Chapter 33 - This Must be Thor's Day
Harry did not mind the silence, really - he'd learned to appreciate it in the wake of his Hogwarts years, when everyone wanted a piece of him. What he didn't care for was the mind-numbing boredom that sometimes accompanied it. He figured Sirius would have had a few choice comments about the Asgardian prison system - considerably nicer than Azkaban, but with less excitement, and a distinct shortage of chow.
Harry sighed as he stared at the ceiling. Three sides of his cell were a featureless grey, unadorned by even the most meagre of decorations, and the last was a shimmering wall of energy that purred warningly when approached. He'd seen the violent shocks dancing across the surface when the guards activated it, so he had no interesting in testing what it felt like.
He made do with staring balefully at whatever was closest.
Harry occupied himself mostly with idle thoughts of comfortable chairs, and good beds, and having food in his stomach - none of which were particularly likely to waft his way, right this moment. All he had to read was a thick tome left to him by his Asgardian hosts, who hardly seemed a particularly scholarly lot. Unfortunately it was written in some language Harry didn't know the first thing about. He almost felt sorry he'd never paid attention to Hermione when she went off on a spiel about her Ancient Runes homework.
Judging by the pictures, at least, the book was mostly concerned with capital offenses and the terrible punishments that were doled out for them. He had the distinct feeling Umbridge and Filch would have thoroughly approved.
Getting up from his stone-hard cot, Harry busied himself by pacing slowly past the shimmering forcefield. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected to find after his harrowing escape from Hogwarts, riding his Basilisk into an alien mead hall. That would take a bit to explain, he figured. Maybe it had been optimistic to assume Sif was a fair representative of her people. To make matters worse, of course, the only one who could probably have talked him out of trouble - Prince Loki - was presently doing a very convincing imitation of a statue.
Getting imprisoned was honestly a bit disappointing. Harry had expected that the Norse Gods of legend would have tolerated a proper mess better than most. Didn't Loki give birth to a horse in the old legends Tony had mentioned? Something about Thor crossdressing, too? Transdimensional serpent-surfing seemed positively mild in comparison.
"One thing's for sure - this is definitely my kind of mess," Harry mumbled to himself, vaguely waving his hands at the discarded books, idly trying to determine if he'd spontaneously developed a knack for wandless spells. Alas - no. Both of his wands had been taken alongside the rest of his possessions, and without those he couldn't hope to escape from this place. Even if he were able to apparate from his cell, there was no place in Asgard he knew well enough to reach.
"Hello? Anyone out there?" Harry called out for at least the twentieth time, as his stomach rumbled in distress. "Can I get some snacks, at least?" he called hopefully, listening for footsteps. Nothing. He'd hoped for a visit from Sif, at least. "Some hospitality you have!" he added impatiently. "Wizards need to eat, you know!"
All this could have been avoided, he decided vindictively, if not for Loki's bloody refusal to just listen. He had told that good-for-nothing god about the Basilisk's stare, and he'd taken no precautions. In one stroke he'd consigned Harry to prison, and possibly signed his own obituary as well. Harry had no idea where to find a Mandrake in this universe. Marvelous.
And then there was Earth - or the version of it he'd been getting used to, at least. Tony was due to appear for some kind of complicated legal challenge that might require a memory charm or two - just to keep people out of trouble, to be sure - and Bruce was still dealing with his Hulk issues, probably coming to terms with finally having some measure of control over his transformation. Harry had been out of contact with them for a while now, and they had no way to reach Asgard. Even if the Earth was in danger, there'd be no way to tell.
It was a spine-chilling realization, specially given the ominous words of Sif and the spectre of Death herself. Prophecies or not - he had a feeling that staying away too long was a bad idea.
"Merlin's left -" Harry blurted involuntarily, flinching back from the huge shape that suddenly loomed in front of his cell. The eyes of the towering figure blazed from behind long blond hair and a winged helmet, and a crimson cloak wrapped around him. At his waist hung a large warhammer, proclaiming his identity to all who approached. This was Prince Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, in the flesh.
Okay, Potter - what to say to an incarnation of myth?
"Well, you're a big one," Harry said, and he cringed as he tried to smile. "I mean… we kind of started off on the wrong foot. Sorry about that whole affair with the snake," he added. "I sort of, kind of, apologize for dumping a fabled creature of legend into your house. It happens to me a lot. I'll try to miss, next time. Not that there will be one. Obviously."
Well, that had gone just great!
Thor hummed under his breath. "Verily," the Prince murmured dryly, surveying the empty cell for a moment before considering the book that lay abandoned next to the chair. His gaze returned to Harry's. "You do not seem overly worried about your fate."
"Uh, worried?" Harry blinked owlishly. "Should I be? You kind of… just tossed me in here and told me to wait. I didn't do anything that would warrants trouble, right? I'll pay for the silverware and the spilled drinks, you know. I'll vanish the mess myself!"
Thor rolled his eyes, crossing his arms in front of his wide chest. "You slew a monster the likes of which Asgard has not seen in a thousand years or more - a feat to be sung off over good ale and joyous laughter," he said pensively. "Yet… you also entered Asgard without permission, breaking through its defenses as if they were paper. Others have noticed the disruption, and will certainly attempt to take advantage of the breach." He gestured vaguely behind him as he said, "Forty Einherjar stand guard, their blades prepared to test the blood of any who are foolish enough to enter."
