A/N: Here you go! The first chapter of the sequel to Fantastic Elves and Where to Find Them! Comments, critiques and suggestions are incredibly welcome. It's still a WIP, though I mostly know what's going to happen. I can't say anything about when or what year the story will end in. It definitely won't be a seven year fic, that's for sure. I should warn you all that I'll be in Kenya for two months, starting at the end of September. I'll have my roommate posting chapters for me, but I don't know how much I'm going to have her post of MR and how much of this. It'll end up being six chapters during that two month period either way. We'll see! Go vote in the poll on my profile if you want to try to sway me to post more of one than the other. :]
Harry stared at the castle as they drew closer. The man took his arm to lead him at first, but Harry snarled and pulled back. He was already captive, he could tell by the taste of the magic. The man didn't need to rub it in.
He shied away when they reached the doors of the castle, which meant that the man grabbed his arm again. Harry really didn't want to go inside, but it seemed he wasn't being given a choice.
He had considered two options when it came to being caught by the adults. Sent back to the Dursleys, or sent to the police. He still wasn't sure which one this was going to end up being, unless this was a magical police station. Harry was dragged through a large hall and up a flight of stairs, down several drafty stone corridors and up a couple more staircases, some of which they had to wait for because the staircases were moving.
Harry spent the whole walk gawking at his surroundings. The paintings were moving around, peering at him and waving. There were knights in armour and tapestries and Harry thought he might have seen a ghost. Everything tasted powerfully of magic, and now that he was inside the castle, the taste was less oppressive and more ...pervasive. The whole place was layered with rich, old magic. It was heady. Harry let his mouth hang open to better breathe it in. Even the gargoyles that leapt aside to reveal a staircase when the man spoke to them tasted richer than the most decadent meal the house elf in Wiltshire had ever brought him.
The man who sat at a desk in the room at the top of the stairs was white haired and long bearded. He had a long nose and a cheerful expression. He looked like he wanted to be Harry's friend. Harry distrusted him immediately.
"Harry!" the old man exclaimed, standing up and clapping his hands together. Harry scowled. This man knew his name! He liked him even less now. "It's good to see you. We were worried about you."
Harry stared up at him, then cast his gaze around the room. It was filled with tiny devices that tasted of the kind of sticky magic that had fallen on Harry when he first passed through the gates. Harry wrinkled his nose.
"He has yet to speak," the dark haired man said. "I found him sleeping in a tree on the Isle of Mann. He managed to evade me for several hours."
Longer than that, Harry thought to himself, though he didn't say anything. There was an advantage to these people not knowing if he could speak. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew it was there.
Harry kept the two men in his peripheral vision as he edged away and began exploring the room. They let him go, speaking to each other about the dark haired man's search and capture of Harry. Apparently they had been hunting him for years now. Harry felt proud for having evaded them for so long, and climbed up on the windowsill, wondering if there was a way he could escape now that he had been captured. He tested the latch. The window was too high up to jump, but the walls outside this window were encrusted with vines. He could maybe climb down.
"Harry," the bearded man said, turning to him. "You should be informed that the Dursleys-"
Harry stiffened and opened the window more fully. He wasn't going back. He wasn't a house elf.
"They have been arrested," he said. "For child neglect and abandonment. They are currently in a muggle criminal institution, and your cousin has been removed to a foster home."
Harry wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but it didn't sound like they were going to try to put him back with the Dursleys. He relaxed minutely and poked his head out the window, curious. The view of the grounds was panoramic from here. There was a lake and a forest and what looked like a Quidditch pitch similar to the one in Wiltshire, but bigger.
"As you are now eleven years old," the bearded man said, "You will of course be starting at Hogwarts in the fall." Harry turned around and squinted at him. He had heard magic people talking about Hogwarts before. It was a school for wizards. But this man was confused. Harry was an elf. He wouldn't go to a school for wizards.
The bearded man stepped closer to Harry, which caused Harry to back up toward the window, holding his bag close to him. The man only wanted to hand him a thick envelope, though, and Harry took it, peering down at it and turning it over in his hands curiously.
