Chapter 44

They were both pale and trembling as they worked out some of the details.

Hermione and Luna must have sat for hours on the steps outside of the Ravenclaw tower, neither one of them able to leave or stop thinking.

"But how?" the blonde asked for what seemed like the umpteenth time. "How could it possibly be him? Why is he here? In this place?"

"Perhaps it's the magic?" Hermione suggested weakly. "Do you think it draws him here? Sort of like a beacon."

"We need to examine what we know about Jor," Luna said swallowing hard. "What do we know of his nature? He wasn't….He wasn't evil was he?"

Hermione couldn't look at her cousin. Of all they had tried to learn about her elusive half brother in the last few months, little had been gleaned about what he was truly like. They had learned of his appearance and his history and lineage but nothing of his mind, heart or character, things that were likely necessary to know when they did chance upon him.

He had been on earth for centuries. It was very possible if not likely that he had become….not himself.

"We don't know Luna," Hermione whispered. "There are no memoirs, no personal entries, nothing. We don't know….We don't know what…he may have become down here."

Luna's face appeared as if it were collapsing in on itself. "I did wonder….I wondered how much he would have remembered about Father….about Asgard. But then I remembered how he left, how Odin cast him out…chained him to this world and I wondered about the state of his mind and heart. Its…..possible….that both….have gone dark."

To this Hermione had no response and the cousins sat in the gathering dark and long shadows from the torches on the wall in grim and sorrowful silence.

"We need to know," Luna said finally in a tight whisper. "We need to look into this mystery. Whose voice are we hearing, Jor's or something perhaps even more sinister? And why is it that we are the only ones hearing it?"

"That last part is easy to deduce Luna," Hermione said glumly. "We already discovered it. What is the one thing that you and I have in common that others don't? Dudley and Draco thought I was crazy just now for hearing these voices. I must have given them a right scare when I ran off running to find you."

The blonde's face clouded over. "Be that as it may, I want to be sure that this is the only explanation. I want every facet of the truth, that way I can be certain what is a lie."

Hermione blinked for a moment, her mind zeroing in on an idea that they hadn't yet considered. "I don't suppose the next time you see Uncle Loki you could ask him about Jor? He would have been the only one who knew him intimately before….all this."

Luna was already shaking her head, curls drooping. "I tried before we went exploring in the summer. He's….very unwilling to talk about his other children. I think it hurts him too much. He only says that I am his last hope….and so Odin must never know about me."

Hermione swallowed hard, both from sadness and anger. She knew of the endless web of secrets that her father and uncle had had to weave in order to keep both her and Luna safe. The fact that it was even necessary enraged her. Just what did Odin have against the demi gods anyway? What could possibly be so bad about fathering a child with a human.

"Perhaps we should tell him the reasons for our worries," she said slowly. "Maybe that would cause him to open up more. It won't tell us what Jor is like now, or if the voice we're even hearing is him…but maybe it'll….humanize him a bit more, give us more of an understanding at least."

Luna released a sigh that seemed to come up all the way from her feet. "I can try, but his visits have been so sporadic I don't know when he's going to come or how long he's going to stay. Not even mother is fully aware."

"At the moment, it's the best we have," Hermione said tersely. "My father's the same way. I haven't seen him since the summer and the longer it goes between his visits, the more concerned I get."

Luna frowned. "Concerned about what Mione?"

The strawberry blonde ran a hand through her hair that was already wild from running. "I remember a time when something kept him away from us before and it wasn't until Mum and I were in a very bad situation that he was able to break through it and get to us. I just hope it doesn't take something terrible nearly happening again for me to see him."

Luna cocked her head to the side, looking for all the world like a quizzical bird at a very odd nut. "What do you mean?"

Hermione shook her head. "It would take too long to explain and it was a long time ago. He has been there for us ever since. But there is a part of me that always wonders….when it is essential for him to be here, with us….will he?

Luna's face softened. "I think I understand what you mean. Daddy does his best as well. But, I always got the impression that he felt the safest place for me….was away from him. He's so afraid of Odin finding out that I exist that, he is willing to create distance and long separations so no connections can be drawn. It's necessary sometimes, but it hurt because of the situation. I just wish we didn't have to go through something like this."

