Author's Chapter Notes:
Will no one have tea with the worm?
beta-ed by Gelsey

The Guardian at the Gate

Richard slowly got to his feet and looked around, careful to keep sight of the king out of the corner of his eye. He seemed to be missing his wand but did not want to alert his foe that he was weaponless. There was now a scent of pines in the air, and a touch of rain. He checked for aches as he dusted himself off.

"It would appear that only your dignity was bruised," the king said as he moved aside, allowing him to see into the valley.

Richard wasn't so sure, but he made no reply as he examined the view below him.

At the bottom of the slope was sandy soil, neglected gardens and weedy fountains. Stone obelisks stood around, as if they were tombstones or giant warning fingers. On the other side was a tall, thick wall running from his left to his right, in which was set a large double gate, and beyond that lay what had to be the Labyrinth. It was a series of mazes, some of stone, some of hedges, some of buildings. He'd been at corn mazes and some of the society families he'd visited had mazes of shrubbery for security around the grounds or as garden features. There had been one at Hogwarts when he was in his fifth year; it held no pleasant memories.

That was then; this is now, he reminded himself as he forced his focus back into the present.

At the far end of the mazes rose a castle that had scaffolding around an unfinished tower.

"I've seen this before," Richard remarked. "In a painting, in Smyth's office. Only I think that there was a tall tower there. And some other stuff."

"Alice's painting is in the hospital?" the king asked.

Richard shook his head. "It's an original Hermious Bosche. Looks like he was here, too." He made a quick calculation. "Some, what, five hundred years ago?" He noticed movement. One or two inside walls had moved, changing the path. As he watched, different walls continued to change until there was the suggestion of a face. A few more movements, and the Goblin's King's likeness lay before him.

"So this is a bunch of mazes?" Richard asked, ignoring the image.

"It is the Labyrinth," the king coolly replied as he casually produced a clear orb and studied it.

Richard learned years ago that a key difference between a maze and a labyrinth was that the latter was a single narrow path winding around to its center, and that a maze had multiple choices and dead ends. He suspected that he would do well not to provoke his opponent by discussing it.

"Where are the children?" he asked.

"Did you not tell your house-elf to look after them? They are with him," came the reply. "You have thirteen hours to complete the Labyrinth. Do not finish it empty-handed." He tossed the orb carelessly into the air-it vanished.

"Thirteen hours, relative to what?" Richard asked as he looked away to see if there was a clock or a sundial nearby. "Is time the same here as at St. Mungo's?"

There was no answer. The king had disappeared.

"Walnuts!" Richard swore. He grabbed for his wand, but it was missing. He searched himself and then the ground around him and tried a Summoning charm but to no avail. He looked back at the Labyrinth to see if the king was anywhere in sight. The walls inside were shifting again. They stopped and before him was a another visage. He didn't stop to study it.

Angrily he strode to the wall, passing through clouds of small flying creatures. He caught one and saw that it looked like a bald Doxy or a fairy. Doxy, he thought when it bit him on the hand. He threw it down and kept going, sucking out any possible venom from the wound and swatting the rest of them away. He noticed that they were clustered near the fountain pools, so he made a wide path past them.

The waters smell fetid, but the small lilies that grew wild in the grasses around the fountains had a pleasing aroma. The odor of the dried nettles by the wall reminded him of his school's potions class. He reached the wall and was still some distance to the gate. He followed a path along the wall but stopped when something on the ground caught his eye: blue Sticks.

He went down on one knee to pick them up and study them. On a couple of them he could see the faint lettering of the manufacturer and the small touch of green paint that marked them as belonging to the toy collection of the Common Room. He looked around and noticed that the plants at the base had been crushed, the lichen on the wall had been scraped and the top of the wall was damaged.

Richard knew then that the children were inside the Labyrinth. He considered calling for Chaucer but decided against it; he had ordered the elf to stay with the children. He would not risk their safety.

Quickly he went to the gates and stood outside them, not certain if he should knock or yell.

The gates opened and a cloud of glittering dust spilled out.

He hesitated a moment and then strode forward, desperately wishing that he had his wand.

The gates swung closed behind him.


"Just go through that doorway there, turn left, and it'll take you right to the castle," the worm said.