Thor narrowed his eyes. "Yes. You tore into Asgard through the paths of Yggdrasil itself - and wounds bleed, and fester. It will take time for Yggdrasil to heal, even if its weaknesses are cauterized."
Harry nodded slowly. "Ah, I suppose it was a bit of an extreme portkey adventure," he allowed. He recalled the moment after he'd used Sif's knife, and before he'd dropped bodily into Asgard, he'd spent an instant in between the two places. The kaleidoscopic chaos of the Portkey had still been there, but so had something else. It watched him as he passed through, resembling something of an echo of what Peeves had become. Whatever it was… Harry was glad to be away from there, out of its reach. Too many angles on that one.
"The Allfather will see to your judgment," Thor observed gravely. "I must admit, however, that you are not as I expected. The Lady Sif spoke to me of the last of the Midgard wizards, and I expected a mighty warrior from her words - imposing, at least in stature, wielding the tools of his trade with skill. For a minute I saw, perhaps, what she might've meant, as you stood astride that monstrous beast you slew." He sighed. "Then you opened your fool mouth."
"There's no need to be insulting." Harry fidgeted. "Look, I'd just gotten myself out of a bit of a pickle, so pardon me for not being courteous," he muttered. "You might've noticed my attention was elsewhere. I was busy."
"Busy travelling the roads of ruin with my wayward brother," Thor agreed coldly. "Loki has chosen to move by his sorcerous roads before, but not like this. I'd never have expected him to share the company of Midgardians, though perhaps he was merely intrigued by your ancestry." He frowned darkly. "It matters not how he met his present fate - just that he did. My father will require an explanation. A good one, if you treasure your life."
"...Well, it was his own bloody fault," Harry spat under his breath, a little of his righteous ire bleeding through. "Call me an idiot all you like, but your brother's got me beat in that department!" He shook his head in exasperation. "Follow me into hell? Sure, he's up for that. Listening to me while we're there? Not so much!"
"You would shirk your responsibility so easily?" Thor asked dangerously.
"Well, it wasn't my fault, was it?"He met Thor's implacable gaze again. "You have to understand - Loki looked into the eyes of death, and the only reason he's not a smelly corpse right now is that he was there only in spirit. He's been petrified. I knew this would happen, too - everyone has to pull out a camera or a mirror or something and check around the corner..."
"Petrification," Thor repeated. "We surmised that already. Asgard has dealt with the dangers of petrification before. Lady Lorelei, sister of Amora, could bestow such a fate with a mere kiss." He relaxed slightly, releasing his tight grip on his hammer. "You will cure Loki of his ailment, of course."
Harry cringed. "Right, about that..."
"You will not?" the Prince demanded dangerously, his eyes just barely peeking out from the shadow of his shining helm. "You are not in a position to refuse, wizard. You will return me my brother - or things will go badly for you."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck, flustered. "It's… it's not like that. To make the antidote, I need a plant, a substance." He tried to recall what he'd learned about Mandrakes, and where to find them. Herbology had never been very relevant to his work, though he'd never admit that to Neville. He'd honestly been trying to forget the nightmarish creations that they'd been studying towards the end of the class. "Does Asgard know about Mandrakes? Mandragora? It has a root that kind of looks like a small person, and it cries if uprooted. The cry might kill you - or it would kill a human, anyway." He hesitated. "Maybe you know someplace where they still grow, away from Earth?"
Thor shook his head. "You ask for a crying plant? No, I cannot say that I know any such fantastic thing. I should inquire about it with L-" His face fell. "Regardless, we do not grow plants which the Seidhr treasured, nor the creatures they tended to - they were of Midgard, and felt most at home there. I do not know if any still remain alive."
"Well, that's just great!" Harry complained, quite intent on cursing the whims of fate. "So magic is dead, and I'm the one getting in trouble for it. I'm literally the only one that wasn't involved in all of this! Why do I always get the short stick?"
"Know that no Asgardian would have slain an ally. We were not involved," Thor said. His iron expression didn't budge as he turned away from the cell. "Prepare your answers, wizard - the Allfather will require them all. And perhaps your life as well."
"Now, hold on a -" Harry started, but Thor stalked off with heavy steps, ignoring the wizard's half-formed sentence. Soon he was alone again, staring at that same blank wall of energy, listening to the footsteps fading into the distance until everything was silent.
Bloody brilliant work, Potter.
It wasn't until the next day, which Harry spent by imagining a particularly riveting game of Quidditch that just so happened to last a solid eight hours, that Harry was finally retrieved and led along the opulent hallways of Asgard's palace. He imagined he'd fallen asleep partway through, but honestly that was how things went half the time he went to watch the Chudley Cannons. (He would never let Ron know he'd charmed his eyelids.)
Neither Sif nor Thor were anywhere to be found; two new faces came to pick him up instead. The first was a portly man with a bright red beard and a plume of bright feathers streaming from his helmet, and he seemed the jovial sort - the other man reminded Harry of Lockhart, as his neatly trimmed blond beard and mustache did little to cover up his haughty expression.
