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
James woke to a feeling of being enveloped by warmth and sweet-smelling softness. He rubbed crust from his eyes and rubbed a hand over the heavy covers– furs. He pushed them back and sat up, and fumbled about til he found his glasses.
The room swam into focus.
It was just a room. Part of him was disappointed. The walls were stone, carved rather than bricked like at Hogwarts, and the ceiling was low. There was no decoration other than the technique on the curiously curved walls, and all that occupied the small space was the pallet he lay on and the furs and himself.
He stood, then crouched quickly again and wrapped the top layer of fur around his middle. He was quite naked. The thought of one of the faeries undressing him was more than a little unnerving. He called, ‘Hello? Is someone supposed to come get me when I wake up? Why was I asleep?’ He paused. No answer. ‘Hello?’ How did you say hello in Welsh? Remus would know.
Which raised the question of why he was alone.
It was logical to assume that the others had found themselves in similar situations. The last thing James could remember was Remus facing them and translating for that faerie with the funny long name. As they were clearly not back in the Forbidden Forest, the tylwyth teg must have decided to take them.
James worked his way around his small room, feeling along the stone and coming to conclusions that didn’t suit him much. First, that the surface was aged and polished almost to the point where some of the carvings had been worn down. Perhaps, James mused, by hands just like mine, looking for a way out.
Conclusion two. There was no way out.
Eventually, when he had been around the room several times, he sat back on the pallet and drew fur up over his chilled feet. Why had they left him his glasses but not his clothes? How long had he been here– and how much longer would he be?
He slept again, bored and unable to keep pushing himself to figure out an answer to any of the patently unanswerable questions the strange little room raised. It was his stomach that roused him. As he swam up to consciousness, the smell of roasted corn hit his nose and slowly infiltrated his awareness. Baked bread. Butter. Oh, butter.
He sat up, and pushed his glasses up where they had slipped down his nose. The first thing he saw was the platter laid beside his head, and he was reaching for it before he even noticed the person looking down at him.
His younger friend smiled nervously, and nodded sharply to his left. James looked, and held his tongue this time. It was the faerie with the funny name.
‘I’m not sure if he understands English or not,’ Remus said, trying to keep his voice low. His eyes were restless, but he had put on calm like a cloak and he kept his shoulders straight with the show of it. ‘I asked him– begged, I guess– if I could come with him when he brought you food.’
James had crammed his mouth with bread smeared with thick real butter and a strange green preserve. He managed a swallow, and reached for the jug. Milk, he saw, and gulped from it before he realised it wasn’t cow’s milk, as he was used to, but goat’s milk. Remus sat on a corner of the furs, and tucked his feet under him. James discreetly spat back into the jug, and put it down.
‘Have you seen the others? And where’d you get that outfit?’
Remus tugged on the lapels of the earth-coloured jacket he wore. He was dressed like the faeries, in short breeches and stockings of dark green and even a cap. The high collar of his shirt was buttoned up tightly to his chin. ‘They took our clothes. Eflyllon says because they’re ugly. I asked for something.’ He glanced to the silent faerie who watched them. ‘Do you want me to ask for you?’
‘I’ll have to look like that?’ James sighed, and cradled a cob between his hands. ‘Please. I don’t much like hanging about all sheets to the wind.’
Remus grinned. ‘I’ll ask.’ He rubbed his hands over his thighs. ‘Are you all right?’
The corn was delicious. ‘M’fine,’ he muttered around a mouthful. He chewed thoughtfully. ‘I’m confused,’ he admitted. ‘I don’t remember much, for one thing. And I’d dearly like to know why we’re separated. And how long it’s been.’
‘Two days,’ the other boy answered immediately. He rubbed his hands against each other, as though they itched or ached. ‘They told me you were sleeping for most of it. Same with Peter. He woke up earlier.’ He smiled. ‘He ate two trays.’
James was beginning to be thirsty enough to consider daring the goat’s milk again. ‘And Sirius? He’s sleeping?’
Remus glanced back at their guard. ‘No– not like us.’
He let the jug rest against his lap. ‘What’s that mean?’
But Remus was reluctant to speak before the tylwyth teg. ‘He’s all right. I believe them when they say that.’
James took the hint. ‘Well... where are we, exactly?’
Remus seemed relieved at the change in subject. ‘I’ve asked, but they don’t seem to understand the question. All he can really say’ he nodded toward the one who stood against the wall opposite them ‘is Annwn.’
James recognised the word. ‘The underworld... not very descriptive.’
‘This place has hallways but it’s not a palace like any I’ve ever seen. I think we’re underground.’
‘What are they going to do with us?’
Remus looked away. He clambered to his feet, and muttered, ‘I’ll get them to bring you something to wear. I think we’ll be allowed to see each other whenever we want.’
His eyes itched, and he rubbed them automatically. When he lowered his hand, Remus and the faerie were gone. So was the uneaten food, though the milk was still cradled by his knees. James made a face, and put it aside.
‘I’ve more questions now than I did before he came,’ he said to himself. Nothing for it. He pulled the furs up to his chest and laid back, half-full and forced to be content with a growing sense of unease.
Two more sleep cycles passed before anyone came for him.
James opened his eyes to see a faerie looking down on him. A female, with long blonde hair. She had the same small face and green dress as the one who had come with Remus, and she was holding a bundle in one tiny hand.
