Chapter 22: I Open at the Close
Loki awoke. He kept himself entirely still, save for his slow, steady breaths. His eyes remained closed as he soaked himself in the smells and sounds of his surroundings. Ah, the harmonic humming of magic. The air was clean, but a strange scent of old vinegar lingered. He heard the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of boots or shoes along the ancient stones, as they slowly, softly faded away. Beneath his hair was a feathery sham, and 'neath his fingers were soft, silky Vanaheim sheets. Imported, he thought, likely at a high price long ago, since the tariff on silk products was so high now…
It was as if he were wrapped in these same sheets, but in his oversized bed in his too large room, with the fire crackling quietly against the cheerful chirps and trills of skylarks in the morning. Or perhaps he was camping out with his comrades-Thor, Sif, Hogun-on a distant realm, the taste of freshly roasted boar still on his tongue. Or maybe those were all old memories, and he was merely napping in Shell Cottage, his nose picking up the scent of Fleur's cooking-a pie of some sort, apples and cinnamon. He tried to imagine that smell again, inhaling as he once had…
But the acidic odor of vinegar invaded his senses, and he sputtered to full awareness.
And here he was, back in his cell. Loki sighed, knowing that his imaginary world would have to wait until the next night when he could dream again. Looking lazily at his accommodations, he had to concede that this prison was significantly nicer than the one he had last when he was held in Asgard. There was no viper, and he even had some lovely furniture. A chair here, a desk, a bed...it was all very princely. The council and Odin were still arguing over Loki's fate, as firstly, Thor had no conclusive proof that Loki had changed for the better and secondly, the council was populated by stubborn old men. He wondered if Odin believed the stories of his exploits on Midgard. Perhaps that was why he was allowed books that were more interesting as well.
With a soft smile, he ran a finger over the spine of a favored Midgardian book. On the inside cover were a few words: "I will endeavor to 'keep up,' as you put it, so long as you do the same. You might find these lives familiar, as some of these men are just as villainous, just as proud, and just as insufferable as you are. Sincerely, Severus Snape." Loki returned the large tome-for it was really two volumes in one book-to his table and picked up another he had been reading.
He would often find himself sitting against the wall of the room with a book on Midgardian magic. The one in his hands at the moment was about the history of Harry's school, Hogwarts. It was fascinating.
He wondered what limitation applied to him in the castle: if he could find all the magic rooms just by sensing the vibrations, or if he could teleport within Hogwarts. He regretted that he never thought to try it. It was a different kind of magic from the wizards' apparition, and if he dared, he would liken it to the house elves' magic. He scoffed since comparing himself to such low creatures-
The thought gave him pause.
Well, there was the honorable elf, Dobby.
Loki laid the book on his nightstand and let his hands rest over his chest. He could compare himself to Dobby, he compromised with himself. That elf had been both innovative and mischievous, two qualities Loki held in high esteem. Moreover, he had earned Harry's respect, and that meant quite a bit. Speaking of Harry...
He was allowed full reign of his magic here, another allowance from Odin that Loki thought suspicious. He projected himself onto Midgard and watched. He explored the realm as a phantom, watching SHIELD, observing the Avengers, guarding Harry.
The boy looked...tired. Harry was walking through life without the vigor of a young man. If this were anyone else, Loki would have told him to suck it up and get over it. But this was Harry. Every time he looked in on the boy, he seemed to become less energetic and more temperamental. He himself remembered the long stifling days in Asgard when his friends could not understand his unhappiness and when the only person whose regard he wanted ignored him. Frustrated, Loki came back to himself. Shutting himself from Harry's life was doing neither of them good. He put his head in his hands and took a few long, steady breaths. Perhaps it was time to end this.
Loki found the boy sitting in a mortal vehicle parked on the side of the road. The boy's eyes were on a house across the street from him, an unremarkable house that bore features identical to the houses on either side of it. The roofing was a dull brown color, and the house itself a sickly pink offset only by a rich, mahogany door. On it was a proud brass number "4." It was this house that so enraptured the boy.
