A/N: Stromsten pointed out that Jorry is supposed to be in the ocean, not sealed in some pocket dimension. This is one of the points on which I decided to compromise the myth with Marvel's 'advanced aliens'. The kind of seismic activity that a serpent long enough to encircle the world could generate would have devastated coastal populations and the removal of such an enormous mass from the ocean would change the entire face of the Earth. Jorry's pocket dimension is a compromise-it is spatially located abutting an oceanic trench and especially violent struggles can and have caused disturbances in Midgard. Thanks to all the reviewers who give me the motivation to continue this story. I really enjoy hearing from all of you. Even 'update soon' lets me assume you enjoyed the chapter.

To Ride Upon Svadilfari

-Chapter Fifty-Eight-

Somnolence During the Sidereal Period

It took a long time for the realization she hadn't killed them both to permeate her brain. Hermione felt dizzy, fevered, faintly motion-sick, and as if she might be experiencing a delayed karmic retribution for Umbridge-there wasn't a part of her body that felt like it hadn't been trampled. It didn't help that she was growing more certain that the vaulted red ceiling she could dimly make out above her was the roof of the World-Serpent's mouth, which would explain the fleshy texture of floor beneath her. She knew she was dangerously ill when her only response to that realization was to be pleased that there wasn't any saliva to speak of.

She had vague memories of Apparating them into a watery grave, absolutely dark and full of crushing pressure. Hermione hadn't been in any sort of shape to rescue either of them, but after she'd lost consciousness, she'd awoken to find herself in utter darkness but the pressure absent. It took some time to decide it was unlikely that she was dead-or at least she hoped not, as she doubted she would find being a disembodied consciousness all that pleasant when she felt less fractured.

But eventually the aching weight of her body made itself known and with it the tattered remnants of her magic. Lumos was out of the question, but she coaxed a dull glow from it, like the embers of a fire burned low. So she'd had her first glimpse of the roof above her, the front of the cavernous space barred with fangs like sentinel giants.

But she was tired and her unorthodox bed was comfortable, so not even that could worry her unduly.

Mummy, I shall be cross with you if you leave me. Concern weighed heavy on Jorry's words, the sardonic quip it was intended as falling flat, though his intention brushed across the surface of her mind. She felt his own exhaustion, his worry that he didn't have enough strength to keep maintaining this vast form and the knowledge that his slighter, human one couldn't move between Realms like this one could. But beneath all that there was joy. These were slight hurts in comparison to the dark place she'd taken him from. Linked so closely, there was no hiding that she was also the only thing keeping him from the madness that hadn't been left forgotten in that oubliette.

Hermione only blinked complacently, though it was a long, slow thing that she had a niggling feeling she'd lost time during. As she'd suspected, Apparation was not meant to be used to break out of cages built by gods. She'd have to remember that. She didn't foresee trying it again, but being friends with-

The thought terminated abruptly and her head gave a fearsome twinge. She flinched and that trebled the pain until it became nigh unbearable, her light giving out and leaving her in the darkness again. Hermione screamed, which only made it worse and she managed to choke the next one into a strangled, keening whimper.

Jorry whispered soothing things to her all the while, shuffling through her mind to tug memories of the exceedingly rare occasions of her mother and father doing the same to the forefront.

I can't take you to Asgard, Mummy, for fear they'd kill us both, but the kind of Healers you need don't exist in this world, Jorry told her, worry heavy in his mind. And I think it would make you sad if I tried to rend the fabric of worlds to bring you into the other.

That startled her into a kind of amusement. No, she pushed the thought gently at him, that would make Mummy very, very sad.

Jotunheim was a less than ideal destination as she was, but she couldn't collect her scattered thoughts enough direct Jorry elsewhere. Nor could she gather enough wit to ask how Jorry was navigating when he'd spent so much of his life in dark, closed places. It was like she was closing in on herself, as if her internal world had become so large and frightful she couldn't bear to attempt to deal with the one outside.

She drifted into something akin to slumber, fractured pieces of memory trying to knit themselves back together into a cohesive framework. False memories began to spin themselves webs in the gaps where something had etched itself so deep that she'd built her sense of self around it. What memories were left to her were made strange by its absence. Up until she was eleven, the books were undamaged, but after that year things fell apart.

