Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1975 : Spring
Remus closed his book and scratched a note on the many sheets of parchment that cluttered his bed. His fingers were smudged with ink, and his nose also, where he had rubbed it earlier with his stained digits. He was tired, hungry, and his shoulders cramped and protested as he stretched them.
James glanced up from where he sat on the floor, trying to tempt a rat he’d discovered in the hallway to eat from his hand. ‘Anything?’
Remus had reached the limit in the library for student use and had been forced to fetch James to check out new books for him. Between them they had nearly twenty books, and the evenings of hunched cross-referencing and eye-burning study had begun to take a toll on him. But it had been worth it.
Sirius lay in the Infirmary, with no signs of recovering. Madam Pomfrey had sent for a specialist from London, who had given him a pair of dark glasses, through which Sirius was able to see dimly and brownly. Sirius’s mother had come to see him, and had gone next to St Mungo’s to inquire about long-term stays.
Remus sat on the floor beside James, startling the rat; he watched it flee to the darkness under his bed. He held out a book, spine cracked and yellowed pages crumbling, open to James. ‘Madame Houck says that there is a king of the underworld. The place we went to. She says that humans see it as an endless moor. That’s close, anyway. She said when she went she was presented to the king of the tylwyth teg and told that she would be allowed to keep her mind if she could think of an exchange.’
James took the book, but didn’t read it. He searched Remus’s face for an answer. ‘What did she exchange?’
Remus fiddled with a fold of his robe. He had discovered another new hole and was poking the tip of his finger through it to widen it. ‘The eye of the giantess Yramyr.’
James said, ‘We don’t have anything that valuable.’
He stood, brushing dust off of his school robe. ‘I think we ought to tell a teacher. They’ll be able to think of something we won’t.’
‘We’ll get in a lot of trouble.’ James ticked the points off on his fingers. ‘We went into the Forbidden Forest, and as the staff are so fond of saying, that’s on pain of death. We put each other in mortal danger, didn’t report a suspicious and magical doorway, and now we may have killed Sirius!’
‘You mean, I did.’ Remus glanced away, staring at anything but his friend. ‘I was the one who insisted it was all real. I didn’t hold onto him. I didn’t know anything about the field and I treated it like a plaything.’ He twisted his hands in the thick wool of his robe. ‘I was reckless,’ he whispered. ‘At best. It seems everyone pays for my recklessness but me.’
‘That’s not true.’ James faced him. ‘We were all reckless. Ought to have known better. Besides.’ He straightened his shoulders. ‘We’ll find a way to fix it.’
Remus was saved a reply by a knocking at the door. He answered it, and stepped aside to allow Peter in. He accepted a plate of bread and jam, and sat on the floor with it to pick at his meal. Peter gave James a napkin full of good pork sausages, and settled on the bed.
James ate eagerly, but clearly his mind was elsewhere. ‘Remus,’ he asked finally. ‘Where can we find something like the eye of a giantess?’
‘Not in Hogsmeade, I wager,’ Peter muttered.
Remus lowered the corner of bread he’d been about to chew. ‘I was thinking about that since I read Madame Houck’s account. I think... ‘ He trailed off. ‘But we’re already in enough trouble.’
‘Tell that to Sirius,’ James replied pointedly.
Remus flushed. ‘I just meant–‘ He hunched his shoulders. ‘I was thinking, we find all sorts of stuff in the old storerooms. It’d be stealing, but there are all kinds of ancient artefacts and I bet no one even knows anymore what all is here.’
Peter looked up from where he was drawing the rat to him with an offering of a chocolate digestive. Though he had come in late on their conversation, he nonetheless tried to help. ‘I found a weird hand mirror a month ago.’
James turned his attention to the other Gryffindor. ‘A mirror? Where?’
‘Fourth floor.’ Peter had coaxed the rat into his palm, and now it was sitting in his lap, its nose in the air and its whiskers trembling as it sniffed the air. ‘I was hiding from Dumfries,’ he continued, a little ashamed.
Remus set his plate aside. ‘What does it do? How is it weird?’
Peter gently stroked the rat’s back. ‘It laughed at me. It said I had a funny face.’
James lost his look of hope. ‘A joke mirror.’
‘No, it talked to me,’ Peter assured him. ‘I told it I did not have a funny face, and it said, “Yes you do, you silly git. I bet you’re English.”’ He shooed the rat away. ‘I think it’s a Scottish mirror,’ he added.
