Well, the review response has staggered me. Literally. So, as a Christmas gift, my third chapter in something like five or six days. Dear god, I must be insane.
Also, it'll have to tide you over until after the New Year, because I'm going skiing with a friend's family in the French Alps, so, no internet.
So, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year.
Don't forget to review. ;)
This one is the last set in Asgard for a while, rounding matters off. Indeed, you could say that the first part of this story is being rounded off in these coming chapters. Harry knows who and what he is (by and large), he's beginning to understand his new place in the world, finding his feet while the world is beginning to adjust to him. It never quite succeeds.
The amount of fussing over the three of them, was, Harry felt, excessive. Diana smiled sweetly enough, though she was clearly somewhat annoyed that most who had not seen or heard of her skills on the training ground assumed that the boys had done all the work while applauding her for being a 'brave little girl'.
This wasn't, Harry grudgingly supposed, an entirely unreasonable assumption with the little information they had – Uhtred was the Asgardian ideal and well known in Asgard, while stories of Harry's skills and courage, all wildly inflated, had been flying around the city for the last couple of days. Diana, on the other hand, looked like nothing more than a pretty little girl, something Harry suspected that she usually used to her advantage, and few knew that there was far more to her than met the eye, something else she doubtless took advantage of.
This time, however, it undoubtedly grated on her, Harry and even Uhtred, who was frowning slightly, and it had gone on until Harry had loudly and pointedly said in a carrying voice, "Diana was arguably the main reason any of us got out of there alive. She flew through the Bifrost portal, carrying both of us, while outrunning the leader of the Disir."
That had stopped matters cold, especially when his dangerous glare, reminiscent of his father in a particularly foul mood, dared anyone to doubt his word, while Diana smiled gratefully at him and Uhtred nodded.
For though Harry was fairly blasé about it all, the fact of the matter was that he had taken on the Disir, the half-believed nightmares of the Nine Realms, with but two companions, neither warriors of great renown or sorcerers brimming with arcane power, but children, both younger than he. And he had won.
As it turned out, the celebrations went on long into the night, with much slapping of Harry's back, congratulating on his skills and from younger guests, eager requests to see his magic. Harry had complied with a few balls of light, and when that did not seem to overly impress, a spell that Sirius had taught him, which hauled the unfortunate target into the air by his ankle, while his companions roared their laughter.
Diana also got a fair amount of the attention, and Harry saw a few girls furtively inquire as to what it was like, going on adventures, and a few boys blush whenever they got within five feet of her.
But Uhtred commanded the lion's share of the rest, recounting his side of the story again and again to an adoring audience, including several very pretty girls. It so happened that they merely thought that he was cute with potential, but since Uhtred had no idea what to say to even try to charm a girl and therefore didn't even bother, it all worked out well enough And while he carefully made sure that he didn't leave out Harry or Diana, he could be forgiven for the slight embellishments he indulged in.
Finally, Odin stood. And silence swept over the hall in a wave. He didn't use any magic. He didn't say anything. He didn't even change expression.
That, to Harry's mind, was pretty damn cool. He felt a strong hand on his shoulder and twitched, before looking up and seeing his father. "Hey dad," he said quietly. He paused, as something that had been bugging him came up. "Do you know what happened to my crown thingy? I mean, I think I dropped it when the Disir attacked…"
Thor looked shifty.
Meanwhile, Odin had started speaking.
"This day is a day of celebration," Odin said. "It was originally intended to celebrate the introduction of our grandchild, Harry Thorson, Prince of Asgard, to Asgard, the Nine Realms and the Universe at large." He paused. "He has made quite the impression."
There was soft flutter of laughter, and a spotlight generated by who knew what shone on Harry, who had been mournfully examining his somewhat mangled circlet, and had been caught trying speculatively to see if he could put it back on. He froze under the scrutiny, eyes darting left and right. "This isn't as strange as it looks," he said slowly. His eyes swivelled upwards. "Okay," he amended slowly, in a silence in which you could have heard a pin drop. "So it's exactly as strange as it looks."
Thor, also caught in the spotlight, was caught halfway between being somewhat mortified and doing doing his best not to crack up laughing, shoulders visibly shaking.
"Yeah… you can blame him for the squashed circlet."
"I was worried for you," Thor said in an indignant undertone.
"You still squashed it! I liked that circlet!"
"You only had it for a few hours."
"Exactly. I hadn't even got it worn in yet!"
"You dropped it," Thor said feebly.
"That didn't mean you had to squash it," Harry said, shaking his head, before shooting a glance over at the crowd. "Umm… dad?"
