Chapter 1: And in the darkness bind them
"The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember it." - The Fellowship of the Ring
The One Ring melted in a fire hotter than the hottest of forges. Slowly, the narrow band of gold sunk deeper and deeper, until the ring could last no longer. As it was unmade in that which made it, a blast of power burst outward. Magma surged upwards, turning the air molten as Mount Doom erupted.
Ash, carried by the explosion, rained on two small hobbits and buffeted the mighty Eagles flying to their salvation. It fell across the battle raging at the Black Gates, where King Aragon and the Men of Gondor and Rohan fought alongside a hobbit, elf, and dwarf. From there, ash floated on the winds, carrying the tidings of Sauron’s demise to every end of Middle Earth.
Lord Elrond did not need ash and dust to tell him that Sauron had fallen. In the peaceful valley of Imladris, there was a barely perceptible shift. Suddenly there was silence where before there had always been an unnoticeable hum.
He glanced down at his finger, to the sapphire of Vilya. It appeared that even with the One Ring in Frodo’s hands, the Dark Lord Sauron had learned something of subterfuge. He had made the faintest of connections with the Elvish rings of power prior to his demise.
Lord Elrond frowned and peered more closely at Vilya. Surely, the power that had kept Imladris safe and helped to heal countless injuries was no more. As the One Ring was destroyed, so too would all of the other rings’ powers.
Yet the sapphire glittered as strongly as before.
He stared at the ring, bringing his will to bear on it ever so slowly. The sapphire glinted and magic rose to meet him. More power still lay in wait around the border of Imladris, ready to rise if called upon.
The ring’s power remained, he mused. He had thought otherwise. It was not a bad thing to be wrong, not in this day at the end of an age. Yet perhaps this called a change of plans. Not all of the elves had wanted to leave for the distant shore; now, they might not have to.
But first – he saw a flash of dark hair, more radiant than the moon, walking in the gardens below. Lord Elrond’s mouth tightened into a grimace. First, he had to prepare for a wedding. At least he might not have to leave his daughter quite yet. With Vilya yet strong, he could remain in Middle Earth a while longer.
Outside of Middle Earth, there exists a Void.
Any color leaches out upon contact, and any living thing dies immediately. There, in the swirling shadows and aether, lurks an ancient evil. None had dared speak his name in all Ages past, and none would in those to come.
Morgoth, too, did not need ash to know that his lieutenant had fallen. He had infused his power throughout Middle Earth so that every metal, plant, and creature had a seed of corruption in its heart.
As Mount Doom exploded, he felt a wave of magic that reached through his prison in the Void. Within seconds, the magic would dissipate and the power be forever out of his grasp. Having been given up by him once, his magic was no longer as loyal as it once was.
Yet to gods, seconds can last lifetimes.
He could not reabsorb his magic, not here in the Void. But he could redirect it. In a fraction of a second, he reached out – nudging here, pinching there – until the lines between worlds blurred. The portal wavered in the catacombs of Dol Guldur. There, Sauron had collected three of the seven dwarven rings; there, he had his Ringwraiths forge a new, single ring out of the stolen three. The result was not as powerful as the One Ring; but with the One Ring destroyed, it was now the darkest piece of magic remaining.
If shadows could smile, this one would have. It was time to bring a new Dark Lord to Middle Earth.
Somewhere in a valley in the Scottish Highlands, Harry Potter fought. The waxing moon cast a pale light down over the combatants; pale and indifferent to the crimson blood that had spilled throughout the day. Everything might have seemed peaceful under that nocturnal light, but for the flashes of bright red and sickly green that still shot across the grounds of Hogwarts.
No quicker did those spells fly than at the shore of the Great Lake. Indeed, it almost seemed as if all light itself emanated from the fierce duel that raged there, and spells flew thick and fast. Two figures twisted gracefully under the moon’s impersonal visage, never seeming to mistake the next step in their deadly dance.
For Harry, the real battle raged inside his mind. He and Voldemort each fought for dominance, easily reading the intention behind the other’s next move. They had been fighting for hours, neither stumbling in their intent.
For a brief second, Voldemort hesitated. His hand seemed to rise to his temple of its own volition. Harry felt his shock at Nagini’s death and let out a vicious smile. He didn’t know who had managed to kill the snake, but he didn’t stop to analyze. In another time, in another life, perhaps he wouldn’t have aimed to kill. Instead, the killing curse flew from his lips without a second’s hesitation: “Avada Kedavra.”
The green light arced across the night sky and passed soundlessly through Voldemort’s robes. Harry felt Voldemort’s incredulous shock, his mind still entwined with that of the Dark Lord’s. Then the mind vanished, winking out of existence quicker than the stars were disappearing under the tendrils of dawn above.
He stood for several seconds, staring at the shapeless mound not twenty feet away from him. Harry sent out another tendril of Legilimency. He had dealt with enough Horcruxes to know how clever and hard-to-kill the evil wizard could be. There was nothing.
When Harry envisioned this moment, he had thought he might feel relief, satisfaction, or even regret. Yet he felt nothing. One death couldn’t negate others; the former Dark Lord could not bring back his friends.
As Harry took a step forward to fight, his foot sank through the ground. Suddenly, he was falling face-forward into a hole that had not been there a moment before. The Hogwarts battle raged on, leaving the cooling body of Voldemort and no sign of the wizard savior, Harry Potter.
Chapter 2: Stranger in a strange land
I don't go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me. - The Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry landed with a thud in a darkened room. His landing created a cloud of dust to rise from the floor. Yet as the motes slowly settled down over his face and clothes, the thin layer of grime avoided a small spot next to where he had landed.
There, a ring of pure gold lay, woven of seven braided strands. The gleaming metal ignored the general shabbiness of the room; though small and forgotten in this unused room, it had a presence that demanded attention. The ring called out to Harry, silently promising power and opportunity to whoever grasped it.
Harry remained unmoving and unconscious from the fall. While he was not awake to notice the ring, something else was. A consciousness, long-dormant, heard the ring’s call in its slumber. It sloughed off decades of sleep and began to answer the call with whispers of its own. Hunger, ravenous and unbridled, erupted in its mind as it tasted the power offered by the ring.
Both ring and consciousness sang to each other the song of seductive power. They harmonized, reaching a crescendo: and then vanished. No trace remained of either the presence or the ring.
Harry awoke to a raging headache. He blinked back tears of pain and tried to remember where he was. He remembered the first fringe of dawn reaching pale fingers across the Great Lake. The battle had raged throughout the night and the streaks of light across the horizon had imparted an almost spiritual effect to the final battle. Yet now, he was surrounded in darkness so black he could not see his hand.
Harry tried to wriggle his fingers and cursed as his shoulder flared in irritation. He couldn’t imagine dying would hurt this much, which must mean he had somehow lived – again. At least he could still feel the smooth holly of his wand. He flicked it and whispered, “Lumos”.
The unending blackness remained as impenetrable as before.
Harry sat up, his hands feeling damp, smooth stone cold to the touch. He gripped his wand tighter. “Lumos, Lumos—", Harry said, his voice rising in frustration.
A clang echoed in the distance, the sound of metal grinding against metal.
Harry fell silent, straining to hear. The jangling slowly became louder, and with it came the sound of heavy footsteps. Harry gripped his wand tightly and stood up, muscles groaning. Lumos didn’t seem to work, but perhaps another spell would.
Flickering light appeared to his right, as the grating sound grew. The dim glow of a torch flickered, illuminating a door in front of Harry. The light came from the hallway beyond, growing steadily brighter. Harry quickly glanced around the room, looking for a hiding place.
The room wasn’t large, but it was overflowing with sharp, rusty metal instruments and heavy, locked chests. Harry lay in the center upon a raised dais stained with some dark color he couldn’t quite make out. His eyes quickly returned to the doorway, where he could now see a large, misshapen shadow in the hallway beyond.
The silhouette moved into view, coalescing into a blocky, square head attached to a hulking body that barely fit into the doorway. The rest of the face was squashed into a crude iron helmet that had seen better years, and its body was covered with rusty armor that creaked and groaned as it walked.
It looked like nothing any creature Harry had ever seen. The thing smiled, showing misshapen and blackened teeth and started towards him. Harry wasn’t planning on meeting it.
“PETRIFICUS TOTALUS,” he shouted –
But nothing happened. He glared at his wand in frustration, and to his horror, the flickering torchlight illuminated a deep crack running the length of his wand.
It was broken. Harry stared, uncomprehending as seconds seemed to stretch on forever. But the now-familiar screech of rusty metal jerked his head up. The creature was slowly approaching him, baring a rictus smile and hoisting a rusty ax.
He needed a new plan. Harry quickly pivoted on one foot, concentrating hard on the park near Grimmauld Place in London. His world narrowed into a single point, and the familiar nausea with Apparition began to emerge—and suddenly disappeared. It had felt like he hit a wall. Or an anti-Apparition ward.
Harry swore and turned to face the creature again, ducking just in time to avoid the swing of its ax. The creature’s strength propelled it forward, past Harry, giving him time to raise his wand again. Harry paused, reconsidering. His wand didn’t work, but there were other ways to use magic. He threw himself to the side as the creature’s blade sought him again, coming out of the roll with his hand raised into a clenched fist.
A torch launched itself from the wall at the creature. Harry smiled, sharp and vicious, as it hit the thing’s head with a crack. The summoning charm worked on a direct path to the caster; it was also one of the few wandless spells he had learned over the years.
The torch fell to the ground, snuffing out the light that had illuminated both Harry and his attacker.
Under the cover of darkness, Harry quickly closed his eyes and dove into his mind, seeking the feelings instead of memories: of diving through the skies, and of a haunting melody. His bones folded in on themselves and became lighter; dark plumage sprouted all over his body. Where a young man once stood, there was now a scruffy black bird with green eyes.
The few phoenixes ever seen by witches or wizards all had the golden-red plumage of Fawkes. Hermione had theorized that his unusual coloring reflected his human features, much like Professor McGonagall turned into a tabby with eye markings to represent her spectacles. At the end of the day, she chalked it up to his Boy-Who-Lived status; what better representation than a bird that cannot die? They hadn’t tested the latter, but in his darkest thoughts, Harry was terrified he would be stuck living forever. However, just because Harry didn’t want to live forever didn’t mean that he wanted to die this very moment.
Fully transformed, Harry’s talons curled around his wand and launched himself into the air. His right wing was in agony, as the muscles strained to lift him upwards and above the creature, who was now cursing in a guttural language.
He burst into the corridor as the light behind him flickered back on. The creature roared at seeing his prey escaped, and threw its ax towards Harry – whether or not it realized Harry had transformed, he couldn’t say – but he wasn’t about to stick around and find out.
The ax hit the wall with a resounding smash, missing Harry as he flapped his wings frantically upwards. His shoulder throbbed, but he ignored it, focused on trying to put as much distance from the thing behind him.
Unfortunately, the commotion attracted others. Along the long corridor, doors were opening, and bulbous noses and squinty eyes peered out. The creatures spilled into the inky hallway with more torches, casting shadows every which way. Harry could now make out the end of the hallway, which led to a spiral staircase. Behind him, he heard the ominous sound of rusty metal creaking. He risked a quick look back, to see the thing picking up its ax and hurrying his way.
For a brief moment, Harry thought the creatures’ eyes would slide over his jet-black form. He strained to keep his flight as close to the ceiling as possible. But then one gave a shout, and others took up the cries along the corridor. Misshapen heads turned to look up at him, and gnarled fingers pointed at his form.
Harry saw one of the creatures pull back its arm to throw a javelin towards him. His sore wings were already pushed to the limits; he couldn’t fly any faster. As the sharp object sailed in the air towards him, he focused on the flickering shadows cast into sharp relief on the wall next to him by all of the torches – and banked sharply to fly directly into the wall.
Instead of crashing, his form melted into the shadows and he disappeared from sight, leaving the creatures behind him to mutter and stare uncomprehendingly at the stone wall.
As the inky blackness surrounded him, Harry thought desperately of escape. Just as Fawkes could travel in a burst of flame, so could Harry jump through shadows. But it was an inelegant process, especially if he didn’t have a clear destination in mind.
Light suddenly appeared again, and Harry opened his eyes to see himself in a cavernous room. Weak beams of light slanted into the area, illuminating a hoard of the creatures below. Each bore swords that glinted dully beneath layers of rust, and many milled about with restless energy. Nearly all faced towards the exit, where a huge wooden door stood slightly ajar.
Harry flew towards a closed window for a better vantage point. He could direct his shadow-jumping if he had a clear idea of where to go; and while part of him wanted to shadow-jump directly back to Hogwarts, another part needed to know what was happening here. Was this another of Voldemort’s armies, waiting to surprise them all? He couldn’t be sure, and he couldn’t leave until he knew more.
Yet, looking out the dusty window, he realized the horde beneath him was only part of his worries. Peering through the fogged glass, Harry saw creatures defending themselves against a band of humans. Unlike the creatures, who had a motley assortment of battle-axes, swords, and knives, the humans were well-armored with gleaming swords and bows. They fought flawlessly, making dodging and thrusting seem graceful as they swirled around the defenders. While the creatures had a defensive position, the humans were slowly gaining ground.
If birds could frown, Harry would have. While this army was much more impressive than that of the creatures below him, not one wand or firearm was in sight. Surely these people must be witches and wizards. They were clearly fighting magical creatures; Harry would have remembered seeing something so ugly at the local zoo. Despite the humans’ poor choice in weaponry, he would rather take his chances with them than with the rough group here.
From his perch, he eyed the crowd below. Aside from other windows – too small even for him to squeeze through, and rusted shut besides – the massive, partially-ajar oaken door was the only way outside. While many of the defenders lay in wait just inside the door for the humans that were steadily encroaching, some impatient ones were heading out to join the fight as injured ones were dragging themselves back in. Not all of those coming back made it much further than the doorway; Harry watched as one collapsed from its wounds. A few of the creatures tripped over the body on the way out, until one dragged the corpse off to the side to join a growing mound of the dead. Those exiting didn’t make it very far; volleys of arrows kept the defenders hunkered inside.
He needed to find out more about the attackers. Harry looked back out through the glass, searching for an unobtrusive place. Finally, he found one; behind most of the humans, there was a rocky outcropping – he should have a good vantage point from there to see what they were up to. He dove headfirst, once more, into the shadowy corner in the ceiling and reappeared soundlessly outside.
The first thing that Harry noticed was the noise; swords clashed against shields, men and creatures screamed, and the sound of battle – insistent and pervasive – seemed to swell from the very earth itself.
He tried to look closer at the humans, but the only thing he could see at this distance was their graceful movements. He was sure he had never looked so elegant in battle. It seemed odd that an entire group could move in such synchronization; it spoke to a highly organized army.
For a moment, he debated flying closer. Yet arrows were flying here, from both sides with equal vigor. No, it was better to get a closer look from the ground.
Harry quickly transformed back, his fingers grasping his wand where talons had been clutching it. Under the afternoon sun, he could clearly see the splintered crack that ran up the length of his holly wand. His heart gave a small lurch as he stared at it. His wand had been with him through everything – even those rare moments that his friends hadn’t been by his side.
He gripped it tighter. Surely, there was a way to fix it. He would ask as soon as he got back to Hogwarts. He just needed to understand what was happening here first.
He looked around. Though before him lay a bluff, behind were a few small, rocky trails. He chose one at random, carefully picking his way down the path. His shoulder still throbbed, and his head seemed to match it beat for beat. As he got closer to the bottom, Harry began to question whether this was a good idea after all. Maybe he should go back to Hogwarts and try to find this place once he had healed.
Just then, the trail evened out. He had reached the bottom.
Harry peered around uncertainly, looking for anyone who might notice him. He didn’t see anyone or anything; all animals had fled at the sounds of battle. He breathed a sigh of relief – which was abruptly cut short as the hilt of a sword connected with his already-throbbing temple.
Chapter 3: Parts unknown
One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present: like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake…it felt as if something that grew in the ground—asleep, you might say or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky—had sudden waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years. The Two Towers
Harry awoke abruptly, and immediately wished he hadn’t. Pain seemed to radiate from his head. Even his eyelids hurt. Distantly, he registered a constant creaking sound, but that was quickly forgotten as his body abruptly jerked and his head felt as if it were split open again. He couldn’t say how long he lay there, curled up and eyes tightly closed as his head throbbed. Finally, the creaking and bumps ceased, and Harry slowly opened his eyes.
His cheek was pressed flat against a smooth wooden floor, and the wall nearest to him was the same. Cracks of light filtered in-between the planks, making everything appear murky and dim. Harry slowly moved to sit up but froze as he heard the clinking of metal. He quickly twisted his head to see, then nearly vomited from the pain that set off in his head. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, then slowly turned his head and opened them.
His legs had been chained together. Harry took a sharp breath, trying not to panic, as memories rose unbidden about the last time he had been captured. He had to get out – now.
Where was his wand? Harry glanced around the small room frantically, but no holly stick appeared.
Seeing nothing, he slowly pressed his forehead against the wall and tried to peer between the wooden planks. Outside, the setting sun cast long shadows. It looked like they were in a valley; up on high, the faint clang of metal and shouts rose from a tall fortress set on the side of the mountain. The parapets seemed to cut into the sky itself, even while the building seemed to be on the verge of ruin and decay.
Outside of his cell, men deftly tethered their horses, their long hair swishing like their horse’s tails. Others set up camp and tended to small fires. The smell of cooking filled the air and Harry’s stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten since before the attack on Hogwarts, which could have been days ago.
As if reading his mind, the door of the wagon was unlocked and a soldier carrying a steaming bowl entered gracefully, not stirring a single drop within the bowl. Up close, Harry was momentarily struck by the man’s appearance – long hair framed a perfectly proportioned face, smooth and ageless. Some of the hair was tucked behind a long and pointed ear. All of a sudden, Harry wasn’t sure if these were men at all.
Perhaps the battle he had seen was between two different magical creatures. This humanoid being reminded him of the Veela that danced at the World Cup match.
The guard placed the bowl near him and then stepped back, saying a few words in a coarse language. Harry felt his heart sink. He had hoped he was still in England, but it was looking less and less likely. Still, he felt it best to try the Queen’s English.
“Where am I? Who are you?” he asked, in his best commanding voice. The soldier looked at him blankly and then tried to speak another language, this one sounding clear and lilting. Harry didn’t recognize it. He would have tried to speak French, but he thought that the guard wouldn’t recognize it and he had never done well in his primary school French lessons anyway.
He was starting to think he wasn’t in England – or perhaps Europe – entirely. Yet, he had no idea where he could be. There was only one solution; distasteful as it was. While he didn’t know a translator spell, he had learned a few tricks when Horcrux-hunting in Albania. That he would be lowering them in unknown, unfriendly territory did not make him happy. Yet, it was the only way: Harry slowly lowered his shields and sent a tendril of thought to the guard.
He wormed his way into the man’s mind with ease – the guard had no mental shields to speak of. He slowly twisted tendrils of thoughts into the man’s memories, not seeking any specific outcome but passively absorbing as much vocabulary as possible.
Memories were a funny thing: while the man’s memories were in his native language, Harry could understand them as if he were the guard. While most of the guard’s memories were in one language, some – including of their recent interaction – were in another. Harry started to try and distinguish between the two when he felt another mind brush against his.
The first touch was curious, but quickly turned hostile when it sensed he was in another’s mind. The full weight of an angry mind crashed against Harry’s Occlumency shields as Harry quickly retreated to his own mind. The attack hammered at his shields, bringing his splitting headache back in full force. He tried to counterattack, but realized the mind was further away than he thought – it came from the fortress above. He couldn’t reach that far mentally without losing control of his own shields.
The guard was still trying to talk to him; reverting back to the rougher language that he had begun with. Harry couldn’t hold back a grunt as another attack hit. He had to escape. The guard finally turned to leave the wagon, perhaps looking for a translator.
The moment the guard exited the wagon, Harry had already shrunk down into his phoenix form, the shackles coming free as his legs shrank into talons. He didn’t care if he had his wand or not at this point. Instead, he thought only of escape. He wanted to go back to Hogwarts; hell, even the Forbidden Forest would be better than here.
He dove headfirst into a shadow, his mind focused on a small grove in the Forest that should be deserted. He would go there first and then fly to the castle, in order to get a better view of the remaining battle. Darkness enveloped him, but the pathway wasn’t there. It felt like an apparition ward, but nothing had ever blocked his shadow-jumping before. Harry redoubled his efforts, focusing only on the sound of rustling trees in the Forest and the sweet scent of grass.
Something finally gave, and Harry disappeared, leaving a short void of sound in his wake. Up in the tower, the Lady Galadriel frowned in confusion as the mind that had invaded one of her subjects disappeared. However, she didn’t have long to contemplate the mystery as more foes appeared on the parapets of Dol Guldur. This bastion of evil had lingered like a blight for too long in this land. She turned back towards the fortress and ordered another attack.
In the next instant, Harry opened his eyes to see ancient oaks and pines towering above him. The clearing looked…different, but it didn’t matter. Harry beat his wings up and up, until he crested the trees. The forest stretched out as far as the eye could see, and the feel of magic was almost tangible in the air. There was only one problem – there was no Hogwarts. He was now wandless and completely lost.
Harry flew in circles, looking for any familiar landmark, but could find nothing. The forest spilled down from mountains off to the west, which then turned to rolling hills that Harry was now flying over. To the east, the land flattened, eventually turning into a great plain. No beings – fair or otherwise – were in sight. Harry wanted to scream his frustration, but all that came out was a mournful trill. He had no idea where it was. All he knew was that he couldn’t seem to go to Hogwarts, his head and shoulder hurt, and everything here wanted to attack him.
Focus, he needed to focus.
Harry glided down and transformed back into a human and sat down on the trunk of a tree. He closed his eyes and sunk into a light trance, gently probing to make sure his Occlumency remained intact after the recent attack on his mind.
The barriers barely remained. They had been battered from his fight with Voldemort earlier; now, following the intrusion of an unknown mind, the shield had broken completely. He painstakingly began to renew his Occlumency barriers, but he couldn’t concentrate.
Now that he was no longer in danger, he couldn’t help but revisit memories from earlier in the day, when both Ron and Hermione had fallen. He tried to put the image out of his mind, but more piled in: of the Weasley twins taken down by their own products, turned against them; of Neville heroically using the sword of Gryffindor to impale Nagini as she sunk her fangs deep within his arm.
With a cry, Harry abruptly opened his eyes and stared at the still unfamiliar forest. It was too much. His friends’ deaths, the battles, and now this. Harry felt his breath catch, as his world began to crumble down. Without his noticing, his form began to darken and shrink. He only realized he had reverted to his Animagus form as his grief, sharp and jagged for a man, dulled in the mind of a phoenix.
His clearer mind let him regain a tenuous control over his Occlumency shields, and he remembered something Snape had told him before the end of their lessons. He slowly visualized a vault, his Gringott’s vault, and poured all of his grief and anger and fear into it. He imagined the associated memories, laden with these sharp jagged emotions that would only distract him in this unfamiliar territory, and pushed those into the vault as well, mentally visualizing the door locking with a click.