Remus sighed and tugged on one of his cowlicks. ‘Well, it’s worth a look. Maybe it will amuse the tylwyth teg.’
James nodded reluctant agreement. ‘Maybe we should take a bunch of things. Improve our chances.’
‘Good idea.’ Peter cast a longing glance at Remus’s plate, and was given it immediately. ‘I bet Sirius knows where some good things are. You know he collects.’
‘That’s true!’ James turned to Remus. ‘Remember the glass cat he found, that walked and purred?’
Remus did indeed, for he had been very taken with it. ‘Let’s hope we’re onto something,’ he replied, trying to sound stout and confident.
‘We’ll tell Sirius, then.’ James stood. ‘You two coming with?’
Remus gazed at his books. ‘You go. I still want to read more of Madame Houck. She seems like our best bet.’
If James thought that Remus had other reasons for avoiding Sirius, he said nothing. He only nodded, and he and Peter left to fill Sirius in on their new plan.
By Friday evening, they were ready. James and Peter snuck through the halls to Remus’s room-- the only place they could be guaranteed privacy-- with a backpack full of the strangest artefacts they could find in the lesser traversed parts of the school. Remus was dressing as they entered, and turned a little away from them as he wrapped his scarf about his neck.
James had decided to wear the lightest of his Quidditch sweaters, and Peter was shivering in a short-sleeved grey shirt normally reserved for the summer months. Remus looked odd in his summer uniform-- the only summer clothes he owned-- and the winter scarf, but James had never seen him without it and had learnt not to mention it. Remus had very skinny legs with great knobby knees.
‘Petey? Sirius all ready?’
Peter looked up. ‘Oh, yes. He says he’s feeling up to it too.’
‘He has to.’ James sighed. ‘And Madam Pomfrey?’
‘Lucius will distract her at eight o’clock.’ Remus unzipped the bag to look inside. ‘I don’t know what he’s going to do, but it’s probably worth a detention.’
‘We’ll make it up to him somehow.’ If James regretted involving Malfoy, he didn’t show it. ‘Did you take care of Snape?’
Severus had been against going back to the field. Remus had cajoled, and privately James had threatened, and the plain-faced Slytherin had finally, grudgingly, agreed to keep his peace.
Remus studied his hands. ‘Yes, James.’ No one was in doubt that Severus and Remus had fought over this. James felt sorry for it, but it took second place to the urgency of Sirius’s condition. He kept his nose out of it, knowing that Remus agreed with him wholeheartedly. If– when– they succeeded, there would be time enough to mend fences.
James motioned Remus to him, and all three boys climbed onto the bed. James brought out of his pocket the earplugs he had gotten from another student, calling in a favour. ‘We’ll give Sirius his once we get out of here. Bert said they’d work against banshees, or at least that’s what his uncle told him. So there’s a good chance it’ll work on the music. We have to set them to respond to our voices now.’
Remus fetched his battered old wand from his desk, and Peter took his from his shirt. James removed his from his back pocket, and they laid them carefully out on the blanket, tips touching.
‘I’ll go first.’ James threw his shoulders back, and gripped the earplugs tightly in one fist. ‘James Potter,’ he said, clearly and loudly. ‘Recognosco.’
‘Credo,’ replied Remus, and Peter echoed him.
Nothing happened, and James felt a curious disappointment, despite more than three years of study with finicky magics. He nodded to Peter.
‘Peter Pettigrew.’ Peter’s squinted eyes flicked nervously to the other two. ‘Re– recognosco.’
Remus drew in a sharp breath. ‘Credo.’
‘Credo,’ said James.
‘Remus Lupin.’ Remus was clipped and sure. ‘Recognosco.’
Remus nodded shortly. ‘That’s done, then. It’s seven thirty.’
Dressed for the warmth of the field, rather than the cold of winter, the boys shivered in the hallways as they snuck to one of the secret passages recently added to the map. No one noticed three shadows, one tall, one small, and one round, disappear behind a faded old tapestry.
Several spider’s webs and three slippery staircases later, the boys found themselves at a dead end. James pushed to the front, feeling along the stone.
‘Check the map,’ Peter whispered.
‘No light,’ James retorted. ‘Should have brought a candle...’
