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
Lucius rolled onto his stomach and tossed the book at his footboard, enjoying the flinch from Crabbe’s direction. ‘Bunch of bloody rubbish,’ he shouted. ‘What are you looking at?’
Goyle picked up the book, frowning as he read the cover. Lucius, sneering, jibed, ‘Sound it out.’
Goyle cast him a look of muted animosity. ‘What are you reading it for? Wasn’t assigned in class.’ He tossed it back to the bed.
‘None of your business.’ Lucius could only imagine the damage oafs like his roommates would do to the faerie ring. He had no plans to tell them, though Remus had asked if he’d wanted to. They’d probably be too stupid to see the field, anyway. He picked up the book again, smoothing the creases his fit of temper had put in the yellowed pages. ‘Don’t you have someone to beat up, somewhere?’
Goyle exchanged glances with Crabbe, and as one– a very fat and ignorant one– they left.
The silence seemed massive to Lucius, who bored easily and was struggling under the yoke Remus had laid on him. ‘Read up,’ he muttered, burying his head under a pillow. ‘Stay awake.’ Remus was in a mood, lately. Telling him what to do, as if he had a right to order him around. Acting as if the Malfoy family name counted for nothing!
He sat up, and grabbed the book, opening it to the chapter he’d been reading before it had become unbearable. ‘”Living with the tul– tully-oo-‘ He sighed. ‘Closely akin to the subject of changelings is that of adults or well-grown children being led away to live with the tull– shit. In this field the Welsh traditions are innumerable, and deal not only with the last century or two, but distinctly with the middle ages. Famed among British goblins are those faeries which are immortalised in the Tale of Shui Rhys, told to me by a peasant in Cardiganshire. Shui was a beautiful girl of seventeen, tall and fair, with a skin like ivory, hair black and curling, and eyes of dark velvet...”’
A nice picture. The author seemed quite taken. Lucius laid the book against his knees and drew a candle nearer.
‘She was but a poor farmer’s daughter, notwithstanding her beauty, and among her duties was that of driving up the cows for the milking. Over this work she used to loiter sadly, to pick flowers by the way, or chase the butterflies, or amuse herself in any agreeable manner that fortune offered.’
Lucius could imagine. He’d caught Beatrice Snape ‘amusing’ herself once in the bathroom, late at night. If the noises Snape had been making were any indication, it was a hell of a lot more fun than herding stupid old sheeps.
‘”For her loitering she was often chided; indeed, people said Shui’s mother was far too sharp with the girl, and that it was for no good the mother had so bitter a tongue. After all, the girl meant no harm, they said. But when one night Shui never came home til bed-time, leaving the cows to care for themselves, dame Rhys took the girl to task as she never had done before.”’
He fumbled on the next word. How could you have a language that was all vowels? All mushy-sounding.
Ysgwaetheroedd, mami, said Shui. I couldn’t help it, it was the tylwyth teg. The dame was aghast at this, but she could not answer it– for well she knew the tylwyth teg were often seen in the woods of Cardigan. Shui was at first shy about talking of the faeries, but finally confessed they were little men in green coats, who danced around her and made music on their tiny harps and sang strange songs; and they talked to her in a language too beautiful to be repeated; indeed she couldn’t understand the words, though she knew well enough what the faeries meant. Many a time after that Shui was late; but now nobody chided her, for fear of offending the faeries. At last, one night, Shui did not come home at all. In alarm the woods were searched, but there was no sign of her; and never was she seen again in Cardiganshire. Her mother watched in the fields on Teir-nos Ysprydion or three nights of the year when goblins are sure to be abroad, but Shui never returned. Once indeed there came back to the village a wild rumour that Shui Rhys had been seen in a great city in a foreign land– Paris, perhaps, or London, who knows? But this tale was in no way injurious to the sad belief that the faeries had carried her off; they might take her to those well-known centres of idle and sinful pleasure, as well as to any other place.
