Chapter 1: Prologue
Fat drops land in the flannel, shading the material dark in lopsided splotches. Arabella lets them fall, refuses to smear the silvery tracks across her cheeks, as she commits the sight of her daughter to memory.
Her daughter, swaddled in soft nightclothes, nestled in a blanket-lined drawer for a crib.
"I love you," she whispers, throat swollen almost closed with grief. "I can't give you…I don't know if this will work. I hope—" Her fingers close on a thin leather-bound book, the binding creaking against the force of her grip. "I'm only a squib. I don't know if it's magic. I don't know if it will work."
Even so, she pushes herself to her feet, book still in hand, and turns to the window. The wind howls outside, precursor to a storm, and she throws open the curtains, then the window.
Her room – tiny, almost barren save her bed and the drawer-crib and the dresser it had been pulled from – is instantly cold, goosebumps forming on her arms.
The pages slither between her fingers, scraping against one another as she turns them, her feet backing her against her bed; the bindings pop and complain as if new, but she knows it's not. It's seen many hands, hands that weren't hers, if only because it was found at a second-hand book sale, and a remnant at that.
It healed itself of the few tears she'd shed upon it, the fewer tears she'd given its pages.
Her eyes steal back to her child, fussing now in the cold despite the swaddling. "I wish the Goblin King would come and take you away." A heaving sob takes her before she can finish with a choked, "right now."
Thunder rolls in the distance; a giggle floats through the air and she forces herself not to react, her muscles not to flinch.
She'd expected a response. Hoped for it.
Lightning turns the room to a blue-white haze.
The dresser drawer-crib is empty when her vision clears, and she bows her head in silent thanks before turning to acknowledge the owl-shaped shadow that had stretched across the floor.
Her spine stiffens and she raises her chin at the admonition in her name. "Your majesty."
"You certainly didn't wait long, did you?"
"And you shall have long enough to win her—"
She doesn't let him finish. "I will not."
Jareth's eyes narrow. "You wish your child away to me, and you will not win her back? Is your confidence in your own abilities that poor?"
"I will not run your Labyrinth, your majesty. My daughter is freely given to you. A gift, with my blessing."
Two steps brings Jareth halfway across the floor; close enough to loom, but not to crowd. Not quite. "You abandon your responsibility so swiftly."
"Responsibility, your majesty? Just what responsibility do I have as a mother, hmm?" The question fades to a rasp of a whisper. "To love my child, and I do. To offer her the best life I possibly can - which I have." Heat wells again at the corner of her eyes, spills over to paint her lips with the salt of grief.
"By giving her to me?" The words are just as harsh as her own had been, almost predatory. "You do know what I do with infants wished away."
"You turn them into goblins, your majesty," and she can't suppress the sob, the lurch of her heart. One hand presses itself into the cotton of her nightgown over her breastbone.
"And you don't care."
Even in the washed out gloom, she can see the glitter of rage in his eyes, the sudden paleness in his skin a high contrast to the flush of his cheeks. "I care. I care a lot." She lifts her chin in defiance and glares at him with all the courage she can muster - for her daughter. "I'm counting on it," she hisses.
Jareth goes stiff with shock, the angled slashes of eyebrows going almost vertical.
"My daughter," she starts in a low tone, throat tight, "will never know the beauty of a rainbow. Never splash in mud puddles. She will never learn her ABCs, or bring me a frog from the lake in the park. She'll never fall in love, or have children of her own." She pauses for breath; Jareth remains silent. "I am a squib, your majesty. I have no magic of my own. What ties I have to the wizarding world are broken or frayed, but I still know of it. I still have access to it. I can still go to St. Mungo's for treatment. I had my daughter there."
There is a flash of -- something in Jareth's eyes, a minute flinch, as if he suspects what's coming.
"They thought I was asleep, that I couldn't hear. There were...complications. For her. They stabilized her first, there wasn't a choice to do anything else, but once they found. Once they discovered why she wasn't responding, she was nothing but a burden to them. They said they would have let her die if they'd known first, that--that--" Her throat closes on the words. "She's my daughter," she manages. "I can't love her enough to keep her healthy, or safe. I can't love her enough to put food in her mouth, or a roof over our heads, or keep some well-meaning doctor from putting her to sleep like an animal to save me the trouble. All I can do is love her enough to let her go to someone who can."
