Author's Note: This fic was written as part of the summer story collection for the Haphne Discord Server (Link: discord . gg / pKSdvJQvhU). If you like the pairing, feel free to join up, there are lots of fun and creative people to chat with.
My thanks to Dorothea Greengrass, Webstriker, Akamoroti, Thisdude4, DorianGray, Kellar and TheMightyClark for their efforts as Beta readers.
"Heading into the forest again?" Sirius looked at him with a wide smile.
Harry shrugged in response. "I like it there, it feels really calm."
Sirius barked a short laugh and looked around the room. They were in the living room, where the cooling charms were keeping the temperature nice and pleasant. It took quite a lot of galleons and spellwork, but Sirius had been especially motivated. Not only had he wanted to live (almost) anywhere other than Grimmauld Place, he had also wanted to provide a nice place for his godson. Fortunately, he had money in abundance, and spellwork was taken care of by both Albus Dumbledore and Filius Flitwick. The two men had shown their prowess with their wands by completing spellwork that, ordinarily, would have taken days but was instead done in mere hours.
And so, Sirius had a cosy little cottage to offer his godson as a new home. He had decided for the peaceful countryside in the south of England, quite near the New Forest. The cottage was built at the edge of what had once been called Coille Darroch, but was now known as Bucley Wood, and was one of the few remaining magical forests in Britain.
"Well." Sirius stroked his chin, trying to appear sagely, a task made difficult by the fact that his beard just refused to grow out as anything more than shaggy tufts. "Magical people have been going there for centuries. Even Ollivander collects material in this wood, you know. And your parents went on a date here a few times. Just be careful, and remember that dinner will be around six. I'll want your help with the dishes."
"Sure." Harry nodded with a smile. Sirius also gave Harry various tasks around the house and quite strictly made sure he was doing his homework. Harry, after a few talks with Hermione, understood that Sirius, unlike the Dursleys, gave him those tasks so that they could spend time together. And much like Sirius often invited Remus for a day over, he had also encouraged Harry to invite his friends.
Just two days ago, he had spent the afternoon outside, showing Ron and Hermione around his favourite clearing in the forest, lying on the soft grass in the shade of old oaks, and listening to birdsong and the wind in the leaves. Along the way, they passed trees Harry had come to recognize and sometimes, sometimes he had the feeling the trees could recognize him. There was what sounded like a friendly tone to the crackle of branches and the deep hum of the forest. He found that whenever he needed it, one of the trees would always have a spot of shade to offer him, the rich crown of branches offering him protection. And he was quite sure that the white flash they had seen was a unicorn.
Tracing the warm, brown, wooden wall, he went up the stairs to clean his room before heading out, closing the various books strewn around the floor and making sure all his homework parchment was secured in a case. It wouldn't do for any of it to get lost. While he certainly enjoyed working on magic over the summer, needlessly repeating work due to carelessness did not appeal to him.
He sat on the comfortable bed along the wall and changed into outside clothes. While Hogwarts offered much comfier beds, this was still by far better than what he had slept on at Privet Drive. It took one quick trip to Diagon Alley to get him new, comfortable clothes and, fortunately, Sirius was not a fan of long shopping trips, and neither was Harry, if he was being honest with himself. While Diagon Alley had not lost its charm with the bevy of different, glimmering, colourful shops, the shopping itself felt more like a chore.
He remembered to take his wand, which rested comfortably in an ornate, decorated holster at his waist. Though he would deny it, he had spent some time in front of a mirror, practising his draw.
Sirius, of course, spotted his godson during that important activity, but decided to keep his knowledge of Harry's antics for himself, until the most opportune moment came.
Harry ran down the stairs, though he remembered to pat the enchanted dog's head at the end of the railing. Professors Dumbeldore and Flitwick put many security enchantments on and in the house, but Harry felt that, at the end, the two men decided to simply have fun. Certainly, it felt like the house itself had a gentle sense of humour. He nodded to the moving engraved deer watching over the entrance hall. The animal lowered its antlered head and beckoned towards the main door. The handles, engraved into lion faces, winked at him and watched him heading towards the treeline.
It was just after two in the afternoon, Harry assured himself with a look at his watch, and the sun shone bright from the azure sky. It was therefore quite pleasant to find himself under the lush, green canopy of the forest. He patted the bark of a particularly familiar tree which stood guard over the start of the trail he usually took on his wanderings. He had a feeling that one of the branches swayed just a little more than the wind would make it. There was a rustle in the undergrowth, and a hare looked at him curiously for a moment, before scurrying off. Every time he entered the forest, he was spotted by the animals soon after.
The wind was blowing in a gentle breeze and the leaves' rustling put his mind further at ease. Usually, the birds were singing a little louder at this time of day, however, Harry also noticed more movement among the trees. A silvery-white flash. Yes! He was sure he saw a horn. That must have been a unicorn. He smiled to himself and tried to whistle. True, he failed miserably, sounding closer to a kettle close to boiling, but it was the thought that counted.
He turned left, patting the bark of an old rowan, which held the home to a pair of squirrels, if he recalled correctly, and almost certainly a bowtruckle, whom he'd seen a week ago. The tree definitely looked like the bowtruckle took care of it, at least, according to the Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology books he had read. Was that a distinct rustle of its leaves? Must have been his imagination.
Trying carefully to make as little noise as possible, he went on, noticing the wide range of different trees, most of which, to be honest, he didn't recognize. In between the tree trunks, he was sure he noticed movement from time to time. Though still quite shy, the animals seemed to grow bolder as he went on his repeated trips, perhaps growing used to his presence. He found he did not mind.
His ruminations and careful steps were interrupted by the bellow of a deer, and indeed, he saw a deer couple approaching him. Unlike the red deer he usually spotted, this time, it was a white hart that was carefully observing Harry, with each of his antlers growing into at least a dozen points. The doe's eyes seemed to have a shade of evaluation in them. He stopped, wanting to show no sign of aggression, and turned his open palms towards them. It was a strange moment and he could swear he could sense some kind of connection with the two majestic animals. Birds fell silent, even the wind ceased, as if time itself stopped. There was only his heartbeat and the strange pulsing energy in their gazes.
And then the moment was broken, the hart nodded once and the doe broke eye contact as well. With a friendly sounding bellow, they ran deeper into the forest. On one hand, Harry had to admit he missed the strange sense of connection, but on the other hand, he also had the distinct feeling he just passed some sort of test. Deciding to put the thought aside for the moment, Harry went forth again, this time taking a trail he had not tried before. He had the feeling it would be safe, and even if something happened, Sirius had given him a necklace which was enchanted so that Harry could always call to him for help and Sirius would always find him. The trail led him a bit deeper into the forest than he usually went, but he did not mind. A look at the watch showed that he had plenty of time. Instead of worrying, he started noticing the various herbs he spotted along the way, quite certain he recognized a few of them from his Herbology books.
At first, he thought he heard an echo of birdsong again after the deer couple had run off, but this was different. A melody was flowing through the air, as if reflecting from the various gently sloping hills enclosing the forest. Though it was a bit difficult, Harry realised the voice sounded human. Human, and also familiar, as if he should know the girl it belonged to. The words were all distorted by echo though, but the voice and melody sounded beautiful. Cheerful too, he thought. He decided to follow the voice.
That, however, proved somewhat difficult, as it seemed to float with the wind, seemingly leading Harry in varying directions, through trails both familiar and also completely new. Fortunately, he managed to avoid the Stinging Nettles, both the muggle ones and also the magical version. The Singing Nettles left behind blisters that liked to erupt into songs. He remembered Neville describing how his uncle had got stung once and the Longbottom family had to listen to sea shanties for several days without break.