‘You are awake?’ She scowled. ‘Sit.’
He obeyed, sitting up and holding a fur up to his neck to cover his bare chest. ‘Who are you?’
She rocked back on her heels, considering him from hard agate-coloured eyes. ‘You can call me Llyke. Is it true that humans have no true name and have multiple births?’
He stared. ‘Well– I guess.’ He hesitated. ‘I’m James Potter.’
She crouched, tucking her skirt under her knees in the back to keep it from billowing. ‘Pot-ter? You have very strange sounds in this language.’
‘Er. Yeah, I suppose we do.’ She was watching him with a predatory sort of gaze, and it made him squirm. ‘What are you here for?’
She sighed. ‘I am to take you to Arawn.’ She held out the bundle she held. ‘Clothe yourself.’
He untied the string and unrolled clothes to match the kind Remus had been wearing, but in a light shade of brown. He looked up at Llyke, and felt his ears turn red. ‘Are you going to watch?’
She didn’t answer. She also didn’t look away, and her seat beside his pallet looked permanent.
James hadn’t had to dress in front of a girl since he was a child and his mother had done it for him. It was an intensely embarrassing situation, and he did it with an unaccustomed clumsiness, unable to decide which way to turn to hide the maximum skin from the faerie. He barely noticed the strange feel of the fabric as he hastily tucked and buttoned. He did not notice that the buttons were fancifully carved from semi-precious stones, or that the slippers weren’t proper leather but fine silk lined with down. He crammed the cap low over his eyes, and scrubbed his nose furiously.
Llyke stood, gracefully sweeping her skirt out around her calves and brushing it straight. ‘Follow. Stay close to me and touch nothing.’
The itch in his nose intensified, and he sneezed. When he opened his eyes, they weren’t in his room any longer, but in a dark hallway. Llyke held a glass sphere, and it glowed with softly floating lights. James could see nothing beyond their small area of brightness, but when he lifted a hand above his head he found the ceiling was barely an inch above him. He hunched his shoulders and his mind conjured scenes in which the girl faerie led him to bang his head open on a crossbeam and that was the end of James Potter.
‘I warned you not to touch,’ she said, her eyes gleaming in the light of her globe. She bent bonelessly and came up with a corner of her skirt, which she held out to him. ‘Keep hold of that and no harm will come to you.’
He took it, blushing and glad that she probably couldn’t see it. The little edge of her skirt was warm and soft, and he closed his fist tightly about it. Don’t think of the ceiling, he told himself. For the first time he wished he were Remus’s twelve-year-old height. Remus probably hadn’t noticed the nearness of all that stone.
Very quickly he lost track of the turns and twists they took through the labyrinth of the underworld. He could not even tell if they were going higher or lower, because every time he felt sure he’d noticed a gradual incline it changed. There didn’t seem to be any distinguishing marks on the walls, but Llyke moved briskly and surely, her feet falling silent and James’s clumping along behind her. They passed no one.
And then suddenly they stopped smartly, before what was clearly a door. Llyke turned and took her skirt back, brushing cool fingers against James’s fist.
‘Go inside,’ she said. Her voice was quiet in the silence of the hallway. ‘You will be comfortable within.’ She stepped aside, and waved at the door.
Comfortable, James thought. That doesn’t sound like she’s throwing me to the lions. He shuffled forward and laid a hand on the surface– wood, though it was grey as the stone around it– and looked back. ‘Where–‘
But she was gone.
James drew in a fortifying breath. Stranger and stranger, he said to himself, and pushed on the door. It swung open on noiseless hinges, revealing a room lit brightly and warmly and containing two people he was relieved to see.
Peter was on his feet, reaching out to grab his arm and pull him in, and Remus stood from where he leaned against a raised hearth completely and charmingly like the one in the Gryffindor common room. ‘Thank goodness it’s you,’ Peter was gushing. ‘If I thought it was one more of those weird people I’d scream. Look, you have these awful clothes too. Where were they keeping you? Are you okay?’
‘Jolly,’ James replied absently. The room was almost familiar in its build, startlingly familiar. Human, he thought, and for some reason that disturbed him very deeply. A bed was in the far corner, a great four-poster large enough for three Dumbledore-sized men, piled high with pillows and duvets in green and rose. To one side was a table laden with foodstuffs– and goat’s milk, for James had had time to become more than accustomed to the noxiously strong stuff and its smell– and the carpet beneath his slippered feet was luxurious, but clearly old. Elegant settees upholstered in earthy deep greys dotted the rest of the room, and there were– toys. Heaps and heaps of toys.
‘This is a child’s room,’ he said slowly.
Remus sank back against the brick of the fireplace. He reached out a hand, and brushed it over the cracking old wood of a hip-high rocking horse that was surely ancient in make. It rocked sadly under his touch, creaking.
‘This is what happened to all the children we read about,’ he murmured. ‘They came here. For a thousand years. All these things are old, James. I saw a bed like that in the Museum of London. It’s at least five centuries old.’
Disquieted, James found that all the appeal of the room shrank away to nothing. He joined Remus at the fireplace, and wished the flames weren’t quite so merry. It seemed sacrilegious. Now he could see that the fabrics were threadbare, worn by untold bodies, and many of the toys were broken or peeling at the paint. ‘This place is awful,’ he whispered. He reached for a ball, and cradled it in his lap. The wood was shiny and worn, like the walls of his room. Polished by ages of touch.