The anger in his eyes has faded under the weight of understanding. What's left seems to be no longer aimed at her, at least.
"Do you want me to beg, your majesty?"
"I am not kind, Arabella," Jareth starts, rage quelled, a storm swiftly past.
She doesn't let him continue, though she sees the tensing of his mouth in displeasure at it. "The book was quite clear, your majesty. You protect those in your domain, even you have rules you must follow, and woe be unto thee who dares harm a child in your care," and the last is most important, the part that dared her try.
"I am not kind," he says again, suddenly too close; one gloved hand cradles her jaw, his thumb tilting her chin. "But I am not without compassion. Too few who wish away their child do so for the child's benefit."
"Then you--" The implication in his admission makes her shake, relief even of a maybe turning her muscles watery.
"She will be neither human nor able to return to you, Arabella," he says gently.
"As long as she has a chance to be happy."
"So long as I am King, she will live a life of music and mayhem, laughter and joy. You have my word."
There is a strong hand at her elbow, a welcome support as she struggles to remain upright; she nods a silent thanks as she gets her knees back under control.
Jareth takes a step back, and a clear crystal sphere appears in his hand, dancing between his fingers. "As for your gift--"
"I do not wish anything of you. You cannot give me my dreams."
"Of course not, your dreams involve your daughter," and there is an undeniable sympathy in his expression. Not pity. Never pity. "But there are rules I must follow, and I cannot accept a gift of a child without giving you equal value in return."
"Then let me be the only one who remembers," she asks, shutting her eyes so that new tears stripe her cheeks. "Let me remember her--"
"Your memories you may keep, but the others' would have been mine without your asking." The crystal floats along the edge of his hand as he taps his chin with the other. "Hmm. Your wish was for her, not for yourself. And I am in my right to make things - well, not easy, perhaps, but easier. Try this:
"For three nights - and the remainder of this - you will sleep without dreams, without disturbance -- do not protest, Arabella, allow me this much -- and on the fourth day," the crystal comes to a halt and goes opaque, shifting slightly in shape to a peach, too green to be edible. "On the fourth day, this will be ripe, and you may eat it before bed, or not. Should you choose to eat of it, you may dream of your child for that night, and see what becomes of her."
Arabella cannot stop the sob that escapes; even a glimpse of her daughter would be a blessing.
"After that?" He shrugs, a graceful, inhuman gesture. "Should there be anything else you would ask?"
"Take care of her. Tell her her mother loves her." Her heart beats wild in her chest, a caged bird. "Let me keep the book."
"I am afraid you cannot keep--"
"Not forever, your majesty, but it found its way to me. Somehow. I needed it, and it found me. Let me help it find someone else. I'm sure you have some way of retrieving it if I die without passing it on."
The smile Jareth gives her is mostly mockery. "Such courage you have, to argue with the King of Goblins. And over such a little thing."
"Please, your majesty. All I have of her is memories. Memories and a book that found me when she wasn't safe."
"And you will pass it on, when it is needed, hmm? If I let you keep it, and some other infant is wished away out of jealousy or anger or frustration - any reason other than for the child's welfare--"
Arabella flinches, jerks back as he's suddenly far too close for comfort.
"You will be the one to run my Labyrinth. You will not get to say no."
"Done, your majesty."
The room turns blue-white from the open window; a deep roll of thunder follows swiftly after.
She's alone in the room when it fades, book still clenched in one hand. The peach rests on the dresser.
The remainder of the night - now morning - passes as Jareth had promised, as do the following three: in sleep deep and dreamless. On the fourth, she eats the peach.
The book remains on the dresser, moves to a place of pride in her bookshelves as she moves through life. She reads it twice a year, once on her only child's birthday, once on the night she wished her to safety.