Doing his best not to step on any herbs, Harry went on. The voice sounded closer now. He hurried to find it before it stopped and nearly slipped into a stream at one time as he crossed several trails. He just had to avoid a fairy circle or two, having been warned by Sirius to steer clear of those. He could now recognize that the song had words, though he could understand none of them. Still, the song filled his heart with warmth and cheer and he found himself nodding to the rhythm, even humming along as he walked.
Finally, there was a clearing in front of him, with a lake and several boulders strewn around. And on one of them, there was a small figure, the source of the beautiful song he had been following. It was definitely a girl, though she certainly looked unusual, what with a pair of curled horns growing from her head, parting her long dark hair. She wore a brown summer dress along with an unusual cloak, and was merrily kicking her legs in the air as she sang. He unconsciously took a step forward, still humming along.
The figure noticed his approach and flinched, also stopping her song. What Harry thought was a cloak, turned out to be a pair of wings that she unfurled as she jumped off the boulder.
"Potter? What are you doing here?"
The voice was indeed familiar, though he did not recall ever hearing it so exasperated. Harry also did not recall ever meeting a person such as this. Did even forest beings know of him?
"Potter? Hello?" The figure waved her hand in front of him with a frown, obviously not very happy with his silence. But now that she came closer, her face looked quite familiar…
"Greengrass?" He swore he did not squeak.
"Nice of you to recognize me," she replied with a huff, folding her arms.
"You look a bit different at school, you know." Harry pointedly looked at her horns and wings.
"Well." She shrugged, her wings copying the movement. "You know my housemates… But you haven't answered my question."
"I…" Harry felt his cheeks heat up. "I followed your song. It was beautiful."
At that moment, they both seemed to study the grass at their feet, trying to hide their blush.
"A-hem," she forcefully coughed into her hand. "Thank you, I practice a lot." Her cheeks were still quite red.
"It really shows." Harry smiled, causing her to avert her eyes. "Er… what was the song?"
"That one?" Daphne's smile seemed to blossom. "My mum taught it to me. It is a traditional song in our family." Then she narrowed her eyes and looked at him, trying to appear fierce. "But you didn't answer my question. What are you doing here?" She spread her arms to encompass the clearing and the surrounding forest. Her wings, Harry noted, followed the motion.
"Well, uh, I live near here, moved here with my Godfather." Harry shrugged, quite unwilling to speak about the Dursleys.
"Oh? Sirius Black, right! I didn't know there were any houses nearby?" Daphne, like many other students, had heard about Sirius Black being declared innocent at the end of last school year.
"Mhm." Harry nodded. "He had it built near here, said it was a much nicer place than the house he grew up in." He looked around the clearing before looking at Daphne again. "I'm not sure about his house, but it is much nicer here than where I grew up."
"So?" Her smile was quite pretty, and she had dimples just below her cheekbones when she smiled. "Do you like it here?"
"Oh yes." Harry couldn't stop his smile even if he tried. "The new house is wonderful, and Sirius is very nice."
"And the forest?" Daphne lifted her chin.
"Mhm. It feels, I don't know, magical, but also peaceful. Not like the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts. It's like I'm home when visiting. Even the animals are nice. There was even a unicorn." The words seemed to come on their own once Harry started speaking. "And today I met a huge white deer."
"Oh, you met Morien? He likes checking out new people in the forest." Daphne raised her eyebrows in wonder.
"Really?" Harry exclaimed in surprise. "That's what it was? That long look? The nod?"
"Mhm." Daphne nodded seriously. "If he nodded, he must like you. I would expect a visit by Blanchefleur. The unicorn," she added at his confused glance. "She is the nosiest unicorn in the forest, I swear." She winked at him. "If you have a carrot handy, you'll make a friend for life."
"Alright, er, thanks for the warning." Harry shuffled in place, unsure what to do with his hands.
"You're welcome," Daphne chirped before her expression changed to one of dismay. "Oh no, I'm a poor host." She half-turned and gestured towards the boulder. "Would you like to take a seat?"
Not wanting to offend her, he nodded. "Thank you?" The boulder was slanted on one side, allowing them to climb up easily and the edge was surprisingly comfortable. It also allowed the person sitting there a nice view of the clearing.
"I, er." Harry suddenly found it difficult to formulate what he wanted to say. "Well…" At Daphne's encouraging smile he continued. "Do you live in the forest?" He tried hard not to look at her horns and wings. When she kept smiling, he heaved a sigh of relief.
"Yes. My family has lived here, I don't even know how long. We have always taken care of the forest." She shrugged with a fond sigh. "It can be a lot of work, but someone has to do it, you know?"
"That, that makes sense," Harry admitted. "Er, sorry, but, well, you are not that, hm, open at school."
A frown appeared on her forehead, a curious sight when combined with her horns. "As I already said, you know some of my housemates. Getting along with them can be hard. In many ways." Then she smiled again and tilted her face upwards, enjoying the sun. "But they're not here." She stretched her wings wide, gently brushing Harry's back, not that he minded. "Here, I can be open, be who I am."
"And who are you then?" He asked with what he hoped was a cheeky smile.
"Oh, Daphne Greengrass, daughter of Dahlia and Garance Greengrass, and one of the caretakers of this forest." She preened as she recited this.
"And a friend of unicorns?" He added with a smile playing on his lips.
"Of unicorns, and deer, and squirrels, and many more." She nodded with overdone seriousness. "And." She touched her horns and stretched her wings again. "As you can see, I have fae blood. Does it bother you?" She looked him directly in the eyes, her own startlingly bright and grey.
"No? Should it?" He shrugged again.
"It does some people. It's why at Hogwarts, well, you know." She looked a little sad. "There are not many of us left, not many true forests left."
Harry acknowledged this with a sigh, wondering how to cheer up the now morose girl sitting next to him.
A sudden movement in the sky interrupted their ruminations. A rather familiar snowy owl sought out Harry, alighting on the stone next to him and offering him her leg with a roll of parchment.
"Thank you, Hedwig," Harry thanked her, as always, and fondly rubbed her neck, making her close her eyes in delight. It was a missive from Sirius, telling him they would be having Remus over for dinner. Harry certainly did not mind, he enjoyed the mild-mannered man's company.
"Your owl is really pretty, you know." Daphne's voice interrupted his thoughts. "I enjoy seeing her in the owlery. She is looking very good, you must be taking good care of her."
"Oh?" Harry looked at Daphne and then at Hedwig again. She looked to be preening, obviously understanding she was being praised. "Well, does Daphne come to visit you, Hedwig?"
The owl nodded proudly.
With a short laugh, he turned to Daphne again. "Hedwig is my friend, so when I got her, I also got a booklet about taking care of a post-owl."
"That's good." Daphne stroked Hedwig's plumage. "And she really likes you, so you're doing a good job."
The conversation flowed from there as they sat, relaxed, leaning back on the stone. Hedwig circled above them, keeping an eye out. And as the hours went by, she certainly noticed Harry's hand gently brushing Daphne's and vice versa.
Almost out of breath, Harry approached his new home. It turned out that the clearing was a bit further than he thought and he spent too much time there. He was late, though only by fifteen minutes. And there was Sirius standing in front of the front door, looking out for him.
When his godfather's eyes fell on him, the worried frown disappeared, though he did not exactly look happy.
"Took your time, Harry?" There was a strange tone in Sirius's voice."Did you get lost?"
"I, well, I heard a song and followed the voice." Harry shuffled in place. Was Sirius worried about him? "And I found the singer."
"Oh? You met someone?" Sirius raised his eyebrows.
