Chapter 21: The Dialogues

It was while Loki had his wide eyes trained on Harry that Thor caught a good grip on his brother's wrists. He seemed so distracted, stunned to see the boy, his green eyes staring unblinkingly. They all were shocked—they thought the boy dead—but strangely enough, it seemed Loki was taken by surprise most of all. Thor was beginning to wonder if his brother had contributed somehow in the boy's death for him to be so staggered and frozen at his return.

"Unhand me!" Loki finally demanded when he realized that Thor had clicked a cuff onto his wrist. The other one went on far too quickly for Loki to escape, and the magic-dampening restraints did their duty. Thor was not risking Midgard again.

"No, Loki. This is the end."

Even as Thor was pulling Loki away from the battle and toward the mighty airship, he saw his brother straining to see Harry. The boy was being swarmed by relieved and joyous magicians; he couldn't possibly catch sight of the Avengers as they made their departure, even if the boy had the presence of mind to look.

"Where do you think you are taking me?" Loki screeched, but it was hardly loud at all compared to the elated tumult of the wizards.

"Back home. Where you shall live out the rest of your sentence," Thor recited emotionlessly despite the roiling sadness that bubbled within him. How unfortunate it was, to witness his once-loyal brother so changed. He could not let that affection prevent him from performing his duty, though. Steeling himself for ignoring all of Loki's efforts to escape (no matter how convincing he was sure they would be), Thor tightened his grip. Loki's struggle intensified such that Thor was starting to have trouble keeping a hold of the chain attached to the cuffs.

"Whoa, there!" shouted Stark as he ambled up to them in his armor. "A problem?"

"You think this is over? You will fly me back to Asgard, and then what?" Loki fumed with a harsh bark of a laugh. "Ha! Leave this society to rebuild itself? It has already been eaten from within before, with little thanks to their version of SHIELD. It will fall again just as easily," he predicted, punctuating the last three words with a malicious staccato.

Was Loki threatening to take over this world too? Surely he could see that was an impossibility; he had played his hand and had lost completely. It would not fall under Loki's rule, not while Thor was around. Still, he considered slowly, his brother had a point. This world was born anew and like a fledgling phoenix, needed all the support it could gather to relight itself. It was fragile yet.

"Friend Stark, perhaps my brother—"

"Not your blasted brother!"

"—has made a salient point."

Stark snorted a laugh at Loki's consistent quibbling. "Yeah, I can see what you mean. We'll probably have to reestablish lines of communication and new contingency plans in case they get taken over by another dark lord. Also their current mode of government needs some reworking. God, what a mess."

"Proof of mortal incompetence that it happened in the first place…"

Without a glance at the contentious man, Stark raised an eyebrow at Thor. "I don't suppose you still have that gag on you?"

No, Thor had not brought the mouth restraint he used the last time he had to escort Loki back to Asgard. He gripped the chain attached to Loki's wrists and steered him to the airship. It was arduous, dragging Loki all the way back to his room upon the helicarrier. This was no cell, no glass cage. The room was untouched since his last time there, still all the lack of personality it had before Loki moved in. Thor was uneasy about leaving Loki in such an ill-secured room. Once their after-action review was completed, he would need to discuss new detention arrangements with Director Fury.

Much time had passed since Thor had pushed Loki into his quarters. He came back now, words of the wizards and his companions swirling in his mind. He did not know what to think of Loki, not when so many disparate thoughts were fighting for prominence. What was true? Was Loki truly foe? Why did some of the wizards trust him so explicitly and others revile him? Why were some of his Avengers friends not trying to extract revenge from him? Did he cast some sort of spell to ensnare their hearts? If he did, why had it not captured Thor's as well?

He had suggested a more secure room for Loki, but the wizards, who had the most reason to castigate and hate Loki, did not find it necessary. And now, their leader Harry Potter was seeking parley with him. It seemed to be no mere diplomatic discussion; if Thor were to be honest with himself, it seemed that the boy wanted to...converse with Loki!

