Joe's Note: Some eagle-eyed readers will notice that Mæja's role was significantly stripped down compared to previous incarnations of the story. As interesting as it seemed to give Thrúd her own love interest - who would infringe on Harry's existence at various points of the story - it was something that I really struggled to make work in any meaningful way. While I no longer have massive age/maturity gaps between Harry and his peers, I felt that reintroducing that particular aspect by way of a centuries old valkyrie would do nothing to advance the story. So I reduced her role to a noteworthy combatant that Thrúd admires but nothing more in this story. She may still recur at points if I bring back the Valkyrior for anything - she's one of a handful of valkyries that I've put some effort into developing over the years of doing Norse-centric Marvel fanfiction - but that'll depend on the needs of the story.
Dedications & Thanks: To Nicholas, Alexander, Howard, MJ, Daniel, Christopher, Marc, Ziryo, Elliot, Crusifikz70, Timothy, Leigh, Jason, Chris, George, Koby, Ken, Thyatira, William, Wil, Invernos, Jack, Pat, Warren, Chris, Mitch, and Jess for sponsoring me on Patre0n, and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.

August 19, 2006

"…save for Mæja, your mother was the most steadfast believer in your eventual return. In hindsight, it does make sense: while I train them, I lack the Valkyrior's connection to the land of the honored dead that would allow Mæja to know that your soul hadn't yet passed over… nor do I have Loki's tie to Helreginn." Sif paused for a moment, staring off into space with a thoughtful expression, before shrugging and reaching out to brush her hand over the gleaming silver heater shield that now graced Harry's forearm. "Like mine, this was forged by Brokkr; unwelcome in Niðavellir after his past antics, Loki was forced to secure it for you through me at… great expense to herself. Use it well, Hjördís Liljujardóttir."

'Before you ask, the closest translation in English would be roughly 'sword goddess'. I like it. A short form for friends would be Dísa.'

Personally, Harry would have preferred that he not need a female name at all… but if he was going to be stuck with one, he had to admit that 'Sword Goddess' was a pretty wicked name to have. Turning his attention to the shield that Sif had helped him attach to his forearm over the brown leather glove he was wearing, he frowned. While he knew there was more to it than simply being a shield - that Sif could use her own shield as a sheath for her lengthy blade and leave only the hilt and very tip showing was proof enough of that - that knowledge by no means translated into him knowing what to do with it. "How do I? Use it well, that is?"

Sif took a step back to open up a bit of room between them before bringing her left arm up. "Before you can use it, you're going to need to infuse your magic into the shield so that there is something to power the enchantments that have been laid upon it." Pausing, the blonde shot a look over at the woman standing to Harry's right. "You'll have to ask your mother how to do so; she was… generous… enough to lend her power to mine, which was how she learned about its abilities and in turn decided she wanted one for you."

The slight hesitancy around the word 'generous' combined with the way Sif inflected the word made Harry raise an eyebrow. While he'd spent some time reading up on Norse mythology as a whole, he'd attempted to focus on the more personally important individuals during his research. Thrúd, he'd found very little of. Thor and Odin, considerably more so. And assuming Sif to be the mother of his new companion, Harry had done his best to scrape together what he could about the woman. Obviously significant portions of it had been incorrect: she was neither Thrúd's mother nor a meek earth and fertility goddess. That meant he couldn't trust everything - or even most things - that he read, but Harry had to wonder if Hárbarðsljóð and Lokasenna were accurate. It would explain a thing or two about the way the goddesses around him interacted…

Before Harry could muster up the courage to voice his suspicions, Loki cleared her throat. "Actually, you won't. Need to store power in it, that is. I had to with Sif's because she's about as magical as a Midgardian pear, but you can simply channel magic through it like a focus to make use of its abilities. Assuming Brokkr recreated Sif's shield properly? You'll be able to make it larger or smaller as suits your needs, and it can store a weapon while greatly reducing its weight and size." Leaning in, she lowered her voice a bit. "Personally, I would store Rensaren inside it as a wand and then reduce it so it sits on your arm like a slightly ornate bracer. The best attack is the one your opponent never sees coming."

"No, Loki, that's the sneakiest attack. The best attack is the one that leaves your opponent a mangled corpse who can't counterattack."

"…lovely. And here I thought you'd turn out to be more like me than your father."