"People are staring. And I think Uncle Loki's having some kind of fit," Harry said slowly, squinting at the Avengers, Athena, Diana, Uhtred and his parents. Natasha looked amused, both of Athena's eyebrows had shot up, Darcy was giving him an enthusiastic thumbs up, Sirius, Tony and Clint were bent over with suppressed laughter, barely holding each other up, Steve and Jane looked utterly mortified, Pepper and Bruce were merely shaking their heads in exasperated amusement, Diana was giggling, Uhtred looked like he thought that Harry had gone completely mad, Ullr had an expression that said clearly, 'I've seen weirder shit than this', while his wife looked thoroughly confused.
And Loki looked like he was having a minor nervous breakdown.
"He's either laughing… or crying…" Harry continued, paused, and looked up at his father. "I should really shut up, shouldn't I?"
Thor was grinning. "Maybe," he said. "On the other hand, I don't hear any protests."
Indeed, the crowd was, by and large, either thoroughly bemused, deeply disapproving or desperately trying not to laugh, the latter contingent being by far the largest.
Harry glowered at him, then turned to the audience. "Sorry," he said. "About the rambling. And the circlet," he added, waving the bent object in the air. He paused, then murmured, "Reparo," snapping his fingers for effect.
The circlet mended itself, to whispers of impressed surprise from the crowd, and Harry happily slipped it back onto his head. "Much better," he said. "If you want another demonstration, I'm here…" he paused. "When does term start again, dad?"
"Soon," Thor said. "And I think the Allfather desires to speak."
"Quite," Odin said dryly, though there was a slight edge to his voice that suggested that Harry had better stay quiet. The Allfather was in an indulgent mood, but that only went so far. "I think my grandson has not quite shaken off the rush of battle. That or he has followed the example of his father at the same age, and drunk something that he should not have." His lips twitched slightly. "And unlike in that case, he is not screaming about being hunted by invisible flying bilgesnipe, so I think we have got off lightly."
That defused any disapproving tension and a wave of amused laughter swept the banquet hall as Thor blushed. Clearly more than a few of those present remembered this particular story.
"Speaking of being hunted, my grandson was hunted by the Disir earlier this night, when they kidnapped him and upon his escape," Odin said, and the mood swiftly segued into a sober one. His grandfather, Harry thought vaguely, was a very smooth operator. "But he was not hunted alone. Nor did he escape alone. Indeed, if it were not for the courage and skill of his companions, I fear that we would not be celebrating, but mourning."
He turned his gaze on Diana and Uhtred, and just like that, they were lit up. "Thanks to the valour of Lady Diana of Olympus and Uhtred Ullrson of Asgard, our grandson managed to enact a plan that were required quickness of wit, courage and skill to succeed. And thanks to them, it did," he said. "So we would like to commend them, thank them and state that they are favoured by the crown. If they ever require aid, they need only ask, and it shall be given."
Diana curtseyed neatly, while Uhtred bowed hurriedly.
"Now," Odin said. "We bid you enjoy the rest of the evening and the hospitality of Asgard."
He sat and chatter arose once more.
Thor and Harry stood in silence.
"Well," Harry said. "That was embarrassing."
"Why did you do that?"
Harry shrugged. "I honestly have no idea," he said frankly. "And I think the fact that I embarrassed myself like that is going to hit me in, oh… five minutes?"
Thor gave him a sidelong glance and began to steer him towards the doors. "I think you'd better get to bed," he said.
"But," Harry began.
"No buts," Thor said firmly. "You've been kidnapped by the forces of evil."
"Uhtred and Diana are still up," Harry said, in a tone who would later realise to his horror was perilously close to a whine.
"They aren't my son," Thor said, in a tone that said that that was final.
Harry sighed. "Fine."
"Besides," Thor said, recognising that a little balm for Harry's pride. "You are the eldest of the three. The unofficial leader. You were the one who had to worry about getting them all out. It all came down to you, and you rose to the occasion. Of course you are tired." He smiled. "And I am so proud of you."
Harry smiled, and said, "I'm not tired." He yawned.
Thor smirked. "Whatever you say, my son, whatever you say,"
Harry gave him a glower that Thor recognised. He'd seen it often enough in the mirror, and smiled fondly.
As they reached the doors, Thor stopped and said to a servant, "Please tell my parents, my brother and the Avengers that I am taking my son to bed."
"If it's not too inconvenient," Harry added earnestly, and got a proud look from his father and a surprised one from the servant.
"It isn't, your highnesses," the servant said, blinking and bowing, before sweeping off.
Thor watched him go. "You're remarkable, Harry, you know that?" he said fondly.