She had sharp memories of alienation and loneliness as Hogwarts, but she didn't have the sense that they were as pervasive as they should have been. There was Ron, of course, but he was odd and out of place too. She'd stayed friends with him, even though neither had liked the other much in the beginning and they'd had only House and school in common. And he'd been cruel to her, both intentionally and because he was a teenage boy who spoke long before he thought. He'd even disparaged her views on education, for Merlin's sake, which was tantamount to telling her to her face that he didn't respect what she'd valued.

Why had she remained his friend? People hadn't exactly been queuing up to take his place, but there was a respectable place in society for the slightly isolated academic. There'd been other students with similar studious habits. She could faintly recall awkward overtures towards studying together, which was as much an open invitation to acquaintanceship as their kind was able to make. But they'd been turned down. Why? Her conversations with Ron had utterly lacked anything of substance to them for a long, long time. It varied from asking to copy her schoolwork and begrudgingly settling for revision and an excited babble about Quidditch that had frankly bored her to tears, but none of it could explain why so many of her memories were filled with such interactions.

And then she'd grown up to marry him. She'd liked him better then, loved him, but how had she made it to that point? What had possessed her to stay in that early friendship that couldn't have been satisfying for either of them? Because she wasn't trying to make him out to be the villain, was only trying to make sense of the thing, and his interests and priorities weren't any less valid simply because they hadn't been the ones she'd clung to. They'd lacked all points of commonality upon which to build a relationship.

They'd gone on to fight a war, but Hermione's predominating memories were of being alone. Of reading through books that showed her terrible, terrible truths about what you could achieve with magic if only you had no regard for others, your humanity, or the state of your soul. Of a tent that always seemed cold and damp, no matter the magic, and of hunger and loneliness. Of a dark-haired woman, whose breath smelled like peppermint and chocolate as she pressed her body close over hers and reminded her with a silver knife and words that cut even deeper just what her place was in that world, how little she meant, and how she should give over-the memory twisted away from her then, for which she was glad.

The war had ended. She'd been hired on at the Ministry to do what had become her passion since she discovered the house-elves of Hogwarts, but then...

Why had she become an Auror? And why had she gone on to become a Hit Wizard? Hermione couldn't make any sense of the decision, because she'd made differences, certainly, but if she'd stayed longer in Being division there was so much more she could have achieved. Even before Being rights, she'd never had a desire to go into law enforcement. At least not the fieldwork portion, though she'd occasionally considered work as a barrister. But her memories were snatches of cases around the world, jagged chunks torn from them.

Of a Hermione increasingly drawn from the comfortable environment of library and office to a role she thought herself unsuited for. She'd always been bossy, but she was more mastermind than field marshal, the fount of information rather than the hand which held the wand. She'd done her piece in the war because no one else would or could do what she'd done, but she could also remember very clearly the feeling of gratitude when it had ended and the thought that people who were better trained and more naturally inclined for the work could do the job and good riddance. Except it hadn't worked out quite that neatly. Things had happened, building and compounding until a benevolent autocrat assured that she did know better took the place of the girl who'd hesitated at putting her classroom knowledge to use against Devil's Snare. In some ways, that woman pleased her, in others made her wince, but it did not change the fact that something instrumental to her creation was now missing.

She felt like she didn't know herself any more. There were people depending on her to pull herself together, to be Hermione Granger, but who was Hermione Granger? Memories of the past created the self in the present, experiences interacting with native personality defining a person. She was missing so much of that.

Hermione drifted in the darkness of her thoughts, the rare occasion when she managed to open her eyes revealing only more darkness. Time became irrelevant, but eventually she became aware of a burning in her hands, like ashwinders were crawling beneath her skin. She was too weak to struggle against it, even if she knew the cause, but when next she peered blearily into the darkness, the cavern of Jormungandr's mouth was filled with uncertain light.

Ivaldi was staring down at her with an impatient expression, looming from his full height with his arms crossed across his chest. She'd thought Hel would have taken him but he seemed solid, nearly tangible, except for the faint glow that seemed to emanate from him, almost realer than the last time she'd seen him. He was so distracting she didn't notice for long seconds that she rested upon someone's lap. Perplexed and not a little cautious about what she might discover, Hermione tilted her head back to look up at her pillow.

Radiant. It was the first word that leapt to her mind. Long hair the color of fresh-fallen snow, kept from his face by a clever net of small braids. Lips that were faintly blue, like a man on the verge of hypothermia, set in a face more beautiful than handsome. Shoulders swallowed up by a heavy pelt of white, with deep, deep fur, like the winter pelt of a wolf. A cold, cold hand that brushed gently across her forehead and eyes like lilacs blooming in all that winter.

