The characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, Warner Brothers, Kermit the Frog's alter ego, Henson Associates, Lucasfilm, Christopher Nolan, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, and (deep breath) other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Still new to this fandom; still assuming that it's all been done already. Any unoriginality is accidental.
Another crack!fic. My muse apparently has a mild obsession with this particular sort of crossover. I will love Cincoflex forever for encouraging me instead of telling me the whole thing was insane, and she schooled this one carefully-and designed the beautiful banner! However, this has not been Britpicked, so please forgive any blatant Americanisms.
Notes on the riddles can be found on my journals under the Production Notes tag. Suffice it to say here that only 1.5 are original.
The wind was dusty, and Lily kept her eyes screwed tightly shut against it, so she couldn't see what was happening. But she was tumbling around and around in the air, almost like the time she'd got caught in the surf at the beach—out of control. It was impossible to tell where she was, and it was all she could do to keep from yelling again.
And then it stopped, and she felt herself falling. She did yell, eyes popping open, but all she saw was a spinning blur of brown and grey before she smacked into something soft.
The breath was knocked from her lungs at the impact, and Lily tumbled further down, hearing clanks and rattles and thumps as she rolled. Finally she came to a halt on what felt like level ground, and the sounds died away.
For a few minutes she just lay still, sprawled on her back, and gasped in air. It took a lot of blinking to get her eyes to focus, and when they did she realised she was looking up at a cloudy grey sky.
She pushed cautiously up into a sitting position and looked around. Wow…
It was an enormous scrapyard. All around her were huge piles of trash and junk, towering far above her head; cans and bottles, paper, broken furniture, wooden wheels, sinks and tubs and jars, old clothes and toys, battered toasters and blenders…everywhere she looked there was something different and useless. There was scarcely space between the heaps for someone to walk. In the gaps, though, she could see other piles.
Am I even still in the Labyrinth? A scrapyard seemed sort of a strange thing to have in one, but then throwing her out of the Labyrinth entirely seemed to Lily like a violation of the rules. But I bet I'm lots further from the Goblin City now.
She wanted to be angry, but between her bruises and the way the clouds overhead seemed to press down on her, Lily felt tired and grumpy instead. She got up and tried to brush off the dirt that clung to her clothes without much success, though the wind had at least dried the mud, and then took another look at her surroundings.
There wasn't much noise, just a faint breeze that occasionally tinkled or rattled some piece of junk, and far away crunches that made her think there might be someone else—several someones—in the scrapyard as well. But she couldn't find the energy to be frightened.
The first thing to do, Lily decided, was to see if she could spot the Goblin City. But climbing up one of the heaps, she discovered, was much more difficult than sliding down one; every time she tried, she couldn't make it much higher than her own head before the pile just sort of crumbled. That was, if she could find enough grips to climb it in the first place.
But she kept trying, wandering from heap to heap, looking for a way up. In the distance she caught glimpses of something moving, but they were too far away to really make out, and Lily just didn't want to bother chasing one down.
Finally she found a pile that was firm enough that when she braced an old metal bedstead against it she could climb at least partway up. It was hard to see around the heaps, but she craned her neck and leaned out so far that she almost lost her grip—and was rewarded. Off in the far distance, where the clouds broke at the horizon, was a glimpse of the hill she'd been so close to just a little while before.
The situation demanded a worse word than the one she'd dared before, one she'd only heard bad kids use. 'Bugger.'
Immediately she felt guilty, but also sort of relieved. Scrambling down from her makeshift ladder, Lily set off towards the faraway hill, marching determinedly around the nearest heap.
And ran smack into someone. Or something. Lily wasn't quite sure, because it squealed like something alive but looked like a small pile of trash. She jumped back, and the thing lurched around, and then she saw two cloudy eyes in a tiny wrinkled face. 'Oi!' the creature squeaked. 'Gerroff!'
It looked kind of like a goblin, Lily decided, but it was carrying the pile of trash on its back like a bizarre turtle. The…person?…was bent so low that its head was scarcely higher than Lily's chest, and it was glaring at her. They were glaring at her, she noticed; there were two more just beyond the one she'd bumped into.
'I'm sorry,' she managed. 'I didn't know you were here.'