"He's been missing since he was six years old, Albus," the dark haired man said. "Who's to say he can even speak full sentences, let alone read?"
The front of the letter said:
Harry squinted at it some more. The lettering was very elaborate and almost difficult to read. He tore open the side of the envelope and pulled out the thick parchment it contained.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Mr Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...
Harry scowled. He wasn't a bloody wizard, and he wasn't going to some wizard school. He looked at the bearded man, who was still standing nearby, and caught his attention. The man raised his eyebrows in a welcoming gesture, and Harry handed him the letter back. The man took it, frowning, and Harry let himself out the window.
The two men in the room shouted as Harry rappelled down the vines as fast as he could manage. The dark haired man stuck his head out the window for a moment, but Harry was already far enough down that he was able to use several other protruding windowsills as shields. He made it to the grass in under thirty seconds and was on his way to the gates in no time. The dark haired man burst out of the front doors of the castle not a minute after Harry started running, but Harry was fast. He made it nearly to the gates before the man was suddenly upon him, and managed to weave and dodge away from his grasp for several crucial seconds.
Harry reached the gates, ready to pull them open and dive through to freedom, but when he tugged at them, they didn't budge. He frowned and began scaling them instead, but the man had caught up by now and snatched him off the gate by the middle.
"Mr. Potter, this is unacceptable," he said in a low, warning tone. Harry struggled and tried to set the man's arm on fire, but he just put it out again and ignored Harry's struggles as he carried him back to the castle.
Harry tried everything, even bit the dark haired man, but his fangs were nearly nonexistent and all it got him was a round of cursing that was impressive for a human, and a firm grip on his chin.
"What are we doing?" the snake asked when Harry finally stopped struggling. He had poked his head out of Harry's bag and took Harry's wrist when it was offered in sullen silence, politely ignoring how badly Harry was shaking. "Who is this man? He tastes terrible."
Harry hissed in wordless agreement. The man tasted like a thousand different deaths. It was part of why Harry had been so alarmed by him upon first seeing him back on the Isle of Mann. Forests tasted that way in autumn when everything was starting to die, but there was a sense in the forest that everything would come back eventually. This man had none of that feeling about him.
"Do you want me to bite him?" the snake asked, curling around Harry's bicep. "I could bite him if you would like."
Harry shook his head and hissed out a low 'no'. He didn't want to risk his friend, not with a man who tasted like that, and not when having the snake could prove a useful secret later.
When Harry and the man were situated back in the room behind the gargoyles, the bearded man sat down behind his desk, more amused than ever. "You're quite clever, aren't you, Harry?"
The dark haired man muttered something he probably thought Harry wouldn't catch. Harry had hearing beyond the normal human range, what with being an elf, so he heard it just fine. What a git.
"Do you want to go to Hogwarts, Harry?" the bearded man asked. Harry narrowed his eyes and hunched his shoulders. He wished the man would stop using his name so much. It made him uncomfortable.
"He is probably mute," the dark haired man said, annoyed. "He is uneducated and-"
"I don't want to go to Hogwarts," Harry said, fed up with the dark haired man's commentary. "I'm not a wizard, and I'm not uneducated, and I'm not going to Hogwarts."
The bearded man leaned forward, intrigued. "If you aren't a wizard, Harry, then what are you?"
Harry scowled at him. "Stop calling me that. I'm an elf."
The silence that met these words was deafening.
"Not a house elf," Harry said after a moment, anticipating their initial concerns. "Everyone always thinks I'm a bloody house elf. I'm not. I'm a forest elf."
"Albus," the dark haired man said eventually.
"And I'm going back to the forest," Harry said. "Wizards go to Hogwarts. Elves don't."
"What do elves do, then?" the bearded man asked, curious.
"That is none of your concern," Harry said, drawing himself up. "That is a Secret of the Elves."
"Are there other elves?"