At that moment, Remus, looking a bit pale and dishevelled, exited the doorway, rubbing the fresh scars on his face.
"Yes." Harry nodded. "Daphne Greengrass, we go to Hogwarts together."
"Hm," Remus thought aloud. "Daphne Greengrass, ah, a Slytherin in your year. Rather quiet, but nice, and good with a wand."
"That's her." Harry smiled at Remus. "Is there any problem with her being in Slytherin?" He looked at both men when asking the question.
Remus and Sirius looked at each other and sighed.
"I have met her parents, Harry," Remus began, "they are kind people, even to those that most of wizarding Britain treats rather... harshly."
Harry did not have to think very hard to realise what Remus was saying.
"And," Sirius interrupted, "somebody's Hogwarts house has nothing to do with being a good person. There are good people in all the houses, just as there are the bad apples."
Peter Pettigrew came to mind rather easily, though, to be honest, Harry had already met unpleasant people from all the Houses.
"Enough of this." Sirius clapped once. "Dinner awaits! And Harry can regale us with tales of his afternoon in a lady's company!"
With that, the previously worried and heavy atmosphere was definitely broken
"Sirius!" Harry exclaimed. "Don't go making it sound… sound, like that!"
They all laughed on the way to the kitchen. Dinner was a simple roasted chicken with potatoes, but the company was what made it into an enjoyable evening for Harry. Usually, when Remus came for a visit, the pair of them would tell Harry various stories of their exploits with his father, though they also included several dates that his parents had gone on, as well as the many times James tried an elaborate way to invite Lily on a date, only to fail spectacularly.
Remus also proved to be a treasure trove of various minor handy spells and charms. In fact, he had told Harry he already was better with the clothes packing charm than Sirius ever managed to be, though Sirius was surprisingly deft with cleaning charms.
"So." Sirius swallowed and turned to Harry. "Tell us about your date." He winked at him. "Tell us about the siren that lured you to her through a forest."
"She was nice." Harry ducked his head. "I'm not sure what song it was, but her voice was really pretty."
"Oh?" There was a merry gleam in his godfather's eyes. "Go on, tell me more."
"Well, she was much nicer than at school; it looked like she enjoyed being out of there."
"Hm." Remus nodded, deep in thought. "Tell me, Harry, if you would, does she sport a pair of wings?"
"Er, how did you know?" Harry's eyes darted to Remus.
"Oh." Remus shrugged. "Just confirming something. I remember seeing Garance Greengrass once with a pair of wings, but only once."
"What are you thinking, Remus?" Sirius sounded eager.
"That they really live in the forest." Remus nodded to Harry. "Don't they?"
"Uh." Harry scratched his head. "I think so. She said they've been taking care of the forest."
"It makes sense." Remus nodded.
"Remus," Sirius whined, "could you tell me?"
"The Greengrasses are one of the fae families. That is quite rare today."
Sirius fell quiet at that.
"Mhm." Harry nodded. "Daphne mentioned that."
"What does it mean, Remus?" Sirius again sounded worried.
"Not much," Remus assured him. "They are dedicated to their forest, and their magic is closely connected to nature. As you heard, the Greengrasses are perfectly nice. Your neighbours are just a little bit different from the neighbours Harry had at Privet Drive."
Harry snorted at that. "Daphne was definitely nicer than any neighbours there."
"Well, fine." Sirius nodded resolutely at that. "I guess we should meet sometime and get properly introduced." He put down the cutlery, watching Harry and Remus finish their dinner. "What do you say, Harry?"
Harry was just putting down the napkin and getting ready to gather the empty plates. "I can ask when I see Daphne next."
"Oh, already planning your next date?" Sirius teased while Remus quietly snickered.
"We're neighbours, Sirius." Harry fought to not roll his eyes. "And, well, it was really nice."
Sirius put his arm on his shoulder. "I'm just teasing you," he said with a soft smile. "I'm happy you made a friend. Daphne sounds like a nice person."
Then the three men started washing the dishes, splitting the work. At Sirius's prodding, Remus started talking about what was happening around the country. Everyone seemed to be excited about the upcoming Quidditch World Cup.
"Are we going there?" Harry willed his eyes to grow wider. He failed.
"What a question!" Sirius laughed. "Of course we are. Your friend Ron's father also got a few tickets, it looks like we'll have a nice box for ourselves."
"That's great! Yes!" Harry cheered at this piece of news. He was certain he would see an entirely new level of his favourite wizarding sport.
They put the dishes down and Remus sent them both to the other end of the room.
"Now you both watch carefully. Especially you, Sirius, since you always mess this up." He rolled up his sleeves and brandished his wand.
"Oi!" Sirius whined. "I'm not that bad."
Remus did not deign to respond. "The wand movement is a gentle wave with the tip in the direction of the dishes. "Like this." He performed the movement slowly. "Picture the dishes needing to be washed, that is the crucial aspect. The incantation is simple: Lava!"
There was a faint sound as if somebody clicked their fingers and the dishes started moving with quiet clinks.
Before Harry went upstairs to continue with homework, he turned to his godfather. "Ah, I just remembered, do we have some carrots here?"
The next day quite resembled those before, a hot, sunny day of summer. In the morning, Harry worked on homework for charms and transfiguration, though he also got to practice the Washing-Up Charm after breakfast. In Harry's estimation, he did quite well, only one plate got cracked and that was easy to fix.
Lunch was quite a boisterous affair since Harry and Sirius got into a Quidditch discussion which quickly grew to include boiled potatoes charmed to fly as Sirius got into explaining some of James's best manoeuvers. Harry then decided to replay some of his best Quidditch moves, which inevitably led to several potatoes being smeared on the walls of the room.
"Those must have been some great moves, Harry." Sirius nodded with respect. "James would have been so proud."
Harry glowed at that comment. He thought he would never grow tired of listening to talk about his parents. "And mum?"
"Lily?" Sirius barked out a laugh. "Her hair would be floating due to all the magic she'd be releasing, that's how mad she would have been. Lily always worried." Sirius brushed away a tear. "James always insisted you would become a Quidditch player, even bought you a tiny toy broom. Lily was so mad at him she transfigured him into a dog and kept him in an actual doghouse for a night! And then later on she found out you summoned the broom with accidental magic and was flying through the house." Here, Sirius sighed. "Ah, you led her on a merry chase. She caught you eventually, of course, and was scolding James something fierce, but you could see the corners of her mouth tugging upwards. She definitely had fun that day."
"Huh, I've always liked flying, apparently," Harry muttered to himself with a smile.
"That you did, that you did." Sirius nodded and then looked around the room. "However, we've made quite the mess this time." He gave Harry a serious nod. "Wand at the ready, young man."
"Yes, sir." Harry playfully snapped to attention and was soon brandishing his wand.
Standing back to back, the two wizards waved their wands around, muttering various cleaning incantations. It always amazed Harry how easy magic made household chores. The mess vanished at an astonishing speed and dishes were soon being washed.
"I'm planning to visit Daphne again. I promise I'll ask about arranging a meeting with her parents." Harry called to his godfather as he was stuffing a few carrots into his pockets.
"Good." Sirius nodded. "Let me know how that goes. Also, why the carrots?"
Harry smiled at him over his shoulder. "Oh, I'm hoping to make a new friend."
"Fine." Sirius pouted. "Keep your secret." Then he looked serious again and waved. "Enjoy your day, you hear?"
"Thanks!" Harry called. "And you too!"
