolt of electrical shock.
The beast leapt backwards and bumped into—
Rita felt a surge of adrenaline as her body skittered without her permission. No, no, no, nononono NO!
That was not a cat. That was a—
She'd thought the other one had been large, but no. Double no. Triple no. The beast that rose up from a curled position by the fire was—
Rita made a beeline for the door, desperate to escape and assume her human form so she could Apparate back home. Despite her frantic attempts to Apparate as a beetle that had all ended in failure, but only now did she really wish—
I really wish I had a form with a warm fur coat instead of this! Rita wished fervently.
The cold was making it really hard to run.
Where the hell was she?
Her body spasmed painfully as she ran, causing her to trip and fall over herself. She squealed, wincing as the sound of her own surprise sounded strangely high and inhuman.
Thump, thump, thump.
She could feel the feline monsters chasing her.
A paw slammed down near her, and the "smaller" feline mrowled in frustration.
It tried again.
She seemed to run in place, and she desperately tried to go somewhere-anywhere!-fast. She'd never had such trouble moving before. It was like the ground was ice!
I really wish it was easier to run! Rita moaned, scrambling, twitching, and then squealing again as a paw almost hit her. She started to move forward at last, her feet having finally decided to work.
The larger, white beast cat appeared in her way.
Rita squealed in fear, slip-sliding and tearing off in another direction as the frost sabres went off in hot pursuit.
"What is that?"
"I believe that is Jötunheimr's first beetle-boar," Severus replied, rubbing Fuzzbucket between the ears. The frost sabre cub was bat, bat, batting at the strange combination of boar and beetle through the gaps in the fence.
"It looks funny," Rona said.
"I'm fairly certain it is not a natural occurrence anywhere," her father replied.
"But, then why is it here?"
"If that is who I believe it is, it is because she could not keep her nose out of other people's business— specifically your aunt's."
"But if she has a question, why doesn't she just ask Lady Gudrun?"
Snape sniffed. "Oh, she asks questions just fine, my daughter, but she was never polite about it."
"That's not very nice," Rona said, crossing her arms.
The elders of the encampment muttered to each other, pointing at the marking on the aberration's forehead. A woman dressed in the thin gauze-like robes and sea-pearl jewelry spoke with them. She lit the end of a stick then blew it out, allowing the smoldering end to raise smoke.
The woman nodded after a while. "This is the will of She-Who-Watches," she said, gesturing both above and below. "Her judgement, however, is not complete, but what that is will be between the Great Frost Mother and her." She pointed to the beetle-boar.
As if to accentuate the priestess' words, one of the village's male boars came up to sniff the newcomer, and Rita squealed as her body changed a little bit more, becoming more boar and less beetle.
Snape's eyebrows rose as a wicked sort of smile tugged at his lips. "I sense many bacon butties in our future."
"Huh?" Rona asked.
Her father pulled her against him, pressing her face into his chest and covering her eyes as the newest female boar of Jötunheimr "became acquainted" with the virile male of the herd. "Time for lunch," he said, dragging his daughter with him, giving the priestess a respectful nod as he went.
"Bwhut dadddy," she murmured into his chest.
Time, much as Ellisif had tried to explain to Harry, passed, and he found that before he knew it, centuries had passed for him while on the Earth that he had known, only a blink of time had gone by. In that time, he had grown up, again, only this time he filled in the areas he'd missed the first time… or the second time, depending on how you looked at his magical upbringing.
And so Harry James Potter, son of James Potter became Harry Jameson or simply Harry.
As he stood in the bramble-filled graveyard, the heavy snow made everyone retreat into their warm homes, and Harry smiled a little.
"Father, is this grandma and grandpa?"
Harry placed his hand on his son's head, ruffling his black hair. "Yes, my son, it is."
A younger girl who had distinctive ridges across her skull instead of hair knelt by the grave, placing a polished stone with runes on it to the headstones. "I am Brenna, daughter of Dagny," she said, pressing a kiss on the stone. "I am honoured to meet you through my father."
The boy put an arm around his sister and placed a kiss to another stone before setting it on the grave. "I am Tait, son of Harry," he said proudly. "I am honoured to meet you through my father."
Harry wrapped his arm around his mate, pressing his face to her head ridges with a kiss. Dagny smiled at him as she leaned into his chest. They lowered a small ice-lantern, filled with a small, white-blue fire, to the stone. Harry passed his once-beloved wand over it, enchanting it to only be visible to those who were magic-sensitive before carefully tucking it away. He touched his fingers to his lips and touched the stones.
"Mum, Dad," he said. "I'm really okay. I may look a little strange to you now, but I've never felt better in my life. I think— you'd be proud of me. I had a really rough start of it, but I finally found my way. It just took a little… reality check, courtesy of my best friend, my sister, Hermione."
He wrapped his arm around his mate. "This is Dagny, the love of my life, and my children, Brenna and Tait. I love them very much, and I think you'd have loved them too. I fear we won't be able to visit often, but please know that we do think of you often— and if you're up there somewhere, maybe you can understand why better than most."