Harry snorted in disbelief, but said nothing more, eyelids beginning to droop. The evening's events were beginning to catch up with him. "Okay," he said, yawning. "Whatever you say, dad."
Thor chuckled. You would be so proud of him, Lils, he thought. I can only hope that you'd be half as proud of me.
He then turned back to Harry, making sure that he didn't collapse, hoisting his son into his arms as he nodded off.
So he missed the whisper that wasn't a whisper, the words that weren't words, the things that were heard and unheard.
Of course I am, my brave boys. I am so proud of you.
The tiniest of gusts flickered up, unnoticed even by Thor, brushing Harry's fringe aside. Harry, half asleep, felt just the ghost of a feeling on his forehead. A kiss.
And as Harry drifted off to sleep in his father's arms, he smiled.
The next day passed relatively quietly. Harry woke up, feeling extremely well rested, and then spent most of the day chatting to Diana and Uhtred, while trying to avoid whispering admirers, more than a few of whom were giggling girls. This was an undertaking that achieved varying degrees of success.
Harry had been worried, on waking up and after he got over his mortification over the events of the previous night, that his grandfather would be angry. Thor had reassured him with a breezy, "Oh don't worry, I and Loki have done far worse in our time and got away with it."
After a few further, more serious reassurances from his uncle and grandmother, Harry felt reasonably confident that his grandfather wasn't going to summon him to yell at him.
Then he got summoned.
Algrim, who Harry swiftly decided he rather liked, lead him into an older part of the palace, made of carved stone and rich wood panelling rather than golden metal, a part that somehow seemed more lived in than the others, especially with the way that evening sunlight, streaming in through high, clear glassless windows, reflected off it. It seemed like something from a bygone age, Harry thought. Though that was probably because it technically was.
After some time, they reached a relatively small, yet ornately carved wooden door of chestnut brown wood, inscribed with swirling golden designs.
"This is your grandfather's study," Algrim said. "He bid you meet him here."
"Um… what should I do?" Harry asked.
"Knock, and wait, your highness," Algrim said, dipping his head in a slight bow, before making to go.
Harry took a deep breath and knocked on the door. "Enter," his grandfather said.
Harry stepped inside. The room was not how he'd imagined. It wasn't cold and businesslike, full of intimidating books and weapons. Instead, it was a rather cosy room, with a large desk on one side that was strewn with papers, and a light fire crackled in a large, marble fireplace.
"Ah," Odin said, smiling. "Grandson. Sit down," he said, indicating the chair in front of him. Between the two, there was a chess set. Harry obediently sat. "Do you play chess?" Odin asked.
"Yes, I do," Harry said. "With my friend Ron. I'm not bad, but he's a chessmaster."
"At such a young age?" Odin asked, raising an eyebrow. "Truly, he must have prodigious talent."
Harry nodded. "He doesn't see it that way, though. I mean, his oldest brother is a Gringotts Curse Breaker, and you have to be really good to be one of those, his second oldest works with dragons and could have been an international Quidditch star if he'd wanted, the third oldest is a Prefect at school and gets perfect grades, the twins are Loki's apprentices and Ginny's the baby of the family." Harry paused. "And you probably don't get half those references. Sorry," he said apologetically.
"No, I do," Odin said. "I kept an eye on my son when he was on Earth, and Huginn and Muninn do not go to Earth solely for their amusement." He paused and muttered, "Not since the incident with that mare in Ancient Greece. Horses were never meant to have wings." He coughed. "Needless to say, I am fairly well aware of the ins and outs of the Wizarding World."
Harry's eyes widened. Odin smiled at his honest astonishment.
"I am a king, grandson. It is my business to know these things," Odin said, amused.
He'd chosen white, and moved a pawn. Harry responded by moving one of his own.
"Maybe your friend Ron could do with talking to Loki. When the boys were younger, Loki often felt overshadowed by Thor, and felt that he was his inferior. In fact, his skill set was merely different," Odin said, responding with a move of his own. "Of course, Thor's skills were those of an Asgardian warrior, and while sorcery is respected here in Asgard, it comes a long second to warrior skill. That is changing even now, as Loki's prowess has been and is being displayed in a manner that the people of Asgard can relate to, but there is still a way to go."
"Is that why he went… mad?" Harry asked tentatively. "All those years, did it just eventually get to him?"
Odin smiled slightly. "You have your grandmother's and mother's perception, grandson," he complimented.
"Thanks," Harry said quietly.