Early December 1990
"Sit, Harry," Harry murmurs under his breath, sarcasm thin and tired. The door to the cupboard bumps quietly shut behind him, and his backpack slides to the floor at his feet before the bare light bulb, dim with crusted dirt, turns on. He reaches back and pushes the door, making sure the latch catches.
The cupboard is by no means safe; it's a prison, claustrophobic, but the one protection it offers is that Vernon can't fit through the door. Harry won't compromise that sliver of security.
"I have something for you, Harry," he continues, slipping off worn shoes, socks. "Read it carefully, Harry, read it to the end." Mrs. Figg's voice echoes his own in his mind, saccharine and sharp.
The book itself is safe - thankfully - from Dudley's greedy hands, buried in his school papers.
By the time Harry's changed for bed, pulled down the thin blankets, he's mostly (mostly) shoved his resistance against Mrs. Figg's instructions aside; the story was good, captivating almost, and he'd only just gotten to the outskirts of the Goblin City when the Dursleys had come to pick him up.
Still, he has enough patience to page through the book, pausing to admire the sketches spaced throughout - Hoggle the Dwarf, the stone heads of warning, Ludo, Sir Didymus, the door knockers.
Several of Jareth, the Goblin King, hair wild, features sharp, attire elegant and otherworldly.
A horde of goblins, some little more than balls of fur with eyes and teeth, playing with a baby.
More entertaining than Dudley's stupid nativity play, certainly!
The Goblin King again, this time sitting in the castle window, floating crystal dreams off somewhere in the distance.
He finds his place again shortly thereafter, a drawing of the guardian robot embedded in the chapter, and lets himself get drawn into the story.
It's not long enough between then and when Jareth flies off in his owl form, power having been lost and baby having been rescued, for Harry to have gained the aches and pains of having lain too long in one position.
"Read to the end," Mrs. Figg snaps, a harsh reminder if only in his head, and he turns the page, expecting little more than an author's short biography.
There's another chapter, the start of another story, and Harry frowns. The first one had tied together neatly, ended, and there was...
...more to read.
Harry shrugs and goes back to reading. There are worse things than to have more about the Labyrinth and magic and friendship to read about, that he doesn't have to fight Dudley for.
This story - this very short story, to tell by the handful of pages still to be read - isn't about the running of the Labyrinth, though. That becomes painfully clear within a handful of paragraphs, with a refusal to run it.
Goosebumps break out on his arms; the hair on the back of his neck rises as he reads on.
"All I can do is love her enough to let her go to someone who can."
"You protect those in your domain, even you have rules you must follow, and woe be unto thee who dares harm a child in your care."
"Too few who wish away their child do so for the child's benefit."
Harry isn't Arabella; he's not an infant to be wished away. But Mrs. Figg's insistence...
There are too many similarities, too much weirdness that has happened around him to reject the existence of magic.
"I don't know if this will work."
'I don't know what a squib is,' he thinks.
"- any reason other than for the child's welfare--"
A chill goes down his spine. Mrs. Figg gave him the book.
Mrs. Figg gave him the book.
"I'm no safer here than her daughter was," Harry whispers, old injuries aching. "And--and--" He swallows hard, fingers shaking as they scrape page over page to find the words.
"--woe be unto thee who dares harm a child in your care."
"I wish...I wish the Goblin King would come and take me away," he whispers, heart beating a desperate hope against his ribcage. "Right now."
The silence that follows is hollow, broken only by the faint puttering of Petunia beyond the door, then heavy footsteps overhead.
Harry swallows heavily in disappointment, limbs dragging as he sets the book back in his satchel, reaches up for the pullchain on the light.
The sudden darkness swallows the faint gleam of tears, the ball of fur rolling out from under the cot.
"-is this place?"
Harry bolts upright in his bed, scrambling away from the "man in the cupboard man in the cupboard VERNON IN THE CUPBOARD" terror until he can't. His elbow slams into the wall and pain flares his vision white over the blackness - the light's still out--
"A little water and you'd have my Oubliette," the voice continues, disdainful and mocking.
"Who-who are you?" Harry manages over the lump in his throat.