Peter returned from the table with a plate of biscuits. ‘What should we do, James?’
He reached for the plate, then realised his appetite was gone. He sighed, stroking the ball with his thumb. ‘I suppose all we can do is wait.’
Remus drew his knees up to his chest, and gazed into the fire. Peter sighed, and sat at their feet on the floor and ate his biscuits alone.
One of the tylwyth teg came for them early into a sleep cycle. At least, James had been sleeping. The sudden appearance of one of the faeries had him spluttering and searching through his blanket’s folds for his glasses. When he finally crammed them on, stabbing himself in the eye in the process, it was to see Remus moving to stand beside the faerie.
‘Where you going?’ he managed, muzzy-mouthed.
Remus only shrugged, his eyes uneasy. ‘I’ll let you know when I get back.’
‘If you get back,’ Peter said, high-pitched in anxiety. James patted his shoulder. The itch that spread outward from his nose was not unexpected, but he still swore. He peered about with watering eyes when the fit of sneezes left them.
‘I don’t think I ever quite appreciated how un-annoying our kind of apparation is,’ he muttered.
Peter stood up from the nest they’d made on the floor, and crossed the room to the food table. He returned with a napkin full of fresh sausages. ‘New food,’ the pudgy boy noted. ‘At least they aren’t starving us.’
‘Why d’you reckon they took Remus?’ James mused.
‘Because he can speak to them, and we can’t.’ Peter offered James a sausage, and James absently bit into it. Not cow, he thought, and gave it back. Even the food was weird.
‘Nothing to do but wait,’ he sighed. He bunched an old feather throw more firmly under his head, determined to stay awake. That determination lasted until he heard Peter snoring, the remains of his snack still smelling up the room. Even a pinch to the soft inside of his arm only accomplished a rust-coloured bruise. He didn’t notice falling asleep.
Remus shifted, clamping his hands between his knees. ‘Did you ever hear the story of Tam Lin?’ he asked, suddenly inspired.
Sirius lay on a floor pallet, his eyes closed and a cool cloth draped over his forehead. The room was dark, almost too dark to see, but a moss that grew on the low ceiling provided a ghostly glow that just outlined his form. The cave-like space was sumptuous, though. Unlike the room that Remus and the others had been confined to, this one was not filled with human litter and broken toys. Sirius lay on silks, and gold threads formed stiff and elaborate embroidery on his blanket. The stool on which Remus perched was made of wood that seemed alive, curving intricately and apparently untamed to form a seat just the size for Remus. The air was damp and smelled of running water. Stalagmites grew into a natural barrier, a sort of gate cutting them off from the stone corridor beyond. The soft voices of faeries waiting outside the room carried to them in waves.
Sirius stirred. ‘No,’ he said softly.
‘It’s Scottish. I didn’t think of it till we got– here. There’s this girl Janet, or Jennet, I don’t remember. She rides out beyond the borders of her father’s land, and she meets this man. A human man, but he seems like one of the faeries. He was stolen from his parents when he was a baby and raised as a prince by the Queen of the Fey.’
He fell silent, regretting the choice of the story. It seemed the worst taste.
‘What happened?’ Sirius asked, when he didn’t continue.
Remus cleared his throat. ‘He told Jennet that he was going to be sacrificed on Hallowe’en. She had fallen in love with him, though, and asked him to run away with her. But he couldn’t. Not on his own.’
‘Tell me this has a happy ending, Loopy.’
‘Oh. Yes. You see, Tam Lin told Jennet how to free him. So she came back on Hallowe’en at midnight– it’s always midnight in these things, isn’t it?– she had to pass three trials. When she saw the faeries come out from under the hill, she ran to Tam Lin and pulled him off his horse. First he turned into a snake, or something, and then a tiger, and then into burning iron. She held on, and then she threw him into a well of holy water. That freed him from the curse. She and Tam Lin got married. The usual stuff.’
‘You didn’t find that story when you were researching the circle, did you?’
Remus squirmed a bit. ‘No, I didn’t. But I remember reading it when I was little.’
‘Remus. Why on earth didn’t you remember it earlier?’
‘Well– it’s Scottish,’ he explained lamely.
Sirius began to laugh. ‘And your faeries are Welsh, is that it?’ His laughter trailed off weakly. ‘What an odd way to express your racial prejudices.’
He took the cloth from Sirius’s head, and wet it in the bowl of lavender-scented water that sat at the foot of the pallet. He wrung it out carefully, and replaced it. ‘Sirius,’ he whispered. ‘I’m so sorry. But we’ll get out of here. We will.’
‘I know.’ Sirius said nothing more. A short time later, a faerie came for Remus, and he left Sirius in the little cave.
Remus told them nothing about his trip to the outside, but sat on his own beside the hearth, wrapped up in apparently depressing thoughts. James tried not to be irritated with Remus’s funk, and concentrated instead on exploring the room with Peter. He reckoned it was mid-morning when two fo the tylwyth teg came for them– all of them, this time. The male with the funny name who had shown up with Remus that first time, and Llyke, who had taken James. Remus’s faerie gestured, and the boys glanced at each other. James nodded, and they stood.
They didn’t magically transport, but instead were taken on a considerable walk through the maze that was the stone hallways and their endless junctioning and crisscrossing. James noticed that Remus seemed to be studying their path intensely– he muttered to himself, perhaps counting. James left him to it, knowing he wouldn’t be able to keep track. There was simply too many turns and too few landmarks.