Thor closed the door behind himself and asked in a low voice, "How do you still have young Harry at your beck and call?" His brother was lounging as if he were just another passenger and not a prisoner. According to the guards stationed outside his door, he would speak to no one even though Thor had forgone the muzzle. "Tell me Loki, how? How, when you were proven to have allied yourself with his greatest foe and even killed his godfather?"

Loki had a way of chuckling that used to irritate Thor when they were younger, as if there were a secret Thor was too stupid to know. Now the low-pitched sound merely reminded him of how different Loki was from the entire, more boisterous, population of Asgard. How quiet and calculating he had been. Loki raised an eyebrow and smiled a foreign smile. "How do I still have you at my beck and call?"

Thor's hackles rose. "Brother, I have done much for you. We are going back to Asgard soon. Have you nothing to show Father for this quest of ours? Have you not grown into a better man? That I would have assumed is Harry's motivation to see you, had I not already known that you hold only contempt in your heart."

At that, Loki blinked twice and swallowed almost imperceptibly. Thor was growing to notice subtleties, but he still could not interpret them. "He has been asking for me?" Loki inquired, "How long will you keep the savior of the wizarding world waiting?"

"I would keep him away longer were it not for his world's pressing need to have him back. Fury does not believe it safe to have you speak with him, though the boy is quite stubborn."

"Not taking your delaying tactics well?" Loki said, a smile pulling at his lips. He was impossible to decipher. Even now, Thor was not sure what Loki was aiming at. Trying to understand his brother was a monumental task which Thor was not sure he was ready to attempt today.

"He was not happy," Thor settled on saying.

"A predictable child."

Thor thought he heard some fondness in that voice, but that would be inconsistent with what he had experienced these last few months. Loki, despite all of Thor's hopes and attempts to reach out to him, was an unrepentant seeker of chaos and power. When it came to this war, he had removed himself only to join the opposition and make trouble for everyone.

"What are you waiting for now, you buffoon? Send the boy in," Loki snapped. Thor didn't think Loki had always been so imperial; he remembered when the man had been much more humble and level-headed. He would garner no answers from Loki this day. As Thor went to retrieve Harry, he thought it strange that his perfect little brother had turned into the hateful creature he had just left behind.

"Why, Harry, I had no idea you had become so fond of our little bird here," Loki said under his breath when he saw the two men enter.

"Don't mind me," Clint said, hoping his casual demeanor would annoy the god. "SHIELD just didn't want you doing anything to the hero of the wizarding world." He set up a metal folding chair in the corner of the room. "Just pretend I'm not here." He relished the look of absolute loathing on Loki's face. Relished and regretted. It was weird, feeling joy at Loki's unhappiness when only a few months ago he would have commiserated with the man under the influence of the gem.

"And they think you, of all the misled Avengers, would be able to stop me? I am insulted."

Even though the words were very Loki, and sounded just as spiteful, they didn't carry the same cutting tone that Clint was used to. There was something off about him.

Harry hopped onto Loki's cot like a child in his parents' bed and leaned back against the wall. Clint had been under the impression that Harry was going to stand for this interrogation, but it didn't seem so. He was practically shoulder to shoulder with the crazy god. "Agent Barton's not a bad guy, Loki."

Well. That was surprising. Last he remembered, Harry was harboring a lot of dislike for him. And last he remembered, Loki was the bad guy.

"Regardless, he does not need to be here. It is not as if I am in the mood for killing or maiming young wizards today," Loki said bitterly. Really, if he wanted to be trusted alone in a room with Harry, he should've been less antagonistic toward everyone.

Harry inclined his head to Clint. "Er, Hawkeye?"

Clint shrugged in apology. "Sorry, kid."

At that, he saw Loki bristling, probably from the familiarity he had with Harry. Yeah, fighting side by side in battle does that to people, makes them comrades in arms. Clint made an actual effort to enjoy the scowl on Loki's face.

"I don't suppose your death has cost you the ability to cast silencing spells?" he asked Harry sarcastically.