"What could we do to change it though?" Hermione asked glumly. "Harry and Dudley don't even know the whole truth and I've grown up with them. The only way for anything to be achieved is for everyone to know everything. Only then would there be no more reason to hide."

"I have a feeling there will come a time when that's necessary," Luna said softly. "I know we can't hide forever, no matter how careful any one of us is. Sooner or later, the truth will be revealed. I just hope its by choice and not by accident."

"And speaking of choice," Hermione said getting to her feet. "I am certain it is past curfew at this point and some of our friends are going to be wondering where I am. Suppose we pick up the search again tomorrow yes?"

"Agreed," Luna said, standing as well. "I'll see you in the morning."

The two had just muttered goodnight and Hermione was walking tiredly back down the stairs, suddenly drained from all the revelations when she heard her name being called.

She turned back around to find her cousin standing at the entrance to Ravenclaw tower, waiting to go in. "Yes?"

"For what its worth," the small blonde said in a quiet voice. "I hope you're wrong."

Before her cousin could respond, the door opened and she slipped through.

Whether she was referring to Jor, or to their fathers, Hermione would never know.

Ω

The next few weeks passed with a grim sort of tenor for Hermione and Luna and the rest of their friends. The strawberry blonde was certain that Dudley and

Draco were regarding her differently since her confession on the stairs to them.

To their credit, after she had hauled out of there, they hadn't questioned her further about the voices she claimed to be hearing. She did feel their eyes on her at times when she was in class but she refused to acknowledge them.

Fortunately Halloween came and went without incident, save for a few monstrous storms delaying Quidditch games.

During the annual feast, the friends congregated in Harry's hospital wing with a bunch of sweets and quietly told stories about the past year and all the crazy things that had happened.

Thankfully nothing was mentioned about this years peculiar events.

After that they were thrown headlong into studying for the exams that would take place before they went home for the holidays and Hermione was very relieved to be dealing with something that she was certain about.

Another reason for relief was that the voice that had slithered through her mind had grown quiet. There had been no more strange attacks on animals, or writing on the wall or flooding of the toilets.

All was quiet.

In the back of Hermione's head however, she remembered the calm before the storm that had happened several months ago after Professor Quirrell was fired and she had to constantly suppress the urge to look up and down the hallways for shadows when she was walking them.

Needless to say, she couldn't wait for Christmas.

And speaking of silence, she had barely heard word from her mum in the last few weeks and was wondering why things were quiet. Neither Harry or Dudley had heard from Uncle Reg and Aunt Petunia and both were beginning to wonder at the long absence as well.

School had been oddly normal, which made Hermione wonder if the other shoe was going to drop soon or if she could truly get through a normal school year without strange and or life threatening things happening.

"When do you get your cast off mate?" Ron asked Harry one evening a week before December. The group was sitting in the library finishing up a potions paper for the following day, while Luna and Susan were working through Charms homework.

"Another two days," the black haired boy groused. "I can't wait to have both arms back."

"You'll need to practice with it more so you're up to speed before the next Quidditch game," Draco muttered, glaring at the paper in front of him. "And thank Merlin you're back soon because that interim Seeker Flint found is bloody useless."

Hermione rolled her eyes but said nothing. Harry had been acting as if he had ants in his pants for the last little while, holding the broom he had been given for Christmas for no reason at all and gazing out the windows of their classroom in the direction of the Quidditch pitch.

Bloody Merlin, is catching a golden walnut that important?!

She made a mental note to ask Sirius the next time she saw him why Quidditch was such a big deal to every wizard in Great Britain. Regulus didn't care about it that much so why did his brother?

"Just for Merlin's sake be careful," Susan said rolling her eyes as she chewed on the end of her quill. "You can't afford any more injuries and unless they ban Lockhart from Quidditch games, there will always be some risk that he will act like a buffoon again."

"I'll jinx him before he tries," Hermione muttered darkly and Harry flashed her a grin.

"Has anyone begun studying for Lockhart's exam?" Ron asked from his place further down the table.

"Honestly you should see the notes he's sent out," Neville chimed in quietly. "Honestly I think we're better off trying to read his books."

Luna snorted, the only sound she had made in the last half hour and silence fell around them again.

After a while, Susan spoke up again. "Does anyone have any plans for Christmas?"

There was a general muttering amongst the twelve year olds.

"We'll be going back to the south of France," Draco offered. "It's much warmer there this time of year."