His hair had been brown and considerably shorter, his complexion warmer when she'd last seen him, but she recognized him. "Baldur," she croaked.

"Hush," he soothed her, his hand moving to stroke her hair, faltering only slightly when he encountered the cold metal of the Heart.

Ivaldi scoffed. Hermione moved only her eyes toward him, feeling as if more vigorous movement might separate body from soul. "Your power is running amuck," he told her bluntly, one hand stabbing at something just beyond the line of her gaze to illustrate his point.

She struggled weakly to shift herself, but it was Baldur who gently eased her into an upright position, shifting so that her back could rest against his chest. The movement made her vision blur and she had to blink several times to focus on what lay beyond Ivaldi.

Levitating just above the ground were figures cocooned in chains, pulsing in dimly red light to the beat of her heart. The one closest to her was a little black bantam of a man, slight and fine-boned with a wild tangle of dark hair. He struggled slightly, as if his sleep was disturbed by nightmares, but recognition held her paralyzed even before she felt the reverberations of his movements in the metal fused to her flesh.

He'd made it into every book on half-blood wizards ever printed, dug himself so deep into the myths he remained alongside the likes of Merlin and Morgan le Fey. There was a chocolate frog card that bore his likeness, though he'd never received formal magical training. The most famous conquest of the Red Hands, taken because of the wrath of a witch scorned. Setanta, Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, by whatever name you called him, there he was.

The artifacts in her flesh had a magic of their own, the Heart and the Hands and the Hallows. Some of them had been worn so long and treasured so dearly that magic was almost a kind of sentience, but it was usually controlled and suppressed by her native magic. But with her own so weak and wasted, she could feel the draw of the Red Hands in a way she'd never before noted, even though she'd resigned herself to feeling the world through them.

These people-these shades, poltergeists, almost, because she prayed to God they weren't souls, though she knew rationally they were of the same stuff as ghosts were made of-they belonged to the Morrigan, to the Hands. Prizes, servitors, champions if that was her will. Her Hounds, now, because short of lopping off her arms at the elbow, she would always and forever wear the Hands.

Cuchulain's eyes snapped open, pinning her with a gaze that glowed red and feral, and he bared his teeth at her. He writhed more furiously in his bonds, his tangled hair seeming to move of its own accord and shadows deeper than the ambient darkness clawing at the chains. He cursed her soundly all the while. Or at least she assumed that was what he was doing, from the tone of voice, because it seemed that he did not come with the convenience of All-Tongue. Hermione counted a tentative relationship with the Giodelic language group among her accomplishments, but it was about as useful as a modern English-speaker reading the Battle of Malden in the original.

"Stop," she croaked, when it felt like his words were rattling inside her head. And, to her astonishment, he did, though the look he shot her grew even more scathing. Like a fell beast being birthed, the chains loosed him, pulling away like a sea of tentacles, leaving him snarling and seeking to rise from the floor with legs as a weak as a colt's.

Hermione squeezed her eyes tightly shut when a vague whisper of intent from the Hands told her that her gaze, her attention, would be enough to wake the other dreamers caught in their coils, though not to release them. Unlike Cuchulain, they wouldn't come freely. He was the hook, the representation of all the Red Hands could offer to her. The Morrigan had worn them for hundreds of years and part of her lingered in them still, binding the magic to the steel, the original intent of the enchantment burned so deeply that no amount of time would wear it away.

Human sacrifice would rouse the Hounds and send them baying for the blood of her enemies, to capture and keep the finest and fleetest. Half-bloods, Muggleborns, Purebloods. Not Muggles. Death freed them from the influence of magic-they couldn't become Hounds. She strangled the flow of information into her mind, hissing as she recognized the compulsion hidden in the flow of information.

Magical artifacts of benevolent magic often took research and dedicated practice to use. Not so with Dark Magic. It wanted desperately to be used, gave freely of itself in its desire to be fed. Benevolent enchantments would outlast Dark for centuries, but Dark was the stronger and quicker path. It was why it was such an enormous temptation.

The Red Hands would make her safe, give her an identity. She would soon forget that gaping hole inside herself, replace uncertainty with surety, confusion with strength.

