Something round dropped onto Harry’s face, startling him out of sleep. Groggily, he pushed it off of his head and fumbled for his glasses.
“They really need to fix that.”
“I keep telling Draco,” Harry grumbled, pushing himself upright and blinking at Araeo, who was heating up porridge over their campfire. “He swears he doesn’t know why it’s happening, but I think it’s on purpose. Were you up before Limmy?”
Araeo shook his head. “She left a note.” He held it out. Back by breakfast.
“Late,” Harry said teasingly. He sat cross-legged beside the fire and unrolled The Demiguise, which could be counted on to hit you in the face at seven a.m. precisely these days.
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 30 ✩ 1 Aug 1993
MINISTRY TURNS BLIND EYE TO ATTACKS ON LIBERATED ELVES
SECOND PURE-BLOOD RIOT PLANNED FOR SOLSTICE
DUMBLEDORE WON’T BACK DOWN: HOGWARTS DOORS STILL OPEN
by The Demiguise Collective
INTERVIEW WITH ORRY FEVERFEW, FIELD MEDIC
SUBSCRIPTION PRICES & CONTACT
NON-WIZARD BEINGS: FREE
EVERYONE ELSE: 1 SICKLE
OWL THE DEMIGUISE COLLECTIVE AT OUR FRENCH HEADQUARTERS FOR INQUIRIES, ADDRESS BELOW
Harry read the paper slowly as Araeo ladled porridge into their travel mugs. None of it was especially uplifting, which just made their purpose here all the more important.
“Did you do the crossword?” Araeo asked. He knelt, handing Harry his porridge, and Harry leaned against his side to eat.
Harry flipped to the back of the paper, where there was a short crossword. Grinning, he filled in four specific answers with Araeo’s help.
1 across: The symbol of Slytherin House, which many erroneously believe to contain a disproportionately high number of blood purists. In fact, we are seeing that the bigots in the ministry reflect an even distribution across all houses.
4 across: Elves in this country seized their freedom alongside a muggle uprising in the 1780s.
3 down: A synonym for ‘great,’ this is what Minister Fudge most recently called Thorfinn Rowle’s call to find a way to re-bind liberated elf magic, a task so far proving impossible.
6 down: Albus Dumbledore’s request to parents uneasy about Hogwarts’ dual position as a harbor for liberated elves: “Just _____. See for yourself.” The Collective encourages anyone curious about the Hogwarts’ operation to do the same.
“Snake, France, Wonderful, Visit,” Harry read. “Snake, France is wonderful. Come visit.”
Araeo laughed. “He must have fun writing those.”
They looked up just in time to see Limmy drop down from the highest tree on the border of the clearing, a thirty-foot fall from which she alighted as gracefully as a cat. Harry grinned just to look at her these days—her cheeks were flushed, grey eyes sparkling, and there was always an uncontrollable smile lurking somewhere in the corners of her mouth. And this close to the deep wood, she was practically effervescent, dandelion clocks of magic puffing off of her feet as she landed, dancing off the hem of her cloak as it swayed.
“Good morning,” Araeo said warmly, offering her a bowl of porridge.
She ate it ravenously, dropping down beside the two of them and waving her copy of the paper. “This is smacking me in the face just as I is about to catch a frog!”
“Snakeheart thinks it’s on purpose.”
“I is having words with Draco,” Limmy grumbled, wiping her bowl clean with a flash of her eyes and levitating it over by their things. She gave a showy snap, green sparks flaring off her fingers, and into her hand fell a small object. “Look what I is finding this morning!”
They leaned forward eagerly. She presented them with a smooth, round piece of crystal that glittered in the morning light. “It’s a charm stone!” she said proudly. “I is finding it in an old abandoned nest.”
“You’s sure it’s abandoned?” Harry asked, running a finger over the smooth stone.
She nodded. “I’s watching for a while—other animals is coming in and and out of it.”
“I’ve heard of these!” Araeo said. He reached out and, when Limmy nodded, plucked the stone from her palm, holding it up to look at in the light. “If you soak them in different sorts of water, they can heal.”