Hurt, Harry looked at Loki with his ridiculously green eyes and then shrugged. "Well, I didn't really want to, but sure." He pulled out a straight wooden baton and brandished it.

"No knots, no light sambucus wood. Just a plain wooden grip and a plain wooden tip," Loki said, inspecting the wand with some interest. "Holly," Loki quietly continued to himself, "If I correctly remember my Midgardian flora."

Harry swished the stick—wand. "Muffliato."

"That is not the legendary wand," Loki observed aloud, looking far more relaxed than he had a second ago.

Clint tried not to stiffen when he heard Loki's voice. He could still hear their conversation? What was the spell for, if it wasn't to keep Clint out?

Harry shook his head. "No, I don't think anyone should wield that power. And I really much prefer my own wand."

Loki tensed. "What did you do with it?"

They were talking about some legendary wand. God, Clint had no idea what was going on. He didn't want them to know that he was still able to hear them, so he tried to do what Natasha would. Steel his face. Look bored. Don't look at them too intently. Well, intently enough that it looked like he was trying to read their lips, but not like he understood immediately what they were saying.

"I buried it. Anyway, that's not why I'm here."

"There is a point? And here I was, under the false impression that this was merely a social visit," Loki drawled with a smile.

Harry actually smiled in turn and punched Loki playfully. "Please, be serious."

"Oh, but I am." At that, Loki pulled away from Harry and turned, resting his back against a pillow at the head of the bed. He settled himself into that corner and then clasped his hands together on his lap. "How are you alive?" He asked seriously. Clint had the strange sensation of reading Loki's face and knowing what the man was thinking. He had been in the man's company for so long, had been his only confidant, that he recognized the disbelief in those eyes as they darted around, scanning Harry's face. Those now-dull green eyes searching frantically but held within a pale and hardly-moving face. "How?" Loki whispered.

Even that Clint could hear clearly.

Then, there was a really long, really uncomfortable silence. Clint almost thought that the spell had just gone into effect until Harry cleared his throat. Clint congratulated himself for not reacting at the sudden sound.

"I...It's weird. I'm not sure I was actually ever dead. I thought I was," Harry confessed.

Clint stiffened. Harry had told SHIELD that he had successfully faked his death. Naturally, they didn't want to believe him—didn't want to admit that such a difficult enemy could be that stupid—but they had no other option. The alternative was that Voldemort knew Harry was alive, and that was impractical. No one actually thought he had died and come back. That was, nobody except Fury, who always eyed everyone with suspicion and who had the biggest imagination out of all of them.

"You were," Loki said with certainty. Clint didn't know how he could be so certain. "What happened?" Loki probed. There was a hungry yearning in his gaze now, a desperation to know. Clint was facing the man, but it seemed he was sparing no attention for the archer. His attention was only on Harry.

The boy crossed his arms and sunk into the bed with bad posture. "I might have imagined it. I thought I met Dumbledore…" He paused and glanced over at Loki very quickly.

"Anything more?"

"...and Death herself."

Clint clenched his hands against the chair, but thankfully neither of the other men noticed since they were so focused on each other. Loki, for all of his arrogance, seemed stricken by the words.

"Probably a dream. The mind does strange things when it is cut off…" Loki tried to reason, his voice quickening ever so slightly. If he was trying not to seem alarmed, he wasn't very successful, judging by his hands as they alternatingly tensed and relaxed, tensed and relaxed.

"Then tell me, how I do I know about your debt to her servant?"

If it was possible, Loki grew even paler.

"She told you of a debt?" he repeated, seeking clarification.

"Yeah, to her servant. She implied that you were only here because of me, that your debt only existed because you didn't do what her servant wanted you to. So…does that sound right? Was it real?"

This was not Clint's area of expertise, and it didn't seem like it was Loki's either. He was frozen in place as his eyes, unwilling to look at Harry so directly, bore into the opposite wall.

"I would beg, that is, I should hope that it be…not the truth—" Loki said breathlessly before he paused. "You must have been delirious," he ended quickly. His shoulders were moving up and down almost noticeably to the average viewer, but his breathing a little more rapid than normal. Clint could tell that he was in denial. It was only too obvious, from Loki's stiffness to his inability to craft an effortless sentence. He must have been in a bad state if he was unable to mask his distress.