‘So she got tired of fooling around in that one-horse town and ran while she could,’ Lucius mused. ‘So much for the faeries. Backwater people making up fancy stories to explain curdled milk.’ Idly, he flipped the pages, glancing over sketches provided by illiterate peasants. The images ranged from tiny men with a goat’s hindquarters to tall, thin creatures with pointy ears and lots of long blonde hair who were jigging merrily. Some carried staves, and others strange amulets. But in all the accounts, no matter how varied, the creatures wore green coats, he realised, and for a moment, doubt pricked him.
But no. He was starting to agree with Severus Snape. All the tales ended the same way; the children were always servants or down-trodden younger sons and dowerless daughters, and there were always glimpses of look-alikes in the nearest big cities. It seemed pretty clear what the truth was. Maybe he’d imagined the music– or it had come from something else entirely. Like erklings. His father had used to frighten him with tales of German erklings, who lured children away to eat them.
‘Dancing and music... dancing... ‘ Lucius sighed, his eyes skipping over the pages. ‘”Welsh faeries are most often seen dancing together when seen. They seek to entice mortals to dance with them, and when anyone is drawn to do so, it is more than probable he will not return to his friends for a long time. Edmund William Rees, of Aberystruth, was thus drawn away... came back at the year’s end looking very badly... said he’d been dancing... They got him home finally, but he was never the same man again, and soon after he–“‘
Lucius read it again, stunned. He turned the page, and saw he had not been mistaken. ‘”In the great majority of these stories the victim dies immediately after his release from the thralldom of the faeries– in some cases with a suddenness and a completeness of obliteration as appalling as dramatic.”’
The picture below showed a circle of mushrooms very like the one in the Forest, and as he watched, a man stumbled from it as if ejected with great force, and crumbled into a pile of ashes beside the ring.
Lucius sprung out of his bed and threw open the door, sprinting down the hallway to Room 5. He furiously pounded the door, and shouted, ‘Lupin!’
‘He’s gone away,’ Snape said, from the open doorway of his dormitory. ‘Which you’d have remembered if you ever bothered to pay attention.’
Snape was right, of course. ‘When did he leave?’
‘A few hours ago.’ Snape scratched his cheek, then nodded to the book Lucius held. ‘That the one he gave you?’
‘I don’t remember asking you to strike up a conversation, turkey.’ He was conscious, suddenly, of looking a fool, and attempted to surreptitiously straight his shirt. ‘Get back to bed.’
Snape scowled, but slammed the door and did not come out again.
Lucius went back to his room, and found parchment and a quill from his desk. He wrote a quick note of explanation, and ripped the page out of the book, folding it into his paper. He snuck quickly back down the hallway, and slid the note under Remus’s door.
James tried to shake off his hand, and Remus gripped harder, grinding their sweaty palms together. ‘Stay where you are, please. None of you move.’
Peter’s voice was hushed, and squeaked with nervousness. ‘Where are we?’
‘I’m not exactly sure,’ Remus admitted. He glanced up at the sky– the stars were unfamiliar, brighter even than in the country, and the sky was cloudless. The waning moon was so clear it burned like the sun.
Sirius moved closer to him, and his other hand came up to grip his belt. Remus felt calmer at that, and eased his hold on Peter and James. ‘We really shouldn’t stay. It’s too dangerous.’
‘There’s no music,’ Sirius said.
‘There is. Can’t you hear it?’
Saying it was like throwing a switch. It swept around them, a whirlwind of harp and voices and fiddles and flutes. The boys drew closer to him at first, then strained against him. Remus looked up at James, and the look on the Gryffindor’s face made him catch his breath. It was the most painful longing; and Peter looked the same, and Sirius. He could feel the excitement leaking from them, and saw how they stiffened, and even swayed with it.
He had hesitated too long, studying his friends. Like the break of a wave on the beach, the dance came to them.
There were all sorts of fantastical creatures, hundreds of them and all of them different, all of them shining and laughing. The dance did not approach them, but seemed to appear around them as if it had always been there. Hands with impossibly long fingers reached out to them, attempting to snag them and draw them in. Remus renewed his grip and held on as tightly as he could, straining against the weight of three bigger boys as the dancers pulled at his friends and tried to break his hold. Sirius he lost immediately, whom he had no way to hold. He yelled, and his voice was swallowed up in the dance.