"Of course there are other elves," Harry lied. He stepped over to the desk and started poking through the papers there. The two men watched his every movement. "But like I said, they are none of your concern."
"You are not an elf," the dark haired man snapped. "You are a wizard. Your father was a wizard. James Potter. Your mother, Lily, was a witch."
Harry blinked. How did he know Harry's parents' names? He didn't like how much these wizards knew.
"They went to school here, too, Harry," the bearded man said.
"Stop calling me that," Harry said, and thought about this. Had they really known his parents?
"Isn't 'Harry' your name?" the bearded man asked. Harry cast around. Of course it was. He just didn't like being addressed by it. It seemed too familiar.
"It's rude," Harry said. "Elves don't call each other by their names unless they've been given permission."
The dark haired man made a sound of derision. Harry scowled.
"May I use your name, then?" the bearded man asked. Harry glanced at him, still frowning. He picked up a feather that had been recently dipped in ink and examined it. It was very beautiful.
"No," he said. "I don't like it. I don't know who you are."
"Of course," came the reply. "My apologies. My name is Albus Dumbledore. I am the headmaster of Hogwarts. This is Severus Snape. He is the Potion's Master here."
Harry looked around again. So this was the school, not a magical police station. That made sense. Wizards did seem to like their castles.
"That still doesn't tell me who you are," Harry said, stepping away from the desk to examine a shelf of books. There were a few he would have liked to look through in greater detail, if the two men weren't staring at him so much.
"I went to school with your mother," the dark haired man said, after a brief moment of silence. "Lily. She and I were close when we were young."
Harry cocked his head, listening. He had his back to the two of them, but he was still tuned to their every movement. The dark haired man was standing stock still.
"I knew your aunt Petunia as well, when we were children," he continued. "She was very jealous of Lily's powers."
"She was stale," Harry agreed. He had never actually tested this theory, but it seemed obvious to him that all the Dursleys were stale.
"She... was a Muggle," the man agreed after a pause. "Lily and I were in the same year at Hogwarts, but different Houses. She was in Gryffindor, and I was in Slytherin. She met your father in Gryffindor."
"I was the Headmaster of Hogwarts while your parents went to school here," the bearded man volunteered. "I worked very closely with them after they left Hogwarts in the fight against Voldemort. I knew you when you were very small, before they died."
Harry nodded again. This was all interesting information about his parents, and he appreciated it.
"Thank you for telling me," he said. "It was slightly unpleasant meeting you. But unless you want a boon, I think I should be going."
"A boon?" the bearded man asked. At the same time, the dark haired man cut in.
"We can't let you go off alone again, child."
"I'm not a wizard," Harry said, annoyed. "No matter what my parents were. I don't live in places like this. I live in the forest with the others."
"Your parents wanted you to be here," the bearded man said. "There are dangers out there that you don't understand. We just want to keep you safe."
"My parents are dead," Harry said, feeling a faint twinge of sadness. The idea had always upset him, ever since he first understood what it meant and that he was alone. The Dursleys' abandonment had only served to underline that fact. "I live in the forests. I understand about danger. And I'm not alone. I have others to keep me safe."
"Can we meet one of these other elves?" the bearded man asked. "Just so that we know you truly are safe?"
"Of course not," Harry snapped, backing toward the door. "Elves don't speak to humans unless they're giving a boon. I shouldn't even be speaking to you right now. I don't want to be."
"What is a boon?" the bearded man asked. "Would you allow us to have one?"
Harry paused. "It's a trade," he said, relaxing a bit. "You give me something, I give you something."
"What kinds of things do you usually trade for?"
"All kinds of things," Harry said, shrugging. "We trade for food and useful objects and information."
"And what do you give, in return?"
Harry smiled. He had read this in a book, and had been wanting to use it for a while. "Wishes and dreams," he said. "Safe passage and flight. Though I only give flight to those I really like."
"What if we made a trade," the bearded man said. "We would provide you with food and information and objects."
