As promised, a little something extra for Christmas. This first story is from the KTSA verse, and came to me all in one go. The second, which will go up before New Year, will conclude the "Sif's Quest" story in the "Tales of the Third Brother" while the third will be an epilogue to the whole story...

Thank you so much for reading, and for all your support since I first started all this madness in the Spring. I cannot begin to tell you how important it has been to me.

With love. Merrick x


A Tale of Three Christmases

Christmas the First. Hogwarts Castle….

In spite of his aversion to the excessive feasting and drinking associated with it, Loki had always adored the great Midwinter Festivals of Asgard. There was something very magical about the tingling chill in the air, the way the palace gardens sparkled with frost and candlelight, and within, there was always warmth and music and merriment. Even his Father had seemed less remote and irritable over those magical weeks of Midwinter. No matter where he travelled through the paths of Yggdrasil, something in Loki had always drawn him home in time for Midwinter. So as the crisp golden autumn of his first year of exile darkened to a damp, chill winter, Loki's heart turned increasingly to his memories, and to the Midwinter gathering which would take place without him this year. This would not be the first time he had been absent, he knew. He had missed last year too, his body starved and tormented in The Other's dungeon, his mind locked in madness. But this year was different, this year he knew what he was missing.

To be fair, he knew that Thor and his mother would welcome his return with open arms, even for a few days. His Father still slept, with little chance of his ever awakening again, and it may be that he might be able to persuade Hermione to accompany him. But while his heart longed for Asgard, his logical mind told him that he was far from ready to return – far from ready to face the memories of his treatment at Odin's hand on his last visit. It had been less than half a year since he had escaped, slung over his brother's shoulders like a hunted stag and he knew in his heart that while his body was healed, his mind was still far from it. His concentration was fractured and unreliable, like his magic. Neither were helped by the horrific nightmares which still plagued him, and could be triggered by the smallest thing. Worst of all though were the terrible attacks which struck him out of nowhere – admittedly more rarely these days, but they were humiliatingly difficult to control when they did, leaving him shaking and gasping for breath and often weeping like a frightened child. The memory of the most recent still left him burning with humiliation.

He had wished to borrow a book from Draco, and had sought him in the dungeons, in his office close to the Slytherin Common Room. Unfortunately Loki's knowledge of the dungeons was still sketchy at best, and in his haste he had taken a wrong turning, ending up hopelessly and utterly lost. As the corridors had become darker and narrower, he had been increasingly aware of the weight of the great castle above him, and the irresistible sensation of panic had started to build.

It was fortunate, said Hermione later, that the Grey Lady had also been seeking privacy and solitude that evening, and had stumbled – or maybe glided – upon him huddled in a corridor, pale, clammy and unable to breathe. She had immediately sent a message to Hermione via the Castle portraits, but Loki still cringed at the thought of his being found in such a condition. He was a Prince of Asgard, not some pathetic child to cry and whimper in the darkness – neither was Hermione his mother or his nurse, to have to tend him in such a state.

He was aware that he was being irritable, even with Hermione. He had taken to sleeping the day away in front of the fire in their chambers, knowing that his sleep at night was likely to be broken and hard to come by. As a consequence, he and Hermione had drifted apart, passing one another at the beginning and the end of the day, no longer connecting or communicating. Without any kind of occupation Loki was bored and frightened and frustrated, alternately shutting down and lashing out like the black panther that Hermione had always likened him too. Finding him increasingly difficult to deal with, Hermione had taken to spending more and more time working in her study or in her potions lab.

It was entirely understandable – but it didn't help.

Things came to a head one Saturday morning in the middle of winter. Loki had decided to make an effort, and had retired with Hermione the previous night, determined to spend the night in their bed like a civilised person. But his mind had refused to settle, and Hermione, rising early had found him huddled pale and sleepless in his usual spot by the fireplace.

He had not intended to be so irritable with her, but he was exhausted both mentally and physically, and the fear was beginning to whisper to him that maybe this was not going to go away. That this would be the beginning of a spiral into madness from which he might never recover. Gods had gone mad in the past, he knew, from childhood tales whispered in corners and around the fires late at night. His own blood father – Laufey – had not been known for his stability…

Even by their standards, the quarrel that had resulted had been spectacular for both its intensity and its duration. Previously, Hermione had always been the one to either smooth things over, or leave, to give them both time to calm down. This time though, his brilliant, beautiful witch - driven to the end of her tether - had shown the core of solid steel he knew to lurk beneath her gentle exterior. She had refused point blank to either back down or leave him in peace, and in the end it had been Loki that had hurled himself furiously out of the room, summoning his heaviest winter cloak as he went.