He threw himself out of the ring, and he, James and Peter collapsed to the ground. Peter let out a little wail, but broke off, confused. ‘What–‘
The cold was debilitating. The sweat that had drenched his back and chest from the effort of resisting the dancers turned to ice, and the cold burst into his lungs like a sledgehammer so that he couldn’t breathe with it. James scrambled to his feet, then knelt and grabbed his shoulders.
Must go back. Remus used James for support and made it to his knees. ‘Stay where you are! If you go back you’ll just be lost too.’
‘We can’t leave him there.’ James hauled him to his feet. ‘We’re going back!’
‘Stay here! I can’t hold both of you.’ He pushed James further away from the ring, then turned and made a wild nab at the other boy. ‘Petey, no!’
They faced each other, steam rising from them and the silence deafening them.
‘I’m going with you,’ James said.
Remus nodded slowly. He could see there would be no arguing, and something churning in his stomach told him there wasn’t time. ‘Peter,’ he murmured. ‘Stay here. Don’t move an inch, promise me, not even to go for help.’
Peter presented him a shaking hand, and solemnly Remus linked their pinkie fingers, and they shook.
This time James took his hand voluntarily. ‘I don’t suppose it would help if we plugged our ears,’ he said.
‘I couldn’t tell you,’ Remus replied, and tugged apprehensively at his scarf. He shivered violently, shamefully glad of James’s nearness.
The field was silent when they appeared in it; the dance had moved on. James turned this way and that, trying to see. Where the sky had been clear before, now it was not, and there were no stars at all, no moon, no light. Everything was like a void, and the heat was oppressive.
‘What do we do now?’ James hissed, yanking at his hand.
‘You’re asking me?’ He pulled at the scarf, then shook his jacket away from his free arm and pushed up the sleeves of his layered shirts, already unbearably overheated. James hesitated, then followed suit.
‘Here,’ he said, and tied one sleeve each of their jackets together. ‘Now tie it to your belt. That way we’ll have our hands if we need them.’
Remus obeyed quickly, but nonetheless longed for the strength of the older boy’s hand. ‘I guess we’ll have to search him out,’ he whispered.
‘How far does the field go? How far did you and Malfoy explore?’
He felt ashamed as he admitted they had not. ‘It didn’t seem smart. I always wanted to keep one foot in the ring...’
‘You have one in now?’
Remus glanced down. Sure enough, there were the mushrooms.
James was still searching with his eyes, though without light it was impossible to see more than a foot away. ‘Is there any chance that those– people– will come back here?’
‘I have no idea.’ He hesitated, and added, ‘Somehow I don’t think they will. I think they have what they want and... and they don’t care about m– us.’
James came closer to him. ‘What are they doing with him?’
There was no way of knowing.
‘If we stay near the ring,’ he said, as if the other question had never been asked, ‘we should be okay. Let’s just be careful.’
And so they set off.
Peter huddled between the roots of a tree, watching the faerie ring and the surrounding woods with equal trepidation. It had been a very long time since the others had disappeared. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the darkness wasn’t so deep as it had been a few minutes ago– was it dawn? How long was he really supposed to wait? Remus had said not to move at all, but what if they never came back? What was he supposed to do once it was day time and people noticed they were missing?
No one would notice whether Peter showed up, he was bitterly sure of that. But there was sure to be a ruckus if James and Sirius were gone. The teachers would think they were up to no good and probably they would all get detentions. Endless detentions. He’d never graduate.
And a small, young, hurt part of Peter Pettigrew wished they had taken him with them.
‘There,’ James exclaimed, pointing. Remus turned from where he gazed to his left, and saw what James had– a light where none had been before.
‘That’s them, I know it’s them.’ James took off running, and Remus, tied to him by their coats, had no choice but to stumble after. James did not slow to accommodate him, but grabbed his hand without looking back and pulled him along. They were hurtling down a hill that hadn’t been there before, and Remus caught a whiff of flowers as he desperately inhaled, his lungs rebelling strenuously against the strain on his weak body.