“That’s what my grandmother is telling me,” Limmy agreed. She took it back and rolled it between her fingers. “Is you two ready for the moot?”
Harry groaned and flopped on his back. “Is we ready for the moot? I’ve been ready for a week!”
Araeo laughed at him. “Snakeheart, patience.”
“Patience!” Harry sat up and pointed at him, outraged. “We’ve been here for two weeks!”
“You’s just impatient to get back to the babies,” said Limmy.
Harry scowled at her. It was true, of course. He had spent every waking moment he could get, when he wasn’t busy with emissary duties, with the children, and he absolutely hated being way from them.
Araeo took his hand, and there was a brief shifting moment as their heartbeats aligned. “You’ll see them soon, Snakeheart,” said Araeo, smiling down at him. “And the basilisk will probably be equally glad to have you back as you are to be back.”
Reluctantly, Harry surfaced from his pool of homesickness. “Alright, yes,” he sighed. “Patience. Moot.”
“Patience is moot,” grinned Araeo.
“This moot is moot,” said Limmy, standing and stretching, “if it isn’t actually the sovereign that we is meeting today.”
They had been on the other side of the deep wood for two weeks. Harry and Araeo had been here twice before, both times only passing through on the way to and from the crystal cave in the mountains. In both instances, whoever it was that lived in this area of the forest had avoided them entirely.
Now, though, they had arrived with the express intent to stay put until one of the mysterious people would speak to them. And arriving with Limmy, it seemed, flowering with strange magic like an extension of the deep wood itself, was what it took for the fairies who lived here to finally come out to meet them.
Tidying up their campsite, they made themselves presentable to the court. There was only so much they could do, being in the middle of a month’s camping journey, but Limmy added some sparkles to her robes, Araeo put on the ceremonial mantle he traveled with, and Harry tried to comb his hair.
After a few minutes of grumbling and muttering, Araeo sighed and took the comb from him, and in the blink of an eye had his hair braided tight across the sides of his head, tail stretching down to his shoulder blades.
“Thanks,” Harry said ruefully.
Araeo ran his hand down the braid and released him. “Presentable,” he judged. “Shall we?”
“We shall,” mimicked Limmy, and led them through the forest. Harry took Araeo’s hand as they walked, watching the pale pink sparks come off the heels of Limmy’s boots where they hit the ground. So he missed the babies, and so the world was fraught and the ministry terrible—but this was all he had ever wanted, and his happiness threatened to overflow and drown them all.
Araeo squeezed his hand. “Deep breaths, Snakeheart.” Harry rolled his eyes and elbowed him.
Topaz and their delegation met them near the marker stone. Such was the nature of the fairy fort that until it had been revealed to them, the stone had just looked like a boulder on the ground. But with the blessing of a fairy, they saw it for what it was: a massive archway, reaching up to the tops of the trees, beyond which the fort emerged.
“Good morning, delegate Topaz,” said Harry, leading their small group in the intricate salute they’d learned.
“A fine morning for a moot,” said Topaz, returning the gesture along with the three other fairies behind them. “Once again you are welcome in the fort, Emissary Snakeheart, Heir Stargazer, Envoy Snakeheart.”
The fairies were all of two feet tall at the most, but their limbs were elongated, their skin a dark brown, their torsos flat and angular. Their hair floated around their faces in locs of gold and red and black. They wore hard carapace-like armor that shaped to their forms. And of course there were the wings: glinting and insectile, fragile-looking in the light. Topaz, who had been shepherding them to meetings with fairy folk higher and higher up the chain of command, had bright red hair and eyes that glinted like motes of fire inside their head.
“With whom will we be meeting today?” asked Araeo. “The fifth-intermediary arbitrator? Or perhaps the seventh mediator to the fifth-intermediary arbitrator?”
Topaz gave a sharp laugh, flashing tiny fangs that were slick with venom. “Heir Stargazer, your wit continues to amuse. No—today you moot with Amaranth themself.”
A wave of relief crashed over Harry. Finally. He could see the relief easing Limmy’s shoulders as well. No matter how much fun she was having in the forest, none of them had enjoyed being strung along.