"You are right. That is a large part of the reason, and I have only myself to blame. I have kept many secrets in my long life – such is the nature of kingship. But there are secrets I regret keeping. One is a very long held secret, one that Loki has given me permission to reveal to you," Odin said. "He trusts you to keep it, and make no mistake, it is a great privilege to know this. Aside from the Royal Family, the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, only Thor and Loki's war-brothers and sisters, the Avengers, and Director Fury know it."
Harry gulped and nodded. "Okay."
"What do you know of the Frost Giants?" Odin asked.
Harry paused. "Not much," he said slowly. "Hermione researched the old legends, and asked dad to look over them. He said most of them weren't far wrong. Dad told me a little. They're a race of people, about ten feet tall on average, strong as a strong Asgardian, with control over ice, and in some cases, magic. They're old enemies of Asgard, but now there is peace. Some people call them monsters."
"And what do you think?" Odin asked.
"I don't know. I've never met them, except for King Farbaut, and I liked him," Harry said, shrugging as he examined the board. "I mean, they've been enemies, sure, but that doesn't mean they're evil."
He looked up to see Odin smiling proudly at him. He looked puzzled. "What is it?"
"You have an amazing ability to look beyond the outer appearance of a person, grandson, and to see the heart within," Odin said quietly. "That is a gift greater than any I could bequeath you. A gift fit for a King."
Harry blushed a little. "Appearances aren't everything," he said quietly.
"Exactly. And so it is with Loki. He looks like an Asgardian, does he not?" Odin asked.
Harry looked up sharply. "Yes," he said slowly. "And he's about average height for an Asgardian… or a short Frost Giant."
Odin nodded. "Just so. A long time ago, when your father was no more than a babe in his mother's arms, the Frost Giants sought to extend their dominance over Midgard. They wished to bring a new ice age, and with the Casket of Ancient Winters, a weapon of truly fearsome power, they could do it. If it wasn't for four witches and wizards, they would have succeeded. They managed to hold off the Frost Giant advance – their leader, Athelstan Gryffindor, fought the Frost Giant King himself in a ferocious duel of swords and magic. Though Athelstan lost a hand and limped forever after, he gave Laufey scars that he bore for the rest of his days, and forced him to retreat."
"Gryffindor? Like, Godric Gryffindor?" Harry asked curiously.
"Athelstan was his ancestor by a good ten generations. And his allies bore the family names of their descendants, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff…"
"And Slytherin," Harry said.
"Exactly. Athelstan Gryffindor, Arianna Ravenclaw, Branwen Hufflepuff and Prospero Slytherin. It was in memory of that alliance that their descendants came together," Odin said. "They combined their power, and sent out a call for help, much like the one you sent. But they did not have the advantage of a family connection and sheer dumb luck," Odin added, a small smile on his face.
"It fatigued them greatly, but it succeeded, not that they knew at the time. I was newly made King of Asgard, only just entering my middle years and my marriage was still young. I had just been given a first born child, and the passion of the young and the strong was within me. I saw an injustice, I saw those in need, and I stepped in. I had dealt with Britain before, with some success, and I knew the land. My old enemies and current allies, the Avalonians, managed to slow the Frost Giant onslaught, but were still gravely weakened from previous conflicts and swept aside by the might of the Casket. As the four, the world's last real defence, thinking that their call had gone unheeded, gathered in what you now call Scotland for a last stand, aided by the Lady Knight who roamed the roads of time, Asgard mobilised."
Harry listened, words conjuring images of magnificent armour, ferocious battles and phenomenal courage. Though Loki was the famous storyteller, he had clearly learned from the best.
"The Frost Giant armies were on the point of shattering the wards of the four's stronghold, the castle that would later become Hogwarts, when I lead my army into their flank, shattering their formations," Odin said. "As I did, Aethelstan saw it and cried, 'To arms! Asgard is here! Our salvation is at hand! Now let us drive this enemy from our lands together!'"
Odin gazed off into the middle distance, lost in memory, the sound of clashing blades, war cries and spellfire reverberating in his mind. Harry waited patiently.
"The four were, of course, very grateful, and they had invaluable intelligence on the strategies, strengths and weaknesses of the Frost Giants. Cunning Prospero had developed a grand network of spies, one that fed him information from the tents of Laufey himself. Before, they had not the strength to use this information to do more than survive. Now, with an army that could meet Laufey's on its own terms by their side, this information, so carefully gathered, was a weapon mightier than any other. I provided them and their followers with weaponry, and Asgardian spells – though not many, for at that point, my mystical skills were rather lacking. Before, I had not had much respect for magic and its wielders, for one of my enemies, Byleistr, brother of Laufey, was a master sorcerer, the Loki of his day in raw power. Naturally, I was loath to imitate him. But when I saw the courage and skill of my allies, I gained a new appreciation for its value. The four taught me much, more than I taught them, and inspired me to study the mysteries of magic myself as the campaign raged over all the continents. Words were spoken, words of power."