Harry decided that even if he were on his way to a scaffold - and he really hoped not - he might as well take a look around a more interesting parts of Odin's palace. He had only gotten a glimpse the previous day, as someone had seen fit to blindfold him before he'd even gotten out of the dining hall. This time, they didn't bother with such precautions. He decided not to think about the possibility that dead people rarely blabbed about what they'd seen.
Asgard was… ostentatious. If Hogwarts was stately and magical, then Asgard was like the Headmaster's office writ large. Almost no surface was unadorned, covered in either precious metals or sprawling images of conquering warriors. Every larger-than-life chamber housed similarly oversized statues and equipment, and guards wore elaborate golden-hued armor with decorated helmets. Glimpses of the outside, witnessed through windows and open doors at the far side of corridors, showed a momentary image of a similarly grand city. Harry had a feeling that he'd have felt a lot more awed if he hadn't been shackled by his wrists and pushed along to his possible execution.
He also, secretly, missed all the strange little knick-knacks that had given Dumbledore's place some character. This place was grand - put very impersonal.
"Come now, Fandral," the broad figure blurted at last as he led Harry down a long, curving hallway that shimmered silver. "We can't just not fulfill our promises, right…? What would the Lady say?"
"Volstagg, you should hold your tongue!" Fandral snapped. "And if you must shout, can you at least do it quietly?"
"I don't think you know what -"
"Sh! You know as well as I that the Lady Sif holds no authority over the King." A small smile played around the corners of Fandral's mouth as he glanced at Harry. "She cannot force us to deliver her message of patience, nor convey her continued attempts to resolve the wizard's unfortunate incarceration. You know that. The King's word is law."
Volstagg grumbled as Fandral smiled. "I s'pose…"
Harry inclined his head in recognition, considering the blond figure who once more looked steadfastly ahead through the halls, keeping up his straight posture but moving only slowly. He wasn't Lockhart, then - or not far beyond the surface. Maybe he was what Sirius might have been, if not for what happened. Silly - but also good-hearted.
It seemed the two Asgardians had slowed down some on their way to Odin, perhaps to delay the inevitable confrontation. Sif had not given up, it seemed, and even though she wasn't nearly the big shot Harry might've imagined, it was better than nothing. Compared to the stern and unyielding Thor, he'd much rather throw his lot in with her.
"Egads, I think we've never formally introduced ourselves!" Volstagg suddenly declared. "We didn't, did we?" He demanded, but he didn't wait for answer before rising up to his full height and width. "Behold, wizard, for you are speaking to Volstagg the Great! And Fandral the...also sort of great-ish. We are mighty! We can hear a fly buzzing from sixteen leagues away! We ready for battle at the rumble of a frost giant farting on the far side of the tallest mountain! Lesser men tremble before us!"
"I wonder if they tremble because the ground does?" Fandral said dryly. "Must you let everyone hear your endless boasting, oh Enormous One?"
"Shush now, Fandral the Foppish!" Volstagg harrumphed, turning back to Harry. "Don't mind the tall one - he's a spoilsport."
"I am not!"
Volstagg rolled his eyes, before a strange, considering expression appeared on his face. "You know… there's something that's been on my mind," he admitted after a moment. "They say you're a Seidmadr," he noted, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "You're supposed to be a magic man from the old stories, like a legend returned to life," he continued. "Your people all died, the Allfather said - so where did you crawl out from? What hole did the King forget to delve into?"
"Don't be rude!" Fandral chided. "What Volstagg the Voluminous wishes to know -" He hissed something uncomplimentary when the broader man protested. "That is, we are curious why nobody heard from your kin in nearly a millennium. We had given up on your survival, I'm afraid, like so many races of old who have slipped away..."
"I understand your curiosity," Harry started carefully. "The truth is, I'm actually kind of the only wizard - or Seidhr, as you call us." He received two incredulous stares. "That is, I don't think there's been any living wizard in centuries, or much of anything else in the way of magic. I'm not exactly from Midgard, as you call it." Not this one, at least. "I caused a bit of a stir when I arrived, I suppose."
"So it is true - you travel through Yggdrasil!" Fandral decided, and Harry started, thinking back to the road between worlds that he'd taken what now seemed years ago. "That's right! We heard Heimdall speak about your travels through its periphery, transporting yourself without the aid of the Bifrost and sometimes vanishing from his sight entirely. That's an impressive feat, it must be said, especially when performed by a mortal!" He hesitated. "That is - you are mortal, right?"
"As far as I know," Harry agreed, considering his memory of meeting the incarnation of Death itself. "No final answer yet, but I've had a few close calls in finding out..." He raised an eyebrow at Fandral's curious expression. "You know, on the battlefield."
Volstagg laughed goodnaturedly. "The battlefield, indeed? So you are a warrior after all! But you are so very small and dreadfully thin for a fighter!"
"Honestly, given his entrance into Asgard I should think that his martial might was obvious," Fandral observed dryly. "It is not easy to slay a great beast with a mere length of steel."
Harry frowned. Those final moments were still tinged with a terror that he'd only barely shaken. One of the only things that stood out, though, was the gleaming silver he'd wielded for the second time. "I think I should feel offended that you call it a mere anything," he said in thanks to the blade. "It's the sword of Godric Gryffindor. It's got a history."
"Ohoh!" Volstagg rumbled. "So you fashion it a weapon of legend, do you?"
