Just as her petal soft lips would have claimed him, Danae halted as if she had come up against an invisible barrier. "No! It cannot be. A human as young as you has known true love?"
Harry blinked and woke from the dryad's influence, just as Jasmine let out a ringing neigh, summoning Amicus back along with Titania. "I love Hermione," he managed to say, his head felt fuzzy as if he had been taking cold medicine.
"Acorn hulls and pine cones!" the dryad scowled, stamping her little foot. "And here I thought I had found a mate at last."
"Leave him be, Danae. His heart's been claimed already," called Titania, as Amicus drew to a halt just behind her.
The dryad whirled, a pout coming over her face. "I know that! There's no need to rub it in." Then she gasped. "You dare to ride a sacred unicorn? But the Lady forbids it! Oh!" She put her hands to her face. "Please forgive me, Your Grace!" She nearly fell to her knees, but Titania halted her with a swift gesture. "There is no need for such dramatics, child, though I know it has been ages since I have walked this wood. Or this world."
"This human . . .is he under Your protection?"
"He is. So long as he accompanies me, and stays on the track, no harm shall come to him."
"I meant him no harm, Lady. I only wished for a mate," said the dryad wistfully.
"I know. And one shall be brought for you." She looked over at Harry, who was climbing slowly to his feet. "Are you hurt?"
"I . . .not really." He winced as he made his way towards Jasmine. "I've fallen off loads of times."
"Amicus." There was a note of command in her voice.
Before Harry could move, Amicus approached and tapped him three times with his horn. A soothing wave of warmth spread through him and within moments he was healed. "Thank you." Then he blurted suddenly, "You're . . .you're speaking aloud. Like a normal person! Err . . .uh . . .I mean . . ."
The child-like being threw back her head and laughed. "Poor Harry! So confused. I can speak aloud when I choose, but it's such a slow method of communication from mindspeech, that I do not usually use it. But dryads cannot be spoken through mindspeech, and so I use . . .normal speech."
"Oh." Harry turned and mounted Jasmine, reddening. Would he never stop putting his foot in his mouth?
Titania looked at Danae. "Bide your time but awhile, daughter, and you shall have all you desire."
Danae bowed to her. "As you will it so, Gracious One. Like my tree, I am patient." Then she sent a scapegrace grin towards Harry. "Although I wish it could have been otherwise." She winked at a blushing Harry. "He's a handsome one! What children we could have had!"
Harry made a sound like, "Eek!" then coughed.
Titania laughed, the sound like golden bells pealing. "Don't embarrass the boy, Danae."
The dryad cocked her head. "What did I say? It was a compliment. I don't choose just anyone to be my mate."
"Come along, Harry. Time flys."
"Wait! Jasmine can't run as fast as Amicus. We can't keep up with you."
"Ah. I should have guessed there was another reason for you to lag behind." She slipped from the unicorn's back and knelt, taking each of Jasmine's hooves in her small hands and whispering. Something like liquid silver flowed from them and coated the mare's hooves. "There. Horseshoes of speed. Now Jasmine shall be able to keep pace." She stood and patted the mare. "I did notmean to overtax you, dearheart." She breathed into the mare's nostrils and suddenly Jasmine felt all her weariness dissolve and she danced lightly across the ground.
Titania leaped lightly onto Amicus. "Come, Harry."
This time the two followed right on Amicus' golden hooves.
They had travelled almost an hour when Amicus whinnied sharply and half-reared.
Titania bent over his neck and whispered something. The unicorn tossed his head, eyes rolling uneasily.
"What's got him so spooked?" Harry asked.
"He has a . . .connection to Moon Fire. The stallion is in trouble, hurt and sick. We must hurry. There is no time to waste." She clucked to the stallion and they began to run ever more swiftly down the trail, till the trees were a blur.
Suddenly, they came to a halt, and Harry saw that they had left the trail and entered a lovely grove. In the center of it was the ruins of an old temple.
"Where are we?"
"This was once a temple to Selene, built when the Roman mages came here, as a place to worship Her." Titania said.
Harry rubbed his eyes. "I've seen this before . . .in a dream." He drew in a great gulping breath. The air here seemed purer, sweeter, than before. A feeling of peace and light surrounded him and he knew that this place was sacred to Selene still, even though those who had built it were long gone.
"Sometimes, little wizard, dreams tell what is to be."
"Why are we here? Shouldn't we be continuing on through the forest?"
Titania smiled enigmatically. "Sometimes Sherwood can be traveled by special paths not accessible to mere mortals. If you know how to open one of the Old Ways."
"The Old Ways? I don't understand."
"I speak of gates and portals and Paths of the Moon. Properly used, they can take you from here to there in a twinkling. If you know how to travel them." She pointed to the free-standing arch of the temple. "By the Moon's holy Light, I bid thee—open!"
Starfire flashed from her hand and struck the doorway and it began to glow with silvery light. Titania dug her heels into Amicus' side. "Follow close, Harry. And whatever you do—do not leave the path else you shall be lost between worlds! Hi-ya!"
Amicus took two lightning quick strides and leaped through the silvery shifting gateway.
Harry gulped and urged Jasmine into a run. The Arabian hesitated briefly. "Come on, girl! You can do it. Let's go find Moon Fire."
With the encouraging tone, Jasmine ran at the shimmering doorway and sprang through it.
It seemed as though they fell a long way through darkness, but then they emerged upon a silvery pathway. Harry looked about and saw that the path seemed to wind on forever through a field of stars. Amicus and Titania awaited them a few feet down the path.
The slender girl beckoned him onward, and then they began to run.
