Hi there. This Christmas chapter probably should have been updated, on, well, you know, Christmas.

The last time I updated, I wrote the first fourth of this, then reached into this document I'd written back in March 2012, at the beginning of this rollercoaster. I looked it over and realized that that Hiccup was wrong, and that the whole scene - the best in this story, if I say so myself - didn't fit.

Because, in the past two years, this story has taken on a life of its own. The first chapter, I made a point to credit ColorLikeWhoa, but this story has grown so much and so past anything we'd imagined it would be.

This thirteenth chapter (oh, the irony) is my favorite. Soon, it'll be yours, too. This is the one you've all been waiting for. I hope it was worth it.

After this, there're two more. An epilogue. And a sequel to pick up the pieces.


I woke abruptly and early on Christmas Day. I was on my feet in seconds, before my eyes were even open. I rubbed at one, and when I peered around the room, nothing seemed to be wrong.

Then Harry's voice, a little faint, said from behind his curtains, "Just – just prod me or something in the future, all right, don't – bend over me like that…"

He ripped them back and reached for his glasses, pale and a little panicky. He was sitting up in bed, breathing erratically, and Dobby the House-Elf hovered nervously beyond his crossed legs.

I stared. The other boys were waking, too, and Seamus mumbled as he got up, "Someone attacking you, Harry?"

Harry blinked. "No, it's just Dobby. Go back to sleep."

Seamus decided not to in favor of present-opening. The others, too; wrapped packages were piled neatly at the end of each bed.

My things on the floor didn't have a pile, obviously. I stood against the wall, watching Dobby give Harry hand-knitted socks (which were truly awe-inspiring) and then disappear to join the gangs of elves already cooking dinner.

I went down the stairs and sat in the common room, looking at the feathery snow swirling thickly around the tower. It was bright and warm inside, and I smiled, thinking of each dormitory in the floors above me opening their presents.

Alone in front of the fire. I felt both happy and extremely desolate. Something nagged in the back of my head, and I pushed my hair back, frustrated.

"Happy Christmas, Hiccup!"

Hermione was dressed already, looking a little anxious. "I didn't know what to get you. Nothing seemed right – what could you possibly need?" She gave a small laugh.

"I…sanity?" I suggested.

She shrugged. "So I got you candy, like I usually get Harry and Ron." She brought out a box of Chocolate Frogs. I smiled at her as Harry and Ron clattered down, Harry outfitted in a new sweater with a dragon on the front, Ron wearing what looked like a very warm orange hat.

I'd never exactly acquired the taste for chocolate as everyone else had and Hermione insisted I would, and I left the frogs as inconspicuously as I could on the couch cushion as we went to breakfast.

.

Although Hermione hadn't originally wanted to participate in our afternoon snowball war, when she saw me team up with the twins, she whipped out her wand and stood by Harry and Ron.

I was slightly concerned – could a lifetime of defending against unexpected snowball attacks be any match for magic?

As it turned out, kind of. Harry had great aim but didn't like to use magic for it; Ron preferred to fortify his shelter, and Hermione laughed and flicked snow with her wand from a distance. Fred and George, thankfully, had no qualms about getting wet and dirty, throwing themselves into the snow and freezing it by magic to make Harry and Ron slip.

I was laughing at one such attempt, in which Hermione had been caught as well, until I took a step forward and fell flat on my face. "Oww…?"

"Hiccup?" Fred called. "All right there?"

"Uh, kind of?" Rubbing my chin where it had slammed into the ice-covered ground, I sat up. My iron leg was twisted on the stump, and, perplexed, I sat and turned to look.

It was caught in a rabbit hole – but that was only part of the problem. Carefully, I took hold of it and wrenched it out, tearing a clod of frozen ground with it. It was completely detached from me now, and I turned it over in my hands, astounded. It was frozen solid – the spring stuck and immobile.

"Free for all!" George yelled, and a ball of ice smashed into the back of my head. Grinning, I hastily strapped my leg back on and lunged after him.

Ron joined me in my pursuit, laughing gleefully, and soon it was every man for himself, except for Hermione, who giggled and watched, until she realized she was late for Yule Ball preparations and hurried off to the castle.

By the time it got dark, the others were freezing and it was definitely time to go in.

Fred and George disappeared into their dormitory and Harry and Ron dragged themselves all the way to ours at the top.