"I'll be doing some more exploring for the Crumple Horned Snorkack," Luna said thoughtfully as she made a notation in her parchment. "It prefers the winter to warm weather."

She gave Hermione a meaningful look as she said the word explore and the other girl grimaced as she remembered their pledge.

Jor would need to be found before the year was out, found and taken care of.

This was a tricky situation because there wasn't much they could tell their friends without revealing secrets that weren't theirs to share.

Luna and Hermione eyed each other again. Both were hoping that when they went home for Christmas they would be able to grill their fathers about what to do to get at Jormungandr, how to reach him.

"Well," Ron piped up. "Mum told me that everyone is welcome at the Burrow for Christmas dinner. The whole family will be there."

Draco wrinkled his nose slightly but thankfully no one else saw and a well placed glare from Hermione forced him to rearrange his features into something he must have thought was pleasant.

"Is your aunt still going back and forth to America Sue?" she asked and some heads at the table turned to the small red head.

The youngest Bones rolled her eyes. "Yes. She floos back and forth once a week to meet with Director Fury and some of the other SHIELD agents. I think her goal is to build closer relations with other law enforcement agencies around the world, not all of them magical."

"Sounds like a good idea," Ron said before popping a spare chocolate frog into his mouth.

"And speaking of good ideas," Hermione broke in before they went down another somewhat random path of conversation. "Suppose we head for class now yeah? We don't want to be late."

This omission was met with some groans, mostly from Ron and Dudley but all gathered up their books and prepared to leave.

As they were exiting the library however, Susan caught sight of a sheet of parchment on the bulletin board outside the door and made her way over to it.

"A Dueling Club?" she asked, snatching it off the board. "When on earth was this decided?"

"Dueling?" Draco asked sidling up to her. "About time they added some good extracurriculars to this school. Who's teaching it?"

"Professor Snape for one?" Susan replied. "And – "

"Lockhart!?" Draco all but shrieked as he read the second name. "What does that hack know about dueling?"

"According to the rest of the world, quite a bit," Neville said wryly as he stood on tip toe to read over their shoulders. "He probably thinks it will be good publicity for him."

"I'll need to hide from the cameras," Harry muttered running a hand through his already unruly hair.

"That's if we even go," Dudley pointed out. "I don't think any one of us is as much of a glutton for punishment to do something like this."

Hermione exchanged a glance with Luna. They were both reasonably good duellers and their wandless magic ability afforded that they would never have to worry about being disarmed in a duel, so their participation was not needed.

Still….

"At the very least Professor Snape might be able to teach something," she suggested to her classmates who grudgingly nodded. "I don't know, I suppose we'll have to wait and see."

Ω

A small crack sounded in a wooded glade just outside of Ottery St. Catchpole and three people emerged from amidst the sparkle of apparition.

Thor's grip on Natasha's hand was almost vicelike as he came out of the effects of the human magic and he shook his head slightly with a grimace on his face.

"This human magic is very uncomfortable," he muttered looking about the glade as if still getting his bearings. "Why you wizards and witches have to make travel so difficult for yourselves I will never know."

"We can't all be gods," Regulus muttered pocketing his wand.

"And besides," Natasha said smiling up at her husband. "Traveling this way is far less conspicuous then burning a ten foot wide rune in the ground."

Thor had the decency to look offended. "It's not that bad is it?"

Natasha chuckled. "It's a good thing I've managed to disguise it so if there happens to be a SHIELD craft flying overhead no one will be the wiser. Nothing like saying something is amiss when there's a crop circle in your backyard."

The former god had no response to that other than a grunt.

Regulus peeked out from behind the bushes in the glade and waited for a moment. "It looks like everyone's gone in for supper. We should be good to go."

"Which house is it again Reg?" Natasha asked leaning down next to him.

"It's hard to miss it," her friend said with a chuckle. "Do you see that tree on the edge of town?"

Natasha followed where he was pointing and blinked, wondering how she had missed it the first time.

The tree to which Regulus was referring was a gnarled old monstrosity that didn't appear to be particularly healthy. The bark was a sickly grey and there were knots on its trunk the size of Natasha's head. Still however, its trunk was absolutely massive and would likely take at least ten people standing around it to give an accurate representation of its girth. It rose about fifteen feet in the air like a giants fist exploding out of the earth and at the very top was a wide plateau in which a strange wooden house rested with branches fanning out on all sides of it.