"What? I'm not saying that being sneaky is a terrible idea or anything. I'm just saying that whether or not you're stealthy when you do something is less important than what you actually do." Harry looked around Heimdall's observatory before sighing; even though he logically knew that he had to return to Earth and soon, he really wanted to stay a bit longer in Asgard. The past five hours - maybe six; he didn't have a watch and all the Time-Keeping Charm did was inform him that Asgard didn't run on British Summer Time - had passed in a blur. He'd spent some time talking with Sif. He'd spent some time getting his ass kicked by Sif in the name of 'evaluating his skills'. He'd spent some time learning basic Asgardian healing magic from Amora, which was especially nice because that was one of the few things he hadn't learned during the war. He'd spent more time talking to Sif and Loki, with Amora occasionally pitching in a witty comment or innuendo. She'd also offered Harry an apple, which he'd declined with a blush.

But even after the past few hours, there was still so many things Harry wanted to know. It had been conveniently avoided by the others in conversation, so he still had no idea… was his father in fact Thor, or was it another of the Æsir? The Eddas had gotten his mother wrong; were they any more right about his father? For that matter, what had driven Loki to take on a female form and have a child? Why did she look like a dark-haired version of Sif? Was that how she'd looked when she gave birth to Thrúd? If so… why? "I'm not sure when I'll be able to come back, but I promise I will. And you know where to find me now, if you want to come see me. Just… have Heimdall make sure the coast is clear. I'm sure I'll have to explain this to my family but we'll probably try to keep it a secret from the rest of the wizarding world for as long as we can."

Loki nodded in agreement before beckoning Amora over. As soon as the blonde was within reach, Loki's hand disappeared down into Amora's cleavage; much to Harry's disbelief, the blonde looked bored rather than shocked or appalled by the shorter woman's actions. After rooting around for a bit, Loki withdrew her hand and offered up a delicate golden chain with a pendant that depicted two snakes intertwined to form an ornate 'S'. "While Heimdall can always hear you, I sadly can't say the same. Channel your magic into it, speak my name, and I'll hear you no matter where either of us is. If you need me, I will come."

Taking the necklace, Harry eyed it appreciatively for a few seconds before reaching up behind his neck and clasping the chain. As the pendant settled into place against his collarbone, he reached up to cover it with his hand as he eyed Loki curiously. "This is probably rude but I can't think of a polite way to say it, so please don't curse me into some strange Asgardian animal or anything… but you seem to care an awful lot all of a sudden for a woman who let her daughter get exiled and die on Midgard."

Amora sucked in a breath even as Sif went rigid in the corner of Harry's vision, but he kept his eyes on Loki. The woman stared back at him for several long seconds before sighing and sagging. "You're not wrong. There are dozens of ways I could have done better by Thrúd. Raised her better. Fought harder when the All-Father wanted to exile her. Watched over her with Heimdall's help. Gone to her on Midgard, even. But I didn't. I was too caught up in my own schemes and my own problems to care. I'm not sure I'm much better now… but I'm going to try. If you'll give me the chance."

"Sure. I mean, at least you're willing to put some effort in. Means you're doing one better than James Potter." Harry nodded toward where Heimdall stood atop his pedestal, waiting to engage the Bifröst and send Harry home. "Have him keep an eye out. Maybe this reality's version of Hogwarts has Parents Day or something; I already have two mums and a dad, who'd notice another parent or two coming to see me?" Loki's eyes widened at that, and Harry left her to stew over the explicit invitation to join him and his family on Midgard as he turned to face Heimdall. "I'm ready when you are."

The imposing god gestured to a spot near one of the circular, portal-like structures on the wall and as Harry made his way over to it, he reached up to bring Rensaren near the heater shield on his left arm. When he did, the metal on the reverse rippled and formed into a slot that would accommodate his wand and so Harry slid it into place. That done, he did as Loki instructed, focusing his magic into the shield like it was his wand and then picturing the shield rotating ninety degrees before shrinking down into a gauntlet. Huh. Neat. Looking up at Heimdall, he nodded and the dark-skinned man shoved his sword down into the pedestal. As the room whirred to life around them and a flickering portal of rainbow light appeared, Harry took a deep breath. And now, to face his mother…

As Harry… actually, she was rather fond of Hjördís if Thrúd wasn't an option. Very well. As Hjördís disappeared into the Bifröst stream, Sif met Loki's wide-eyed gaze with one of her own. "I'm not the only one who heard her say that, right? 'This' reality? Implying that she's familiar with more than one?"

