Title: The Horns of Elfland
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, brief and one-sided Harry/others
Warnings: Angst, creature fic, Hogwarts "eighth year"
Summary: Harry couldn't even get a bloody splinter without it turning into something that affected his life and made him crave a mate. And that mate was Draco Malfoy, which only meant the universe had it in for him. Wasn't Voldemort enough for one lifetime?
Author's Notes: This is in response to a request by aether_sprite, who wanted Harry as a creature that craves the mate, Draco rejecting him at first, and a pining Harry. The title comes from Tennyson's poem The Princess. This story will have four parts.
The Horns of Elfland
Harry stared at his hand. Then he stared at the mirror. Then he stared back at his hand.
He supposed he should be more concerned about what was happening to his face, but really, his hand was about the limit of what he could deal with right now.
Harry had been serving detention in the Forbidden Forest for throwing a firework into Blaise Zabini's cauldron. McGonagall had scolded him, saying that students who had been through a war and were older than most seventh-year students were when they left school should be beyond such pranks.
Well, Harry also thought older students who had survived such a war should be beyond calling each other "Mudbloods," but apparently Zabini wasn't. Therefore, Harry got to be immature in response.
There had been an incident when Harry put his hand on a tree as he leaned around it to scrape off some fungi that Slughorn apparently needed for one of his potions, and something had stabbed him neatly in the skin between his thumb and the next finger. But when Harry had pulled his hand back and looked, it had just been a little embedded grey splinter. He had pulled it out and forgotten about it.
There was a soft glow around his hair, which made it seem as though it had blue-black shadows in it or something. There was more than a hint of a point to his ears. He had fingers that had gone so long and slender and white he knew Dudley would be laughing at him about being a pansy if he was here.
And his eyes now had slit pupils, and there was a sort of soft glow to his skin, too.
Harry closed his eyes and shook his head. He knew what he looked like. He also knew that it was probably the splinter's fault, unless Voldemort had laid some curse that was supposed to break out and make him look like this. And he also knew that elves like this weren't supposed to exist in the wizarding world. It was house-elves or nothing. Or fairies, he supposed, but that wasn't on, either. He wasn't small, for one thing.
At least, he didn't think so. He opened one eye to check suspiciously on his height, which had finally got to be normal during the last year, and sighed.
Then he went to find Hermione.
"It would be easier if you'd kept the splinter from the tree," Hermione said, for approximately the thousandth and sixty-third time.
"Give it a rest, Hermione," Ron said, and since they had got together, he did appear to be able to say that without causing an immediate row. He leaned forwards across the breakfast table. They were there, had been there for the past half-hour, with Harry under a glamour and Hermione holding a heavy book on her lap. "Besides, you wouldn't be looking like that if you hadn't found an answer. I know that gleam in your eyes."
Hermione fell silent with a little blush. Harry sighed as he watched them. He wished he'd felt the urge to get back together with Ginny at any point since the war ended. He wished that he could find someone attractive. His chest monster appeared to have gone back into hiding.
And now, who knew what would happen if he touched or kissed someone with his ridiculous…elfness.
"I was going to say," Hermione said, with a prim little sniff, "you keeping the splinter would have made things easier, but it's not impossible." She turned the book around so Harry could read it. "You've been hearing a soft, distant noise, haven't you? Would you say it was like horns?"
Harry stared at her. Then he remembered that he shouldn't be so amazed this was Hermione, and nodded a little. "Yeah," he said. "What kind of symptom is it?"
"You're hearing the horns of Elfland, apparently," Hermione said, and tapped the book. Harry leaned down to read, absent-mindedly reaching up to adjust his glasses before he remembered that they were a glamour. His eyesight wasn't perfect—for one thing, he seemed to notice a lot of little things that he never did before, like the glow of sunlight through windows, that could distract him now—but he could read without glasses.
When an elf first manifests, they may hear the horns of Elfland. This is a sign that their own spiritual nature, wrenched from Elfland and placed in the real, mortal world, is in need of a chosen—or a 'mate,' as vulgar humans may term it. The mate will be the one whose aura blows a horn in tune with the one the elf is hearing.
Harry shuddered a little. Yes, all right, he was probably an elf if he had…elf-ness. He only wished the book had chosen a different way to phrase it.
"And what happens without the mate?" he asked, leaning back in his chair as Hermione picked up the book again. "Do I keel over and die? Do I start transforming into something even more elf-like? And how can this world be less real than the elven one?" he added, frowning as he thought about it. How did that work?
"I don't know the immediate answer to that last question," said Hermione, and Harry gave her an unimpressed stare. He knew the meaning of that kind of evasive answer: she did know some of the answers to the rest. A second later, Hermione gave in with a soft sigh and nodded. "Yes. There's a negative consequence to not finding your mate. You'll begin to fade from existence. Elves are divided into a physical body and a spiritual—or I suppose you could call it fey—essence. If you don't have a mate to ground you, then the fey essence goes back to Elfland, and your body simply fades."
Harry shut his eyes, feeling nauseated. "How could a splinter have caused this?" he whispered.
"I'm afraid it was elf-shot." Hermione looked apologetic when Harry opened his eyes and gazed at her again—which she should, because Harry had no idea what she meant. "Like small arrows that elves usually shoot at people. Or leave behind, in this case. It must have latched onto you when it sensed a potential human victim passing, and, well. This is what happens." She opened her hand towards Harry with a small, apologetic grimace.