James came to an abrupt stop, bending over his knees in a pant, and Remus fell to a knee beside him, giving way to a fit of coughing so strong that his friend grabbed at him. Something wet leaked down his chin, blood or snot he didn’t know, and he hovered on the verge of fainting.
‘Remus,’ James worried. ‘Calm down!’
The fit passed, but it left him dazed and vaguely aching. James was hovering over him, the back of his hand pressed to Remus’s cheeks and temples, feeling for fever. He pushed the bigger boy away.
‘Let’s keep moving,’ he said hoarsely. He stood, wiping his face, and headed toward the source of the light, half-hidden from sight behind tall trees that... had they sprung up only when he and James reached the bottom of the hill? Branches seemed to slap them in the face and roots rose up to snag their feet; but something told Remus it was all too easy. He put a hand on the knot that bound him to James.
No sooner had he done so did they clear the trees, and saw the dance.
The source of the light was a huge bonfire, and the creatures moved around it, singing and laughing. Some sat in small groups, passing around jugs and talking in high, animated voices.
Remus gripped the knot tightly. ‘Don’t let them separate us. Don’t join the dance.’
James nodded tensely. ‘I think I see him.’
Remus searched. ‘Where?’
It seemed to be Sirius. Head and shoulders taller than the creatures he whirled about with. Dark hair. And Remus thought... it sounded like Sirius’s laughter on the breeze.
‘He’s coming round, then,’ James said. ‘If we got close enough, we could grab him and– make a run for it.’
James was sweating heavily; Remus could smell it on him. Clearly the music was affecting him. He watched the blue eyes he knew so well flicker back and forth, distracted by the performance. ‘Good plan,’ he replied, and walked forward boldly.
As soon as they moved out of the shadows, the tylwyth teg called to them. Some came close and others waved from where they were. The words they used were unintelligible, though whether it was because the whole bonfire was so noisy or because it was a language the boys had never heard, it was impossible to tell. James grabbed Remus’s arm when two laughing faeries tried to snatch him by his shirt.
They were near enough to the fire now to feel the blaze of it. The creatures were dancing in a circle around it, their hands linked and their heads thrown back in obvious exhilaration. James and Remus had to fend off reaching hands at every turn, fighting to stay close to the circle and yet far enough away to resist being drawn into it.
‘I see him!’ Remus fought off a woman who had caught him by the waist and pointed. ‘Get ready.’
It was Sirius, but Sirius transformed by light and laughter. There was no sign of the mischief or the anger that so marked his person. He looked drunk on happiness, and something caught in Remus’s throat, watching him.
James lunged and fastened a hold on the back of Sirius’s shirt. Remus was dragged along by their tied jackets, and then threw himself forward and caught the closest arm. Faces that had been laughing were suddenly sinister, screaming at him furiously. Sirius was resisting them. Remus clawed at the hands that refused to release the other boy, then gave up and lashed out at the nearest faerie with his fist. Something reeled back, and James fell loose with Sirius.
Remus tripped to his knees beside them, and pulled at them, shouting, ‘Get up! Get up, please!’
Sirius had gone limp, staring about himself in confusion. James stumbled to his feet, and he and Remus each took hold of his arms and levered him to his feet. They ran, dodging the tylwyth teg when they suddenly reared up before their path.
There were no trees, anymore.
It was hard to tell if they were being chased. The music seemed to follow them, but every time he turned to look behind him, there was only the pitch darkness.
‘Where’s the ring,’ James panted, stopping them and crouching. Remus helped him pull Sirius up onto his broad back, and tied their belts together with his own jacket. Then he stepped back, staring around them, and wished suddenly for the wand he had left in his room.
‘I don’t suppose you have yours,’ he said.
‘My what?’ With a grunt, James stood, grabbing at Sirius’s legs and leaning forward to keep him from sliding.
About to reply, Remus felt something smoosh under his foot. The field disappeared.
He lurched and sat suddenly on the ground.
He wasn’t in the Forbidden Forest. He was in a hay barn.
Peter washed his face quickly in the water fountain, pinching his cheeks to wake himself. He’d caught a bit of a nap back in the dorm, but it hadn’t helped much. He sighed as he wiped his hands on his robe, and looked down at the essay he’d forgotten to finish, due in Potions on Monday.
