"It's not funny!" I glared up at Murphy, my arms crossed and a stern scowl on my face. Murphy, for her part, was doing her best to get her laughter under control. It wasn't going well. She was giggling, which was at least an improvement over the clutching her stomach hilarity that had gone before.
"It's a little-" Murphy choked and collapsed backward onto my couch, her giggles transforming back into full blown laughter. I dropped to my ass on the coffee table and waited it out. Five minutes later she took a deep breath and wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes. "It's funny, Harry. Even you have to admit it."
"Bullshit." I pronounced it with as much authority as I could muster. It wasn't a whole lot.
"That is so cute! Say 'fuck'."
I flipped her off.
"If you're not going to be helpful, Murph, you can leave."
"Oh, no. No, I can't." She shook herself, clearly setting aside her amusement and sat up, hands on her knees. "Right. So, what happened?"
"Ishrunkm'self." I muttered it into the little scarf Toot had brought me along with the pants and shirt I was wearing. It was a really good thing I was on such good terms with some of the Little Folk or I'd be wandering around my apartment bare assed.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I. Shrunk. Myself." I sighed and looked up at her. I was maybe four inches tall at this point and Murphy was gigantic at her full five foot nothing. This sucked. It both sucked and blowed, and not in anything resembling the good way. "I was working on a potion to shrink things, temporarily. To make it easier to transport a whole lot of stuff and I spilled some on myself during the testing. It works!" I threw my hands up and imbued as much sarcastic joy as I could into my voice. There was a lot of it, but it doesn't come out quite the same when you sound like a little kid. Hell, I was surprised Murphy could even hear me, but for some reason my voice hadn't shrunk all the way, just lost it's tenor and a lot of it's volume.
Magic. Ain't it grand.
"You've been reading Harry Potter again, haven't you?" Murphy's attempt at a serious face cracked into another grin. "Lack of sleep and you on the Potter are always the cause of the weirdest shit. Is it going to wear off or do we need to make with the magic?"
"It'll wear off. Maybe 24 hours at most. I just need someone big to take care of Mouse and Mister for me. Mouse's pretty good on his own except for the walking thing but Mister was giving me a very scary look."
"I can do that. Are you sure there's nothing else-"
"I'm sure. Toot-" I glanced around. I didn't see the little faerie. And he wasn't all that little anymore. He was at least twice my size right now and again I found myself glad that we were friends now. "Toot sort of thinks that I shrunk myself on purpose so I could bond with him and the rest of the Guard. So I'm going to hang out with them for the day."
"Is that such a good idea? They're kind of...goofballs."
"Dangerous goofballs. Yeah. Look, I'm going to stick to the apartment, no field trips or anything. I'll be fine."
'I'll be fine' kept rolling through my head, even as I was tumbling through the air, free falling. Granted, it was sarcastic at this point. My inner Harry (smug jerk) mocking me with my own stupidity. 'I'll be fine' ranked up there with 'What could go wrong?' and 'I'll be right back' on the list of stupid things to never be said.
The hawk screamed behind me and I had a flash of the raptors I'd seen hunting out in the woods when I lived with Ebenezar. I'd been lucky the talons had only caught in my shirt and not through my body the first time. I wouldn't be so lucky this time. The bird was going to catch me and those talons, strong and sharp enough to rip through fur, hide, sinew and muscle were going to pierce straight through my body. Like hell.
I twisted, which is really hard in midair, and got my body facing the hawk. Fear stabbed through me, followed by a tiny bit of hope. Yeah, the hawk was huge and vicious looking, but I could see Toot and some other members of the Guard flying after us and catching up, the setting sun turning the sky a deep red behind them. I just hoped they'd get to me in time. I reached for my magic, still there in spite of the change in physical size and gathered it up. Just a little, because if I did this at full power I'd fry the hawk, myself, and everything else within a hundred feet.
I shouldn't have worried. Before I could get the spell off, Toot and his lieutenant, Jixi, hit the hawk from behind. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but it was scary and beautiful all at once. The little fae glowed as they attacked the bird, pretty colored lights as they drove swords made of thorns or scavenged pieces of metal through the feathers and into flesh. The hawk screamed and whirled, trying to dislodge them. I lost sight of the fight as the bird took off to the far left, disappearing behind some trees. That was one problem gone, but that still left me falling to my death.
I let the energy that I'd been holding for the fire spell go and pulled more magic in. I needed to slow my tiny ass down. I kicked and flapped and managed to get myself facing the ground again. It was a hell of a lot closer than I'd thought it would be. The energy of the wind around me ripped through me as I pulled at it, bundling it up inside of me and shaping it with my will. This was going to be hellish. If I made the force blast too strong it would hit me just as hard as it hit the ground and I'd kill myself trying to keep myself alive. Too weak and it wouldn't do me a damned bit of good.