The person hmphed. 'Young people, no manners,' it said in a whiny voice, and shuffled back around. 'Always so busy, rushing here and there…'
The others muttered in what sounded like agreement. They were pulling pieces of trash from the heaps around them and piling them in one spot, but they were all so hampered by the burdens on their backs that they were very slow. Curious, Lily stood on tiptoes for a closer look at what they were doing.
Something lay beneath the odd bits of junk, but she couldn't make out what it was—until she spotted the pale hand, fingers limp, barely protruding from beneath the remains of a water-spotted textbook.
Lily shrieked. Diving around the junk-person, she pawed at the debris, throwing trash aside without caring where it fell. Cries of outrage rose around her, but she paid them no attention, scooping aside old shoes, a flashlight, half-burned curtains, and other things she couldn't identify. Slowly Sev's motionless form appeared, eyes closed and face smudged with dirt.
'No, no.' One of the junk-people was poking at her arm. 'Don't bother, missy, it's dead. Got to cover it up, forget about it.'
'No!' Lily gasped, shoving a last piece of cardboard out of the way. 'No, he's not, he can't be! Sev! Sev, wake up!'
He didn't move, but when she pressed her ear to his chest she felt it rise and fall slowly. A little of her panic subsided, but she shook Sev and poked him and his eyelids didn't even twitch.
'No manners,' the junk-people grumbled, and began stumping away. 'It's dead, it's dead...'
Lily sat back on her heels, ignoring the vanishing voices and staring down at Sev. What do I do?
She couldn't leave him; and she couldn't possibly carry him. 'Sev,' she said quietly, not expecting a response. 'Sev, wake up, you're scaring me.'
Lily still remembered the first time he'd spoken to her, though she'd seen him in the neighbourhood before. He'd been so awkward, and she hadn't liked him much, but he'd told her wonderful stories and then proved they were true.
And now he was her best friend that she couldn't imagine doing without, and she could no more leave him here than she could leave Tuney behind in the castle. Lily felt a few more tears slide out of her eyes, and she smeared them away with a grubby hand. 'It's not fair,' she whispered.
But this is the way it is.
Sev looked so vulnerable. He was spiky most of the time, pretending like he was never hurt or frightened, even though she knew quite well that sometimes he was. Now all his armour was gone, and Lily wanted so much to protect him, defend him.
What would a hero do?
The answer was obvious, and she brightened. 'Of course!'
Leaning down, she pressed her lips to his.
She meant it to be a quick touch, but his skin was warm and really very soft, and the moment seemed to hold her there in a bubble of silence, the first time she'd ever kissed a boy and somehow significant.
Then she heard him draw in a deeper breath, and she sat back hastily, feeling her cheeks start to burn. Sev's eyes fluttered open, dark and dazed. 'Mmph—Lily?'
She laughed for pure joy. 'You're awake! Are you all right?'
He blinked, then sat up slowly. 'I—I think so.'
He was staring at her so hard that Lily drew back a little. 'Is something wrong?'
'You, er, you have something on your cheek.' He gestured, and Lily, remembering her tears, rubbed hastily at her hot skin.
'This place is really dirty. Sev, what happened? The trees took you and I couldn't keep up—'
He blinked once more and seemed to settle into himself. 'I'm not sure; they kept throwing me around and I was too dizzy to see, and then I was falling. After that…' He shrugged. 'You woke me up.'
'Whew.' Lily shook her head. 'It was really lucky I found you.'
'Yeah—where are we?' Sev rubbed his arms slowly, looking around.
'A scrapyard.' Lily grimaced. 'The King sent me here, but I think I know how to get back.' She scrambled to her feet and held out a hand. 'Are you ready?'
Sev's face had no expression at all, which usually meant he was thinking very hard. He stared up at her for one more moment, then reached up and let her pull him up. 'Let's go.' He gave her a grin. 'Why did the King send you back here?'
She told him the story as they wended their way out of the scrapyard. It was bounded by yet another of the Labyrinth's endless walls, curving gently back and forth like a ribbon, and they walked a little way back from it so that they could keep an eye on the castle-crowned hill so far away.
So they didn't see the gate at once—not until its guardian heaved to its feet.
The sight halted them both in their tracks, and Lily's groping hand found Sev's reaching for hers. The dog was as tall as a bus, standing, and it had three heads. Lily would have been even more alarmed if they weren't all panting cheerfully and pausing to scratch one of six ears with a hind leg.