Harry buried his head in his hands. "I suppose there's no geographical limit on this mate?" he muttered into them. "It could be someone who lives countries away, or who's already dead, or—"
"No," said Hermione firmly. "It will be someone at Hogwarts. Elf-shot doesn't function very well when it gets far away from its point of origin. You're—well, I suppose you could say that you'll start to feel more comfortable in the Forbidden Forest, because it's that particular piece of elf-shot's point of origin. And you'll find your mate somewhere in the vicinity, too."
"I suppose it might be a centaur or something like that?" Harry was trying to sound as calm as he could, even though what he really wanted was to scream and tear his hair out. When he saw the way Ron paled, he snorted a little. Yeah, he was pretty sure he was the calmer out of the two of them, and Ron didn't even have to face the fact that he had a mate out there.
"No," said Hermione slowly. "Centaurs are magical beings themselves, not humans. From what I read, elf-shot transforms humans into elves, so they need a human mate."
Harry tried to subject that to analysis, and then gave up with a weary wave of his hand. "All right," he said. "Then you think I should—what? Wander around and listen?"
"I'm afraid that's all you can do for right now," said Hermione, and gave him an apologetic glance.
"Listen to Ginny first, mate," was Ron's unhelpful advice. "You know that she's been wanting to get back together with you since—"
"I know," Harry said between gritted teeth, and got up to go to Potions. He reckoned Professor Slughorn would want him to attend class, if only so he could chide Harry for letting his skills "slip," whether Harry was turning into an elf or not.
Becoming fey, as Hermione insisted on referring to it whenever they were alone and she was trying to pester Harry into talking about it, was weird.
Harry could see molecules when he really concentrated. He didn't often, because the image of them swarming all over pieces of paper or whatever he was looking at gave him a headache. He could smell things that he'd never smelled before, which resulted in him nearly gagging to death when they had to make a potion using bubotuber pus, and going into a cacophony of sneezes when Neville, sitting next to him, started eating some especially smelly cheese.
The only advantage of his sensitive nose was that he was making fewer mistakes in Potions than he had since he'd got rid of Snape's book. He knew when something wasn't supposed to go into the potion right then, because he knew what a correct potion should smell like from sniffing Hermione's or Malfoy's cauldrons.
And he could hear new things, oh yes.
It started about two days after Hermione told him he'd have to listen for his mate. Soft, welling sounds started to play around him. It startled him badly enough that he did ruin one potion dropping in a huge glopping handful of kelp, but then he realized that the noise was jangling and coming from Hermione's aura.
And it set his teeth on edge.
"What's the matter?" Hermione whispered to him, and Harry gave her a sickly smile as his only answer, which luckily she seemed to understand at once. "Oh, it's starting?" She paused for a breathless second, and added, "It's not me, is it?"
Harry gave a quick shake of his head. No, it wasn't her. Honestly, if it was he would have committed himself to fading. Hermione and Ron deserved the happiness they had found after the war, and he knew Hermione had never felt that way about Harry himself.
"Oh, thank God," Hermione said, and then flushed. "I mean—I would have done my best to honor—"
"I know," said Harry. "No, it's not you. You said it was supposed to sound like horns? Hunting horns?"
Hermione nodded, and lowered her voice as Professor Slughorn peered at them from the front of the classroom. "Yes. High and faint and sweet, that's what the book said. But with a little bit of a wild tone."
"I suppose I'll know it when I hear it," Harry muttered. He wasn't looking forward to a whole week, or month, or more, of discordant music.
It was worse than that, Harry found. It was a deafening orchestra.
Some people jangled, like Hermione. Some clanged, like Neville, who in Harry's perception was now constantly accompanied by a chorus of invisible cymbals. Ginny's aura sounded like flutes, which made it a relief to be near her, but it definitely wasn't hunting horns, and Harry tried not to be near her too often. She still threw him hopeful looks when she thought he wasn't looking back.
What there definitely weren't, were hunting horns.
Harry stared into the mirror a month after he had first begun to change, and studied his face without the glamour. Was the glow paler, softer? Had he started fading? He had no idea. He had to say that he didn't look human without the glamour, but he had no idea if his face was actually more transparent than it had been the month before…
Or if that was only his imagination.
Harry sighed, reapplied the glamour, and went down to breakfast.
He had come without Hermione, for once, or Ron (drums being played so loudly it was hard to hear his voice). Only a few students from other Houses were there, mostly Ravenclaws. Harry chewed his breakfast and stared at his hands.
He knew he should be thinking about what he was going to do after Hogwarts. Could he still be an Auror? Could he get the NEWTS that would let him do anything else? What did he want to do besides be an Auror?
But he simply couldn't focus his mind. Besides, for all he knew, being an elf might kill him before then.
He had chomped his way through a bowl of porridge that tasted as unappetizing as bark when he heard it. A distant, soft sound of hunting horns. Harry jerked his head up and turned around, staring.
He thought the sound would fade, for a moment; that blasted book of Hermione's had also said that sometimes elves wanted the sign of their "true mate" to be real so badly that they could hallucinate the horns. But it kept sounding, drawing nearer, and Harry scanned the room rapidly, hopefully.
He mostly saw students whose music he already heard, though. Maybe it was someone approaching the door of the Great Hall? Harry turned to look.
Draco Malfoy stepped through them.
And the horns rang as loudly as though a whole hunt was riding right past Harry.
Harry buried his head in his hands.
Yeah, the universe likes to fuck with me.