The Faery Mound
Harriel & Arwen
It was an old tree. The bark was typically slick and grey when young, but this one's bark was browned and fissured with age. The branches and shoots holding aloft the great green canopy above Harriel's head were murky grey, covered in coarse hairs, dappled with toothed leaves and leaf buds, purple-black and squat in shape. The roots were mottled, dipping and diving back into the soil and moss, knotted and knitting into one massive web half unseen.
A Wych Elm.
A rare sight these days. Most Wych Elms had been destroyed by the Dutch Elm disease spreading through Europe like wildfire. It was strange to see one so old, so strong, just… Sitting there, virtually in her back garden.
Virtually in her back garden with a bountiful nestle of Death Cap mushrooms sitting at its ensnared base.
It was almost like the old tree knew exactly how to lure Harriel in.
Naturally, given the name Death Cap, the mushroom was highly poisonous. Symptoms would start several hours after eating, a ghastly blend of vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pains and partial seizures. Then came the honeymoon phase, a period of a couple of days where everything seemed to be fine, a full glorious recovery, only to end a little while later when the person dropped down dead of kidney or liver failure.
The Death Cap, however, did not taste remotely like death -and as someone who had died, more than once mind you, Harriel thought death tasted like mildew and copper, repulsively mild-, it tasted deep and lush, like the earth itself spiced with something tingling, and the most delicious thing Harriel and ever eaten.
Of which she had eaten many, and never, not once, died of it.
The perfect morning snack made wonderful when smothered in honey.
Much better than grease soaked bacon.
Humming to herself, Harriel dropped down her wicker basket, tumbled to her knees in the soggy moss and mud, and began plucking. The Death Caps had grown… Peculiar, huddled in a wide arching circle -a fairy mound, people called it, home to the Fae, or a portal to another, stranger realm-, and, idly, she pondered what doorway would be hewn from Death Caps of all things, if legends were true.
Evidently, none of it was true. Just folklore and myth, mushrooms were simply mushrooms despite how they grew, and Elms only Elms in spite of their names, and magic never truly worked in the way you expected it to.
Oh, Harriel knew that one all too well, thank you.
The ground beneath her knees was chill, damp with morning dew, and the climbing light of dawn was only barely breaking the horizon. This, the dirt on her fingers, the smell of Death Caps in her nose, the soft morn light, reminded Harriel of when she was a little girl.
She had not gotten to eat often -only when Petunia remembered that, despite all her eccentricities, Harriet did, in fact, need food just as much as the next child-, and some days -most days-, her only meal came from the cluster of Death Caps she foraged from behind Petunia's garden shed when she was haggled outside to plant Petunia's beds of roses and chrysanthemums, both equally delicious too.
Of course, Harriel had not known they were poisonous as a child, let alone called Death Caps, but a hungry child would eat almost anything -apart from meat, meat only made her vomit and fiercely ill for days on end-, and she would sit behind that shed, bruised and skinny and lonely, and chew away on flower heads and fatal mushrooms and patches of lichen she had scrapped off the pavement stones of the garden path.
Harriel had food now, certainly, so much of it and so effortlessly attainable from the kitchen pantry that she did not know what to do with it all, but some days… Some days she liked to go back to her roots, get deep down into the earth with the worms and loam and mycelium webs.
It reminded her of how far she had come from that terrified child.
How much further she might still go.
Twisting the last mushroom free, Harriel plopped it into her mouth -delightfully deadly-, and the humming halted as she chewed and wiped her grubby fingers off on the thighs of her jeans.
Yet, the music held on, wafting in the chilly breeze -not so chilly to Harriel-, soft and smooth and supple, and Harriel, tired, sighed deeply, glancing to the Wych Elm almost accusingly.
"I swear, I've had that song stuck in my head for the last fortnight. I wonder if my neighbours know other music exists… I don't suppose you know who's playing it? It sounds like a man... Men... Two... Similar in tone...But there's two, isn't there?"
The Wych Elm's leaves rustled in the wind, strangely akin to a chuckle, but nothing more. What did she expect? An answer? Even to a witch or wizard, trees did not speak.
But, Harriel thought, they did listen.
Was the singing driving the Elm as mad as her?