Harry didn't seem to come to the same conclusions, since he turned to his right and beseeched him directly. "Loki, tell me it was real. Please, it has to've been real."

The air was suddenly suffocating. Clint was tempted to shoot up from his chair and protect Harry even though Loki had not moved, had not made one threatening gesture. Tense, Loki sat still and, shaking only the slightest bit, demanded an answer from Harry: "Why?" If the silencing spell-thingy had worked, Clint probably wouldn't have really noticed a difference in Loki's demeanor, but he was calm now. The minute differences had worked their way back to homeostasis, and he appeared as composed as ever. He must have noticed his own escalating consternation.

Loki demanded further, "Why would you want such a terrible experience to have actually passed? Meeting Lady Death? She was no comfort to me though I was so close as to have seen her bone-white face more times than I can count! I demand to know why you would wish for such a travesty to be real."

"Because!" shouted Harry. His voice was tremulous and choked up, though Clint hadn't noticed that Harry was growing stressed as well. "Because then it would be worth it. Because killing Voldemort the way I did would have meant something." Harry was upset, but was also handling it pretty well, all things considered.

Clint could almost hear the gears whirring in Loki's head. He was doing that thing he often did when his mind was going a mile a minute and he didn't want it to seem like it: his eyes stared unblinkingly, his eyebrows creased just the slightest bit, but he wasn't focused on Harry or on Clint, not even on the far wall. If Clint knew him the slightest bit, Loki wasn't focused on anything but his own rapid thoughts.

"What could you have done otherwise?" Loki questioned him, hardly moving at all.

"I certainly would have given him a chance," Harry confessed guiltily. "I- I would've told him everything, and I wouldn't have used the killing curse. You know, people have congratulated me. For using an Unforgivable Curse!"

"He was an ant. The world is better off—"

"Maybe I'm being selfish. You're right, the world is better off. I just can't help feeling that dying for the world was easier than killing for it." Harry put his head in his hands. "But Loki, she showed me…she showed me your death. And she told me about your debt, and I owe so much to you. So I did it."

There was something troubled in Loki's mien. Then suddenly, his lips thinned and he stilled in his whole body. "Had you never met me, you would not have been put in such a place," Loki concluded breathlessly and bitterly, coming upon the new realization with humor...or horror, Clint couldn't quite tell.

Harry took Loki's hands in his own and squeezed. "Loki, if I never met are the only person I've ever met who put me, and just me, not the world, not the greater good, before everything else. And I need you again, Loki, I need you to stick around and help me through this. I thought you were going to stay after all this." Harry was picking up speed and volume as he continued in excitement: "Tell the Avengers everything, let them know what actually happened. I'll need your help to get through this, because Loki, I'm falling apart, and I don't know what to do when I have another person's blood on my hands! I need help. How did you deal with the guilt of killing someone?"

Another long silence ensued. Well, maybe it wasn't that long. It felt long to Clint, but in reality, it must have only been a second.

"You are a fool," Loki stated. It seemed the whole world stopped when he coldly looked Harry in the eye and continued. "You have become a murderer on my behalf, and you have so little to show for it." Loki ripped his hands from Harry's grip. "There is no guilt, dear Harry. Not on my part, not for deeds perpetrated under a hand that so willed it."

Harry slowly pulled his hands back to hug himself but didn't take his eyes off the god. "You're lying," Harry accused him. "You probably didn't know, Loki, but I saw you talking to Voldemort, and I saw you and him talking about the blue. And Loki, I should've paid more attention, but I get it now. You didn't want to take over New York! You didn't want to do any of that, and you shouldn't be held responsible for your actions. If you tell them, you can stay here. With me. In a world that values your magic!"