Their faeries turned and waited for the boys to catch up. ‘Wait for us here,’ said Remus’s. ‘We will return for you when he is ready to see you.’
‘Who?’ James whispered, bending so only Remus could hear him. ‘Who are we seeing?’
Remus shrugged, repeating his count to himself over and over.
The wait wasn’t short, but just when James might have started to get impatient, Llyke returned. Her eyes seemed to linger on him, though it was hard to tell. ‘Come,’ she ordered.
They came, James leading and Remus trailing closely and Peter all but tripping at Remus’s heels. James was not the only one to note when the ceiling abruptly sloped higher, growing to twice his height, and then three times. The rise halted at a huge lintel and massive columns. James shivered as he passed beneath it.
Their guides indicated they were to stand still, and the boys huddled together. The two faeries melted into a crowd– a huge crowd.
They were in a throne room.
There was no other way to describe it. It was nothing like Buckingham Palace, that Remus had shown him pictures of, or even as grand as the Hall at Hogwarts. But it was a throne room. A ceiling of stone carved so elegantly and skilfully that it resembled the branches of trees stretched in arches high above their heads, and the granite beneath their feet was covered in a softly glowing lichen– the only light in the huge room. And there, an hundred yards ahead of them– a chair. Just a plain wooden chair.
The tylwyth teg, hundreds of them, far more than had been in the dance, all stood silent gazing at the chair and just... waiting.
And then, suddenly, every single one of them swept into a low bow, and held there, bodies bent nearly double and fingers brushing the floor.
James swung his attention back the chair, and saw there was a man in it.
A man– not a faerie. He was taller even than Dumbledore, taller than any man he had ever seen. His face was white as chalk, his lips a thin slash cutting through the pale. His eyes were mere shadows, and his hair was so black it shone almost blue in the soft glow of the moss.
His mouth never opened, but his voice was a whisper all about them.
James cleared his throat. ‘We don’t understand,’ he started.
Byddwch yn dawel.
The dark eyes moved over them, judging, weighing– though James could not have said how he knew. They settled on Remus.
Dewch chi yma, the man murmured.
Remus shrunk away instinctively to James. ‘Dydw i ddim,’ he whispered.
James glanced at his friend, and pressed his lips together tightly. ‘Speak so we can understand you. You must be able to! Playing games doesn’t serve anyone.’
He felt the force of the faerie’s mind on his, then. It was a struggle to keep his shoulders straight. He knew instinctively that this was no challenge, but a dreadful sort of curiosity that must end favourably to James. He glared for all he was worth.
‘Very well.’ The man shifted in his chair, crossing one long leg over the other. He lifted a white hand and pointed. ‘I want you to come here.’
Peter’s voice was almost inaudible. ‘Maybe you should.’
‘Why?’ James called back. ‘Why him?’
‘No.’ Remus’s voice seemed to tremble, which was unlike him. Remus was often depressed but rarely frightened. ‘I’m coming. Fine.’ James watched, worried, as Remus crossed the long empty space to the man in the chair. He looked very small.
‘What do you want?’ he called, wondering what moved him to try and stop this. Surely the man wouldn’t hurt Remus. But before he received an answer, he left Peter and ran to catch up his friend, grabbing him by the elbow and standing beside him, trying to appear bold.
Up close, the man didn’t look any less unearthly. There were exactly three lines in his face– two deeply carved ones to either side of his slash of a mouth, and one on his forehead from frowning. The hands that lay on the arms of the chair were perfectly formed and young looking, and the crescents of his nails gleamed dully. The strong, broad bridge of his nose could have been chiselled from marble.
‘It is customary to kneel,’ he said.
James knew better than to ignore that one. He eased down to one knee, and beside him Remus did the same, shaking off his hand.
The strange man leaned forward a fraction in his seat, and then one of his hands moved languorously through the still air. ‘I have been told of you. You must be very brave children,’ he murmured.
James said nothing. To him, at least, it was obvious.
‘Why did you return?’ the man asked.
‘You must know why.’ Remus started to stand from his kneel, but changed his mind and stayed where he was. ‘We wanted to help our friend.’
‘Why should I care what you want?’
‘Sir?’ James cleared his throat. ‘My lord? We... brought things.’ He had no idea, he realised, where his backpack was. ‘Things to make an exchange.’
There was a long pause. Then: ‘Bring them here.’
It was a moment before he understood that hadn’t been addressed to him, but to one of the faeries behind him. He chewed his lip, and glanced at Remus– pale, but holding his own. He turned and looked to Peter, who seemed very alone and uneasy, standing in the middle of that crowd of tylwyth teg and trying to look older than he was.
Llyke came to his side, and held the bag out to him as if it were poison. She waited until he took it, then took two steps back. She watched him unzip the back flap without expression, and he made himself look away from her and back toward the man as he upended the entire bag and carefully shook its contents out onto the stone.
The chair creaked as the man bent to look, and Remus fidgeted. James winced as the man reached for the joke mirror-- it seemed like a horrible idea now to have brought it– into the silence, the sudden honking laugh of a joke mirror blasted like thunder.
‘Baubles,’ said the man, over the racket of the mirror. ‘These are useless mortal toys.’