His temper carried him down the stairs, out of the front door, and almost to the edge of the Dark Forest before he finally slowed down, seeing the Giant – Hagrid – sitting on the step of his hut, a huge steaming mug of tea in his hands.

Seeing Loki approaching, he nodded politely. "Good morning Mr Lawes. Yer up early for a weekend." Seeing Loki's face clearly under his hood for the first time, he frowned. "Are you alright?"

It had been on the tip of Loki's tongue to tell the gamekeeper to mind his manners and stay out of the affairs of his betters, but his encounter with Banner's green beast had taught him caution, and there was something in Hagrid's beetling black eyes which brought him up short.

"Loki"

Hagrid's eyebrows lifted into his thatch of wild black hair. "Loki?"

Why he was succumbing to the urge to confide in the Hogwarts gamekeeper, Loki had no idea, but Hermione had spoken well of him, and for all his imposing stature and wild appearance, there was something very kind and soothing about him….

"My…my name isn't William Lawes at all. It's Loki"

Hagrid nodded thoughtfully. "And does 'ermione know that yer – Loki?"

"Oh yes – she was the one that suggested William Lawes."

Hagrid shrugged. "Thas awright then." He looked down into his cup thoughtfully for a moment. "Looks like I'm in need've a refill. D'you want ta come in?"

For all his Jotun blood, Loki's Aesir form had little more resistance to the cold than a mortal, and in spite of his heavy cloak, he could feel the chill creeping up through the soles of his boots, and the tip of his nose was starting to go numb. "Yes please"

Loki climbed the steps into the golden warmth of Hagrid's hut, and looked around in frank wonderment. "When we were boys, you would never have got my brother and I out of here…" His eye was caught by something on the mantelpiece… "Oh my! Is that a dragon egg? I didn't realise that you still had dragon's on Midgard?"

Hagrid was busy with kettle and teapot, and for a moment, the implications of Loki's words didn't sink in.. "Aye well, yes, that might be a dragon e….." he stilled suddenly and looked up at Loki – frowning. "…Yer not from around these parts are yer?"

Mutely, Loki shook his head, knowing he had said too much. What in all the Nine was wrong with him? He had never struggled to guard his tongue before. Everything was crashing in on him again, his vision was starting to grey around the edges, and even though he knew there was no running water anywhere closer than the Black Lake, he could still hear the water bubbling over the rocks outside that accursed cave.

The cave….. It was cold, and dark… and the pain in his ribs when he breathed, in his arms and shoulders, and in his bruised and swollen face where it rested against the rocks, but most of all burning in droplets of fire over already damaged flesh, making him scream, all the time knowing that there was no-one to hear him.…. that no-one was coming this time…

He was dizzy and gasping for breath when he became aware of a huge hand steering him gently into a large chair.

"Easy now, tek it easy. Jest breathe, nice n easy like. Thas it, nice n easy, you'll be ok in a minute…" A deep voice was murmuring comforting nonsense to him, as his body and mind gradually came back under his control. Weak and humiliated, he leaned against the back of the huge chair, resisting the urge to curl up in it like a child. Not wishing to see the pity in Hagrid's face, he stared blankly into the fire..

"Here, drink this…"

A huge cup of tea was placed carefully into his hands, and a large lumpy woollen blanket was tucked over his knees. Loki knew that he should tell this presumptuous servant that he was a Prince and a warrior, not some wilting maiden to be cosseted and fussed over… But right now he needed this too badly. The tingling numbness and tremors from his attack were fading as warmth returned to his limbs, and the tea was hot and sweet, just the way he liked it. "Thank you"

Picking up his own cup, Hagrid seated himself in the chair opposite, dropping his hand to rub the ears of the huge hound that was dozing beside him.

"I remember 'ermione sat in that chair, drinkin' tea when she was jest a bit've a thing. When they first used to come n visit me - 'er n Ron, n young Harry a'course – they'd all fit in that chair. Course those were the days when them n young Draco – Professor Malfoy I should call 'im now – din't get on as well as they do now. Difficult times they were. Dark days." The twinkling black eyes rested on Loki with disconcerting directness. "What 'appened – jest now. Tisn't anythin' to be ashamed of yer know. After everythin' that 'appened in those days – well I'm sure 'ermione will've told yer – about the battle n'all."

"Yes"

"There were too many good folk killed in that battle. But there was others, those that'd been wounded, those that'd lost people, and some that'd been 'eld prisoner by the Death Eaters, and tortured, or been forced to torture or kill other folk. Some 'a them was taken the same way."

"What happened to them? Did they get better?" Loki wished his voice didn't sound so shaky – so – young. But he really needed to hear that they had recovered, that they had been able to come back. That this wasn't going to be his life from now on…

Hagrid shrugged. "Some did n some didn't …."