The gate was all but hidden behind the dog's bulk. Lily wondered if there was another way out of the scrapyard, but before she could look around it—they?—began barking happily, huge tail thumping the ground until she could feel the tremble through the soles of her trainers.
'Hello!' all three heads barked. 'Hello! Goody, goody!'
It sounded so friendly. Lily took a step closer, towing Sev with her, though he didn't hang back. 'Hello?'
The dog sat, one hind leg cocked crookedly. It was mostly black and tan, with some white spots, and beside her Sev coughed, because the new position showed that it was most definitely a boy dog. 'Hello!' it said again, this time with the left-hand head.
The Evans family didn't have a dog, but their next-door neighbours did, and Lily had spent many happy hours tossing a ball for Bess-the-Beagle. The three heads didn't look like a beagle's, exactly, but all six eyes were warm and all three jaws gaped in the doggy equivalent of a smile. Lily took a deep breath and walked right up to it.
'Hello,' she said again. 'Um, can we go through?'
'I have three riddles!' the dog's middle head said cheerfully. 'If you answer them, you may pass!'
Riddles? Lily's heart sank. She wasn't good at riddles. But I have to try.
Sev was regarding the dog with interest. Lily braced herself. 'Okay…go ahead.'
The right head spoke in a voice that didn't sound doggy at all. 'To hide the heavens' rulers, and put the light away, find a day without a night, and a night without a day.'
Lily's throat closed. She'd never even heard of a riddle like that, and panic bloomed in her middle. A day without a night? That's impossible! Her mind scrambled for an answer, but she couldn't think of a thing. I don't know, I don't know—should I guess? But—
She felt her face growing hot, the precursor to tears, but then Sev spoke up, his voice crisp and confident. 'An eclipse.'
'Rrrright!' the head woofed, and tongues lolled all around. Lily whipped around to stare at her friend, who was gazing up at the dog with the wide-eyed, intent look he only got when he had a really interesting puzzle to work on.
'Sev! How did you know that?'
He grinned briefly at her, exhilarated and smug. 'I'm good at riddles.'
The left head pricked its ears. 'You cannot escape me, nor send me away; I'm kin to the night but my home is the day. I'm never there, yet unswervingly true; a complete blank but a model of you.'
Sev frowned hard, but he only hesitated a moment. 'My shadow.'
'Right! Right! Right!' the head barked happily. Lily shook her own head in amazement.
'Last one!' the middle head said. 'Fifty is my first, nothing is my second; a snake will make my third, then three parts a cross is reckoned. Now to find my name, fit my parts together; I am all your past, and you fear me in cold weather.'
Sev thought for so long that Lily's breath grew shallow with fear; what if he couldn't answer this one? But then his eyes widened, and he looked up at the dog and spoke, voice harsh. 'Lost.'
All three heads pointed their snouts at the sky and howled joyfully. Lily threw her arms around her friend and hugged him hard, ignoring the way he stiffened for a moment. 'Sev, you did it!'
His return hug was a little too tight, but she was too happy to care. 'Yeah, I did.' He smiled wonderingly, as if he hadn't believed that he could.
'Pass through! Pass through!' the heads shouted, and the dog danced out of the way, kicking the gate open with its hind leg. Lily let Sev go and ran forward, then paused long enough to reach up.
The right-hand head obligingly lowered itself far enough for her to scratch behind the nearest ear, and sighed in bliss. Lily ignored the blast of dog-breath. 'Thank you,' she said.
'I'm a good dog!' the middle head said happily.
The land beyond the scrapyard was meadow surrounded by young woods, which soon changed to shallow gorges with streams running down them, and then to a wide expanse of sand. They wandered on and on, making for a hill they couldn't always see in the distance. Lily gave up wondering how much time had passed; there was no way to tell, and she just had to have faith that they would reach Tuney in time.
Sev trudged along beside her, quieter than usual. His misadventure with the trees seemed to have cowed him somewhat, and Lily worried a little, but there wasn't much she could do about it, and finding Tuney was more important just then.
The way was always strange, and almost never straight. They had to dodge through a field of goblins playing an insane game of football—the ball looked disturbingly like a severed head—and pick their way across stepping stones in a lake populated with singing, flaming birds. There were huge furry creatures with scary horns and tusks, though fortunately they stayed far away; there were tiny winged people that fluttered around the flowers and screamed at them if they came too near.
And the hill drew closer, though very slowly.