But she would not do that to Jorry, whose presence she'd automatically thrust from her mind at the first influx of influence from her gauntlets. He'd killed on a scale she couldn't bring herself to contemplate for long, but there was an unsullied purity to him still, like he was a child to be led astray by whomever held his hand and led him.

The Hands would remake her as an incarnation of their first and only love, the woman who had fed so much death into them to give them life. The Morrigan could love, Cuchulain was proof of that, but she hated in equal measure and her kindness was not the kindness of humans. It was stranger, more alien than that. Hermione could not trust her with those who trusted in her, Bleiki, Jorry, and Einga. There was too much potential in them for destruction. Bleiki and Jorry had lived their lives being regarded as monsters and the Morrigan would have no shame in using them in a way that would make that truth.

For them, Hermione could put away her fears. And that felt right and good, like she was most herself when protecting something else.

She dredged up strength from she knew not where, quelling the insurrection inside her body, crushing down the invasive magic until her consciousness reigned once more.

But it was a dear victory, her vision fading even as the Hounds winked out like dying stars.

And there was one certainty that the Red Hands left her with. So far as they were concerned, she was already the Morrigan. It remained only to see if she would be remade in their image or they in hers.

-[-]-[-]-[-]-[-]-[-]-[-]-[-]-[-]-

She came awake to a cold so deep it felt like even the faintest breeze was a lash against any uncovered skin. That was minimal, not more than two inches between the tops of her cheeks and her forehead, but it seemed to seep in regardless of the cloak she was swaddled in.

But warmth emanated from beneath her. Glancing down, she found that her fingers had buried themselves instinctively into a familiar white-blond pelt. A shadow to her left drew her attention to the great dark stallion that was the cradle Einga's body slept in, Ivaldi easily keeping pace at his side. His long, tunic-like garment was more suited for the dry, cool halls of his home-Realm, but he appeared to feel no discomfort at the biting winds that set his white braids tumbling like streamers in the wind.

Turning her head slightly to her right, she was surprised by how stiff her muscles felt. Her eyes met Baldur's and his lips creased into a softly amused smile. "Good morning," he offered.

"Is it?" Hermione countered. Arms she hadn't taken notice of before tightened around her waist and a very tall, hard body closed the gap between her body and his. There was no sense of heat-in fact, it almost felt like what little she had was being leached from her by the contact.

A chin came to rest on her shoulder with a sigh. "It's so very hard to stay awake here," Jorry complained. "I did not think Jotunheim would be so cold."

Normally, it is not, Bleiki said grimly. Of the party, only he seemed to be sinking into the snow, which nearly brushed the bottoms of Hermione's boots. Given his size, that meant the depth was not inconsiderable. Perhaps sensing her confusion, he explained his presence. Hel took you from the road, sorceress, but she could not remove you from existence. Though what I could see through your eyes availed little, I had only to follow Einga to find you.

Hermione nodded, wincing as muscles twinged again. She wasn't usually this stiff after prolonged unconsciousness, not even after she'd discovered what color a basilisk's eyes were. "What do you mean, Jotunheim isn't always this cold? Isn't that its defining characteristic?"

Baldur took it on himself to answer her question. "Jotunheim, as I remember it, was mostly tundra, with immense evergreen forests and equally vast mountain ranges. A dry, predictable kind of cold. It rarely thawed, but then it rarely snowed as well. Or, at least, not this wet, heavy snow." He grimaced at the snow that his feet hardly even left footprints on.

Hermione was struck by how well he suited this landscape now, even if he looked part spirit of the place and part man who'd met his end in it. He glanced up, met her eyes, and smiled again. Behind the fabric wrapped about her face, a smile automatically lifted her lips in response. It was odd, but even though he was so striking, so much a figure out of myth and the object of her present quest, there was a sense of rapport that should have taken years to build. He was comfortable, for lack of a better term, like a well-worn pair of boots or a favorite coat. It wasn't his connection to the Hands-she had Ivaldi like an unhappily jessed falcon, ready at any moment to fly if only his loss didn't bind them, to compare him to.

"Unpleasant, but habitable, especially if you happen to be a twelve to fourteen foot tall humanoid race spawned from the heart of it. But that was before I...left."

It changed during the wars, Bleiki contributed. Blizzards and ice storms and the beasts born of them. We've been sheltering in a cave waiting for you to wake, sorceress, but some great ugly brute of a creature had much the same idea. The serpent fed on the body, but the stench of the kill would have been too great a temptation for other predators. Hence why you find yourself without shelter.