The house itself was an odd assortment of wood, clapboard siding, shingles and metal plants. A small chimney stuck up from the center of the roof and thin wisps of smoke could be seen emitting from it. Little round windows like one might find on the side of an ocean liner poked out of the sides at odd intervals and there was a small rounded brown door at its front.

Thor leaned down next to them. "How do we get to the top?"

"There's stairs leading around the outside of the trunk," Regulus whispered. "They lead all the way up to the top."

"Well what are we waiting for then?" Natasha asked.

She took Thor's hand again and the two of them strode out of the glade with Regulus leading the way, heading for the house.

The streets of Ottery St. Catchpole were quiet, most of the shop windows had been closed, and windows had been shuttered for the night.

Even better, so that no one would see this clandestine meeting.

When they reached the base of the gnarled tree, Regulus began to feel around for the steps that he had told them were present.

"Ah, here they are," he said with satisfaction and pointed out the gnarled wider branches that had been strategically placed all around the trunk, each one leading upward with each step.

"She clearly is the suspicious type," Thor observed as Regulus started up first.

"Pandora always was….different," Regulus supplied as they climbed. "There were times when I could understand her in school and then there were times when

I wondered if she had been born on a different planet."

That must have been why Loki liked her, Natasha thought to herself wryly.

Despite the odd nature of their climb, it wasn't long at all before the trio found themselves at the top of the tree with a view of the whole town just below them.

The sun was beginning to set and it lit up the field beyond Catchpole in a brilliant red and yellow light accented by the periwinkle of the sky.

It was rather nice.

Natasha paused looking about the quiet town. Something about it was entirely appealing, perhaps in its unassuming nature. She could almost imagine yet another house sitting along the street, maybe with a loft and a library and –

"Natasha?"

She blinked as Thor's voice broke into her thoughts and she turned to her husband with a small smile. "Yes?"

The look he was giving her was an unreadable one. "Are you ready?"

Regulus was standing before the door, hand poised to knock and his look at her was questioning.

"Yeah," she said. "Let's go."

Regulus turned back around but before he could lay a hand on the door, all of a sudden it swung inward on creaky hinges to reveal a dim sitting room beyond.

The wizard immediately drew his wand and cast a wary look back at his friends. "Hello? Is anyone there?"

All of a sudden there was a scuffling sound and a small figure came into view with the light of a cheerful fire at her back.

Natasha knew instantly that Luna had taken after her mother. She may have had Loki's eyes, but her entire face was Pandora's.

The small woman standing before them barely came up to Natasha's chest and her yards of silvery blonde hair fell almost to the floor. She was barefoot and in a long green skirt and blouse with a knitted shawl thrown over her shoulders.

She smiled at them and in that instant, Natasha could practically see Luna. In fact she was surprised that Pandora hadn't skipped into view.

Her brown eyed were glossy, the color of rum over ice perhaps and her smile was almost too bright.

Most of that was for Thor however.

Natasha didn't feel a spark of jealousy however for the way that Pandora looked at Thor was the way one looked at a long awaited friend.

"I've been expecting you Son of Thunder," she said and her bright smile did not match the chill that drifted across Natasha's skin at those words. She stepped back from the door. "Come in, come in."

Thor gazed at her for a moment before a small smile began to play at his mouth. "I should have figured. There's a reason my brother likes you."

The small witch beamed as she stepped back and allowed the blonde into the house.

Regulus sent Natasha an incredulous look but she just threw up her hands and smiled. "I stopped trying to understand anything about the magical world a long time ago."

The younger Black shook his head before holding the door open for her. "I think I'm about nearly at the point myself."

Then the two disappeared into the house.

Ω

The Stone was missing.

How had had he not realized that the bloody Stone was missing?!

The knowledge had been reverberating around in his head with the same chilling echo for what seemed like hours.

And the knowledge was still as jarring now as when he had woken up and first discovered it gone.

As the chains were placed on him so that he might be led from his cell properly subdued, Loki wanted to curse in every language that he knew and rage about the prison cell taking out anyone who might stand in his way.

However those desires proved to be impossible for the moment the shackles were placed on his wrists, he felt half of his energy drain from him and stiffened.