The sun was getting low and orange when they found the road. It had no walls, and swung back and forth in gentle curves, looping upwards to a high wall halfway up a slope. The Goblin City's roofs weren't visible, but the pointy tops of the castle just poked over.
'Too easy,' Sev muttered, squinting upwards, but Lily ignored him.
'Come on, we're almost out of time!' She took off running, putting her head down and pushing hard, and she heard the thump of Sev's battered shoes behind her. But when she lifted her head they were no closer to the city—not one yard.
It was infuriating. No matter how fast they ran, they went nowhere. Lily tried and tried, even when Sev gave up and stood still, but her legs ached and burned and her breath came hard for nothing.
The tears were hot in her throat and eyes. Lily flung herself into the soft grass by the side of the impossible road, and wept.
'Lily—' Sev's voice was as hesitant as the hand he placed on her back, but she was sobbing too hard to answer him. Part of her wished he'd go away and forget he'd seen her cry, and part of her wanted a hug. 'Lily, don't. Maybe—maybe there's another way in.'
But he didn't sound like he believed it. Lily cried harder. Petunia—my sister—what am I going to tell Mum and Da? What will happen to her here? She'll have to stay here forever and it's my fault—
'Who are you?' Sev's voice was sharp, almost frightened. Lily rolled over quickly, smearing her wet face against her sleeve, and blinked in surprise, because the woman standing next to them was almost…ordinary.
She looked like Snow White, Lily thought—pale skin, dark hair, and red lips, though she was scarcely taller than either of them. She was wearing the sort of dress that Lily thought of as a princess gown, and when she smiled, it was a friendly expression.
'My name is Ariadne, and I live here.' Her accent was strange, a drawl Lily had heard on the telly—Canadian.
Lily swallowed, her throat raw from crying. 'Ariadne…isn't that like the spider woman?'
The woman grinned a little. 'You're thinking of Arachne. Ariadne was the mistress of mazes.'
'Oh.' Lily nodded; it had been a long time since she'd read that book. 'I'm Lily and this is Sev.'
'Don't!' Sev hissed. 'You don't know if you can trust her.'
Lily rolled her eyes. 'Sev. She's nice.'
The woman looked from one of them to the other. 'Lily…and Sev. Well.' For an instant she almost looked sad. 'I'm glad to meet you both.'
'If you live here, can you take us to the castle?' Sev asked suspiciously.
'That would be breaking the rules. But I can point you in the right direction.' Ariadne brushed her hair back, and Lily sighed a little in admiration. She was so pretty. 'This part of the Labyrinth is backwards, like a mirror. To get close, you have to go away.'
Lily frowned. 'What do you mean?'
Ariadne jerked her thumb back the way they'd come. 'Go that way, and you'll end up where you want to go.'
'That doesn't make any sense,' Sev objected.
Lily agreed, but she was too tired and worried to argue. 'Okay.' She pushed to her feet and brushed at her clothes, though by this point they were so grubby it didn't seem to make any difference.
Sev stood too, still glaring at Ariadne. 'Why are you helping us?'
Ariadne cocked a brow. 'I'm not helping you, kid, I'm helping her. Because—' She turned to face Lily. '—You took the baby home.'
Oh. Lily blinked again. 'You saw that?'
Ariadne grinned. 'I see a lot of things. Now hurry, the sun's almost set.'
Lily glanced over her shoulder, suddenly afraid. 'What if I'm out of time already?'
The woman shook her head. 'You're not—there are rules. Time is a funny thing, especially in the Labyrinth.' Now she really was sad, though Lily couldn't see why. 'Listen, I want you to remember something, okay?' She looked right at Sev. 'There's always room for second chances.'
Sev's brow wrinkled, but if Ariadne's statement made any sense to him it didn't show. The woman winked, smiling again, and…simply faded away.
'That was weird,' Sev said grumpily.
'Yeah.' Lily didn't have time to debate it. She grabbed his hand, took a deep breath, and ran away from the castle.
Five steps later, they were running through a huge gate, into a tiny, shadowy street lined with houses that looked as if they were built for children. There was no one around, except for more of the tumbling dust-bunnies and a few perfectly common chickens, but Lily felt like eyes were watching them from the shutter-bound windows.
'Uphill,' Sev ordered, sounding winded, and they ran and ran, hands linked, always seeking the steepest slope amongst the dusty, cobbled streets.