‘There must be something you want,’ James pleaded. ‘You didn’t even look at–‘
‘Be quiet.’ It seemed that the man sighed; or maybe it was only an exhale, for he didn’t seem to breathe unless he wanted to. ‘My need is greater than yours.’
The black eyes that gazed at him drifted to the left. ‘Who has claimed them?’
‘Eflyllon,’ mused the man. ‘Well enough. See them settled. I will ponder this.’
‘Arawn.’ It was Llyke, and she came up behind James and laid her hand just above James’s shoulder so that it crawled with the knowledge of her nearness. ‘I wish to dispute Eflyllon’s claim.’
Remus’s faerie detached from the crowd and crossed the stone as if his feet were not even touching the floor. He halted at Remus’s side. ‘There is no dispute. They are mine,’ he said, and James, watching nervously, thought the faerie seemed to be frowning.
‘I only want this one.’ Llyke let her hand fall on James finally, though the weight of her touch was nothing. ‘Eflyllon can keep the other two.’
‘It is the strongest of the three,’ Eflyllon argued, and now there was definitely a sullen note in his voice. ‘And this one is not human. It is useless.’ He pointed to Remus.
Remus turned white, and his hands clenched into fists in the loose fabric of his jacket.
The man– Arawn– gazed between the two faeries. He lifted a finger. ‘I will think on this dispute. You will have my decision with all possible speed. You agree to abide by it?’
Llyke answered immediately, and James heard smugness in her voice, as if she had won something. ‘I do, Arawn.’
The man’s dark eyes turned to Eflyllon. ‘And you?’
Eflyllon was clearly locked in a struggle with himself. He sent a brief and hot glare at Llyke. ‘I do,’ he said, with great restraint.
Arawn nodded. ‘See them settled, Eflyllon. If the one is taken from you, something will be found in compensation. I give my word.’
The faerie bowed.
Fingers dug into his shoulder, and James looked up at Llyke. She was not looking at him, but her hold was almost painful. He didn’t like the idea of being called an ‘it’-- or of being claimed. It had a decidedly sinister sound.
‘Sir?’ Remus did scramble to his feet, though he was pale yet and could not seem to look at James. ‘Our friend. Sirius. Who has claimed him?’
Arawn gazed back imperturbably. ‘He will not be claimed. He belongs to the Earth.’
And that was all. Eflyllon took them from the throne room, and refused to answer any questions on the long walk back to the child’s toy room. It seemed to James that he looked almost hatefully at Remus and Peter, and that his gaze hovered on James longer than he was comfortable with. But he left without a word.
Remus immediately fled to the other side of the room, to the big bed. He vanished beneath a flurry of duvets and pink pillows.
Peter came back from the table with the milk. James shook his head as it was offered to him, and he sank onto a cushion beside the hearth, letting the heat of the fire blast his face in welcome. ‘Well,’ he said faintly.
Peter nodded his agreement.
He gnawed the ragged edge of his thumbnail. ‘I hate to say this, Petey,’ he muttered. ‘But I think this is starting to be just a little impossible.’
‘You’re not giving up, are you?’ Peter demanded, his cheeks losing their roundness in alarm.
‘No,’ he replied hastily. ‘I just... ‘ He leant his shoulders back against the warm stone. ‘I can’t see a way out,’ he admitted. It was a painful thing to say, and frightening. He bit too hard on his thumb, and tasted blood.
‘We can’t think that way!’ Peter pulled off his brown cap and threw it, knocking over a girl’s doll a few feet away. ‘It just *looks* impossible. Nothing is impossible, Professor Turbute says that all the time. “Peter Pettigrew, nothing is impossible, for if it were, I would say no second year could concoct something as disastrous as what you have in that cauldron.”’ He lowered his voice and pretended to thrust his belly out. Involuntarily, James smiled at the imitation.
‘He is particularly quotable,’ he started, and stopped. He grabbed Peter’s shoulders tightly. ‘You know what else he says all the time? Not to get overwhelmed by the big picture. It’s the details. And he’s right! Peter, we’re in the only room with a *door*!’
Peter stared at him. ‘A door?’ he repeated, stuttering.
‘A door! And there hasn’t been a door invented that can stop James Potter when he really wants to get in or out it!’ He shot to his feet and hopped over a wooden drum set and landed with both hands on the curvy wooden surface. Within minutes, his nimble Seeker’s fingers discovered what was almost hidden from sight by the clever skill of the carpentry– hinges on the left, and a latch on the right.
Peter rubbed his cheek, nervous and excited both. ‘What will we do if we get out?’
‘The possibilities are endless,’ James muttered, not breaking his concentration. The latch refused to move under his prying fingertips; locked. And him with no wand.
‘Yes, but you just know that if we get caught...’ Peter scuffed the ground with his foot and leaned against the door. ‘I don’t think the faeries believe in detention.’
James sighed, and gave up trying to physically move the latch. ‘Look. The worst they can do is kill us. Or take our souls or force us into slavery or make us insane. At best, we can escape and go right back to normal at Hogwarts.’
Peter was pasty-faced. James’s cavalier attitude often had that affect on him. ‘Not very good odds,’ he whispered.
James looked at him. ‘No,’ he said, after a moment. ‘No. I guess you’re right. Sorry.’
But he didn’t stop trying to figure out the latch. Twice he thought he nearly had it, and Peter found a toy hammer among the toys to help. But all he succeeded in doing was picking up a large splinter in his pointer finger, and he fell back on to the hearth, frustrated.
