The sky in the great hall was a bright blue, sunny and clear. Alice smiled up at the messenger fairies swooping down with the packages. She wasn’t expecting anything, but the brilliant spring day was affecting her so that she was full of light and joy.
After all the messengers had delivered their packages, a single sparrow spiraled down and landed on Alice’s shoulder. Alice had never before seen a sparrow deliver mail, but there was a tiny parchment roll gripped in the sparrow’s foot. She took the parchment, and before she could even say ‘thanks’ the sparrow was gone.
The parchment was a soft eggshell white with a spiky black script. She knew the handwriting very well. Her heart missed a beat as she read the verse written there:
Meet me in the moonlight
Where children fear to tread
Where wolves and centaurs gather
And satyrs make their bed.
No trodden path will guide you,
No brilliant lights will glow.
Just listen for my whisper,
And you’ll see where to go.
Don’t let your soul be troubled,
Just let your heart be led.
Find me in the moonlight,
And you and I will wed.
Yes, meet me in the moonlight,
Tonight we shall be wed.
It was a long, long morning. She dozed through History and made a glaringly obvious mistake in Maths. But nothing was worse than Potions. Her Draught of Desire was a jeweled tone of purple when it ought to have been a glowing red. All her classmates looked to her purple mixture with dismay – why wasn’t theirs purple? This of course led to much experimentation, including her brother Herbert trying to charm his purple to match hers. Havoc ensued.
“Detention, Miss Jones. Please stay after. Everyone else is dismissed.”
One by one, they filed out, Jon and Leon giving her empathetic glances as they left. Herbert was the last to leave. He gave her a smart wink and shut the door behind him.
Silence descended on the classroom. He towered above her and held her in place with a long, thoughtful gaze. She felt herself beginning to tremble. He slowly took her hand into his and touched his lips to the inside of her hand. His words were simple but they resonated deep within her. “Come here tonight. Look on my desk.” Then he nodded politely and walked away.
It was going to be a long, long afternoon.
Begin at the beginning –
I know you will remember.
The place where we first lingered,
It happened in September.
The moment you first touched me,
I knew I had been blessed.
But even at that moment,
How could I have guessed
That of all my earthly blessings,
You would become the best.
A parchment that matched the one she had received at breakfast lay open on his desk. She read it quickly and needed no further explanation. She remembered that day with the clarity of a photograph. She had wandered away from Hogsmeade, wearied by Leon and his girlfriend bickering and Jon’s mooning over whatever female he had been interested in at the time. She wandered aimlessly over the grounds, around the lake, and into the fringes of the forest.
There she saw him, lying in a bed of leaves staring at the gray autumn sky. He became a human being at that moment, she realized, no longer a teacher or a grown-up or a spy. His stern face was relaxed, his eyes lightly closed, his breathing shallow and slow. Possessed by someone other than herself, she leaned down and touched his forehead to wake him.
And instead of snarling or scolding, he sighed.
They talked for an hour and became the most unlikely of friends.
She shook herself from the reverie. It wasn’t a long walk to the little clearing in the woods, and it was one she had taken many times last year, her sixth year. They had met there many times, both by chance and by design.
Laying in the grass was another scroll, a smaller one, attached to a stake in the grass.
Between the woods and water,
There stands a lonely tree,
I know you will remember what
She says for you and me.
For this our happy union
She’d witness if she could,
A. J. + O.P., eternally,
Carved deep into her wood.
She strolled over to the tree – their tree. A birch tree, stubbornly growing strong despite the cold climate. She hadn’t been there when he carved it, but he had known that she would find it all the same. She lovingly traced the letters he had carved into the bark – their initials. It was childish and romantic, and she had known at that moment that she was in love with him, and that her love would grow strong in spite of the dark times and contrary social circumstances.
Below their initials, a message was carved lightly into the bark:
Twelve steps towards Polaris,
Then forty to the night.
Kneel down and bless the pillow
Where I laid my head that night.
She read the words aloud and they vanished from the surface.
Twelve steps north and forty west, and Alice stood exactly where she had known she would. This year – her seventh – had wrought a change in their relationship. With the increase of attacks on wizards and witches at the end of the summer, Alice had fled to the school for safety. She enjoyed two blissful weeks of poring through the library and roaming over the grounds. She had been afraid that he would forget her over the summer, but if anything he seemed to crave her company more than ever. They met up in another clearing, a little deeper in the woods, to read and to sit close together. On the final night of summer, she snuck out and met him after dark. They slept innocently in one another’s arms. He had laid his head down on a flat, smooth rock. She had laid her head on his chest.
And there, laying on the rock was another note.