Snape had warned him only to use this technique when he needed it most: Harry couldn’t imagine a timelier day than this one.
Exhausted, Harry flew up to perch in a tree. Snape had also warned Harry not to bottle the memories for too long, but Harry would grieve his friends later. He gave a small, mournful trill. For now, he needed food and rest. Food seemed easy enough; a copse of rowan trees stood nearby, with branches bursting full of berries.
Yet as he flew towards it, the tree moved to meet him. He stared as another tree rustled, and then stepped towards him. He chirped in alarm, ready to fly off, when a deep, rumbling voice spoke.
“What ails you, child?”
Harry looked around wildly for the voice. His newly tenuous control over Occlumency let him parse the language from the being - the elf - he had recently encountered. But no elf was in sight.
Instead, a tree rustled and then moved. Spindly branches reached into the clearing where Harry landed, and roots shuffled forward. A weathered trunk peered down at him, and kindly eyes twinkled behind a ring of pale new shoots that appeared all over the face.
The tree must have seen him staring at the shoots, for it said in a somewhat embarrassed voice, “I had not expected company today, or I would have pruned. But you sound as if more troubles you than new leaf stalks.”
Harry had a million questions for the tree, but he had learned how to hide confusion well after his time in the wizarding world. He directed a specific thought and sent it towards the tree.
“What — who are you?” He asked mentally.
Harry tensed, ready to flee at the first sign of another mental intrusion, but the tree didn’t act as if there was anything abnormal about telepathic birds in his forest.
“Well, I would ask the same of you,” the tree exclaimed. “I may have gotten older, but I remember the Lore of Living Creatures as well as any Ent. My name is Bregalad, young one.”
“My name is…” Harry paused. Harry Potter was known by witches and wizards before he could even say his own name. Harry was tired of the expectations, and here seemed like a being with no expectations whatsoever. He decided to revert to the nickname he had been given after achieving his first Animagus transformation. “Eclipse,” he said. “My name is Eclipse.”
Harry spoke with Bregalad well into the night. That was, unfortunately, not because he was learning more about this “Middle Earth” that the tree mentioned in passing, but because it had taken that long for introductions to conclude. Harry had watched, torn between fascination and boredom, as a single leaf fluttered off one of Bregalad’s branches and slowly twirled towards the ground as the Ent choose the next word in his sentence with care.
But from the little he learned, the more dire his situation seemed. For Bregalad was well-aware of wizards – all of them. Apparently, there were only a handful in the entire world. Harry had a horrible, sinking feeling in his stomach. Hogwarts had never seemed so far away.
The next morning Harry awoke with a pounding headache. He shifted, and then woke with a start as he realized it was talons and not feet that were moving. Why was he in his phoenix form?
He slowly opened his eyes, taking in the thick forest of trees that stretched out in front of him. To his right came a deep, rumbling sound. He turned his head slowly, and saw a face seemingly carved into the tree next to him. Bregalad. The Ent’s eyes were closed, and he snored softly in his sleep.
It all came rushing back to him. The creatures who attacked him, which Bregalad said must be orcs, and the fair beings who imprisoned him called elves. And the fact that Harry had a bone-deep certainty that he was no longer in the same world, and no idea about how to get back.
Well, he had one idea but he didn’t think it would work. Closing his eyes, Harry visualized Hogwarts in his mind, thinking only of the ancient stone and the way the castle seemed alive with magic. He concentrated on all of the memories he had of Hogwarts, everything that made it home to him. Then he twisted and dove towards the shadows-
Only to let out a cry of pain as he hit the tree. The trunk remained encased in shadows, but the tree felt solid. Harry closed his eyes again, visualizing Hogwarts, and once more stepped towards the shadows. His head pressed against solid bark.
He sighed. He thought that might be the case. It was something he had thought about before slipping into a restless sleep hours ago, wondering how he ended up here of all places. He had been thinking of the place he usually jumped to in the Forbidden Forest, but it was entirely possible that his thoughts had shifted to any forest and the magic had brought him to the closest approximation of that.
He closed his eyes again, and thought of the dank room he had woken up in yesterday. He felt the bark push back against his body, straining – it was always harder to go further distances – but then reality snapped and he fell into the shadows.
A black phoenix instantly emerged in the rough-hewn stone room. A rank smell assaulted him; the smell of decaying bodies. The corridor was still lit with torches, but the flames were spluttering, nearly out of oil. Shadows danced inside the room, where the door remained flung open and forgotten.
Harry tried his best to see in the uncertain light, looking for a clue of how he came to be here. The floors remained smooth and barren, ignoring his desperate searching. There was also a wooden table with heavy pewter goblets on it, and two chairs which had been knocked over and lay on their side. A few bottles lay sideways on the floor, on top of a small pool of liquid.
Harry stayed there for hours, trying to jump back to Hogwarts, then the Burrow, then even number 4 Privet Drive, in a moment of absolute desperation. But he remained stuck in the fetid room, and eventually had to conclude that there was nothing inherently special about this room.
With a heavy heart, he thought back to the forest and jumped.
He didn’t have any luck the next day, or the day after. Harry needed ideas, but unfortunately, he was running out of them. He had run into Bregalad again and asked him about any magical libraries or mysterious places. The Ent had directed him to the nearby fortress of Isengard. Harry spent weeks scouring the tower for any information that could be useful, but found nothing that could relate to his predicament.
Eventually, spring turned to summer and then to fall. The air grew colder; frost appeared on the tips of the Ent’s bushy beard of red and orange leaves. Harry visited Isengard less and less. He couldn’t handle the inevitable disappointment and despair for failing to find anything to help him. He spent more and more time as a phoenix, where his emotions were muted and living seemed simpler.
He also deepened his friendship with Bregalad, who was a wealth of information about both the forest and the wider events in Middle Earth. As the months passed, Harry grew used to hearing stories interspersed with long pauses and drawn-out syllables indicative of the Ent’s speech. At times, he almost felt as though he could almost understand the language of the rustles and creaks of the trees under the Ent’s care.
Not all of the Ent’s tales were peaceful, however. Bregalad also told Harry about the recent battle against Orcs, and a White Wizard who had turned evil, and the elves who lived to the north and also sang songs long forgotten to the trees.
His life as Harry Potter seemed long behind him. After realizing he was somewhere altogether different than Earth, he had nearly succumbed to depression. His Occlumency saved him again; he bottled up more emotions into the vault that lay behind ever-tightening shields. Remaining in his phoenix form also dampened his emotions. As he fell into a daily rhythm of flying and listening to tales of trees and other living things, Harry almost convinced himself that he didn’t miss his old world.
It was only after the sun set each night that Harry had a harder time pretending everything was fine. His sleep was beset with nightmares until he stubbornly locked those memories away into the vault as well.
Slowly, gradually, the days went by and Harry quietly adapted to his new life. Cold settled in, and frost blanketed the land; warm breezes from the south then brought with it the first vestiges of spring and the land awakened from its slumber. As spring gave way to summer, Harry stopped having nightmares and had fully settled into his new life on Middle Earth.
He had given up hope of ever returning to his world and of ever holding his wand again. He had tried to return to Dol Guldur via shadow-jumping, once, but nothing remained there. The elves had cleaned the place thoroughly of Orcs. He didn’t know where Lothlorien was, and the idea of creeping into an elven stronghold to retrieve his broken wand didn’t sound as appealing as it once did.
No, he could get used to a solitary life here, he decided. He was done with fighting and done with mourning. Eclipse the phoenix liked nothing more than a sunny day and some juicy berries.
Chapter 4: A walk in the woods
There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them. – The Philosopher’s Stone
Two friends walked under the dappled shadows in the Forest of Fangorn.
“I don’t like this place,” grumbled one. He was short of stature, but stout of limb, with a reddish beard tucked into his belt. His hand kept creeping towards the ax strapped on his back before freezing and reluctantly returning to his side.
Tree leaves rustled angrily, as though a sharp wind had just passed. In the still air, his companion admonished him. “Peace, Gimli. Imagine if I had said that the caverns of Helm’s Deep weren’t worth the pickaxes that uncovered them?”
Gimli glowered. His hand crept back up to his ax, before sharply returning to his side once more. He eyed the trees. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate forests. This is a lovely forest,” he said pointedly to a shaggy beech tree as he passed, “…from a distance.”
The forest rustled again and Legolas stopped.
“You see!” Gimli cried. “When jewels speak, they sing. This forest gives naught but growls and grumbles.”
“Not the shifting of the trees,” said Legolas. “Something new walks in this forest.”
“As if the trees needed the company,” muttered Gimli, his hand creeping back towards his ax.
Legolas crouched down, now only slightly shorter than Gimli. He unslung his bow with practiced ease and lined an arrow towards a copse of trees off to the right. Gimli quieted as well; for the last fortnight, they had tramped through these forsaken woods and nothing had elicited this strong of a reaction in the elf until now.
Suddenly, Legolas stood and lowered his bow.
“Gandalf!” he cried. “A pleasant surprise.”
The white-robed figure took a few steps into the clearing towards them. The lingering mist dispelled to reveal a pointy hat with a large brim covering an old, weather-beaten face and long white beard.
Gandalf, the White Wizard, strode towards them. “Pleasant? Yes, I suppose it is a pleasant day. And the two of you look to be having a pleasant time – well, at least one of you,” he amended, peering closely at Gimli. “And I suppose it is pleasant to find you on my way through the woods. But my business is not at all pleasant, I fear.”
“Does trouble rise again in the east?” Legolas asked, placing a hand on his bow. This time, the trees did not object.
“I do not think it likely,” Gandalf said slowly, “But then again, who else could be up to this latest mischief? I come from Gondor, where our friend the king sends his greetings. His scouts report strange happenings at the border to Mordor, or at least those that return do. The orcs have returned to their old ways but strengthened with a new weapon. Poison.”
“Orcs?” Gimli cried. “I thought we had taught them to fear the honest folk of Middle Earth. Perhaps it is time to remind them.” He raised his ax for emphasis. Branches creaked overhead, and the dwarf hastily lowered his weapon.
“Perhaps,” said Gandalf. “But I have never seen Orcs poison Men in combat. When the nature of a creature changes unexpectedly, usually it is not the creature itself responsible for the change. I fear they have a new master.”
“That is ill tidings, indeed,” said Legolas. His traitorous heart, however, gave a small beat of excitement at Gandalf’s words. After the One Ring was destroyed and the Hobbits set off for the Shire, Legolas was surprised to find himself reluctant to return home. During the journey, he had thought of nothing more than his down bed and running through a light-dappled forest. Yet, at the hour of peace, his heart stubbornly beat for more adventure.
“As I thought,” agreed Gandalf. “I journeyed to the White Tower first, to ensure Saruman was not up to his old ways. He was not there, which is perhaps even more concerning. But what is done is done, and what will be, will be. Now I am off to see the Lady of Lothlorien and hear of any tidings she may have seen. I thought to go the quickest journey, and hoped for such a chance encounter with you both.”
“The Lady?” Gimli asked, all traces of animosity vanished from his voice. “Aye, surely she will know what to do.” He looked at the forest with dislike. “What are we waiting for? Lead the way Gandalf!”
Legolas smiled. Perhaps there would be one more quest before he returned to Mirkwood.
As the sun sank towards the horizon, Harry angled his wings towards his favorite perch. The great oak tree could have housed a flock of phoenixes. Even a person could sleep nestled in the crook of the thick branches without fear of falling. Every once in a while, the sight of a bare tree left even his phoenix heart wilting for lack of company, but he could always seek out the Ents when he grew lonely. They had good stories, when they didn’t spend the whole day waxing about new leaves.
Yet as he flew towards his nightly abode, Harry saw a thin stream of smoke off to the left. He hadn’t seen smoke since entering Fangorn; he thought the Ents would put a stop to anyone who might want to carve up their herds of trees. Perhaps there were Orcs in the forest.
Harry had already angled his flight to bring him closer to the smoke to find out. When he could almost grasp the smoke in his talons, he circled lower and landed lightly on a tree branch.
Three figures sat below, arranged around a campfire. Harry first noticed the wild chestnut hair, which seemed to glow red in the light. The hair reminded him of Ron, at first; and then Hermione, when he noticed its volume. It belonged to a man of short stature and stout limbs, with an equally impressive beard. He spoke to his two companions with a deep, booming voice.
Across from him sat a man nearly his opposite: tall and slender, with straight golden hair that looked smooth and untangled. He was still as a statue, showing only a small quirk of his lips when his companion laughed uproariously. An elf, Harry thought, reflecting on his first night in Middle Earth. It seemed none of his kind had a sense of humor. And the stocky man resembled a dwarf, if Bregalad’s list of species held any truth.
At first glance, the final companion did not seem as interesting as the others. He looked, as far as Harry could tell, like an ordinary old man. His nose was perhaps more bulbous than most, and his beard perhaps a touch too long. Yet it was his clothes that caught Harry’s attention: robes, plain and serviceable. In the dirt lay a pointy, grey hat. A white staff leaned against a tree nearby. The old man looked like a somber version of Dumbledore.
Harry settled more comfortably onto the branch. Aside from his disastrous first day in this world, he had only seen Ents and other animals. He had never met other races until now, and Harry had never been known to resist his curiosity.
The trio spoke Westeron, but with a different accent than what Bregalad used to converse with him. Still, he was able to pick out part of the dwarf’s conversation.
“—have you found anything of use?” the dwarf asked.
The old man shook his head. “Ideas grow as thick as weeds, and are about as useful. The only thing I know for certain is that there is some evil active in Minas Morgul or beyond in Mordor. I did a little investigating of my own, but was always discovered before I set foot inside the dark tower. There are some forces at work beyond the power of mortal men.”
A chill silence descended upon the camp.
“Perhaps that is where Saruman is,” the elf said, frowning at the flames. “Few foes can sense an ithron when he does not want to be found.”
The dwarf nodded in agreement while Harry frowned. Ithron hadn’t been on Bregalad’s list of species – he would have to ask the Ent about it tomorrow.
“Perhaps,” said the old man. “Though from the White Tower, the signs pointed north. I would fear for our friends the Hobbits, but out of the two, I do believe I should fear for Saruman instead. No, I doubt this is the work of the former White Wizard,” he mused, as he puffed on a pipe, “This enemy’s movements are much more aggressive. I foiled two surprise attacks on my journey here, and I don’t doubt there may be another before we reach Lothlorien.”
“Let them come!” cried the dwarf. “We have defeated them once – and we will defeat them again!” He grabbed his ax, and lifted it into the air in a show of defiance, and quickly put it back down as the trees creaked ominously.
“Clear skies cannot come soon enough,” he said fervently.
Chapter 5: Chance encounters
“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –The Fellowship of the Ring
Harry stayed perched on a tree near the company for most of the night, even after the talk turned towards recounting old tales and new gossip. Eventually, he left to fly back to his perch; he had food stored there and had begun building a nest to keep out the wind.
As the sun rose that morning, he took flight towards the north. Bregalad was hasty for an Ent but predictable to any other species. Every morning, he wandered down to the lake for freshwater and to care for the trees there.
Golden rays of light danced across the water’s edge as Harry crested the hill of trees surrounding the lake. He flew slowly, enjoying the warm breeze. Winter wasn’t far away, but the trees hadn’t changed their leaves yet.
Bregalad wasn’t in his usual spot by the lake. As Harry flew closer, he was distracted from his search by a pungent odor. He veered east, following the source of the smell to a small river tributary that fed into the lake. Fish floated in the shallows of the lake, dead. A few meters up the river lay a small herd of deer. They lay across the ground, their limbs askew and bulbous eyes vacant. Near them stood Bregalad, who had picked up several of the deer and piled them into a shallow pit of earth.
Harry flew down to perch on a tree. It was hard to tell without a diagnostic spell, but the deer looked –
“Poisoned,” Bregalad boomed. “In this very forest.”
The Ent was brimming with anger, each leaf rustling and on edge.
Harry surveyed the scene. At first glance, the herd appeared healthy and untouched. This death was not caused by a natural hunter in the forest. As Harry looked closer, he saw the deer closest to him had a gash on its foreleg. Blood had already congealed into a dark coppery color, but at its center, the wound was a putrid black. Poison, if Harry had to guess.
“Treebeard came to me yesterday and warned of poison in the forest. There have been two other poisonings, closer to the White Tower. I hadn’t thought that the killer would come this far into the forest – into my forest.” Bregalad choked off. He shook his great, scraggly head. “We must find the one responsible.”
“I saw three strangers yesterday,” Harry said slowly. The trio had seemed harmless enough, but he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to mention them. “An elf, a dwarf and an ithron, I think – do you know of them?” Many times, the Ents would already know of something before Harry caught wind of it; he had no idea how such a slow-moving species could be so incredibly fast at gossiping.
“An ithron? With companions? It must be Gandalf the White. What was the color of his robes?”
“White,” Harry confirmed. “But Bregalad – what is an ithron?”
“Why, a Wizard of course. Gandalf may be useful in helping us find the perpetrator. But it is just as likely that he brought this trouble into Fangorn. Best not to meddle in the affairs of Wizards, unless they meddle in yours. Hmm, but Gandalf will certainly find justice for this crime. Tell him of these events.”
“Tell him – yes, of course –” Harry’s mind was whirling. A wizard… Perhaps he wasn’t as alone as he thought. Then Bregalad’s words sunk in. “Wait, no, I can’t speak to him! Can’t you?”
A wizard would definitely not appreciate Harry speaking via his mind. And he wasn’t sure if he could face a wizard as a human yet. His heart was full of hope that he might find others like him – yet Harry hadn’t survived a war without picking up some instincts for hiding and subterfuge. He couldn’t speak to this Gandalf without first knowing more about how wizards operated in Middle Earth.
The Ent fixed him with a mulish look, his bark-covered face looking like stone. “I must finish burying these poor creatures before they poison any others of this forest,” he said, gesturing with a scraggly limb towards the deer. “And you can move faster than I. Please, alert the Wizard before more die.”
There wasn’t much Harry could argue against that. He nodded his assent and then took off across the lake again.
The company had moved from their campfire the night before. Harry hovered over the charred campfire remains and tried to think about which direction they might have gone. If he had his wand, he could use a simple Point Me spell. As it was, he had no idea how to track the trio.
Well, he had one idea… but he didn’t like it. While he used a passive form of Legilimency to ‘speak’ with Bregalad, he hadn’t actively sought out other minds since his first disastrous day here. If he cast his mind out, he might be able to pick up a mental heatmap of other intelligent lifeforms. But he would need to meditate to reach that level of sensitivity, and meditate as a human. Meditation was not the same as a phoenix; his Animagus form muted his emotions and shifted his mind to a simpler form.
Harry flew down to the ground, awkwardly landing on phoenix talons. He closed his eyes and envisioned his perpetually scruffy hair, his knobby knees, and bright green eyes. Slowly, his body shifted, lengthening and stretching in unnatural ways. With small cracks, as his back popped into place, Harry opened his eyes as a human for the first time in a year.
The forest seemed muted and off-color, a pale imitation of what he could see as a phoenix. He looked down at his fingers, marveling at the greater dexterity. But instead of his hands, he saw those of stranger: while his fingers moved with sureness, they were spotted and wrinkled, as if greatly aged. Skin sagged and drooped along his arms, and his back gave a great crack as he shifted to look at the rest of his body.
Somehow, he had become old during the year he spent in his Animagus form. Harry stared dumbly at his fingers, mind whirling and yet quiet of any useful information. If only Hermione were here, she would surely know what was going on.
“What in Merlin’s name –” he swore but then faltered as his voice came out reedy and weak instead of sure.
“Who goes there?” came an unexpected rejoinder.
Harry’s head whipped around, his neck giving a massive pop of protest. Excluding his brief interactions with the Ents, Harry had lived by himself for almost a year. He felt woefully unprepared to speak with another race.
He glanced around, searching for the sound. If the speaker hadn’t seen him yet, perhaps he could transform back – no, there, in the direction of the trio’s campfire. Pale, platinum hair poked through the woods. Elves would never be good at hiding around here, he reckoned.
A pale visage followed the willowy hair, carried by swift, sure steps. Harry grimaced; he had forgotten how strongly the elves reminded him of the Malfoys. The elf’s face was slightly pointed, and his lips pursed together for a haughty effect. Bregalad hadn’t told him much about the elves, other than that they were typically an aloof race and generally despised dwarves. But - Harry eyed the pointy ears speculatively - perhaps this one wasn’t quite so bad, given that he seemed to be acquaintances with a dwarf.
“Er… I am looking for the wizard Gandalf,” Harry said, haltingly.
The elf gave him a quick glance. His gaze took in an old man with a scraggly black beard, wearing tattered robes that had not been mended in months.
“An odd place to search for a Wizard,” the elf remarked. “Are you a Wizard yourself?”
Harry froze. Images of the war flashed through his mind, of bone-breaking curses and sickly green lights conjured from nowhere. Though the Wizarding World was his first real home, his time in the woods had made him appreciate the peacefulness that came with not running for his life every year. He wasn’t ready to be a wizard again – not yet.
“No, I’m – I’m just Harry,” he said. His voice sounded deeper and raspier than he remembered. He tried hard not to stare at his spotted hands or feel the sagging skin stretch as he spoke. Harry clamped down hard on his Occlumency shields, trying to shut out all emotions so he could focus on the elf.
“A curious name,” another voice rang out. “From an even more curious messenger.”
Gandalf appeared from behind the elf with the same long, white robes as the night before. He held an exquisitely carved staff, also in white, yet a grey hat perched on top of his head in defiance of the bleached colors below.
“I am Gandalf the White, at your service,” said the wizard, tipping his head. “You have met my esteemed companion, Legolas Thranduilion of Mirkwood. And,” he gestured to his left, where the dwarf appeared, “this is Gimli, son of Gloin. At your service, Master Harry.”
He finished introductions with a short bow, the brim of his hat threatening to fall.
Harry was a bit taken aback. These three were acting much more formal than he had been expecting. In retrospect, Bregalad and the other Ents had as well, but he hadn’t noticed amidst all of the other different mannerisms that came from talking with trees.
“Er, yes, at your service too. I suppose you know of Bregalad? The Ent? Well, we discovered a herd of deer poisoned near the shallow eastern lake. He thought you might be able to help.”
“Though the path grows muddled, they see clearly where I cannot. Be on your guard, my friends. We face exceptional trackers.”
He turned to Harry and his expression changed to one of curiosity.
“Thank you for sharing this vital information, Master Harry. It is, alas, myself that they are after. I expect they will find me soon enough and will leave the deer and other inhabitants of the forest alone.”
He paused, eyeing Harry’s tattered clothes and scraggly appearance. “You feel… familiar. Might you know of my acquaintance, Radagast?”
“Haven’t heard of him,” Harry replied nervously. Gandalf was getting a speculative look, and that could only bode ill for Harry. He had to get out of here and figure out what had happened to his body. “Well, best be going – I will let him know.”