While Harry usually set out towards the forest in good cheer, this day he hummed an indistinct melody and there was a spring in his step. It had been a long time since he had made a new friend and he and Daphne seemed to click in the privacy of that clearing. He found himself humming fragments of the song he had heard the day before, but it was a pale imitation at best. He tried to recall as much as he could of the beautiful song. The pleasant melodies and her sweet vocie had echoed in his dream, though any further details eluded him.
Starting down the now familiar trail, he heard the leaves whisper in the green canopy. A pair of songbirds flew above his head and he remembered to pat the first tree in greeting. He didn't know why he started this little ritual when entering the forest. At first, it seemed like good fun, but more and more he felt that the tree recognized him. Meeting Daphne and learning of the forest being taken care of by a family of fae certainly led him to the conclusion that the friendly trees were no coincidence. Remembering the Whomping Willow at Hogwarts, Harry had no wish to see what would happen if somebody aroused the forest's wrath.
This time, Harry followed his memory, tracing his steps from the previous day when he returned from the clearing. The forest seemed a bit livelier, and certainly noisier. Several hares bustled in the undergrowth, with even a badger crossing his path. The birds were much more active, while a gentle breeze ruffled his hair and made the trees creak.
Then there was a rustle behind him, followed by a snort as he, startled, turned around. There was a white unicorn whose head was moving quite close to Harry's pocket carrying the carrots.
"Blanchefleur?" Harry tried tentatively.
The unicorn snorted and nodded before prodding him with her snout.
"You really know what you want, don't you?" Harry laughed as he took out a carrot. He watched as the unicorn's snout closely followed his hand.
"Here you go." He was slightly nervous, he had to admit, watching both her sharp horn and the rather powerful jaws, but Blanchefleur was quite careful and very soon was happily munching on the carrot.
"What? You want another one?" Harry of course knew the answer, because Blanchefleur tried to stick her snout into his pocket. When he dodged out of the way, the soulful gaze of her large dark eyes almost froze him. "Oh, here you go." As soon as he pulled the carrot out, it was taken from him. "Do you like it, girl?" Loud, crunchy sounds answered him as her powerful muscles worked her jaws.
Emboldened, Harry patted Blanchefleur's silvery neck and flank. When she finished with the carrot and snorted fondly, Harry grinned and his second hand started petting her rather large head. They spent a few minutes this way, Blanchefleur enjoying the human's ministrations and Harry enjoying friendly contact with the rather large unicorn. After a few moments, however, Harry felt her nudge him back, so he reluctantly let her go. She pawed the ground, snorted, and nudged him a little to the left. He realized the trail continued there and decided, since she insisted, to go that way.
"Where are you leading me, Blanchefleur?" Even a year back, he would have felt foolish, talking to a unicorn. But now? Now it felt only natural. Blanchefleur looked at him and blinked, before continuing on her way, leading him forward.
This time it took quite a while before Harry heard Daphne's song because it looked like the birds were especially lively that day. The rustling within the lush canopy of trees was quite loud and even distracting. Even so, Harry followed the cheerful tones in the air, led by his new friend. Blanchefleur must have been well known in the forest because no other animal crossed their path. It was a surreal experience, guided by a song, walking under what looked like a green sky, following an almost glowing, silvery figure of a unicorn. Harry would have called it mystical, had he not been the one to feed the unicorn carrots just some moments ago.
Similar to the day before, he was led through several trails, until they came to the edge of a clearing, a different one this time. There was no lake and no boulders. Instead, an ancient hawthorn tree stood proudly in the centre. Its branches covered a large part of the clearing, resembling a roof. Harry was welcomed by the sweet scent of its numerous blossoms hanging from the branches, making them look as if covered in snow. However, what drew his attention was Daphne, singing and moving in circles, spinning, wings splayed wide and an expression of pure joy on her face. She was dancing. He stood there for a moment, watching, unsure how long it was, until he felt Blanchefleur nudge him with her snout.
Harry's startled jerk at feeling the unicorn lick his hand didn't go unnoticed by Daphne. She stopped her dance and singing, though her joyful expression remained as she quickly realized who came to visit her.
"Harry!" She flew towards him. "I'm so glad you came!" Today, she wore a green dress, but up close he noticed it had golden decorations around the collar and sleeves, golden threads artfully woven into intricate patterns.
She truly had the cutest dimples when she smiled so wide, thought Harry. He half expected her to jump on him in a fierce, Hermione-style hug, but Daphne instead stopped, cheeks red, and performed a curtsy the likes of which he had last seen when he was watching television at the Dursleys in secret. Even the Dursleys watched fairy tales if it was a Shakespeare production, and Aunt Petunia liked historical romances.
"Welcome to my clearing." Daphne chimed into his thoughts. "I especially like this one. The hawthorn is a beautiful tree." She laughed again and spun around, the quills at the end of her wings tickling his nose.
"Thank you." Harry remembered his manners. "It's beautiful here." Not knowing what the correct gesture was, he tried bowing at the waist. Judging by Daphne's giggle, he probably did it wrong, but her smile was gentle.
"I see you met Blanchefleur," she remarked, her smile turning into a grin. Seeing the unicorn step closer to Harry, it was clear. "She begged you for carrots, didn't she?"
Harry could only grin and shrug, well aware that he brought the carrots with the clear intention of befriending the unicorn.
"You shameless girl!" Daphne stepped closer to Blanchefleur who just attempted to look innocent. Surprisingly, she failed spectacularly, even though unicorns are meant to represent purity and innocence, and tried to hide behind Harry, without much success. It must be said, however, that neither Daphne's smile nor her affectionate tone promised any trouble for the unicorn. "You take food from anybody, don't you?" Daphne now was in reach of Blanchefleur and started scratching her vigorously.
"Please, tell me she didn't bother you too much." She turned towards him again, still wearing a wide smile. He also noticed rays of sunlight reflecting off the golden thread in her dress.
"Oh no." Harry raised his hands as if in defence. "She was perfectly nice. Led me here."
"Hm, very well." Daphne nodded before moving to the unicorn again, hugging her around the neck. "Thank you, Blanchefleur," she mumbled into the unicorn's silky, silvery mane.
"Er, I should ask before I forget," Harry began, "my godfather asked if it would be possible for him to meet you. We could also arrange a meeting with your parents?" Harry gulped. "Neighbours should meet each other?"
Daphne covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. "We are neighbours, aren't we? Yes, I will ask my parents."
There was a loud rustle behind them, accompanied by a high pitched shriek of laughter. Harry turned towards the source of the disturbance, and had to struggle to stay upright. For in a moment, his vision was obscured by a pair of dark brown wings and he found a pair of slender arms squeezed tightly around his neck, the "attacker's" head nuzzling his cheek.
"Oh, hello, are you Harry Potter, are you here to visit Daffy, are you her boyfriend, when are you going to marry?!" The person kept firing the questions at a pace that would have astonished Harry had he not met Hermione Granger. "I'm Astoria, call me Stori, I'm eleven, I'm gonna start Hogwarts!"
There were many questions Harry wanted to ask, but a strangled "Daffy?" was all he managed to get out as the now named Astoria went on to describe her last few days of watching deer fawns and chasing squirrels.
Daphne furrowed her brows and then her smile grew decidedly lopsided and impish, before she spoke up. "Oh, this little chatterbox clinging to you like a limpet is my little sister, Astoria."
She saw Astoria smirk at her over Harry's shoulder and proceeded to rub her cheek on Harry's.
"Astoria, shouldn't you be watching over the fawns?" she asked her sister with a smirk of her own.
Though she pouted, Astoria at least let go of Harry, whose back was quite grateful for that fact, and jumped to the ground.
Harry, seeing Daphne nod at his gesture, patted Astoria's head, much to her dismay and protest.