The guards must have felt his response for they sent leering grins at him.

"Come Odinson," the one who had first spoken to him snapped and the other guards stepped back. "The king is waiting.

With that, he took hold of the long chain that was binding the shackles around Loki's wrists and tugged it with no small amount of vigor.

Loki almost stumbled as he was led out of the cell and bit his tongue against sending a choice insult the guards' way.

This was going to be one of those days when he was certain he would need to save all of his energy for talking.

As it turned out, he had been placed in the very last cell in the dungeon and as they walked past numerous other bars that looked into other dinghy cells, Loki noted with some alarm that there were no other prisoners present in the dungeon at the time.

Either they had all been empty before he arrived or they had been cleared out while he was unconscious.

Neither option was very comforting.

His hands twitched towards his torn pocket before her remembered that he had been fleeced of all of his possessions, including the Stone and a wave of panic overtook him again.

The Space Stone in the hands of the Frost Giants.

He had come here to retrieve the Stone that would free his brother and had inadvertently handed off one of Odin's most powerful tools to their greatest enemy.

It was not his day so far.

The guards led Loki up the stairs located at the far end of the long narrow prison and through an archway at the very top.

The light that came upon them then was sudden and blinding.

It wasn't a warm light however, it was a very cold silver one that would likely have set Loki to shivering if things like the cold bothered him.

A moment later the realization that he was standing in a throne room came over him.

It was a long throne room with tall grey pillars and several round windows only visible near the ceiling.

There were large stone doors at the far end that were no doubt locked tight and when Loki turned towards the other end of the room, he caught sight of the raised dais and throne.

Sitting in that cold looking stone throne was a being that Loki was familiar with but had never been close to.

The chain guiding him was given another tug and he grimaced, feeling a bit more energy drain from him. He was certain if he were to attempt even a slight spell now it would drain the rest of his energy.

His mind was whirling with potential plans to get out of this predicament, so much so that he was barely paying attention to the figure who had leaned forward in its throne the closer Loki drew to him.

The king of the Frost Giants had leathery skin and a weathered face with deep set red eyes. His cheeks and his temples were set with deep grooves akin to scars and the yellow hair only covered the top of his head before being slicked back down his neck and shoulders.

The grey hue of his skin was dark enough to not appear sickly but also made his appearance very inhuman.

He was bare chested and adorned only in a golden loincloth. He was bare foot and there were golden bands around his wrists and ankles as well as upper arms and a ceremonial crest hanging loosely across his chest, giving away his status as Jotunheim's king.

As Loki was dragged before him, the appraising look the frost giant was giving him turned to one of almost amusement.

A moment later, he very deliberately reached down the side of the chair for something that Loki couldn't see and a moment later, brought the Space Stone back into view.

It took a certain amount of effort for the god of secrets to refrain from using every curse he knew, because of course he would have been searched upon his arrest, of course the stone would have been discovered and of course it would have been confiscated.

I should never have left Sif talk me into bringing it!

Finally the king spoke.

"It has been many a long year since an Asgardian has come to my kingdom," Laufey began. "So you can imagine my surprise when the son of Odin shows up on my doorstep with an Infinity Stone in his possession."

He palmed the blue square in his hand thoughtfully and Loki got the sudden sensation that he might flip it back and forth between them.

"I didn't know Odin was keeping such a treasure locked away," he said, finally turning his attention away from the Stone's eerie beauty back to Loki. "What else might he be hiding I wonder?"

He looked at the Frost Giant and cocked his head to one side. "All kings have their secrets. I'm certain that hiding things is not an unknown concept to you."

Instantly he felt the manacles on his wrists tighten, draining more energy and he fought back a grimace.

The Frost Giant stared him down, but Loki didn't blink away from the intimidating red gaze. "Nor is it to me. Secrets are what I am known for after all."

Laufey leaned forward on his throne, red eyes narrowed. "You know nothing of secrets Son of Odin, or of lies."

A crazed chuckle broke through Loki's lips and it echoed in the silence of the throne room. He forgot for a moment that there were guards on either side of him. "I know enough to know that the words you just uttered have damned you for a lie."

The tightening of the manacles then was so sudden and so painful and so draining that it almost brought Loki to his knees.

He swayed but fought the sensations and was suddenly forced forward onto his knees when one of the guards hit him enough to fell him.