One of the first years gave him a bit of nod when he slouched out of the common room, and Peter went straight to his desk and lay his head on his folded arms. He closed his eyes– just for a moment– so tired....
He supposed James and the others had gotten back safely by now and only strayed to the kitchen to do a bit of decent raiding. He should have been smart enough to join them. It really wasn’t fair; though he did wonder what excuse they would think up to explain their absence. No sane Hogwarts teacher trusted Sirius Black and James Potter getting sick at the same time, there was no surer spell for disaster.
He wondered what they would say to him. Remus had told him not to leave the Forest, after all.
But he’d been cold, and afraid.
James and Sirius were never afraid.
Peter fell asleep wondering if they would think him a coward, after all.
‘Remus?’ James had glanced up to find Remus missing, and a needle prick– something rather larger than just a prick– of doubt stabbed him.
Sirius stirred, murmured something against his shoulder, and fell back into silence.
‘Buggered,’ James said softly.
Severus swung by Remus’s room after dinner with the tarts he had saved wrapped in a napkin in his backpack. Not expecting his friend to be there, but knowing he left the door unlocked, Severus entered. The darkness of the room bothered him; he crossed to the desk, tripping on a sock, and touched his wand to the candle stub sitting in the left corner of the writing surface.
A note caught his attention. Without a trace of hesitation he picked it up and read it.
Will see that next batch is more timely. Forgive the wait.
Severus knew what the note referred to. He had known for some time, in fact, and knowing the import of the secret both thrilled and frightened him. He had never told Remus what he knew... what he’d guessed... He knew Remus would be upset. And it was more than that. A secret, a real secret that held– held life and death over someone real, and it was his--
He replaced the note, tucked under the edge of an empty parchment packet that still retained its original folds and a faint smell of wolfsbane, and left the tarts beside them.
He closed the door behind him as he left.
Remus thrashed about in the hay, desperate to uncover the mushroom ring that surely had to be there. The mould and dust that rose in gusts around made him cough and clogged his nose. He didn’t see the ledge before he went over it, and the split second he was airborne was enough to wring a shout of panic from him. Then he landed– and bounced, saved from harm by the deep layer of straw and grass that covered the ground.
Remus lay still for a moment, his skin crawling and ribs aching, and stared up into the musty eaves of the barn roof.
‘Who’s there?’ Somewhere behind him the barn door banged open, and a man’s voice with a strange accent called out aggressively. ‘Come out before I call the police!’
I have no idea where I am, Remus thought.
‘I said come out!’ The man was searching now with a hand torch, shining it around. Heavy booted footsteps were coming closer to where Remus lay, and he realised dimly that the man would hear if he tried to cover himself. The tall sides of the hole his landing had created might hide him from someone less determined to find him, but what if the man didn’t give up?
‘Probably just an animal, Dad,’ a new voice said. Younger, Remus thought. A girl. ‘Come on. Truck’s here.’
‘I heard something, I’m telling you,’ retorted the first. He came a little farther into the barn, and poked around in the hay. ‘Go back to the house and tell your mother to call the police.’
Remus held his breath, staring up at the motes of dust swirling in the beam of light from the torch.
‘Dad!’ The torch was turned off. ‘Just leave it. It was probably that same racoon. Would you get in the truck?’
Still bickering, they moved away, and Remus released his breath and relaxed. The squeal of tyres was a signal for him to move, and he clambered out of his hole and fought his way to a ladder leaning against the loft.
Once he was back at the top, he was more careful now in brushing away the hay. He searched with his hands along the boards of the loft for the mushrooms. How could mushrooms grow out of wood? Where had he been standing when he’d left the field?
A growth of fungus in the corner, in the leftovers of some ancient nest. Remus gave only a moment over to doubt that the ring would lead to some other strange place, or might not be the real ring at all, before he stepped into it.
He was returned to the field, only there was no James.
‘This can’t be happening,’ he said to himself. His voice was curiously dead in the air, swallowed up immediately without any resonation. The effect was creepy. He hugged himself, and stepped safely away from the ring.
