Big thank to everyone who reviewed/alerted/faved/read last chapter. And thanks especially to those who didn't give up on me updating. And especially, especially thanks to winterwings6 and randomloser1243810 who kept poking me to update. Sometimes poking is the only way to get someone to do something.
Disclaimer: If you haven't understood that I don't own Artemis Fowl or Harry Potter by now then I'm sorry. There's just no hope for you.
Chapter 8: Suspicions Roused
It was fairly obvious that something was wrong at the semi-permanent headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. The tense atmosphere was a dead giveaway, as was the cagey look in very adult's eyes. Oh, and Sirius trying smoother him to death with a hug the minute he stepped into the kitchen tipped Harry off as well.
"Sirius—let go," he managed to choke out, one hand trying to straighten his askew glasses while the other attempted to push the overzealous godfather away. "Can't breathe."
Sirius didn't appear to hear him and continued with his smothering. "You're alright." he muttered, his grip tightening. "You're fine."
Harry tried to send a plea for help to Ron and Hermione but it was a difficult task to accomplish when he couldn't break out of the tight hold long enough to face them. Judging by their snickers though, it didn't seem like they'd help on their own anytime soon. Some friends they were, he was being smothered to death, and all they could do was laugh!
Luckily for Harry, someone decided to take pity on him.
"He won't be if you don't let go soon." Lupin said coming up behind Sirius. His voice was odd, as though he were forcing his tone to remain light. His gaze was fixed on Harry. "Let him go, Padfoot."
"What?" Sirius blinked at him uncomprehending until Lupin nodded pointedly at the boy who was struggling vainly in his arms. "Oh—sorry, Harry." He let go quickly and stepped back, a very unconvincing, slightly shaky grin on his face.
"I was only gone for a few hours, Sirius," Harry said, once he caught his breath. He straightened his robes and pointedly ignored Ron who was smirking at him. "What was that all about?"
His godfather tried another grin. This one was too wide to not be faked. "Nothing, nothing. Just…" he trailed off, clearly searching for an excuse.
Remus helpfully provided him with one. "It was just Sirius being Sirius."
"How did your shopping trip go?" Remus asked, not taking notice of his friend's indignant protests. He smiled at the three friends, and while his grin was more natural than Sirius's had been, it was still noticeably strained. "Did you manage to get everything on your lists?"
It was obvious that Remus was trying to change the subject. Harry opened his mouth to demand again what was wrong, but Hermione shut him up with a discreetly placed sharp elbow. He winced and inched away from her, rubbing his newest bruise.
"We found everything fine," Hermione informed the adults. Aside from a quick warning glance, she took no notice of Harry's glare. "Mrs. Weasly had Fred and George arrive earlier with the rest of the bags."
"After she made them take that biting hex off," Ron added, rubbing his left hand absently. He didn't seem to have noticed Lupin's obvious diversion. Or maybe he had and was following Hermione's lead in order to protect himself from sharp jabs. Harry wasn't sure which. "It would have been seriously wicked, if they had tried it on me first."
"I thought it was pretty funny," Harry put in, grinning at the memory of Ron howling and hopping around the store with a paper bag gnawing on his hand.
"You would," Ron accused him. "The twins didn't play a single prank on you the entire time we were there."
"It was rather amusing though." Hermione interjected, smiling at the memory. "Especially when the bag bit your—"
"Thank you, moving on," Ron cut in before she could finish.
Sirius laughed and even Lupin smiled. They both looked considerably happier and less worried than before. Harry decided it was a good time as any to ask about their earlier anxiety.
"So, what's been going on here?" he asked innocently. He ignored Hermione's wince at his not so subtle hints.
Sirius started to reply. "I—"
"Nothing," Lupin interrupted. He gave Sirius a look. "Just the usual issues with the house and all. Nothing important."
Sirius shut his mouth and nodded in agreement.
Harry frowned, not satisfied with that answer. Before he could say anything though, the kitchen's door opened and Ron's father came in.
"Sirius? Did Snape send any word yet about th—" He broke off when he noticed the three students. His eyes immediately focused on Harry and the same odd, relieved look that had appeared on Lupin and Sirius face before passed over his. "Oh, er, you lot back already? How'd it go, find everything okay?"
"Why does everyone keep asking that?" Ron said, incredulously. He starred at all the adults as though there was something wrong with them. "It was just a little shopping trip. We were barely gone at all."
"Yes, good, good," Mr. Weasly said absently. His gaze finally shifted away from Harry and onto Lupin and Sirius. "Can I talk to you two about, er, out in the hall?"
"Of course." Lupin replied quickly, heading out followed closely by Sirius.
"Okay, what was that all about?" Ron muttered, frowning as the kitchen rapidly emptied out.
Harry shrugged and glanced at Hermione. The curious expression her face told Harry that she hadn't missed the oddness of the adult's behavior either.
Something was wrong.
Artemis wasn't waking up.