“Enter, fairy guests,” said Topaz. “Remember—speak not unless spoken to, eat not unless fed, and step not where you should not tread.”
Harry felt the weight of the command settle over them, as it had every day for the past two weeks. They nodded their heads in acquiescence, and followed Topaz and their people though the gate.
They didn’t exactly leave the forest to get to the fairy fort … it was more like the forest left them. They side-stepped in a way, walking under the arch, and reality shifted. The light grew strange and unchanging; the trees stretched out, the ground under their feet softened. As they walked down the promenade, fairies looked out at them through trees hollowed out like columned wasp nests, keen fiery eyes on these visitors, the first visitors in a very, very long time.
Harry opened his mouth to breathe in the smell of the fort. It was not quite like the magic of the Deep Wood, but not quite like any other magic he’d ever tasted. It tasted like swirls of smoke on his palate. Topaz and their fairies shifted in size ahead of them, or perhaps it was his perception—the fairies stretched and shrank, flicked back and forth from one spot to another depending on which eye he looked through.
They longer they walked, the harder it was to keep his feet on the path. But to stray from the path would mean eternity as a stretchy tree or a lightning beetle or something, and so Harry focused all of his will on making sure his feet landed where he intended them. Araeo had to exert the same force of will to keep to the path, but Limmy stepped lightly, the magic of her seemingly unaffected, or less affected, by the fort.
Topaz called them to a stop at the base of an enormous oak tree. There was a small archway in the bottom f it o that their fairies preceeded them through, Topaz waiting at the side. They flicked their eyes from Harry to the doorway, a challenge.
Harry stared at the doorway. It was two feet tall. But after two weeks in the fort, he had an idea of how things worked. Carefully keeping his mouth closed and his feet to the ground, he knelt and pushed his head through the archway. As he squeezed through, it expanded around him, and he crawled into a tree trunk that was suddenly as vast as the mer palace, dwarfing him completely.
Limmy and Araeo clambered in next, Araeo looking a little unnerved at the shift. Topaz passed by with an approving nod and began leading them up an inconceivably long spiral staircase.
Limmy and Harry glared at Araeo, who was frowning. Centaurs did not like stairs.
Topaz glanced back with an eyebrow raised, but did not speak. Harry sighed in frustration and looked to Limmy. Limmy pulled on her ear for a moment, and then, with a challenging look to Topaz, put out her hand and touched the staircase. It changed in composition from a spiral of stairs to a gently sloping hillside, stretching up into the tree.
When Topaz did not object, they began to climb Limmy’s never-ending hillside, up and up and up through the trunk of the massive tree.
It amazed Harry, the way Limmy understood how fairy magic worked. He knew, because she had told him, that it was all illusion—there was no hill any more than there were actually endless spiral stairs. What was truly around them she couldn’t articulate, but it was something Harry and Araeo could not perceive.
At the end of the endless hill, they followed Topaz into a sloping tunnel, with holes in the ceiling letting in dappled light. Harry supposed they were inside a tree branch.
After perhaps three hours of silent walking, or just as likely thirty minutes, they reached another archway, this one decorated in intricate carvings that hurt Harry’s head to look at.
Topaz finally broke their silence. “Welcome to the moot,” they said, and pushed open the door.
They stepped through the archway into a springtime grove. The ground was covered in a layer of moss as thick as a mattress, flowers that were as large as Araeo bloomed along the borders of the space, obscuring anything beyond. Much of the center of the room was taken up by a crystal-blue pool of water, utterly still.
On a cushion made of yellow flower petals, just behind the pool, lounged the fairy sovereign.
They were taller than the other fairies—perhaps three feet instead of two, making them about as tall as Limmy. Their hair was bright orange, locs spilling over their shoulders like a lion’s mane. Their umber skin was almost transparent, glowing from some source within them, as were their eight wings that haloed their body. They had coal-black eyes, a long arced nose, and high cheekbones. Their mouth was open to display fangs slick with orange venom.
The three of them halted just inside the room, holding their breaths.