Loki let himself materialize a bit more in the passenger's seat.
Sparing Loki only the slightest of glances, Harry returned his gaze to the house. "Oh, you're here," Harry said stiffly.
"What is the importance of this house? This is the third time this week you have held vigil."
Harry ignored him and turned the key in the ignition. He put the vehicle into drive and inched forward a few feet. He put it back into park, but barely a second passed before he shook his head, put it into drive again, and zoomed down the road. Loki had to move his ghostly illusion with the car, but occasionally phased through the glove compartment or his seat due to Harry's erratic driving. Keeping his eyes mostly on the road, Harry started, "I don't know." He accelerated through the residential street onto a wider road. "I shouldn't care." He braked due to traffic and slammed a hand on the horn. "I shouldn't have gone there, but I want...I don't know what I want. Why are you here?" He turned off the main road down a pothole-pocked path.
Loki found this Harry unsettling. Unsettling and wrong.
"I have been watching you."
"Obviously, since you said that's the third time you've seen me parked in front of the Dursleys," Harry said, followed by a self-conscious cough and a sideward glance.
Loki had not been in such a position in a long while. Regret was something he often felt, but remorse? To be sorry in the fullest sense, and to admit it? Such concepts were long foreign to him. He probably had not sincerely apologized since he was a child who believed that being sorry could actually fix things. Now he knew better, having grown and matured within the stifling walls of Asgard. An apology was not only a sign of admitting wrong, but a sign of weakness.
But this was not Asgard, this was Midgard and Harry was sitting beside him. It tore at his pride, but he could not leave things as they were. If he was going to reconcile with Harry, then he had better do it correctly and soon.
He took a breath and steeled himself. "I was given advice that perhaps cutting you off was not the best idea-" He didn't mean to sound flippant, but it seemed to come off that way.
Loki knew Harry had a temper, but it still surprised him when the car screeched to a halt on the shoulder of a long stretch of road and Harry turned in his seat to face the ghost properly. "Not the best idea? I thought you were just being proud. I thought, for some crazy reason, that you had to return home. And then, I told myself it was because you couldn't visit. I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Then lo' and behold, you visit Snape of all people. Snape! There I was worrying about you and scheming with Hermione on how to get to Asgard, and you were just living your life on your damn perfect planet with barely a thought for me."
It looked bad, Loki had to concede. "I thought Severus and Agent Barton would look after you." Even to Loki, it sounded like a weak excuse.
At that, Harry's face scrunched up into something unattractive and hateful. He schooled it but a moment later with an apathetic frown, but Loki was the god of lies. He could still see the anger there, and he could not for the life of him understand why there was so much wrath.
"You left me," Harry said simply. The damage he had done was starting to dawn on Loki. Harry started the car again and maneuvered it back onto the road. "You left like everyone else did, but they had no choice. You ditched me because you wanted to. You're just like them," Harry said, gripping the steering wheel tightly. Loki would bet his head that the boy was thinking of his nonmagical relatives.
So, he was being compared to them, to those lowlifes who had barely provided for the child who had come to them as a malleable infant? Loki was greatly tempted to quit trying right then. To be compared in such a way! It was the greatest insult! They had been given a chance to give him proper nutrition, shelter and love, and had failed in all three. And Loki, who had been charged with only one,-
...seemed to have failed as well.
This entire encounter was foreign to Loki. How had he not seen this kind of reaction? "I now see that was a mistake." Harry let out a loud, 'Ha!' "But I only wanted to protect you. And as I said, you had Agent Barton, and Severus Snape-"
"It's not the same." Harry took a deep breath and conceded, "Maybe I'm just being greedy."
Loki imagined that the last thought was one that a younger Harry had to think to himself often. It was unfair, how hard Harry's life was. Enough. It seemed only the truth could salvage the situation, to convince Harry that Loki really was working for the boy's good. As he argued with himself over how to introduce the topic and how to soften the blow, he heard Harry's voice.