‘Lumos,’ whispered Remus, and held up his wand, which now glowed softly. When the other two looked at him, he said only, in a cross tone, ‘Oh, we’re in a school for *magic,* for goodness’ sake.’
James grinned suddenly. ‘Right. And anyway, now I see there’s a turn here to the right, I was just feeling in the wrong place.’
After that, it was much easier to hurry through the passageway. Remus put out the light in his wand when Peter glimpsed a light ahead of them, streaming in from two holes. Once again James took point, and stood up on the tips of his toes to place his eyes against the gaps.
‘I see Malfoy,’ he reported. ‘He’s got those chubby goons with him.’
As he watched, Lucius Malfoy glanced about him nervously, clearly worrying over discovery outside the Infirmary door. He held something in his pocket, and kept touching it and then checking his watch. His two oversized friends had split an apple between them, and lounged about, patently bored.
‘Close enough,’ James muttered to himself. ‘Just do it. We’re here now.’
But Malfoy did not, and the minutes dragged on.
‘I have to go the loo,’ Peter whispered.
‘Should have done before, then,’ James countered, without turning. ‘Wait til we get to the Forest.’
‘I can’t go in the Forest!’
‘Just hold it, Peter,’ Remus said. ‘It’s got to be nearly eight, now.’
Malfoy agreed, apparently, because he took his hand out of his pocket, and gave each of his roommates something. James, his view blocked by the blonde boy’s back, could not see what. Malfoy gave quietly hissed instructions, and took off down the hall without waiting to see what happened next.
‘Figures,’ James muttered, disgusted. ‘Leave the hard part to someone else.’
Moments later, shrieks issued from the Infirmary, as did billows of deeply orange smoke. James tensed; Malfoy’s ploy was rewarded with Madam Pomfrey herself, just as promised. She stormed out of the Infirmary in a fine rage, and grabbed each boy by an ear. Within a minute they were marching off to the Headmaster’s office.
‘Let’s go,’ he told the others, and undid the latch that rested under his hand. The portrait swung away from the wall soundlessly, and the three boys dodged into the open doorway, unseen by the house elves who were gathered in a group wailing their silly heads off in the middle of a cloud of orange.
James made it Sirius’s bed first, and found him already sitting up and putting his glasses on. ‘You ready?’ he demanded.
Sirius gave them a shadow of his old grin. ‘Had my fingers crossed all day.’
Silently Remus handed him a cloak to wear over his hospital pajamas. Sirius, his young face grim and lined with the unrelenting pain of his headaches, wrapped it around him, and they slunk past the house elves and out the hall. They released a collective sigh of relief when they put the school behind them, and ran for the Forest.
Remus slipped past Peter and fell into step beside Sirius. ‘How are you?’ he asked, hating the lameness of the question but unable, for the life of him, to think of anything better.
Sirius glanced down at him, half his face invisible between the darkness and the large black lenses of his glasses. ‘I just hope you have a plan.’
They had to stop after a minute to let Peter run behind a tree and take care of a bursting bladder, and Remus hovered by Sirius, half-afraid to let the older boy out of his sight. He even whispered, ‘It’s all my fault,’ hoping that, like James, Sirius would instantly forgive him; but Sirius didn’t hear, and when they started walking again, Remus dragged behind and kept his eyes on his feet.
At the ring, they quickly ran through the charming of Sirius’s earplugs, and each inserted theirs. James had rigged strong leather strips into a sort of rope with handles, and this they threaded through their belts, so that they looked, to Remus’s uneasy imagination, a great deal like a string of slaves being led to the Roman fairs. Hands numb with the cold, Remus nonetheless jostled Peter for the link to Sirius, and tried his best to appear as imperturbable and strong as the brown-maned Gryffindor.
Sirius looks like a prince, Remus thought, gazing up at him. The cloak looked like the handsome robes that Headmaster Dumbledore wore, dusted softly with snowflakes and sable black in the light of the waning moon.
‘That’s it, then.’ James let out a sharp sigh. ‘Anyone else scared of this, suddenly?’
Peter laughed nervously.
They entered the ring, gripping the leather rope tightly.
Severus lifted the pot away from the stove, his hand carefully wrapped in his robe. He poured the steaming water into his mug, and when his roommate gestured, to the one beside it also. ‘Here,’ he said, and handed the mug to Tollery.