‘Maybe we can overpower them when they come to get us next time,’ Peter suggested. He played half-heartedly with a bag of marbles, laying out a string in a circle. Idly James plucked one from the bag and gazed through it at the fire.
‘Maybe,’ he muttered. ‘I’m a head bigger than Llyke. And they are pretty lightweight.’ He sighed, and tossed the glass marble back to the circle. He left the fire and crossed the room to the bed.
‘Remus, come out,’ he ordered.
One of the pillows moved. ‘No,’ it reported.
He sighed, and kicked off his shoes, and climbed up onto the mattress. The bed creaked and moaned under his weight, and a layer of dust arose that made his nose itch. He crawled across the great expanse and settled by the lump that was the Slytherin.
‘I could sure use some help,’ he began. He identified a hand, and squinted. ‘No one’s read more than you. And you know more tricks than most fourth years. I bet you know a charm to open an enchanted door.’
The hand twitched. ‘Not without a wand,’ was the muffled reply.
James reached for the top pillow on the pile and threw it away, then two more, and Remus’s head appeared, hair wild and eyes red. Remus tried to wrestle the last pillow away from him, but James was stronger and it joined the others on the other end of the bed.
‘Now that I have your full attention,’ James said, ‘talk to me.’
Remus was a dark pink with embarrassment. ‘What about?’ he stalled, sitting up and inching away. James caught his wrist and pulled him back.
‘Start with what you know about faeries claiming people.’
Remus shook his head, and small feathers from the pillows floated down from his hair. ‘No one mentioned it,’ he said. ‘Let go please.’
‘Not just yet.’ James studied Remus carefully, not looking away even when Remus squirmed and tried to free himself again. ‘Why’d he say you’re not human?’
‘How should I know?’ Remus gave him a desperate shove, and managed to knock him over, but James kept his grip and Remus came along, thumping up against the headboard. ‘Let go!’
‘This’ll be a lot easier if you just tell me,’ James warned, rolling and getting a good headlock on his friend. Remus flailed and landed a decent elbow into the other boy’s ribs, but James easily flattened him to the mattress and sat on him. ‘I don’t particularly enjoy beating on you, but I will. Come on. Was it a curse? Did you drink a bad potion when you were a baby? You’re no half-giant like that Rubeus Hagrid–‘
Remus heaved, but James grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back. ‘Come on, Reemy.’
A pillow flew smack into his face and made him splutter. Peter knelt on the far edge of the bed and rearmed himself. ‘Stop,’ he ordered, though he turned red and winced when James turned on him in shock. ‘Don’t hurt him.’
‘I’m not hurting him,’ James retorted, but he did loose Remus’s arm.
‘He can’t help it!’ Peter scrambled through the rucked-up coverlets. ‘Let him go, Jamie.’
‘Fine!’ He crawled backward on his knees and stood clear of Remus’s body. He mostly expected it when Remus all but bounded off the bed and ran across the room to bury himself in the deepest corner he could find. It left him feeling a little ashamed; he had seen Remus ran away from bullies the same way, before, and wished he hadn’t sat on his friend. But it was too late now.
Peter gave him a look he couldn’t decipher, and went to try and coax Remus out through gentler persuasions. He went back with food, and presently James heard them speaking, softly so he couldn’t pick out exact words. He sighed, and left the bed, brushing feathers off his leggings, to try the door again.
‘Hey,’ he called. He ran his fingers over the grooved carvings. All smooth. ‘You still mad at me?’
There was a pause, and then Remus and Peter came to join him at the door. ‘I guess not,’ Remus replied, his eyes on the wood or on his feet, but never James’s face. ‘Why?’
He was grateful that Remus had followed his lead and allowed the problem of Eflyllon’s comment to be dropped peaceably. ‘I was thinking,’ he said. ‘What’s the first thing we do when we find a new hidey-hole or secret passage?’
Peter hazarded, ‘Explore it?’
‘Yeah.’ He turned and ruffled Remus’s wild hair. ‘You look like a scarecrow,’ he noted. ‘I know things here are different, but we haven’t looked at all the stuff in here. Who knows but that it might help.’
‘I saw some chests back by the bed,’ Remus suggested. ‘I’ll take those.’
‘Good. I’ll search that side–‘ he pointed. ‘And Petey, you take those toys over there and sort through ‘em.’
They came together an hour later, each holding an armful. They sat in a circle and piled their findings.
‘Half of the toys are broken,’ Peter said, overturning a brightly-coloured box he’d packed a few things into. He lifted a small pocket mirror, and turned it to face James.
‘Hahahaha,’ it croaked. ‘Poxy-face. Pimple-nose. Scurvy–‘
James covered it with his palm and tossed it away. ‘Guess we weren’t the first to think of a joke mirror.’
Peter’s search had revealed three child-sized dolls– ‘Enough to stuff under the covers, maybe, as a decoy–‘ and what appeared to be a primitive Remembrall made of inferior green glass. It glowed a feeble red when Peter picked it up. The real treasure was a text book– a Hogwarts textbook. ‘Charms,’ Peter said. ‘The spells look second year, but some are harder. Plus it’s ancient.’ He opened the front cover to show yellowed parchment. Written on the flyleaf was ‘Property of Edgar D. Hadgood, year of 1813.’