The common room was full of first, second, and third years chattering and musing over presents. I sat in front of the fire again, letting it dry out my robes.

They were back in minutes, Harry looking awkward in what was basically a green set of Hogwarts robes, Ron looking murderous in a dress with frayed cuffs. "Oh, come on," Ron implored me. "Keep me and Hermione company while we laugh at Harry."

"Nah." I gestured at the fire. "I'm gonna stay here. Like I said, I don't really have anything to do at the ball anyway."

I sat and watched the upperclassmen trickle down in groups. Parvati found Harry; they and Ron left together. Finally, Hermione came down alone from the girls' dormitories.

She was looking very unlike herself, her bushy hair shiny and smooth, gathered into a flawless up-do. She was finally standing straight, her shoulders square and self-assured. Polished and feminine – the result of her attention to her appearance. Just as her attention perfected anything she worked at.

"Hi, Hiccup." She grinned widely.

"Hey – whoa, wait a second. You waited until the other boys left, wh – did you seriously cook up the whole Viktor Krum thing for that?"

"Are you going to come down at all?" She was smiling at my reaction. "It'd be a shame to miss Ron's face, wouldn't it?"

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. "You're setting him up. I know what you're doing. And you want a witness, just in case Ron snaps and tries to take out an international Quidditch player. All right, you got me, I'm coming."

We had to hurry down to the hall, and I got lost in the crowd as Hermione went off to join Krum. She slid by his side as he led the Durmstrang students into the entrance hall.

I found Ron and Padma just as Harry and Parvati departed to man the doors.

"You did show up." Ron thumped me on the back. I shrugged.

The teachers went in before the students, Dumbledore leading the way. "Pro – professor?" I reached for his arm but drew back quickly. His light blue eyes swept over me with polite attention, waiting for me to speak.

My urgent concern fled.

"N- never mind."

.

Hermione and Harry spent the endless dinner at the High Table, and Ron and I sat at the same little table, not talking. Padma found a friend of hers and chatted, while ignoring Ron thoroughly. Ron gave me a strange look at the fish on my plate but didn't comment.

The band came in and set up after dinner ended, and I stayed in my seat with Ron as the champions rose.

Harry looked horrible, hurrying after Parvati, who led him across the dance floor instead of the other way around. Hermione, however, had finally caught Ron's attention with her first dance.

He recognized her – his scowl made that clear. It didn't help that she was breathtaking, actually dancing and looking amazing in Viktor Krum's arms.

A cluster of Butterbeer bottles appeared in the center of the table, and I twisted one open as Harry and Parvati returned, and handed him one. Parvati and Padma conferred for a moment or two, and both departed with Beauxbatons boys.

It was a good hour and a half into the Yule Ball when something – praise the Lord – caught my attention.

Harry and Ron were out, "getting air," after a minor blow-up about Hermione and Viktor Krum and to escape Percy, one of the older Weasley brothers, I was sitting by myself, having no interest in that conversation, leaning my face on my fist and watching the dancers.

The door to the Great Hall was creaking open, very slightly – just a crack – and a girl poked her head in. She took a deep breath and closed the door behind her.

Her head tipped back, staring in awe at the enchanted ceiling, and then the magical, unmelting ice sculptures.

I squinted at her, a strange, unsettling feeling swirling up inside me. She had long, thick blond hair, falling loose and uninterrupted around her shoulders in a golden waterfall.

Thin, hard lips pressed against my cheek

Immediately, a Durmstrang boy got to one knee, obviously asking her to dance. She looked down at him, then took a quick, hopeless look at the hall. She shook her head. He rose, dejected, and slumped back to his friends, who received him with much jeering and backslapping.

The girl tucked some uneven bangs behind her left ear and scanned the hall again, stretching on tiptoe to see over the crowds of students, and our eyes connected.

Relief and joy shot through them briefly. Then her brows lowered and, losing no time, she marched through the dance floor, making directly for me.

I stared, watching her come, unapologetically disturbing numerous couples. She was, I realized as she came closer, wearing a dress. Not dress robes. It was a sleeveless blue thing with a deep red sash, and unlike the other girls around her, nothing she was wearing was impeding her progress.

She stopped directly in front of me and sized me up, head to single foot. And without trouble to lower her voice, she crossed her arms and half-shouted, "Where in Midgard have you been?"