Gandalf let him go with the parting words: “Please do so. And if you would wish to join us, we could use someone with knowledge of this forest to track down these killers.”
“You should join them,” were the first words Bregalad said to him. Harry shifted on his perch, a tree branch near Bregalad. The afternoon sun streamed through the Ent’s leaves, casting dappled shadows on the ground below.
Harry had been thinking about Gandalf’s parting words throughout the day, mulling them in his mind. He finally decided to ignore the offer: his hero complex died the fateful night he arrived here. Now, this.
“I take it you spoke to Gandalf?” Harry asked. He carefully shifted on the tree branch, looking down to pick his steps with care.
He looked up into fathomless oak-green eyes staring at him.
“Some seeds fall from the tree. Others travel far on the wind. All of them find shade and soil and grow roots… or they whither.” Bregalad said slowly, in that rumbling voice that sounded like far off thunder on a humid summers’ day. “I never asked about why you came to live in this forest. I do know this: you have not grown roots here. The Forest is always ready to be called home, but you must first seek your way upon the wind.”
The sun had set as Bregalad spoke, and shadows crept forward until they covered the forest floor. Harry stared at the shadowed trees as they lost their silhouettes in the twilight. This forest wasn’t home: nowhere in this world was.
He stared out across the forest, pondering. Looking at the familiar yet alien terrain, Harry remembered the circumstances that brought him here. The-Boy-Who-Lived died in the other world. This was a new world, a new chance to live. Could he be sure there wasn’t a home here for him?
It could be useful to have companions if he traveled. He had no desire to be attacked again. Yet, he was not ready to open his heart to new aches either. On Earth, Harry's friendships and loves had been his main weakness; as a result, they were the first to be targeted. This time around, Harry would be aloof; neither interacting with others excessively nor growing attached to them until the end of the war.
“You’re right,” Harry said to the Ent who had provided stories without question to him throughout the past year. Harry flew up and up until he could see the Fangorn stretching before him in all directions. He loved the solitude it had provided, but, if truth be told, he had been bored. He looked again at the sweeping expanse of land below, slowly fading beneath the sinking sun. The scene seemed new and full of possibilities. Summoning the vestiges of his Gryffindor bravery, Harry flew off to find Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli. An odd trio – perhaps they wouldn’t mind one more addition.
“Thank you,” he sent to Bregalad.
Chapter 6: First impressions
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” - The Chamber of Secrets
Harry had a problem. Deciding to join the company was one thing – figuring out how to do so was another.
He had returned to the sun-dappled grove where he first met the odd trio. There was no sign of them, nor of their passing. If any leaves were overturned or grasses bent, Harry lacked the skill to interpret such a sign. His time spent as a phoenix, hunting berries and nuts, had not made him a better tracker either.
Instead, he once again flew down to the base of a large rowan tree, and slowly transformed once again. His form lengthened and contorted, filling out into arms, legs, and a torso. Bones elongated and feathers turned to flesh, until he was once more a man.
His eyes opened and immediately darted to his hands, which were still gnarled and spotted. He tried rubbing them together vigorously, but the wrinkles remained. He still looked old. He still felt young when he arrived in Middle Earth – he was sure of it.
As Harry stared in confusion at his body, motion caught his eye. There was a black feather on the ground, close to where he had transformed. The wind lifted the feather again, moving it a bit further into the clearing. He had been molting a lot recently, now that he thought about it. Did that mean he was aging as a phoenix? Surely that wouldn’t affect his actual age… would it? Sirius hadn’t returned from Azkaban an old man. Then again, wizards weren’t supposed to be able to transform into magical creatures and Harry’s life had never gone by the rules.
There was little he could do now, in any case. Harry decided to focus on the more immediate problem: finding where Gandalf went to.
Harry started to breathe slowly in and out, and listened to the forest. The wind rustled through the trees; birds sang songs to each other; squirrels and other small creatures padded carefully through the forest. He quieted the thoughts inside his mind, and then cast a mental net into the world. The wind and trees faded to nothingness; the creatures fell to a dull murmur of incomprehensible thoughts. There, to the north, several minds lit up - far more than the three he expected.
Wary of alarming the wizard, Harry did not probe deeper. Perhaps those were other Ents he sensed. He fixed his thoughts around the cluster of three minds, trying to memorize the location. Task accomplished, he transformed back into a phoenix and launched himself into the air. Several feathers floated down to rest gently on the forest floor in the wake of his passing.
Two days later, Harry followed the company from a distance, tracking them with light Legilimency sweeps. The company had multiplied; he brushed up against no less than a dozen minds now.
Harry had no idea how to approach them. It was one thing to come across them, quite by accident in the woods; it was another to walk up purposefully to a group of warriors. Harry remembered his trigger-happy days during the war; it made him nervous to think about being on the other end of a wand or sword.
Perhaps he could approach as Eclipse. He had been in the form long enough that it felt more natural than his human form, especially now that his body had aged and turned frail. A small part of him hoped that the problem would somehow resolve itself if he didn’t transform. Another, smaller part, said that was why Hermione had considered him hopeless at solving his own problems.
Perhaps he would fly a little closer, and make a decision about how to approach then. The decision was taken away from him as he heard far-off shouts and the clang of metal. The unmistakable sounds of battle cut through the quiet of the forest. Harry beat his wings rapidly, all internal debate forgotten. He was always one for action anyway.
The trees were thinning, and sunlight began to poke through the thick canopy up ahead. The company was almost out of the forest, but Legolas couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right.
“Gandalf,” he whispered, “I sense eyes on us. Are we being followed?”
Gandalf nodded in an absent-minded way. Legolas wasn’t fooled one bit; his appearance – careworn and on the scruffy side – belied a cunning mind.
“I was wondering if you would notice. We are, though, by what, I cannot say.”
This part of the forest looked much the same as where they had left. They had stumbled on a small trail not long ago, and were following it single file as it circuitously wove north. Fangorn had little in the way of footpaths; the path the company had discovered had likely been created by a herd of deer earlier this year.
The path crested a ridge, and Legolas could finally see the edge of the Fangorn. The trees tapered off into gently rolling hills that stretched into the distance, and beyond that, far from sight, lay Lothlorien.
Legolas would miss the Fangorn Forest. He had thought Mirkwood was old, yet the trees of Fangorn sung ancient songs from beyond the recollection of elves. The trees were also wilder, and more stubborn, bowing to no suggestion of domesticity like many of the trees around Elvish cities. Not that the trees of Mirkwood seemed like mild or meek things; Legolas knew for a fact that his father encouraged a feral response from his trees towards strangers in the woods. Still, Legolas was glad to have a new purpose, especially one that kept him from home a little longer. It would be difficult to escape the clutches of Mirkwood, when he wore the rowan crown once more.
As the trio followed the path down into a valley, the trees began to grumble. The sound was low, barely discernible from the quiet movement of the earth. Yet it grew progressively louder as they descended, until Legolas had his hand firmly on his bow as they reached the valley floor.
There was a brief second of silence – and then a tree branch snapped and crashed onto the forest floor.
Legolas turned towards the sound and saw an arrow fly from the underbrush near the tree that had given warning. He cursed and dropped to the ground in a roll. He hoped Gandalf and Gimli had avoided the strike but did not have time to check. He quickly reached around to where his bow and quiver lay on his back. Pulling an arrow, he quickly knocked it and let it fly towards the dark underbrush.
Then he had to dodge again as more arrows followed and dark shapes slithered out of the shadows into the clearing. The creatures were nothing like Legolas had seen before. The twisted face were reminiscent of an orc’s, but the similarities ended there. The gangly bodies moved with surprising grace and astonishing speed; as Legolas blinked, he could have sworn one of the creatures melted out of the shadows to appear just steps in front of him.
He barely had time to pull a dagger from its sheath in time to parry a wicked-sharp blade that seemed to be borne of the shadows itself. He had a hard time looking at either the creature or its sinister blade, but centuries of training kicked in and helped him block another blow.
To his right, Legolas heard a grunt of pain but he couldn’t stop to look. Luckily, while the creature was fast, it was not particularly skilled. He feinted and then twisted his dagger underneath the guard of the creature. The thing let out a cry of pain and disappeared into the shadows. Legolas stared at the spot for a long moment. He was not mistaken this time.
Another yell caught his attention, and he turned to see Gandalf ringed by three creatures. The wizard’s staff was held before him, producing an incandescent shimmer that winked in front of the creatures’ attacks. One of the creatures melted into the ground and reappeared behind the wizard.
“Behind you!” Legolas cried, as he picked up his bow once more. He feared he could not fire fast enough. The creature pulled another shadowed blade and lunged for Gandalf’s legs. The wizard moved forward with an oath, only getting nicked by the blade. Before elf or wizard could attack, a dark shape plummeted from the sky.
Before Legolas could adjust his bow, the thing struck the shadow creature with outstretched talons. It was a large bird, with dark plumage and fierce bearing, that attacked. Its beak savaged the creature, causing it to retreat back into the shadows. Legolas pivoted, loosening the arrow towards one of the original creatures that attacked Gandalf. His arrow struck true, and the thing spasmed and then fell still.
The tide turned, and the creatures began to retreat, melting into the shadows and disappearing without a sound. All but the bird, who remained and looked at him with unnatural green eyes.
Gandalf gave a soft grunt of pain and stumbled.
Both Gimli and Legolas ran over to the wizard, who clutched the leg where the blade had grazed his skin. It looked to be a surface wound, but Gandalf’s face was rapidly losing color.
“It is but the smallest of scratches that can bring us down,” Gandalf said in a thin, breathy voice. He waved a hand, shaking with fine tremors, over the wound. The blood continued to ooze, sluggish and brown. “I have underestimated my enemy.”
“Alas, were I but a healer,” Legolas said with dismay, looking at the injury. He cast his mind back to the remedies that could be found in the forest. He was certain he had seen some athelas barely an hour ago, which could help draw out the toxins. But would it work fast enough?
Gimli said nothing but busied himself with cutting strips of his clothing into a makeshift bandage. The dwarf’s face was grim.
Gandalf followed his gaze and put a shaky hand on the dwarf’s arm.
“Your ministrations will not be necessary here,” replied Gandalf. His face was ashen and drawn. “You must spread the word that a new evil rises in these lands.”
“By the Valar! You must tell them yourself, Gandalf,” the dwarf cursed.
Sweat beaded the edges of Gandalf’s face, and his breathing grew raggedly.
A low song started up. It teased the edge of Legolas’s awareness, reminding him of a lullaby heard in the quiet nights of his childhood or of the rain gently tracing rivulets down a tree’s bank in a summer storm. The anguish in his heart lessened, and Gandalf’s breathing evened out, and he closed his eyes.
A body used to flying gracefully through the air waddled up towards Gandalf, crooning a slow, sad song. The bird looked ungainly and out-of-place on the ground. The black bird was the size of a large falcon, with a lethal-looking beak and sharp talons.
Neither Gimli nor Legolas moved to stop it. Gandalf was already dying; it could not hurt their friend any worse than he already was. Instead, the bird approached and then stopped beside Gandalf’s leg. It tilted its head as if to peer critically at the wizard's wound.
Harry paid neither dwarf nor elf any mind. He was focused entirely on trying to cry. How had Fawkes done it? Had there been a song?
He sang his song louder, trying to put into words the unfathomable sadness he felt towards those who had already passed. He thought of his two best friends, and of other Hogwarts students who had been killed over the years; of the extended Weasley family and the Order of the Phoenix members. He thought of Dumbledore, who had tried his best to shield him from the horrors of the world and who had been the first to fall in the second war. Looking at Gandalf, he could almost imagine it was the grandfatherly wizard lying there in quiet repose.
A single tear fell and landed on Gandalf’s leg. It disappeared upon contact and was absorbed without a sound. Harry let the song slowly fade away as he watched the wizard.
Slowly, one of Gandalf’s eyes opened. Then the other. The lines on his face began to relax, his eyebrows rose up in astonishment. The wizard’s gnarled fingers moved the blood-drenched robe to reveal skin broken only by a faint scar.
Gandalf stared at him in bemused surprise.
“Well met,” the wizard rasped. “I am Gandalf the White, at your service. My companions, Legolas Thranduilion of Mirkwood and Gimli, son of Gloin.” He moved to sit up, shifting slowly until he realized the pain had disappeared and then stood upright.
“I am in your debt, my feathered friend.”
It was as if the spell of Harry’s song had broken. Both Gimli and Legolas started moving towards the wizard, touching him to reassure themselves of his health. “How -” “Thank the Valar --” Their voices rose over one another, and then subsided as they turned to Harry with relief in their eyes.
Harry stared at the trio, mind racing. He hadn’t meant to meet them today, but perhaps this was best. He could remain Eclipse a little longer, and get to know this world before confronting it as Harry.
As the silence dragged out, Gandalf added, “If you can speak, please do so. I am fluent in the language of the many birds and beasts.”
Perhaps – perhaps he didn’t need to speak via Legilimency to the wizard. That would probably be best for everyone involved. He didn’t imagine the wizard would take a mental intrusion any better than the elves had.
“My name is Eclipse,” Harry trilled, hoping that Gandalf could understand. “I have also been hunting these creatures, who have polluted the forest with their presence. Are you going to destroy them?”
“I had forgotten the trees have ears here,” Gandalf said in reply. He gestured broadly towards the company. “You heard correctly. We seek answers to an evil that is rising in the shadows. We are but of small number, and the danger is great. If you would join us, we would have you and your healing skills.”
The silence stretched out again as Harry considered. He had already thought about this, but now the choice was here and real. Did he really want to leave the relative safety of the forest and involve himself in this? This wasn’t his world, and he had no obligation to help this world’s problems.
In the end, it was the latter thought that caused him to bob his head in agreement. He was not the Boy-Who-Lived any longer; he could choose to help this time around, instead of being forced into it. That, and Hermione was right – he really did have a saving-people thing.
“I have been meaning to see more than the Fangorn Forest. I would like to join you on this journey.” He told the company. Gandalf smiled at him, his eyes already sparkling with curiosity. The elf looked mildly curious, and the dwarf still hadn’t gotten over the fact that he could talk.
Harry gave an internal sigh. Hopefully this was the right choice.
Chapter 7: All who wander
"Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as kheled-zâram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for dwarves."
–The Fellowship of the Ring
Despite Gandalf’s injury, or perhaps because of Harry’s healing, the company still covered a fair amount of ground before the light began to fade. Harry spent most of the day flying above, ostensibly to search for other creatures but also so that he wouldn’t have to answer the many questions he could see hiding behind the trio’s eyes.
They made a fire on the outskirts of the Fangorn Forest. Before them stretched unending fields, pale and silent in the moonlight.
Harry perched in a nearby tree; close enough to hear the conversation without being called into it. He was not used to this much human contact; he kept twitching every time the burning wood cracked or Gimli let out a particularly bark-like laugh. Being on his own so long, Harry had come to expect nothing but his own thoughts for company. The constant murmur in the background was disconcerting, to say the least.
However, he could not ignore them for long: soon he heard his name rise out of the conversation below.
"Eclipse, I confess I have not heard of your kind before. Have you lived in the Fangorn this entire time?" Gandalf asked.
Harry deliberated. Gandalf’s grandfatherly visage inviting trust; unfortunately for him, Harry wasn’t the trustful sort. Besides, it was not like he had any answers to give them. Who would believe he was from another world? And that he was a human, and not a bird?
'Well, I… traveled a great distance to get here. Most of my kind live far away from here, and we are usually quite solitary." At least it wasn't a complete lie.
Gandalf translated for the other two.
"A lonely life," Legolas said. "Do you miss your kind?"
The elf’s still face was belied by the concern in his voice. Harry was surprised; the admittedly few elves he had met so far seemed aloof, with faces that hardly twitched. Still, Harry wasn’t sure he could trust anyone with that Malfoy-platinum hair.
“Not at all,” Harry replied glibly. He couldn’t stop his feathers from lowering, though, which the elf’s keen eyes didn’t miss in the murky night.
“You need not worry about loneliness with us. Come, share your story by the fire!” Gimli cried, and shifted to make room for Harry to land by them. Harry was touched, but he couldn’t help the flash of unease that his heart gave when thinking of his past.
“Another time,” he said, which Gandalf dutifully translated.
“Not everyone loves to talk as much as you, my friend”, Legolas said with a small grin to Gimli. “Nor so loudly. I seem to remember a time when your speech drowned out the footsteps of approaching elves…” The conversation devolved into friendly bickering while Harry sat back and watched. Looking at the three unusual companions, laughing over their recounted tales, he was forcibly reminded of a similar trio. There was many a time when he, Ron, and Hermione would lounge around the common room reminiscing and joking.
A picture of a smiling Ron and Hermione appeared in his mind. Harry instinctively pushed it back where it belonged; in the vault locked deep within the recesses of his mind. His past needed to stay in the past. He never wanted to revisit those memories again.
Harry stayed up, half-listening until the conversation finally died and he drifted off into a restless sleep.
"Shh… hurry up, Hermione! Filch is two corridors to the right!" Harry whispered feverishly as he glanced down at the Marauder's Map. The trio was making their way up to the Room of Requirement.
Up three more moving staircases and through the secret passageway behind Montengous the Mad and the trio finally reached their destination. Slipping inside, the Room immediately transformed into an exact replica of their last visit, even down to the crumpled up book Ron threw on the floor.
Predictably, Hermione proceeded right to the book, Becoming Your Inner Animal. Copious notes were scattered on a desk provided by the room. Usually, Harry and Ron would try to help for a bit before giving up in favor of shooting jinxes at each other. But not tonight. Tonight, Hermione had decreed that they were ready to try the spell.
They looked at her expectantly.
"Alright,” she said nervously, “We’ve studied for months. We know the theory. It’s time to find out what our form is. Remember Ron, you need to make a sharp jab at a quarter angle. And Harry, don’t forget to keep your mind blank - I’m sure you can do this without Professor Snape around."
Both Ron and Harry nodded. They knew all of this; they had all practiced until Hermione was satisfied, and that had taken weeks. "Well, it's now or never," said Hermione. She shot them a quick, nervous smile.
"Animus Evigilo," she said clearly, moving her wand through the precise incantation. As soon as her wand jabbed the air, her eyes closed and her breathing slowed. She remained like, hand frozen in the air where the spell had activated.
After several long minutes, her breath hitched and her eyes fluttered beneath her closed lashes. Her hand twitched, dropping her wand as a single fingernail began to elongate and stretch. It slowly blackened and curved into a wickedly-sharp talon.
Harry and Ron whooped with joy, as Hermione opened her eyes. “You did it!” “How does it feel?” they asked, voices overlapping in their excitement.
“It doesn’t feel like me,” she said, staring critically at her hand. She shut her eyes, brow furrowed, and the talon melted back into a normal finger.
“But it will. I just need more practice. I’m obviously some kind of bird; doesn’t this look like an owl talon? You two should try and then we can research our forms in more detail. "
It took Ron three tries before he too slipped into a meditative trance. When he emerged, his face had spouted whiskers. Hermione thought it would take a week or so before they could get any other features to appear, but Ron seemed determined to try and reveal another part of his form before then as he set towards making the whiskers disappear and reappear with determination.
Finally, it was Harry’s turn. He took a deep breath mentally preparing himself. What would he become? He secretly hoped to become a stag, like his father. But he needed to keep an open mind about the animal or it wouldn’t come to him in his trance. His eyes closed as he chanted "Animus Evigilo."
He opened his eyes into darkness. Though he couldn’t see anything, he knew that the void stretched out endlessly in all directions. He couldn’t say how long he stood there, vainly trying to make something out in the endless night. Finally, movement flickered and Harry turned to face it. There was something approaching him, black as his surroundings. It grew closer and closer, and Harry strained his eyes to make out the shape. He briefly felt something soft brush his forehead then-
All of a sudden, it felt as if he was on fire. He would have screamed, but the flames jumped down his throat, leaving his vocal cords a husk. He writhed in pain as the heat spread throughout his body. Harry's last thought before being consumed by fire was to wonder if he would see his parents and Sirius again.
Harry awoke violently. He looked around wildly, hoping to catch one last glimpse of his two former friends. But all Harry saw was shifting shadows as the first pale fingers of dawn reached above the trees towards the night sky.
Quiet birdsong filtered through the air, and Harry almost forgot he was no longer in the Forest. A thin tendril of smoke wafted by his perch, and he noticed the smoldering campfire below. Three still forms laid nearby, the low light from the dying fire cast faint shadows over their forms.
Harry settled on the branch and thought back to the dream that woke him – but it wasn’t a dream at all, he realized. It was a memory. A memory of Ron and Hermione's first transformations. Harry hadn’t been able to transform that day, nor any of the others he tried to with his friends. After experiencing agonizing pain the next few tries, he had all but given up on becoming an Animagus. But he hadn’t thought of those memories in a while - not since he had successfully transformed. Why had he dreamed of it now?
Harry rechecked his inner wards around his mind. In the mists and eddies of his mind, the vault appeared easily. Too easily. It was supposed to be buried. He gave a sharp mental poke, sending it back down deep into his subconscious.
Perhaps… Reflecting on the events of the night prior, Harry vaguely recalled Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli reminding him of his own friends and adventures. He supposed that triggered the subsequent memory leak. If this were true, that meant Harry had to be more controlled than ever.
Occlumency was not meant to hide memories from practitioner's own mind—it is only supposed to guard against intrusion. He knew the dangers when he sealed his memories. As Harry's few Occlumency books stressed, the mind is a very delicate thing; any tampering through Legilimency or otherwise could irreversibly damage it. Most wizards who tried to block their emotions had fallen due to the pressure of the memories building over time; few survivors kept their sanity intact.
Harry shook his head. He would just have to work harder on his Occlumency. Slowly, his eyes drifted shut as he watched the slumbering forms of the company below.
Chapter 8: Three’s company
Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure. - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
A shrill cry rent the air.
“Who’s there?” Gimli cried out, voice groggy with sleep. The dwarf reached for his ax and smoothly shifted from laying down into a crouched position. He looked around wildly, but no foes appeared in the gloomy twilight to attack their small party. The sound had disappeared as quickly as it came, replaced by a growing chorus of birdsong heralding the incipient dawn.
Overhead, on a tree branch, Eclipse woke abruptly, with an aborted cry in his throat. Echoes of bright spell-fire and faint screams followed him from sleep. He forced his eyes open, taking in the landscape below was suffused with soft light, as dawn slowly crept over the horizon. It was just a dream, Harry reminded himself.
His eyes landed on three figures below, in various stages of wakefulness. Gandalf had hardly moved from where he rested on the ground, but Gimli had rolled into a low crouch, a hand grasped firmly on his ax. Despite his ready posture, his eyes were heavy with sleep as he squinted up at Harry. Legolas, meanwhile, looked both alert and completely rested, in sharp contrast to the dwarf.
Harry nearly blushed as he realized all were looking at him. He hadn’t woken anyone with his nightmares since he had first learned to cast a silencing charm around his bed.
“Sorry to wake you all,” he trilled down to Gandalf. “It was only a dream.”