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." After slowly guiding Höfuð up and out of the Bifröst's control mechanism, Heimdall turned to face them. "The words of a Midgardian playwright; they seemed oddly appropriate here." The three women continued to stare at him, and the god sniffed before passing between them and heading off toward Himinbjörg's exit. "I am called the All-Seeing for a reason, ladies, and there has been precious little of interest to See here in many a year."

A fan of theater, and Midgardian theater at that? Heimdall was a far more complex man than she'd previously assumed, Loki mused as she watched the man walk away. Turning back to Sif, she licked her lips and winked, making the blonde sigh. "No. Not only because I have things I need to do this evening, but because I refuse to touch you while you wear that form. Unlike the other blonde in your life, I'm not a narcissist."

Amora let out a huff at that. "I'll have you know that I've never had sex with Loki while she looked like me." Pausing, she tilted her head to the side and thought briefly, before holding up a finger and amending that statement. "Only once. And we were drunk. And it was specifically because I wanted to know why you found doing such a thing appealing. Therefore it's all your fault and you're not allowed to mock me for it."

"I do not have sex with Loki while she looks like me!"

"The important thing is that you believe that, Sif."

Returning her attention to Sif, Loki shifted from the ásynja's twin - or near enough - into a buxom, dark-haired woman who featured prominently in Hjördís's short-term memories. Reaching up to curl one of the pale blond streaks that ran through her hair around a finger, she smiled. "Is this any better? Her name is Narcissa Cygnusdóttir; she's been enjoying merry sport with Hjördís's mother lately." Sif raised an eyebrow, making Loki shrug defensively. "I know that seeing me with your face makes you uncomfortable, which is why I'm seldom a woman around you. But your beauty has no equal in Asgard, which made me reluctant to abandon your form."


"You're from Vanaheim for one, Amora, and I'd stand by my statement even if you weren't." Loki ignored Amora's indignant huff, keeping her attention on Sif. "Hjördís fancies herself a master of mental shielding, but she's no match for our kind. So I went digging to see what kind of person was hosting my daughter's spirit. I found this… among other things. Such as her memories of another reality entirely, where our kind are nothing more than Midgardian magic users with delusions of grandeur."

Eyeing Loki contemplatively for a few seconds, the corner of Sif's mouth eventually quirked upward. "And I suppose the price of you sharing this knowledge with me would be my companionship for the evening?" Loki shrugged again; it was always better to let people feel like they were making a decision for themselves than conceding to a demand. "Just out of curiosity, has it ever occurred to you that I might prefer you in your own form?"

"If you were in the mood for male company, you'd be back to panting after my brother. And given that the last time we were together as man and woman, I cut your hair off and cursed it to grow back black… forgive me if I doubt you'd look fondly on me trying to bed you in that form."

Sif inclined her head in acknowledgement before closing the distance between them, resting her hands on Loki's hips. "True enough. And between the fact that this 'Narcissa' of yours is quite fetching and that I'm thoroughly fascinated by the idea of other realities… very well. Let's head back to your rooms. But Amora won't be joining us; I want your undivided attention." Shooting a narrow-eyed look at her fellow blonde, Sif rolled her head from side to side before grimacing. "Nor do I want to be subjected to her attentions again any time soon."

"You weren't complaining about my attentions when I was biting your neck…"

"Yes, because I was naive enough to think that you'd be like Loki and manage to give me pleasure with your teeth without leaving me looking like I got clobbered by a kronan!"

"Now that's just unfair. I left you looking like a rock troll's victim at best…"

August 19, 2006
Rear Lawn
Potter Manor
Fowey, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom

The return trip via the Bifröst was actually slightly less objectionable, Harry mused, and not because he was somehow getting used to it already. But while the trip still forced him to deal with that horrible combination of being squished like during apparition and stretched by a portkey? Heimdall's end of the Bifröst was more akin to being pushed out of the floo - something he was still terrible at handling gracefully - while his return to Mid… Earth was closer to the way a portkey plunked him down. Sure, he stumbled forward a step, but that was it. Casting the Time-Keeping Charm, Harry frowned. It was approaching noon; he'd been gone a bit longer than he'd thought. Which meant that his father would be back from his overnight shift and Dora would be awake… as would his sisters. And if Narcissa was still there, chances were Altaira now was too. Bugger.