Loki smiled. "Ah, Harry. Young, inexperienced Harry. I am not noble, nor good," he spat. "I performed those actions, and there is little guilt over it. And that," he said, nodding toward Clint, "is what makes the difference between heroes and villains. They have so much to erase from their ledgers, and I have no less. But I do not want to. The mind that chose those actions is the mind I have now, and the will that chose death over life, destruction over peace, is my own present will. Harry, I may have a soft spot for you, but do not think that it makes me a good man. Never will I concede my pride, my dignity!—to appease those well-meant, infantile, fools."

It looked like Harry was going to argue as his shoulders reared back, but Loki continued his invective, slowly pushing himself up from his lazy dependence against the wall.

"Let me teach you a few things that I have learned from a long life. You form yourself. Every choice you make has bearing on the person you become. While Thor was on Midgard—before anyone controlled my thoughts—I decided that the preservation of Asgard and glorifying myself was more important than the lives of monsters and mortals. When I was under the blue spell, I decided that my own life was worth more than the lives of those eighty, that my own comfort was more important than the life of Phil Coulson." At this, Loki spared a quick glance and smirk at Clint. "And in the course of the past few months, I have consistently put my own wants—locating you, having your respect, having you alive—before the good of anyone else. And dear Harry, there are no regrets. My decisions are made, and all that is left to me is my autonomy and self-satisfaction. And never shall I compromise them in order to gain—what? My freedom? Forgiveness? They are nothing. Now, Harry, do you see me as I am, and do you accept such a monster?"

At this point, Loki was leaning forward, his nose an inch away from Harry, so close that Clint couldn't see the two of them entirely clearly.

Harry didn't move for a long while. "I see you," he said slowly, backing away, "and I see that you won't be satisfied even then, Loki. It's just not in your nature. You think clinging to your pride will make you happy? You know a throne won't. You know rotting away in some prison cell won't."

Loki reared back and spoke with venom, "Do not doubt me. In every instance, I would take languishing in an Asgardian dungeon over repentance, over retreat."

"Listen, Loki. You're just thinking this way because you don't want to acknowledge that the Chitauri had you under their control. You want to take responsibility for all of it because you're scared it would mean that you had lost control of yourself, that you can even be controlled—"

"You dare speculate on me!" he roared and, planting his feet firmly on the ground, stood up from the bed to get a height advantage over the boy. "You dare to presume what I fear, how my mind works! I am my own man. Leave me!"

Things were escalating too quickly, Clint worried.

Harry reached out. "Loki—"

"Remove your odious self from presence," Loki was raising an arm, "or I will not be held responsible for my actions—"

Clint dashed over to them and pinned Loki roughly against the wall. He glanced back at the boy who was gazing at Loki with wide sad eyes. "Harry, you better get out now. Head back to the control room," he instructed. When Harry didn't move, Clint heaved an exasperated sigh. "C'mon, you can talk to him later," Clint lied. No way would SHIELD allow them to meet again, not after this altercation. Harry's gaze lingered for a while before he sighed, slid off the bed, and walked toward the door.

"Don't hurt him," Harry said before he closed the heavy metal door behind him.

Clint released his hold on Loki, allowing the man to sink to the floor. After a beat, Loki slowly pulled himself up to a standing position, only for his face to meet the worn leather of Clint's glove.


"You are such an asshole!" Barton said as he shoved his glove back on and stretched his fingers in it. He smirked to himself as Loki rubbed his reddening cheek. "Look, that kid looks up to you for some reason—"

"Unfathomable, really," he muttered.

"—He doesn't have anyone else, and you just throw him away like all the other adults in his damned depressing life."

"He was better off without me," he said, taking his place back on the bed. "Without having to choose between me and the well-being of his own soul. Choice informs character. And now he's a man with blood on his hands." Again, with the same logic he tried to use earlier.

"It's not his fault, and you shouldn't let him think that," Clint spat, appalled at Loki's rationale.

Loki narrowed his eyes at him. "Were you listening?"

"No, I'm just perceptive," he lied. He couldn't tell if Loki was convinced. The man simply turned over as if he were readying himself for sleep.

"You'd best be leaving, Agent Barton. Harry will need you."