If only that was true, then it might be easier to get over the images that still rattled in his mind. These weren’t nightmares; they were memories that kept escaping. Harry tried to ignore the small spike of fear at the thought of his mental shield failing.
“One dream might fade with the dawn,” Gandalf said, after translating Harry’s birdsong for the others. “But others can linger long past the morning light.”
Harry thought that was the wizard’s way of pointing out that this was not the first morning he had woken the company in this way. He didn’t know what else to do though, so he stubbornly remained silent.
“Bah,” Gimli said. “I prefer to fight that which I can see. The day is almost upon us, and dreams should be left to fade with the night. But,” he gave a giant yawn, “a bit more rest would not be remiss.”
“An hour more sleep would not make you any fairer,” retorted Legolas, with a small grin. The elf had smoothly transitioned to wakefulness and was now beginning to prepare breakfast.
Gandalf stood up and shifted to sit by the remains of last night’s fire. The embers had long burnt out, leaving the wood cold to touch. The wizard didn’t bother with a starter, though. He gave the campfire a sharp poke with his staff, unearthing faint smoke within the charred logs.
“How did you do that?” Harry blurted. Gandalf made the gesture look natural, but he was sure there was magic in the staff. Harry thought wistfully of his own wand, which was presumably in the hands of the elves. Perhaps if he befriended the elf, Legolas could retrieve it for him.
Gandalf chuckled, and then lowered his voice as if conferring a secret.
“Few fires truly die. The embers just need to wake up.”
“Who…?” Gimli asked, looking at Gandalf with bewilderment. His eyes caught Harry’s and recognition dawned across the dwarf’s face.
“It takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?,” Legolas said, voiced pitched quietly to the dwarf. “But then again, I am used to Gandalf muttering to himself.”
Gimli nodded in agreement. “Aye, at least there is a reason for his cryptic statements now.”
Harry tried not to feel hurt. It was his own fault for mentally speaking only to Gandalf. He supposed he could reach out to the rest of the company, but it was… nice to have all questions filtered through the wizard. He wasn’t used to being around a group yet.
A loud clanging distracted Harry from the line of pity his thoughts were taking. While Legolas began unwrapping foods, Gimli was rummaging through his packs. It sounded like he had a great many axes in there if the clatter was anything to go by. Harry tilted his head forward curiously, wondering what the dwarf could possibly be moving to make such a clamor.
Legolas leaned forward conspiratorially, looking at Harry. “And he thinks himself quiet,” he said in a low voice tinged with amusement.
Harry gave a small chirrup, the closest thing to a laugh he could make in his phoenix form, his early insecurities dimming as he watched the elf and dwarf fall into a familiar banter with each other.
“Aha,” Gimli cried, finally emerging with metal cups and utensils in hand. After setting his prizes by the fire, the dwarf dove back in and re-emerged with a roll of dried meat.
Legolas, meanwhile, had unwrapped food from his own pack. It looked like a kind of flatbread.
“Have you had lembas?” The elf asked Harry, as he held out a piece for Harry. Harry shook his head. He hadn’t had anything except berries since he arrived in Middle Earth, and he was heartily sick of them.
He glided from the branch to the ground near the elf, trying to land gracefully. From the way the elf’s lips quirked up, he didn’t think he succeeded.
Tentatively, he elongated his neck and reached out to delicately pluck the piece of bread from the elf’s outstretched hand. His neck brushed over the elf’s wrist, and Harry tried not to shiver. He hadn’t touched warm skin for nearly a year; while the Ents were good company, he missed brushing shoulders with his friends. There were some nights he dreamed of Hermione’s hugs, or of Ron’s friendly pats.
The dry bread had unexpected flavor, faintly sweet and revitalizing.
“I... have not had anything so good in a while,” he told Gandalf. The wizard translated his chirps to Legolas. He really needed to find a way to communicate directly with them. But he still wasn’t certain how the wizard would react to Legilimency. A little discomfort wasn’t worth the risk.
“There will be more where that came from, soon enough,” said Legolas. “This is a specialty that all elves can make.”
“We are going to Lothlorien,” Gandalf added. “To visit the Lady Galadriel; I hope to confer with her about whether she has seen something of these new creatures.”
The way he stressed seen, Harry got the impression that this was not physical seeing. Maybe something like a seer. Hopefully not; one seer was enough for him. But all the same, he would be on his guard.
“Gandalf, what exactly were those things from yesterday? Why are they hunting you?” he asked.
"Their malice and cunning are familiar,” the wizard said. “Yet I have never seen such a creature before, not felt such a poison… though, of course, one generally does not try to make introductions with deadly toxins in such a manner, if one can help it.”
He frowned, then stroked his long grey beard. He twisted the hairs in his beard with gnarled fingers that held more knots than many an oak Harry had seen in the Fangorn.
“I fear that a new evil walks Middle Earth."
“So soon,” Gimli added, voice thoughtful. “Yet we have dealt with our fair share of trouble before. I have no worry, especially with the Lady Galadriel’s help…"
Here the dwarf trailed off with an almost – was that a dreamy expression? Harry was floored. Was he missing something here? Gimli was still staring off into the distance with a slight smile. Maybe Lady Galadriel was mind-controlling him. Harry was getting increasingly jumpy about her.
“I am unsure which is worse, that the new threat is unrelated to Sauron or that it rises from the ashes of his fall. We must be cautious,” said the elf. Despite his words, his eyes gleamed with barely-hidden excitement.
Surprisingly, Harry could relate. A new type of monster didn’t sound so bad. Harry was fine with monsters; with enough power, any monster could be killed. It was intelligent beings bent towards evil that Harry feared. Beings like Voldemort were often ruthless and clever, and one always had to be wary of multiple plans in play. This wasn’t a war or a horcrux hunt, and he was ready for a bit of adventure.
Throughout the few days of trekking through the wilderness, Harry fell into a pattern as he adjusted to his new lifestyle. He often woke before dawn with a choked cry, as images that haunted his past melted away with the first fingers of dawn’s early light. This morning was no different. As the sun began to trail the first blush of pink across the sky, a piercing cry cut through the soft murmuring of crickets.
Gimli let out a groan. He shifted from his makeshift bed on the ground and tried to pull his blanket over his ears. “One good night’s sleep. That’s all I ask,” he said in a mumble through the thick fabric.
“You may sleep in Lothlorien, my friend,” Legolas said, in a clear voice. Annoyingly, the elf always woke without any trace of drowsiness.
He stood up and began to roll up his sleeping blanket with crisp efficiency. Gandalf also stirred; the wizard gave a great yawn and reached for his staff for help standing up. The lump that was Gimli groaned and refused to budge until the rest of the camp was nearly packed. The dwarf's head poked out as he heard the crinkle of unwrapped twine as Legolas distributed breakfast.
Harry, meanwhile, was doing his best to pretend that he didn’t exist. If only he had his wand! Early in the war, he had learned to set up silencing spells while he slept, otherwise the whole camp would wake up from his nightmares. Though the others didn’t say anything, he was sure they, too, would like a full night’s rest.
Harry took to the skies as soon as the company had packed the last bag, taking off without a backward glance. Below, the three figures dwindled until they resembled little more than ants. The landscape unfurled below, small, cheerful rivers crisscrossing the rolling hills to form a pastoral patchwork below.
With the distance, Harry felt his mind ease. When he was flying, his world narrowed down to the currents on the wind and the sweeping vistas below. Everything seemed insignificant from this vantage - even his new sleeping problem. His thoughts shifted inwards, towards his Occlumency shields. The shields held firm to outside intrusion, but he could see cracks beginning to form on the inside as a result of his latest nightmare. He had been patching it every day, but it was only prolonging the problem, not healing it.
He was at a loss about what to do. Logically, he knew there was only one thing to do: he needed to get in touch with his repressed memories and emotions. This, however, was precisely the last time he wanted to be emotionally vulnerable. He was on the road, with unfamiliar companions: he couldn’t let his guard down completely around them. No, better to keep repairing his shield, until he had the time to address this problem in private.
After the last crack was mended, Harry enjoyed the quiet solitude of his flight. However, as the sun reached its zenith, he decided to try facing the company again. He angled his wings and turned in a slow, lazy loop, keeping an eye out for three dark shapes below. He flew a short way before he saw them. Gandalf was ahead, his staff giving him a jerky gait. Gimli and Legolas trailed behind, Gimli taking two steps for every one of the elf’s.
Harry overshot them by a few beats, and slowly descended behind them. The wind blew against his wings, bringing with it a cool breeze and Gimli’s words.
“—what could be keeping him up at night?” The dwarf was saying to Legolas. “What do we really know of him, anyway?”
“It is not unreasonable to keep nightmares close to the heart,” Legolas replied, his clear voice carrying easily on the breeze, and with a jolt, Harry realized they must be talking about him. He beat his wings slightly harder, trying to get closer to the duo to hear better.
Gimli humming in agreement.
“You are correct, of course. Yet that secrecy, combined with these events… what are the odds that he could heal Gandalf’s wound? Gandalf, who has never heard of his kind before?”
“It bears watching,” Legolas agreed.
Harry had heard enough. He let out an involuntary keen as the suspicious charges settled under his skin, like a brittle casing. It bore a familiar weight. He had always been marked by his differences it seemed – first by the lightning bolt scar, and now by his species.
He banked sharply and beat at the wind with his wings, wishing he could cut through it with the force of his humiliation. With the company to his back, he looked ahead. Off in the distance was a dark blot on the horizon. There, Fangorn Forest lay in wait, its quiet canopies whispering a life of solitude and peace. Harry flew towards it.
Harry didn’t notice the small frown on Legolas’s face, as the elf’s keen ears heard the low cry. A look of shame briefly flitted over his face, and the elf watched the phoenix fly away with a small feeling like guilt in the back of his throat.
Chapter 9: On the precipice
For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows. – The Two Towers
Harry beat his wings angrily against the wind. It blew directly against him, as if encouraging him to turn around and return to the company. For the past hour, he had welcomed it as a way to push his wings harder and to give a physical outlet to his frustrations.
As the wind cooled in the fading light, so too had Harry’s anger. Shadows began to lengthen below him as the sun set, and Harry started to think with regret of the warm fire that Gandalf would have surely lit by now. The company had likely found a small spot hidden from the wind; Legolas had proven exceptional at finding the hidden hollows and hills in the otherwise flat plains they had been traversing. They were probably eating some of that delicious bread now.
Surely, they were wondering where he was. He hadn’t said anything before flying off; and how would they know that he had overhead their words? And the words themselves, Harry thought begrudgingly, weren’t entirely unwarranted. He hadn’t given them much reason to trust him. After saving Gandalf’s life, he had been fairly silent, preferring to keep his distance by flying high above the group during the day and perching a healthy distance away at night.
Of course, he had good reasons for this! He hadn’t interacted with anyone except talking trees for the past year and had been hunted by society just before that. He had every right to keep his distance. But… perhaps they had a right to be a little suspicious of him in return.
With a sigh, half of relief and half of regret, Harry slowly angled his wings and turned in a half-circle. The wind seemed to part beneath his wings, and the light breeze seemed to push him forward eagerly. As darkness fell upon the land, Harry flew with a lighter heart back towards the company.
Shadows flickered across the camp, as a gentle breeze played with the campfire. The logs crackled and popped as fire ate the wood; otherwise, there was little noise in the camp. The company was unusually quiet tonight, each in their own thoughts as it became apparent that their number had dwindled by one.
Usually, Eclipse would perch to a nearby tree branch as the dusk settled heavy over the land and watch silently as the camp was being set up. More recently, the bird had made some light conversation, usually about interesting sights he had seen throughout the day. Gimli and Legolas could participate with some patience, as long as Gandalf was willing to translate the bird’s song into human speech.
Eclipse’s song was unlike anything he had heard before; while other birds chirped sweet harmonies, the phoenix’s notes had a lingering, poignant quality to them that filled Legolas with a faint sense of loss. Perhaps that was to be expected; the bird seemed to have the same range of emotions as any elf, man, or dwarf; it would make sense that his expressions were similarly more varied than those of his feathered brethren.
Legolas wished he could better understand the haunting melody. But he couldn’t when the bird refused to speak with any of them at any real depth. At least Gandalf could understand Eclipse; the lack of communication had frustrated both him and Gimli more.
They should never have aired those frustrations though – especially where Eclipse could hear them. Granted, how were they to know that he was flying overhead? But hear them he did. And now it seemed unlikely that he would be back.
Legolas kept staring into the flames long after Gimli and Gandalf fell asleep.
Harry found the camp long after night fell. The moon had reached its zenith overhead, casting the world below in a pale light. He quietly glided towards the fading campfire. The embers had burned low and were nearly extinguished. There was enough light remaining to make out two shapes, the shorter of which let out a loud, repetitive snore.
There was one other shape, but it wasn’t asleep. Legolas was sitting cross-legged, staring into the dying flames.
Harry suddenly felt awkward. He had barely spoken two sentences to the elf, and none of those directly. He hadn’t made any effort to know him, either; instead, he had avoided him, in part, because of his disastrous first meeting with other elves in this world. He wondered if it was too late to abort his current flight path towards the campfire, but the elf must have exceptional senses, for his head turned and he caught sight of Harry.
“Eclipse!” The elf exclaimed quietly. “You came back.”
There was a long pause, as Harry wrestled with himself internally. Should he speak to Legolas with his mind, like he did the Ents? He had made a decision to return, and that meant he couldn’t keep things as they were before. His initial decision to speak only to Gandalf was borne of fear, but it seemed a childish decision now, as he looked into the clearly worried face of the elf.
The elves he had met didn’t seem to show emotions in general… but perhaps that was because they were unsure of him and were on their guard. He didn’t know much about the elves in general – Legolas was slowly reversing his initial bad impression. But perhaps Legolas wasn’t representative of his kind. Certainly, it seemed as though dwarves and elves were not normally friends, from the ribbing usually exchanged between Legolas and Gimli.
Harry thought about the unlikely pair of friends, reflecting on his own experiences with Ron and Hermione. Sometimes those with the most external differences have the strongest unspoken bonds.
He wished he could become good friends with Legolas, Harry thought with a sudden pang. Harry formed the thought in his mind, ready to project his sentence to Legolas when the elf suddenly spoke. “I want to apologize for earlier,” he said quietly. “I think of myself as well-traveled, especially in comparison to most of my kin. Yet I have never communicated with one such as you; and, in truth, am ashamed to find myself more narrow-minded than I have prided myself on being. I, who calls a dwarf one of my closest companions.”
He sighed, soft and sad.
“I would like to be your friend, Eclipse. If you’ll forgive this elf for his ignorant words?”
Harry nodded his head yes, wishing he could smile with his beak. His early fears had washed away, and he barely needed to think before forming words in his mind and projecting them towards Legolas.
“Apology accepted. I haven’t been on my best behavior either.”
Legolas started as the words drifted into his mind. They weren’t his words, he was sure; the sound was distinctly masculine but not his own.
"Who said that? Was that you, Eclipse?" he asked the phoenix incredulously. "Only Gandalf knows the language of birds and beasts."
A voice tinged in tired amusement answered, "That's because I'm not strictly 'speaking'. I'm talking with my mind; language barriers don't exist because I'm projecting my feelings and ideas to you, not specific words."
"Oh.” The elf floundered, then said cautiously, “But – if you have this ability, why didn't you talk to us earlier?"
Harry felt terrible at the elf’s hurt tone. He had already contemplated talking to the elf and dwarf, but at the beginning of the journey he had wanted as little interaction as possible – and by the time he started to wish otherwise, there never seemed to be a good time to reveal another of his abilities.
But he now regretted his choice.
"I’m sorry. I tried to speak to some elves, I think, before meeting you. They didn’t take it very well. It was easier this way, and I guess I just wanted to be normal, for once.”
As Harry spoke, Legolas’s mouth formed a small frown. If anything, the elf looked sadder than before, so Harry hastened to add, “It’s fine. Really. There was a lot going on then, and I kind of surprised them.”
The elf frowned deeper.
“I suppose actions are better than any apology – for myself or my people. I look forward to showing you the truth of my words.”
He stared earnestly at Eclipse, and slowly reached a hand towards Harry.
“May I?” The invitation was clear as his fingers reached out to brush the tips of Harry’s feathers. Harry dipped his head in acknowledgment, then held still as soft fingers gently carded through his feathers. He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched anyone – or been touched in return. There was a faint warmth radiating from the elf’s hand and Harry felt like melting into it. All too soon, the fingers withdrew. But a slight smile remained on the elf’s face as he bade Harry goodnight, and Harry’s heart felt lighter than it had in years as sleep slowly overtook him.
The sweet siren’s call of slumber didn’t last. Harry grumbled and shifted in his sleep, as his dreams flitted from those of happier days with Ron and Hermione to one of his most repressed memories. The dark, dank cell came for him with a sense of inevitability, and Harry’s legs felt rooted to the ground as the memory overtook him.
The cell smelled of vomit and blood, the coppery scent so thick it seemed to stick like syrup in Harry’s throat. It was cold in the dungeons of the Malfoy Manor, but Harry had more pressing worries. He closed his eyes, trying fervently to block out all sensations but the steady beat of his heart. The Death Eaters could return any minute, with their Lord in tow. Harry didn’t think he could escape this time. He was beaten, wandless, and all out of tricks.
Except, possibly, one. It would take a miracle for him to complete his Animagus transformation here – the first time was always the hardest, and Harry had failed to divine his inner animal under much better conditions. His nose itched, but Harry it. He slowed his ragged breathing as best he could, counting out the inhales and exhales until the sound of his heartbeat drowned out anything else.
He entered that peculiar state of focused non-thinking that Snape had tried so hard to drill into his head all those years ago. He focused inward, following the next inhale that rose in his chest to form the next steady heartbeat. He cast his mind deeper, trying to find the primal instincts that lay dormant for so long, searching for the animal heartbeat that would match his own.
His heart spasmed, and his breathing stuttered. Sweat broke out on his forehead, glistening in defiance of the cold, underground air. Pain radiated out from his chest, and everything felt hot. It hurt to breathe, just like last time, but Harry endured the pain. He had to – this was his last shot.
The flames grew in his mind, setting every nerve alight. Harry tried to keep breathing, but the oxygen was stolen from his lungs, as the fire sought to devour and consume everything in its wake. He tried to scream, but only swallowed more flames. His heart constricted, then gave one final, lethargic pump.
Harry's last thought before being consumed by fire was to wonder if he would see his parents and Sirius again. Memories flitted across his mind, too fast to make out any one image, but enough to get an impression here, a feeling there. Finally, one stood out – a high pitched scream, followed by sinuous words that spoke the spell almost like a caress: "Avada Kedavra". His world was awash in green light as Harry’s heart gave out.
The next beat started a long moment later. Harry opened bleary eyes to see the world as a phoenix.
Unlike previous nights, when one memory would fade only to be replaced by a new one, two memories appeared at once. They twisted into each other, blurring the actions – and then another memory was added and another and more and more until memories were crashing down like a wave into Harry's mind. All the events and emotions jumbled together and created a fiery swirl in Harry's mind. He couldn't control it. He was going to go insane from the sheer crushing weight of the memories that kept growing and growing.
It was too much; Harry couldn't organize, couldn't control his memories. He was currently seeking refuge in the center of his mind, which was the only calm area, much like the eye of a hurricane. As he huddled there, visions swirled past him, occasionally parting so he could glimpse his failed hope, the Gringott's vault that held his worst memories. Its metal casings had been blown apart. There was no chance of resealing it. The wind picked up and Harry felt himself pulled inexorably into the swirling chaos.
Legolas woke with a start. The world was still bathed in darkness; a quick glance at the sky revealed that the stars had hardly changed their positions. Movement caught his eye, and he looked over to see Eclipse give a minute twitch. It was the first time he had seen the bird sleep so close to them, and on the ground no less.
Eclipse gave a bigger flinch and let out a low keening noise.
Something was wrong.
Legolas rushed over time him. The phoenix looked to be fast asleep, but the small keening sounds continued. The elf reached tentative fingers towards the bird while trying to whisper soothingly.
“It is only a dream. Wake up, my friend,” he said. His fingers softly touched the bird’s feathers, trying to ground him back in the present. But Eclipse continued to shudder and twitch, not waking up. Legolas moved closer so that he was almost cradling the bird. His whispered reassurances turned into a soft lullaby that his mother used to sing when he had nightmares.
Slowly, he could feel the bird’s frantic heartbeat start to calm.
All of a sudden, Eclipse started. His head twisted around frantically to see who was holding him, then sagged as he saw Legolas.
"Thank you for waking me,” he said, in a small, fragile voice.
Legolas felt his heart go out for the bird. He hadn’t realized how bad the nightmares were.
“Anytime,” he answered, grip tightening briefly on the bird once more to reassure him that he was in the land of the waking. Lightly stroking the soft feathers, he whispered, "If you ever wish to share…”
The bird shook his head in mute denial.
“Please, just… hold me?” Eclipse asked, voice raw and unsure.
They spent the rest of the night in silence side by side, until the sun rose softly over the horizon.
Chapter 10: Between dreams and daylight
Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real? - The Deathly Hallows
Harry lay awake all night, nestled into the elf’s side. The warmth radiated by Legolas was a welcome respite to the chilly air. Were this any other night, he might have spent the time peacefully: but Harry’s mind was in shock, his thoughts working frantically to understand what just happened.
He had expected the mental breakdown, if not today, then soon. He had known the consequences of sealing his memory. For the agonizing seconds he huddled in the midst of his chaotic memories, Harry was certain he was going to follow the path most others took when trying to barricade their minds against memories, of: losing control over their minds and being reduced to an unresponsive, empty shell.
Few survived. Snape had listed the many, many ways that Occlumency practitioners could end up comatose. He would have never taught this technique to Harry, even if he was James Potter’s spawn… except they were in a war, and winning it became more important than Harry’s long-term survival.
The few who survived the process had done so because they had worked towards reincorporating the sealed memories before they lost control—something that Harry had not actively tried to do. In that split second between when his memories fell and when they swamped his mind, he had thought that he would follow the same route as those before him. His only regret was that Snape wasn't there to witness this last act of stupidity. They had reached a reluctant truce through the war and it could've been a great parting gift to the old bastard.
Somehow the elf's voice had cut through the noise and confusion, and everything had stopped. Why?
Harry slowly closed his eyes. Who knew what his mind was like now? All the painstaking organization that he and Snape had worked on was probably swept away by the tide of memories. Would he too be sucked back into the past if he reentered? Calling on his Gryffindor courage, Harry prepared himself… and jumped back into his mind.
Harry opened his eyes to see debris everywhere. If the Weasley twins had activated every single explosive product of theirs, the resulting mess might look like the one Harry saw now. Portraits which had been knocked to the ground complained loudly; books scattered across the floor were reciting their favorite chapters. Other errant memories, those not important enough to assign a book or portrait, careened around the room like motorized balloons.
The noise was overwhelming.