"What could you possibly be protecting me from?" Harry finally asked.
Ah, the right question. This was the conversation he had been trying to avoid by cutting Harry out of his life. Loki steeled himself. The time for answers was now. "I will die," Loki said without preamble.
"Yeah? Well so will I," Harry rejoindered coldly.
Loki allowed himself a deep chuckle before adopting a more serious mien. "My death is sooner, I fear. At least, I shall be put in great danger. And I will not miraculously resurrect myself."
At that, Harry peered at him between his observation of the cars around them. "What? But Voldemort's gone, and I cleared your debt." It seemed Harry had forgotten his anger for the time being. Loki suspected this would have been easier for him if Harry were still angry. At least then he could delude himself with the thought that the boy was being unreasonable.
"Yes, you have, albeit with far too heavy a price. Yet I cannot let things lie as they are. Things beyond your imagination are endangering this world, and indeed all worlds." Loki looked over to Harry and studied his face, his hooded green eyes. "If I can do something to stop it, I may have to. Just as you were determined to stop Voldemort."
Loki examined the young man, looking for any tells as to how he was taking the new information. He looked stricken, just as Loki predicted. How to soften the blow? Flattery, perhaps. "What made you extraordinary, Harry, what made you and your friends so incredibly unfathomable, was your tenacity and drive to do what was best. Although I never outright called your unselfishness idiocy-"
"Actually, I think you did."
"-I always thought so. Perhaps you were right in a way, though. There is danger looming, and I know I can do something. If nothing else, I must preserve your life." Harry did not answer. Taking a steadying breath, Loki added, "Though I might be lost from this, I ask that you not grieve over me."
Finally, Harry pulled the vehicle into a parking space. He unbuckled himself and disembarked, closing the door softly. Loki's projection followed him directly, not bothering with the pretense of doors. It wasn't as if anyone else could see him.
Loki looked at their surroundings. Curious. Harry walked over to a swingset and took a swing for himself. With his hands gripping the chains tightly, Harry asked, "How can I help?"
Oh, Harry. Loki took the one beside him, but he could not get the swing to move in this form. Harry twisted and turned in the swing, but Loki merely sat. "You cannot. At least, not at this point. Perhaps later I might call upon your help, but know that you will not be obligated to fight for me."
Harry nodded. "But I'll want to. How long do you have?"
Loki shrugged. "It will depend. Maybe five Midgardian years? Maybe more. Certainly, you will be able to tell by the increasing chaos. He's still out there, and I have an idea for stopping Him."
Loki looked off into the distance. A stretch of beige houses lined the street, and beyond that were some hills. The clouds were drifting lazily through the gray-blue sky, only slightly obscuring the sun's light. All this would be destroyed if he sat complacently and did nothing. "He calls himself Thanos."
It had taken a few months to repair the school but it would take much longer to repair the damage done to wizarding society. Shacklebolt had enacted some heavy austerity laws until things were up and running again, so the day's occasion was the first time in a while that Harry had seen such grand festivities.
"Loki, how are you doing? You look healthy."
It was no surprise now to see the translucent man popping in on random occasions. This was not the best time, however, since Shacklebolt's inauguration drew such a large crowd. Despite his timing, it was comforting that Loki could visit whenever he wanted. The Avengers (excepting Agent Barton) never visited Hogwarts at all, except for the occasional social call to speak with the Minister of Magic or the new head of STRIKE. The British organization was getting itself up and running with the help of SHIELD and some of their agents, but until it was at full capacity, Shacklebolt wasn't entrusting any magical intel with them. All of their old documents were destroyed without a trace. As far as the documents of SHIELD and STRIKE knew, the magical community was merely an elaborate fairytale.
Loki shrugged. "I am fed well and I get some exercise, if that was your inquiry."
Well, that wasn't the full extent of the greeting, but Harry was okay with that.
"Have you had the opportunity to read the one I suggested last time?" drawled a voice. Harry would still never be used to Snape hanging around, even if he was less of an insufferable git now that he was teaching Defense full-time. How he was exactly in the right location to see Loki, Harry didn't know.