"Your king has no power here son of Odin!" the guard behind him growled. "And nor do you. Your life is at the mercy of our king."

Loki uttered a breathless laugh again, seeing a cloud of air rise around him in the cold of the throne room. "Do you honestly think your king will kill me? He will not for two reasons you small minded fool! The first is that war will be the result and given the resolution at the end of our last conflict, I would not want to risk that if I were you."

He turned back to the king who was watching the exchange silently. "And the second reason is far more interesting than the first. I was not aware that Frost Giants murdered their own flesh and blood."

It was the ultimate trump card to play and Loki knew it. He had known of this secret for years now because his mother could not keep anything from him.

She had been reticent with how much she told him but he had known for years that he was a Frost Giant.

Such knowledge could be used to great effect and he was counting on it now.

The silence that followed those words was total and Loki used the momentary distraction of them to get himself back to his feet.

"My king!" the guard snapped. "Surely you will not suffer such an egregious falsehood! This prisoner must pay the penance for his crimes!"

But Laufey said nothing for a moment, his eyes never leaving Loki. His expression was frustratingly unreadable but Loki was patient.

He knew he had him.

He also knew that the only way he was going to get that Stone back was to bargain. He had bargained for his life with information now he would have to bargain for the Stone with something else that Laufey might want.

And then he remembered something, something that might prove useful.

It would be a gamble however.

Laufey palmed the stone again, eyeing its eerie depths as if he were attempting to look into the future and cocked his head to one side.

Loki decided at this point that he had nothing to lose.

"The Stone may be incredible," he said calmly. "But there is something else you want more isn't there?"

Laufey's eyes snapped away from the Stone and narrowed on Loki. "And what do you have to offer that would be equal to an Infinity Gem?"

Loki smiled. "Something that you have been missing for a very long time."

The king's eyes narrowed even further and he looked toward the guards before speaking in their native tongue. It was too fast for Loki to catch some of the words but from what he gathered, it seemed as if the king was telling the guards to leave them.

The one who was outspoken sputtered something back at Laufey as if in protest but the king jerked his head towards the doors at the far end and after a moment of stubborn determination, the guards turned about and stamped for the doors.

Only when the slabs of stone had closed behind them did Laufey speak. "Very well son of Odin, you may make your bargain."

Loki paused for a moment, giving the impression that he was completely relaxed and that there weren't manacles on his wrists.

"The Space Stone is only powerful for those who know how to use it," he began. "And if used recklessly, it can end kingdoms that would wield it."

He turned and began to pace slowly before the dais as he worked up to his argument. "However, there is another tool of great power that you as king know how to use absolutely."

Laufey's red eyes seemed to follow him.

"It was unlawfully taken from you years earlier by a man who didn't know its power or its use," Loki went on. "I could get it for you."

Laufey's eyes narrowed. "The Casket of Ancient Winters is the most prized possession of our people and power."

Loki smiled. "I know. And I also know that without it, your power has been waning over the years. I'm offering you a chance to get it back."

Laufey's eyes narrowed even further until they resembled little more than the slits of a snake's eyes. "You would name yourself a traitor to Asgard?"

Loki nodded at the Stone still in Laufey's hand. "By stealing that Gem, I have all but guaranteed that I will never be able to return to Asgard. I am already a traitor. What more do I have to lose?"

Laufey turned from him and eyed the Infinity Stone. "The return of the Casket of Ancient Winters would be a cause for Celebration. And yet….it is not quite enough. What do you have to gain from this?"

Loki nodded at the stone. "I seek the return of the Gem."

"Ah," Laufey said with some satisfaction. "Then the return of the casket will most certainly not be enough. Keep speaking Son of Odin, I have yet to hear something that I truly like."

Loki fumbled for a moment, wondering what else the Giant could possible want other than the return of his seat of power.

And then he remembered something else, something that might be of even more value to someone like Laufey who valued strength and power and was a being that held long grudges.

And he was certain he had never forgotten his humiliation.

So he smiled and acted as if what he was about to suggest wasn't the most treasonous, traitorous thing that he had ever uttered.

"You're right," he said slowly turning back to the king. "I have yet to offer my last bargaining tool. But you are an intelligent king, and so I will only tell you that Asgard is ripe for the taking. The All Father has gone to the Odin sleep, its greatest warrior is gone, it is all but defenseless. It would be all too easy to sneak in and claim retribution for your past humiliations. The All Father is weak and thus would be easily….disposed of."