"What kind?" Harry asked, gripping his bag more firmly. He still didn't trust this man. He seemed far too keen on meeting Harry's eyes. In the forest, you didn't make eye contact unless you were ready to fight.
"All kinds," the man said. "Three meals a day, information in many fields, clothing and books and games and-"
"And in return I would go to your school," Harry finished dryly. "Where all the students receive these things daily, I'm sure. And I would have to do more than come here. I would have to stay."
"You would have to stay," the bearded man allowed. "But there are breaks, afternoons and weekends and holidays, where you would be free to move around the grounds as you wish."
Harry was done here. This was almost insulting. "How about you give me this book, and leave me alone," he said, hefting one of the tomes from the shelf and holding it up. "And I give you runespoor fangs."
He had read in one of his books that the fangs from his former friend were very rare in potions, and very valuable. He eyed the Potions Master with his head tilted, and waited.
The dark haired man blinked several times. "Where did you acquire runespoor fangs, child?" he asked, clearly sceptical. Harry reached into his bag and fished out the sealed jar from toward the bottom of one of the pockets. The snake hissed a question at him from the bag, and he responded reassuringly.
"They were given to me," he said. "Immediately after the death of the third head." He held up the jar and tilted it so that the man could see them glint. The preserving magic that had been built into the jar meant the fangs were still as fresh as the day he'd sealed it, back in the Forest of Dean. The dark haired man eyed the jar, and Harry could see he was interested.
"The book does not, unfortunately, belong to Severus," the bearded man cut in. "My price for it is that you take a tour of the castle and grounds with us."
Harry cast one more glance at the dark haired man's covetous expression, and stowed the jar back in his bag. They'd talk this out later.
"This is the Great Hall," the bearded man said as they entered an enormous room. Harry could see the sky overhead, and smiled at it. He'd missed it. He'd been inside for over twenty minutes now. It was disconcerting.
He took a deep breath and basked for a moment in the taste of the magic in the room. It was thick on the tables, and in the air, and...
"That's not the real sky, is it," he realized suddenly. "That's magic."
"It's charmed to match the sky outside," the bearded man explained. Harry scowled, less impressed with this room now.
"And the library is right through these doors," the bearded man said, opening a set of double doors and stepping back to let Harry through first.
This room, he could appreciate. It was enormous, and full to the brim with thick, old books of all shapes and sizes. Harry had a special place in his heart for libraries. They let you stay for as long as you wanted, didn't ask where your parents were, and had actually been the conduit for Harry's discovery of his elfish nature. When he had first been starting out alone, he wouldn't have survived without a library.
"This is the library?" Harry asked. The bearded man said it was, and led him through the room up to a giant desk, where a woman sat mending a book. Harry stopped when he saw her, and walked into the stacks instead.
"Madam Pince," he heard the bearded man say as he wandered away. "Harry Potter has come to visit us and take a tour of the school. He... is examining our fine collection as we speak."
Harry scowled. The man had just given his name out to someone Harry had never met before! Wizards were callous and rude.
He continued his perusal of the stacks in a bad mood, though it didn't stay for long. They had books on every useful subject Harry could imagine, and many, many more on useless subjects. He could spend days just looking.
"All students have free access to all the books you see," the bearded man said. "Except for the Restricted Section, of course, which is open to older students, unless you have a note from a professor."
Harry, who had been about to duck under the velvet rope next to the sign that said 'Restricted Section', made a face and kept going. He wasn't a student here, so those rules didn't apply to him, and neither did the bearded man's admittedly impressive admonitory tone.
He peered around at all the books, noting that the bearded man hadn't followed him in. They looked particularly interesting. This place was tempting. It was almost worth staying a while, being allowed to read these books.
As they left the library, Harry gave the bearded man the cold shoulder, still irate at having his name revealed so casually to a stranger. If the bearded man noticed his discontent, he said nothing.
"Professor McGonagall teaches Transfiguration," the bearded man said to Harry, who was still standing just outside the doorway, tense. He didn't like being introduced to all these people. He had already met more humans today than he had in most months over the past several years. This tour had been worth more than one book. "Professor McGonagall, this is-"
"I am an elf," Harry interrupted, glaring. The bearded man looked surprised for a moment, then bowed his head.