"Oh come now, you did wish for me, didn't you?" The bed creaks with the shifting of another body; a boot taps against the floor.
"I din't," Harry starts, coughs, tries again, "I didn't--"
"--didn't mean it, did you, Harry?"
"Meant it!" he squeaks out, frantic. "I meant it, I...I didn't think you were coming," he finishes in a whisper, still blind in the dark, arm still aching.
"And you wished anyways, how delightful." A blue-white light flickers, hold steady before floating upwards.
"I wished first. I wanted you to come," Harry says quietly, eyes locked on the crystal globe now hanging near the ceiling. "Are. Are you going to turn me into a goblin?"
The shock in Jareth's voice draws Harry's attention.
"Wherever did you get that idea from, hmm?"
"The book? The baby, and Arabella's daughter--"
"You wished yourself away to me, thinking I would turn you into a goblin."
Whatever Jareth says in response is unintelligible.
"Do not apologize to me, I am not angry with you."
Harry doesn't know how to answer that.
Jareth sighs, shaking his head and looking around the room. "This will not do." A few flicks of his hand and the walls shift outward, upward - the door's still close, too close, no wait, not anymore.
But Jareth's on his feet, and there's distance between them, enough that Harry can swallow past the fear, realize that the Goblin King matches the drawings in the book. He's all angles and grace, body language unfamiliar as he paces the new length of the cupboard. Out of reach.
The pain in his arm is dull now, vague and fading, and Harry manages to let go the opposite hand, uncurl from his ball in the corner to watch.
Jareth turns back to face him, mismatched eyes gleaming in the witchlight. "Harry."
"Sir?" The renewed attention makes him tense again, but there's still no threat, still out of reach --
"You read my book. You wished me here."
"What does it say about hurting children?"
Harry blinks. Blinks again. Finds his lips forming the words, "--woe be unto thee who dares harm a child in your care..?"
The smile Jareth gives him is sharp, predatory. "And what does that mean?"
"I--it's why I wished--you aren't going to hurt me."
"No. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not going to turn you into a goblin. It's far too late for that," he adds.
Harry wonders what Jareth means before deciding it doesn't matter. Or maybe he'll learn later. "What happens now?"
"Now, Harry?" Jareth cocks his head. "Now, you agree to be my ward, I agree to be your guardian, and we go to the Underground. Unless--"
"Unless there is someone, somewhere you would rather have custody?"
Harry shakes his head almost violently; there's no one he knows well enough, no one who could protect him from the Dursleys--
"I thought not," Jareth murmurs. "Ah well. Do you have the book?" Another crystal rolls idly over his hand.
"Yes, I--" Harry reached over the edge of the bed and hauled his bookbag up by one strap; the book itself was easy to find, only half-tucked between a folder and a stack of papers. "Here."
Jareth slowly crosses the cupboard, reaching out to fold his free hand over the book. "Hold onto it, Harry. I cannot do this part without your cooperation."
"Okay. What do I do?"
"How did I get here?"
"I wished--you here, and now..." Harry takes a deep breath, glancing from the book to Jareth's mismatched eyes. "Ward. Guardian. Right."
"I wish the Goblin King would be my guardian." He's rewarded with a slow smile, pleased and toothy.
"I, Jareth, Goblin King and King of the Underground, hereby accept Harry James Potter as my ward until such time as he wishes otherwise." The words are spoken with grave formality, hold a weight that steals Harry's breath. "So mote it be."
"So mote it be," Harry echoes softly, unsure why until he feels a shift, something fundamental about his self changing. Steadying.
"Well then. We don't need this anymore, do we?" Jareth tugs gently on the book, and tucks it away in his cloak once Harry's released it. "Shall we go?"
"I need to--pyjamas," Harry manages, suddenly remembering. It's not as if they're indecent, but still--
"You needn't worry about that." The crystal rolls off the edge of Jareth's palm but never falls, instead transforming into a heavy drape of cloth. "Try this, it should suffice for the trip home."
Home, Harry thinks, taking the garment with trembling hands. It's surprisingly heavy, rich velvet edged in fur, a blue so dark it appears black unless the witchlight's shining just so. Jareth's given him room to stand, slip it over outstretched arms, and it's somehow the perfect size.