Loki closed his eyes, wishing that for once, someone could just tell him that it was all going to be alright..

"…But I'll tell yer this. No one got better on their own…. Now I don't know what it is that yer've been through – yer don' 'ave to tell me if yer don't want to. But yer need to stop thinkin' about this as summat' weak or shameful… This means that – whatever it was – yer survived. An' now yer here, and yer safe and yer got a good girl in that there castle – no doubt frettin' now about where yer are and the almighty row yer've just had." Seeing Loki's startled expression, he chuckled into his beard. "I'm not as young as I used ta be lad, but I'm not dead yet…." He leaned forward, tapping Loki's knee with a large hand. "Yer need to talk to someone. Talk to 'ermione by all means, but you might need more'n that"

"You mean a Healer?" Loki grimaced in distaste. "Hermione suggested some kind of …. mind Healer in London."

Hagrid nodded wisely. "D'yer love her? 'ermione?"

There was no room left in him for vanity… "Yes"

"Then y'need to beat this. Tisn't easy I know. Specially as you look like the kind've young man as is used ter workin' things out on 'is own. But think about it….."

Loki realised he had got to the bottom of his tea cup, and rose to leave, folding the rug tidily. "I will. Thank you Hagrid… for the tea – and for everything…."

Hagrid rose to usher him out. As Loki was heading back across the grass, he paused for a moment, looking upwards, as the first flakes of the first snow of winter started to drift down… and Hagrid was suddenly reminded of another black haired, green eyed wizard, standing there, looking up at the snow…

"Loki"

He turned back, snow dusting his hair and cloak "Yes"

A bit later, I'll be bringin' in the Christmas trees – if you fancy givin' me a hand that is…"

The smile that lit the thin pale face was startlingly sweet.

"I'd like that. Thank you…."

ooo0ooo

When Loki got back to their chambers, there was no sign of Hermione. Neither was she in the Great Hall. Summoning Kreacher, Loki was informed that "Mistress Hermione is in her lab and does not wish to be disturbed…" especially by you hung unspoken in the air….

Loki's first instinct was to rush down to the lab and demand to speak to her. But he had started this, he now needed to give her a little space. If she wished to be quiet for a while, that was fine, but they would have to talk later… In the meantime.

"Kreacher. Would you be able to help me with something please…?"

ooo0ooo

Hermione had always had a tendency to get absorbed in her work. Extending the effective period of Polyjuice Potion had been a pet project of hers for a while now, and today she had finally made a breakthrough. She had just turned back into herself, after a period of three hours when a tap came at the door.

"Who is it?"

"It is Kreacher, Mistress Hermione."

Straightening up from her notes, Hermione realised how late it must be. "Come in Kreacher"

Without bothering to open the door, the little elf appeared in front of her.

"Mistress Hermione, it is getting let. Please allow Kreacher to put this away for you…"

Hermione straightened, pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Thank you Kreacher, that would be very kind of you. Is…. is Master Loki back?"

The old elf smiled knowingly. "I believe he may be upstairs Mistress Hermione."

"Thank you again Kreacher…"

Hermione debated whether or not to just go straight to the Great Hall for supper, but she felt tired and grubby from her day in the lab, and the thought of changing, and maybe even asking one of the elves to bring something up was attractive. Pushing open the door into their sitting room, she stopped, stunned.

The cosy tower room had been transformed. In one of the window alcoves stood a small, but exquisitely proportioned Christmas tree, decorated with green and red baubles that were so delicate that they had to be magical, holly and ivy was draped across the fireplace and pictures, and everywhere there were plain white candles. The armchairs had been transfigured into a small dining table and chairs, which were laid for dinner, the candlelight reflecting off crystal and silver.

"I'm sorry"

Hermione turned, to find Loki standing in the bedroom doorway, wearing a soft green jumper and jeans. His hair, still damp from the shower, hung loose around his face, and he pushed it back nervously, trying to gauge her mood. Seeing that she no longer seemed angry, he took a deep breath…

"I am sorry. I… I just hate this. I hate these – attacks, and not even being able to go into your potions cupboard without freaking out, and the fact that I can't spend a night with you without waking you up…. and I hate you feeling as though you have to care for me all the time and that I'm so weak and pathetic and …. Because I can't sleep properly I get so tired, and when I get tired it all gets on top of me and I get so angry and I take it out on you, even though I know I shouldn't …. then I'm so afraid. That this isn't going to go away... That I'll push you away, that you'll realise what I'm really like and you'll leave me and I can't lose you…. I can't…." He hadn't meant for it all to come out in a big rush – but the cork was out of the bottle now, and to his utter mortification he realised that his eyes were wet and swiped at them angrily. "Damn….this wasn't how this was supposed to happen at all. I was going to be all polite and apologetic, and I've run you a bath, and Kreacher is going to bring us dinner and now I'm babbling and …. oh" A pair of warm soft lips had closed over his, stealing both his breath and his words...