Harry had never really thought about the sword since Neville had taken it in the last moments of the war with Voldemort. Back home it might've been a curiosity, a relic of another time, but in this time and place it was one of only a few enchanted items which still survived, a remnant of Goblin skill. Imbued with Basilisk venom once more, it truly was one of a kind. If anything could be called legendary, it was probably that sword.
"It's had songs sung about it - though don't ask me to repeat them," Harry said at last. "It does its job."
Volstagg chuckled mirthfully. "I doubt your spindly arms could even swing it!"
"Leave the Seidmadr be - and wait a moment," Fandral said. They halted in a long hallway framed on both sides by white pillars and frescoes of some great battle between hulking beasts of ice and red-haired men wielding axes. The foppish man idly stroked his beard as he ensured they were alone. "Before we go in… there are some warnings that I should deliver, by the Lady Sif's leave. She was under the impression that you might offend Asgardian sensibilities with your mannerisms. She thought we should prevent an... incident."
"Might've been better to come earlier," Harry replied lamely. "Thor already came for a chat."
Fandral winced, then gave him a pitying expression. "Ah. Firstly, remember the Prince's title. Though his friends might call him by his given name, he could take umbrage at a stranger doing the same in his own home. Also, do not bring up your interactions with the Lady Sif, and never insinuate that his brother was responsible for anything, as he would assume you were shifting blame to those who cannot defend themselves."
Harry stared. "Yeah. Okay. I will avoid those things going forward."
"Hm. You look a bit on the pale side - maybe you need a good drink to pepper you up," Volstagg suggested, grinning. "It always helps me to get ready for a big talk, especially if it's about grand things like how I'm going to get executed…" He hesitated. "Eh, not precisely that, but you understand what I am saying, surely."
Fandral sniffed derisively, reaching to his waist for a waterskin he'd tied to his belt. "Here, you can have a sip of my water."
"Water?" Volstagg sputtered, outraged. "What dolt would waste a perfectly good water skin by filling it with water?" He raised his own, which smelled rather sweet even from a distance. "This is mead, wizard! Premium Vanaheim brew, ready for drinking! Go on! It might put some hair on your chin!"
Fandral rubbed his forehead. "Volstagg, must you always ruin our reputation?"
The portly Asgardian seemed suddenly aghast. "But it is a fine brew!"
"That's not what I meant!"
Harry rolled his eyes and begrudgingly took Volstagg's waterskin, as a little bit of liquid courage might just be what he needed. He had left firewhiskey behind in another universe, so space-alien-god mead might have to do. He knocked some of it back, letting it burn for a moment in the back of his throat. It was good - very good. Better than anything he'd had since he'd arrived. He let out a soft sound of appreciation.
"You see, you see? He likes it!" Volstagg boomed.
Harry didn't care to comment, merely enjoying the pleasant haze from the rather excellent brew. If nothing else, that part of the myths was accurate.
"We should get moving," Fandral said at last. "We have delayed for much too long."
"Agreed," Volstagg agreed, shivering. "We must not keep the King in wait…"
"I think you've got the weight covered."
"Fandral! Your jokes get tiresome!"
"Perhaps you should work out more, so your stamina does not falter so easily."
Harry smiled to himself, heartened a little with thoughts of Fred and George's spiritual brothers. It was good to think that even across worlds and realities, some things never changed.
He never did see the two ravens which flew over his head, silently watching.
"You shall be silent!"
Hogun winced at the rebuke, ducking his head as Sif poked him in the back with a sharp finger. He'd been trying to be stealthy - honest - but his broad frame didn't lend itself to hiding, and he was still wearing much of his armor. The Lady was entirely too high-strung, clearly, and she pushed him on relentlessly, even when he almost tripped over the cloth that had been draped over their heads - the only reason why nobody had caught them yet.
"What are we even doing here?" Hogun begged softly, inching through the antechamber that led to the Allfather's halls. Two Einherjar departed on the far side of the room, leaving a moment of respite before another few would be entering on their patrol route. "It's that Seidhr, isn't it?"
"Obviously," Sif murmured. "Who else would have such a relic as this?""
The Cloak of Invisibility, Hogun thought, was a great treasure - for a smaller person than he. The strange, shimmering cloth was barely large enough to cover one person standing up, much less two broad-built ones. Hogun idly wondered whether the Lady Sif had broken into the vaults to retrieve the wizard's belongings, but he decided not to pursue that thought.
"And why are we sneaking through our own home like thieves or spies?"
"Because spycraft is our intention," Sif answered immediately, poking him forward again towards the back of the chamber and the set of stairs that led to the high porches. "Harry is to be judged and sentenced. He came here in part through my actions, and using my weapon - but I have not been asked to attend this meeting." She poked again. "I will attend this meeting."
"Well. Breaking into a secret meeting with the Allfather," Hogun concluded. "Surely the best plan you've ever had, my dear Lady. Why am I involved?"
"The others of the Warriors Three are present. I thought you would want to be included," she murmured. "Oh, and Hogun? Be silent! We are invisible, not inaudible." She paused. "Also - be mindful of passing wind."
Hogun blanched in embarrassment. "Y-yes, my Lady."