The courtesy makes his eyes burn - Jareth made this for him; it is not a castoff of Dudley's outgrown, ill-fitting clothes.
Harry nods, attention still on the clasps to his robe; it's easier to hide the welling tears that way. "Should I bring anything else?" His worn sneakers have become sturdy boots, cut low, and the muscles in his back knot further.
"Anything you like."
Jareth sounds distracted, and a hesitant look up proves it, yet another crystal ball - two of them - twirling in one hand; Harry can't help but think he's doing it on purpose, maybe reading his mind--
"Bring your school papers."
Maybe not. Robe. Shoes. Bookbag, slung over one shoulder. Glasses snatched from the bedside table. Harry glances around at the now too-large space, too-empty space. "Nothing else." The clothes are all Dudley's secondhands; they don't fit, and Harry can refuse them now.
He's the ward of a king.
"You thought I wasn't coming?" Jareth asks once the front door closes behind them; the house had been too quiet, altogether still as they'd left, the only sounds being their boots on the wood floor.
"I hoped," Harry says, reaching to pull the hood up both for the warmth it offers against the early December damp and chill, and for the ability to hide.
Not that he thinks Jareth won't know, but it makes him feel better.
"I hoped," he whispers again, when Jareth doesn't answer. "I wasn't sure it wasn't just a book. And things happened right away in the stories..."
"Mmm, yes. When it is an infant wished away, logistics are less of an issue," Jareth murmurs. He stops on the sidewalk in front of the house and turns back. "Your cupboard had no external access - no windows. It makes things...complicated. Aside from the lack of space..." He nods his head back at the house.
"What--what is that?"
Jareth stays silent beside him, head cocked to one side.
The house glows a pale yellow, somewhere between a wintry sun and fresh lemon peel. A sickly red oozes through in places, eats away at it, aided by tendrils of black that spider through.
"Tell me, Harry, how did your parents die?" Jareth asks softly, still watching the shifting light. The pale blue of the witchlight is long gone, extinguished as they passed through the door.
"The Dur--they said they died in a car accident. That's how I got this scar," and he reaches up past the edge of his hood to rub the mark.
"I do not think it will be a surprise to you should I tell you they did not," Jareth says.
"I." Harry swallows hard. Very little would surprise him at this point, actually. "No. I. I have a few memories that don't make sense from...from before. I think. I mean, I think they're memories. But none of them have a car in them."
"I will be looking into it in the days to come, but I can tell you this: Your mother loved you enough to die for you. That yellow light? That's a protective ward, fueled with sacrifice. Your mother died to power that ward."
Still not a surprise, but it brings a lump to Harry's throat, and he's thankful again for the hood. Just in case. "And the rest?"
"I cannot say for certain. I believe that someone attempted to modify your mother's protection, but the modifications suffered for your treatment."
Harry blinks at him in confusion.
"How the Dursleys have treated you eats away at the magic instead of feeding into it," Jareth explains gently. "It is powerful enough that even I can not simply ignore it."
"You had to make sure it was safe."
"And if it wasn't?"
"I would have come for you once you'd left the house." Jareth eyes him critically. "You wished yourself away. What was said was said, and there are rules even I must follow."
Relief nearly takes Harry to his knees. "I'm sorry, I just. Thank you. I'm sorry," he says again, unsure how to explain. "Now what?"
"Now we gather up your mother's magic and take it with us." There's a crystal ball cradled in Jareth's palm, rolled to his fingertips, and held out.
Harry stares at it, taking it carefully with both hands at the nod. "How do I--wish magic?"
"Well, aren't you a clever little thing," Jareth says, words mocking but tone fond, pleased.
Harry gulps, feeling as if the crystal is no more substantial than a soap bubble and liable to vanish. "Tell me about the ward?" he asks. "I. I need to get the words right."
"You do catch on quickly."
More of that so unfamiliar pride, and Harry's ears burn with it. At least Jareth can't see him blush.