‘And you’re telling me they’re out there right now?’ Tollery, a fifth year, and his best friend, Jeremy Roth, had never feuded with James Potter and Sirius Black– but they had no reason to love him, either. Gryffindor had won the House Cup last year, and that put Slytherin in last place for the second year in a row.
He took the chair beside Tollery’s bed, and swirled the tea leaves in the bottom of his mug. It’s not really a betrayal, he convinced himself. Remus won’t get in any trouble. It’s just House politics.
‘He told me they were going at eight o’clock.’ It was already half past. ‘Who are you going to tell?’
Tollery sighed, and bent to place his tea on the floor. ‘Best go to Asper. He’ll be sure that Lupin is kept out of it, and he could probably get a good fifty points out of those Gryffs.’ He studied Severus through narrowed eyes. ‘You come with me.’
He looked up. ‘No, I–‘
‘He has to know,’ Tollery murmured. ‘That’s how it works, Snape. You’re a Slytherin. Lupin forgot that. We have to teach him.’ He stood, pulling on his vest and pinning his Prefect badge to it. ‘You will be the one to tell Asper.’
It’s for his own good, he convinced himself. He’s a Slytherin. He’s my friend. Not theirs.
‘All right,’ he said, and followed Tollery out.
Sirius knelt, running his fingers through the thick cool grass of the field. It was day, here, and the light burned through his eyes and pounded relentlessly against the back of his skull. He wished the others had thought of water, but he couldn’t blame them for the oversight. No-one, not even James Potter, could think of everything.
Remus crouched beside him, breaking away from the soft conversation James was leading as far away as their rope would allow. ‘All right, Sirius?’
The other boy was nothing but a brownish blur to him. The scarf... His scarf, cranberry red and sometimes he regretted giving it to Remus, the scarf he recognised even through the pain and the dimness of his diseased vision. He reached out to touch it. ‘Aren’t you hot?’
Remus seemed embarrassed. ‘Yes,’ he confessed.
‘Take it off.’
There was a long silence. ‘No.’
Another time, he might have argued. The heat was helping. He’d been cold all bloody week, dreaming of the bonfire and trying desperately to hold onto the fading memories of the dance.
He was aware of Remus worrying about him, watching him as if he couldn’t look away. It made him feel cross. He could take care of himself. He and James could have fixed this on their own.
He took off the glasses to rub his eyes, and put them back when James said, at a normal volume, ‘Right, let’s move out then.’
‘To where?’ Remus asked, standing.
‘Same place as last time.’
Sirius stood. Try though he had, he could not remember where they had taken him. There had been the solid presence of James and Peter and the creaking old leather of Remus’s belt, and then there had been the fire, and the wine, and...
‘Doesn’t it seem awfully still?’ Peter rubbed his stomach absently. ‘No wind. No real noise.’
The boys fell silent, each listening. There was not even the comfort of anything so normal as birdsong, for there was no brush or tree in sight that would offer shelter to them.
James put his hand on Remus’s shoulder. ‘Maybe our– our need isn’t great enough. We’re warned against them now, so we’re not easy prey. They won’t come to us. And...’ He squinted, pushing his glasses further up the ridge of his nose with his forefinger. ‘And when you and I were coming back to rescue Sirius, we were pretty worried, weren’t we? Urgent.’
Remus caught on, and so did Sirius. He said, ‘So what? Do we fake them out? Should one of us pretend to sprain an ankle or something?’
Remus was shaking his head. ‘I think they’d know,’ he refused. ‘Either they wouldn’t bother with us at all, or something bad could happen we can’t predict.’
‘Bad like going blind,’ Sirius snapped. ‘Bad like being unable to move for fear you’ll split your head open? Damn it, I’ll risk it.’
Remus turned pink. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered. ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
Peter gazed between them uneasily.
James kicked at the grass. ‘Great,’ he muttered. ‘So we’re helpless.’ He glared up at the perfectly azure sky. ‘No matter what we do, we’re still at a disadvantage. They know what they’ll do, and all we can do is guess from three steps behind.’
Peter seemed to take that to mean they weren’t going anywhere soon, and sat, forgetting he was connected to Remus by the leather straps. Remus stumbled and sat rather more abruptly, starting a chain reaction that brought the other two down. Peter turned a fascinating shade of red and covered his face with his hands. There was a moment of surprised silence, and then James laughed.