Harry tried to shut out the noise, but the clamor rose in his ears until he couldn’t think straight. This was a mistake – he wasn’t ready to face his own mind. He tried to concentrate and focus on the sensations he felt in the real world, like the body heat that radiated off of Legolas – but the sensations slipped through his mind, dissipating into the air like a puff of breath. He tried to grasp at it, but missed and fell. His hand landed on a broken portrait of Susan Bones, and he felt a whirling sensation pulling at his navel.
The rain outside was common for London this time of year. The sharp rap on the door of number 12 Grimmauld Place was, however, not expected. Harry and Ron drew their wands in tandem, looking at each other with grim agreement. They had sent the rest of the Order out on business – and it was too soon for them to have returned. As they opened the door, wands held ready to cast, they saw the sodden face of their old schoolmate, Susan Bones. It was difficult to tell how much of the rivulets dripping down her face came from the rain or her tears. “Please,” she said, “it’s my Aunt—“.
Harry remembered when she appeared. Amelia Bones had recently become a member of the Order, as Voldemort had stepped up his machinations within the Ministry. She has been investigating potential Death Eaters within the Auror ranks when her niece found her dead in her home and came to them with the bad news.
As the memory ended, the portrait now looked perfectly intact and—most of all—silent.
The peace lasted for only a second before the cacophony rose again, portraits and books and memories all clamoring and shouting. He wavered, overcome by the enormity of his task. He needed to silence all of these memories, but the mere thought of re-watching every one of these was draining. He mind sank and buckled; he couldn’t face those memories again, he just couldn’t.
The noise was suddenly muted, as Harry felt a strange sensation. It almost felt as if his feathers were being preened. Slowly, his muddled thoughts remembered where he was before falling into his mind. He was sitting next to Legolas, and the elf must be carding long fingers through his feathers. It felt… nice.
Harry felt his resolve strengthen as he cast a wary eye over the memories. They still shouted and moved at alarming speeds across his mind. But they were muffled by a barrier. He looked down in surprise at his salvation: a glowing ring of new memories protected him from the noise. They were quite small, no more than a handful.
But they showed images of Bregalad, Gimli, Gandalf, and… Legolas. The memory that shown brightest of all was from earlier that night, when he spoke with Legolas. It was the moment when Harry felt like he had a real chance of friendship again.
Harry reached towards it, feeling the happiness that radiated off the memory. He then looked up and surveyed the unbound memories ahead. There – a memory of Luna floated by. He touched it and fell into the scene. It was time to get to work.
If Gimli or Gandalf were surprised to see Eclipse in the morning, they made no mention of it.
As he walked, Legolas mulled over the events of the previous night. Eclipse’s newfound openness with him felt precious and fragile. He didn’t want to push the bird, but he also felt profound worry at the bird’s nightmares.
Another, smaller, part of him worried over his worry. He had long accepted that his friends would pass on before him, and as such, he often tried to limit his concern for their long-term health and well-being. After all, long-term to a hobbit or a dwarf was but a blink of an eye to the life of an elf.
But the day was bright and irresistible and soon all troublesome thoughts were swept away with the warm breeze rising from the south. Legolas couldn't help it; he started humming an Elven melody under his breath.
Not quietly enough it appeared, for after several verses Eclipse started imitating the chorus. Legolas felt his breath catch. The phoenix's beautiful trill rose and fell in perfect harmony with the elf's; their music entwined and rose in the air, livening the surrounding countryside. Even Gimli's grumbling about elves and silly ditties temporarily subsided under the cheerful song and bright sunlight.
The song helped Harry stay positive as he trawled through memories he had sought to suppress. He had only made a small dent in his work, and his mind still resembled Dudley's room after a temper tantrum: memories were piled on top of each other like mounds of clothing. While he sorted some memories easily, others sucked him into his past so securely that he could hardly tell what was in his head and what was in the real world.
Singing helped him stay present as he confronted his past. So, with the wind urging him forward and the sun warming his back, Harry continued to dive into his memories.
Three days later, Harry had still not finished sorting his memories. He was beginning to grow snappish and moody; or he would be snappish, if he bothered to talk to the company. He was plagued by memories of the war, and just looking at Legolas or Gimli would bring up painful flashbacks of his times with Ron and Hermione.
The stress was even affecting his energy. As he flew that day, his muscles felt still and sluggish. His feathers had been falling out with an alarming frequency; usually he lost a few feathers every week, but now he seemed to lose that many every day.
The wind started picking up, making it more difficult for him to fly. The sky began to darken well before sunset, and Harry looked out to see storm clouds on the horizon. His gaze turned to the company below. From his vantage point, they looked like ants scurrying across the landscape.
The pitter-patter of raindrops started by mid-afternoon, and Harry reluctantly flew to join the company. Gandalf, who had a sixth sense for these sorts of things, had just found a dense cluster of trees that blocked much of the now-pouring rain. He, Legolas and Gimli had huddled beneath the dense leafy mass, trying to dry off as best they could. Harry arrived just as Gimli managed to light a small fire going.
"This is as far as we'll get tonight. The rain will not stop until after darkness has settled. Lothlorien must wait until tomorrow," announced Gandalf.
"Humph." snorted Gimli, as he poked at the fire. "At least we are close. I'm looking forward to some warm bread and ale, and I wouldn’t say no to an actual bed."
"It will be good to see the Lady again." Legolas added, with a slight smile as Gimli blushed.
A peaceful silence fell over the camp, as all thought about the hospitality that awaited them tomorrow. Except for Harry. He stared broodingly into the flickering, dancing flames in the fire pit. He was getting used to Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli and was beginning to see them as more than acquaintances. But a whole city of people? Even if they looked like Legolas? Harry hadn't forgotten the elves who imprisoned him.
A long silence stretched out. Harry glanced up to see Legolas looking at him with an unreadable expression.
Legolas was worried. Eclipse had been nearly silent since his nightmare three days ago. Legolas couldn’t even be sure it was a nightmare, as the frustrating bird had barely spoken two words to anyone since.
He hoped that whatever plagued the bird that night would disappear with the pale dawn of the next day. He was wrong. The bird brooded all day and night, except when Legolas could coax him into joining him in song.
Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. He had to know what was up with the bird.
"Eclipse," Legolas spoke softly, his voice gentle. "Would you please to talk to us?
There was a long pause as Harry tried to look anywhere but towards the campfire. A light rainfall could be heard hitting the trees overhead in a steady rhythm. Blop. A droplet fell onto a leaf next to Harry. He stared at it, and in that small bead of water he could hear shouts and screams from a past Death Eater raid.
It was getting to be too hard to keep his memories from bleeding into the real world. He needed to sort faster. But maybe… maybe telling the others would help. Perhaps they could make sure Harry didn’t fall too far into his own mind. Legolas had already helped with that, unwittingly. Harry took a moment to organize his thoughts before speaking.
“…do you remember my nightmares?”
“How could we forget?” Gimli said, with a snort. Legolas shot the dwarf a quelling look, and then looked at Harry with earnest eyes.
“Of course, but they seemed to be better recently.” The elf said.
“That’s… sort of right,” Harry said. “My nightmares… well. They are no longer limited to nighttime. And they’re not really nightmares. They’re memories.”
Slowly, haltingly, Harry explained to them about his terrible idea to repress his memories and the consequences. He kept the specifics about his past vague but tried to be honest about his current situation. After all, it was only thanks to his current, burgeoning friendships that helped him stay sane.
Finally, his flood of words slowed to a trickle.
“So that’s why I’m… quiet.” He said, finally trailing off into silence. He felt lighter, as if saying the words had released his burdens into the air. The rain continued to fall in a soothing rhythm outside of the small enclosure that Gandalf had found under the trees. The space felt quiet and intimate, safe and secure from the outside world.
Harry looked into the eyes of his fellow travelers and saw only companionship and understanding reflected. Perhaps… perhaps things weren’t so bad.
Harry made the most progress that night out of any, as he finally finished reliving his memories from the war.
Chapter 11: Full circle
But if I had spoken sooner, it would not have lessened your desire, or made it easier to resist. On the contrary! No, the burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes to the heart. -The Two Towers
The company walked under a vibrant canopy of leaves. If he hadn’t been paying attention, Harry might have said this forest was like any other; but he had spent the past year living in the Fangorn, a forest home to unusual creatures.
This forest was even more unusual in its own right. Every leaf seemed perfectly shaped as if stamped by the same mold. The trees were too tall and full of proud, upright branches. Even the air seemed to hold an incandescent shimmer than twisted and spun out of the corner of Harry’s eyes.
They had reached Lothlorien.
While the rest of the company and even the forest seemed to be in increasingly good spirits, Harry was most decidedly not. He hadn’t slept more than an hour the night before, as he had worked late through the night to finally finish sorting out the mess in his mind. Now, his sleep-addled mind kept seeing flashes of elves in the trees; but when he turned to look more closely, they were gone.
The lack of sleep had also contributed to a general feeling of sluggishness. The company had only been walking for a few hours this morning, and Harry was already feeling tired. He had taken to flying slightly ahead and perching on a tree while the others caught up, but it was getting more and more difficult to convince himself to leave his branches.
Harry sat on one such branch now and watched as the others slowly caught up with him. Gandalf moved with a steady, deliberate pace that was both ground-eating and yet unhurried. His left hand grasped his staff, which seemed to get much more use as a walking stick than a vehicle for magic. Harry idly wondered if he might find his wand here. If these were the elves who imprisoned him, would they have kept a broken stick of wood? He hoped so, just as he realized how unlikely that wish was.
Gimli followed at a much faster stride, having to take nearly two steps for every one of the wizard’s. He also seemed to step on every twig and branch in his path, unlike his two companions. And Legolas… Legolas walked in this forest as if he was one with it. His movements were fluid and graceful, and he made no more sound with his movements than a whisper in the wind. As Harry watched, he noticed the elf’s broad shoulders seemed to offer the answer to his problems. There was plenty of room for a bird to land there and not get jostled.
Decision made, Harry coaxed himself into leaving his current branch. His wings seemed to creak in protest, but he promised them this was the last time they needed to move today. He flew up slowly towards the elf, at a low trajectory that was clearly visible to Legolas.
Legolas saw his approach, and slowed down in confusion, allowing Harry to twist and land gracefully on the elf’s shoulder. He tried to keep his grip light, mindful of his sharp talons.
“Is this okay?” he asked belatedly.
“Are you tiring of our slow pace?” Legolas replied with a slight smile. “We should be greeted soon. It is not long before we will arrive in Lothlorian proper.”
“Some greeting,” Gimli added. “A proper greeting would be when we first meet. The elves already know we're here, they just don't have the manners to show themselves right away."
As if on cue, an elf appeared from behind a tree and looked over the party. "I see the dwarf has returned." He commented mildly. "Yet, for some reason, this does not bother the Lady. You may proceed."
Gimli snorted at the rudeness but surprisingly held his tongue.
The group walked in near silence towards the forested city; well, as quiet as they could be, considering Gimli’s heavy steps. At one point they climbed up a ladder and continued the procession through the trees. They crossed elaborate wooden bridges that seemed to extend organically from tree to tree and passed windows and alcoves so cleverly designed that it was impossible to tell where the indoors began and the outside ended. More people should live in treehouses, Harry thought approvingly.
They finally stopped outside a beautiful door full of ornate carvings and gold scenes that outshone the previous splendor that they had passed. Their guide opened it and gestured from them to enter.
“She awaits your presence.” He said, and then followed them into the corridor.
They walked down a long and narrow hallway. Vines, both real and carved, twisted along the walls and trailed them along the path. Harry tried not to dig his talons into Legolas’ shoulder. Even with his Occlumency shields up, he could feel a mental presence up ahead.
Finally, they reached the end of the hallway, where another door waited for them. Before their guide could knock or announce them, another voice rang out.
The voice was light and soothing as water falling gently on a spring day. The company slowly stepped forward into an open cavernous room, and Harry finally set his eyes on the mysterious Lady Galadriel.
She was beautiful, like all the elves Harry had seen so far. Harry wondered if there were ever ugly elves. But she also had a presence that didn't confine itself to her body. Then he looked into her eyes.
They were ice blue, like Legolas' but infinitely more alien. Her eyes met his and then became unfocused, somehow seeing through him and then within him.
Harry tried to tear his gaze away but felt rooted to the spot. She was trying to get into his memories! He had such a tenuous grasp on his Occlumency barriers – but he still wasn't prepared to deal with all of them, much less have a stranger rummage through them. He fought the intrusion as best he could, but he was so tired –
— and then something within him snapped and he burst into flames.
Legolas dropped him with a cry and began looking around frantically for water, but Harry couldn't see or hear anything but the fire.
Memories began flitting through his mind's eye, too fast to view properly, but enough to invoke impressions of what they contained. Harry caught a few treasured glimpses of a proud James and a cooing Lily – memories he had never known about – then was swiftly drawn to the familiar sound of high pitched laughter and a rumbling motorbike. He heard Petunia’s shriek as she found him on her doorstep the next morning, and saw Dudley grow rounder and rounder over the years as he grew thin and wiry from never-ending rounds of chores and time in the cupboard. The memories of his first letters rushed past him, as did images of Hogwarts.
The images flew faster and faster, until the cheerful scenes at Hogwarts were replaced with unknown forests and unknown houses, as Harry and his friends raced from one hiding place from another, always on the run – then his imprisonment and escape and the battle of Hogwarts flashed by, followed by his first impressions of Middle Earth. Memories of prison walls and flames and battles all piled up each other, as Harry lost all track of time.
The rushing memories seemed to last forever until they stopped just as suddenly as they had started. The burning feeling didn't stop and it felt as if his whole body were enflamed; yet it was a good flame, a cleansing flame that burned out the rage and remnants of evil that tenaciously clung onto Harry even after he had gotten rid of the Horcrux.
Then Harry blinked, and everything was suddenly so much bigger than before. He sneezed ashes from his nostrils.
Legolas stood frozen staring at him, horrified at what happened. The others all also sported different variations of shock – even Gandalf, to Harry's amusement – and the Lady Galadriel looked regretful.
"Mean." he told her telepathically. Her eyes widened slightly, and her hand moved to a dagger on her belt. Legolas shot her a withering look and the hand stilled.
“My apologies,” she said uncertainly. “I did not mean any harm…” The graceful lady seemed at a loss for words; something Harry doubted had happened very often in her lifetime. Or, he would have thought that, if he were able to concentrate on anything. Harry’s thoughts felt slow and muddled. In contrast, everything seemed much more interesting than before. Legolas’ hair was particularly enchanting –
Harry nearly toppled forward on too-small feet. He tried to right himself, only to fall backward in a pile of fluff. If he were an adult, he would have groaned. Instead, the sound that came out was very much like a small cry.
This must be his Burning Day – but then, as Harry hadn't ever had a burning day, he didn't remember the symptoms. It had been about a year since his transformation, but he wasn't even sure if his animagus would even have a burning day. But these thoughts were too complicated to reason out, and so Harry chirped the one thing he really wanted: "Hold." He demanded to Legolas. He wanted to see better and the elf was both comfy and careful.
Legolas hesitantly approached the young phoenix and slowly scooped him up, afraid of damaging the tiny bird. He was so light… He cradled the ball of feathers closely to his body; even with the inherent grace of the elves, he didn't want to risk letting the little one fall. "What happened?" he asked softly.
Harry struggled to find the words. He knew them, they were just... a little bit out of reach...
"I die. Then I live." He knew there was a better way to explain this… "No staring." He imperiously commanded to the elf, suddenly shy of the curious gazes from onlookers, who couldn't hear what he was saying to Legolas. He hunkered down trying to avoid them.
Relaying the message, Legolas hesitated, then added, "He sounds younger – like a child. I wouldn't demand too many explanations now." He looked pointedly at the Lady.
She smoothly replied, "I only wished to learn of the blemish on his soul. But his fire has cleaned away the remnants, for I cannot feel it any longer. While I am curious, it is a child's curiosity and not a necessary inquisition."
“What do you mean by blemish? Is that why you attacked Eclipse, unprovoked?” Legolas asked, still staring suspiciously at the other elf.
The Lady Galadriel no longer appeared very remorseful. She slowly sat down and smoothed the long, silken dress before replying.
Finally, she spoke. “I’ve experienced many minds over the years. All are unique in their own way, yet many share strong similarities. Only rarely have I felt a… wrongness, in the back of my mind. I have felt it only three times recently. The first, in young Master Baggins.” She paused, staring off into the distance. “The second and third, at nearly the same time. At the time, I believed the two connected, but now I am not so sure.”
She glanced around the room, taking in Legolas’ unimpressed stare, Gandalf’s thoughtful gaze and Gimli’s look of confusion. She sighed. “Apologies, my friends. I do not always try to be so obtuse. While you all went to Gondor, my people and the kin of Mirkwood rallied to rid darkness from Dol Guldur.”
Legolas nodded. He had received word from his father while still in Gondor.
“We had expected to battle Orcs, Uruk-hai, even the occasional troll. We had not expected to find true evil. It was there, hiding in the depths of the citadel, a feeling of pure malice. I am certain that, while similar to Sauron, it was not he. As my elves drove out the orcs defending Dol Guldur, I felt it slip through aging battlements and slither down into the depths of the catacombs. By the time my men had cleared a path, it had escaped.”
The Lady paused, in contemplation. Her next words were carefully measured. “As it fled, I tried to… better understand it. Yet I was rebuffed from accessing its mind. And in that moment, my attention was diverted to another disturbance; a man we had captured, trying to escape from the cursed keep. While we killed most of the enemy outright, we fashioned a prison in one of our wagons for him. He attacked my guard’s mind. While I managed to rebuff the attack, I felt a similar stain. I was unable to study it further, as he then escaped.”
“This first… thing that you encountered. Where did it flee?” Gandalf asked, his eyes staring intently at the Lady Galadriel.
“South,” she replied.
He exhaled, a sound of quiet conviction. “The Mordor has indeed found a new master.” He said gravely.
She nodded. “It is likely. I sent my best trackers after it. The trail would have been impossible for them to follow if not for a peculiar item left by the human in his escape. A stick of wood, by a simple glance. But it resonated with the stain. I modified it so that it would guide my trackers towards the evil.”
Harry had been falling asleep in Legolas’ cupped hands, try as he might to listen to the others. Yet when he heard of his wand, he jerked back awake.
“Stick?” he asked. “Where?”
Lady Galadriel favored him with a faint smile. “With my trackers still. They have since gone to Gondor, to offer their services and aid to the regents there while this new threat exists.”
Harry was having a hard time following. If only he could focus! He knew, intellectually, that he should focus on what was being said. But there was so much else to see and hear. As the Lady Galadriel spoke, her voice made a sound like small bells ringing in the wind; he wanted to follow that sound until it disappeared entirely into the air. Gimli was stroking his magnificently bushy beard, and Harry wanted to lose himself in the bristles until he had made a nest. And Legolas continued to stroke his feathers, which made him want to croon with happiness.
Harry hadn’t realized he was crooning until he became aware of four sets of eyes staring at him. He attempted to bury his head into the elf’s hand.
Gimli cleared his throat. “But what of the human?” he asked, frowning. “How could a human escape your elves? Why wasn’t he recaptured?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” the Lady replied. “He seemed to vanish out of the air.”
Three sets of eyebrows jumped into the air.
“That is most concerning,” Gandalf said, in a grave voice. “It seems your mysterious prisoner shares the same ability as our most recent attackers.” He quickly described the ambush in the Fangorn, detailing the strange abilities of the new creatures.
“How fortunate,” the Lady murmured as Gandalf mentioned the timely appearance of Eclipse and his healing. “You must take some time to recover here then. Please, stay as long as you need.”
With that, the meeting was over. Another elf appeared to take the company to their rooms. As they left, watchful blue eyes followed the baby phoenix.
Chapter 12: New beginnings
Slowly, very slowly, he sat up, and as he did so he felt more alive, and more aware of his own living body than ever before. Why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was, brain and nerve and bounding heart? It would all be gone...or at least, he would be gone from it. His breath came slow and deep, and his mouth and throat were completely dry, but so were his eyes. - The Deathly Hallows
Legolas awoke to a small sharp pain in his scalp.
He reached up to touch his hair, but his hand encountered something soft and feathery instead. A sharp, tiny beak pecked his finger in response to his prodding.
“Ouch!” he said, quickly retracting his hand.
He felt Eclipse move up the back of his head towards his forehead, the little talons gripping along his scalp. He looked up to see a black shape appear in his peripheral vision. The blur jumped up but did not get very far. It quickly plummeted back to earth – landing on Legolas’s nose and then tumbling off of him.
Legolas sat up hurriedly, looking to where the small black fluff had landed on the floor.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” he asked, quickly moving to gently scoop up Eclipse. The baby phoenix looked at him plaintively.
“Want to fly.” Came the wistful response.
Legolas stifled a sigh. While his heart still seized when he thought about Eclipse burning, the phoenix had seemed to get over the terrifying events with alarming alacrity. Instead, the baby bird seemed determined to jump off of every surface he could find, sending Legolas into a heightened state of alarm as he tried to thwart the phoenix’s attempts.
He hadn’t trusted giving the phoenix a room by himself, so he had also spent the night half-awake, worried he would move and crush the bird. His wakefulness came in handy when Eclipse started giving soft distressed chirrups in the night, and he was able to wake the bird from his nightmare. Yet at some point, he must have dozed off.
He wished he could doze off now, but insistent pecking on his fingers brought him back to the present. He gave a disapproving look at Eclipse and the pecking stopped.
“Morning,” came a shy greeting. He sighed. It was no use; he couldn’t pretend to be irritated.
“Hello, my young friend,” he said. He still didn’t know what had happened the day before. Eclipse had alluded to this being a common trait of his kind, but he was hard to understand in this state. The phoenix seemed to have reverted physically and mentally to a child.
While Legolas was enjoying how trusting the bird had become, he couldn’t wait to have Eclipse back to normal. The elf had become fascinated with the bird throughout the course of their journey to Lothlorien. At first, he had engaged with the bird due to the almost palpable sense of sadness that hung around. Growing up in Mirkwood, Legolas had enjoyed nursing creatures back to health. Yet, Eclipse didn’t react remotely similar to any other birds. The few times he engaged with the company, he was an odd combination of stubborn and curious; and for all that the bird tried not to show any emotions, he could tell that Eclipse felt them deeply.
He stood up, still carefully holding onto his precious cargo, and carried him to where the others were breaking their fast. Gimli and Gandalf were already awake and gave him amused looks as he sat down to join them.
“You seem to have found yourself a new shadow,” Gandalf chortled.
Legolas ignored the remark in favor of selecting several berries from the tray. He offered them to Eclipse, whose eyes lit up at the sight of food. While the phoenix was distracted, he set about picking out his own breakfast.
“Have you seen anything like it?” he asked the wizard.
Gandalf shook his head. “I’ve never seen nor heard of such a thing. But the world is vast and varied; I’m certain I have not seen all that Middle Earth has to offer.”
“Well, I’d prefer not to see that again,” Gimli said. “It was uncomfortable to watch. Who has ever heard of a burning bird? I wish he had told us. He keeps a great many secrets – I wish he’d share one or two.”