"The spell your mother cast will be embedded in a set of wardstones somewhere in or near the foundation of the house. There will be no more than twelve, though I would be surprised if there were more than six all told. As I mentioned, it is fueled by your mother's love and sacrifice for you. However," Jareth pauses, the leather of his gloves creaking as his hands turn to fists. "You will need to contain all of it - your mother's spell, and the modifications and things that eat at it. I will need to study it further in order to restore the ward to what it should have been."
"Wardstones. Okay," Harry whispers, licking his lips. Words tumble over themselves and each other as he tries to piece them together in a coherent wish. 'I can do this,' he thinks. "I can do this."
"Yes, you can."
Simple, straightforward, and enough. He shuts his eyes and cups the globe with both hands, arms outstretched towards the house. "I wish...I wish all of the wardstones that hold the ward built on my mother's love and sacrifice for me, all of the power they have and the modifications, parasites and contamination placed on it by others were contained in this wish-globe." The globe warms in his hands, pulses in time with his heart. "So mote it be."
"So mote it be," Jareth echoes beside him. "Well done."
Harry opens his eyes to a ball of light bright as the sun, hazed over with a veil of red and black. Sunset through storm clouds, and he squints at it. "Did I do it right?"
"See for yourself," and Jareth sweeps an arm towards the house again.
It's dark, no otherworldly glow, no shifting reds or thin lines of black crawling through. Now, now it fits in with the rest of the houses on the street, plain, ordinary.
All the magic of it is held in his hands, and poisoned or no, it feels safe. And promised safer. The knowledge that his mother did this for him...
"Thank you," he whispers. It's not his mother. Not his parents. But still it's a little piece of them, of her, and it's more than anyone else has given him.
It's more than anyone else has even tried.
"You're welcome," Jareth says. Harry doesn't answer, but then, it's not expected. "Harry?"
Harry twitches, then shakes himself like a dog shedding water. The globe still glowing madly in his hands doesn't so much as wobble. "You'll fix it?"
"You have my word," and he's all too aware of desperate eyes watching him tuck the ward away - now encased in layers and layers of protections of its own. "Shall we go?"
"Please." He turns away, reluctantly tearing his gaze from Jareth's cloak, and squeaks.
Jareth has to laugh, but the sound is warm. "Did you think we would walk? Fly, perhaps?"
One of the horses snorts, stomps a foot; the metalwork on the harness jangles.
"But it wasn't--how--" Harry stares in shocked awe at the coach-and-four, smoky grey with green trim, black traces, the matched dapples in harness.
"Magic!" Jareth sweeps his arms wide dramatically, then opens the coach door with a raised eyebrow. "Ready to go?"
"Yes!" Harry whispers. "Yes, please," and he scrambles up the steps and into the dark before Jareth can offer a hand up.
Jareth clenches his teeth, has to shake off the momentary anger before he can follow; he's somewhat appeased to find Harry's put his bookbag between himself and the far door.
It's never a good start to find his ward wedged up against that door.
A knock on the ceiling gets the carriage moving, and Jareth watches from the corner of his eye as Harry braces himself against the initial lurch.
"Is it a long trip?"
"It's as long as it needs to be," Jareth replies mildly. Probably several hours, he thinks. They could have simply crossed the street, or walked out the front door into the Underground, but Harry needs the sense of distance.
And not one of his wards has come to him without being exhausted in some fashion, exhaustion he can feel pulling even now at the bond new-forged between them.
Harry pushes the hood back, shakes his messy hair back into some semblance of order.
Jareth doesn't miss the tremor in his hand, the way it falls heavily to his lap to be hidden in the cloth of his robe. "You have questions?"
"I." Harry looks down at the cushion between them. "Mrs. Figg gave me the book. She. She made me read it. I didn't...The second story in it, the short one. Arabella kept it. The book, I mean. Was that her story? Mrs. Figg's?"
And this is why letting a wisher keep the book is a bad idea. "All I can tell you about Arabella is in that book, Harry. What happened after is not mine to tell," Jareth says gently.
Harry sags in disappointment, turning to stare out the window. Moonlight stripes his face in eerie blue and shadow.