James whistled. ‘You were right,’ he told Remus. ‘You weren’t the first at Hogwarts to find that mushroom circle.’
Remus looked as though he somehow felt guilty. But he straightened his shoulders, and pushed forward his finds. ‘Lots and lots of knitting needles. I guess we could use them as weapons. Lots and lots of clothes and blankets and things. This.’ He shook loose a silvery velvet bundle; it was a cloak, and a beautiful one. James fingered the hem with a keen edge of envy in his stomach. ‘I don’t know if it does anything special but it oughtn’t stay here. It’s too fine.’
James agreed heartily, and took it from Remus’s hands. The velvet slid through his fingers as if it were silk, and it was much lighter than he’d thought it would be. He sighed as he laid it across his lap. ‘This has to be worth a hundred galleons. Two hundred.’
Remus was folding open a leather bag. ‘Eyeglasses,’ he murmured. ‘And one of those long-distance viewing things.’ He held up a spyglass. It was brass, and very very old– it had turned green and was clearly fragile. ‘Look into it.’
Peter did, and his eyes were very wide. He handed it to James, who lifted took off his glasses and lifted it up to his left eye.
‘Home!’ he gasped. ‘That’s– I can see my mother!’ Suddenly his mouth watered. ‘She’s stuffing a turkey.’
Remus said, ‘Clearly it shows us where we came from. I saw my house, and I’m guessing Peter saw his. It would be a wonderful gift for a homesick child they were keeping here.’
‘Maybe we should leave it, then,’ James replied. He lowered the spyglass reluctantly, then placed it back in Remus’s pile. His fingers brushed the Remembrall, which had rolled toward him, and it immediately emitted as strong a glow as it had yet. James frowned, and picked it up.
‘What did you find?’ Peter asked him.
‘Oh.’ He put the Remembrall out of his mind. ‘Nothing, really. A lot of dust.’ He held up a ring with a large stone. ‘Dunno. It’s cracked, whatever it is.’
Last year a girl named Vanessa Stitch had been unwise enough to put on a ring she found without first ascertaining what it did. It had taken the professors a week to stop her from smelling like garlic.
Peter took it from him and scratched a fingernail at the edge of the stone. After a moment it popped out. ‘Paste and gilt,’ he said. ‘Nothing this cheap would be magical.’
James desultorily turned over the few other items he’d found– mostly jewelry and one pair of cufflinks that looked gold. ‘Wonder why they leave all this stuff here.’
‘It’s like he said,’ Remus returned. ‘Arawn called them baubles. And they are, really. Just things with enchantments. No great magic.’
‘Well.’ James rolled the Remembrall over his knuckles, tossing it up and catching it neatly. ‘Then I guess we have to...’
Remus raised an eyebrow. ‘Have to what?’
‘What day was it when we left?’
Peter glanced up from where he shifted through the Charms book. ‘Friday.’
‘The third,’ Remus supplied. The Slytherin took the Remembrall from him; it darkened with a relieved little putter. ‘What is it?’
He pursed his lips. ‘We discovered last time that time moves different here, didn’t we.’ He looked between his two younger friends. ‘We’ve been here a lot longer than just that quick rescue trip. Days, by the faeries’ count.’
Remus clutched the Remembrall tightly. ‘You’re right.’
‘We can’t waste any more time then,’ Peter said solemnly, and his eyes were wide. ‘We need to find Sirius.’
James stood, and shook the cloak out before him. ‘None of this stuff will get us out the door, unfortunately, but let’s find a way to have it on us when we do get let out. You never know.’ And then, because the velvet felt so cool and wonderful in his hands, he gave in to temptation and swirled it dramatically over his shoulders and pulled it tight around his neck.
Remus gasped and Peter leapt back.
‘What?’ he demanded, staring at them.
‘James, it’s an invisibility cloak!’ Peter cried.
Quickly he looked down. Surely enough, everything below his neck had disappeared. ‘Wicked!’ Then he gasped. ‘That’s it! This is how we’ll get out!’ He crouched. ‘They’ll have to open the door at some point. When they do, we’ll sneak past them and find Sirius. We’ll take all this stuff with us. Remus, I’ve seen you muttering while they walked us. Have you been memorising every time you were out?’
Remus nodded. He looked doubtful, however. ‘I know where the sleeping rooms are for sure. I could maybe get us back to the throne room. But Sirius is someplace different, we never walked–‘ He cut himself off quickly.
James looked at him sharply. ‘You know what they’re doing with him, don’t you.’
‘No.’ Remus held up his hands quickly. ‘I swear!’
‘But you’ve got guesses, right?’
‘James,’ Peter warned firmly.
‘Fine,’ he muttered sourly. ‘If you two are done sticking up for each other, I’ll stop. But Remus, if you know anything helpful, you better share. I mean it.’
Remus nodded, subdued. ‘Yes, James.’
‘We’ll start with this cloak, at least.’ James was thinking very rapidly, and he wasn’t at all sure any of his thoughts were good ones. ‘Maybe we’ll overhear something if we hang about. It always happens that way in the books. So we’ll start with that, and maybe something will just– come along.’
‘We’re all going to die,’ was the sad reply.
Remus gripped Peter’s knee. ‘At least we’re all together,’ he said stoutly. ‘It would be worse if half of us where still at school and never knew what... happened. It would.’