Midgard…Midgard…

"H-here," I stammered. "Um…"

"Do you have any idea," she hissed, poking my chest with a hard, offensive finger, "How worried I've been? Your dad's been? Don't even get me started on your dragon. Do you even care what's going on at home, or is it all fun and balls here in Nifleheim?"

"N-no…yes? Is there – ah – a right answer – to this question? Because I really don't think-"

She punched me, harder than usual, on the arm. Hard enough to rock my chair back on its rear legs. Hard enough to hurt.

"Hey!" I grabbed it and scowled up at her. "Don't do that!"

"You're used to it," she growled. "Or have your four whole weeks here made you softer than you were already?"

"F-four weeks?" A tiny, barbed shard of information returned to my brain, hurting as I processed it. "I – I was only supposed to be here for – for a few days…"

"Yeah?" She snorted. "Well, it's been a Hel of a lot longer than that." Her voice dropped to a snarl. "Are you ready to go, or do you have a few more dances to finish first?"

I was still staring at her. The dress was simple – beautiful – but looked ludicrously ornate on her, distracting from the pure, athletic feel about her – the visible biceps, the painful punch, the unerring focus…

Her eyes were a clear blue, the shade that can range everywhere from summer skies to glacial ice. Round nose, wide, honest face, perfect, straight white teeth…

"Umm…" I was still sitting, looking up at her. "I…know you, right?"

"Know me," she snapped. We were beginning to draw some curious attention, and I fidgeted. "I've known you since we were babies," she spat. "Don't even try to pull this over on me, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, or I might just leave you here to rot."

Something clicked. "H-Hi – that's my name," I told her, puzzled. "H-how-o-oh-kay, stupid question. You just said we knew each other. I mean, I knew the memory thing was bad, but seriously, that was, like, two sentences ago."

The girl rocked back on her high heels, wobbling as she staggered back a step. She was looking in at least moderate danger of falling, and I rose quickly, grabbing her shoulders and steadying her. Dumbly, I said the first thing that came into my head.

"Wow, walking like me now, huh? Watch your step."

Her face froze, and she mechanically reached up to hold my wrists, paused for a second, then violently pushed me back into my chair. "You sit," she snarled.

It took another moment before her reaction filtered to the surface. "H-he said you might not remember," she said quietly. Her eyes shifted to the floor, her feet, anywhere but at my face.

"W-who, exactly, said - ?"

"I didn't really believe it," she confided with a sad laugh. "I mean, I wouldn't put it past Snotlout to give up and start over, as long as it involved violence, but you? Never."

One side of her hair, I noticed with more detail, was bangs, chopped just long enough to hide her left eye, and they blew forward, charmingly, when she sighed.

When she said, "How could you forget me?" there was a definite break in her voice. "Forget everything? Forget him?" She sank – collapsed, really – into the chair to my left.

"Uh…who is 'him'?"

"I asked you that question once," she said, with a small, dispirited smile. "And gods, did you show me. I just don't know how to do the same for you."

"Uh…still not really getting 'answer' vibes from you, if you know what I mean, so, if you don't mind, it'd be nice if-"

"Toothless," she said, and it went off like a shot.

You got it, Bud

Hey Toooothless, I brought breakfast, I ho – hope you're hungry

So why didn't you

Yeah

Okay Toothless, time to disappear

N-no – I don't have any more

Take this out on me, be mad at me, but please, don't hurt Toothless

Go baby! This is amazing! The wind in my – CHEET SHEAT! STOP

He was just protecting me! He's not dangerous

Yeah, yeah, I'm on it

Does my dad know you're here

Toothless, what are you doing, we need her to like us

And then the voice of the girl next to me, filtered through a haze of confusion and frustration.

"All right, I admit it. This is pretty cool. It's amazing. He's amazing."

"You were there," I said suddenly, with more conviction. "I…I do know you." Flashes of her were screaming through my memory.