"To answer your questions, yes." He smiled at her as she glared at him and tried to tidy her hair. "Yes again, no, I don't know. Nice to meet you, I hope you'll like Hogwarts."
"You caught that all?" Astoria's eyes grew large, impossibly large for a human.
"I've had training." Again, Harry fondly remembered his friend Hermione.
"Do you learn that at Hogwarts?" Astoria had an expression of pure awe as she looked between Harry and her sister.
Daphne covered her mouth and giggled. "Magic is wonderful, Stori. So useful. Right, Harry?" Her smile and wink convinced him to play along.
"Of course." He nodded seriously. "Just wait until you start."
"Ohh." There was what looked like stars in Astoria's eyes. "How do you get sorted?"
Seeing Daphne quickly shake her head, Harry replied, "That is a secret, a solemn oath that every Hogwarts student takes to preserve the school's mysteries."
As Astoria turned for a moment to look at the treeline, Harry sent a quick wink to Daphne who hid her smile.
It quickly became apparent what attracted Astoria's attention as a pair of squirrels bustled from the treeline through the clearing, heading towards the central hawthorn. As they climbed the trunk and jumped from branch to branch, Astoria turned to Harry, her eyes wide and innocent.
"Have you ever climbed a tree, Harry?"
And Harry had to admit, for all of his various adventures and misadventures, if he discounted hiding from Marge's vicious dog and crashing a flying car into a very temperamental willow, he had never climbed a tree of his own volition. "You know what? Not really."
Astoria took a deep breath and clapped a few times in excitement. Daphne just sighed, knowing there would be no stopping her little sister.
"Come on, both of you, that branch over there looks like it could carry all of us!" Astoria was nearly squealing in excitement as was getting ready to take off with a powerful beat of her wings.
"Ahem." Daphne's forceful cough stopped her sister's rapid start. "Aren't we forgetting something?" She nodded towards Harry who was watching things unfold with amusement. "Not everybody possesses wings."
"Aww." Astoria slumped and, much like Harry noticed with her sister, her wings followed the motion, making her look like a giant sad chicklet.
"Now now, Stori." Harry patted her head. "I will just have to climb the old fashioned way. I wouldn't mind you two watching out for me." He finished this by winking at Astoria.
"Yay!" the smaller Greengrass cheered, grabbing Harry's hands in her own. "We promise, we promise!" She looked at her big sister. "Right?"
Daphne heaved an exaggerated sigh and nodded, her smile betraying the put upon air she tried to exude.
It took a few tries, Harry was not a very experienced climber, but at least, unlike the last time he was climbing, this tree was not a troll trying to shake him off. Still, the trunk was quite smooth near the ground and he slipped a few times, but the sisters honoured their promise and caught him. The first time, however, his fall brought all three of them to the ground into one big pile. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, and when the three young people realized their absurd positions, limbs and wings entangled, they all burst out laughing.
After they disentangled themselves, the sight of Harry and his messy hair, this time made even messier by a few brown and black quills sticking out of it, made another wave of laughter break out. Even Harry, at first confused, eventually joined in, after he tried to remove something irritating his eye, sticking out in his peripheral vision, and found out it was the girls' quills.
Eventually, all three of them found their way into the tree's crown, each sitting on their own branch. At first, Astoria excitedly pointed out squirrels, but then they found comfortable positions. Harry and Daphne took turns and regaled Astoria with tales of Hogwarts, its wonders and teachers. Harry found out that Daphne disliked potions, feeling nervous every lesson, while she adored charms and professor Flitwick's cheerful nature.
Harry was just in the middle of telling a story where he and his friends managed to get the formidable Minerva McGonagall to genuinely laugh, something Daphne claimed was impossible, when he was interrupted by a loud rustle from the edge of the clearing, followed by a deep belly laugh.
A figure wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a few flowers bound to it by a ribbon, covered in a green cloak, clutching a long knobby staff in one hand and a curved smoking pipe in another, was striding confidently towards them. As the man came closer, Harry noticed the bushy, auburn beard reaching nearly to the man's waist. Under the cloak, the man was wearing a buttoned-up brown jacket and beige trousers.
"Ho ho ho, I heard my cute granddaughters!" The man's voice boomed around the clearing. "Where oh where could they be?"
The girls stifled their giggles as the man took exaggerated looks around.
"Not on the ground. Hm! Are they perhaps birds that sit in the branches of this tree?"
Astoria couldn't stop herself and with a squeal of "Grandpa!" she unfurled her wings and jumped, arms and wings wide, ready for a hug as big as she could give.
"Oof!" the man grunted as he caught his granddaughter, her arms snaking around his neck. "There you are, little bird!"
Even with the man's great beard, Harry could clearly see the wide smile the man sported.
Daphne glided down at a much more relaxed pace and went to join the hug. "Welcome back, grandpa."
The man laughed again, his voice, Harry thought, reminded him of Hagrid, though much jollier.
"Now you have made my day, my little birds." Astoria and Daphne seemed to vanish as the man hugged them close, covering them with his cloak.
Harry felt a little awkward, watching this affectionate reunion, but that soon turned to nervousness as the man's keen gaze fell upon him.
"But you were not alone in your tree, I see." The man let his granddaughters go and strode forward, taking a puff of his pipe, releasing a cloud of smoke. At any other time, Harry would have been amazed at the cloud taking the shape of a horse and galloping away, but the rather large wizard with a hefty staff to boot was making him feel like a small animal watching an incoming predator.
"Would you care to come down, young man?" The man's smile reappeared. "Or would you prefer to speak to me from up high?" His eyes moved to the horizon for a moment. "You would not be the first."
Seeing Daphne's encouraging smile and nod helped settle Harry's nerves, so he carefully climbed down, remembering the route he took on the way up. Even so, he jumped the last bit and carefully dusted off his hands.
The man, meanwhile, gave an intent look at his staff and told it to "Stay." And indeed, the staff remained standing even when he let go of it, heading to Harry and offering a handshake.
"Er, it is a pleasure to meet you, sir." Harry tried to sound as calm as he could.
"A pleasure, young man, but no sir. Call me Iohann." His large hand was rough with a few callouses. The handshake was firm, but also gentle, and Harry found himself calmer.
"Then call me Harry, please."
Behind Iohann, Astoria was holding on to Daphne and both were smiling at Harry, nodding their encouragement.
"Very well, Harry." Iohann nodded. "But tell me, what brings you into this forest?"
"Oh." Harry breathed in relief. "We are neighbours, I live with my godfather in a house near the edge of the forest."
"Mhm." Iohann let go of his hand. "I do not remember any houses at the edge of our forest."
Daphne tugged on Iohann's arm. "Harry came to live with his godfather this summer and they needed a new home."
"Indeed?" Iohann hummed. "Ah, are you Harry Potter then?" At Harry's resigned nod, he continued. "Ah, chin up, young Harry. I hope you like your new home."
"Oh, it's been brilliant so far!" This time it was Harry's turn to smile widely.
"Good, good." Iohann nodded and stroked his beard. "Even though a little bird told me that you spend much time in our forest."
Harry shrugged at that. "It is a beautiful forest." He looked at Daphne. "And I've found good company."
Iohann turned to his granddaughters and nodded at them both. "Oh, certainly. On that, I must agree."
Just then a little speck separated itself from the treeline and fluttered towards Iohann. It was a diminutive bird with pinkish plumage on the body, a black tail, and wings of black, white, and blue. It alighted on Iohann's shoulder and proceeded to chirp into his ear.
"You don't say," Iohann grumbled under his beard. And to Harry's amazement, bird-like chirps emerged from Iohann's mouth. The bird, a jay as Harry would find out later, nodded and took off again.