When they parted, she made no attempt to leave his arms, her head resting contentedly against his shoulder. "Are you done?" her smile was impish but her eyes were warm.

Wordlessly, he nodded.

"This is lovely. You've been busy."

He nodded. "I got the idea for the tree from Hagrid… I helped him bring the big ones in this morning."

Hermione smiled, but her eyes were puzzled. "I didn't know that you knew Hagrid that well.."

"I didn't but we – we had a cup of tea in his hut this morning. He's going to introduce me to some of the magical creatures that he looks after if I go back... Anyway, that was when he asked me if I'd like to help him.. I'd never seen a Christmas Tree before, we decorate with evergreens in Asgard, but not trees like that. When we'd brought the big trees in I asked if he could help me find one to fit in here. Is it alright? I'm sorry, I'm babbling again."

Hermione wrapped her arms around his waist, fingers slipping under his sweater, to find warm bare skin beneath. "Loki. Did you say something about a bath?"

"Yes I did?"

She tilted her face up to him for another kiss. "Do you fancy coming and scrubbing my back?"

"I could wash your hair if you like"

"Even better…. but there's one more thing I have to say…"

"Yes"

She took his face between her hands, eyes soft, but very serious. "I'm in this for the long haul. You understand?" when he still looked confused, she continued. "You've been through a lot – I know that. I also know that this is going to take time. But it will get better I promise. You just have to promise me something in return"

"Anything"

"Seriously. You have to promise to stop pushing me away. I am not leaving you… but when things get difficult you need to talk to me Silvertongue – use your words. I'm good, but I'm no mind reader. Now – do we have a deal?"

She shrieked, as he scooped her up in his arms, heading for their bathroom…

"We have a deal"

ooo0ooo

This Midgardian Christmas was already an improvement on any Midwinter Festival he could remember, thought Loki, if only for the fact that he had woken up that morning with his arms full of a warm, sleepy and very willing witch, something he had certainly never had the pleasure of on Asgard. So pleasant had it been, in fact, that they had only just made it down to the Great Hall in time for Christmas lunch. As was traditional, Hermione had told him, staff, students and guests all ate together at a large table rather than the usual top table and houses. The dozen or so students that had stayed had been a little overwhelmed at first – particularly the younger ones, but under the influence of the excellent food, everyone soon had a fine time.

The meal had been cleared, and everyone was mingling and chatting when Hagrid caught up with him.

"How're you doin'…. Mr Lawes"

Loki smiled, flicking one of his favourite glass baubles to make it catch the light. "Well, I have my good days, and my bad days. But I'm talking about it when things get too much, and I'm sleeping better now that Hermione has made some adjustments to the Dreamless Sleep Potion."

"Ah – that's good news. If yer can't sleep, everythin's harder"

Hermione had joined them now, wrapping her arm around Loki's waist, leaning against him. "…and in the New Year he's promised to come down to St Mungo's with me…. to see if one of the Mind Healers can help him… no pressure, just a preliminary chat." She looked at the two of them beadily, then smiled up at Hagrid. "So whatever you said that day, to kick some sense into him, I thank you…"

Hagrid bent to give her a rather whiskery hug…. " 'Appy Christmas 'ermione"

After they had seen Hagrid onto the path back to his hut, they walked along the terrace, arms around one another, admiring the snowy landscape.

Hermione stopped, looking down over the parapet to the Black Lake where some of the students had been building snowmen. "This is my favourite time of year I think." She looked back and upwards over her shoulder "Is it cold in Asgard at this time of year? And speaking of Asgard - have you heard from them at all?"

Loki smiled. "There were some extra parcels sitting under the tree when I went up to get our cloaks, but I didn't stop to investigate. And yes, it is cold - frosty sometimes but we never get snow like this in Asgard – sometimes on the mountains, but never in the city that I can remember. This is stunning."

Hermione shivered in spite of her heavy cloak, and slipped under his to snuggle closer to him. "Hogwarts is always truly magical at Christmas.. It's so beautiful."

Loki tilted her chin up. The cold weather brightened her eyes, and brought a glow to her skin. "Yes, Hogwarts is beautiful.. but you are lovelier by far"

She chuckled softly. "Smooth – very smooth Silvertongue."

He bent his head, lips brushing teasingly against hers…. "Now you know that's not the only reason for my nickname don't you?"

She moaned softly as he deepened the kiss further, wrapping his arms around her to pull her tightly against him. When the need to breath forced them apart at last, he rested his cheek on her hair…

"Happy Christmas Sweetheart…."