The first blast wasn't strong enough. It jolted me a little but didn't slow me down all that much. I was looking to change my headlong rush into a series of shorter falls until I got to the ground. It was still going to hurt, but a lot less than splatting across my neighbors back yard would. I got better as I went, teeth grit and a kind of crazy laugh lodged in my throat.
I was still maybe ten feet off the ground when Toot came zipping back. He grabbed me, arms tightening around my chest and stomach and slowed my fall. He took us into a gentle arc that was so close to the grass I could touch it with my outstretched fingers. The laugh that had been choking me bubbled out. Now that I wasn't falling to my death, this was kind of cool. Toot's voice joined mine, slightly deeper in timber, and I could feel the vibrations of it in his chest.
We landed in the little stand of trees in the back yard of the boarding house. It was, I'd discovered, the summer camp of the Za Lord's Guard. If you walked into it as a big person you'd never see the sprawling village that had sprung up.
My fae used a combination of natural and scavenged materials and each little house was easily identifiable. The owners' personalities shone through in the decorations and the materials. Some of the tinier fae, even smaller than myself, had made a sort of condo thing out of a six pack of Cokes. They'd drained the Coke out, turned the whole set up on it's side, and now lived in the cans. I couldn't fit inside but I'd put my eye up to one of the doors. They tended toward the nest version of home decoration - lots of shiny things and soft cloth piled together, but if it worked for them, who was I to throw stones? A couple of fae had made their houses in old birds nests and a couple of ground hog holes. I wasn't thinking too hard about what might have happened to the previous tenants. Not with the hawk that had tried to eat me roasting over the fire pit anyway.
"My Lord? Dinner won't be ready for a little bit. Maybe you'd like to come clean up?" Toot put his hand on my shoulder, lightly. It was a bit of an adjustment for both of us, this whole him being bigger than I was thing. His fingers were warm against my arm as they rested there and I suddenly felt bone tired. We'd been out catching dragonflies when the hawk who was now dinner had attacked. The smaller fae used the dragonflies like horses, but they had a hard time catching them on their own. So the larger fae helped out, and believe it or not I counted as 'larger', relative to the ones that could still fit on the palm of my hand. I hadn't even known fae came that small.
"Yeah. Good idea." I let Toot lead me off through the camp to his 'tent'. The command tent, such as it was, consisted of a pair of pizza boxes that had been propped up with stolen lawn gnomes and some metal pegs. The center support was a pink plastic flamingo. The bushes and brush had been induced to grow up around the boxes, tying them down and hiding them. Some dish towels had been stolen and were doing duty as the front and back of the tent. Inside it was a cross between a military space and Lawrence of Arabia. Dollhouse dining room tables were covered in little scraps of paper that I assumed were meant to be reports. There were some maps pinned to the walls in that space as well. The other half of the place was all cushions and cloth. I suspected that some of the softer material was stolen lingerie, but it had been cut apart and sewn into pillows and mattresses so I had no way of proving it.
I washed up in the old coffee tin Toot used as a bathtub. The water was cold and it felt great against my overheated body. By the time I oozed out of the tub, Toot had shooed all of the little fae congregating around the doorway off and flitted back over with another pair of very soft pants. I'd thought that the fae stole all of their clothes from the toy aisle until Toot had introduced me to the Guards' seamstresses. They didn't weave their own fabric any more, but give them an example of something and they could whip out copies of it in no time flat.
"Thanks man." I dried off with a piece of beach towel and slipped into the pants. "Where should I crash?" Confusion covered Toot's face.
"We didn't crash, Harry. I wouldn't let that happen!"
I yawned and shook my head.
"Sorry. It's a human phrase. It means, where can I sleep?"
"Oh! Oh...that's a terrible thing to say, Harry." Toot shook his head, lavender hair swirling around his handsome face and led me over to a dark corner of the tent. One of those huge coffee mugs was half buried in the ground, the cushions and pillows surrounding it and reminding me of the pit in Thomas' old room at Raith manor. The outside was a brilliant red and the inside of it had been filled with a mattress that had to have been custom made. It filled the mug and I sank into it as I curled up, sighing. It was possibly the most comfortable bed I'd lain in in years.
"Don't let me sleep too long, Toot. I have to get back inside before sunrise or I might grow back to regular size and break your house."
"I know. Dinner'll be ready way before then. You can go back after we eat." Toot walked off and sat down at one of the tables. He took up a jagged chunk of wood and some tools and went to work. I watched him for a while until my eyes got too heavy to keep open.
I fell asleep listening to Toot hum and the soft noises he made as he carved toys for the camp children out of broken bits of wood.