Two jet-black ravens crossed the golden pillars of the hall, their caws sharp and shrill in the solemn silence. They descended from high above and encircled Harry once before they veered back towards their master, Odin Allfather, who stood at his gargantuan throne. It was a massive golden seat with two wide prongs fanning out to the sides, shaped like the crossguard of a mammoth sword. The very ground itself was gold inscribed with silver decorations, and the pillars gleamed with precious metals and gemstones in all directions. The rest of Asgard paled in comparison to its splendor.
"...Okay, this is getting to be a bit much," Harry said softly, and Volstagg just barely suppressed a grin. The humor fled quickly, however, as they approached the dais.
Thor awaited by his father's side, one hand on the hilt of his hammer. "Wizard," the Prince stated, his expression grim. He nodded to Volstagg and Fandral, who quickly took a step back. "I trust your stay in our cell was - satisfactory," he added dryly, but Harry refused to take that particularly juicy bait. "We would have your name."
"My name?" Harry asked incredulously. "Uh… I thought Sif would have given you that. Name's Harry." He waved drolly. "Nice to meet you."
"...Harry," Thor repeated dubiously. "We had heard as much, but… it is an undignified name." He shook his head. "A Midgardian name, I assume?"
"Yes, well, because that's where I was born." The 'undignified' person bristled. "I happen to like it. It's got character, and it suits a wizard. Trust me, you don't want to hear my opinions about your weird names!"
"I would hope not!" Thor announced. "You must have realized the strangeness of your name, though, compared to those within the treatise you were given?"
Harry blinked. "You mean the books back in the cell? Yeah, I couldn't actually read those. Don't know the language, I'm afraid."
"You..." Thor frowned distractedly. "You cannot read your own tongue?"
"Uh… I can read English, if that's what you mean. And some Latin, I suppose, and a tiny bit of this and that besides. I don't know much about runes, though. Nobody uses it anymore, and there's not been many wizards around to keep me sharp, you know?" He stared at Thor's mystified gaze. "Is that… strange?"
"I should think so!" Thor exclaimed as he caressed his forehead wearily. "The last of the Seidhr, a proud and once-mighty race, is an illiterate, ignorant buffoon!"
"Thor." Odin's voice was soft, almost inaudible, but the prince reared back immediately, his irritated expression making way for a flash of shame. The old king looked Harry over with a curious eye, more considering and patient than the first time. "Harry," he spoke at last, and it sounded more formal than it should have - like when Dumbledore spoke that name. "Harry of Midgard, Last of the Seidmadr."
Harry nodded. "As far as I know."
"The last? Surely your family -" Fandral cut in, but he stopped when Volstagg's elbow landed squarely in his gut. "Ah… I had a point, though..."
"I'm the last. My parents are dead," Harry noted without much inflection. He didn't care to get into the metaphysics of travelling between universes - traveling between realms was complicated enough - but this was hardly a secret he cared to keep. "The truth is that I've found nothing magical on Earth in the obvious places. I seem to be it, save for some remnants locked away in dark places, hidden from sight."
"The unseen depths of the Cancerverse," Odin stated flatly. "It is a space between spaces - chaotic pits where the branches of Yggdrasil cannot reach, and even Death is powerless. None have dared to enter there in thousands of years - or so I thought." He scowled. "You entered it through a hidden door - a pathway that I could not find, and Heimdall could not see. I had thought all of the Doors of Night closed, for fear of a breach."
"I guess you'll have to look again," Harry said nervously. "Hogwarts escaped the disaster that wiped out the wizards by fleeing into this - this Cancerverse, as you put it." He considered how appropriate such a name was as he remembered the inhuman, skittering things that had attempted to enter, chaos and life in one awful form. And Peeves… twisted beyond recognition, infecting the Basilisk like a sickness. "All of the wizards were dead by the time I got there, though."
"Or as close to it as makes no difference," Thor said in a disturbed tone. "Life persists in the dark - but perhaps the soul does not."
"Let's hope not," Harry agreed with a shiver, imagining the haunted faces of the Founders, animated like fleshy puppets at the whim of a spirit of chaos.
"The Cancerverse is a terribly dangerous place," Odin observed morosely. "Few ever escape from it. There are no paths from there back to Yggdrasil. All paths lead further inwards." A ghost of a smile played across his face, then. "There are no paths out... and yet you have found one. Indeed, you stepped form that place into Asgard, the most protected of all the realms."
"It was kind of last minute," Harry admitted, and then he cringed as he remembered what he'd done to the fine china. "Blimey, you do forgive me for that, right? I didn't squash anyone with Jormy?"
"Jormy?" Thor demanded immediately.
"Uh." Harry almost took a step back from the towering figure - his great bulk reminded him, if only for a moment, of Dudley's enormous form. He would keep that to himself. "Eh… That's what Loki called it, anyway. He thought it was funny. Jormun-something," he recalled haphazardly. "I mean the big lug of a snake that I left in your dining room. The Basilisk."
"Ah." Odin's brow furrowed for a few long moments, his eye downcast. "The creature has been dealt with - it is of no consequence. I care not for your deeds among the dead, and I shall forgive your entrance into this realm, for it was done out of great need." His gaze turned fiery, then. "I cannot, however,ignore that which has befallen Loki Odinson."
"I can explain!"