The last one ended at a thick wall barred by another gate, but when Lily reached out to push they swung open at her touch.
The castle was as dirty as the city, and cold to boot. Sev's hand was so tight that Lily's fingers ached, but she wasn't going to complain. It was creepy; if she'd felt eyes on her before, the sensation was tripled now, and they weren't friendly eyes.
Arched hallways led to a sort of multi-level room, one thick with trash and drippy candles, but Lily scarcely saw them—the clock on the wall fixed her attention. It was just a few minutes before the hour—the thirteenth hour.
'Tuney?' Her shout echoed forlornly, but no answer came back. And then Sev gasped.
She turned to look. The weird horseshoe-shaped chair that had been empty a moment before was now occupied. The Goblin King sat sideways in it, legs propped up and a sneer on his face.
And at the foot of the throne sat Tuney. She was asleep or unconscious, head lolling back; her dress was smudged with dirt and her hair was tangled, but beneath the snarls was her familiar impatient frown.
Lily's heart turned over. She let go of Sev's hand and dashed forward, but the shallow steps down to the sunken space in the middle of the room vanished, revealing a dark pit that belched forth a nasty smell and an echoing howl.
Lily teetered on the edge, arms windmilling, and for an icy second she was sure she was going to topple into that endless blackness. But then a small strong hand fastened onto the back of her shirt and yanked her backwards.
'Careful,' Sev said lowly, backing them both away a step or two. 'This is going to be hard.'
'He's quite right,' the King said lazily, smirking at them. 'Did you think I would make it simple?'
Lily thought back over all the trouble and danger of their journey to the castle, the King's casual cruelty, the time she thought she'd lost Sev, and she wanted to scream at him. But that wouldn't help Tuney. She took a deep breath. 'Give me back my sister.'
'Why?' The King swung his legs off the seat and stood gracefully, propping his hands on his hips. 'She's petty and annoying and always thinks she knows best. Why do you want her back?'
Lily gaped at him, astonished by the question. 'She's my sister.'
The King rolled his eyes. 'As if that made the slightest bit of difference.' He stepped forward, onto the empty air above the pit, and it held him up as if he walked on solid ground. 'She's a thorn in your side, little flower, a killjoy who will always try to ruin your happiness because she cannot have it for herself.'
Behind Lily Sev snorted, and she knew he agreed with the King. In fact, Lily knew she kind of did too; Tuney wasn't always very nice. But—
'She's my sister,' she repeated firmly.
'You said that already.' The King folded his arms and looked bored.
Lily stared at him and struggled to find the right words, and an echo of her mother's voice drifted up from memory. 'We're family. We're supposed to love each other even when we don't always like each other.' She tilted up her chin. 'Give her back.'
'Are you sure?' the King asked, with another nasty smile. 'Wouldn't you rather I kept her? I can always use more goblins, you know…and she'd be no more unhappy here than back where she belongs.'
His voice deepened, and for once he looked completely serious. 'Your bossy sister is a goblin at heart,' he said. 'Greedy and selfish and petty. Lily, leave her with me, and grow up free. Your parents will forget, in time, and remember only in dreams. And you can have a life unspoiled by her meanness.'
His words were so soft, so very tempting. Lily knew exactly what the King meant; sometimes it seemed like she had no joy that Tuney did not try to spoil.
But there were good times, too, shared games and giggles, whispered secrets and a bar of chocolate split exactly down the middle. And while the small mean part of her murmured that the King deserved to have to deal with an unhappy Tuney, it just wouldn't be fair.
Lily didn't know how to make the King give her sister back. But she had to try.
She glanced back at Sev, who was staring at them both, wide-eyed and frozen. But his hand, dangling at his side, twitched, and Lily saw that he had two fingers extended. Two, and then three.
Things in stories come in threes.
She pulled back her shoulders, and summoned all of her determination. The King's face darkened. 'Lily…' he said warningly, sounding terrifyingly adult, but Lily pulled in a huge breath.
'I don't have to listen to you!' she shouted. 'Give me back my sister!'
The flash of light half-blinded her. The King vanished in a puff of smoke, and a rattling boom echoed off the walls and down the bottomless shaft in front of them. Beneath their feet, the floor quivered threateningly, and dust sifted down from the ceiling.
And across the pit, Tuney moaned and stirred.