Actually, fuck. Fuck seemed thoroughly appropriate at the moment.

Harry managed to make it all of four steps closer to the house's back doors when they opened, Narcissa leading the charge with Lily close behind her. But while James and Dora were conspicuously absent, the twins were not and he could see Altaira peeking through a window, safe inside the house like the sensible Slytherin she was. Growling lowly as Narcissa opened fire without saying a word, Harry brought his left arm up and channeled his magic through… Vörn. All the cool Asgardian stuff seemed to have names, he decided, and so that meant his shield would have one too. Vörn came to life under his thoughts' guidance, pushing out a bit from his forearm before rotating ninety degrees and then expanding to a bit larger than what had previously been full size. The curved surface allowed Harry to deflect the first few spells so they passed within inches of his right side before impacting with the ground behind him, but he quickly grew tired of that and batted the last of the barrage back at Narcissa, forcing her onto the defensive. "By the motherfucking All-Father, Narcissa, if you don't stop trying to curse me I'm going to remember what the pointy end of Rensaren is supposed to be used for!"

Pausing in her attack, Narcissa thought for a moment before thrusting her wand out toward Harry, not releasing any more spells but quite clearly on guard. "Saying something like that doesn't exactly encourage me to trust you, you know…"

"Considering you and Mum are the ones who started all this, the lack of trust goes both ways." With a thought, Vörn ejected Rensaren and Harry caught it on its descent, transforming it into a sword and slashing it downward so that he was in a ready but not actively offensive position. "I see two different ways we can settle this. One: I take the offensive, put you both down hard, use the healing magic that Amora taught me to fix you back up, and then cast incremental Memory Charms until you start acting like you're supposed to. I'm not exactly wild about this plan because it'll require me to cast Memory Charms on my siblings and Altaira too, and I've heard that sort of thing can have nasty side effects when it comes to minors. Or two: I'll swear a magical oath that I not only am I not here to cause any harm, but that I am in fact Harry James Potter… and then we can sit down and discuss this whole mess like adults."

"Even less encouraging…"

Thrusting Rensaren out, Harry continued to hold Narcissa's gaze as he released a burst of wild green magic that flew through the air before colliding with one of the porch's support columns. It detonated, spraying shards of marble in every direction and shattering a handful of the house's windows. "Urge to fight rising…"

Lily and Narcissa exchanged looks at that, and then Lily reached up to grab Narcissa's wrist, slowly pulling the taller woman's arm down until her wand pointed at the ground. "Considering that our children are a lot closer to the line of fire that they were earlier this morning, I'm a bit more willing to try talking things out. So, about that magical oath..?"

Far and away the preferable choice in Harry's mind, and not just because he wasn't terribly keen on the idea of engaging his mother and her girlfriend in a more serious battle rather than the delaying action he'd fought a few hours ago. But Narcissa had already helped him figure out that his physical changes were caused by overuse of powerful magic. If the early duel was any indication of their abilities, Harry would need to throw around plenty of spells that were far too powerful for his liking to defeat them, then use more to heal the two women afterward, and top all that off with a large number of Memory Charms. Based on his previous experiences, that was quite possibly enough powerful magic to keep him trapped in his current form for some time… and he was really starting to miss being Harry. And so Harry nodded in agreement before transforming Rensaren into a wand and holding it up in front of him. "I, Harry James Potter, do hereby swear on my life and magic that I am in fact the son of James Potter and Lily Potter née Evans and that I do not serve, nor have I at any time served, Voldemort. So mote it be." There was a bright flash of light and Harry waited a few seconds before slotting his wand back into Vörn. "Satisfied?"

Taking a step forward, Lily's expression oscillated between consternation and fear. The former presumably because it proved that she was wrong, and the latter because… well, her being wrong meant that she'd been attacking her own son with Narcissa. Not something any decent mother would be proud of. "Not yet. Cast a spell. Magic is a strange and fickle thing; you could be telling a half-truth and so it only decided to punish you halfway. Take your magic but not your life."