‘All right,’ he said, wiping sweat from his brow. ‘No sense in wearing ourselves out looking for something we can’t find. We might as well rest here for a while.’
They’d been waiting beside the ring for a good ten minutes, watching Professor Asper stare at it and mutter spells they couldn’t quite hear. Sometimes the wand of thick ebony would spit sparks or bright lights that settled over the mushrooms. Tollery looked bored to tears, and Severus saw him fingering the cigarettes in his pocket longingly, but he didn’t dare smoke before a teacher.
‘I see,’ Asper said finally in a normal tone. What he saw, he didn’t share with his students; he tucked his wand into a carrying sheath in his belt, and drew up the hood of his green woolen robe. ‘Very well. Dismissed.’
Tollery straightened, stiff with surprise. ‘But Professor,’ he started.
Asper barely spared him a glance. ‘You did your duty. If I’m not mistaken, I ordered a written report on last Thursday’s lab practical, Tollery. May I assume yours is perfect?’
Tollery flushed, and his second chin trembled with anger. ‘Sir,’ he said, and shoved off through the trees, making quite a lot of unnecessary noise. Severus hesitated a moment longer, but Asper was not even looking at him.
‘Sir,’ he echoed. ‘Will... will they be in much trouble?’
‘A little late to worry about such details.’ Asper knelt, brushing his fingers near the edge of the ring. ‘Why are you still here?’
He wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the thought of how angry Remus would be with him. Or the thought of all the things that could be going wrong in the faerie world. And he’d sort of thought that Asper would want to go to the faerie world himself, to get them back or something. There was absolutely no sign that Asper intended any such adventure.
He left without saying anything else.
Night had come slowly, relieving the heat only slightly. They had wandered again after all, searching for a stream or a lake, in need of water. All four were hungry and irritable, and just before dusk, Sirius had peevishly freed himself from their rope link, ignoring all the protests Remus raised. James seemed to accept it, however, and after dark freed himself as well.
Remus clung to Peter– rather childishly, Sirius felt– stopping the chubby boy from untying the length of leather that bound them. ‘This isn’t safe,’ he repeated.
‘Bother that,’ Sirius snapped. He lifted his arms skyward. ‘This is so useless! They’re not coming, don’t you see? We’re wasting time.’
‘Fine! Fine.’ Remus struggled to untie the knot at his belt, and let Peter untie it for him, dropping the rope to the ground. ‘At least I’m trying. At least I remember what happened to you, since it’s clearly slipped your mind completely! Go back, give it a try, whatever.’ His face an ugly red, Remus turned his back on them and marched away. He stopped a few metres away, then went a little farther, out of earshot.
‘What a baby,’ Sirius said scornfully. He raised his voice so Remus would hear. ‘Bloody twat! Really mature!’
James tugged at his shirt, pulling the damp away from contact with his skin. ‘Let him be.’
‘This is so useless!’ He waved a hand at the sky. ‘They’re *not* interested in us, don’t you see that?’
‘I see it,’ replied James, calmingly.
‘Face it,’ he continued, pretending he hadn’t heard. ‘We just don’t know enough. We don’t even know what to do if by some miracle, those faeries *do* approach us!’
‘I know,’ James said, gazing off after Remus. He was squinting, fighting the deepening darkness.
Sirius didn’t know how to let it go, though he was tired enough to admit– privately– that he wanted to. It felt as if he’d been angry for longer than he could remember, and it was beginning to lose its edge. He knew very well Remus couldn’t help worrying, anymore than he could help it. The uneasy sense that he would never be able to leave this place whole... it made his chest ache, if he let himself dwell on it. He ground his teeth together and turned away from where Remus had been swallowed up by the fuzzy dark eclipsing his vision, and faced Peter.
Peter rubbed his stomach. ‘On the happy side,’ he said, trying to smile, ‘looks like I’ll finally lose some weight.’
James grinned, and threw his arm around Peter’s shoulders. ‘Right attitude.’
Remus joined them again after an hour or so; he refused to meet anyone’s eyes and he settled on the fringes of the circle the other three had formed. He sat with his back painfully straight, gazing off into the night.
Sirius was fighting sleepiness. He’d not rested well since the headaches had started, and the oppressive heat had been working on him as well as his knowledge that back at Hogwarts, it was early morning. He pressed against his temples, pushing hard against the daggers of pain that had yet to completely abate, and stood.