Lily dodged around the gap so quickly that her shoes skidded on the worn stone. The castle was groaning around them, the walls shifting as if the whole place was going to come down around their ears, but Lily only had eyes for her sister. She flung herself onto the floor next to Petunia, patting the dirty face frantically. 'Tuney? Tuney, can you hear me?'
Petunia moaned again, but her eyes didn't open. Behind her, Sev muttered a bad word and came around to crouch on Tuney's other side. 'If we each take an arm I think we can pick her up.'
It took some tugging, but they got Tuney up between them, one limp arm around each of their necks, though she still seemed mostly unconscious. Sev looked around, scowling. 'We must get out of here.'
As if to defy his words, the castle shook harder, and the passage they'd used to enter collapsed in a roar of blocks and dust. Lily coughed, looking around. 'The windows?'
Sev shoved Tuney unceremoniously into Lily's arms and dashed to the nearest one, only to shake his head grimly. 'Too far down.'
Lily staggered a little under her sister's weight, squeezing her eyes shut. There has to be a way out. In the stories, there's always a way out.
'It's the pit, Sev,' she said, struggling to be heard over the rumble of disintegrating stone. 'We have to jump.'
Sev's face screwed up in a mix of disgust and disbelief. 'Down there?'
Lily took a firmer grip on Tuney. 'I told you, it's magic.'
He huffed, but came back and took Petunia's arm again, bracing Lily's slipping grasp. 'Are you sure?'
Lily tilted her head at the shivering ceiling. 'Do you want to stay here?'
Sev scrunched up his nose, but nodded, and together they stepped towards the pit.
Everything stopped—the noise, the shaking, the very dust. The silence was suddenly deafening, and Lily and Sev halted at the edge of the drop.
The King had returned, standing on the far side once more, their positions reversed. He held a long stick in his hand, one that Lily recognised after a moment as a riding crop, and his sneer was back. But this time his gaze was fixed on Sev.
'Your friend has won her sister back,' he said softly. 'But Severus, you made it through my Labyrinth too, and you have not claimed a prize.'
Sev stiffened, staring back just as haughtily. 'I don't want one.'
'But you deserve one.' The King paced slowly around the edge of the pit, never taking his eyes from Sev. 'I can hardly let you leave unrewarded; that would be breaking the rules.'
'I—I don't want anything.' Sev's voice was hard but thin, and Lily saw him blink as the King drew near. 'I just want to go home.'
'Home to what?' the King said, even more quietly. 'To a father who beats you, a mother who scorns you? To hunger and dirt and privation? To harsh words and cruelties?' Slowly, he raised the crop until the tip nudged under Sev's chin. 'Here is what I offer you, Severus, descendant of Princes. Stay here, with me.'
Lily felt as frozen as the castle, unable to speak or move, though her whole heart seemed to shriek in protest. Sev said nothing, and the King smiled, the twisted, half-bitter smile they'd seen before. 'Stay here,' he murmured, and Sev swallowed. 'I will make you a prince in truth—give you power beyond even your mother's dreams, and set you beside me to rule. Stay here, and be my heir…my chosen one.'
Sev's eyes were huge and dark, and Lily knew. He was tempted. She couldn't blame him; the King's words were true, though the knowledge made her feel ill. Sev's life really was awful.
And the King meant it. That mask-like face was open now, as fixed on Sev as Sev's was on him, and the small voice in her head whispered wonderingly, is he lonely?
As if she'd spoken, Sev's head turned slow and stiff to look at her over Tuney's drooping head. Lily could read the question in his gaze as clear as anything.
You should tell him to stay. The Labyrinth would be a better home than the one he had now, and the King could hardly be worse; staying would mean giving up every bit of his old life, but he would be safe and possibly even happy.
But she would never see him again. Ever.
Sev's eyes were growing desperate. Lily tried to swallow, and couldn't; she couldn't speak.
She shook her head, a tiny movement back and forth. Small and frightened and selfish, but definite.
The expression that flashed over Sev's face went too quickly for her to make it out, but it looked oddly happy. He turned back to face the King, and drew himself up. 'No. But thank you,' he added hastily.
Lily was afraid that the King would argue further, but instead the crop's tip fell away and the King stepped backward, looking frustrated. 'Be certain,' he said harshly. 'For if you leave my realm now, you may never return.'
Sev looked at him, then hitched Tuney's arm higher. 'We're going home,' he said firmly.