Legolas privately agreed but didn’t think Eclipse kept them out of malice.
“Still, he’s a cute little bugger like that,” Gimli said, sticking out a ruddy finger for the bird to climb on. Eclipse, who had been focused on destroying the berries, quickly shifted his attention to the dwarf. When Gimli lifted his finger, however, the bird launched himself off into the air.
“Woah now!” Gimli cried, barely catching him before he hit the table. Legolas felt his heart leap into his throat. “You should wait until you’re older,” he said.
Eclipse gave him a defeated look.
“Fly,” he chirped and looked longingly at the window.
Gimli’s shoulders slumped. “Well, now, perhaps you can,” he tried to reassure the chick. “You just need a bit of practice that’s all. You’ve got to use those wings more,” he touched one of Eclipse’s wings, causing the bird to fluff out in indignation.
Eclipse eyed the edge of the table. That was the only warning Legolas got before the bird tried launching himself over the edge.
“No, Eclipse!” he cried, reaching out to catch the bird.
Gimli chortled. “Next time, try to flap a bit more!”
Legolas felt a headache coming on. It was going to be a long day.
The days in Lothlorien passed in a blur for Harry. He slept, woke to hear conversation about boring or deep issues and promptly went to sleep again after nibbling on whatever food Legolas saved for him. He spent almost the entire time carried, when he wasn’t trying to jump out of the elf’s hands to fly.
For the most part, Harry didn’t mind this new lifestyle. Sleeping was nice, as was the food. When he grew bored, he could muss up Legolas’s shiny hair or try to untangle Gimli’s bushy beard. But once in a while, he would catch a bit of the conversation and a deeper, subconscious part of his mind would wake up. Despite his interest, the conversations slipped through his mind like water. After one of those moments, he would grow snappish and sullen, trying to peck even Legolas’s fingers.
His mental fog finally began to lift nearly a week later, as Harry lay nestled at Legolas’ side. The stars were out, and the company sat around a fire in an out-of-the-way courtyard. Since he was at the elf’s side most days, Harry had noticed that Legolas more often sought out Gandalf and Gimli than the other elves. He had half expected that Legolas would immediately join the other elves upon arrival here; but, instead, he seemed to remain quite standoffish from Lady Galadriel and thus all of the other woodland elves.
Despite the secluded location, Gandalf spoke in a low tone with the others. The low rumbling timbre had initially piqued Harry’s interest, but as he listened to the soothing rumbles, he began to focus on the words.
“ – have chanced a look in the mirror,” Gandalf was saying, as he slowly smoked his pipe. The sweet earthy scent filled the air; it had become familiar after days on the road with the wizard.
Gandalf paused to blow a ring of smoke. Harry was momentarily distracted watching the ring float up into the air, slowly melding with the smoke from the campfire. With great effort, he managed to bring his attention back to the wizard.
“I fear a new creature walks Middle Earth. So soon after the Uruk-hai… it makes me wonder.”
“Uruk-hai?” Harry piped up. Had he heard the name before? He didn’t think so, but this ridiculously young body made it hard to concentrate sometimes.
“Half-breeds,” Gimli spat. “Abominations.”
Harry bristled, fluffing his feathers to make himself seem bigger.
“What’s wrong with half-breeds?” he asked. The word echoed in his head, bringing up memories of blood purity accusations with it.
“They are a new type of orc that appeared in the war,” Legolas said, reaching out to try and calm Harry. He pecked the elf’s fingers in response, unappeased by the motion.
Legolas snatched his hand back with a grimace.
“Uruk-hai are stronger and faster than their cousins,” Gimli said in a low, ominous voice. “The Ents say Saruman created them by mixing orcs with men.”
“Created?” Harry asked, alarmed. He wouldn't wish that on anyone, even these Orcs and not-Orcs.
“I fear it is so,” Gandalf said. “In his path to Sauron, Saruman must have stumbled across knowledge best left forgotten. Perhaps he found some lost details of how the Dark Lord Melkor first created the Orcs and later refined the process.”
“The tales…,” Legolas said, slowly. “They say the first Orcs were made of elves, captured by the fallen Valar and twisted beyond all recognition. But I thought it just a story, meant to keep young elves in bed and not out exploring the woods.”
“Every story holds a grain of truth,” Gandalf said, his face grave.
“It is true I have never seen an Orc dead from old age," Legolas said.
Harry was now feeling sorry for the creatures. To be twisted by magic outside of their control… he thought back to the horcruxes that had nearly destroyed him, Ron and Hermione, before the trio had learned to contain their insidious powers.
Legolas must have interpreted his look, for he added, "Orcs are corrupted beyond redemption. Back in the First Age, the best of our elven healers take pity on the prisoners and try to take care of them. The orcs would sooner destroy themselves with their own cruelty than accept help from an elf. We no longer take Orcish prisoners from battle. It is best to put them out of their misery."
Eventually, Gimli broke the silence that had fallen over the camp.
“We can’t do anything about fairytales, but we need to do something about these new creatures. We need information to act – there are a number of underground caverns across Mordor that could be producing these creatures, and we still don't know what their weaknesses or plans may be."
“We should return to Gondor; that is where these creatures first appeared, and therein lies our trail. We have gathered what knowledge can be gained: it is time to move on. Perhaps you can carry Eclipse if he still cannot fly?”
Gandalf directed the last question at Legolas, who looked down at the quickly growing phoenix next to him. But Eclipse wasn’t there. The elf turned around quickly, already looking for possible vantage points that the bird might have accessed. He quickly spotted the phoenix on the lowest limb of a nearby tree.
Before he could say anything, the phoenix threw himself off of the limb. Legolas was already in motion, arms stretched out to catch Eclipse before he fell… but his hands remained empty. He looked up to see the bird flapping furiously to stay in flight.
“I’m flying!” came the delighted cry.
Chapter 13: Uncovered truths
It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. - The Return of the King
Harry’s wings grew in strength and endurance over the next few days, while the company finalized their preparations. Gandalf had decided that they needed to return to Gondor with all haste. The company would depart soon by the great Anduin river, which would take two or three weeks even with the fastest boats the elves could provide.
After making the decision, Gandalf was not much help with the preparations; the wizard was an expert at disappearing the moment any elf showed up with a supply list in hand. The task of getting ready thankfully fell to Legolas and Gimli instead, which gave Harry much-needed time unsupervised.
He finally felt more like himself these days and was eager to get escape Legolas’s watchful eyes. He also needed solitude to answer a burning question: did his human age reflect that of the phoenix? Harry dreaded what he might find.
He knew, of course, that phoenixes don’t die – his twelve-year-old self never quite got over the shock of watching Fawkes spontaneously burst into flames – but he had never sought to test whether that particular ability transferred to his Animagus form. He was already marked by one Killing Curse; he didn’t want to be immune to the others. He wanted to have a normal life as a normal wizard. But now images of his wrinkled fingers from his last transformation had resurfaced in his sleep, and Harry could shake the horrible, lurking suspicion that he might not be entirely human anymore. How could he even pretend to be normal after that?
A flash of white caught his eye as Harry flew around Lothlorien, stretching his wings and looking for a secluded place to transform.
He looked down to see the Lady Galadriel below, resplendent in shining robes with golden hair glinting in the late morning sunshine. She crooked a perfectly proportioned finger towards him, beckoning Harry to come join her. Harry resented her all the more for her poised look.
He thought about flying away, but then decided he had some choice words for her. Now was a great time for her to hear them. Harry slowly coasted down to join her on the balcony, making sure to take his time. He finally, gently landed on the guardrail and started to preen his feathers.
Galadriel looked unhurried and welcoming.
“Thank you for joining me, Eclipse.” She said, as if he had deigned to see her and not the other way around. “I have been hoping to speak with you but was afraid of your understandable reticence after our first encounter,” she said, her voice melodious like Legolas’ but with none of the warmth.
She watched him with unreadable grey eyes.
“I understand you’ve grown rapidly, but do you understand me…?”
He gave her a baleful look and briefly entertained the idea of pecking her unblemished hands. With some difficulty, he marshalled his willpower. He was mature now, he reminded himself. He would not stoop to cheap antics: he would wound her with words instead.
“I’m not a child,” he said.
She studied him for a long moment after, then nodded.
“No, you are not. Then I will be frank: you harbored evil when you entered my woods, one similar to the blackness I felt a year ago. That was why I had to see, for myself, who you were.”
“I’m not evil – I fight evil! You’re just like all the others.” He said, outraged. She knew nothing about him! How dare she judge him, when she was had attacked him? In addition to the anger, a small, but growing voice inside of him was panicking that she thought him connected to Dol Guldur. Lady Galadriel was an accomplished Legilimens, from what little he remembered; if she thought he was still a threat, she might try to force answers out of him.
“Good.” She said. “For you will fight again – I sense many more battles ahead. The greatest of which lies locked deep inside you.”
Harry scoffed. He had enough prophecies in his lifetime – he didn’t need any additional advice from some elf.
She moved gracefully to pick up an engraved wooden box and lifted the lid. Inside lay a bracelet, made of silver string. At the center was an iridescent marble-sized stone. The colors seemed to shift in the light, never settling on any one hue.
“I want you to have this, to remind you of your own light in the darkest of times. It is a gilith-rhiw, a seed impervious to all frost and insects, yet porous towards the light and warmth. It cracks upon on the darkest night of the year, at the midnight hour, and spills forth with sunlight stored throughout the year. The blooms can rival the stars.”
She turned the seed between her fingers.
“This gilith-rhiw never bloomed. But I suspect, in your darkest hour, it will aid you.”
Harry slowly reached out a talon to grasp the gift.
“Thank you,” he said. Perhaps he had misjudged her.
With a small, secretive smile, the Lady Galadriel nodded and glided off. He still didn’t like most elves – they were too secretive by half – but he supposed Lothlorien wasn’t all bad.
Clenching the bracelet tightly in his talons, Harry took off to circle above the city of trees.
After much searching, he finally found a secluded spot. A part of the river branched off to feed into a shallow pool. There was a small, sandy beach blocked from view by thick fir trees.
Harry silently flew down to the edge of the water. He hoped the pool would remain still and quiet – he hadn’t seen a mirror yet since arriving in Middle Earth and was hoping to see his reflection.
He concentrated on his human form, on things like fingers and toes, a mouth with lips. When the change was complete, he took a few steadying steps, letting his muscles remember what to do. Harry looked down at his hands, flexing the fingers. Then he noticed – the back of his left hand – it was blank. His messy handwriting, I must not tell lies, was no longer etched into his skin. He twisted his arm to look at the scar where Wormtail stabbed him and the puncture mark from the Basilisk. Those, too, were gone. In fact, all of his scars were missing.
He held his breath, and slowly leaned over the still pool of water. There was one scar in particular he wanted to check…
It was gone. The lightning bolt – a symbolic and irreversible mark on Harry's life – was gone. His forehead was a blank canvas, unmarred by the curse scar that had dogged him his entire life. He might have looked normal, but his skin was almost too flawless. It eerily reminded him of the elves. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, elves were. They looked like humans except for the too-pointed ears, but he’d be blind not to notice how eerily perfect they all looked.
His hands reached up to grasp his ears, and he let out a relieved sigh when he reached the rounded tips. Still human then. Maybe.
But no human could die in a blazing fire and be reborn all broken bones and scars from his past life washed away. No creature could remain immortal, except a phoenix.
It meant he was more alone than ever.
He stared blankly at his reflection. He had given up dreams of returning to the Wizarding World over the past year; he wasn’t even sure he would like it, even if he could go back. But to know that even here, with no scar to mark him, he would still remain ageless and alone… it was a fate to horrible to bear.
He continued a perusal of his body, still surprised every time he saw a now scar-less patch of skin. He certainly looked younger. If he had to guess, he would say somewhere in his teens. It seemed his phoenix form aged much faster and could influence his human age. He certainly felt more energetic and had healthier, younger-looking skin than the wrinkled skin from before.
Harry leaned back over the pool, intent on getting a better look at his face again, when he heard a branch snap.
Legolas had finally escaped from his brethren. While it was welcome to hear Sindarin in the air once more, he could only take so much of his fellow elves. They were all so… sheltered. Their only concern was that of supplying provisions, with no thought given to the rising evil towards the south. Certainly, none of the elves had volunteered to join their small company or offer their services. Then again, it was entirely likely that Lady Galadriel hadn’t mentioned the reason of Gandalf’s visit to anyone. It wouldn’t surprise him – his father would likely do the same.
He supposed he had grown accustomed to the plain speech used by Gimli and the hobbits; he was woefully unprepared to re-enter elvish court customs. This had no bearing on his decision to stay away from Mirkwood, of course. If war was once more on the horizon, it was his duty to find out more.
When he could no longer take the dulcet tones of this much llembas or that much rope, he quietly slipped away and disappeared into the forest. He had discovered a small pond the last time he had visited Lothlorien, one which had few game trails and even fewer elvish footpaths nearby.
He stepped softly through the forest, admiring the early afternoon silence. While he, Gimli, and Gandalf were good friends, sometimes they could quite loud without meaning to. He approached the stream quietly, then become even more quiet when he noticed movement. Someone was up ahead; Legolas had difficulty discerning what it was through the thick foliage, but it looked to be bigger than most animals. Another elf? Or something that didn’t belong in the forest…
He mis-stepped and a branch snapped right as his target came into view. It was an elf with wild untamed hair and vibrant green eyes that could put the leaves of Lothlorien to shame. The elf’s youthful appearance was put into stark contrast by the grimy robes that had seen better days. They looked familiar… he had seen such decrepit clothes before, but from where?
Legolas was the first to break the silence.
“Apologies for disturbing you.” He said. “Would you mind some company?”
The elf just stared at him mutely, a look of growing panic rising in his green eyes.
Chapter 14: By water's edge
But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry had always prided himself on his ability to act under pressure. Escape from being tied to a gravestone? Check. Destroying the diary while dying from basilisk poison? Another check.
But as Harry looked at Legolas, he froze. His thoughts were in a state of high panic, rushing through his head with little coherent thought beyond the need to escape. How could he disappear when Legolas was staring straight at him? And why was he still staring anyway?
Harry’s mind caught up with him and he belatedly remembered Legolas asking him a question.
“Er – it’s fine. I was just leaving,” he said, his voice rusty with disuse. He hoped his Westron was okay; it was one thing to mentally speak the words, but another to try and say them out loud.
He quickly stood up to make good on his word. But his legs, unused to walking, wavered and he nearly fell back down. A strong hand on his arm was the only thing keeping him upright, and Harry turned to find himself face-to-face with Legolas.
Intense silver eyes stared back at him. He gazed searchingly at Harry for a long moment, lingering on his ears.
“You are not… an elf?” Legolas asked. “Who are you?”
Harry’s muted panic reared back up in full force.
“I – I need to go,” Harry said, wrenching his arm out of the elf’s grasp. Legolas let him, probably because he knew Harry had nowhere to run in the dense underbrush.
Harry was happy to prove him wrong. He quickly twisted and then Apparated with a sharp crack, thinking furiously on another grove of trees nearby. His last view was that of Legolas staring with a shocked look on his face.
For a long moment, Legolas stared at the empty forest floor.
The bang echoed in his ears, a welcome reminder that he had not imagined the last few minutes. The mysterious man was gone, not leaving the slightest trace in his wake. And a Man he must be, for no elf had such rounded ears. Yet Legolas had never seen a Man with such flawless skin; nearly all Men wore marks of weariness from the hard work of their short lifespans. Indeed, the man had almost a coltish look about him; and his movements were that of a youngling, one who recently had a growth spurt and had not yet found new balance. That the stranger was able to disappear so completely might point to the work of a Wizard; but Legolas had never heard of a Wizard so young.
If there was one thing Legolas had learned after the war, it was to trust his instincts; and his instincts were telling him that this stranger did not come to cause harm. He had been too surprised at Legolas’s appearance. Perhaps, for now, Legolas would keep this encounter to himself… and see if he could find out any more hints as to the identity of the stranger. Surely, if he was so unaware as he seemed, the man must have left some clues elsewhere.
Legolas looked around the clearing with a tracker’s eye. He quickly spotted indentations in the soft soil, where the stranger had been kneeling by the water’s edge. Not far from it was a sharper dent in the ground, caused when the man shifted his feet from standing to kneeling. Further on, grasses sprouted up and masked any detailed outlines, but a few bent leaves showed the stranger’s passage.
He let his gaze roam along the line of direction suggested by the grasses. He could see one step, then another, then… the trail abruptly disappeared. The elf scoured the area, looking for other angles or signs that the mysterious stranger had passed by. There were none. It was as if the man had appeared out of thin air; which, Legolas reminded himself, was entirely likely. Why had the stranger appeared here, though? Out of all the ponds in Middle Earth, why this one?
As Legolas slowly walked back to the city in the trees, his mind remained in the secluded grove, pondering over the mysterious man.
Harry sympathized with the elf’s ears as he Apparated away. It was a good thing he was young again, Harry thought hysterically. If he had been in worse health, he would be suffering from a heart attack right now.
Thinking about being young made him nervous all over again, as his mind quickly wandered down the lonely path it had taken at the pond’s edge. He shook his head, trying the clear his mind. His Occlumency helped him have some control over his emotions, but it was likely trying to hold onto a wet bar of soap. As his panic threatened to bubble to the surface, he looked down for a distraction.
Below, elves walked in and among the trees, singing and chatting airily with one another. Harry wasn’t entirely sure what elves did besides that, and he hadn’t bothered to ask. Most had been distant and impersonal with outsiders, with the rather glaring exception of Legolas.
Focus! He didn’t want to think about Legolas right now. The movements below seemed to unify the elves into one single, intricate dance. The wave of elves rose and fell gracefully, parting seamlessly around the trees and other obstacles… other obstacles like a dwarf.
Gimli stood out like a rock beneath a river; unseen from above, but innately felt by the current. Even the elves near him gave him a wider berth than their brethren.
Harry flew down to meet him, landing carefully on a young sapling nearby. The small branch dipped precariously, but he managed to hang out without breaking the tree’s limb.
Gimli let out a laugh.
“You’re growing faster than a weed in full sunlight,” he chortled. “We might need some extra llembas for your appetite!”
“Shall I update the supply list?” asked the elf near him, in a dry tone.
“No, leave the list well enough alone. We have everything we need, and much more besides. As long as you ensure it is ready to go, we leave at first light tomorrow.”
“As you wish,” the elf replied. She rolled up the parchment and walked away, quickly rejoicing the dance of movement that was happening around Gimli.
“Elves,” Gimli said under his breath, as she moved out of sight. “I’ll be glad to be on the road again and away from all these lists.”
“Me too,” Harry said. He was done with this forest, and with the Lady Galadriel.
“What’s that?” Gimli asked, pointing to Harry’s talons. While one leg gripped the branch, the other set of claws were folded against his chest. Harry unfurled his talons and the seed dropped to the ground with a dull thud.
Gimli picked it up and examined it.
“A gift from the Lady? I am glad that you were able to meet her again before we left. I had not wished for you to leave on poor terms with her.”
“Yes, we talked.” Harry agreed. “And I think she will not make that same mistake again.” Now that over a week had passed, Harry could view the events with more amusement than before. It had been funny to see the shocked look on the elves’ faces, once the shock of burning had worn off.
“You should keep this close. Even though she showed erroneous judgment this time, the Lady Galadriel is as wise as she is fair. I can help fasten a travel pouch for you to carry this closely.”
Harry followed Gimli around the rest of the day, as the dwarf searched for supplies and sewed a small pouch that fit snugly around Harry’s chest. The dwarf wanted to make sure it wouldn’t fall while he flew, which lead him to suggest more and more wild acrobatics for Harry to try and fly in the name of testing the pouch.
Harry was exhausted by the time he and Gimli ate dinner around the campfire. By the time Legolas and Gandalf joined them, he was sleepy and content. If Legolas was quieter than usual tonight, Harry tried not to notice.
It was only as they all were slowly drifting to sleep that Legolas spoke.
“Your eyes…” Legolas said, trailing off.
Harry raised a tired eye at him. “What about them?” he asked.
“They’re so green.”
While Harry was nonplussed by the statement, he would have been alarmed to know that Legolas’s final thought before sleep was that’s eyes were a remarkable green… remarkably similar to that of the stranger from today. But when the elf woke up the next morning, he had already forgotten about it.
Chapter 15: Smoke and mirrors
"Two!" said Gimli, patting his axe. He had returned to his place on the wall. "Two?" said Legolas. "I have done better, though now I must grope for spent arrows; all mine are gone. Yet I make my tale twenty at the least. But that is only a few leaves in a forest." - The Two Towers
Harry soared high in the air, riding out a thermal current that lent him a magnificent view of the land.
The company had been traveling for days now, their elvish canoe making good time with the river’s strong currents. Summer had arrived, and snow from the Grey Mountains to the far north had begun to thaw, as glacier water raced down the Anduin on a long journey to the Sea.
Harry had been hard-pressed to keep up at first. After a few stressful days sitting at the bottom of the canoe and getting wet, he no longer tired when flying and was able to stay aloft the entire day. Now, he only landed when the company started camp each night, preferring to see Middle Earth from the best vantage point: above.
Below, the Anduin sparkled and shimmered, a long sinuous line that led south towards Minas Tirith. The forests of Lothlorien had long given way to open plains and fields of tall grasses. Now, the landscape was changing yet again, as stone broke out of the earth and rolling hills turned into rocky cliffs. The river widened into a vast lake up ahead. Two enormous statues rose out from the cliffside to mark the transition. Harry’s keen eyesight could faintly make out the helmed figures: each had one hand out in a halting gesture, seemingly warning off those who would enter the lake.
Gandalf had mentioned they might be a day or two away from these statues the night before. While they marked the boundary to Gondor, they also held a more personal significance to the company. Gimli had led a toast to their fallen comrade, Boromir, after Gandalf’s announcement.
Harry turned to fly back to the company. Gandalf would be pleased to hear they were making good time; and besides, it seemed about time for lunch and Harry preferred prepared food to the berries he might forage himself.
Harry flew leisurely back up the river. The sun warmed his feathers and created thermal drafts that he could ride out with minimal effort. Not long after turning around, he spotted the canoe pulled up to the river’s bank. He sped up, hoping that the company hadn’t finished lunch yet, and flew headfirst into the thicket of trees that lined the river.
He flew quietly underneath the canopy of leaves, extending his senses to pinpoint the location of the company… and by company, he meant Gimli. The dwarf really was oblivious to the amount of noise he created; Harry and Legolas often shared looks of commiseration as he stomped around making more noise than a herd of elephants.
However, instead of being greeted with muttering and select curses as Gimli fought the natural terrain, Harry was met with a very different sort of sound. A cold metallic sound, that of steel being drawn. Suddenly shouts filled the air, snapping Harry out of his momentary bewilderment. He rushed forward, flying as fast as he could while trying to dodge tree limbs.