"Pompey, you mean?" Loki asked. Harry had no idea what they were talking about, but Snape nodded slowly.
"I thought it appropriate. You remind me of him."
Loki rolled his eyes. "He was constrained by the limits of his society. I would have thought myself more like Caesar." Loki smiled a devilish smile. "While Pompey only cared about the known world, Caesar looked beyond their rules, beyond their borders and toward the land theretofore undiscovered."
"And destroyed the Republic," Snape reminded him. Okay, so Harry finally figured they were talking about Rome.
Loki shrugged and sighed. "It was the price for stability. He made a decision, one that not everyone liked but was necessary for the continued survival of the city."
"And you think that the Republic would not have-"
"Please, Professor," Harry interrupted before they could really get into a heated argument, "I think the others would like a chance to speak with Loki. I'm gonna pull Hermione and Ron over."
"Oh, not those heathens," Snape said with an exaggerated sigh. "Then I will bid you good day, Loki. Consider reading Alcibiades and the corresponding parallel life. I think you'll find something familiar in him as well." With that, Snape swept away before Loki could respond.
Harry smiled with relief and grabbed a woman's sleeve. "Hermione, look who stopped by!"
She excused herself from a conversation and turned to Harry. "What could possibly-" Loki allowed her to see his projection. "Oh! Loki, you've returned?" To Harry, she whispered, "I'm sorry, I heard Professor Snape over here and I assumed you were just having a row again."
"A mere projection," Loki answered her question. "Harry is quite familiar with them. Anyway, I have been reading a peculiar book, and I wished to know if you had read it yourself."
Harry sighed as her eyes lit up with enthusiasm. He had hoped for conversation he could appreciate, but it was back to books again. "Oh, yes? What's the title?" It seemed the subject of conversation would remain on books for a while more, much to Harry's annoyance.
Loki imagined the book in his hand and it shimmered into his hologram. "Hogwarts: A History."
Oh dear, Harry thought.
"Oh!" she squealed, "That's my favorite book! I do hope you're enjoying it, it just has so many little details, and all these little features you wouldn't imagine could fit inside a castle. How far have you gotten?"
Rather than overwhelmed by her gushing, Loki looked energized. "Only to the turn of the eighteenth century. Tell me, is there a later chapter dedicated exclusively to your elves, or did they not start serving the school until later? I would have thought them an old, integral part of the castle, for how close they were to her."
Her, meaning the school. Harry would never get used to Loki referring to the school as a 'she.'
Hermione's eyes widened. "You noticed too! The book simply glosses over the house elves and make absolutely no mention of all the work they do. I've written the author, and she still hasn't gotten back to me."
Loki nodded with her. "Yes, an updated version is sorely needed. No doubt she will wish to include recent events. I suppose a first-hand account would be worth quite a bit, eh?" he asked, nudging his translucent elbow against her side.
Hermione's smile grew. "Absolutely."
"Oi, lovebirds," Ron said, walking straight through Loki. "I can tell you're talking to him. Let me say hi!" he demanded with a bright grin.
At that, Loki allowed his illusion to be seen by the redhead as well.
"Whoops, sorry mate. Didn't mean to get all up in your personal space," Ron said, taking a step away from the illusion. "So what're you up to now?"
On many occasions, Loki had told them how bored he was. Harry suggested he go outside, go looking for adventure in another realm, but Loki didn't seem too eager to leave Asgard or even his room. Harry worried that he was spending too much time cooped up in one place with his books and his loneliness. Hopefully his now periodic visits were relieving that solitariness since he was completely against the idea of spending time with the Asgardians.
Loki shrugged. "This and that. Studying, mostly. Writing. Under a pseudonym, of course. Despite my miserly self-isolation, my books have been highly sought after, both here and in Asgard."
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Serrure des Dieux?"
At Loki's coy smile, she laughed out loud. "I knew it! It was too corny to be a real name, and the author's biography was as silly as they come," she said confidently.