Odin looked distant. "And there were days," he said. "There were many days, when those words could raise up empires, and bring down gods. Words that gave their speakers reputations, reputations that made entire armies turn and run when they heard the merest whisper of those names."
"Do you miss it?" Harry asked.
"The war? Yes and no. Yes, because I was young, I was strong, and I made many friends, mortal, immortal and some that walked in the strange realm between the two. Friends I lost and who I wish to see again, and will, someday, in Valhalla," Odin said. "But also no. The bloodshed, the terror, the meaningless, cruel, petty deaths far outshine any glory and happiness. There is a satisfaction in fighting a war for the right reasons, for protecting those who cannot protect themselves, but it is fleeting. The best thing that can be said for war is that it brings people together and makes peace all the more enticing." He shook his head. "After the war ended, I visited my mortal friends, many a time. I even took Thor and Loki, still babies or little more than so, both of whom immediately charmed everyone in sight. But they grew old. And they died. They all died."
He looked sorrowful. "Why do you think Asgard has withdrawn from the mortal realms for so long, grandson? Because getting close to mortals, who live such short, bright, magnificent lives… it hurts. When they pass. Because, at best, you are denied their companionship for the long span of the years. Mortals can be raised to become Asgardians. It is an easy process. But not many are chosen or choose that path. It is hard, to find a reason so compelling as to make such a change."
"Will I be immortal?" Harry asked.
"Only time will tell on that one, grandson," Odin said. "You are… a special case."
Odin chuckled. "That rascal Olympian friend of your father's and uncle's, Diana's father? No, Harry, you are very different to him. There is much more that is special about you. You are unique in all the cosmos."
Harry thought he meant it in a grandfatherly way, and gave a self-deprecatory smile and shrug. Of course, Odin did not mean it like that. Not solely, anyway. But Harry wouldn't find out the full truth of that for a long time. Now, now was story time.
"Together, with the help of the dwarves, we forged Mjolnir, Gungnir, the Sword of Gryffindor and Laevateinn. Laevateinn was a wand of unsurpassed power. Not even the famous Elder Wand was its equal. Alas, it was lost in war, falling with its owner, Prospero, who died facing an army. Though he died, he destroyed the entire army, one that was bearing down on a refugee column. These days, you call the place where he fell the Grand Canyon. It was a smooth, fertile land with a moderately sized river before Prospero went to work."
Harry's jaw dropped.
Odin chuckled. "Laevateinn was a weapon second only to Mjolnir, the Infinity Gauntlet, the Twilight Sword and the Tesseract in pure power. We searched for it as we searched for Prospero's remains." He reached behind him and held up a golden-red feather. "All we found was this. I have never seen the like in any bird, nor was it to be found in the Bestiaries of the time. It is a mystery."
"Can I see?" Harry asked quietly.
"You may. But be careful. It is very precious," Odin said. Harry took it very carefully, then, on instinct, drew his wand. Both wand and feather burst into flame. But the flame did not burn wand, feather, or indeed, Harry himself.
"It's a phoenix feather," Harry breathed. Fire danced in his eyes, reflected light. For a moment, just a moment, something flickered deep within them. Then it was gone.
Odin's single eye was wide. "What is this creature you speak of?"
"A phoenix… it's an immortal bird that lives for centuries, then burns itself to death, and is reborn from the flames," Harry said. "They're really rare, and they sometimes choose a witch or wizard to be their familiar. My headmaster has one called Fawkes. My wand's core is a phoenix feather." He frowned. "But why would a phoenix feather be left behind?"
"Maybe it was his way of telling us he was still alive, for some reason unable to contact us," Odin mused quietly. "He greatly favoured fire magic, and he had the greatest skill in mind magic seen in recorded history, though Loki claimed similar for Godric Gryffindor. His skills aided greatly in both communication and spying." He sat back. "And the old texts talk of a being called the Phoenix, an immensely powerful entity, beyond even the greatest of the gods, who granted power to her chosen." He sighed.