"Harry." Jareth would rest a hand on his shoulder, touch his arm to get his attention, but physical contact is not welcome.
The reminder is infuriating.
"I shouldn't have asked," and the comment is despondent.
"You cannot learn if you do not ask," Jareth counters. "Ask what you will. I will answer anything I can. I may not know the answer. The answer may endanger you or others. Or it may not be mine to give you. Otherwise..." He shrugs. "Ask your questions. You'll never know if I can answer if you do not."
Harry's silent for time, chewing on his lip before turning back. "Will my story be in the book someday?"
"Someday, if it will help another child, possibly. It always has the first one, the one about my Labyrinth and the child wished away. Sometimes...sometimes the book decides the person it finds needs more than that."
"The book decides?" If Harry's eyebrows could go any higher...
"Yes, the book decides. Very old, very powerful magic." Jareth gives a half-smile. "Your secrets are your own. The book won't give any more of your story than it did of Arabella's. Besides...you aren't running my Labyrinth."
"That matters?" Harry's brow furrows.
"Those who wish away another child - their own, a sibling, a niece or nephew..." Jareth shrugs again. "They run my Labyrinth to win them back. Should they choose to. That story - their race to save the infant they sent to me - would be fair game for my book. But you wished yourself away. You need not run my Labyrinth, for you became my ward, and I your guardian. That story - your wishing yourself to safety - is all my book will tell, should it be needed."
"I guess..." Harry bit his lip. "Arabella's story helped me. So I guess it's okay if mine helps someone else?"
"Wise," Jareth murmurs, and waits as Harry yawns hugely. But nothing more is said, and the lingering tension leeches from Harry's body as the sound of hooves against concrete changes to asphalt, and then again to the thud of packed dirt.
It doesn't take long for sleep to sweep Harry under, between the aftereffects of fear, the relief of being rescued (even if by a stranger), and the gentle rocking of the coach.
"That's going to hurt," Jareth murmurs after some time, watching the subtle rise and fall of Harry's shoulders as he breathed. He slumped awkwardly against the seat cushions, and there was no denying there would be pain come morning if he wasn't moved.
There had been no words of denial, but Jareth hadn't needed them to read Harry's fear. Still...Given the choice between certainty and possibility...
Another wish-globe appears between his fingers, shifting swiftly to a soft pillow and dropped between Harry and the far door. He's unprepared for Harry to stir, curling into him and latching onto the front of his shirt.
The bond between them settles.
"All right then," Jareth whispers, breath ruffling Harry's mussed hair.
Dawn is soon enough to arrive in the Underground. Harry needs the rest, and Jareth has enough to keep him busy, even with one side pinned down by his sleeping ward.
The trip seems endless, time and space falling prey to the ceaseless churn of horses' hooves, the turn of carriage wheels. Jareth stretches it out without a care, one arm cradling a sleeping child, the other holding a crystal globe as he makes arrangements.
Readying the stable. Reassigning personnel. Preparing a bedroom with all the trappings therein. Waking the court physician. Meal plans for a new ward - this one not physically as malnourished as some, but still needing a great deal of care.
At least the bond between them tells of no immediately life-threatening issues. Serious, yes. Always. But nothing that will not wait for food and sleep.
Harry sleeps on, shifting only to sigh, to inch closer.
Jareth blanks the oncoming dreams the moment Harry slips deep enough. There will be time later for dreams, for nightmares, even, and a carriage in motion is no place for the latter.
The specifics of Harry's nightmares are too unknown for Jareth to risk feeding him what might not be a pleasant dream, no matter the intention. Better to have nothing.
Harry drifts towards wakefulness as what would have been dawn, London time, creeps closer. Jareth lets the sun peek over the horizon as the carriage approaches the Goblin City, hedges of the Labyrinth on one side of the dirt track, open fields and the odd orchard on the other.
"Good morning," Jareth says quietly as fingers fist in his shirt, breath catches. "Sleep well?"
Harry goes still, muscles tense, before rolling away.