"I apologise," he said. "My memory is not what it once was. Minerva, we have a visiting forest elf at Hogwarts today. He is taking a tour."
The older woman looked back and forth between the bearded man and Harry, frowning slightly.
The bearded man nodded once, and Harry noted with annoyance that his eyes twinkled.
The woman turned back to Harry and tipped her head at him. "An honour," she said. "Enjoy your tour."
Harry stared at her, still standing in the hallway, and said nothing.
"I do not like all these people," the snake hissed when Harry dipped his hand into his bag for comfort. He wound through Harry's fingers, clearly just as agitated. "When will we leave?"
"Soon," Harry responded, and when the bearded man finished talking to the woman and finally stepped back out into the hallway, Harry frowned at him.
"This is a very long tour," he said. The bearded man smiled.
"It is a very large castle," he replied. They began walking again, down the hallway, past a tapestry of two unicorns dancing with a centaur. Harry nodded absently as the bearded man pointed out classrooms and offices, though fortunately, they didn't stop again until they were at the top of a tower.
"This is the owlrey," the man said. Harry looked out at the view from the unpaned windows and sighed. At least this was real sky. The owls shifted around them, and one of them hooted at Harry. Harry trilled back a greeting, and it settled down, eyeing him beadily. All the snakes he had ever met disapproved when he talked to the birds (except for when he was hunting them), but Harry did it anyway. Birds were fun, if a bit dim.
"Can we see the grounds now?" he asked. "I would like that."
"Certainly," came the reply. "Right this way."
He led Harry down the stairs and out the doors in the large front hall into the sunlight. Harry took a deep breath. He had been inside for far too long.
The bearded man walked with Harry through the grass, pointing out highlights like the Quidditch pitch, the greenhouses, and the lake. They neared a hut on the edge of the forest, and as they approached, a dog came running out, barking excitedly.
It came to a halt right in front of Harry and the bearded man. Harry smiled and yipped at it, dropping down to sit on his haunches. The dog trotted over and sniffed at him, and Harry sniffed back. The dog tasted and smelled like a friendly sort, so Harry let the dog lick him.
"I see yeh met Fang." Harry looked up at the voice and encountered the tallest man he had ever seen in his life.
"Hello," Harry ventured, still communing with the dog, who was nosing around in the outer pocket of Harry's bag. Harry reached in and pulled out the pheasant leg the dog had undoubtedly been after, and let him have it.
"Mornin'," the man replied, sitting down in the grass with Harry. He was still taller than Harry would have been standing up.
"Hagrid," the bearded man said, sounding jovial. "I'd like to introduce you to this young forest elf. I've just been giving him a tour of our facilities."
"Aye," the large man said, smiling. "Nice meetin' yeh."
"You live out here?" Harry asked. "With the forest?"
"Tha's right," the large man said. "I'm the keeper of the keys and grounds here at Hogwarts."
Harry accepted this and stood. The dog leaned against his legs and let his tongue loll out. He looked up at the large man who was smiling at him from his seated position, then back at the bearded man.
"Will he be coming with us for the rest of the tour?" Harry asked. The large man lumbered to his feet.
"If you would like him to," the bearded man said with a smile. Harry nodded.
Harry made a beeline for the forest. A cough from behind him made him pause and turn his head.
"That's the Forbidden Forest," the bearded man said. Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Sure." He kept walking. The bearded man coughed again.
"It's called that because it is forbidden," he explained. Harry felt a scowl forming.
"You wanted me to come to school here, but you expected me to never go into the forest?" He glared at them. "I am not a second class citizen!"
The large man's bushy eyebrows shot up. Harry had gotten that line from a drunk wizard in a pub. This reaction was better than he could honestly have expected. He soldiered on.
"I am an elf," Harry elaborated. "Elves don't live indoors. We live in forests. You can't forbid me from going to the only place I'd feel comfortable."