From the way that Laufey's eyes gleamed at those words, Loki knew he had hit upon what he needed to get the Space Stone back.

But he also knew this would be more than a bit of a gamble. Not only was he playing with Odin's life but the lives of all Asgardians. He just hoped that he would be able to get back in time and warn Sif about what was coming as well.

Needless to say he would be telling a lot of lies in the next little while.

But those weren't the words he needed to focus on right now. The only ones he needed to pay attention to were the ones coming out of Laufey's mouth.

"You have a deal son of Odin. Two….for the price of one."

Loki smiled and tried not to swallow hard. He just hoped he wasn't going to regret this.

Ω

The interior of the house was just as messy as the outside.

Every few feet the floorboards were disrupted by the tree roots which made walking difficult.

Against the far wall there was a small kitchenette complete with a table and chairs. Down a short hallway

Pandora didn't say much after the three entered the house, but bustled about pouring tea and stoking the fire while they sat in front of it.

"Now then," she said finally sinking into a chair next to them. "I sense that you have come to me out of great need. Tell me, what is it that you want?"

Natasha, Regulus and Thor exchanged a glance, quickly deciding who would go first. Thor did the honors.

He leaned forward and knotted his hands together. "I've never met you Pandora but I understand the relationship you have with my brother."

"Ah yes, it's been a while since Loki was here last," Pandora said wistfully sipping from her tea. "I presume he's seen his daughter since then but as for me, it was before the summer that he came here last. Apparently the girls got up to some trouble at school and he wished to fill me in."

Thor dropped his head and chuckled slightly. "That they did. I am beginning to find that my daughter and yours are exactly like myself and my brother."

"In mind and power indeed," Pandora agreed and Natasha and Regulus exchanged looks, wondering what the witch meant.

Natasha leaned forward. "We were hoping that you might be able to help us with something."

Pandora smiled at her. "Ah yes, you wish to receive the knowledge that will help regain your power."

Thor shook his head. "Not exactly. I was hoping that you might assist me in getting a message to my brother."

Pandora frowned. "But he is not in Asgard."

Thor blinked, not immediately questioning the Seer. "He's not? But then where is he?"

Pandora smiled but it was a smile that said she knew something Thor and the rest did not. "He is on a long journey. One of his choosing."

If possible, Thor looked even more confused but a moment later it seemed as though Pandora decided to take pity on him. She got up and rummaged about in the trunk over by the window before pulling out a large round mirror with gilded golden edges.

She hauled this over to the small round table in front of the fire and gently set it down in front of her guests.

"By this we will find him," the tiny blonde witched pronounced proudly. "He gave it to my many years ago and infused a drop of his blood in it so that no matter where in the cosmos he might be, I can find him no matter what."

"How is this possible?" Regulus whispered under his breath but Pandora still heard him.

"It is as possible as a man being brought back from the dead Regulus Black," she said cheerfully. "We are beings of magic, all of us. We are certainly capable of things that no other human is. Why not this?"

She didn't wait for an answer and turned back to Thor. "What is it that you wish from your brother son of Odin?"

"I just want to get a message to him about where I am," Thor said softly. "Just to let him know that I am safe. Perhaps he can relay it to my mother as well."

Natasha frowned at her husband. She had been hoping he would mention something about possible ways he could get his power back but he seemed stubbornly tight lipped.

"Very well," Pandora said. She reached out towards the surface of the mirror and began lightly trailing her fingers across it all the while muttering words in a language that was unfamiliar to Natasha.

Judging by the way that Thor stiffened however, he knew exactly what they meant and his grip on her hand tightened.

All of a sudden the surface of the glass mirror rippled like water and then cleared to reveal a very dark background.

Natasha squinted and then her eyes widened in shock when she beheld her brother in law standing before a very unfamiliar throne in a room of stone.

He was standing in front of a being that looked like something straight out of her childhood nightmares. Its skin was grey and leathery with deep grooves in his cheeks and temples as well as a golden loin cloth and golden bracelets and cuffs.

There were shackles on Loki's wrists making her think that he was not there of his own accord and beside her Thor cursed violently.

"What is it?" Regulus asked.