Glancing around her, Harriel peered into the trees surrounding the small brook and Wych Elm.
"It's clearer here, louder too… Enticing."
Coming to a stand, tasty-deadly mushrooms and basket forgotten, she found herself strolling around the tree, music lifting higher the further she came to the trunk, higher still when palm pressed bark, notes thrumming just beneath her skin like the pulse of a heartbeat. Her foot lifted, raising over a large coiled root, ready to slip over, around the tree, across the bend and-
"Harry? You out here? I've cooked us up some breakfast!"
Hermione's voice came calling from somewhere behind. Harriel's foot retreated and she blinked, music crashing down low around her, all but a whisper now. Backing away, she plucked up her basket, and made for home.
She only glanced back to the Wych Elm once.
Arwen's brothers should have been dead. Arwen knew this, as she knew the sun would rise tomorrow, and life would carry on. Elladan and Elrohir, her dear brothers, should be dead… But they were not.
However, they were hardly living, either.
"Sell, what are you doing all the way up here, and not down with the others below?"
Her father's, Lord Elrond, voice was calm, as cool and as still as a river, strong but deceptively subdued. He came, in a flurry and flutter of velvet robe, gliding out the curved and woven archway of the balcony, the very same Arwen had used to hide herself away in only for a moment of composure and tranquillity, and instead, unearthed only concern.
"Our guests are settling in, Ada?"
Elrond came to a towering stop beside her, resting his slim hands upon the rail of the balcony, peering below and, surely, noticing what she had been staring so intently at.
Her brothers, resting at a low table in the gardens, enveloped by guests and fine drink and music and cheer, silent, still, there and not quite there at all. Ghosts in all but flesh.
"Perhaps too well. Thranduil has demanded the chambers of the highest tower, but I fear Lady Galadriel has already spoken for those rooms, and I would so like to see the Greenwood King try and take those from our Lady of Lothlorien."
For the first time that night, Arwen chuckled, and her father, who saw all too much and knew even more still, knew she needed a distraction from the heartbreak below, braced his hand upon hers and squeezed.
"That is terrible, father."
Her answer was a gentle smile.
"Perhaps, but one can dream."
And dream they did, particularly upon a day such as this.
For this was Nost, the celebration of family, house, and kindred. Where elves, both great and small and topped in crowns, gathered and commemorated all they loved and held dear, for nothing was of more import to an elf than family.
This year, a fine year of summer heat and bright starlight, Nost was to be held in Imladris, and the great gates had opened at dawn, and kin had been flooding in since.
And that was why Arwen worried so, for her brothers, the Gwanûn, this day, of all days, would be hard and brutal, and cruel beyond measure.
The twins had always been close, intertwined like the roots of a ancient tree, one only half of the whole, they had shared all. Bath and play, and food and song, story and adventure, and…
A pregnant Fair Folk wife slain by an orcish raid in the low mountains as she travelled back from visiting Lady Galadriel, while the Twins had been finding their mother, their sweet mother, injured and dying from another orc attack.
Arwen only had her father here, beside her, because of his children, for if not for them, if not for their continued existence tying him to this realm, she did not doubt he too would have sailed for the undying lands to be with their mother.
For a long while after, both father and daughter expected Elladan and Elrohir to fade as mother had, to wither and wilt, the loss of a wife and an unborn babe was dreadful, lethal to elves, but ten and eight years on, here they sat, alive but not living, food as ash on tongue, and thirst that could not be quenched, something caught between this world and the next, something entirely sad and sorrowful.
It was not a fate Arwen wished upon anyone
It was not a fate that should exist.
Her brothers should be dead.
What was stopping Elrohir and Elladan from fading wholly?
What was tying them here, as father was bound by his children?
She was not so arrogant to believe it was love for her or father constraining them here, for if it was, what a cruel sort of love it had to be.
Some days, Arwen does not question this. She is only thankful they are, in some shade, here, with her, and she felt a little selfish for those thoughts. On others, like this, knowing all to well what they must be suffering, what must be haunting them, a family massacred before it could truly be a family at all, she wept for them, for she knew that they could not weep themselves.
Not any longer.
Fading left an elf cold and barren, scorched land left to gnaw.