On a cushion made of yellow flower petals, just behind the pool, lounged the fairy sovereign.
Slowly, Amaranth raised one clawed hand and beckoned them closer. Harry preceded them, Limmy and Areo behind, and he led them in kneeling opposite the pool from Amaranth.
“Rise,” said Amaranth, their voice an insect-buzz. “Emissary, heir, and envoy. Strange visitors from strange lands with strange requests.”
Harry stood again, evaluating Amaranth as they evaluated him. He spoke not a word. As the silence stretched on, Amaranth cocked their head curiously. Harry merely found a still pool within himself, much like the one on the ground before him, and held.
“Strange visitors, but canny ones,” Amaranth said finally. “Speak, one with the heart of a snake, and speak, heir to the stars, and speak too, my unbound cousin.”
Harry gave a single shivery sigh out. “Sovereign,” he said carefully. “What have the thirteen fairies we’ve seen so far already told you?”
Amaranth licked the gathering venom from the corners of their mouth with a wicked grin. “All of it, little hatchling. I thought you would eventually give up.”
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Araeo stepped forward with a dip of his head. “Sovereign, if you know what we have spoken of to your advisors, then you know exactly why we have come on behalf of the liberated elves.”
“Yes,” said Amaranth. “And I behold one before me. Speak, cuz.”
“Is I your cousin?” Limmy asked curiously, head tilted. Here in this glade, she shed sparks of magic constantly.
“Cousin enough through magic,” said Amaranth, “I would hear your request with my ears, through your lips, little one.”
Limmy spread her hands, fingers twitching like she could feel currents running through the air of this place. “Cousin,” she said, “the liberated elves is fighting to free themselves for almost a year, and we is in desperate need of a home. We is spread across the nations of the forest and lake, but we is needing a place to be together, permanently, and to be safe from the wizards who would kills us, and binds us, and enslaves us again.”
“You need land,” said Amaranth.
“We needs land,” Limmy agreed. “Safe land. This land, if you is allowing it, cousin.”
“Why this land?” Amaranth demanded.
“Wizards is not entering the forest,” Limmy said. “They is afraid of it.”
“For good reason,” Amaranth interjected.
“Yes. But there is something else—elves is not knowing where we is first coming from. Wizards is doing their best to destroy elvish history. But how we is feeling in the Deep Wood … we knows we is coming from something like it. It is feeling like home to us.”
To Harry’s shock, Amaranth started to cry, huge tears welling from their eyes and splashing onto the petals of their cushion, burning sizzling holes through it. They reached their hand out to Limmy, and Limmy, with an uneasy glance at Harry, walked around the lake and took it.
Amaranth pressed Limmy’s hand to their collarbone. “Cousin Envoy,” Amaranth said, void-black eyes never leaving Limmy’s face, “let us talk.”
“I is so relieved to be going home,” Limmy said fervently, stuffing their camping things into bags.
Harry giggled. “You don’t wants to stay with your new cousin?”
Limmy stared at him. “They is scaring me, Snake. You isn’t thinking they is creepy?”
“Well …” Harry shrugged. “I mean, they agreed!”
Limmy nodded uneasily. “Agreed to meet with Tippy and Orry. But I isn’t knowing what Tippy and Orry is going to think of them.”
Harry tried to picture it—no-nonsense Tippy in her high-collared robes faced with the fairy sovereign. He burst out laughing. “I wish I could be there!”
Araeo finished rolling up the blankets and tied them onto his back. “It’s August fifth; we lost four days in the fort.”
Harry sighed. “Right. So … that’s two weeks back to the castle if we can get through the Deep Wood in just one. And school starts in three weeks.” He groaned in despair. At the beginning of the summer he’d had so much time! Where had it all gone?
Limmy winked at him. “You’s forgetting, Snake. I is getting us through the Deep Wood as quickly as you wants.”
“Then we should get going,” said Araeo, “if Snakeheart is to have any time with the babies at all.”
Harry stuck his tongue out. Packs on, fire out, and hands joined, they left the fairies, for the moment, behind.
Bonus doodle of Harry in his element.