The family knelt in the snow together, their relatively giant bodies looming over the small grave like spectres. When they stood together, Harry hugged them all before unravelling a small bundle of sealskin tied together with silk. Inside was a huge golden egg, a smoked boar hock, a small bundle of seal jerky, and a bottle of shimmering ice wine.
"Happy Anniversary," he said with a fond smile.
As they walked away from the grave, Hermione and Dr Strange stood side by side. As Hermione channeled the spell that cloaked their passing, Strange opened the portal to Jötunheimr with a nod. Harry and his family passed through into the frozen lands of Jötunheimr and their home.
After the family left, Hermione and Steven held hands as they, too, walked into the portal and then it closed itself behind them.
As Thor sat on the throne of Ásgarðr, he looked out over the great vastness of the sky that stretched out into space beyond the mighty walls of Ásgarðr. The very spanse of space seemed to taunt him and mock his lack of freedom, for he was chained to the throne as assuredly as his father before him. Only now did he truly understand the heavy weight of the crown and how every move he had to make affected all of his people rather than just himself.
He had once believed such things to be his birthright, and he had also embraced that such things were meant to happen. But now, he looked through the far seeing eye of the throne of Ásgarðr and saw so much more, but at the price of his freedom.
Jane had been but the barest flicker of a candle, and yet that light had taken root in his heart and burned ever brightly, even many years after her death. Even now, with Sif on the throne at his side and with children running amok much as he and his brother did so many years previous, his love for Jane had never waned. And it wasn't as if Sif didn't know, either, even though they did have a fondness for each other that was far more than just lip service.
Jane was simply his first true love, and perhaps Odin had only tried to spare him the heartbreak that came with her life snuffing out so quickly, but he had treasured the few decades he'd had with her. For Miðgarðr, he had been there for almost a century, first as young lovers, then for a while they thought her an older woman with a younger man, then at the end, they thought he was her son taking care of her ailing, weary body.
He hadn't minded, though. The fleeting time that he'd had with her had been a precious gift, and when he at last returned to Ásgarðr, nothing had really changed.
Well, nothing had changed but him. He had gained— perspective. Finding love, maturity, having a child. Though Jane had long since passed, their child, Oskar, had come back to Ásgarðr with him.
Sif, while not his birth mother, treated him as her own. He had chosen the apples of Idunn and the longer life of Ásgarðr as his heritage, but there were times when Thor knew his son dearly missed Jane, just as he did.
Strangely, Odin accepted Thor's son far more easily than Jane, and only now did Thor realise why. Oskar would life and grow up Asgardian and have the lifespan with which to do so. Perhaps, he thought, Odin had driven him to Miðgarðr to "elope" knowing that while "outcast" in Miðgarðr he would have a lifetime with her before returning. Perhaps, All-Father had known that Thor had needed experience that only Miðgarðr could have given him, much as it had given Odin so very long ago when he wandered the Realm as the Wanderer, Warrior Poet, God of the Norse.
Only after having lived a lifetime with Jane had he truly understood the gravity of the crime against his brother. Only after having Jane die, even after having lived a long, beautiful life together, did Thor understand fully what he had done to his younger brother and what he had done to Lady Gudrun so long ago.
What he had done against the Great Frost Mother as well— the greatest offence of all.
But now, he understood. As he watched his brother and his wife tending Jötunheimr as living gods under the Great Frost Mother, he realised his little brother had gained true freedom while he had gained the yoke of the throne. All of Loki's jealousy had disappeared the moment he had found himself enthralled by Lady Gudrun. His journey in godhood had come full circle, and he didn't need Ásgarðr to be beloved by his people, his mate, or his devout.
Even now, the God of Mischief still roamed the Realms, inspiring both shame and laughter as was his domain, but he always came home to Jötunheimr and to his beloved family and people. And judging how often the All-Father and Frigga visited them, there were no ill feelings between them.
Peace had finally come about between Ásgarðr and Jötunheimr, not by the force of war but the subtle touch of love. The love of Odin and Frigga for their adopted son, the love of Loki for his mate, the love of Lady Gudrun for her adopted people, the love of the Jötunn to the daughter of the Great Frost Mother, and most of all, the testing, harsh, but no less loving gaze of She-Who-Watches over her Realm.
And maybe, finally, Thor thought, the love between two brothers whose bond had finally been mended after so many mortal lifetimes.
He watched through the power of the throne— seeing his brother and mate sitting around the hearth fire with their family and the family that shared their shelter, the sorcerer from Miðgarðr, and the hearth beasts watching over them all. He couldn't help but feel a pang of envy at how peaceful and intimate it was, much like so many sunsets with Jane so many years previous.
Loki looked up, staring him in the eye. "Do stop being such a voyeur, brother, and bring Sif and Oskar over for dinner. We're having sweet chili Malekith crabs and roasted boar. Just because the throne is there does not mean you must sit your arse upon it at all hours of the day."