With that, he dismissed them both and kept walking into the forest. This tour was over. He eyed the trees and the undergrowth, and took a breath. This was a magical forest, which made sense, considering where it was situated.
He felt something run into the back of his legs and grinned. The dog had followed him. He patted him on the head and kept going until he heard someone bustling through the forest behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that it was the large man. The bearded man had not followed. Harry nodded at him and kept walking until the trees were sufficiently close together.
"Do you like it there?" he asked eventually, leaping onto one trunk and pushing off to grab a high branch on another tree. The large man paused and watched as Harry scaled the tree and kept walking, head slightly above the large man's now.
"At Hogwarts?" the large man asked. Harry made a noise of agreement, and grinned down at the dog, who was racing from tree to tree beneath Harry, putting his front paws on the trunks and whining. He barked reassuringly, and the dog grumbled back.
"Hogwarts is my home," the large man said, hitching a large crossbow up on his shoulder. "I can't imagine living anywhere else."
"But you're not one of them," Harry said, making a face at the idea. He had been curious about that, actually. This man didn't seem so bad. "You didn't go to school there, did you?"
"O' course I am!" The large man stared at him. "O' course I did!"
Harry frowned. "You're a wizard?"
"I'm a wizard," the large man agreed. He glanced around the forest and leaned forward. "I'm part giant, no lie," he said. "But that don't make me any less o' a wizard."
Harry mulled over this as they ventured deeper still into the forest.
"So you can be a giant and a wizard?" he asked after a while, taking a brief detour around a magical tree as he spoke.
"Half-giant," the giant corrected, watching Harry's movements with caution. "And o' course you can."
He and the giant talked for a bit longer, and the giant showed Harry around the forest, which Harry was intrigued by. It was even more magical than the Forest of Dean, and Harry had a feeling he wouldn't find a barrier to keep the stale people away here.
The magic felt less sticky the further they walked from the castle. He was getting used to it after the oversaturation he'd experienced at first. Now it was becoming an enjoyable pressure against his skin, though he could still taste a new, strange kind of magic lingering around him. It unsettled him, like an unexplainable bad odour.
The sun was starting to set when the giant stretched his arms above his head. "We should be gettin' back," he said. "Get some rest."
"Sounds good," Harry said. "I am a bit tired."
They started walking, and Harry fell behind, waiting. Once he was sure the giant wasn't paying him any attention, he slipped off in a different direction, choosing an area they hadn't already walked through.
Go back to the wizards? Not hardly. He travelled swiftly, moving until he could feel the restrictions on his skin lifting, though the strange lingering taste remained. He frowned at that and disappeared a few times until he found a tall tree he thought might provide suitable camouflage. He'd sleep here tonight, then get away early tomorrow morning.
The next morning found Harry in a state of indecision. He and the snake travelled southward through the delightfully enormous forest, debating.
"They are humans," the snake said.
"Yes, but they knew my parents," Harry replied, frowning. "And the giant said you can be not human and still be a wizard. So maybe..."
"Maybe they will trap you," the snake hissed, curling his tail around the strap of Harry's bag. "And maybe they will keep you in a cage and never let you leave."
"I got away yesterday, didn't I?" he shot back. "I can leave whenever I want. I can get out of the castle and I can get out through the forest. I just want to look around a little more. Didn't you see all the books in that library? And there are things I want to learn, and I think they can teach me there."
He was thinking about the barmaid who had made his bag so much more useful. She had said it was easy, and Harry wanted it to be easy for him, too. He didn't want to have to rely on boons and wizards when he needed something done.
"What about the fact that they're humans?" the snake repeated. "You cannot forget about that. Humans put creatures in cages. They didn't want you to go into the forest!"
"And I went anyway," Harry said reasonably. "I'll still do what I want. I'm not one of theirs. But I'm curious."
The more they argued, the more Harry convinced himself. He'd go back, just for a little while, just to see. He'd leave if things got bad.