‘We need to do something,’ he said loudly. Startled pale faces turned up to him. ‘I don’t care what, but I can’t stand just sitting here and rotting.’
‘We could split up,’ Peter offered. He glanced around for approval.
‘Too dangerous.’ Remus finally spoke. ‘You’d be caught up immediately if they wanted you to be. You can’t resist the music.’
James pursed his lips and scrubbed a hand through his hair. ‘We could do it in pairs, then. It’s not entirely without merit.’
‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ Remus squirmed to face them without standing. ‘You wouldn’t stand a chance.’
‘Oh, and you would?’ Sirius didn’t like the tone Remus had taken. ‘What makes you so smart, that you think you can act like we’re all too blind to see the sun?’
‘Yell at me all you like, but I’m right!’ Remus did stand now, his fists clenched at his side. ‘I’m not making it up! James, you felt it, right?’ He pointed wildly to the distance. ‘When we came back for Sirius. You would have gone if you could, yes? And why did we have to come back for you in the first place?’ He whirled on Sirius. ‘You just aren’t capable of drowning it out!’
James laid a hand on Sirius’s shoulder to prevent him retorting. ‘Reemy,’ he said softly. ‘Calm down. You are right, but remember, we have an advantage this time. The earplugs.’
Remus gasped. ‘You’re right!’ He ripped his out immediately, staring at them in his palm. ‘You’re right, I should have thought of it immediately! No– leave yours in!’
About to remove his own, James shrugged and obeyed. ‘What’ve you thought of?’
Remus groaned and threw his plugs violently away from him. ‘We outsmarted ourselves. I’m so *stupid*! Oh, James, can’t you see– they don’t come because they can’t get us, as long as we can’t *hear them*!’
James stared, openmouthed. Sirius felt a wave of consternation roll over him; he had assumed... He took his earplugs out immediately, and listened as hard as he could.
‘It’s faint,’ he cried triumphantly. ‘It’s faint, but I hear them!’
Predictably, Remus was there to throw caution at him like a wet blanket. ‘Please be careful,’ he warned them. ‘If you take them out, you have to be sure to put them back once we find the dance, or I mean it, you really will be lost–‘
‘We’ll deal with that when it comes.’ Sirius put his in James’s pocket, and grabbed up the rope. ‘See? I’m being careful. I promise to hold on. Now can we get walking?’
Peter held his earplugs in a quaking fist. ‘Sirius? Remus? What *do* we do when we find them– or they find us– or–‘
Remus shook his head, but James answered. ‘We talk to them. We have to make them take us to someone who can fix what they did to you, Sirius.’
The other boys had reported to him whatever promising information they had read in the course of their frantic search, but there were no certainties. Sirius refused to think of that now, however; not when they were so close to being able to *do* something.
‘I’ve got a list of names to try.’ James tapped his temple. ‘One of them has to work.’
Asper tapped the mouthpiece of his pipe– a twin to the one Dumbledore smoked beside him– against his teeth. ‘We might have to assume the worst,’ he ventured.
Turbute heaved a heavy sigh. ‘He’s right, Albus. It’s been two days.’
Dumbledore gazed down at the mushrooms with an unreadable expression. His thoughts were clearly far away; watching, Asper wondered which book he was searching in memory, which bit of wisdom he was consulting. Absently he tugged at the cowl of his robe, irritated by the drips of melting ice from the trees above their heads.
‘The children have great resources,’ the Headmaster finally replied. ‘We have all learned not to underestimate the minds of James Potter and Sirius Black.’
‘And Lupin?’ Turbute shifted uncomfortably. ‘I don’t need to remind you what could happen if he’s with those boys when he...’ He lifted one shoulder in a gruff gesture.
‘The moon is on the wane,’ Dumbledore reminded him.