"What?" Iohann asked, seeing Harry's amazed look while the sisters were giggling. He raised one bushy eyebrow and his blue eyes twinkled merrily. "I told you a little bird told me. You've just seen her, the little twitterer."
"Ah, well, I've just never met someone able to talk to birds." Harry had to put effort into closing his mouth. At first, when he had entered the wizarding world, aware that he could talk to snakes, he had thought there were wizards with similar talents. But his experience during the second year had soured his view of his talent and he had abandoned ideas and dreams about meeting such people. And yet, today one such wizard was standing in front of him.
"Then you have just met one. You have a similar talent, no?" Iohann was looking him up and down, seemingly evaluating him, and scratching his chin.
Knowing that it was no secret in present company, Harry saw no reason to lie. "Er, yes. I can talk to snakes." He tried to overcome his habits, but he still dropped his gaze to study the tips of his shoes.
He was answered by a warm chuckle. "As I said, chin up, young man. It is always good to know more than one language. Your gift is quite rare, hone it." Iohann bent down to Harry's level. "Though, to be honest, if the snakes are anything like the birds, many of them won't be particularly good at holding a conversation." Iohann straightened again, winking at Harry. "However, I have also met quite a few people who could be described that way." He chuckled under his beard.
Seeing Harry's worried expression, Iohann waved his hand dismissively. "Do not worry about how others see you. I also get strange glances when talking to birds. The people that would give you grief for that usually have even less to say than the birds."
"It's worth a try, I guess," Harry admitted.
"Oh, definitely." Iohann chuckled. "But now, please, excuse me. The jay told me about a group of muggle tourists getting too close." He nodded to Harry and his granddaughters and strode back into the forest, grumbling on the way about people too curious for their own good.
Astoria, meanwhile, was pouting. "He promised us to tell stories from his travels."
"Don't worry, Stori," Daphne consoled her sister, "you know he is busy, but he will find the time before we go to Hogwarts."
Harry looked at the sister, silent for a while, before speaking up. "So that is your grandfather?"
Astoria nodded energetically while Daphne went to speak. "Mhm. Grandpa Iohann from mam's side of the family."
"Er, he looks a bit different…" Harry again pointedly looked at her horns and wings.
"Oh!" Daphne smiled. "He married into the family. He's been together with grandma Enid for ages." She spread her arms and wings as far as she could to emphasise the word 'ages'.
"Mhm," Astoria chimed in. "Grandpa also travels a lot. He likes climbing mountains."
"And he, er, he can…" Harry scratched his head. "He can really talk to birds?"
Daphne nodded seriously. "Oh yes, says he learned it some time after marrying grandma."
"He learned it?" Harry exclaimed in surprise.
"Grandpa says it was grandma's magic that helped him." Daphne shrugged. "Since then, he's been travelling the world and trying to talk to as many birds as he can." She tried to control her giggle. "But he says the tropical birds have too much of an accent." Both sisters tittered at this.
"Your grandma's magic? So can you two…" Harry started, quite nervous.
"Talk to birds?" Daphne asked, to which Astoria shook her head with an empathic "Nuh-uh."
Seeing Harry's expression, both disappointed and curious, Daphne hurried to add, "But deer understand me. Well, our deer, but still."
"Like, uh, Morien?" Harry asked.
Daphne nodded. "Yes." Then she stroked her chin. "But now that I think about it, Morien is very smart. He probably understands humans. Drat." She snapped her fingers.
"Oh, well." Harry shrugged, giving a teasing smile. "I guess you just need to learn. As your grandpa said, it is good to know more languages."
"Says the person knowing a language by instinct." Daphne stuck out her lower lip in an outrageous pout, making Astoria giggle.
The three of them sat down, leaning against the trunk of the giant Hawthorn, enjoying the shade offered by its crown, with Harry and Daphne taking turns to describe the Quidditch matches they have played in or at least seen at Hogwarts, making her eyes bulge out in wonder. All three of them agreed that they were looking forward to the Quidditch World Cup this summer. And so time flew by, accompanied by warm, gentle wind, birdsong, stories, and laughter.
Dear Mr Black and Mr Potter,
I am writing to you to welcome you to this illustrious neighbourhood. My daughters have been very happy lately and told me, Mr Potter, that it was due to your visits. We have, however, not yet formally met. Therefore, allow me to remedy that.
You are both cordially invited to our first Berry Harvest Celebration on July 24. Please, come no sooner than two hours after noon. If you agree, send Mr Potter's impressive owl with your reply and a guide will await you at the edge of the forest near your home. Please, do not worry about formal robes, it will be an outdoors event. I recommend Mr Potter bring his broom.
I eagerly await your reply.
Sirius glanced at the letter again. They had sent a reply agreeing to come, of course. Having seen how Harry's face lit up, there was no chance Sirius would have said no. On one hand, he was looking forward to a celebration, his first one after Azkaban, but he was also unnerved by the fact it would be his first celebration in more than a decade. However, this was not for him. Harry came first. He had called Remus and his assurances still rang in Sirius's mind. It was going to be a nice, relaxing evening spent with his godson and a nice family.
Harry had assured him that no fancy clothes were necessary and told him to relax, though neither of them were sure about the guide that had been mentioned.
Sirius glanced at his watch, it was about a quarter to two and he just left the house with his godson, who was carrying his firebolt over the shoulder. They were both wearing comfortable outdoors robes that could get dirty or torn without worries. They chose natural colours, greens and browns, just in case. Sirius waved his wand towards their home, activating the security enchantments.
Just as he was about finished, he heard Harry cheer. He turned to him just in time to receive the Firebolt as Harry took off towards the forest. Sirius could see a bright figure in the distance, but not human. Was that a… was Harry hugging a unicorn?
"Sirius!" Harry called. "Meet Blanchefleur, our guide. She will lead us where we need to go." He patted the unicorn's flank. "Won't you?"
The unicorn merely pawed the ground in reply and nodded.
"Harry, is that a…" Sirius had to struggle to get the words out.
"A unicorn, yes." Harry grinned at his flabbergasted expression. "She's the friend I mentioned."
Something clicked within Sirius's mind. "The carrots." And then Sirius started laughing. "Old Kettleburn would have conniptions if he saw that." It took Sirius some time to calm down, while Harry was just leaning against Blanchefleur and playing with her mane.
"Alright, Harry, I believe you." Sirius nodded, brushing away a tear. "Let's follow this friend of yours."
Harry cheered again and carefully squeezed Blanchefleur one last time. He then took back his broom and one of the more absurd trips then commenced. A smug looking unicorn at the front, munching on another carrot, followed by an almost skipping teen wizard with the world's most expensive broom over his shoulder, and the third member was a pale adult looking around himself in amazement, watching the different plants and animals, whose names he often did not even recall. Thankfully, his godson warned him on time, otherwise, he would have stepped into a bush of Singing Nettles. Once was enough. He still remembered Prongs and Moony laughing themselves silly as he had to walk around followed by the sound of absolutely atrocious Elvis Presley covers. He had admittedly been a fan, though Lily had laughed at his imitation of the hairstyle, but even his shower singing had not been as bad as the blisters. Prongs and Moony kept singing lines from the songs for weeks.
"Er, Harry?" Sirius began, "why were you waving at that deer?"
Harry simply shrugged and jumped over a particularly large root in his way. "Oh, that was Morien, he keeps an eye on things."
"You know your way around here, it seems," Sirius noted.
"I've been here a few times," Harry told him. "And I pay attention, you know."