"The wizard described petrification," Thor interjected swiftly, stepping closer still. "He spoke of an enchantment that could be cured only by a cursed, screaming plant - a Seidhr creation, no doubt. Mandragora he called it, but it cannot be the weed we know in the nine realms."
"Way to steal my thunder," Harry said lightly, refusing to meet Thor's eyes and admit he'd made that pun intentionally. "That was pretty much right, actually. Petrification is what happens when someone gets an indirect look at a Basilisk's lethal gaze. It doesn't wear off, I think, since there's stories of people being stuck like that for years, and even forever." He sighed, rubbing his hands together. "Trouble is that they're magical plants. Mandrakes are rare to begin with, and with magic effectively dead and buried…"
Harry stopped suddenly, glancing back to the towering form of Odin. The god who, if Sif was right, had once scoured the Earth to look for remnants of wizardry - and come up empty. A god who had been present when this universe's wizards were at their mightiest. And perhaps - one that knew what had befallen his would-be ancestors.
"What exactly happened to the wizards?" he demanded, and it came out more sharply than he intended, laced with a bitter intensity as he thought of the shambling remnants he'd faced in Hogwarts.
Thor didn't seem to understand the sudden tension, but the white-bearded ancient merely sighed, his eye fixing on something in the distance and a thousand years ago. "You ask a question that I cannot answer," the Allfather stated.
"Can't, or won't?"
Odin clasped his hand around his spear, Gungnir, and looked away. "Both. I cannot share what you wish to know. If you are to find out, it is not my responsibility to tell."
Harry sighed in defeat. "Is that a flowery way of saying 'bugger off'?"
"Indeed," Thor observed.
"Wonderful." Harry glared balefully at the two Asgardians, but he couldn't muster any real anger. He'd never expected the truth to be handed to him on a silver platter. "They were my people - or I am their legacy. Either way, I deserve to know what happened to them. And what will happen to Earth, now that Midgard's no longer devoid of wizards."
"You speak rightly," Odin agreed. "And it seems you already know about your doom. The Lady Sif must trust you well, to share such insights."
"We get along," Harry agreed. Thor snarled something uncomplimentary at that. "She's been known to get a bit too presumptive, though," Harry added lightly, considering that moment out in the desert when she'd taken it upon herself to take care of his foolish self. "She told me that I would be attracting attention to Earth, though I'm not sure I get all the details. It's been weighing on my mind a bit, obviously."
"It is of later concern," Odin said dismissively. "For the moment, we must concentrate on the problem at hand - the return of my son."
"Then we must find a wizard's Mandragora," Thor concluded strongly. "We shall scour the lands of Midgard, such that no stone will be left unturned!"
"No," Odin stated with finality. "The Doors of Night may have been hidden from my sight - but not the light of magecraft. Not the works of the Seidhr. The Ban still exists, for the moment - no wizardry remains on Midgard." He met Harry's eyes for a moment. "It is not there that Loki shall find salvation."
"Then where? Jötunheim? Svartalfheim?" Thor wondered.
"The cold and the dark would not allow verdant life - even if the Seidhr were present to maintain it. Our ancient allies had their own realms, their own secret places. If any of those survive, they are beyond our reach." He dipped his head. "I fear there is but one place where Earth-magic has persisted. Attenuated, perhaps, or mutated - but alive."
Harry felt a chill ran down his back. He could connect these dots. "That's not a good idea."
"No - it is not," Odin agreed immediately. "The Cancerverse is a rotting, despicable place. If one stays there too long, or partakes of its doubtful bounty, one shan't leave again. Caught in life like a fly in amber, the slow degradation of flesh is inevitable. None should dare to set foot in such an unholy place."
"But you want me to go back there anyway," Harry observed. "Swell."
"I remember your people´s ways, Harry of the Seidhr. Two debts you owe me," Odin stated. "The first debt is for the fate of my son, which would not have occurred without your action. The second debt is for your continued safety within Asgard's mighty walls." He raised one finger. "The first debt you may resolve by retrieving the cure for my son's malady." He raised the next. "The second debt you can fulfill by risking your life in that pursuit."
"You don't have to hold any life-debts over me. I'm not a coward." Harry bristled at Thor's dubious expression. "I will figure out how to fix this mess - I always do."
"You and your silly wooden stick?" Thor asked doubtfully. "You are defenseless as a newborn Bilgesnipe without your precious tool." He reached for his hammer, twirling it around his hand effortlessly. "I could squash you where you stand!"
Odin's hand shot out to stop his son while Harry once more he kept himself steady, refusing to stand back from the belligerent deity's wrath. His hand brushed across something familiar at his waist, and with a swift movement he grasped what he already knew would be there, and a thrill of recognition shot through him as he raised his arm.
Gryffindor's gleaming silver sword had appeared inside his hand, its handle glittering with rubies the size of eggs. It sang through the air as it met mighty Mjolnir, and it was as if movement itself had suddenly ceased to exist. Thor stared in disbelief. Harry's expression was barely less surprised, as he had certainly not entered the room with a weapon in hand.
An echo of pain shot through his arm, a memory. The sword had come to him, just as it had so long ago in the Chamber of Secrets.