He raised his voice, steeled himself, and shouted, ‘James! James! Sirius!’
There was no immediate answer, as he had hoped, and for a second Remus was ready to give it all in to despair.
He gasped, whirling toward the voice. ‘Jamie!’
And out of the dark came his friend, and Remus had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.
‘Thought I’d lost you for a second there,’ James said, relieved. He gave a grunt and hefted Sirius on his back. ‘Is that the ring?’
Remus told James what had happened as they walked, imitating the voices.
‘American?’ James mused. ‘My pop had a man over to dinner once who talked funny like that. An American wizard.’
‘That means these rings could go anywhere in all the world,’ Remus worried. ‘And we could step into any one of them.’
‘Don’t borrow panic.’ James heaved Sirius up where, dead weight, he had begun to slip. ‘We didn’t walk all that far, did we? And you were only gone for a second when you slipped into that last one.’
‘I already told you, I was there at least a quarter hour,’ Remus replied, out of sorts. Then he stopped walking. ‘Wait– just a moment? You’re sure?’
James halted as well. ‘I looked up and you were gone, yeah. I took a few steps to look for you, and when I turned back there you were.’
‘Time...’ Remus stuck a knuckle in his mouth, biting thoughtfully. ‘Magic.’
Sirius was slipping again. ‘I suggest that it’s something to think about when we’re safely back at Hogwarts.’
‘If we ever arrive.’
‘You’ll get buck teeth if you don’t take your bloody hand out of your mouth,’ James said. ‘Come on. We have to be close.’
Close was an understatement. A mere yard from them was revealed another circle of large, round-headed fungi. Remus, unable to shake his new sense of trepidation, nonetheless indicated that he should go first. ‘If nothing else,’ he said, screwing up his courage, ‘if it’s not the right one, it’ll only seem a second to you before I come back to tell you so.’
James cracked a crooked smile. ‘When this is all over,’ he said, ‘I’m going to give you a good whipping; you know that, right?’
His eyes went to Sirius, who had yet to wake. ‘I’m so sorry, James, I didn’t know...’
‘Hush.’ James gave him a comforting nod. ‘Get on with you. Sooner we get back, the sooner we can wallow in our mistakes.’
The icy wall that battered him as he emerged from the ring stung his eyes and throat. Remus threw a hand over his nose, and glanced about him through hurt and squinting eyes. Safe, his heart thudded, safe. He went back to tell James, and brought him safely, safely through.
They lay Sirius out on the ground, and Remus sat beside him chafing his wrists– bone cold– while James untied them all and draped their jackets over their friend’s body. James gently slapped Sirius across the cheek.
‘Wake up,’ he crooned. ‘Come on, Sirius. Wake up.’
Remus blew on the limp hand he held, rubbing it between his own palms. ‘James,’ he said. ‘James, do you realise– it’s daylight.’
James looked up at the ceiling of trees. It was indeed day– not dawn, even, but the warm orange glow of a sunset. ‘That can’t be possible,’ James stuttered. The full reality of Remus’s suspicions hit him hard. ‘We were only in there for– for an hour or two. Two at most! It should still be night!’
Remus had no answer for him. Sirius had begun to shiver, and his long eyelashes were fluttering. ‘We need to get him back.’
James nodded; he was turning a little blue himself. ‘At least we can be grateful that it didn’t seem to snow tonight– today.’ He and Remus drew Sirius into a sitting position. ‘Wake up, Sirius. Come on.’
Sirius opened his eyes for a moment, but they closed again immediately.
‘We’ll have to carry him. Put on your jacket.’ Remus obeyed, slipping into it and feeling only marginally warmer. His hands shook numbly as he linked them with James’s, and they worked their arms under Sirius’s body. ‘On three,’ James told him, and they lifted.
The trek through the Forest was made harder by their burden, and James was obliged to stop several times when Remus dizzily felt he couldn’t go on. Sirius seemed to come to himself by the time they left the woods and passed Hagrid the game-keeper’s hut. By the time they reached the steps, they were able to stand him on his own feet, and as long as they walked by his side to steady him, he was able to set one foot in front of the other and keep his balance.