"Thank you again for the tea," Wilf said. "Good-bye!" And he walked through the opening, turned left, and walked a short while down the passage between the brick walls. The passage turned right and straight ahead of him, about a mile away stood the gates to the Goblin City and the castle it protected.


Owen woke up, uncertain of how long he'd slept. The little knight still glowed. Owen didn't move but studied the room from where he lay. As far as he could see, every surface was covered with sparkles. Some were moving around, and one was moving near his hand. Slowly he focused on it and discovered it was a small clear spider. He wasn't afraid of it (wizarding people are immune to the poisons of all small spiders) so he picked it up to look at it.

It ran over the back of his hand, let itself down its silk, and scampered up a wall. There was something that looked like a ball sitting on a ledge, and Owen picked it up. It was a small skull. It didn't look like any skull he'd ever seen before (the hospital has a small collection from the Camden Catacombs, another story in itself), and he wondered if it were one of the sugar ones sold at Honeydukes. It looked rather dusty, so he decided not to taste it.

He carried it around for a while as he continued to explore the small room he was in. He could see no way out-even the hole in the ceiling had vanished.

He sat down, bored and frustrated, and threw the skull at the opposite wall.

Instead of shattering, the skull went into the wall, like a pebble in a pond. A hole appeared in the wall, and the walls rippled like waves, outward from the opening. Daylight spilled in.

Owen gasped, then jumped up and threw himself into the hole. The walls rippled to their boundary, and flowed back again, filling the hole. The ripples echoed faintly on the surface, and then the wall was still. Owen had fallen on the ground and jumped quickly up. He was still clutching the knight.

He didn't wait to see what the wall did after he was out. He stood still for a minute, getting his eyes adjusted to the daylight. He was in a wide area, like a small quarry. He'd scraped his arm when he fell on the ground, and he whimpered a bit from the pain.

"Danger, danger," a deep voice warned him.

Owen looked around and saw nothing but rock walls and pillars.

"Who's there?" he shouted, trying to sound brave.

There was a silence, and then from down-slope, he heard someone mumbling. "You tell him."

"No, you; you're closer." another deep voice growled.

"Can you see him?"

"No, but he's still up there."

There was a short pause.

"He's waiting for an answer."

"I don't know what to say."

"Say something."

Someone else cleared his throat. "We're, ah, over here," it said in a deep toned voice.

Another sarcastically grumbled, "That was well done."

"You should have said it then," the other voice muttered.

Owen decided not see who was "over here" and fled in the other direction. He could see at the end of his straight path a rectangular opening to the sky.


Lenny tried to move around, but the giant Gobstone wobbled dangerously. He was able to lean back and crane his neck around. The partial sphere floated at the top of the hedges, then lifted slowly over the wall of the Goblin City.

For a while no one noticed him and he was able to spy into the windows of upper rooms. No one seemed to be at home, though the streets seemed busy enough. Somewhere below he heard a shout, then more shouting. Spears were hitting the surface of the Gobstone, making it rock. Lenny started to panic.

"Go to that window," he shouted, pointing to one high on the castle wall. Goblins started peering out of the lower windows. "Go to the broken tower," he ordered it. It drifted over to where the scaffolding surrounded the unfinished walls. Goblins ran out of the castle and into the streets.

He didn't know where to go, but he needed to get back to Chaucer. Only he had no idea where the house-elf was.


Bruce was terrified of the ugly pink monsters on the spears: they looked like pig fetuses, with big mouths filled with teeth. He'd seen such things in the apothecary, but they had been pickled and in jars on the shelves. Here they looked as if they could eat him. He dared to turn his back on the goblins and their horrid weapons and blindly fled.

He ran through the hedges, until he tripped and fell onto the flagstones. The stones crumbled beneath him, and he fell into a dark pit and landed on a flat surface on which he slid. The goblins did not follow but jeered at him. He tried to stop himself but found himself falling faster and faster through what seemed to be a tunnel.

There was light ahead. He grabbed at the surfaces around him, but he could not slow down. Screaming, he shot out of the darkness into broad daylight. Helpless, he flew through the air and fell into the Bog of Eternal Stench.


Jareth, the Goblin King, found his throne room deserted and his castle, empty.

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