Thor flushed, having been caught (again) looking in on his brother's life.
"And bring Mjölnir, Uncle!" the children said, staring up at him pleadingly. "We can smash the crab shells even better!"
Thor snorted, eyeing poor, abused Mjölnir. The poor hammer had smelled of the most divine chili crab for—
A long, long time.
Thor stood, banishing the vision with the firm decision that experience was much better than staring at life from afar.
"Oskar, Sif—" he said.
Oskar ran out, carrying a "small" cub over his shoulder, made all the more comical that the cub was larger than him. "Are we going to Jötunheimr, father?"
"Yes," Thor said, shaking his head at his son. "Must you carry that beast with you everywhere?"
"It's only fair," Oskar said. "He carries me in Jötunheimr."
Sif ribbed Thor with her elbow. "Who could possibly defeat such logic? Our other son is buried deep in a game of patolli with All-Father and Frigga. We probably have at least a week before we see him again."
Thor picked up Mjölnir and shrugged, smiling. "Let's go. I look forward to drinking Harry Jameson under the table again."
Sif shook her head. "You just want to have him tell those outrageous stories about Miðgarðr."
"No," Thor corrected. "I want him to yodel those outrageous stories about Miðgarðr."
"You two are worse than those Warriors Three."
Thor grinned. "Better."
"Let's go, Bodo!" Oskar told the cub, and they ran together towards the Bifröst, a blur of enthusiasm.
"Mrrrowl!" the cub answered, bounding beside him.
Thor put his arm around Sif and gently kissed her temple. "Thank you."
Sif tilted her head, looking at him strangely. "For what?"
"Putting up with me."
Sif chuckled. "That's okay. I've been doing that since birth."
Thor roared laughter and swept Sif off her feet, tromping down the path to the Bifröst with his lady wife and queen in his arms.
"Thor!" she screeched. "You put me down this instant!"
Thor's face gleamed with mischief of his own as he began to run towards the Bifröst at full tilt, holding out Mjölnir as they lifted up off the ground and flew faster than the eye could see.
As the embers of the hearthfire burned, Hermione lit a small candle by the hearth, leaving a small bundle next to it as she put her hands together and lowered her head. Loki's arm went around her, and she looked up into his crimson eyes, smiling.
"Ready for bed?" he asked.
"I do not know," she said, tilted her chin up. "Will you be in it?"
Loki's eyes flickered with mischief. "Did you not like sleeping with Halvor?"
"Not when Halvor looked like you, husband," she said, eyebrows arching.
Loki pouted, sticking out his lower lip. "Do I not entertain you?"
"Oh, but you are always entertaining," she said somberly, placing a light kiss on the end of his nose. "But if you try to get me to kiss Halvor again, I swear I will turn you into a frost weasel and sic Halvor on you."
Loki grinned, pulling her to him, he looked around the shelter, smiling as saw his children curled up next to their Uncle Thor and Aunt Sif as Bodo emitted furnace-like heat between them. Stephen Strange was fast asleep, his back against one of Halvor's newest cubs, a book plastered on his face where it had dropped as he had fallen asleep. The frost spiders moved a silken duvet filled with the softest beast-wool and frost goose down to cover him up. Severus, as usual, was busily brewing the last batches of ice fruit into mulled frost wine after one Harry Jameson and Thor Odinson had a drinking contest using the concentrated wine without diluting it.
Oddly, Severus never complained, because the stories he got to tell that embarrassed both Harry and Thor were epic, indeed.
Hermione looked upon the scene fondly, a radiant smile on her face. "A wonderful end to a perfect evening," she said as she snuggled into him.
"I could think of one thing better," Loki purred as he latched onto her neck and pulled her down on the bed, waving his hand to enchant their little pocket of privacy— if not for them, at least for his brother, who had somehow become strangely uncomfortable around public intimacy.
The irony in that was thick.
Halvor purred, curling around the two lovers protectively as they brought an end to the day together.
The frost spiders drew a silken sheet over them as others snuffed out the small lanterns as the light dimmed before crawling into their favourite nooks and crannies to sleep.
One solitary spider with a wine glass stuck over his head thumped into the side of a sleeping bench, squeaking pitifully in distress. Severus' hand scooped up the unfortunately arachnid and popped the glass off his head and drew the spider to him as he settled down next to his mate to sleep. The spider purred happily, snuggling against his neck for the night.
As all the lights dimmed for the night, the sky became alive with multiple colours that danced across the sky. The great frost whales sang as She-Who-Watches looked down upon her silent Realm and was quite pleased with what she had made.
A/N: And that's a wrap. I hope you enjoyed the story.
Thanks to my most awesome betas who provide so much sanity for me during my times of stress, and to The Dragon and the Rose, who taunts me with tasty foods that make me want to reach through the screen and shove biscuits into my mouth straight from the oven!