Your touch is such a blessing,
You will remember this,
A tiny hole inside the pole
Where we shared our first kiss.
The ‘pole’ was one of the huge wooden beams that held up the football stands. It had been a rather boring match between North and South house teams, with North winning from the first. She’d had a terrible day, scraping a pair of barely passing grades on Maths assignments. She hadn’t been sleeping well, anxious about the coming examinations, about the war, about her parents, and about his safety. He must have seen her slip out of her seat and down behind the stands to have a good cry. She leaned forward against one of the beams and wept her heart out.
She wasn’t alone for long. He found her quickly, turned her around, and demanded she tell him what was wrong. Refused to let her go until she confessed. Then, with a strange, fond laugh, he had kissed her for the first or many times, up against that strong wooden beam.
There was a knothole, and it became a mailbox for them. If he seemed more tightly wound than usual, she would leave a little treat for him, something to make him smile. She didn’t like to write down her feelings, so she would leave him a lemon drop (how he hated them; how it made them both laugh) or a kiss on a piece of paper, or a riddle to take his mind off of the day’s aggravations.
And he, well… as it turned out, he was a writer. If Alice had thought about it when she was eleven, she might have known. He had always spoken with a crisp, understated eloquence. But who thinks about alliteration and rhythm when they are eleven?
So he wrote to her. Little notes to tell her he was thinking of her, little rhymes to try and cheer her up, or great tomes to pour his heart out to her. He left them there for her, in the little hole. Their little postbox.
And there it was. Another note.
Tonight we’ll find fulfillment,
The Lioness and the Snake.
Remember where I told you?
We were standing by the lake.
Owen Poet had a fairy godmother who was a seer. Of course, she wasn’t actually a fairy. Just one-eighth American Indian. And she wasn’t actually his godmother, either, just a great-aunt on his mother’s side. But family legend named her a seer all the same. At his Christening, she bent over his cradle and whispered a prophecy – that the Darkness would never be defeated until he brought about the union of the mortals and the lords.
He believed, and had believed since that first day in autumn in her sixth year, that she, the mortal-born witch was to play the lioness to his aristocratic snake. He told her so on one unseasonable warm day in February, standing beside by the lake, his large hand wrapped around her smaller one.
“And so we must be together,” he told her quietly. “The fate of the world depends upon it.”
She had laughed. “As if I needed an excuse.”
“Do you want me as I want you?” he asked, not daring to look down, but staring out across the lake.
“I want you in every way,” she whispered.
Then he kissed her.
She found the spot quite easily – he had marked it with a single starflower, glowing silver against the purple night. A parchment was wrapped around the stem.
Now pick this lovely flower.
And hold it up just so.
This flower is your wedding jewel,
This nightgown your trousseau.
Now think a little deeper,
I treasure every tear,
You cried and laid against me,
When I was filled with fear.
That night I made a promise
Which tonight I mean to keep.
From now until forever,
May you never need to weep.
Come now unto that garden,
Where I now stand in wait.
Hurry, love, come to me.
The hour is growing late.
Come find me in the moonlight, And tonight we shall be wed.
How she had cried that day. A weekend not so long ago, she had slipped into the forest to be alone, but found him already waiting for her. She had kissed him ardently, and laid him down in the cool green grass, telling him in plain English words what it was that she desired. She could feel him pressed against her through their thick school robes, and knew that he wanted her as well.
But his conscience would not allow it.
“How will I feel tomorrow, waking up and knowing that I have taken advantage of you?”
“Owen, think!” She kissed him and nuzzled into his neck. “Do I seem like a woman coerced?”
“No,” he answered hoarsely. “No, Alice.”
“Then please…” she buried her face in his chest.
“I can’t…” He closed his eyes. “If anyone found out that I had taken advantage of you… with our age difference, only a marriage would allow it. Even that would set tongues to wagging… we can’t…”
“I can’t wait much longer, Owen,” she said sadly. “And neither can you.”
He had known that she was right, and he promised that it would be soon. But it was weeks before she heard from him again.
And that had only been in the form of a little sparrow.
When she found the little circle of trees where he had made his promise, it was aglow with little fairy lights and wreaths of roses. Owen was there with his back to her, wearing his finest school robes, and Lord Acorn stood before him in his nightdress. The Lord was flanked by Herbert Jones and Sirena Poet, each in plain robes of their house colors.
Lord Acorn bowed slightly when he saw her. “Ah, Alice Jones at last. Have you come before these witnesses of your own free will, in order to accept the life-long pledge of love extended to you by Owen Poet?”
Owen turned around then and gave her a watery, question smile.
She smiled softly. “I have.”
“Then let us begin.”