"Of course you do." Sirius reached out to mess Harry's hair. His efforts, he noted, left very little effect on the perpetual bird's nest.
Finally, the unicorn led them through several shrubs, across a burbling spring, and they reached a very large clearing. A house along with a garden and maybe even a field would have fit there, Sirius thought. It was, however, covered by a carpet of dark green grass, making the hill look like something out of a romantic painting. And on top of that gently rising hill, he saw several people, along with a table set up and a few garden chairs.
Harry ran forward, though his advance was halted as he was tackled by a girl, wait, did she have… wings? Sirius recalled the discussions with Remus, but seeing this with his own eyes was proving to be somewhat difficult to deal with. For Harry, he reminded himself, for Harry he could do this, do anything. Harry laughed freely when he spun the little girl around while she whooped, her wings spread wide. There was also another girl, a bit older, watching the scene with a smile, and a pair of adults rose from the table. The entire family wore simple blue robes, he noticed, and their wings differed in colour. The older girl, Daphne, and her father shared a dark colouring, both their hair and wings black, while the younger girl was a brunette and her wings brown. The mother, Dahlia, he presumed, was also a brunette, but he noticed that her wings, while mostly brown, had a darker pattern on them, especially near the tips of the feathers.
It looked like Daphne reached the end of her patience, as she tapped her sister on the shoulder and made her release Harry. Daphne's own greeting was much more restrained, though Sirius carefully noted the blushes that both she and Harry were sporting. And then he heard the adults laugh as the youngest girl, Astoria, launched herself at him. With a small "Oof." Sirius managed to keep his balance as she barrelled into him with a squeal, hugging him tightly and hanging from his shoulders. He quickly hugged her back, mindful of her wings, and careful to support her weight.
"Hello Mr Black," she babbled. "I'm Astoria, call me Stori, I'm so happy you're here, you're here with Harry, Harry is my friend! I'll be going to Hogwarts this year!"
Sirius carefully let the excitedly vibrating girl down and faced the laughing parents. Their wingspan must be impressive, he thought, because both of them were quite tall, and their horns made them look even taller and more dignified.
"Garance Greengrass, Mr Black." The man shook his hand, his grip firm and smile warm. Then it was Dahlia's turn to greet him, her handshake just as firm, hands surprisingly callused.
"Dahlia Greengrass, we have already corresponded. Thank you for coming, it is a pleasure to have you both here," she said, throwing a fond look towards the three children. "Please, come to the table and have a seat."
It was a round table with seven seats, and Sirius was amused to see the girls drag Harry to a seat that would allow them both to sit by his side.
"Are you expecting somebody else?" he asked, noticing the one empty chair.
"My father will arrive a bit later, I am sorry to say," Dahlia replied. "He had some urgent business to take care of."
"Oh, I hope it is nothing too serious." Sirius recalled his manners.
"Oh no," Dahlia assured him. "In the meantime, please, have a cake. It is a traditional recipe for this celebration." She motioned to the plates in the centre of the table with a smile. "And have no fear, you will be able to leave our forest afterwards."
Seeing Sirius stiffen, Garance was quick to speak up. "My beloved wife likes her jests. Do not worry, it is indeed merely a cake."
Sirius nodded and then everybody reached for their piece of cake. It was a crumb cake, he noticed, with what looked like colourful berries inside. Not wanting to offend, and seeing Harry and everybody else take an eager bite, Sirius followed suit.
In just a few moments though, both Harry and Sirius stopped eating, and looked on in shock. It was the same for every person in the clearing. From the roots of their hair, waves of colours were moving towards the hairs' end. Yellow, pink, green, purple, every colour in the rainbow and more was on full display. Quick nods reassured Sirius and Harry that they too were affected, while the Greengrasses laughed and kept eating. Even the feathers in their wings kept changing colours.
"Is this a prank?" Harry asked with an eager smile while Sirius just chuckled, ready to admit he had been had.
"A prank, Mr Potter?" Dahlia asked with a raised eyebrow that rapidly shifted in colour. "Certainly not. But, oh my!" She put her hands to her cheeks, feigning embarrassment. "I seem to have forgotten to mention that this is a celebration of the first tintberry harvest."
"Tintberries?" Sirius guffawed. "Haven't seen those in years. You grow them in this forest?"
"Indeed." Garance nodded. "As you can see from the effects, they are healthy too. No faded colours like you get from tintberries bought in Diagon Alley."
Harry laughed along, enjoying the sight of the previously serious adults now laughing and glowing like a lighthouse. "And the cake is good too."
"Why, thank you, Mr Potter." Dahlia nodded towards him. "My daughters helped me make it."
Daphne blushed at that while Astoria loudly cheered.
"So," Harry spoke up again, "the tintberries make you change colours?"
"Exactly so," Garance nodded, "you will be learning about them a bit later in Herbology, and they can be useful in many potions. As you can see, they also retain this effect even after baking." He pointed at his own hair and wings. "Growing them is quite difficult, since the tintberry plant, or Venus Lacrimam, yields only a single berry and is very sensitive."
At Harry's inquisitive look at his piece of cake, Dahlia giggled, which, Harry noted, sounded very similar to Daphne. "Do not worry, Mr Potter, the effect is not long. Even if you eat more slices of the cake, your hair should return to normal tomorrow morning at the latest."
Harry nodded gratefully, and took another bite, to the approving smile of the Greengrass sisters.
They ate for a few moments and then Dahlia rose again and returned with a pitcher of crimson liquid. "Raspberry juice?" she offered, seeing Sirius's inquisitive glance.
Garance provided everyone with glasses, to which Astoria cheered.
"We have the best juice! Better than pumpkin juice!"
When Dahlia was pouring him a glass, Harry noticed that the liquid never seemed to run out. "Is that charmed?" he asked, pointing at the pitcher.
"Good eye, Mr Potter." Dahlia nodded, a curious sight, with her rainbow coloured hair and wings. "It is charmed to refill itself until a certain level."
There was the sound of huffing coming from behind Harry and Astoria perked up.
"Started without me, hm?" Iohann strode towards the top of the hill, his wild hair sticking in various directions. It looked like this time he had left his hat at home.
"Grandpa!" Astoria squealed out, launching herself from the chair and throwing her arms around his neck.
Iohann let go of his staff, which by itself moved to the remaining chair, imitating the motion of his long strides, and caught his granddaughter in a hug. "Oh, my little bird, hello."
"Father, welcome to our celebration," Dahlia greeted him and moved to hug him next. Daphne followed, and then Garance shook his hand.
Iohann now stood facing Harry and Sirius. While Harry offered his hand for a handshake eagerly, Sirius was measuring him up. It had to be said, Iohann looked every bit a fierce warlock, from his wild hair, glinting eyes, long and bushy beard, to his robust build and weathered features.
"Mr Black, I presume, godfather of young Harry here?" He pointed at Harry, and offered his own tan hand to Sirius. "Iohann Berg, father of this amazing young lady." He nodded towards Dahlia who was preparing a slice of cake for him. "And grandfather to these two." Daphne and Astoria both smiled and waved.
"A pleasure, Mr Berg." Sirius remembered his manners and offered his hand.
"Ah, call me Iohann, we're here together and ready to eat tintberry cakes." He winked at Sirius's currently purple-green-crimson hair that was starting to turn cyan near the roots.
"Then call me Sirius."
And with this, Iohann sat down in his chair, gratefully accepted his cake and bit into it with relish.
"Ah." He sighed. "Delicious as always." And as he finished, his hair and beard turned a combination of Weasley orange, Slytherin green, and powder blue. "And raspberry juice. Daughter, you and your family know how to give a proper welcome."