Through the trees up ahead, he saw Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf in a small clearing. Both Legolas and Gimli had weapons out; the elf already had an arrow notched in his bow, while Gimli hoisted a large ax. Gandalf stood between both, one hand clasped around his white staff and the other outstretched towards the dark shapes that advanced towards them.
It was the same creatures that had attacked them before. They were misshapen and pitch-black, making them hard to spot in the dappled underbrush of the forest. As Harry watched, one seemed to fade into the very tree and disappear.
Looking closer in the murky bushes, Harry was horrified to see more shiny black eyes twinkling from the secrecy of the shadows. The company was completely surrounded and outnumbered. With a veteran's skill, Harry assessed the current situation and came to an unsatisfactory conclusion: they needed help. Harry's phoenix form was only of use as a healer – it may be important after the battle, but it provided little help in fighting monsters.
There was a brief pause as both sides assessed the other; then the creatures launched themselves at the trio. Legolas sent an arrow that killed the first creature immediately; the second was decapitated by Gimli’s ax. However, a third and fourth appeared to rise up out of the ground and launched themselves at Legolas. Gimli let out a curse as Harry narrowed his eyes; he was sure of it this time: the creatures used some sort of teleportation.
Three more creatures appeared out of nowhere in front of Gandalf, but the wizard was ready. He slammed his staff into the earth, and the white wood glowed brightly, throwing searing light across the ground. The creatures shrieked in pain and ran backward. Yet more glowing eyes peeked from the bushes, waiting for a chance to attack.
A wild thought struck Harry: the company, distracted as it was, hadn't noticed his arrival; they were too busy eyeing the ground than to see a dark shape circling above. He could provide aid – in the form of himself. His human self.
He quickly turned and flew behind a tall oak tree. He could still hear the sharp thunk of arrow after arrow being loosed, as he closed his eyes and willed himself to be human again.
A lilting voice rang out, "Eleven!" – "I didn't know you were counting, you cheat!" interrupted a gruffer voice.
Why was Legolas counting the monsters? Harry refocused his thoughts with a shake of his head. He knew there were more than enough creatures remaining to be a threat. With a gasp, Harry snapped out of his trance and looked down at his hands, not talons. The pink fleshy fingers looked less dangerous than his talons, but Harry had a better weapon to use in this fight: his magic.
Closing his eyes, Harry centered himself before calling upon his magic. He only knew two spells this way; wandless magic was tricky to learn, in part, because the learning process itself was so personal. Any child could wave a wand and produce sparks; but only a witch or wizard that really knew a spell, all its quirks and flaws, could recreate it without a wand. While most witches or wizards might pick up a cleaning charm or two this way, Harry excelled in a few less-traditional wandless spells: Expelliarmus, the Patronus, and the Summoning charm. These spells would have to be enough.
He opened his eyes and ran towards the fighting.
“How many of these things are there?" Gimli asked, while swinging his ax at another attacker. The creature was nimble, through, and ducked under his swing. Gimli grunted with effort to reverse the arc of his blade as the creature moved inside his guard.
The creature fell, an arrow protruded out of its back.
“More than enough for us to share!” Legolas cried, while hurriedly reloading his arrow. “That’s fourteen.”
He lined up his next target: a creature that was running up behind Gandalf, while the Wizard fought back against two attackers in front of him. Legolas released the shot, and the arrow flew straight and true. The creature twisted its head and caught sight of the arrow, but it was to late -the arrow was barreling straight towards it… but instead of connecting with the creature, the arrow passed through thin air and buried itself into the earth.
Where did the creature go? Legolas had been staring right at it; it was as if the thing had melted into the shadows.
“Behind you!” Gimli shouted, and Legolas turned to see one of the creatures re-form in front of him. The black, twisted body rose out of the shadowed forest floor, and two glittering eyes looked at him with malice. He had a sinking feeling that this might be the same creature he just tried to shoot.
The creature launched itself at him, clutching a sharp dagger. Legolas quickly brought his bow in front of him to use as a makeshift shield, but the thing bared sharp teeth towards him in a silent snarl and threw the knife towards his torso. Legolas’s sight narrowed down to the dagger hurtling towards him and he desperately twisted his body.
“Accio knife!” A voice cried out. The dagger abruptly reversed course, ramming through the creature and hurtling towards a robed figure at the end of the clearing. At the last second, the figure stepped calmly out of the way as the knife embedded itself into a tree.
It was the boy from the forest.
Bright green eyes flickered over Legolas, quickly ascertaining that the elf was unhurt before taking in the battle at large. He moved without hesitation, extending one hand towards another attack near Gandalf and the other making a clenching gesture. All the while, he spouted words that Legolas had never heard before. The words were seemingly gibberish except for the effect they caused.
“Expelliarmus!” the boy shouted, and the knives on the creatures near him were flung away from their owners by an invisible hand. Then came that strange word “Accio” and another creature came flying away from Gandalf as if pulled by a string towards the new wizard. For a wizard he must be. Legolas could think of no other explanations except for magic.
The elf grinned and notched his bow again.
“Fifteen!” he called out, causing Gimli to groan.
The tide of the battle quickly turned. Harry’s spells kept the creatures from any successful sneak attacks, while Legolas and Gimli decimated the creatures. One by one, the creatures slowly sank into the shadows and disappeared until none but corpses remained in the clearing.
“Now that’s what I call a day’s work,” Gimli said as he cleaned his ax. The dwarf surveyed the scene with satisfaction. Several of the fallen creatures sported arrows as well as gashes from an ax. “I’d call that about even. Well met, stranger – we might have had a different ending without your assistance.”
“Your arrival was fortunately timed,” Gandalf said. “If indeed we owe our thanks to fortune. Did you find us, young istari, or were you sent? I have not seen black robes before.”
Harry blinked at the non sequitur; what did Gandalf care about his robe color?
“Er –well met,” he said, wracking his brain for a decent excuse. He hadn’t thought this far ahead when he decided to join the fight. “I wasn’t sent. I heard the fighting and came to help. As for the robes; well, black robes make much more sense than white, don’t they? Mine still look fine after the fighting while yours… how do you keep your robes so clean, anyway?”
“Magic,” Gandalf said simply. “I suspect you know quite a bit about that.” The wizard peered at him curiously, but his hand still rested lightly on his staff.
“A bit?” Harry hedged. “But I’ve been having some difficulties here.”
Gandalf’s frown deepened and he immediately wished he hadn’t said that. While Harry knew the company was friendly to Eclipse, they might not feel the same about a magic-using stranger. Now seemed like a great time to leave.
“Difficulties? Perhaps I can teach you. We were about to break lunch before you came. Please, join us.” Gandalf said.
“That’s very kind of you,” Harry said automatically. “But I really must be going. Things to do and all that.” Before any of them could protest, he turned on his heel and Apparated with a loud snap. Legolas could explain what the sound meant to the other at least. Speaking of, the elf had been suspiciously quiet…
Harry re-appeared at the river’s edge and quickly transformed back to Eclipse. He hesitated for a moment, worried about showing up so quickly after his departure. Then his thoughts flashed back to the fight, and images of near-misses flashed before his eyes. He needed to make sure everyone was alright.
He flew hastily to the clearing and met the company discussing over the aftermath of his departure as they dragged the corpses into a mound. He pretended to express shock over news of the attack and the stranger’s help, but his worry was unfeigned.
“Were any of you hurt?” he asked anxiously, trying to look everyone over.
“Not a scratch,” Gimli said. “But I think Legolas was nicked.” He gestured at the elf’s arm, where the fabric fluttered from being cut.
“It is only a scratch,” Legolas protested. “And I do not think it poisoned, like Gandalf’s injury was.”
Harry wasn’t going to take any chances, and he told the elf so in no uncertain terms. Legolas gave a sigh but moved to sit down with a quiet grace. He rolled his sleeve back, revealing a thin, angry line.
Harry eyed the injury, and tried to remember how he cried before. He had thought about his friends’ deaths before, especially that of Dumbledore, who reminded him of Gandalf in a number of ways. Now, though, he found he didn’t need to mourn the past; he only had to imagine what he would feel like if Gimli or Legolas or Gandalf actually had died… if he hadn’t arrived in time, and they had been overrun, he might have come back to a very different burial site.
Tears slipped quickly down his beak and landed on Legolas’s arm. The wound knitted itself back together until the flesh was indistinguishable from the surrounding skin.
Legolas prodded the spot where the wound existed.
"Astounding,” he said quietly. "You may not have had the best meeting with elves… but know the art of healing is held in the highest esteem.”
“Maybe someday I will,” Harry replied. The thought wasn’t as scary as it was before.
Chapter 16: Reflections
"We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
With Legolas healed, the company decided to press on and put some distance between them and their attackers.
“Though it won’t matter much if these creatures can slip between the shadows,” Gimli grumbled, as the company slipped back into the canoe and began paddling.
The mood remained grim and subdued the rest of the day, as they all focused on coaxing weary muscles into paddling faster. Yet Gimli’s words lingered in their minds: how could they outrun an enemy to whom distance appeared to be no consequence?
Harry flew in circles above, making sure to remain in sight of the canoe while keeping an eye out for more attackers. Gimli’s words troubled him as well, but for a different reason. Until today, he had never known of any creature that could dive into the shadows as he did. It was a worrisome link.
As Harry fretted, he continued to cast sharp eyes on the landscape below. Eventually, though, the shadows became so long that it would be impossible to see any of the creatures appear. As the light dimmed, the company pulled to shore and began setting up camp for the night.
Night fell, and the company gathered around a campfire. The crackling wood, usually a source of comfort in the night, now seemed to mask a potential approach of the enemy. Harry wasn’t the only one jumpy; he caught Gimli frequently checking over his shoulder.
“The Argonath’s swords shall glint against the dawn,” Gandalf said, breaking the silence. “With a swift breeze and the current, we shall take half as much time to reach Aragorn. Yet I suspect that as our journey there ends, another, more arduous task lies ahead.”
“Aye, but even if we reach Gondor’s borders tomorrow, we may not be safe until we are securely within the gleaming walls of Minas Tirith,” Gimli said. “For surely I was not the only one who saw the creatures sink into the shadows and disappear! Gandalf, have you ever seen such power?”
“Much remains in Middle Earth that I have not seen,” Gandalf replied, as he fished out some pipe-weed from his travel pack. He deftly rolled the leaves and stuffed them in his pipe. “Yet I have not seen such powers until now. It speaks much of our enemy, that they possess the will and the power to create such creatures.”
“A new experiment from the Shadow,” Legolas said, shaking his head regretfully. “I hope that they were born this way, and not created by lesser, more painful means.”
"Eclipse, I have never seen your kind before now; have you seen such creatures on your travels?” Gandalf asked.
Three sets of eyes turned to look at Harry, who was perched on a short tree nearby. Harry froze. Thoughts flitted through his mind of all the reasons why he shouldn’t share his ability, of all the ways this could go horribly, horribly wrong.
Then he looked at the three open faces, not expecting anything but searching for any information that could help.
Harry could never resist helping.
“I have never seen those creatures before our first meeting,” he said slowly. “But I have seen those abilities before. I know, because I have that same power.”
Before his courage could abandon him, Harry leapt from the branch and dove into the forest floor. Just before hitting the ground, the shadows enveloped him, and he re-emerged on the other side of the campfire next to Gimli and Legolas.
Both dwarf and elf instinctively reared back and grasped for their weapons. Only after a tense second, where Legolas stared at him with wild eyes, did Harry think that perhaps this wasn’t the best approach to sharing his new ability.
"You – and then the ground –” Gimli still had his hand on his ax, which was raised semi-protectively in front of the dwarf’s chest. The dwarf appeared to have lost his words as he stared wide-eyed at Harry. Then a suspicious look entered his eyes and his hands tightened around the ax. “The monsters could also do that. I saw one disappear in front of my eyes!”
The accusation was unsaid but seemed to hang in the air.
“Have you always been able to do that?” Legolas asked. His voice was more neutral than Gimli’s but Harry still noticed the defensive posture that the elf held. Harry glanced at Gandalf to gauge his reaction, but the wizard looked unruffled as he continued to blow large smoke rings from under the brim of his hat.
“He has been secretive from the start,” Gimli said, turning to address Legolas and Gandalf. His eyes darted between his companies and Harry, as if expected Harry to disappear at any moment. “How do we know he is not working with these creatures of the shadow?”
Harry hung his head. Gimli was right; he had been secretive and moody for most of the trip – they had every right to be suspicious of him.
“Have you forgotten his help so soon? What of the time he healed Gandalf? Eclipse has proved though his actions that he is a friend, not a foe.” Legolas bared his arm, showing the unblemished skin from the earlier attack. The elf’s eyes were still troubled, but his smile was warm.
Gimli gritted his teeth and stared at Legolas for several long seconds, during which Gandalf continued to puff away noisily on his pipe. The dwarf thumped the butt of his ax on the ground, as if for emphasis, then turned back to Harry.
"I apologize, Eclipse. You have done me a great service by saving two of my dear friends. By my ax, I, Gimli son of Gloin, will not forsake you."
The dwarf then sheathed his ax in a quick motion. His mouth was still tight in an unhappy frown, but it was impossible to mistake the conviction in his words. Harry felt a small ball of hope unfurl from inside him.
“I… accept your apology, Gimli,” he said, trying to match the dwarf’s formal speech. “And I apologize for keeping this a secret. I didn’t mean to, I just haven’t had much use for shadow-jumping.”
“Shadow-jumping? Is this what you call your ability?”
The term didn’t sound as exciting when spoken aloud by Gimli.
“Err – yes. I don’t know of a better name. I can disappear into one shadow and reappear in another, as long as the location is close by. Sometimes I can travel further, if I know my destination. If the monsters have an ability like mine, they shouldn’t be able to find us here unless they’ve been tracking us the entire time.”
Gandalf finally put down his pipe. “A most curious ability, and most aptly named. Assuming that these creatures possess a similar gift, which is quite an assumption indeed, what may stop these ‘jumps’?”
“Light,” Harry said automatically. “I can only go where there is shadow. If the shadows flicker too much, I can’t make the jump.”
“Fortunately, lightshows are something of a hobby of mine. I shall make good use of them if we are surprised again.”
“All the same,” Gimli said. “I am not sure I will sleep well tonight. There is also a stranger in these woods, even if he seemed like a friend earlier today. Eclipse, did you happen to see a Man earlier? He was tall with black hair.”
“Everyone is tall from your angle,” Legolas said. “He is of middling height, and I doubt he is a Man besides. He most certainly used magic to help turn the battle in our favor. Is there a Black Wizard?”
“Not that I have known,” Gandalf said. “Yet the limits of my knowledge appear exceptionally short today.”
“I didn’t see anyone, and I’m sure he’s long gone by now.”
“Or is he?” Legolas said softly, before standing up. “I am going on a walk to make sure there aren’t any signs of pursuit.”
“I’ll check the riverbanks,” Harry said. He twisted and disappeared into the shadows. Gandalf turned his attention back to his pipe, while Gimli stared at the spot where Eclipse had disappeared, a small frown still on his face.
That was three days ago. Each night, Legolas silently left the camp for a walk and re-appeared an hour or so later.
“He didn’t use to do this before, right?” Harry asked Gimli as the elf disappeared from sight.
Harry was starting to get worried. There had been no sign of the creatures following them, but all it would take is one poisoned dagger. There was safety in numbers, and he couldn’t understand why Legolas had decided now of all times to take long walks by himself.
“Who is to say what is normal for an elf? I would not worry too much for his safety; elves are near invisible in nature.”
While that may be the case, it only assuaged Harry’s concern – but not his curiosity. That night, after Gandalf and Gimli turned to their bedrolls, Harry took off on silent wings in the direction that Legolas had gone. After a few minutes of flying, he slowly lowered his Occlumency shields and opened his mind to the world.
He immediately sensed the slumbering minds behind him and avoided prying. Harry wasn’t sure if Gandalf was proficient in the mind arts and had no desire to find out on this particular night.
Instead, he cast his mind outward, seeking other intelligent life. He soon found Legolas; the elf’s mind was calm and orderly. Harry made sure to follow the general pretense without diving into any specific thoughts, and soon was able to see the pale golden hair glinting under the wash of moonlight.
Legolas sat on a fallen tree trunk in the middle of the woods. He did not seem to be actively looking for anything; rather, he seemed to be waiting patiently. Harry settled quietly on a nearby tree and waited too, for about ten minutes or so. He was beginning to grow bored. What was Legolas doing here? The elf did not seem to be on patrol for the shadow-jumping creatures. Was this what he did every night?
Finally, the elf stood up and began to make his way back towards the camp. As he passed, Harry overheard him speaking to himself.
“Perhaps this is a fool’s errand. Yet I am sure he is following us.”
Harry quickly flew back to the camp, using the light of the dying fire to guide his way. He pretended to be asleep by the time Legolas returned, but his mind was racing. Who is this person that Legolas waits for? Who could be following them?
The next night Harry repeated his stalking of Legolas. The elf appeared to wander with no apparent direction for some time, before finally settling down on another log.
Harry didn’t intend on sitting silently the whole night again. As he tossed and turned the night before, Harry thought he might have figured out who Legolas was waiting for. If he was right, it didn’t make any sense for him to sit on a tree all night; if he was wrong, he could at least ask the elf what he was doing without being intrusive.
Harry flew back a short distance and landed softly on the forest floor. He silently transformed back into being a human and began to walk in the direction Legolas was. At least, he hoped he was walking the right way. He had forgotten how poor his eyesight was in the dark; as a phoenix, he had much better night vision.
He nearly tripped on two tree roots, and then almost ran into a tree before a voice materialized behind him.
“I thought I would find you out here,” Legolas said, causing Harry to jump. The elf walked silently into view and Harry cursed his lousy human ears. He was also used to a much keener sense of hearing.
As Harry turned sharply to face Legolas, the elf pressed on hurriedly.
“Please – don’t run away again. It’s okay. I know who you are.”
“You are the one who escaped Lady Galadriel’s guards, are you not? She said you disappeared without a trace.”
Harry’s heart unfroze and started beating again. For a moment, he thought Legolas had figured out that he was Eclipse. A smaller thought unfurled in the back of his mind: would it be so terrible if Legolas had figured that out? He had forgotten the reason he hid in the first place. The elf derailed his line of thinking with his next words.
“She also said that you work for the new evil that has risen in Mordor… but she has been wrong before. So tell me, stranger: how would you be known, and what is your business here? You have only helped so far, but I must know your intentions.”
“My name is Harry Potter,” he said slowly, his tongue twisting awkwardly around the foreign Westron. “And I’m a wizard.”
Harry had worried he might have forgotten how to speak entirely, after spending so much time in his Animagus form. Thankfully, it seemed that speaking and walking were instinctive, even after a year of neglect. His halting speech grew more confident as he continued.
“There was some sort of mistake, and I arrived at the fortress ruins as the elves attacked. I ran away only after waking up in chains; if the elves hadn’t attacked me, I wouldn’t have needed to escape. As for the evil that fled south… it does not surprise me that something rotten snuck out during the fighting, but I have never and will never follow any evil.”
He was almost shouting at the end of his speech and abruptly lowered his voice, when Legolas reached out to touch his arm.
“I believe you,” Legolas said simply, and Harry felt as if he had shed a huge weight. Up until that moment, he hadn’t realized how much he had come to value the elf’s opinion. He wasn’t sure if he could bear it if Legolas distrusted Harry while trusting Eclipse.
“Thank you,” he said. “Just…thank you.”
“I have done nothing worthy of thanks,” Legolas rejoined. “I am simply glad to have introductions, Mr. Harry Potter. Please, come join my friends and I by the fire – you do not need to follow us from a distance.”
“Oh, um, that’s okay,” Harry said, thinking quickly. “It’s late, and I’ve already set up my bedroll for tonight. So, um, really not necessary but thanks for the offer.”
“Istari can have friends,” Legolas said with a sad smile. “I hope you can learn that in time. In the meantime, rest well Mr. Harry.”
“You too,” Harry said, before Apparating with a crack. He wasn’t ready to reveal himself… yet. But the time was coming soon. He wanted to figure out how the rest of the company might react too.
That night, Harry fell into a deep sleep. He dreamt of shadows disappearing and reappearing, of tears that healed, and fangs that frothed poison. And in the background, overlooking everything like a malevolent full moon, were glowing, golden eyes.
A/N: Made some edits after getting feedback from my editor/sister.
Chapter 17: A council meeting
“Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world.” - The Fellowship of the Ring
The sun burned brightly on the land below, bouncing off of the pale fields of gold and green and reflecting back into the sky. Harry flew leisurely on these thermal currents, using little effort to stay aloft.
Below, a small canoe threaded its way through the vast river Anduin, heading downriver at a steady clip. To the left, black mountains jutted out of the earth like fetid teeth. The Mountains of Shadow served as both a warning against entry and a guide towards their destination: the line of peaks continued directly south, unbroken, leading towards Minas Tirith.
This would be their last night on the river, according to Gandalf. Tomorrow, they should arrive at Osgiliath, and then the company would travel by foot or horse to seek the King of Gondor. Gandalf hadn’t said the last bit like that; it appeared that the trio were friends with Aragorn. That had lessened Harry’s nervousness at arriving in a strange city, but only somewhat.
As the shadows lengthened below, and the sun slowly dipped below the horizon, Harry saw it: The city of Minas Tirith rose proudly out of the mountainside, the last gleaming vanguard of the White Mountains before the land flattened into gentler, rolling plains. The White Tower of Ecthelion perched on top of the city, a white fortress that jutted out of the earth like a knife. It was also the largest city Harry had seen since arriving in Middle Earth. Long spires glistened in the late afternoon sun, and the city seemed to merge with the mountain until the end of the architecture and beginning of stone seemed to be the same.
The lights from the city were still visible, though faintly, when Harry headed back to rejoin the company, where they had set up a small tent on a bluff that near the river. From there, the city of Minas Tirith twinkled in the distance like a star, while shadows fell across the much closer river city Osgiliath and cast twisted shapes
As Harry turned to rejoin the company before night fell, he spotted another, smaller city that appeared much closer. This shadowed city had similarly sharp lines. From a high point on the bluff, a much closer city could also be seen, though it was obscured in jagged shadows.
“The Citadel of the Host of Stars,” Gandalf said, following Harry’s gaze. “Osgiliath. The city used to be the crown of Gondor.”
“I have heard tales of Captain Faramir’s bravery,” Gimli said, joining them to gaze at the ruins in the distance. “The city deserves to be restored, even by the shoddy masonwork of Men.”
“Indeed,” Gandalf said. “You may hear the tale from the Captain himself – he resides at the White Tower still.”
The conversation did not linger long after dinner, as it sometimes did; the company was hit by a sense of urgency, now that Minas Tirith was in sight, to complete their journey. Yet Legolas still stood as the fire burned low towards the ground and left to take his now-customary walk.
Harry waited until the elf disappeared from view and discreetly followed.
He found the elf sitting on a rocky outcropping, looking out at the murky plains and the faint lights of Minas Tirith in the distance. Harry transformed behind a copse of trees, then stepped out into view under the clear night sky.