Curious, that. Jareth suppresses a spark of rage. Harry'd learned not to lash out, not to cause pain--not to invite a violent backlash even in an attempt to flee. "Harry?"
The seat shakes even beyond the motion of the carriage, sound of gasps harsh as they die away. "I'm." Hard swallow. "I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to fall asleep on you."
"Is it the falling asleep that's the issue?" Jareth asks mildly. "Or the on me?"
Harry hunches over, arms across his chest, but the matching tuck of knees is aborted, and his feet fall back to the floor with a thump.
Avoiding boots on the carriage seat. One more thing to be furious about. Later.
"The." Harry swallows again. "The second. Sir."
"And what if I told you that was my fault, hmm?"
The trembling stills; Harry looks up at him warily after a long moment. "Your. Your fault?"
"I woke you in the middle of the night and whisked you off in my carriage - at your command, certainly, but still. It's completely understandable that you'd fall asleep on the trip." Jareth shrugs, a "what could I do?" gesture that escapes Harry's notice. "You would have woken with a crick in your neck and latched onto me when I tried to make you more comfortable."
Both shoulders go up around Harry's ears as he ducks.
"Children who find my book - those who wish themselves to me, who ask my intervention - those like yourself - have one thing in common. All of them - every single one - have reason to fear those who are supposed to care for them. Neglect. Pain. Work unsuitable for them." Other things, things Jareth already knows had, thankfully, not been visited upon Harry personally. "You need not speak of any of it. You can, should you wish, and I will listen."
"But I?" Jareth prompts softly, one eyebrow raised in question; he thins his lips at the abrupt shake of Harry's head. "I scared you. You didn't--"
"Vernon scared me," Harry mutters, mulish and bitter.
"And Vernon will pay for that," Jareth murmurs, letting a bare fraction of his anger bleed into the words. It's a start. "Your fear may have been misplaced, but you were expecting to be punished."
"You said -- your book said -- you aren't going to hurt me," Harry whispers.
"And I won't. But trust is earned. Especially for those who beg my intervention. That I rescued you will help. The bond of guardianship will help more. But all the promises I can make you will be only pretty words until you've come to believe that I have neither wish nor intention of ever causing you harm. And until then, I cannot offer you physical touch without either invitation or permission, or both."
"Invita--what? I don't understand."
"You put distance between us in the bootcupboard," Jareth says dryly. "You didn't calm down until I was out of reach. I would have offered you a hand up into the carriage - for you to accept or not, as you like - but you were already inside before I had the chance. You offered me no other opportunities to close the distance, so having you hold onto me, even in sleep, came as a relief."
"A--A relief?" Harry's voice goes high in disbelief, back ramrod straight; his hair is a spiky, bird's nest mess over eyes gone owlishly wide.
Jareth would know about the latter and smiles, knowing it will be misinterpreted and not caring. "A relief, yes," he confirms, gloved hand held out in invitation. "It would be foolish of me to spend so much effort rescuing you if I disliked the results, now, wouldn't it?" And he wiggles his fingers.
Harry's gaze darts between Jareth's and the offered hand several times before he reaches out, breath too shallow, movements too slow, too careful to be anything other than wary.
The wariness is from the physical abuse, memories too strong to discard. The longing, plain to see in Harry's eyes, the bit lip and pallor, is from the neglect.
Jareth adds skin hunger to his mental list of transgressions as Harry's hand closes on his own, that too-thin frame scooting back over the cushioned seat until it's pressed up against his side. "See?" Jareth whispers into that bird's nest of soft brown spikes, feeling the hot gust of gasping breath across his neck. "I don't bite."
Harry lets out a soft laugh, half humor, half tears. "Change that to 'won't,' your majesty," he whispers shakily. "Your teeth are far too sharp."
Jareth huffs out a laugh of his own, wrapping one arm around Harry's shoulders. "I assure you, you are not on the menu."
My brain has been telling me "This isn't long enough to be a chapter!" even though I know where I'm going and the next part doesn't fit with it. One of the authors I follow has been updating several times a day for the past few with very short chapters, so I'm telling my brain "If it's enough for that fic, it's enough for this one."