"So it is the stuff of legends!" Volstagg exclaimed in awe as the name of Gryffindor gleamed on the charmed blade, its edge sparking against the solid metal of Thor's hammer. Neither budged an inch. Finally, amazingly, it was Thor who took a step back, lowering Mjolnir. His eyes were no longer filled with contempt, but instead a wary intrigue. Respect, perhaps.
"I am never unarmed," Harry stated, working with what he'd been granted. "The Sword of Gryffindor was made a thousand years ago by goblins, the magical world's most skilled metalworkers. It is enchanted, and serves only those whom it considers worthy." He raised an eyebrow. "Care to try your luck?"
Thor briefly glanced down at his hammer, then put it back on his belt, seeming rather contrite. "I apologize for my actions," he said begrudgingly. Judging by Fandral's wide eyes, that was stupendously rare. "I spoke too rashly."
"Wish that you would realize more often," Odin observed. "Still, armed with legends or not, I shall not allow you to enter the dark alone, Harry of Midgard." He leaned on his staff, as if to remind Harry that it, too, was legendary. "Do not consider this charity, for part of the reason is that I cannot trust you to return here. You have a means of travelling between Asgard and the Cancerverse. You will take my son, so that he may prove your worth - and his own."
Thor faltered, astonished. "Father!?"
"Thor," Odin returned solemnly, his eye full with an emotion that Harry couldn't quite pin down, but he recalled that same expression on Professor Dumbledore's face when he sat in an ethereal trainstation on the edge of forever. "Remember that you, too, are armed with a weapon of legend," the father of the god said. "You wish to save your brother, and that should set your heart aflame with courage. This challenge, more than any other, will show me if you are ready." He nodded confidently. "When you return - we shall discuss what road lies ahead."
"You mean the coronation."
Odin pursed his lips. "Perhaps."
Thor wilted at his father's tone, steadying himself for a moment. "...Very well. I will do this."
"Very well. You shall have all the assistance you require - and doubtlessly desire," Odin said, and he looked over Harry's shoulder. "Will you rise up to meet this challenge as well, brothers of the sword? You, the mighty Warriors Three?"
"Um," Volstagg said carefully. "Actually, I think you'll find there's only two of us here…"
"I can understand why you would count Volstagg as two," Fandral helpfully added. "And obviously we would hardly pass up the opportunity to get some exercise."
"I said the Warriors Three," Odin proclaimed, his gaze lingering towards the far end of the room. Harry pondered that for a moment, his hand tightening around his sword's hilt. "This journey will be dangerous. Perhaps fatal. It will take you to the wildlands of legend - to see things which are beyond my sight, now, so close to the Odinsleep."
"Father?" Thor asked softly, and Harry saw the worry flash in his eyes.
"I will persist." The old god waved off his son irritably. "Your destination is a place I witnessed when you and your brother were still young and mirthful. It lies beyond Yggdrasil, as a mote of order in a sea of roiling chaos." He hummed thoughtfully. "It was green beyond measure, as a garden that stretched out above and below with boundless life - and magic. Earth magic. I have always thought that out there, hidden, the Seidhr might have left one of their precious artifacts."
Harry considered the cube that Loki had coveted. "It's like Hogwarts, then? A bit of the magical world that's survived all this time?"
Odin inclined his head. "It seems likely. Heimdall has searched for that place as well, but found nothing. Still, I know that it exists, somewhere in the deep. If my knowledge of Seidhr magic does not fail me, a wizard should not need more than a sharp image to reach that place. A memory."
"That's true," Harry agreed. "I did reach this place without ever having been here, although I had to use an anchor to do so. I'll have to remember to grab a new one for the trip back." He wondered what would happen if he messed up the Portkey into the Cancerverse - he end up in the middle of the monsters? The very thought made his skin crawl, but he forced himself to ignore that possibility. "I could probably get there," he said at last.
"Ah, such certainty fills me with great confidence!" Volstagg commented dryly. "When will we leave?"
"Immediately," Odin said imperiously. "The breach into Asgard remains an open passage to the plains of chaos. When it closes, it is doubtful that even the Seidhr can break back through without great rituals of ancient magic."
"And I don't care to try my luck with Hogwarts again," Harry admitted with a shiver. He lowered his head at last. "Alright. We will go."
"And we will as well!" a new voice called into the pensive silence. Harry turned in astonishment at the familiar cadence. Behind him stood Sif, flanked by a tall Asgardian. She had her head held high, though her body was still half-covered by Harry's own invisibility cloak. "By your leave," she added with a wicked smile.
"Lady Sif," Odin declared, utterly unsurprised. "How unexpected."
She rolled her eyes, smiling at Harry for a moment. "You know I will join this cause, All-Father. I will not be dissuaded. It should be no surprise to you."
Odin sighed, rubbing his forehead. "True. It is hardly possible to separate you from the wizard, it seems. So be it."
"Father! You can't just -" Thor started, relenting as he noticed Sif's glowering expression. "Lady Sif… You must understand that this is a task of great danger -"
"Oh, do be silent, Prince," Sif said with a dangerously soft voice. "Or do you imagine me a wallflower? A wilting weakling?"
Thor winced visibly, and Harry shared a pitying glance with Volstagg.
Hogun raised a hand. "So… I hate to bust in, but where exactly are we going?"