‘Better to just come on up with us,’ James told Remus as they reached the Fat Lady portrait that marked the entrance to the Gryffindor dorms. ‘Stay the night.’
Remus was too tired to protest. He nodded, and followed the older boys inside.
The common room was crowded– dinner was long over and the Gryffindors were gathered around the game table, watching two of the sixth years playing snooker. Fortunately, only a few paid them any attention. Remus was too weary to hide his presence, and could barely trudge up the stairwell behind James.
Sirius drew a deep breath when they closed the door to their dorm. He scrubbed a hand over his face, and looked around as if he had never seen this place before.
‘Peter,’ he said slowly, and pointed.
Remus turned. Sure enough, it was Peter, asleep at his desk; Remus had quite forgotten about him. It seemed that when they had been gone for longer than planned, Peter had done the smart thing and left the Forest before he froze to death.
‘Lie down,’ James was saying, pushing Sirius onto his bed. Sirius obeyed, leaning back and dragging a corner of the rumpled duvet over his arms and chest. His eyes closed as James untied the laces of his shoes and tossed them onto the floor. ‘Remus, the stoves– can you?’
Once again he obeyed, adding kindling for a first rush and adjusting the size of the flame from the petrol store. The heat was welcome, and he stood near it for a time, warming his icy hands and brushing off the hay that had stuck to him.
‘What a day,’ James said, coming to stand next to him. He punched Remus in the arm, but without the full force he had promised earlier. Remus rubbed the spot, looking up into his friend’s face. Despite the exhaustion in his voice, James Potter’s blue eyes were still lively, and he was no more mussed than after a lively game of Quidditch.
He himself felt more than half dead.
He fed a long straw he’d picked out of his scarf to the oven. ‘What a day,’ he echoed.
When Remus returned to the dungeons, he went not to his own room, but to Lucius Malfoy’s. He knocked, and was allowed entrance by Goyle. He nodded diffidently, and went to Malfoy’s bed.
Lucius sat up, and silently pointed. His roommates heaved disgruntled sighs, collected the lizards they were tormenting, and left them alone.
‘How’s your mother,’ Lucius asked.
‘I didn’t go home.’ Remus picked a nub on his jumper. ‘We went to the ring.’
Lucius had already bullied that much out of Peter; it had seemed suspicious that the little lap-dog would be without his masters. He said nothing.
Remus let loose a sigh. ‘It was a disaster,’ he murmured. ‘We were lucky to get out... I’m not sure, but I have a feeling we could have died in there.’
‘You could have.’ Reluctantly, Lucius drew the book from beneath his pillow, and handed it to Remus. Matter-of-fact, he repeated what he had read. Remus went white half-way through his explanation, and was grey by the end of it. After a moment of hesitation, Lucius tossed him an afghan his mother had knit him. Remus wrapped himself in it, bringing his knees to his chest and laying the book on the bed as if it would bite him.
‘I guessed something,’ he whispered. ‘I knew something bad would happen, but never that– he could have died. I could have killed him.’
‘He should count himself lucky. I wouldn’t have gone back for him.’
Remus raised his head, and grabbed Lucius by the arm. ‘We have to destroy it.’
‘You’re bonkers.’ Lucius shook him off. ‘I don’t want to destroy it.’
‘Lucius, we don’t have a choice! Think what would happen if someone wandered into it and no one knew?’
‘Bad luck for them, then.’ Lucius stood and went to his desk. ‘You got out fine. No harm done, is there?’ His heart was beating hard. He had never wanted anything as bad as he wanted to keep the ring. He turned back to Remus. ‘I refuse. And you can’t do it without me.’
He had never seen the expression that came over Remus’s face, then. Remus usually went along with whatever he’d said, after a token protest. Lucius knew this was different. Remus wouldn’t mildly obey, this time.
‘Give it a week,’ he said desperately. ‘I just...‘
‘You just what?’ Remus picked up the book and waved it at him. ‘You’re the one who read it! You’re going to stand there and just tell me that–‘
‘It’s the only thing that wasn’t just handed to me!’ Lucius kicked viciously at his chair, knocking it over. Remus shut up with an expression of shock. ‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever discovered for myself that wasn’t taken away because it was dangerous or dirty or Muggle or it wasn’t washed with gold and fit for a Malfoy!’