Her laughing

Her gripping me from behind

Her cornering me, her throwing me to the ground

Her staring across the belly of a dragon, axe half raised

Her watching me climb down the stairs

Her standing behind me as I yelped and burned my wrist

Her punching me for scaring her, and pecking me for everything else

Her pushing me in the shoulder to walk forward

Her rowing next to me, making a face

Her grinning at a stupid joke

Her muttering next to me

Her slamming into a bone beside me in a huge ribcage, fire streaming over and between us

Her grabbing my wrist and twisting it, hard, the tendons snapping across it with an audible series of cracks

Her cursing and swinging her axe into a stone floor

Her knocking on my door and stumbling inside

Her brushing snow off her hair and grinning, flicking the water at me

Her looking back at me smugly and kicking her mount to greater speed

Her and my dad exchanging exasperated looks

Her eyes, wide and fearful

Her ducking a blast, scrambling across slick stones

Her scowling as I entered a room

Her pushing an axe into my throat, livid with rage

Her sliding off a large boulder, sunlight in her hair

Her arms around me, holding desperately on

Her tucking her choppy bangs behind her left ear and telling me to be careful

Her promising me something – something so important – so important

Her grabbing my shoulders and holding me steady, preventing a nasty fall

Her boots hooked around my waist, screaming in my ear

Her hanging from a tree branch, shouting up at me

Her swinging a bucket artfully at the nearest fire, outlined in the blast

Her looking at me shyly

Her saluting someone and wrapping her hard forearms around my chest

Her slapping my outstretched hand away

Her hiding behind my scrawny shoulders from something larger than life

Her punching the air in success

Her pushing a book disgustedly across a table at me and turning away

Her stepping on my face and yanking something off my arm

Her kissing me on the cheek and running away

Her mouth moving in silent stupefaction

Her spreading her arms, not expecting to fly

Her face lighting up from the stars

Her arms lifted, clouds just out of her reach

Her body smacking against something hard and blue, winds dragging

Her falling, screaming, cartwheeling through the air

Her laughing, grinning up at me, held by an ankle

Her landing heavily and stumbling, whispering something

The feel of her fingers twisted in my collar

"Y-you usually wear you hair in a braid. With a fillet," I spouted, hardly knowing what I was saying. "Spikes. Bird skulls. One time, you held your wand to my throat."

Her eyes were wide, but they narrowed in anger the longer I spoke. "I don't know what lies they've been telling you here, Hiccup, but neither of us are magical."

"I…I know that," I said, beginning to frown in earnest now. "I'm – I'm a Muggle."

She slammed a hand against the table. "No." She took hold of my shoulder and shook it brutally. "You. Are. A. Viking."

My eyelids fluttered as I tried to focus. "I – what?"

"You are." Her eyes were hard, and her moment of soft brokenness seemed to have reached its end.

This – none of this was making any sense at all. Everything – had been fine, but now I was conscious of huge gaps, cloudiness in my mind as I stretched to remember.

"I know you."

I am a Viking…I'M A VIKING

"I know you do." She leaned forward and grabbed my other shoulder, forcing me still. "And if there's one thing I know about you, it's that nothing will stop you once you get your head set on something." She looked into my face. "Remember. Please."

I could – not -

Fragments were snapping back into place: windswept land, long grasses, freezing cold. Men with thick beards and deep laughter, women with long braids and not-so-gentle remonstrations.

I was holding my head, trying to keep the images. I looked up at the hall, and as confused as I was, everything that had become so familiar suddenly felt wrong.

My stomach flipped.

The sensation of strong, vicious winds ripping through my hair

The room was big, too brightly lit. Too dry. Too…strange. Foreign. New.

Agitation surged through me, crawling over my skin, forcing me to stand. I ran exasperated, desperate hands through my hair, closing my eyes and searching …

A reflection – a shadow – on water, dark wings spread wide – happiness, freedom -

A huge fist, almost as large as my head, shoving backward, knocking me to the floor

"Wh-why would anyone do this to me?" My voice was a lot smaller than I'd heard it in a long time. "What is going on?"

The girl set her jaw, took a deep breath, and pushed her half-bangs behind her left ear, the way she did when she was unsure of herself. "That's it. No matter if you believe me or not, we're going home. Now."

"I – I – but I – I-"

She stood and placed her hands on her hips, knuckles grinding into her thin hipbones.

Red leather, a skirt made of strips, spikes screwed in

A stretchy, sleeveless shirt of nålebinding, scratchy and soft against my arms, the underside of my chin…

"What am I…doing here?"

A man, seven foot two, larger than life, wild red beard

Braided blond mustache, a hook-for-hand; mug, tongs, mace, axe –

"Pants!"

The girl looked at me like I was crazy – which, at the moment, I felt I was. But it was far from the first time she'd given me that look. "What did you just say?"