Hermione nodded absently, trying to pull herself together and focus on the clues that she'd been given for Jotunheim's hunt.

Sorceress, your serpent has told me of what Hel took. I-

"No," Hermione cut him off hurriedly. "Please," she amended more gently. "I don't think I could bear to know what it is. It's enough that it's gone. I...I don't think I could bear to know what it is that's missing."

Bleiki was silent for a long moment, though the flex of his muscles beneath her never faltered. As you will it, sorceress, he answered at last, tone absent of anything might have hinted approval or disapproval.

Baldur adroitly shifted the topic. "What do you know of the soul you've been sent for this time?" he asked.

Hermione spared him a curious look, somewhat confused as to when he'd become aware of the quest.

"I have been with you since Helheim," he explained easily, as if he didn't expect an invisible, fully sentient presence to be unnerving or ire inducing. Hermione was leaning towards the latter, but the strength of a boyish grin that said he knew exactly how irksome it was defused the worst of it. "It was hardly my choice, but the aspect of your power that deals with souls was dormant. Until that awakened, I could only watch." His expression turned sour for an instant. "Though that remains partially true. Judging by our encounter in the cave while you were sleeping, we remain tangible only to you. Though it might be different for that barbarian you pulled through."

"Barbarian?" Hermione asked.

"The near-feral shadow following us," Ivaldi replied disdainfully. "He seemed surprised that he couldn't harm you, though he certainly tried. Rent our guest into fleshy ribbons easily enough, though. And you should know that an agreement has been reached that if you die by a hand other than mine and I bear no responsibility for said situation before you can hand me over to Hel, your victory no longer binds me."

"Fair enough," Hermione ceded as she twisted around awkwardly, trying to catch a glimpse of Cuchulain.

A snarl of guttural words spewed from behind them, but she couldn't peer past Jorry, who seemed to be doing his earnest best to make himself into a second cloak.

"Ah," Ivaldi said archly. "Seems that now you've woken up, he's as intangible as the rest of us."

"And someone is displeased about that and wishes for you to know," Baldur added.

"I am not a translation service," Ivaldi remarked snidely.

Baldur shrugged, his dignity apparently not as tetchy as Ivaldi's.

Hermione returned to Baldur's early question. "Hel never told me the name of the king that's supposed to be here. But I have memories of a Thrym that I'm supposed to seek. Some sort of leader of jotnar?" Her memories of Ivaldi and his fallen kingdom had been much more comprehensive. In comparison, her target in this snow-covered Realm was to be sought on little more than the strength of a name and an image, neither of them his own.

Bleiki suddenly stopped walking, his hackles rising and a growl rumbling up from deep in his chest. Ivaldi too was suddenly watching the skies, which were clouding with suspicious rapidity. "Another blizzard," Ivaldi said in a low voice. "I begin to think you're being hunted."

"Weather-magic?" Hermione questioned, hands tightening in Bleiki's fur. At times like this she really wished for her wand. Though she no longer required it, it would have been comforting.

"They should have lost the ability when Asgard took the Casket of Ancient Winters as a warprize. I think you're in for a far less pleasant surprise."

"Your sense of comradery is heartwarming," Hermione muttered.

"You killed me and took my soul. Not once did you stipulate that I had to be pleasant about it."

The building storm broke and in defiance of all meteorological laws it was sleet, cold and liquid as it pounded at them, quickly freezing into an icy shell upon whatever surface it landed. Hermione cursed soundly, mingling freely with the vulgarities spells that were tremblingly weak when they materialized. She was almost thrown from Bleiki's back when he leaped forward, taking in the throat a figure that had materialized out of the weather.

She had an impression of blue skin and glowing red eyes before the ice-covered club of another jotunn caught Jorry's shoulder. He screamed, a strange, twisted hiss of pain, but his grip on her waist meant they both went flying into the snow.

It was even deeper than she'd thought, coming up almost to her thighs, the swiftly crusting layer on top making it even more difficult to move in. Hermione almost bit through her lip as she barely dodged another figure that seemed to materialize only feet from her. They'd managed to separate her from Bleiki and Jorry, so Apparation wasn't a viable escape route, even if she'd been able to manage it.

As it was, she was hard-pressed to keep from being bludgeoned to death by the crude by unarguably dangerous weapons of the jotnar, who were making masterful use of the reduced visibility and stopped for nothing short of a death-blow.