"I had long dismissed it as a myth, even forgotten it. But now… now I wonder." He looked seriously at Harry. "Destiny warps wherever you go, grandson. Mysteries long held unravel, impossibilities abound and things thought lost re-emerge. People, special people, are drawn to you with inexorable force. Change and Chaos walk with you, hand in hand. A path of greatness reveals itself to all with even a glimmering of foresight, and it may have chosen you as its walker." He paused. "It is a puzzle for another time. Mjolnir was wielded first by Athelstan, Gungnir by myself, and the Sword of Gryffindor by the Lady Knight in tandem with her own blade. Arianna was a great researcher and teacher, and I even offered her Gungnir to wield. Cheeky woman said that she didn't need to wave a long, thick spear around to prove how tough and manly she was," Odin grumbled, and Harry had difficulty stifling a laugh. "Branwen was a healer, and though she was loath to fight, preferring to tend to the wounded, the one time she did… it was a truly terrifying sight."
Harry blinked in surprise.
"Imagine, grandson," Odin said softly. "A woman who is as kind and gentle as a warm summer's day. A woman who loves to laugh, to smile, to joke and play. A woman who seeks to do nothing but to preserve life and bring new life into the world. Now imagine that woman has found the mutilated remains her eldest child, a seventeen year old girl, tortured, assaulted and murdered by a Frost Giant raiding party. Imagine her grief." Odin shivered. "The same talents that can be used to heal, to bestow a merciful, quick and painless death upon those who are too hurt to live and have nothing look forward to but pain, can be used to kill armies. She walked through an entire army, an aura of cold, green light around her. And where she passed, Frost Giants died. They just… stopped and fell, breathing no more. And she didn't say a word. Tears ran down her face, but she did not stop. And to this day, the Frost Giants fear sorcery more than anything in all the Nine Realms."
"Whoa," Harry breathed.
"Indeed," Odin said gravely. "It was the only time she fought in battle. Ever after, her joy was dimmed, her smile tinged with bitterness, and her eyes dulled. Stories raced all over the world. The people of Greece knew her as Demeter, and they got the general gist of her story right, so much so that it was conflated with the legend, an irony, for Prospero had indeed named his daughter by her Persephone. We won, in the end, but at great cost. We all lost people we loved. I lost an eye. Aethelstan lost his hand. Branwen lost her daughter. The Lady Knight was lost in time once more, trapped on her endless quest, with me unable to help her for fear of bringing Time itself to an end. Arianna was cursed by the Frost Giants – if she ever stepped out into the daylight, she would be petrified, rendered into a stone statue. She remained in the shadows of her library, only venturing out into the night, until, eventually, she grew old and tired. She called us all to her side, spent one last night with us, then went to see the dawn."
Harry, unthinking, reached over and took his grandfather's hairy, calloused hand, gently squeezing it. Odin looked down in surprise for a moment, then smiled, squeezing ever so lightly back.
"As for Prospero, it remains a mystery, though I now have hope that my cunning friend managed to cheat death of her due. The war ended in the chief citadel of Jotunheim, where I held Laufey at the tip of Gungnir. I longed to put it through his throat, and take his life in exchange for all that I had lost. He was helpless. Cowed. Defeated." He sighed. "It would have been easy."
"Did you kill him?" Harry asked quietly.
"No. I did not kill him. Instead, I took the Casket of Ancient Winters. Without it, Jotunheim could not regain its former glory. As my bodyguard took the casket from their chief temple, I saw a small object out of the corner of my remaining eye." Odin smiled slightly. "I heard a small, weak cry. I went to investigate. It was a Frost Giant baby, small by the standards of their kind, the size of a Midgardian or an Asgardian child. A weak, abandoned, helpless child. One life, in that place of such death. I took it as a sign of hope, a sign that life could recover from destruction. I looked into his eyes, the orange-red of fire. Fire, that great destroyer, yet that which warms us and nurtures us. A creator and a destroyer. He had the tattoos of a Frost Giant Prince. This was Laufey's own child, abandoned to die."
Harry's eyes widened, and he listened curiously.
"As I held him, he looked into my eyes and changed. His skin became pale, like mine. His hair became black. His eyes became a remarkable shade of green. It was a sign of how powerful a sorcerer he was going to become. He wanted me to take him in. Though born of Jotunheim, he chose to be one of Asgard. He was beautiful, I thought as I warmed him and dried his tears. I took him home, and your grandmother fell in love with him on sight. She knew where he came from, but she did not care. We named him Loki. Thor was, at first, a little annoyed that he had lost some of the attention, but soon delighted in playing with his new younger brother," Odin said. "I hid the truth from him because Frost Giants were not well looked upon in Asgard. In many ways, they still aren't. My original plan had been to raise him in Asgard, to show that Frost Giants and Asgardians weren't so different as they pretended, to be a bridge between our peoples. But I soon realised that this would not work. The Frost Giants would regard him as a pathetic runt and an Asgardian puppet."