Ever after, Harry was never sure how long the journey took. The silvery road beneath Jasmine's hooves felt solid as rock, and yet each time she set a hoof down, it struck sparks. The silver road wound and twisted and narrowed in some spots till it seemed no bigger than a goat track, but Amicus never slowed.
Jasmine matched him, her small size eminently suited to this kind of terrain, running nearly in tandem with the big unicorn. Harry crouched low over her neck, hands gripping both reins and mane, and breathed in the Arabian's earthy scent. Stars became blurs as they flashed past down the road, and Harry had the feeling he had been running forever.
There was no wind in this strange place, and the only sound was the clippety-clop of Jasmine's hooves. Amicus made no sound at all.
Harry felt the ancient weight of time and a magic so old it was all but forgotten by any wizard press down upon him. He shuddered and urged Jasmine a bit faster. He had to get to the manor and his friends. He still felt the steady pull of the Locator Charm and knew he was going the right way.
Abruptly, Jasmine swerved to the left, and Harry was nearly dumped from the saddle. He clung with every bit of skill he possessed and managed to stay on. But it had been a near thing. He shivered to think what could have happened if he had fallen off.
They went through a series of these hairpin turns and Harry thanked Selene for Severus' teachings. Without them, he would have been thrown in two seconds and his rescue mission failed. But because he had been taught to move with his horse and pay attention to her, he could anticipate the mare and not be startled at her sudden changes of direction.
Finally, they arrived at yet another shimmering gateway.
Titania pointed her hand and it opened. Amicus jumped through.
The Arabian's hooves hit the dirt and she halted, snorting.
Harry looked around. It was night, the moon shone like a silver medallion in the night sky. They were in a small stretch of woods that flanked a large manor.
Harry could feel the pull of the Locator Charm increase. "This is it. This is where they are!" He could feel a grin split his face.
"Yes. This is Riddle Manor, home of one of the darkest wizards ever to walk the earth," Titania said gravely.
"Voldemort lives here."
"He does. On occasion." Titania sighed. "Be careful. There are wards within wards here. Hide yourself as best you can and try not to be noticed. The Lady go with you."
Harry turned to stare at her. "But . . .aren't you coming with me?"
"No. Amicus and I cannot cross the wards without setting them off. Our auras are too . . .bright. But you have a Cloak of Concealment, Harry, and it shall hide you from all but a god or goddess' immortal sight."
"A Cloak of Concealment? I don't . . .you mean my Invisibility Cloak?"
"Yes. Though its powers are far more than just making one invisible. It will also mask your aura, make it seem as if you are no threat to those who live here. It is a powerful enchantment. With it you can go where you will unseen, and watch and see all."
Harry drew in a deep breath. "You're sure you can't . . .?"
"This is your quest, little wizard. I have helped as much as I may, now it is time for you to show yourself as brave and cunning as your guardian. Amicus shall wait here for you, and guide you home. May Selene's blessing be upon you, Harry Potter."
He felt a surge of warmth and strength flow into him and he squared his shoulders and clucked softly to Jasmine. Then he drew up the hood of his cloak and walked the mare forward.
He felt a sudden tingle as they stepped over the boundary between the small wood and the sloping stretch of meadow, but nothing more. The manor loomed like a great dark beast ahead of them, and Harry clutched the cloak tighter and prayed he could find everyone and get out quickly.
Jasmine flinched and shuddered, clearly she didn't like this place anymore than Harry and she snorted and fussed a bit before he spoke gently to her and patted her. "It's okay. I know, this place gives me the creeps too. I keep expecting some huge spider or a giant wolf to jump out at us. But we've got to go down there. My friends need me."
The frightened Arabian jigged sideways, then settled, and allowed Harry to guide her across the meadow and over to the manor, which radiated a dark miasma of hate and blood and pain. Death had come to claim many a victim within these walls. Harry prayed that it would not come to claim any of those he loved while he was there.
Carefully, the white mare and her unseen rider made their way into the stableyard.
The soft nicker of a stallion rang out in the still air.
Jasmine whinnied back.
Harry led the mare into the barn, turning on the lights. They didn't work so Harry lit up his wand instead. He wrinkled his nose. The barn stank of manure and sweat and musty hay. He carefully walked Jasmine down the main aisle until he reached the stall at the very end.
From inside they heard a weary neigh. Harry opened the stall next to Moon Fire's and let Jasmine inside. He carefully summoned some water for her to drink and fresh hay. He latched her door and then turned to see Moon Fire.
His heart shattered when he saw the once-proud stallion, his mane and tail snarled and tangled, his coat dirty, standing fetlock deep in dirty straw. Moon Fire was listless and his eyes, once bright with fire, now were dimmed with exhaustion and illness.
"Hey, boy. It's me, Harry. Remember me?"
The stallion did not turn his head.
Harry peered at the big horse and it was then he saw the myriad of whip cuts, raw and painful, that covered Moon Fire's body.
Harry felt his stomach knot up and for a moment he thought he would be sick. "Oh, Selene have mercy!" he whispered, tears standing in his eyes. "What have they done to you? What have they done?"
Moon Fire looked up at the sound of his voice.
And Harry wept, for the stallion did not seem to recognize him at all, not his voice, not his scent . . .it was as if all the time he had spent healing Moon Fire had never been.
"No!" he yelled in despair. "You have to come back to me! Please! Come back. I can't do this alone. I need you."
Moon Fire looked at him blankly and Harry wondered bleakly if anything still remained of Severus Snape at all within the black horse.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Thanks for reading and reviewing, as always.
Now that Harry's arrived, how will he manage to rescue his friends and help Moon Fire regain his memory?
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