Though the fact alone wasn't enough to completely dispel Holly's homicidal feelings toward him, it was enough to put a serious damper on them. Really, she had every right to be mad at the boy. He had lied, gotten kidnapped, lied, knocked himself out, lied, and successfully ruined her day. But she couldn't effectively stay mad because the bloody genius was determined to stay unconscious.
This was in no way fair.
She checked his heartbeat again, frowning when she found that it wasn't any different than before. Her failed attempted at healing hadn't improved Artemis's condition any. On the bright side, it hadn't worsened it either. His shivering had completely stopped by now though, the blanket had made sure of that, but he was still wet. And comatose.
Holly hadn't ruled out a possible concussion, but she still hadn't found any bruises on his head that could possibly be the cause of his current state. Her magic, before it had been countered or whatever it was that Artemis had done, had told her nothing. And, Artemis hadn't moved an inch of his own accord since she'd found him.
In short, she still had no idea what was wrong with him. And she had no way to get him to a place where smart people with more expertise in this area than she could find out what was wrong. Her wings were down, and Artemis was too heavy for her to carry. She'd only barely managed to drag him to where they were currently camping. And, to top it all, she was starting to get a headache from the breathing in the muddy air for so long.
The bush to her left rustled suddenly, and leaves crunched noisily as someone stepped on them. Holly's gun was almost immediately in her hands. It probably wouldn't work, but hey, she could still chuck it someone's head. The crunches grew louder, nearing them. Holly glanced at Artemis. There was no place for her to hide him. She'd just have to hit the prowler with a mesmer, or the gun, as soon as she saw him.
Her eyes widened as the intruder stepped into view.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, incredulously as she lowered the gun.
Mulch grinned at her, pulling stray leaves out of his beard. "Spreading world peace."
Holly smiled in spite of herself. "You sure it's not destruction and mayhem? Nice to see you, Mulch."
"Back at you. Nice time to take a nap though." Mulch said, eyeing Artemis's unconscious form curiously. "Everyone's going crazy looking for him, and here he is, catching some z's."
"He isn't napping," Holly informed him. "I fished him out of a lake back there."
"Ah, well, then it's a good thing your knight in muddy clothes is here, isn't it?" He poked Artemis with a stick he had picked up nearby. "Whoa, he really is out of it. Anyway, Foaly sent me after you, when you dropped off his radar."
Holly smiled. Good old reliable Foaly. "Remind me to send him a basket of carrots when we get back."
"Hey, I'm doing all the work," Mulch protested. "What about me?"
"I'll send you one too." She promised.
"Nah, I'll pass on the veggies. Just give me complete control of the remote for a month and we'll call it even."
Something rustled faintly in the bushes nearby. Almost instantly, Holly's gun was in her hand again and trained in the direction of the noise. Mulch inched behind her for safety. The rustling stopped and a bird called somewhere above them.
"We should probably get going." Mulch observed. "It's never a good idea to be out in a forest at night. Trust me I know."
"You're right," Holly agreed, putting away her gun. She didn't relax though, and continued to scan warily the area every few seconds. "How did you get here?"
Mulch grinned. "I, er, borrowed Fowl's jet and flew it here. Got to the edge of the forest before it started losing power. I landed it and tunneled the rest of the way."
"I didn't know you knew how to pilot." Holly said, surprised.
"I'm a dwarf of many talents." Mulch bragged, as he grabbed Artemis from under the shoulders and started to lift him up. "By Frond, he's heavy."
"He needs a good diet." Holly added, helping him out. She maneuvered the boy until he was on Mulch's back, arms wrapped loosely around the dwarf's neck. "Think he'll manage a good grip unconscious?"
"Maybe." Mulch started to shrug but stopped in the middle when Artemis started to slip off. "I can always go back to get him if he doesn't."
Holly frowned. "Maybe."
"You want to carry him to the plane?" Mulch asked. "It's only a mile from here."
"Point. A little dirt won't hurt him."
Mulch snickered. "I don't think he'll feel the same way."
Holly smiled wryly, remembering the blue sparks that had countered her magic. "He'll just have to deal."
Mulch eyed her warily. "What'd he do now?"
Another bird call echoed though the air. This one was further than the one before.
Holly started gathering her stuff. "I'll tell you later. Let's start moving."
She folded up the blanket and adjusted her broken wings as Mulch picked out a good place to start tunneling. She was checking to make sure nothing had been left behind when Mulch spoke again.
"Oh, by the way Holly, I'm really hurt," Mulch said, making a very unsuccessful attempt at a pout. It was virtually impossible for someone with that much facial hair to pull off a passable pout. "Aren't we partners? And yet, you went after the little Mudboy without even waiting for me."
"Sorry Mulch," Holly said, guiltily. She had left rather hastily. "I was in a hurry."
The dwarf sniffed sadly. "Well, I guess it's okay. I suppose I'll just have to accept that you'll always care more for the Mudboy than for me."
His jaw was unhinged and he was several feet under before Holly could punch him like she very much desired to.