"Then they're stupid," Harry said instantly. "Loki's not pathetic. Or anyone's puppet."
Odin chuckled, smiling at his nephew's instant defence of his uncle. "They had every reason to be suspicious, but you are right. They are fools to believe that he could ever be pathetic." He sighed. "He found out his heritage when Thor made an ill-advised sortie into Jotunheim. Three Frost Giants attempted to retake the Casket during Thor's coronation. I had planned to hand over rule to him, acting as his adviser. But this plan was undermined. The Frost Giants were enabled by Loki's machinations. Through a mixture of jealousy and a not unreasonable concern over Thor's ability to rule wisely, he sought to disrupt Thor's coronation. The Destroyer, Asgard's most dangerous weapon, destroyed the three. But that was not enough for Thor. He wanted to find out why."
Odin shook his head. "Even at his most boneheaded, Thor has a knack for getting people to follow him. Loki, Sif, and the Warriors Three followed him into Jotunheim, to the citadel where I defeated Laufey so long ago. They confronted Laufey, who alluded to a traitor in Asgard. Loki tried to get Thor to leave peacefully. Unfortunately, according to those present, one of Laufey's bodyguard landed a brutal blow to what was then Thor's most vulnerable and viciously defended part. His ego. 'Run home, little princess', were the exact words."
"Oh no," Harry said, seeing where this was going. He was now in check, but if he got this move right, he could checkmate his grandfather in three moves.
"Quite. Thor went on a rampage, massacring Laufey's finest warriors and his pet monster, a creature that would normally take a battalion to bring down, with the same ease you would use to crush a spider," Odin said. Harry looked faintly sickened. "Like many in Asgard, he regarded them as little better than animals that happened to talk and had made this clear before. It is something he now deeply regrets. So when Loki found out, in the middle of battle, just what he was, he reacted badly."
Odin sighed. "He confronted me after confirming it by touching the Casket. I was nearing the time of the Odinsleep, when I must sleep to recharge my power. I had exiled Thor to Midgard, and stripped of his power. This time, however, I did not have the luxury of time, so I let him keep his memories and his form. Possibly something deep within him remembered his time as James, and was brought forth by his resumption of mortal form, aiding his quick learning of the qualities he needed. I do not know. But when I tried to explain to Loki, I only managed to tell him of my original plan before I collapsed into the Odinsleep. He not unjustly felt used. His whole world was falling apart. He felt unworthy."
"That was when he went mad, wasn't it?" Harry asked.
Odin nodded. "In his madness, he tried to destroy all connections to his Jotun heritage. Laufey he tricked into coming into Asgard. Laufey had me at his mercy. Loki obliterated him, leaving nothing but ash behind. Then, he took his most drastic step. Using the Casket, he turned the old Bifrost into a cannon. It was tearing Jotunheim apart. Thor, by now returned to his power with a new sense of humility and a greater wisdom, in part because of Loki's attempt to murder him in mortal form, fought him and destroyed the Bifrost, saving Jotunheim. The Bifrost bridge had shattered as the explosion sent both Thor and Loki flying. Thor held onto Gungnir, which Loki still gripped. I held them both. Then Loki let go. He fell through the collapsing Bifrost portal. Straight into the arms of Thanos, the Mad Titan."
"You mentioned him before," Harry said quietly. "You said he was… evil."
Odin's face darkened. "Aye," he said. "I did. Thanos is pure evil. There is no good in him, and if there ever was, it died in ages long past." He shook his head. "But we are not here to speak of Thanos in any great detail. We spoke of Loki. Thanos used him as a weapon. He accelerated and exacerbated Loki's brewing madness, pushing it down the path it was always going to take, but doing it faster, and turned him loose on Midgard with an army at his disposal." He looked out into the night. "One day, Thanos shall pay for what he has done. But that day is not today."
Harry was reeling from all he had heard. Revelations abounded. "I'll keep his secret," Harry said firmly, then moved a piece. "Check."
Odin smiled, and made his own move. "Checkmate."
Harry stared at the board in shock. Odin's eye twinkled. "You have skill, grandson, but I am several millennia older than you. I have had practice." He looked out the window. "I think it is time that you went to bed."
Harry nodded, and stood up. Then he hugged his grandfather, who smiled and hugged him back. "Good night, grandpa. Thanks for the chess game."
"Good night, grandson," Odin said. "It was my pleasure."