She severed the right arm of a particularly magnificently scarred specimen and it only roared laughter at her through yellowed teeth sharpened to irregular spikes, its tongue a disturbing black. She twisted out of the way as it flung its own severed arm at her, but her footing was poor and she shrieked as she felt something give in her ankle.

Hermione took its head before it could advance further, but she had an awful premonition of doom as the moment's respite only gave her a clearer picture of how badly off they were. Jorry hadn't form-shifted and she remembered how cold his body had been-watching the drunken way he seemed to stumble, she had an awful realization that if he was as cold-blooded as she thought, one kill wasn't going to be enough to keep him swift and aware in this weather. Not fresh from that pocket-dimension and a millennium of torture.

Einga had somehow found his way to her side through the chaos, but he pranced atop the snow and she was entrenched in it. Mounting from this angle would be impossible with her ankle, even if they'd left her time enough to attempt to clamber up.

Bleiki was all sleek, bloodied fur and fangs at every opening, but even as he shifted to his partially humanoid form she could tell the jotnar were getting the measure of him. Their clubs weren't ice-covered, they were made of ice-even before her eyes they shifted, becoming equally crude javelins that gave them the advantage of reach. Still, hope sparked as she saw the ice splinter and burst where they attempted to impale Bleiki, his berserkr magic turning away the weapons before they could pierce his flesh. But the price was that until his rage was spent, Bleiki wouldn't be in any state to aid any of the others. She wasn't quite certain whether he could tell friend from foe and she wasn't about to test it.

With another wild gesture of her hands, she slew another of the jotunn, but she was beginning to shiver. Her magic might have recovered with astonishing quickness, but her physical strength was ebbing with the same rapidity.

Setting her teeth so that they wouldn't chatter, Hermione tried to prod her mind into developing plans that would see them all safely from this battle despite the odds, something she recalled excelling at, but some vital element seemed to be missing.

With a nasty disemboweling curse that ended with a jotunn being strangled by his own large intestine, she was suddenly staring into the wild eyes of her newest companion. In a rush of incomprehensible words, he snarled at her. It wasn't until Baldur shouted over the driving sleet and the howls of the jotnar that she had any idea what he was trying to convey to her.

"The blood! Your gauntlets need to be blooded for the magic to wake."

Hermione hesitated only briefly as she weighed her instinctive reaction against blood magic against her desire to protect. The latter one and she was flinging herself headlong into the snow towards the nearest dying jotunn almost before she'd made up her mind. She plunged both the Hands deep, until they were stained red as their name.

With a exultant battlecry, Cuchulain turned upon the giants, as fierce and wild as Bleiki. He was a small-framed man, delicate almost, but all that consideration was buried under the sheer presence he wielded in battle. The shadows that she'd caught glimpses of earlier spewed forth more freely and a great spear materialized in his hand, a foreboding color like dried blood.

He thrust it forward and upwards into the belly of a charging jotunn. That would have been a mortal wound on its own, but when he tore it free wicked barbs had spread, magnifying the damage a hundredfold. Free of the body, the barbs relaxed against the shaft, giving the spear back its sleek and penetrating shape.

She could not watch long, however, for she was forced to stumble toward Jorry. The sleet seemed only to grow more impenetrable to her gaze, making him only a dim shape though he couldn't have been ten feet away. It seemed that Bleiki and Cuchulain might slaughter their enemy, only to find too late no one else had survived, when there came a sound like thunder.

An immense bird plummeted from the sky to land between her and Jorry, its death throes throwing her from her feet and nearly burying her in drifts of snow. A second cry came from somewhere to her left and, as if it were magic, the storm began to face.

Hermione managed to thrash to her feet by grabbing hold of Einga's leg and using it like she might a sturdy tree. She paled at the...thing digging gleefully in the abdominal cavity of the bird, tugging free long lengths of organ and tossing them up in the air to gulp down whole. It was the worst mix of rock lizard and spider she'd ever hoped not to see, like a breeding experiment of Hagrid's gone horribly wrong.

With visibility restored, she saw there were perhaps ten or so more jotnar in the party that had assaulted them, but she saw with greater surprise two new jotnar wading into the fray. They were taller, their features finer, their clothes looked less like they'd been ripped whole from the back of some beast, and they had black hair worn in long braids almost to the backs of their knees.