Clint hovered there for a few seconds, staring at Loki's unmoving back. Clint could hardly tell he was breathing, he was so still. "Do you really think Harry's a murderer now, because of that one decision he made? A decision you say he made for you?" he asked, phrasing the question so that it seemed he was only working off of partial information.

He could see Loki's shoulder muscles tense. The man's muffled voice echoed quietly: "Does one murder a murderer make? Or one cruel act, a monster make? All it takes is one, little Hawk."

Clint didn't know how to respond. The air felt too cold, and the room too small. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You need to think some more on that. Cause when I see Harry, I don't see a murderer. I see a kid. And I bet somewhere in your twisted mind, you see a lost kid too." Clint removed himself from the cell before he could really get angry at Loki. To his surprise, Harry was right outside the door and hadn't made his own way back to the control room.

"Did you hear anything good while we were talking?" Harry asked, walking down the hallway they had come from.

Clint felt a bit guiltier about lying to Harry, but he had to do what he had to do. "Naw. Your spell—"

"Only works on physical barriers when I cast it. I'm not too great at that one. You should've been able to hear everything, even if the room's microphones didn't." Harry turned around and smiled brightly at him. "You know just as well as I do that there's more to Loki's actions than SHIELD thinks. Than even Loki says he thinks."

"What do you want me to do about it?" he asked at a loss. Yeah, Harry had made interesting points, but he couldn't prove any of them and Loki was only too willing to take the incrimination.

Harry shrugged. "Doesn't seem you can do anything. It looks like Loki wants to get away from here anyway. Don't know why, but there's always something up with Loki." The boy looked at Clint with that radiant smile. "I'm not letting him get me down." That must be a lie. Clint couldn't find any physical hint that Harry was prevaricating, but a person couldn't come out of that conversation without being a little depressed.

Clint had no idea why Loki would push away a kid like Harry. He was nice, he was obviously good at defending himself, and he had unshakable faith in people. It was refreshing when Clint was so used to double-dealing and suspecting his fellow agents of plots. He decided he'd go along with Harry's lie. "You better not let him get you down. You know he's lying to himself. And to you. You shouldn't feel guilty about that Voldemort guy," he said with conviction.

"No?" Harry asked kind of airily. "I killed him. I wanted to do it. I willed it. How's it not what Loki said?"

Oh great, so Loki's words did actually get to him. Clint huffed. "Self defense? You British gotta have that concept."

Harry crossed his arms. "Yeah, but this is different. I wouldn't have done it that way...with the killing curse...just to save myself, or even the world. I did it to save Loki."

"Save him from what?" Clint asked, exasperated, and not seeing how that was any different.

At that moment, the speakers blared and Maria Hill's voice rang throughout the helicarrier, "Paging Hawkeye and Potter. Paging Hawkeye and Potter." That would be Fury calling for them.

"Okay, you know what? Let's get you back to your wizard friends, and you can call me up tomorrow so we can have a real talk about this. Seriously, kid, here's my number. Wizards do know how to use telephones, right?" He scribbled down seven numbers and put the scrap of paper into Harry's hand. "Use that, alright?"

Harry nodded dumbly and folded the paper in half. He slid it into his pocket right behind his wand and looked Clint in the eye. "You know I won't tell you everything," he said, referring to Clint's inquiry before the speakers had distracted them.

"You don't have to. But you can bounce ideas off of me, and maybe I can help you out."

At that, Harry sighed and smiled. "Sure. You've killed someone before, right?" he asked, as if it were a normal question.

Clint didn't look back at Harry, but continued on his way to report to Fury. "Yeah. Which is why I think I might know what you're going through."

"Okay, then," Harry said simply. "Thanks."

Severus Snape was sitting in a straight-backed chair and staring into his fireplace when Loki came to visit him. The air didn't shift in the slightest, but Loki's baritone voice interrupted the calm. "Greetings."

He didn't pull his gaze away, instead sipping away at his tea. "How are you here?" he asked the supposedly incarcerated man.

"Magic," Loki responded. Severus looked up to see the man flicker once. Ah, so it was an illusion of some sort.