"Care to let us in on the joke?" Harry asked, more than a little put out. He was sure Loki was there to see him, not to chat about books the whole time.
"Lock of the gods," Hermione translated effortlessly. "Though I imagine you chose Serrure because the english sounded like your real name?"
Loki smirked. "Yes. As always, you are a sharp one, Miss Granger."
"Actually…" Hermione started, blushing. She held up her left hand to reveal a very small, but very recognizable precious stone.
"Rather, the soon-to-be Mrs Weasley?" Loki asked with a smirk. He turned to Ron and pat him on the back. His hand didn't really make contact with Ron's robes, but it was the gesture that mattered. "Finally got around to it, did you?"
Ron grew quite red, his blush spreading all the way to his ears. "Yeah, yeah I did. It's going to be a long engagement though. You know how Hermione's finishing her last year at Hogwarts. I've already saved up quite a bit. You'll be at the wedding, yeah?"
"It is a hard question," Loki said, putting a thoughtful finger to his bottom lip. "As things are, I am still conducting research and it might be difficult to leave this realm for an extended amount of time. War may be coming upon Asgard soon."
Hermione frowned. "I hope that turns out well. You could at least come like this? The Avengers wouldn't mind you coming down here, would they?"
"I have been keeping a loose eye on their activities. They are all so distracted by their petty lives that they will not even bat an eye at my travels. It is to everyone's benefit that your files have not been shared with these so-called 'intelligence' agencies. There are strange things afoot within SHIELD, but I have yet to investigate fully."
Ron put a comforting arm around Hermione and looked up at Loki. "Something's off?" he asked.
"We shall see. If I may have a word with Harry in particular…"
"Oh, of course! How selfish of us," Hermione said, willing to end the ominous conversation. "Let's go, Ron. I'm sure they'd like to catch up."
Finally! Harry led Loki over to a less busy area along the forest line. It was strange to imagine that only a few months ago, they had fought and emerged victorious over Voldemort on these same grounds.
"So, er, what's up?" Harry asked lamely.
Instead of raising an eyebrow in derision or scoffing at Harry's lack of eloquence, Loki smiled. "I have been wary about telling you the goings on of the universe. However, you do like to know when things might involve you."
Harry frowned. What could Loki possibly be talking about? "Yeah...?"
Loki looked away, breaking eye contact. "You may have to exhume that wand of yours. Many things are happening, and as much as I want to protect you from them, you will do better with more resources and information than less."
Harry almost preened-finally, someone treating him like an adult!-but Loki's obvious worry was contagious. "Am I allowed details?" he probed.
"I know little as of yet. I will warn you, though. There are some within SHIELD you cannot trust. Agent Barton is one of the few you can still converse with, but be wary of who may be eavesdropping. And be sure that your Minister is not giving either organization, SHIELD or STRIKE, any traceable information about your world. I suspect things will be coming to a head much too soon."
Things were getting serious. And here, Harry thought the danger was over now that Voldemort was dead.
"Ah, well it seems my time is up. As of late, there has been trouble here with the Maraunders."
"You have Marauders too?" Harry asked jokingly.
Loki let out a light laugh. "Invaders, no mere pranksters. They are of little concern to me. Thor has been made general to deal with them, but he seems to be struggling without my aid."
"As always," Harry said with a smile.
Loki winked at him and disappeared.
Harry didn't know when he would see Loki again, but he did know that no matter what, the god would be looking after him.
A/N: Hope you've all enjoyed the ride! Maybe someday I'll do a sequel that incorporates everything from Thor 2 and Captain America 2. This story should still be somewhat compatible with those two movies (with minor adjustments...) or if I do a sequel, it would change the events of Captain America. I did write this one with Thor 2 in mind, so they mesh (kinda). ANYWAY, thanks for reading and reviewing and going on this journey with me! Hopefully we'll see each other again when Loki and Harry do. Until then, stay safe, have fun, and do good things!