It took only moments for the tide of the battle to turn in their favor and a titanic clash between Bleiki and Cuchulain was avoided only by a narrow margin when Hermione recalled that the formerly nearly unstoppable Celtic hero had to obey the dictates of the Hands. But reigning him in nearly finished her store of energy and after floundering to Jorry's side and setting a warming spell on him she should rightly have cast far earlier, she all but sank into the snow.

Trying to control her trembling, she remained all too aware of the newcomers, despite the comforting way her companions flanked her.

As the jotnar approached, she could make out further differences-the pronounced ridging of their skin was of a different pattern, though she knew not what it might signify. Affiliation, caste, profession, or perhaps simply as much a product of their birth as a tiger's stripes, she couldn't guess.

One surveyed her skeptically as his weapon melted away. "I would not recommend remaining in Blacktongue hunting ground," he remarked, "especially if you don't know enough to kill their stormbirds."

"If I knew who the Blacktongues are and where their hunting ground ended, I'm sure I would be delighted to leave it," Hermione returned with what pleasantness she could muster.

"Blacktongues are the wind that howls outside the lodge and gives the children nightmares," the second jotunn answered, but they were so similar as to be mirror images. Identical twins? "And for good reason. They are flesh-eaters who believe that cannibalism increases their power. Their jarl has forbidden them to kill each other except on feast-days and after natural death, so they must hunt abroad for their prey."

The first nodded solemnly. "Our brother Delling passed this way in search of a stolen child and our grandfather sent us to hunt him out, lest he'd fallen into their jaws. We saw the storm and came hoping to find him. The Blacktongues use stormbirds as both guide and tool and pay them for their service in the offal of their prey."

"Then coincidence was in our favor," Hermione replied. "Even if it wasn't your intention, you did rescue us from an unpleasant situation."

The first giant's lips quirked and he quickly slid back into the conversational tone he'd first used. "Grandfather would have our hides if he thought we'd left any traveler to be eaten alive by blacktongues. I am Annar and this is my brother, Naglfari."

Hermione made the introductions on her side and she wondered at the looks they gave Bleiki-one day she was going to confront Odin about the true identity of her thrall.

"You're a long way from Midgard and far enough from Asgard. And you'd hardly be here to take in the weather," Annar said with a laugh. "But whatever it is that brings you here can wait. We've found no trace of Delling and only a fool would venture further into the Blacktongues territory with so little left in the way of supplies."

"We offer you the hospitality of our grandfather's house," Naglfari said by way of agreement. "He is our jarl. Whatever you came seeking, it would be best to ask both his permission and advice before proceeding." He made an odd clicking noise deep in his throat and the beastly spider-lizard turned eerily intelligent eyes toward him. A second command had it scuttling to his side-now she could look and see the elaborate network of straps that formed a saddle, though its blood-smeared jaws still occupied the greater part of her notice. Invitation and threat, all in one.

Hermione inclined her head. "I'd be honored to accept your grandfather's hospitality."

A/N: Why not run with Wizards as Tuatha De Danann? If you mix the original myths with later popular beliefs about the supernatural inhabitants of the Isles, taking Muggleborns would be very much like child-snatching. And the messing with the Muggles is much the same, as are the extraordinary powers. It wouldn't be a terrible stretch of the imagination to go from the Muggle-hunts of the Death Eaters to a Wild Hunt.

And while Cuchulain's battle rage is mythological fact, I've taken liberties with it, as his physical appearance went to the far side of bizarre during it.

I only realized after the jotnar had already become fleshed out as characters that they resemble the cat-people of Avatar, but that wasn't the intention. Their original inspiration actually came from line from George Catlin about the Crow Nation-namely their hair, of all things, which was 'incredibly long", going on to say that some of them "have cultivated their hair so that it sweeps the ground as they walk." Upon reading that line, I determined at that moment to have a tribe of jotnar with similar characteristics being Hermione's allies in Jotunheim.


A/N: I realize that this arc has taken a turn toward epic fantasy and while some people seem to be enjoying it, others among you are rustling in discontent. Being that it's turning out longer than I anticipated, I propose a compromise that I'd like my readers to weigh in on. If you'd like, the main story can experience a time skip into the next arc while a separate story is posted for those readers who are enjoying questing about in the Nine Realms. These would be updated simultaneously. Have no fear that your opinion would bring offense-while the first part was very much based on the films, the latter chapters have been delving deeper into the mythologies and not always do interests overlap. Of course, if we do timeskip, I reserve the right to ignore all complaints that the characters are suddenly OC.