The next morning, Harry and the Avengers departed Asgard in a whirlwind of chaos. No one ever quite figured out the circumstances that led to Sirius and Tony gleefully sledding down the palace steps on Steve's shield, but it was generally decided that everyone was better off not knowing. Indeed, Pepper just decided that it would be best that she just scold Tony and leave it at that.
She'd seemed a bit distracted, Harry thought. Apparently she'd been feeling a little ill this morning and went to check it up with Frigga. It was probably nothing.
Harry didn't have much stuff to pack, and after a hearty breakfast, which Harry devoured at speeds that Ron would admire, leading Thor to joke, "Am I raising a second Volstagg?", leading Volstagg himself to firmly say that as a man of great experience in the raising of children, all of whom were either at home with their mother or serving as Knights in Alfheim, he knew that keeping children well fed was of paramount importance.
"A lesson you have taken it upon yourself to live as the prime example of," Thor had teased, and the two had indulged in some good natured bickering, which was only stopped by Frigga herding Harry away to get cleaned up, make sure everything was packed, that he hadn't left anything behind and that he'd said all his goodbyes.
The goodbyes weren't too emotional – after all, Harry knew that he was coming back. He hugged his grandparents, was told to behave himself and stay out of trouble by his grandmother – Harry could have sworn that he heard Odin mutter something to the tune of "That'll be the day," under his breath, shared a warrior's hand clasp with Uhtred – who had apparently spent a great deal of time petitioning to follow Harry to Earth since he was his oathman now.
"My grandson will be more than adequately protected, Uhtred," Odin had said firmly. "You would serve both him and yourself best by applying yourself to your lessons, both on the training fields and off them."
Uhtred had reluctantly accepted this. Everyone else had been amused.
Diana had hugged Harry tightly. "I hope that I'll get to see you again soon," she said, and added looking a little self conscious, "I don't have many friends."
"Neither do I," Harry said. He smiled. "That's why I just go out and make some more. And I'm pretty sure that my friends will very quickly become your friends too." He shrugged. "Besides, you can always come visit us on Earth. Right?" he added, glancing up at Tony, who, along with Sirius, was giving him an amusing but wholly inaccurate knowing smirk. "Oh, knock it off," Harry said, rolling his eyes as he picked up on it. "Can she come?"
"Sure," Tony said. "Any time." He paused. "Just warn us if you're bringing your relatives, okay? Avengers Tower gets hit by lightning often enough as it is," he added, giving Thor a mild glare.
Thor looked away and whistled innocently. Or tried to. He failed at both whistling and innocence.
Diana smiled. "I hope so," she said sincerely. She looked up at Tony and Sirius. "And I'm afraid you're wrong, Lord Stark, Lord Black," she said, tone not changing. "Harry's not interested in me and I'm not interested in boys yet." She gave Harry a critical look. "Though I suppose that he is quite handsome."
Both men's jaws dropped and Harry blushed slightly as the Avengers, Volstagg and Fandral cracked up en masse.
Eventually, however, it was time to go. As Harry waved goodbye, he was almost certain that he could feel Asgardian bidding her youngest Prince a fond farewell.
And as the Bifrost began to power up, Harry whispered, "Don't worry. I'll be back soon."
Then he and the rest roared off through the cosmos. From Asgard to Earth. There and back again, one might say.
Okay, so, from now on, (aside from one chapter of sweeping up to round off the Christmas holidays) the focus shifts and the cast contracts significantly. Harry will be returning to Hogwarts in a couple more chapters and Asgard doesn't get a look in until Easter. That said, we will be seeing a fair bit more of Jean-Paul and Carol Danvers (have you noticed that Harry tends to pick up friends in twos? Something worth noting, no?). The Avengers, Sif and the Warriors, meanwhile, will be busy fighting evil and in the case of the latter and Loki, hunting the veidrdraugar. And the villains will be playing out their own little dramas.
So the narrative will be divided into a rota between three parties: Harry and friends, whether at Hogwarts or in the US, the Avengers/Warriors Four, the villains. Occasional other parties will get a look in (there'll be an Agents of SHIELD chapter featuring the one and only Harry Dresden in the not too distant future, for instance), but it'll stick with them.
Also, to forestall a couple of questions:
One, the whole 'who's behind Harry's kidnapping thing' is going to be discussed next chapter, when he's well out of earshot.
Two, Odin doesn't know about Phoenixes because he hasn't really encountered them. One, they're incredibly rare, two, they're pretty much exclusive to Midgard, which Odin doesn't really visit or look at in depth – he knows a bit about the Wizarding World and the current state of international affairs, but that's it, three, they're originally from the Middle East and North Africa, which weren't really Odin's area of concern aside from in war time, which means no time for bird watching.