‘Yes, but it’s already been two days.’ Asper pointed to the ring with his wand. ‘You heard the same testimony from that Snape boy that we did. Time runs differently between the two planes. What may seem like a short caper to them could be weeks here. Hell, it could be the reverse. I don’t mean to resurrect ghosts, Albus, but you recall Danny Shing.’ He held his tongue, knowing the name would be enough. Danny Shing had been a strapping seventeen when he disappeared, dared by his friends into the Forbidden Forest. Dippet had refused to see the truth, but the teachers had privately searched the Forest, Albus among them. They had found only the residue of magic wrought by a non-human– tangled, messy, chaos magic, magic of the earth but not. Asper had only recently joined the staff some years later when an ancient old man who claimed to be Danny Shing had come stumbling into the Great Hall at supper, and died by morning as Dippet questioned him. He well remembered his own shock, and judging by the look on the faces of his companions, it had been shared.
‘Danny was gone seven years.’ Turbute glanced out into the woods, rubbing his chin. ‘The danger is real, Albus, you must agree with us. We need to send someone in.’
‘I will not risk another life to save others who may not be in distress.’ The quiet, firm voice did not waver.
‘And so we wait.’ Asper had guessed Dumbledore would order no action. He did not agree, but did not disagree with the reasons why.
The tall man to whom he had sworn allegiance sighed softly. ‘For the moment,’ he qualified. ‘I think we may yet by surprised.’
‘I’ll send to the Ministry,’ Turbute offered. ‘We could use an expert in the Dark Arts here.’
Asper cast him a glance of surprise. ‘You think–?’
‘No,’ he admitted. ‘But I can think of nothing else.’
He nodded. ‘With permission, Albus,’ he murmured, ‘I’ll remain in the hopes they emerge before we are forced to drastic measures.’
Dumbledore inclined his head, and set off with Turbute at his side.
Asper crouched beside the ring, and settled himself in for a long vigil.
Unconsciously Remus stepped back into the protection of Sirius’s height. Unthinking, Sirius put an arm around the boy and pulled him back tight against his chest.
‘Hello,’ James began, and stopped to clear his throat. ‘Um...’
The dance had stopped as soon as it reached them. In the frantic scramble to get their earplugs, the boys hadn’t noticed the faeries surrounding them. The creatures were not tall– of a height with Remus, the shortest of them– but they were unexpectedly menacing. Foreign, unfinished- looking faces gazed imperturbably at them, and the faeries were eerily still, in the absence of the dance.
Peter was shaking. ‘What do we do?’ he whispered.
One of the creatures separated from the crowd. It– he– was just slightly taller, and his dress was richer: emeralds sparked on his long-tailed coat, and winked at his ears. Unsettling green eyes, the colour of agate and just as stony, speared them each one by one.
His mouth moved, but with the protection of the earplugs, they could not hear him. Sirius wasn’t sure if he was grateful or disappointed... But then Remus straightened suddenly in his hold, and he remembered that Remus had thrown away his charmed earpieces. Remus’s voice came to him clearly through the enchantment. He replied, at a bare whisper. ‘Ac i chwithau.’
Shit, Sirius thought. James closed in on them with Peter at his side, and James grabbed frantically at Remus’s arm.
The faerie raised a hand, and beckoned. Again his mouth moved.
Sirius didn’t understand the words, but he knew nonetheless what the creature wanted. He brought up his other arm, the one holding the rope as he’d promised, and wrapped it around Remus.
The faerie’s expression suddenly came to life; he frowned deeply, and his eyes were angry. When he spoke again, it was clearly with more volume, and his gesture was emphatic.
Sirius could feel how Remus’s heart thundered in his chest. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Don’t go.’
‘I think I have to.’ The smaller boy wriggled away from him and James, and took a hesitant step. Sirius saw his white hands writhe and grip each other behind his back.
After that the words flowed thick and fast, and try though he did Sirius couldn’t follow even by the tone of his friend’s voice. He edged toward James. ‘Can you tell?’
James shook his head, trying to keep an eye on the crowd and the conversation at once. ‘What are the odds that the faeries and Remus speak the same language?’
‘It’s Welsh.’ Remus turned back to them, twisting his hands before him. ‘He–‘ His voice cracked. ‘He says his name is Eflyllon, and he’s in charge. I think he’s a lord of some kind.’ His eyes shifted nervously, as if he were trying very hard not to look back at the faerie. ‘He says, You should not have come here, and you should not have brought the others and left them for us. He says he...’ He trailed off, and James gently urged him on. ‘He says he can make it so I may leave here. I said, you’re my friends, I won’t leave you. And he said–‘ Remus shifted, agitated far beyond his normal self-control. ‘You should not have come here, and you should not have brought the others and left them for us.’
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