"Tell me about pants," I said quickly. "Fast. Before I forget – somebody – somebody's pants, I – I said something about – having – having nightmares…didn't I?"

Her eyes widened suddenly, with something a little like happiness mixed into the shock, and under her breath she muttered, "Oh, of all the gods-cursed things on this earth, he remembers that?"

"Uh – I – I think I'm losing-"

"Gobber," she said rapidly, and harsh clarity bit into my brain with every word.

"He taught you everything you know. Smithing. Metal." Her arm jerked up and pointed. "He made that for you. Your leg."

In a daze, I looked down at my left leg. Absent as usual, but –

"I remember it," I said slowly, in wonder.

Hollow, emptiness in my stomach, revulsion, terror, and some glimmer of – gratitude, peace – as I gaped, mouth open, up at –

"Fire – there was so much fire-"

Panic – fear – hopelessness –

She was watching me closely. "I've actually never heard you talk about that before," she said hoarsely.

"Please," I said desperately, eyes squeezed tightly shut. "Please keep talking."

I trusted her – more than I'd ever trusted another human being in my life, and I needed to know why.

"You were an infant when you mom died," she said, firmly and clearly. "Your dad was a mess. When you were a toddler, he kind of handed you off to Gobber. You never really hung out with the rest of us."

"No," I said faintly.

The smell of molten iron –

The sensation of the oppressive heat of the forge, but camaraderie –

"I didn't."

"You learned to make the weapons the rest of us were learning to use."

"Gobber…" I drew the word out slowly, and raised my left arm, waving it around. "Isn't there…something going on with his arm?"

"If by "going on" you mean gone, sure," she snorted. "Right leg, too. Gets all confused about socks-"

"And trolls." I stared at her. "I know – I know somebody told me I was lucky I'd never have another left sock again."

"And yet you still tell the leg jokes," she mumbled. "I'm sure they've been going over real well."

One side of my mouth turned up. "Nah. Not really."

I tried to keep hold of the image the girl's words had turned up. A huge man, usually sarcastic and gruff, but who nearly always had a smile or a word of praise…

"He insisted his house was set on fire by a Boneknapper, and you made us go-"

"Dragons. We – dragons." I stopped talking, unsure of myself. "Right? Dragons?"

She let out a long breath. "Lots and lots of dragons. We used to fight them. But not anymore. Because of you."

"Uh…oookay…"

She stood suddenly, looking unsure of herself. Then, before I could protest, she took a step forward and locked her forearms around my neck. My arms flew out, sure I was about to be pushed over. When my balance wasn't compromised, I tentatively hugged her back.

That's for kidnapping me. And that's – for everything else

"You've kissed me before," I said. "I'm – uh, remembering some of that."

That's for scaring me Wh-what, is it always gonna be this way? Because I – could get used to it

"Seriously?" For a second, she looked just like any other excited fourth-year girl. "Do you remember – anything else? Right about that time? You were unconscious for a while, and-"

"I was?"

Hey, Toothless…okay, okay! I'm happy to see you too, Bud…

"Almost an entire day." She took a step back, holding me away from her by the shoulders, the way she would after making sure I hadn't done anything stupid, assuring herself of my well-being. The worry was more pronounced than ever, and she peered intensely into my eyes. "I- um, I'm going to do something stupid," she warned me. "And a maybe little crazy."

I was frowning, looking at the floor, then her feet. Heels…high heels… why did that seem wrong to me? It was perfectly normal, but –

She took a deep breath, steeling herself to do something. She took one hand off my shoulders and held it to her body, and I noticed that she had large calluses, on the pads of every finger, even on some parts of her palm…

I took my left hand away from her back and examined it. Calluses – there was no way I'd gotten calluses like that here, at Hogwarts. Calluses I'd never really noticed before, beginning to fade on the undersides of my fingers, from gripping something hard. A callus on the pad of my thumb, from gripping something wider and rougher than a quill. Tiny red scars on my hands that I remembered had burned –

"Maybe this will help you remember," she murmured, and punched the side of my left arm, high, almost at the shoulder.

A starburst of pain spread from the point of impact, and I reached for it, and words stumbled out of my mouth before I could understand what they were.

"Astrid! What was that for?"