"Right then. Why are you here?" Snape asked, somewhat impatient now.

Loki shrugged, a most unbecoming gesture. "My cell is boring and I have few visitors. You said you sent me books, but I have yet to receive them," he said lazily. The illusion lowered itself onto Severus' favorite reading chair and put his feet on Severus' antique coffee table. Intellectually, he knew that the man's boots were not dirtying his table, but he still didn't like that they were on his coffee table.

"Be patient about the books. And visit Potter instead. He would probably enjoy your company more than I," he grumbled. The illusory Loki sank into the chair, crossed his arms, and looked away. There was a troubled frown on his face.

"Ah, I see," Severus said, alighting on the truth. "You left on bad terms?"

"I did so deliberately."

Severus smirked. "So you drove him away. Bravo," he said, dragging the syllables of the word out. "I've been trying to get rid of him for seven years." He took a long sip of his tea and laid the cup on its saucer. He pulled out his wand and conjured a silver streak which flew through the stone walls, sent on some mission. At Loki's inquiring eyebrow, Severus shrugged. "I require a House Elf to retrieve the tea set."

Loki nodded and continued their conversation. "It was for the best." Severus had definitely heard that reasoning before. "He has become a murderer because of me, and now he will have to deal with the red on his ledger."

Severus hadn't even considered that. "You will not help him handle it?"

Loki shook his head. "I am not qualified. He has others, like the Hawk, like you." Severus snorted. "No, you are. Your ledger is so deliciously red, and yet no one truly blames you for your crimes now. You understand necessity, and you could teach him to handle his inexplicable guilt."

Severus cast a reheating spell on his tea. "Why not you?"

The fake Loki was quiet for a long while. Severus expected him to deny ever feeling guilt, to say that he could not sympathize with Potter. Then, finally, the illusion silently shifted in the chair and spoke. "I will not always be there for him. I cannot. Although I am free of my debts, there is a greater evil approaching, and I must tend to that. Like all of the others in his life, I will have to put this concern before him. It is best I ready him for the separation."

"You know I have little patience," Severus began. "Now that I know that you are responsible for Potter's malaise, I must insist you cease your idiocy."

Loki's eyes narrowed at him. "Idiocy? I will allow you to recant that, lest you regret it."

"Thank you, but I don't think I shall," Severus said, taking another sip. "You're a romantic idiot. Or a noble one. Regardless, you're an idiot."

"Explain." Well, at least he hadn't attacked him.

Severus let him stew in anger for a few minutes while he pulled a tray of biscuits from his oven. He offered the tray to the illusion who scoffed and passed an incorporeal hand through them. Severus shrugged and took his seat. "How do you think you're doing him good?"

"Leaving him to live his life with better role models. Letting him forget about me."

Severus nodded to show that he was listening. "Ah, so abandoning him?"

The illusion was growing frustrated. "It's for his own good!"

"Of course. Naturally," Severus drawled, not bothering to remove the sarcasm from his voice. "Do you enjoy seeing him miserable? I must admit, I was never able to exact this kind of melancholy from him. I'm jealous."

Loki swept a hand through his hair and made an exasperated sound. "Get to the point."

Severus leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "You think he'll be happier without you around, when in reality, he mourns for you and worries over you. He wonders if your people have executed you, if you've escaped. He's even plotted with that Granger girl how he would go about rescuing you from their Asgardian clutches."

"Ugh," the fake Loki groaned in a very un-Loki-like way. Severus had never seen him so uncouth. Loki put a hand to his head. "Will that boy never learn to think?"

"He could use a few lessons from you."

"Or you!"

Severus hmph'ed and leaned back into his chair. "I'm just his professor, nothing more."

Suddenly, there was a rhythmic knock on the door. "Professor!" called a familiar voice.

"Nothing more?" inquired the illusion nastily.

"Nothing more," he said, waving a hand to open the door.

"Professor, I saw your patronus, but it didn't have a message. Is everything alright?" Potter asked breathlessly as he reluctantly stood beneath the doorpost. He should have been able to see the Loki illusion. Severus certainly could still see the man stewing.