They would not joke again, they would not laugh again, they would not love again. All that had vanished the day Lily and their child died, and could only return once they did, and death, so frightfully consuming, did not often return its meals.
Elrond rubbed a thumb along the peak of her knuckles.
"Fear not, dear one. Elladan and Elrohir will make it through this day, as they have made it through all the rest."
Arwen glanced to the darkening sky, stars peeking through the deep blue. The singing would start soon. That had been Lily's favourite.
"Have they truly? For I look and I cannot see my brothers. Only husks. How much longer can this last?"
"As long as it must, until we can find an answer, until we can see Elladan and Elrohir whole and hearty, and if I have a say, dear daughter, no more, no less."
Harriel was used to the nightmares that plagued her at night. How could she not be? She was raised in nightmares, baked and bound like a trussed up piglet, and now? Now they are simply what they were.
Terrible things, but blissfully temporary.
Dreams that were part memory and something else completely, something fiendish and wicked and thorny to the touch. Harriel awoke from them in awful sweats, breathless, aching, cold -so very bloody cold-, pained and lost. She dreamt of Voldemort's laughter, and Sirius's soul wrapped in a veil, and children falling down around her like petals blown free to the cackle of Bellatrix.
And the worst, the very worst, was the dreams of the eye.
Harriel dreamt she heard screaming, so much screaming, a land burned down to ashes and dreadful darkness, where brother turned on brother, and flesh was ripped and devoured, and a colossal red gleaming eye, an eye of fire and fury and everything wrong -just an eye, always an eye, forever that terrible, terrible eye-, searching for her, seeking, probing, hunting.
Yet, that night, another dream of the terrible eye, and Harriel awoke to the night in her bedroom in her grandparents home, and, where it would typically take her hours to calm the frantic beat of her heart, or warm the glacial chill to her skin, or stop the trembling of her hand, she was comforted immediately.
Because her bedroom window was left open, and Harriel could hear the singing again, wafting in the wind, drifting in from the dark woods outside.
She was out of bed before she truly knew what she was doing, leaning far out of the window, staring over to the silver cast trees.
The men had been joined my other voices, another two males if Harriel could pick apart the notes, and... Yes, two females, high, soft, lovely-
There's no fear here, no ache or pain or loss or nightmares, only… Solace. Solace and song and…
And something calling her home.
There was one thing for it.
Harriel was going to find the singing if it was the last thing she did.
Arwen remembered the day Lily appeared in Imladris, tumbling out the Wych Elm trunk, bedraggled and confused, demanding at stick point for the music to stop, as if it were only yesterday, and to an elf, perhaps it was.
The Fair Folk were a vague relative to the elves, though they could not be more different. They were prone to mischief and tomfoolery, easy to offence and anger, quicker to love and adore, but once the respect and passion of a Fair Folk was earned, it was nearly impossible to see it lost.
The same could be said for their hatred and anger.
If anything, a Faery was fervent in all things, both horrendous and magnificent.
Lily had a drop of the Fair Folk blood to her -as a distant relation, it was how she heard their music at all, and it was how she managed to hop realms through the Fair Folk Mounds-, and a drop was all she needed. The Fair Folk did not work as other's did, there was no half and half to a Good Neighbour, they always did things in whole, all or nothing, and kin and blood was much the same.
You were either a Fae or you were not.
There was no middle ground.
Lineages could go decades and centuries and not be Faery, and then, one day, one was born. They preferred to mingle with other races, or so the record tomes said. Beings wholly Faery and wholly something else too, doubled and multiplied, adopting and absorbing and growing, like fungi moulded into trees, symbiotic and mutual, but still its own mushroom.
They had their own magic, and their own way -often upside down and inside out and confounding to anyone other than a Faery-, and they were gone.
They were the first race to feel Melkor's wrath. The first to feel the heat of obliteration and eradication. Melkor had hit them fast, and hit them hard, and slain them all so very long ago. Possibly, her father said, because they had the talent to travel between worlds, between spaces, between dusk and dawn and death and life.
That's where you found the Fair Folk, in the between places.
And then Lily came tumbling out the Wych Elm, between the trunk and earth, and perhaps, after all, not all Fae were lost.