The King actually rolled his eyes, stepping backward again to once more stand on the empty air above the pit. 'Then go!'
He gestured sharply, and a wind came out of nowhere, shoving them all towards the lip of the abyss. The King disappeared, the castle rumbled and groaned, and all three of them slid gracelessly over the edge, dropping down with a shriek and a yell and—
—tumbling to a dusty, dew-wet stop on the same meadow Lily and Sev had left all those strange hours ago.
It didn't look as though any time had passed; the moon was still in the same position, and it felt like the same spring evening, half-past supper-time. The moment when Lily had wished Tuney away with the goblins seemed long ago, though it had been just that afternoon.
On the far side of Tuney's prone body, Sev levered himself onto his elbows and looked around. 'I think we're back.'
Before Lily could answer, Petunia moaned and rolled over, and Sev scooted hastily out of the way. Lily grabbed at her sister's hand. 'Tuney?'
Petunia's eyes opened, and she stared blankly up at the sky. 'What…what…what happened?'
Lily's grin was so wide it hurt. 'Oh, Tuney, are you all right?'
Her sister blinked rapidly. 'My head hurts. And what's that smell?'
'You don't remember what happened?' Sev's voice was challenging, but Tuney didn't seem to notice.
'We were playing…' she said, sounding puzzled and petulant. 'Did I fall asleep? I dreamt of monsters.'
Lily felt a huge wash of relief. If Tuney didn't remember the goblins or the Labyrinth, things would be so much easier.
Lily's gaze met Sev's, and they silently agreed. 'You fainted,' she said, sounding as awed as possible. 'Right in the middle of the game.' If Tuney didn't remember the infuriating argument that had led Lily to make her stupid wish, all the better.
'I did?' Tuney blinked again, and Lily could see the idea taking hold. 'I fainted? Really?'
'Really,' Lily confirmed, and sat back on her heels and watched as Petunia's sense of drama kicked in. On Tuney's other side, Sev rolled his eyes, but he was smirking.
In the end, it was he who ran to the Evans' house to fetch help, though Lily suspected it was more to get away from Tuney's hysterics. She stayed with her sister, patiently enduring the fuss, knowing that it was mostly deliberate. Tuney adored attention, and being sick was one of her favourite ways to get it.
Within the hour, Tuney was tucked up in bed and enjoying the attentions of both her parents. Lily took the opportunity to slip out into the garden, grateful for the escape.
As she'd expected, Sev was waiting on the other side of the gate, mostly hidden in the cool spring darkness but the dingy white of his shirt giving him away. Lily shivered a little and pulled her cardigan tighter around herself, and stepped up to the other side, giving him a smile as he raised his brows.
'Oh, she's in bed,' Lily said in answer to his silent question. 'Mum and Da are looking after her.'
Sev snorted. 'Bet she's chuffed.'
Lily shrugged, amused. 'Come on, after spending time with that nasty King, don't you think she sort of deserves it?'
Sev didn't answer. He shifted from one foot to the other, eyes gleaming a little as they caught the light from the streetlamp. 'It really happened, didn't it?'
Lily pursed her lips. 'Of course it did. Aren't you the expert on magic?'
Sev shook his head, stepping up to the gate. 'That wasn't magic like I know.'
He was watching her, like he always did, but there was something different in his expression now, and it took her a little while to work it out. He doesn't look so worried any more. 'Are you going to tell your mother about it?'
He shook his head again. Lily gave a silent sigh. He needs looking after.
It was a familiar feeling, though she'd never put it into words before. Lily remembered those last few minutes, how Sev had waited for her before making his choice to leave the Labyrinth. I guess…it's kind of up to me then.
It was a good thought. Lily lifted her chin, then stepped forward herself, until she was almost pressed against the gate's other side. 'Sev…why did you come back?'
He cocked his head, regarding her, and then smiled the slow sweet smile that she almost never saw. Lifting one hand, Sev touched her cheek, and Lily held very still, as if he might be startled away if she moved.
'Someday, I'll tell you,' he said softly. 'I promise.'
And then the back door opened and Lily's mother called her name, and Sev vanished into the darkness.
Lily grinned. You'd better, she thought, and turned to go back inside.
Fifty is my first,
Nothing is my second,
Five just makes my third,
My fourth a vowel is reckoned.
Now to find my name,
Fit my parts together,
I die if I get cold,
But never fear cold weather.