"And you are always welcome here, father," Dahlia replied with a smile and toasted him with her own glass.
And so the afternoon went on, Astoria pestering her grandfather to tell her more about his travels, Garance and Sirius getting into a serious discussion about their plans for next year, with Dahlia either chiming in or watching from the corner of her eyes how Daphne spoke quietly with Harry, their hands brushing against each other at times. It brought a gentle smile to her face.
When there was a lull in the conversation, Astoria having stuffed her mouth full of cake, Iohann turned towards Harry. "So, young man, have you practised with your gift?"
Harry turned to him, setting his own empty plate aside. "Ah, I managed to find a grass snake. It didn't really have much to say." Harry made a face. "Unless I wanted to hear about the taste of mice."
Sirius choked on his cake and needed Garance to hit his back a few times. "Ex-excuse me?" He turned to Harry. "Parseltongue?"
"Yes," Harry admitted. "I can speak it, always could, as far as I remember." He shrugged, trying to look nonchalant and hide his nerves.
Sirius, to be perfectly honest, was also trying his best to hide his nerves. He was quite sure that neither James nor Lily were Parselmouths, and the only one he knew…
"Peace, Sirius," Iohann spoke up. "I can see the gears turning in your head." He released a series of trills and a familiar jay landed on his shoulder. "No matter how young Harry gained that gift, it is just that. A chance to speak with those that the majority cannot." He smiled at the jay on his shoulder and chirped at it. "He is far from alone in having a gift of this kind, as you can see." Seeing Sirius's surprised expression, he winked at him. "And don't you too possess a rather rare magical gift? A second form, a dog, if I recall?"
Though Astoria started jumping up and down, the atmosphere was somewhat tense. Harry, however, felt that he had to speak up. "Professor Dumbledore told me that it is not our abilities that make us who we are." He took a deep breath. "But our choices."
"Hm, hm, Albus always had a talent for saying profound things." Iohann nodded with respect and took a sip of raspberry juice.
Sirius, meanwhile, took a deep breath. "That… is right. That is exactly right." The image of Remus appeared in his mind. "It is what we do with what we have that matters."
Astoria was by Sirius's side at that moment and was tugging at his sleeve.
"Is it true that you can turn into a dog?" As she spoke, the pitch of her voice seemed to climb ever higher. Her eyes seemed impossibly large. Her hair, at the moment looking as if she had tie-dyed it, transformed what would have been an adorable sight into a comical one, especially accompanied by the sight of her wings, on which the colours seemed to shift like clouds in the sky.
Sirius looked at her, then at her parents. Seeing them nod in approval, he gave a rakish grin. There was a blur, and instead of a man, there now was an almost bear-like dog, a glimmer of mischief in its eyes.
"Oh Merlin, you're a sight," Harry exclaimed, shielding his eyes in jest.
And indeed, not only was Sirius as Padfoot a dog of truly respectable size, the tintberry effect carried over into the transformation. Instead of a huge black dog with yellow eyes, the hairy figure seemed to glow with all the colours of the rainbow. Were they a bit brighter, Harry thought, his eyes might start to hurt.
Hearing his godson, the now colourful Padfoot shot him a dog equivalent of a smirk and went towards Harry to give him a proper lick.
"Ew, even your slobber looks colourful!" Harry complained while trying to stop his laughter.
Astoria, in the meantime, overcame her shock and launched herself at Padfoot with a deafening squeal.
Though he whined, his hearing being mite more sensitive, Padfoot was soon enjoying Astoria's ministrations and playfully sticking his tongue at his godson. After a multitude of scratches and pats, Astoria whispered something into Padfoot's ear. His grin grew even wider, showing off a rather impressive set of teeth. Then he sat on the ground, allowing Astoria to climb on his back.
"Wheee!" She cheered before she tried to hold on as well as she could. "Onwards and forwards, my steed!"
And with an amused bark, they were off, a laughing and barking tangle of colours running around the clearing, while the others sat there, either smiling or outright laughing at the sight.
Daphne, however, turned to Harry. "You brought your broom. Would you like to go flying for a bit?" she asked him, stretching her wings.
Seeing Harry nod eagerly, Dahlia waved her wand towards them, murmuring a spell. The effects were immediate, their hair, and in Daphne's case feathers, suddenly gained an inner glow, bathing the table in reflections of ever-shifting colours.
And then they too were off, Harry on his Firebolt, while Daphne showed off what her wings were capable of. At times they flew side by side, at others Harry circled around Daphne, making use of his broom's capabilities, while Daphne surprised him sometimes with her acrobatics.
On the ground, while Sirius and Astoria were now charging into battle to conquer the fortress of the Robber Warlock Ulrich the Unclean, Iohann, Dahlia, and Garance just leaned back, sipping juice. From time to time they gave one another impressed nods when their colour combination was particularly eye-catching, at other times they laughed at the antics of either Sirius and Astoria, or cheered at the manoeuvres performed by Harry and Daphne. At times, they raced around, at others, it more resembled an aerial dance, a colourful dance of glittering lights in the skies.
Eventually, Sirius returned with a tired Astoria sitting on his shoulders, though her grin seemed permanently etched onto her features. Harry and Daphne, both looking very windswept, yet also flushed and happy, landed gingerly, with Harry helping steady Daphne for a bit.
Dahlia stepped forward. "I would like to thank you again for accepting our invitation, Sirius, Harry. It was our pleasure to host you here." She looked at her children. "However, I think it is time to finish this little celebration." She gestured at the table, where seven foxglove flowers were arranged. "Please, accept one of these as a gift to remember this celebration. They will help protect any home where they are accepted, and will keep it safe from dark spirits wishing you harm. May they help keep your home peaceful." Dahlia bowed as she finished speaking.
Harry and Sirius each took one of the offered blooms. "We are grateful for these, Dahlia. You have been wonderful hosts, thank you." Sirius bowed in return. "And I hope you will sometime in the future accept our invitation."
Seeing Daphne's and Astoria's eager smiles, Dahlia looked at Garance, and then smiled at Sirius. "It would be a great pleasure."
"At the very least," Garance began, "we should see each other at the Quidditch World Cup."
"Yes, just remember," Daphne piped up with a wink at Harry, "we will look a bit different."
Harry nervously shuffled in place before nodding with an embarrassed smile. "Of course. We'll be on the lookout for you. Promise."
And then Astoria, with a sudden burst of speed, was hugging first Sirius and then Harry, whispering a tearful goodbye.
"We will see each other again soon, Tori." Harry patted her head while hugging her with his other arm. "Just you wait."
Having extracted that promise, a blushing Daphne approached Harry while Sirius saying goodbye to the adults.
"Thank you for the fun afternoon, Harry," she whispered, looking at the ground, before doing something Harry did not expect. Very quickly, she kissed him on the cheek. While Harry stood there, surprised by how soft and smooth her lips felt, Daphne enveloped him in a gentle, warm hug. And as Harry closed his arms around her in return, enjoying the warmth, her wings closed around him too. They stayed for a moment in this colourful cocoon, and Harry found that Daphne fit very neatly into his embrace. Her head rested on his shoulder and their cheeks touched, hers still blooming with a blush against his similarly red cheek. Eventually though, she had to let him go, albeit hesitantly. Even so, she kept holding onto his hands. They stood facing each other, looking into each other's eyes.
Harry had trouble coming up with the right words, but this moment felt important. As if time itself stopped, he searched Daphne's fathomless grey eyes, warm, shining…
And then Sirius coughed into his fist, the moment was broken.
Yet they both knew, even if they had to separate for the day, there would be more. They were now neighbours, after all.