Perhaps some had managed to escape, flee to the between spaces, places not easily reached, and conceivably they grew and strengthened, and possibly, there were more out there, somewhere, lines waiting to be born, stories waiting to be told amongst the lines, songs without a tune to carry.
Perhaps, conceivably, possibly.
No one truly knew.
Yet, Arwen wondered.
Lily had been a Fae, a thing that had not been so very secret, and she had been with child, a child wholly Fae and wholly Noldor, and the orc raid that saw her, and the child, dead and lost perhaps was not so random. Perhaps it was not so unintentional. Perhaps.
"You seem distracted lately, Harry."
Harriel, hunched over a bowl of grapes, twisting and snapping brittle stems, scoffed.
"It's the bloody singing… You really can't hear it?"
Hermione, from over the breakfast table, shook her head, a crease of worry furrowing between her brows. Harriel sagged.
She had spent the last two weeks trailing the woods up and down and all around, and still, she came up empty handed. No singing, and more crucially, no faces to go along with the singing. She had even gone as far as visiting their closest neighbours, an old couple with a little dog called Chester, and an abandoned farm, all too far away to be the cause of the singing.
And still, Harriel heard it.
It was loudest in the mornings and night, at dusk and dawn, the time between times, but slowly, surely, it bled into the day, to noon and evening and midnight, until it was there, that beautifully vexing singing, every hour, every day, every week.
Even here, even now, she heard the singing.
Perhaps Harriel was going insane.
It sure felt like it, and what an end would that be. She had faced down Voldemort, flew a griffin, out sailed a dragon, slain a troll, fought a war, died and lived again, all to go rushing into madness by a four stave piece of chorus.
"What did the Healers at Saint Mungo's say?"
The grape between her fingers burst, bleeding purple between her strained hand.
"Nothing. They've found nothing wrong… But then again, it's me, isn't it? I'm not… I'm not normal to begin with, and this could all be something to do with the way I am, or so they said. What can they do? They can't even draw blood. The last time they tried, the needle snapped on my arm, and somehow the Healer ended up choking on glitter. Glitter, 'Mione. Merlin knows where it came from. Do you think… Do you think I'm losing my mind? That it's all in my head?"
A hand came snaking over the table, over her wrist and hand, and squeezed soothingly.
"You've always been a little barmy, Harry. Half mad and half brilliant… But you weren't wrong about hearing the Basilisk, and you weren't wrong about Voldemort returning, and you haven't been wrong about many things I thought you wrong about before… So, no. I don't think this all in your head. There's… Something different here. Something… Old. I can feel it in the air, a humming… We'll find the singing, Harry. Together. Just don't do anything dramatic. I know how thespian you can get."
Harriel, of course, promptly went and did something drastic.
Elladan and Elrohir do not join in with the singing on Nost, as was customary, to sing for all that one was grateful for, for family here and yet to come. They did not sing with the other elves.
But they did sing.
Arwen saw them at dusk, at dawn, between times and between spaces and between life and death, where no other would be able to hear and see such a tender aching moment, out in the courtyard by the waters of their home, heard their voices flowing in the wind under mounting silver moon or rising sun. It swelled and spun in sorrowful waves, graceful, elegant, the melancholy melody of knowing hurt and anguish and something gone.
An old Edhel lullaby.
The very same they had sung to Lily's swollen stomach.
Arwen turned away, unable to face the raw pain, and she left them there, at the waters edge, singing a lullaby to a child long gone.
Nevertheless, she found herself humming along, and as she greeted her father that morning, she caught the echo of the last line, and as the lanterns lit that eve, in the pale light of stars, Galadriel's voice thrummed in the dark, lifted by the twang of Celeborn's trundle.
A family in mourning.
Ada: Father, informal.
A.N/ This chapter had to be split into two, because it just got way too big to leave in one, so, while I tighten up the rest, I thought I would post this part, so there was less of a wait for you lovely readers. However, I really do think you will like next chapter, shenanigans ensue, of course they do when Harry is involved, and things begin to pick up pace, while exploring more groundwork.
Well, that is it for today folks! I really hope you enjoyed this chapter, and thank you to everyone who has followed, favourited and reviewed! Remember, if you have a moment or two spare, don't forget to drop a review! Until next time, stay beautiful! ~AlwaysEatTheRude21