"You ought to know these things," Sif said with a tinge of annoyance as she looked over Hogun's equipment with an experienced eye. "We don't have a clue if there will be fresh water - you can't just rely on Volstagg to carry the essentials for you. Even if he has a broad back."
"But Volstagg always brings the water!" Hogun protested.
Harry snorted, thinking of the waterskin he'd sipped from. "Volstagg really should be the one to bring the refreshments, you know. I could use another pick-me-up to calm my nerves."
"A pick-me-up?" Sif asked, and she scowled. "...Are you intoxicated?"
"Nah. Just in dire need of good tea, I'm sure," Harry responded lightly, glancing over to Fandral, who was shining his shoes. "Do you have tea in Asgard, perhaps? Maybe something that is not entirely unlike tea? Not any of that American sweet tea, either!"
Fandral shrugged. "Does it have alcohol? If not - then the answer is a definite no."
Sif rolled her eyes. "Do you have everything?" she wondered. "All your wondrous artifacts have been returned to you?"
"Yes, it seems I've got everything," Harry agreed. Most of his stuff has still been packed into his mokeskin pouch, and he felt much better with his wands back on his person, even if Gryffindor's sword had helped out in a pinch. They were neatly packed in between his towels and a few of Tony's suggestive magazines. With the invisibility cloak slung over his back, once more closed with the clasp that held the Resurrection Stone, he felt about twice the wizard, and perhaps half a Dumbledore.
"You're fully prepared, then?" Sif wondered. "Did you remember to bring your pocket handkerchief, perchance?"
"My -" Harry halted mid-sentence, staring in disbelief at Sif. "Did you just -"
"I borrowed Anthony's copy, of course."
"You're a thief!" Harry said. "A scoundrel!"
Sif snorted. "Burglar, I should think."
Thor cleared his throat, then, as he stopped besides them clad in full armour, his hammer already held tightly in his fist. "Are you two quite done nattering at each other? The breach is closing fast, so we cannot afford any more delay."
"Tell that to Volstagg - he's still busy braiding his beard," Fandral complained. "And where is Loki, anyway?"
Thor raised an eyebrow. "Loki has been turned to stone, Fandral," he stated flatly. "Do keep up."
"That's not what I meant!"
"The Prince is over there." Sif gestured over to the far side of the dinner chamber, where a Basilisk had been before - save for a good deal of ruined tiles and a long stain from saliva or poison, there wasn't much evidence it was ever there. "We've been using him as a coatrack."
"You have done what?" Thor exclaimed, aghast.
"Don't worry, we propped him up against a wall, he's not going to fall. Besides, I think he looks quite fetching with four hats!" Hogun announced, and Thor seemed like he would burst at any moment. "We're not sure who will be carrying him around, but I'm sure we can strap him onto something."
"Volstagg will do it," Harry stated matter-of-factly. "He has the broadest back, you know. Unless you want to carry him around, Prince Thor? I can make him lighter, if you like." Harry wiggled his hands. "Maybe I should make him float? We could tie a string to his ankle so we don't lose him. Although he might get slightly fishy if I try to fiddle with the spells too much. I've gotten into a habit, lately."
"Imbeciles!" Thor declared, before he turned to help his petrified brother.
"Well, don't mind if I keep the fish to myself!" Harry yelled.
The cheer was muted somewhat after Volstagg arrived. He barely even blinked when Loki was strapped to his back alongside a good amount of supplies - he was clearly used to doing the heavy lifting. Harry had stocked up his pouch as well, but the Asgardians had quite vehemently disagreed when he'd offered to just keep everything on his person. Or when he's suggested shrinking things. Or really when he suggested anything at all.
"You should have this back," Sif announced as she stopped besides him. "It was returned to me - but I don't think it belongs with me any longer." It was Sif's knife - somewhat deformed from its encounter with a Basilisk, but still functional. "It has chosen a wielder, clearly."
"You're sure?" Harry wondered.
"I have more." Sif smiled. "It saved you once already, didn't it?"
Harry nodded, slipping the blade into his pocket. "Hope I won't need it."
"There's always a fool's hope, I suppose."
Volstagg grumbled something intelligible, then spoke up. "This is far too dull to be a proper hero's departure, I say! I feel there should be a song," he said. "A song of the Warriors Three, the Mighty Thor and the wizard from Earth who -" Sif glared daggers at him. "Ahem - and the glorious Lady Sif, of course - Anyway, it should be about glory, and striking spears, and swinging hammers!" He raised a fist. "A song of monsters slain, and spears shattered, and castles laid to waste! Of weapons of legend who destroy eternal unlife!"
"And good tea," Harry added with finality. "No sense in stretching this out. Time to go! Grab onto your neighbor, and try not to puke!" It would be fun to be the one not falling over from a Portkey for once - hopefully.
He glanced over to the door where he had first seen Odin arrive. He stood there again, and inclined his head when their eyes met. He leaned on his spear with one hand, and two black ravens cawed from his shoulders, as if saying farewell. The old King seemed both more and less regal than he had before, though Harry couldn't pin down why.
"Puking? Who do you take us for?" Thor declared. "We are not some weak-stomached -"
The world broke open, chaos streamed in, and a rainbow of colors took them all away.
Author's Note: Yes, it's back. You can now commence complaining that chapter 34 hasn't arrived yet. :)