Peter nodded, but glumly. ‘I’d druther all of us be at school, then,’ he sighed. Then he sat up straight. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘maybe there’s a way to hurry things.’ He held up the Charms text. ‘If we create enough of a disturbance, they’ll be sure to come, won’t they, Jamie?’
James asked, ‘Can we do anything without our wands?’
‘We all did before we came to Hogwarts,’ Remus reasoned. ‘We’re just trained not to let loose big bursts of– of unformed magic.’
‘You’re right.’ He frowned. ‘I guess it’s funny how we forget so quickly. Well– then surely we’ll be able to cast any low-level charms.’
‘But they may not happen exactly how we want them to.’ Remus drew one knee up to his chest. ‘The whole point of our wands is to give us a focus.’ He frowned in concentration, feeling an idea through. ‘The kinds of things we managed before school were usually– well, always– accompanied by a big outburst, right? Like when we were mad or upset. I overturned a big chest in my room when I was angry at my father once. But I was really angry. I don’t know if we need to be really emotional or if that was just a catalyst to get us started.’
He’d long lost James and Peter. ‘You work on that,’ James said. ‘Let us know, in English, when you come up with anything.’ Though James was hardly slow, he’d never been good on theory, and Remus was a great deal deeper than he, anyway. He reached to clap Peter on the shoulder, and had to laugh at the apparently disconnected appearance of his arm. ‘Petey and I will get everything else ready.’
It took them perhaps a half an hour to arrange the room to James’s satisfaction. They’d used the child-sized dolls and a few pillows to stuff the bed, and caused a certain amount of artless wreckage that would suggest their ‘sleep’ was exhausted. Though their clothes had no pockets, they used some of the doll’s dresses to hold the things they wanted to keep with them, and tore sheets into strips to tie the little bundles to their stomachs. They fetched Remus once they were ready, and had him hike up his shirt so they could wrap the largest bundle– the book.
Remus kept trying to look at their work, squirming ticklishly and generally making the process much harder. Finally, however, they had the book bound tightly around his pale stomach with several arm’s lengths of good linen strips, and when he tucked his shirt back into the trousers, the outline of the book was quite hidden.
‘I look fat,’ Remus said.
‘Hope they don’t notice and leave it at that.’
Remus pressed a hand against the book absently as he spoke. ‘I looked for the messiest magic I thought we could manage,’ he explained, perching on the hearth. ‘There’s a charm in there for immunizing against the measles. It’s unusual and they might pay attention to it because it’s doing something to ourselves, instead of just the room, which I figured they might ignore. I’m still not sure about the emotional stimulation, but we’ll know after we try it the first time. Now I’m going to teach it to you. Listen carefully because it’s different from what we’re used to.’
Remus showed them how to wave their fingers first, as if they were holding a wand. ‘Concentrate on your hand as the centre of your focus,’ he told them. ‘No, don’t swish so much, Peter. Like this.’ And then he taught them the rhyme– no Latin, for this was ‘a real charm they way the hedgewitches do them.’ When he was satisfied they knew what they were doing, he fell silent and waited for James to take the lead.
‘I hate to say this,’ James said. ‘I think we ought to try and do this underneath the cloak. We know they can somehow apparate without saying a word. They could be here before we have a chance to dive for cover.’
Neither boy protested. It was fortunate that both Remus and Peter had yet to hit any growth spurts, for it made it easier for all three of them to fit beneath the cloak and have enough room to complete the gestures. It was still hot and awkward, however.
‘Ready?’ James asked. ‘Remember, don’t make a noise once they get here and everyone walk in step.’
‘Ready,’ Peter and Remus echoed. James gave the signal, and they moved their right hands in rhythm and recited:
‘By the power of my saying,
With sickness I’ll not be laying,
Here the illness I am slaying
No price of death will I be paying.’
James couldn’t feel a thing– no tingle, no release, no indication that it had worked. Peter was clearly confused, but Remus let out a shaky breath as if he had just moved something very heavy, and he wiped sweat from his forehead.
No one said anything, aware that Remus’s success might draw the elves. The wait seemed to take forever, and each of them grew tenser and tenser. Just when James was about to admit that it hadn’t worked, however– the door opened.
‘Pwy rwyt ti’n gredu?’ It was a feminine voice– Llyke, James thought, and was very glad indeed for the cloak.
‘Neb,’ another said. Remus’s faerie, Eflyllon. He sounded oddly sullen, and James found himself wondering if Arawn had decided to grant Llyke’s claim.
He nudged the other boys, and they began to creep very slowly toward the door. Let it be open, James thought, let them have left it open. He hadn’t thought that what he would do if they hadn’t left it open.
But luck was with them. It had swung nearly shut, but the latch hadn’t locked. He looked over his shoulder at the two faeries– who were now clearly arguing and moving toward the bed– and made sure his hand was covered as he reached to inch open the door. He held his breath– and then they were through, and in the hallway. James pulled the door shut again behind him.
The darkness was absolute, except for a tiny sliver coming from the room behind them. ‘All right, Reemy,’ he whispered. ‘You lead.’ He heard Remus draw a deep breath. And then they were walking– or shuffling. It was slow going, and he heard Remus counting under his breath.
It was all going extremely well, he thought, and allowed himself a little sigh of relief. It made sense that, at that moment, they ran into Arawn and,
‘Sirius!’ Peter hissed.
James closed his eyes. Damn, he thought.
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