"Why is he there?" Thor asked turning to the Seer. "Why is he in the realm of Jottunheim?"

Jottunheim?

Natasha leaned forward with interest. Thor had told her about their wars with the Frost Giants, but she had never seen one before.

Looking at the fearsome creature now however, she understood just a little bit more why Asgard had gone to war with them.

What on earth was Loki doing with them?

And then she saw something that made her lean forward almost onto the table.

The strange Frost Giant pulled out something from behind his chair that made Thor sit up ramrod straight. It was a large blue cube about the size of a human fist that was glowing with an eerie blue light.

Even from this reflection they were looking into, it seemed to pulse with power and Thor once more swore violently.

"The Tesseract, how is Laufey in possession of the Tesseract? It's supposed to be locked away in my father's vault!"

Natasha peered closer. "He wouldn't have given it to them would he?"

Thor shook his head almost violently. "He couldn't have! What reason would he have for giving away one of Asgard's most powerful treasures to our enemy?"

Then Natasha looked closer. "Hold on a moment, he is in chains. That must mean that he wasn't there of his own will."

"But why would he have the Tesseract?" Thor demanded. "Why even take it from the vault at all?"

"Desperation?" Regulus suggested.

"But what could make him so desperate as to take out such a weapon?" Thor asked to no one in particular and Natasha blinked as a realization came upon her. "Maybe he wanted to use it to look for you."

Thor blinked several times as he processed that new idea. "I suppose its…possible."

"And yet," Pandora interrupted. "It would seem that the shackles indicate he is in grave danger."

Thor got up then so fast that he almost knocked over the table and without a word strode over to the door, ripped it open and stormed out.

Regulus sent Natasha a bewildered look but she shook her head. "Stay here, I'll be right back."

She got up and hurried about her husband.

Natasha found him standing at the far most corner of the tree nest, one hand resting against the branches, looking out into the dark wide open fields beyond.

As she neared him, he flinched at the sound of her feet. "This was a mistake."

"How?" she asked as she came level with him. "We know where your brother is now."

"In a far worse position than I am," he shot back. "He has been taken captive on Jottunheim and one of the greatest weapons in the cosmos is in the hands of Laufey, king of Jottunheim. Whatever I hoped from this meeting has been blown to pieces."

"Hey," Natasha said gently laying a hand on his arm. "He's going to be alright. You both are. I may not know Loki as well as you do but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have a plan. Other than you and I, your brother is the most capable individual I have ever met. I must know what he is doing."

Thor put an arm around her but said nothing and Natasha knew he was listening. "I wish I shared your confidence. But Natasha, the Frost Giants are some of our fiercest enemies. They have never forgotten the slights they suffered in the war against us and Laufey has a long memory. He will not soon forget that my father took his greatest weapon from him. What if he uses the Tesseract to get it back?"

Natasha frowned. "What weapons is that?"

Thor sighed heavily. "It is called the Casket of Ancient Winters and when opened it is capable of producing and projecting an infinite ice wind that can freeze whole landscapes and plunge entire worlds into a new ice age. If Laufey gets his hands on it…."

Natasha grimaced, thinking about what would happen if such a thing occurred.

"Look," she said, trying to regain some of her confidence. "I don't know much about ancient cosmic weapons. But I do trust Loki, and if he is there, there must be a reason. If nothing else, trust in him."

After a long moment, he nodded and squeezed her hand.

"Good," Natasha replied. "Now come on, let's go back inside and figure out a way to contact your brother. That's what we came for and we will not leave until we have found a way."

Ω

Well there we are. Next chapter we see the beginnings of the disastrous dueling club, Hermione and Luna have an encounter with Jor and Loki prepares to commit treason, stay tuned!

Also, more exciting news. I have begun posting the book I am currently writing to Wattpad hoping it will get some more looks and some traction in the writing world. This is the book I am hoping will be published someday. I am posting the link to it here. It would mean the absolute world to me if you guys would go and check it out and tell me what you think. It's called Memoria.

story/224704026-memoria

Also if you have not subscribed to my Youtube Channel yet, the channel name is KaetieMac. It is primarily and a books and writing channel though comics are mentioned a lot. I would love for you guys to go and check that one out as well, leave a like and a subscribe, let me know what you think!

Thanks so much for reading and I'll see you next time!