Remus opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Fiercely humiliated, Lucius kicked the chair again and turned his back.
Into the long silence that followed, Remus finally spoke. ‘What do you want to do, Lucius?’ He came closer, picked up the chair. ‘I’ll do whatever you want.’
Lucius said nothing.
‘Don’t be angry.’ Remus brushed a hand over his arm, then stepped closer and pried loose the clenched fingers of Lucius’s right hand. ‘Please.’
Lucius blinked tears from his eyes. *Weak,* he ridiculed himself. *Weak.* He allowed Remus to turn him, and press the book on him in a sort of apology. Remus smiled when he took it.
‘Don’t I intimidate you?’ he asked.
Remus’s smile widened into a grin. ‘No. Are you trying to?’
He didn’t know what to say to that. ‘Sometimes.’
The awkward moment passed– or had it only been awkward for him? Remus said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want about the ring, and I’ll– I’ll even go back with you if you’ll still let me. But I think we ought to hide it. Just to be safe.’
The wave of relief he felt made him hate himself. ‘Okay.’
James pulled the covers higher up over his chin. Beside him, Sirius lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling. He didn’t seem to notice the cold.
‘What was it like?’ James whispered. In the dim rosy glow of the stoves, Sirius’s face seemed older and mysterious. Though they lay only inches apart on the bed, years lay between them.
Sirius drew in a breath abruptly. ‘It was as if the world had ceased to be,’ he said. ‘I’d never been so... happy. I thought I was bursting. It was...’ He closed his eyes. ‘I didn’t want it to end ever.’
All the questions he had wanted to ask deserted him. James stared, several times opening his mouth, but saying nothing. He thought to tell Sirius about the things he and Remus had seen, about the Americans, about how an entire day had passed while they were in the faerie world. He didn’t. They lay quietly, and eventually, they slept.
Sunday morning found Sirius restored from his daze. He ate with all his familiar gusto, and even joked with Peter, who was vastly relieved by it. James watched it all with no little relief, himself, and though Remus continued to be troubled, told himself that all was over and none the worse for wear. If in quiet moments Sirius would gaze out the windows and sit with an expression of peculiar longing, James pretended not to notice.
‘We should probably cover up the ring,’ he said to Remus, who came to the Gryffindor table at dinner to enquire after their health. In a soft aside, he added, ‘I don’t think anyone’s noticed anything. It’s for the best; caused enough trouble already.’
Remus nodded, distracted. He had placed a hand on Sirius’s shoulder, standing behind him, but Sirius barely acknowledged him, absorbed in his stew. With a sigh, Remus left them for his own House.
Sirius complained of a mild headache the next day, and was abed with migraine by the morning after. By the end of the week he was in the infirmary; no light stronger than a candle was allowed within the perimeter of his bed, and no noise louder than a whisper. No amount of cool cloths, Pepper Up, herbal remedies or strong spellwork answered for his pain. James, Remus, and Peter visited after the exams, bringing the news that Sirius would be allowed to take his at his leisure, that the game between Ravenclaw and Slytherin had ended predictably in Ravenclaw’s favour, that the Headmaster had told a very bad joke in the middle of the fourth-year’s Potions class and had sent Professor Turbute into the dithers.
By Saturday night, Sirius was blind.
Remus Lupin watched from the doorway of the infirmary as Madam Pomfrey asked Sirius the same questions over and over, flipping through her medical journals more hopelessly every minute as all her careful spells failed. He clutched the book about the tylwyth teg to his chest. He left without announcing his presence, and he went to the library. James found him there, and sat in the chair beside him.
Remus shoved the many books open before him off the table with unaccustomed violence.
‘What do you know about what’s wrong with him?’ James asked quietly.
Remus looked at him without seeing him; his eyes were turned in with self-loathing. He said, ‘Jamie; we have to go back.’
James let out a breath. ‘I suspected it.’ He looked at the books, scattered on the floor. ‘Is there any hope?’
‘There has to be,’ Remus said hollowly.
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