I looked at the girl, slightly angry. To my surprise, she was smiling. "It's a good thing I punch you all the time," she said flippantly. "Now the indignation's just a reflex."

She… was standing in front of me, now, in the twenty-first century, crashing a ball for witches and wizards, hands-on-hips, a very self-satisfied look attempting to conceal the worry on her face.

"Astrid," I said slowly, and then breathed, "Astrid!"

Astrid was having a hard time not laughing from joy, I could tell. She stepped close to me again, reaching to touch my face. I took her hand and moved it, distracted. It was like she'd loosed a floodgate in my head, clarity returning for the first time in –

"Wh – oh my gods. I've been here a month. A month." Baffled, I sat down in the nearest chair, rubbing my head with my hand. "Oh, gods. This is…so…so messed up – I never meant to be here-" My memories were returning at different speeds: some promptly, but I could sense a few still out of reach.

This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless, and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery.

Vikings. Berk.

I am a Viking. I'M A VIKING!

That seemed right. Yes, that was right.

Astrid, who was possibly not quite a girlfriend. My father, Stoick the Vast, the most feared Viking Chieftain in the Inner Isles. Gobber, who'd given me a cursory clap on the shoulder as he motioned to my leg –

That bit's my handiwork, with a little Hiccup flair thrown in

Welcome home

"Oh, gods. Astrid, I'm so sorry – I didn't mean for – for any of this to happen, they just took me, I didn't mean to forget you, I – I just got here, and I didn't know how to get back, and I kept for-forgetting things, everything, but-"

"Why?" Her expression was fierce. "What happened here? Who made you forget?"

"I…" I shook my head. "I don't know. Let's – let's just leave, get out of here – wait, how did you get here anyway?"

"I'll tell you in a minute," she said under her breath, and nudged me.

"Hiccup?" Hermione was standing next to Viktor Krum at the edge of the dance floor, a crumpled expression on her face. "Hiccup, what's going-"

"This," I told Astrid tightly, "Is Hermione Granger." I turned to her, and simultaneously, pain and rage rose up to compete with each other in my throat.

"I'm supposed to be at home," I told her angrily, swiping a hand through the air. "This whole month, you had to have known it was magic keeping me from – from remembering all about-"

Astrid moved to stand slightly in front of me and looked Hermione up and down, apparently unimpressed with what she saw. Loudly and deliberately, she cracked her knuckles. "Hiccup, is she the one who-"

"I don't know why you kept forgetting," Hermione insisted, and to my shock, horror, and slight pleasure, I realized she was crying. Tears dribbled down her cheeks. "I – I did research on it, and I couldn't figure it out, but I-"

"It wasn't okay, all right? You – you can't just let people – let people drift away like that-"

"Hermy-own?" Krum interrupted, politely confused. "Vot is going on?"

"I'm sorry," Hermione sobbed, ignoring Krum completely. "There wasn't anything I could have done, I tried-"

"You could have told Dumbledore," I exploded. "You could have done something, because thanks to – to everything, and you, I couldn't – and-" She was shaking now, with the force of her sobs. "You let me – let me get happy here," I spat, disgusted. "You – you made it seem like it was all normal, all good and okay, but it wasn't."

"I really am sorry," Hermione choked, and Viktor Krum anxiously put a hand on her shoulder.

Something was still wrong. My ears felt blocked, hot, and my vision swam for a moment before the last, missing puzzle piece slammed home, and I turned to Astrid suddenly, wide-eyed, sick and clammy with fear.

"Toothless."

Hermione rushed forward to stand right in front of me, and hovered for a second. I could tell what she wanted to do – throw herself forward for a hug, and just as she gathered herself for the effort, I backed away and grabbed Astrid's arm.

Her fingers curled urgently around mine, sweaty and strong. I didn't look back as we exited the hall.

By the time we cleared the threshold, I was trembling and just about ready to collapse. Astrid stopped for a moment, then took a deep breath and reached into a pocket I hadn't noticed before, letting go of my hand for a moment.

Seconds later, she drew out a scrap of something brown and scraggly, and I recognized it, blankly, as part of a bearskin. Realization jolted through me: a ragged piece of the vest I'd worn, it seemed, a lifetime ago.

"Wait – how did you - ?"

Astrid shook her head, too weary for words. Still holding the fragment, she clenched her hand immovably around mine, and through the gaps in our fingers, the Portkey glowed blue.