Harry rolled his eyes but obliged, thrusting his left arm out so Lily could get a better look as Vörn twisted and then shrank down into its gauntlet configuration. "The shield acts like my wand; there are enchantments on it but they use my core to power themselves. Or do you want me to make my finger glow for you or something? Har-ry phone home?"

"Could you?" Closing the distance between them, Harry reached up and pushed the tip of his index finger against his mother's nose before casting a very weak Wand-Lighting Charm - or rather a Finger-Lighting Charm in this case - creating a soft white light. Lily stared at it crosseyed for a few seconds before slumping backward, landing on her butt on the grass and staring up at him dazedly. "Oh. Well. I suppose that proves your magic is still intact. And you're still alive. Oh sweet Merlin, I just helped someone attack my own son. But… but how?" Jumping to her feet, Lily began pacing back and forth as she ran her fingers through her hair. "You're so different. In so many ways. You know things that you shouldn't. You can fight better than a professional auror. But you're still my son?"

"Not to mention the comments he made about me during the duel."

"Yes, I'd prefer not to mention those, thank you very much. A possession, maybe? Other than whatever remnants of Thrúd are inside you, obviously." Lily stopped and stared at Harry for a moment before shaking her head and resuming her pacing. "No, I don't think magic would let him survive the oath. Even if he was Harry on the outside, the person swearing the oath wouldn't be Harry James Potter and so they'd be punished. I think."

Sighing, Harry made a shooing gesture in Jasmine and Rose's direction before stepping sideways and wrapping one arm around Narcissa's waist. Apparating them into the kitchen, Harry released Narcissa and made a beeline for the refrigerator even as the back doors open and the rest of his family came stampeding back inside. James was… still conspicuously absent; had Lily drugged him or stunned him or something to keep him out of the way? Buying a bit of time by digging out what he would need to cook… screw it, he decided, he was in the mood for the Cornish version of a full breakfast and if they'd already had breakfast once today, they could just suffer through another. After his adventure in Asgard, he was starving! "The thing is, Mum, that you're stuck thinking inside this very small and rigid box that's keeping you from coming anywhere close to the truth. You see, you're under the impression that you gave birth to 'the' Harry Potter. That there is only 'the' Harry Potter. But, at least as best I can tell, the truth is that there are many Harry Potters. You gave birth to 'a' Harry Potter."

In the middle of herding the girls over to sit at the breakfast nook's table, Lily abruptly went still and then she turned to look at Harry with wide eyes. "And you're another of them. An older one, I'm guessing. Well, older or at least a significantly better trained one given how well you stood up to Narcissa and I this morning." Harry nodded and then held up two fingers to signify his agreement with the first of her guesses. After all, he'd only shed a year in his dimensional jaunt. Year and a half tops. He wasn't too much older than the sixteen-year-old girl he was now dating. "…well fuck." The twins quickly thrust their hands out in her direction, making Lily roll her eyes. "Yes, yes, swear jar. I'll give you both a sickle later." As Jasmine and Rose settled into place on either side of Altaira, Lily made her way over to join Narcissa at the kitchen counter. "In all seriousness, this was absolutely nowhere on the list of ways I thought this might turn out. Cissy? Did you have a Plan Z that you never told me about? This would be Z, right?"

Wrapping one arm around Lily's waist, Narcissa shrugged. "Perhaps X or Y? I think Z would be finding out that Harry was replaced with an alien imposter or something."

Harry paused with the egg carton half-open as Thrúd nudged a relevant nugget of information into his mind, making him snicker. "Funnily enough… in an ironic way, not a 'ha ha' funny way… Asgard and the other seven 'Norse realms' are actually planets scattered through separate solar systems that span the entire galaxy. Which would make Thrúd an alien, and the two of us combined… not an alien imposter per se, but maybe a-"

"So, um, question. Did I zone out at dinner one night and miss a really important conversation or something?" Rose's voice drew his attention back over to the breakfast nook, where she was looking from one family member to another curiously before turning her gaze Harry's way. "Why did you and Cissy attack Harry, Mum? Why is my brother now my sister? What was the giant rainbow thing, and how did Harry come out of it? Why? What's Asgard? Who's Thrúd? Since when isn't Harry Harry? I have so many questions and no idea what's going on!"