"Take a seat, I had to speak with you."

Potter appeared wary as he lowered himself onto the same chair that Loki's illusion was occupying. The copy phased through the boy and moved so that he was standing behind Severus' chair. He didn't much like the feeling of the ghostly man looming behind him, but it couldn't be helped without alerting the boy to Loki's presence.

"What's this about, Sna...sir?"

Severus bristled. The boy was still so accustomed to disrespecting him. "Shacklebolt tells me you turned down his offer to join the Aurors? You've been moping about this castle long enough, it's high time you move on with your life."

Potter seemed to grind his teeth before asking, "What business is it of yours, sir?" He was still trying to maintain a veneer of civility. Severus would give him that.

"Your friend Loki entrusted your safety to me," he answered, giving him the unaltered truth. At those words, Potter slumped as if the taut line keeping him upright had snapped.

"Sure. Sure he did," Harry intoned. "Is that it? Fine. I'll accept Shacklebolt's offer if it'll get everyone off my back," Potter said, dropping his pretense of respect. The illusory Loki swept over to Potter and knelt at his side. The man looked up at the boy, searching for something.

Severus shook his head. "I suppose that is all. How are things going with that muggle? Birdbrain, was his name?"

Potter snorted. "Hawkeye is doing well. We've been talking, hanging out. It's nice, but it's not...I guess, I don't know." The boy looked frustrated and tired. "He gets called away a lot. I just wish I knew what was going on with Loki, since apparently he's on speaking terms with you." He glanced up at Snape and then back to the stone floor. Ah, jealousy! It had been a long time since anyone had been jealous of Severus Snape. He didn't wallow in the feeling for too long before he realized this was not something a grown man should enjoy. He kneaded his temple with one hand.

"Loki is doing what he thinks is best for you," Severus said, repeating Loki almost verbatim.

"Best for me? Good to see he's taken up Dumbledore's cause and method. You'd think he would be concerned for, I don't know, my happiness? My welfare? Friends don't treat friends like he's treated me."

The Loki illusion placed an ethereal hand on Harry's, but it could only hover in imitation of touch. Harry stood up, once again going through the ghost-like man.

"Let me know if Loki ever wants to see me. I mean, I don't think our friendship was just in my imagination, but for all I know, he's happier without me. If that's it, Snape, I'll be going." With that, Harry closed the door behind him. Severus watched Loki's doppelganger flop into the chair. He looked up at Severus through his long dark fringe.

"I see," he said. "I thought he would have moved on." He looked up at Severus beseechingly. "I should never have let him become so attached." Loki paced around the room. "He was supposed to be happy. To have gotten rid of me. Why is he still so...attached?"

"Merlin knows what he sees in you. Perhaps idiots like being in the company of other idiots?" Severus suggested.

At this, Loki leaned forward and put his ghostly palms on the low table. He looked up to Severus with a wretched look upon his face. "Do you honestly think I enjoy hurting him? Tell me, in all your wisdom, what is the better course of action? To let him say, 'good riddance to bad friends!' and move on with his life or to allow him closer to me, only that he may more effectively grieve over my death?"

Loki was being melodramatic. His death? Really? Severus swirled his tea. "Which would you prefer if you were he?"

Loki furrowed his brow. The illusion stood up and nodded. "Thank you for your counsel, Severus. I will return at some point."

Well, apparently his words had had some effect. Severus couldn't tell what Loki had decided, but it was out of his hands. All he could do now was open up the latest Potions Quarterly Journal and peruse the articles. He was sure that in time, he would see the fruit of Loki's choice.

Edited 1/20/15. I hope you enjoyed the chapter. There's a lot of talk in here about morality (a result of taking a Bioethics course. It's quite interesting) and autonomy. I hope you remember that earlier, Harry felt that he had a duty to do good when he could do it; I'd argue that Loki is starting to understand that idea. Note that this chapter doesn't have Loki's perspective at all, only other other characters watching him.