Legolas heard him immediately.
“Back again, Master Harry?” He said, turning and gestured for Harry to join.
“Yes, if you don’t mind the company,” Harry said. He moved to sit near Legolas and look out at the expansive landscape. Harry wasn’t sure what to say next; he hadn’t planned what he would do after meeting the elf again.
“I do not mind, but for this veil of secrecy,” Legolas said, his expression turning serious. “You cannot follow us for much longer. King Aragorn will not be nearly so understanding of your concealment.”
“He doesn’t like foreigners?” Harry asked, wary of the hospitality he had received on Middle Earth so far.
“Nothing of the sort,” Legolas countered. “He is a noble and just king, in addition to a dear friend. Yet he must be a king before a man, and kings must know of potential allies or foes. Especially those who wield magic.”
“I can’t wield much right now,” Harry admitted. “My wand was stolen – I hope to retrieve it in the city.”
“But I am sure you have some magic, regardless. Istari always have something hidden away.”
“Perhaps,” Harry said with a slight smile. He supposed he did still have his magic, limited though it was. He hadn’t forgotten that even if he did find his wand, it would still be broken. Yet even if the stick of wood never produced sparks again, Harry still wished to hold it; his wand remained the only proof and link to his past, aside from his soiled robes that somehow appeared when he transformed. He had never figured that particular piece of magic out.
The two remained silent for some time, looking out at the world beneath them.
Legolas finally broke the silence.
“So many lights,” He said, with a melancholic sort of wistfulness. “All the elvish cities combined would scarcely fill up Minas Tirith. Sometimes I wonder at those of us who remain in Middle Earth, refusing to recognize that the Age of Men is truly upon us.”
Harry looked at Legolas in alarm. The elf was usually even-tempered and cheerful; he hadn’t heard him this side of him before.
“But – aren’t you friends with the King?”
“I do call Aragorn mellon, yes,” he replied. “But he is King to his people first – as I am Prince to mine. I cannot help but look out over Gondor and see the decline of the elves.”
“Greater numbers doesn’t mean a larger say. At least, it doesn’t if you are committed to what you believe. My friends and I…,” he paused for a minute, collecting himself. He had never spoken about Ron or Hermione in the past year, but thinking of them didn’t pierce his heart as badly as before. “Well, we managed to make ourselves heard.”
Legolas nodded and looked at him for a long second.
“Wise words. I would like to hear the full story sometime.”
Harry smiled, thinking of the time they had escaped Gringotts on a dragon. He bowed his head in acknowledgment.
The elf and wizard spent the next hour in silence, watching the stars slowly dance across the sky.
The company was up early the next day and finished paddling to Osgiliath before the sun reached full noon. There, Gandalf was able to secure horses – much to Gimli’s vocal dismay – and the trio began riding for Minas Tirith.
Harry flew in leisurely circles overhead, alternatively thinking about the night before and the city that lay ahead. He had come to cherish his time on the road with Gimli, Gandalf, and Legolas; against all the odds, he now counted them among his very limited friends on Middle Earth. Yet he knew that the information they brought to Minas Tirith could very well lead to battle.
Each time he circled back towards the company below, he could see Mordor like a blotted stain off in distance. That was where those creatures supposedly came from; and before them, had lived a Dark Lord that seemed to rival that of Lord Voldemort. Harry was glad to have missed both the battle and the Dark Lord. One was enough.
Finally, as the sun sank towards the horizon, the company finally reached the precipice of the city, where they emerged into an open courtyard. In the middle stood a small white tree, whose branches appeared on fire with the sun’s slanted rays.
Their arrival had caused a small commotion; liveried servants scuttled back and forth, taking the horses and trying to find non-existent luggage.
Harry flew lower, looking for a place to land close by. He eyed the white sapling but wasn’t sure if it could hold his weight. Legolas noticed his troubles and offered out his arm.
Harry gingerly perched on it, trying not to use his claws and feeling slightly embarrassed. He had only sat on the elf like this after his Burning Day, and adult Harry tried to put all actions caused by his temporary age regression out of mind. Yet this wasn’t so bad, especially when the elf raised his other hand to absentmindedly scratch at a hard to reach spot behind Harry’s head.
In the midst of the hubbub, a man stepped forward with a cry. He had long dark hair, and a weathered but kindly face. It was, however, the purpose with which he moved that clued Harry in – not to mention the burnished circlet upon his brow.
“My friends,” the king exclaimed, moving forward to hug each of them. He paused uncertainly before Legolas, eyeing the bird perched on the elf's shoulder. Then Harry found himself jostled, as the man proceeded with his original plan of hugging.
Harry gave an undignified squawk.
"When did you take up falconry, my friend?" the king asked Legolas with a laugh.
“I am no falcon,” replied Harry, enjoying the shocked look that crossed the king's features.
“I stand corrected, Master Bird,” the king replied, recovering his composure remarkably quickly and giving Harry a small nod.
“I am most interested in hearing the accounts of your journeys,” he said, turning to Gandalf. “Yet there is some time, however small, before we turn to such business. Please, let me show you to your rooms and to the baths. We can discuss more once you have been refreshed and fed.”
“Lead the way!” Gimli cried. "There are some comforts that cannot be replicated on the road."
King Aragorn provided a running commentary of the rooms they passed for Harry's benefit since the others had obviously been here before. The king also tried to offer Harry a room of his own.
Harry declined. He had not slept indoors for more than a year, and the narrow corridors were making him claustrophobic. After trying to remain aloft for a few short minutes, Harry had returned to perching on Legolas’s shoulder for the rest of the tour.
"You can always sleep in one of our rooms, Eclipse,” Legolas said as he entered his own room, Harry still on his shoulder. "The balcony might make a perch, or perhaps one of those chairs.”
“I’d rather sleep outside,” Harry replied. It was one thing to sleep close to the company when they were camping; it was quite another to be in close proximity indoors. Legolas crossed the large room and opened the small door latch which led to a balcony.
By now the sky was almost completely dark, and flickering torches began to appear in the houses below. When Harry turned to look back in the room, he found it bathed in a golden light as Legolas went about lighting candles.
A servant appeared briefly in the doorway to share some fresh clothes.
“Gimli was right,” Legolas said, turning around with a sigh of contentment. “It will be nice to wash away the grime of the road.”
The elf gently placed the new clothes on the dresser and began to take off his shirt. Harry was abruptly greeted with a smooth expanse of the elf’s back, as Legolas carefully folded the stained travel shirt and began to undo the bands that tied back his hair.
Harry flushed in embarrassment – then wondered why he should be embarrassed. It wasn’t like he hadn’t changed clothes in front of others before; he had lived in a dormitory and played Quidditch, after all. But this somehow felt different. Intrusive.
He hastily mentioned going for a short flight and then threw himself off the balcony in a tactical retreat.
Harry didn’t know how long he spent flying circles above the city; but when he returned, he was told by a nervous servant that the dinner was nearly over and the King planned to retire with his friends.
He followed the servant down several long hallways until they came before a door with two guards before it. Neither betrayed any surprise at seeing a bird escorted by a liveried servant, and they let Harry enter the room without any fanfare.
Inside sat Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf along with a handful of other men. Though the room was small, the chairs were intricately carved and tapestries with golden thread adorned the walls. At the end of the table sat the King. The candles cast a reddish halo around his wild mane of black hair and matched the gleaming stone in his circlet.
“Welcome,” he said to Harry, “We have finished dining, and I am most interested in hearing the story of how you came to join this small fellowship.”
The King turned to the broader group and said, “When Gandalf set forth months ago, he followed the subtle tracks of a new enemy. I regret to say that these clashes have only intensified since then, with my men losing more often than not. More recently are these ill tidings: two elves have joined us, sent by the Lady Galadriel to track a new evil that has made its way from Dol Guldur.”
Harry perked up as Aragorn mentioned the elves; these were hopefully the pair who had his wand. Looking around the group, though, Harry couldn’t spot any pointed ears aside from Legolas’s.
“We too have heard of this after visiting the Lady Galadriel,” Gandalf said solemnly. “So too can we confirm attacks by an unknown monster, for we have fought them twice. These are creatures of shadows, which can move seamlessly through darkness and carry blades with unknown poison. I would have succumbed to such treachery if not for Eclipse’s healing.”
“You are a healer?” Aragorn looked at Harry with consideration. “I fear we may have need of your services soon enough. The two elves have been following something to Minas Morgul, and there they are currently scouting. I’ve now lost more than a dozen men to poison or surprise attacks.”
Aragorn looked old and tired, as worry caused lines in his face that flickered in the candlelight. “Things are coming to a head. I’m afraid we may yet go to war – again.”
“Perhaps,” Gandalf said. “For while I learned plenty during my journey, little, I believe, relates to this new menace. The Lady Galadriel had but one warning: the evil can sense her from afar. We must approach this with cautious minds.”
“We cannot wait too long,” Aragorn rejoined. “Too many of my men have been lost. The elves should return in a day or two – they are currently scouting the best route to Minas Morgul. We will decide when to march then.”
A/N: Sorry for the slow update this week - I had a big work project due Wednesday. Hope everyone is staying safe, and happy belated Earth Day!
Also, thank you for all the comments and reviews! I really appreciate them, even if I'm slow to reply.
A/N2: A few additional edits, after getting feedback from my sister!
Chapter 18: Reunited
Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect. – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry awoke early the next day. Unfamiliar sounds from the city below had kept him restless and alert all night. Perhaps he should have taken Legolas up on his offer to sleep in the elf’s rooms, where the thick castle walls helped muffle the clatter of constant activity outside. He couldn’t bring himself to accept the offer; it was one thing to sleep next to the others under an open sky, but quite another to be sharing the same room.
Instead, Harry had spent the night on a ledge towards the top of the castle. It meant he had a great view of the sun peeking over the horizon, and that Harry had officially given up on trying to get a full night’s rest.
He shook his wings and leapt into the air. His first thought was to see what the others were doing, but a quick visit to Legolas’s balcony showed the doors firmly shut and the window curtains drawn. The elf was likely still sleeping.
Harry took off again and glided down to the city below. Perhaps he could try turning back into a human today? One extra face was hardly going to call attention in a large city. But even the few humans awake in the city below were causing more noise than Harry had heard during the last year. He had grown accustomed to the quiet sunrises in the countryside, and so he angled his wings away from the city.
Below, rolling green hills slowly gave way to a flat plain. Beyond stood an area of land in sharp contrast to the lush landscape below. It was Mordor, he knew instinctively; a dark blot on the horizon.
The elves might be there. King Aragorn had said they would be back within a few days; he could likely fly that distance in a few hours if they moved as slowly as the company did on foot. The promise of his wand – and of some peace and quiet – was too strong of a draw to resist. If he flew fast enough, perhaps he could return before the company thought to wonder where he went.
Those hours past swiftly, as a strong wind propelled him towards Mordor. The sun was not yet at its zenith when he glided above a scraggly, mountainous area. Below, the grass gave way to small, resentful shrubs, before turning into cracked and yellowed brush and sparse, barren trees. Occasionally, he would hear a great clatter as the small stones tumbled down increasingly steep hills; otherwise, Harry didn’t see any signs of life.
By this point, Harry was beginning to regret his decision to come. He was hot and tired and had no idea if the elves were even in this area. He flew down to an old, weathered tree and contemplated his options. The sun was beginning to get uncomfortably warm on his dark plumage, and he wondered if he should turn back. The others were surely worried about him since he had disappeared with no warning.
Suddenly, rocks tumbled overhead in a small clatter.
Harry looked up in time to see a shadow creature move quietly along a cliff face. Its lanky arms moved with steady sureness; the creature instinctively melting into the shadows to gain better leverage as it scaled the wall. It hadn’t noticed him; the creature’s misshapen head remained fixed ahead. Harry followed the line of sight, and gave a start: for there, not too far away, sat two elves.
They wore cloaks that blended in nearly perfectly with the landscape, which seemed to shimmer and reflect the shrubs around them. Even their blond hair seemed somehow muted in the environment to a duskier color that faded into the desolate landscape. Harry would have passed them entirely had he been flying overhead.
But now he could see them, and there was no doubt that the shadow creature could as well. The elves’ gaze was focused down on their packs; they didn’t see or hear the shadow creature creeping up behind them.
Harry gave a cry of alarm.
The elves’ heads whipped around, looking for the source of the noise. Their eyes missed him, hidden as he was in the tree, but caught the movement of the shadow creature. Both grabbed a knife, and not a moment too soon; the shadow creature disappeared and reappeared directly in front of the pair with an outstretched dagger. As the elves responded to the fight, Harry launched himself in the sky to get a better view of the situation.
Below, the elves quickly subdued the creature with a well-placed blow to its head. The creature slumped and remained still. No other shadows moved unnaturally against the breeze, so Harry quietly flew closer to hear their conversation.
“It attacked alone, Calembren. Surely this means it was not a coordinated attack.” Said one of the elves, with long braided hair. Her ever-shifting cloak made it difficult for Harry to stay focused on her.
“Perhaps,” replied the other, in a deeper voice. “But we have learned the enemy is ever-cunning. What if this is meant to distract us?”
The other elf gave a graceful shrug.
“From what?” She gestured around her. “We should focus on what we know: which is to return to Gondor with all haste. Should we bring the creature as a prisoner?”
Both elves looked down at the misshapen creature, who lay still as a dark lump on the ground.
Calembren reached for his sack and began pulling out items. First was a cloth, which he gently laid over the poisoned knife that they had wrested from the creature. Out followed a seemingly-innocuous stick, 11 ½ inches, and a fine rope. He weighed the robe in his hand, considering.
“No,” the elf said with a sigh. “The King does not need proof of these monstrosities; besides, no matter how well made the rope, it cannot restrain a shadow.”
The other grimaced. “Then it must be done.”
Calembren nodded, and withdrew the poisoned blade. With a single motion, he thrust it into the inert creature, and held it there for a long moment. The shadow creature never moved.
“I had hoped this would end with the war,” he said, looking down sadly at the non-still enemy.
His companion nodded.
“But hopefully this will – hey!”
While the elves faced their difficult choice, Harry had made his own. He landed and quietly transformed back into a human. While the shadow creature met its grisly end, Harry used the distraction to whisper “Accio!”. The wand leapt from the ground and flew straight to his hand. Harry barely had a moment to feel the familiar weight of holly in his hand before his cover was blown.
Harry had forgotten how keen elves’ hearing was. Both sets of ears turned and pointed unerringly at him and Harry stared back at twin suspicious eyes. Calemben raised the poisoned dagger to throw, and Harry turned and Apparated back to the first place he could think of: Legolas’s rooms in Minas Tirith. He disappeared with a loud crack, leaving the elves cursing behind him.
Harry laughed, elated, as the world spun around and rearranged itself to show dark wood paneling where forests had stood a moment before. He looked down reverently at his wand. His wand. He had thought it gone forever, after losing it to Lady Galadrial’s troops. His happiness wasn’t dimmed by seeing the hairline fracture running through the warm wood; even if he never was able to repair his wand, at least it was back where it belonged, in his hands.
So excited was Harry that he didn’t notice that the other presence in the room until it made itself known.
“Harry,” said the voice, sounding very annoyed. “There are bounds to the friendship I offered that night. I also believe I was very clear that you cannot skulk about Minas Tirith. You cannot just, just… barge in like this…!”
Harry spun around and was confronted with a very angry, very shirtless elf. Legolas’s hair was wet, and small rivulets of water dripped down his shoulders. A towel was wrapped around a toned waist, and Harry’s brain ground to a halt. His mouth suddenly felt dry and his heart chose that moment to leap out of his chest and off the balcony window.
He needed space to think. Without saying a word to Legolas, Harry once more turned on his heel, the familiar feeling of Apparation closing in on him as yet another elf yelled in anger behind him.
Chapter 19: Misplaced expectations
But I must admit.' he added with a queer laugh, 'that I hoped you would take me for my own sake. A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But there, I believe my looks are against me. - The Fellowship of the Ring
Harry reappeared the next moment on the roof of the palace and let out a yell as his balance began to slip. He quickly bit down on wand and transformed back into his phoenix form. His talons were able to find purchase where his feet could not, and Harry slowly waited for his racing heart to calm.
He should have Apparated back here the moment he grabbed his wand, instead of going to Legolas’s room. Harry felt guilty and a flash of self-pity: Legolas had been furious, rightly so, and Harry hoped he had not ruined their tentative rapport.
How could Harry make it up to him? He remembered Legolas talking about looking forward to Minas Tirith’s wine and cheese... perhaps he could bring some from the kitchens, using the summoning charm to spirit some away. Then Harry imaged the look on Legolas’s face if he found how Harry had acquired his present.
Harry cast his mind back further, thinking for other gifts that might not require thievery. In a flash of insight, he recalled a few days back, near their camping spot, Legolas had expressed delight at seeing a particular blue flower with a deep yellow center. Flowers were good for apologies, weren’t they?
Decision made, Harry quickly cast his eyes about for a safe place to hide his wand that offered more protection than the slanted roof. He leapt off the building and glided in slow circular motions around the top of the edifice. On the other side of the roof, he spied a short balcony, too small to stand on. It looked to be purely decorative. Harry landed on the railing and reached out with a clawed talon to open the door. It swung open without protest, revealing a sparse and dusty room.
He quickly transformed and looked about the room. There were a few pieces of sturdy, wooden furniture, including what appeared to be a bookcase and an old trunk. A faded rug lay on the floor, and an uncomfortable-looking couch was pressed against the wall.
Harry walked over to the trunk, trying not to leave tracks in the dust. He carefully placed his wand inside with a whispered promise to be back soon. Shutting his eyes, he visualized the campsite and disappeared in the shadows without a sound.
Mere minutes later, Harry reappeared in Minas Tirith – this time, outside of Legolas’s room. He carefully laid the flowers across the door, hoping Legolas would understand the message, and returned to retrieve his wand.
Hours later had left Harry with a persistent sneeze and a foul temper. He hadn’t thought about how he would fix his wand, once he had it; his best guess had been trying to cast a wandless Reparo. Unfortunately, Harry had never learned to wandlessly cast that spell, and now was trying to determine if the spell wasn’t working or if he just hadn’t case it right.
As the shadows lengthened and the light disappeared from the room, Harry was forced to admit a defeat for the day. Perhaps magic worked differently on Middle Earth? He supposed he would ask Gandalf tomorrow. Before then, he wanted to check in on Legolas and see how his apology gift was received.
Harry carefully placed his wand back in its hiding spot and transformed back into Eclipse. It took a short while to find the right balcony, but then realized it was the only balcony with the doors cracked open. If phoenixes could smile, he would have. It appeared that the elf had left it open just wide enough for a bird to pass through.
The room was well-lit, the torches providing a warm ambiance. A large canopy bed sat in the center of the room; to the far right, there was an archway with intricately carved stone in the shape of small round leaves. The doors beneath the archway wood, and shone with a friendly glow in the torchlight.
“Eclipse, there you are!” Legolas exclaimed. “I was wondering if I would ever see you today.” The elf’s voice rose into a hint of question, but Harry didn’t rise to answer it. Instead, he said the first thing that came to mind.
“I wanted to see the city, but it was so loud that I ended up flying in the countryside instead,” Harry said, proud that he had kept largely to the truth.
Legolas gave him a soft smile, and Harry wondered if there were perhaps too many torches lit in the room. The air was a tad too warm.
“Yes, the city can be overwhelming. It is nothing like Mirkwood, where trees outnumber elves even in the densest of dwellings.”
“I’m sure I’ll get used to these city noises,” Harry said. Then, remembering that elves also seemed to have sharp hearing, he asked, “Have you? Gotten used to it, I mean.”
“I have heard far worse than shopkeepers crying their wares, what little gets through these thick walls. Besides, I actually find some comfort in the low hum of the city. It reminds me that life is irrepressible, even after the events of last year.”
Harry was suddenly struck by pang of homesickness. His mind flashed back to Hogwarts, rising proudly above the Great Lake. What might it look like now? Had witches and wizards rebuilt as well as the people of Gondor seemed to? Shaking his head to rid himself of the image, Harry grasped for a change of topic.
“Did anything happen when I was gone?”
Legolas’s friendly demeanor quickly soured, and the elf let out an irritated sound.
“Unfortunately, yes. I… haven’t been entirely forthcoming with you or the others, but I will now. Do you remember the man who helped us during the attack? The wizard? He’s been following us since Lothlorien. I didn’t mention anything because didn’t seem like a threat. He reminded me a bit of you, actually.
Harry’s heart leaped into his throat.
“Not physically, of course!” Legolas said with a laugh. “But he also seemed a bit… lost. I had hoped he would open up, but instead he continues to skulk around like a thief. He appeared here earlier, quite by mistake I think, for he fled immediately. Then he brought these flowers, which I admired a few days back.”
Legolas glared at the bunch of flowers laid listlessly on the desk.
“Which means he’s been spying on us. What’s worse is that he can pass through walls with magic, in a much louder version of your shadow-jumping. I mean to go ask Gandalf for any protection in soundproofing these walls. In the meantime, watch what you say, Eclipse – the walls could have ears.”
Harry wanted to melt into the floor with mortification. His gift had backfired spectacularly, making the elf more suspicious and not less. He had thought of transforming back into a human tonight, to try and explain his mistake to Legolas… now, though, it might be better if he remained Eclipse a while longer. What was worse is that Harry had to listen to Legolas’s grievances again, as the elf recounted his story that night over dinner to both Gimli and Gandalf.
At least, Harry thought sleepily as he perched by the room with his hidden wand, things couldn’t get any worse.
The next day, Harry’s troubles grew. As he stretched his wings above the castle and pondered the problem of fixing his wand, two figures rode up on horseback. Their graceful movements and lithe forms could only mean one thing: elves. Harry dipped lower in his next circle and saw his suspicions confirmed – these were the two elves that he had rescued his wand from.
Harry stewed over how to proceed, but, ultimately, decided there was nothing he could do. He didn’t think they had seen his phoenix form; hopefully, his secret remained safe. Curiosity led him to linger by Legolas’s balcony, so that he too could be invited to the meeting when King Aragorn’s advisor appeared to summon Legolas.
The advisor led them to the same guarded doors that Harry had seen before; through them, the King sat with his advisors and the two elves. Gimli and Gandalf were already there, as well, and Gimli had surely said something to the elves, if the sullen looks on both sides of the table were anything to go by.
As he and Legolas approached, both elves stood to greet them.
“Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion,” one said in the mellifluous voice that all elves seemed to possess. “I am Reniril of Lothlorian.”
“Well met, Legolas, son of Thranduil,” the other said in a deeper echo. “I am Calembren, of Lothlorian.”
Calembren was the slightly taller of the two, with a narrow, pinched face. Reniril had a rounder face that held faint laugh lines, and long braided hair. Both gave Harry a curious but not particularly threatening glance, and Harry let out an internal sigh of relief.
“Well met, both. We had hoped to meet you on our journey, and are glad our paths have finally crossed.”
Legolas nodded his head to both as he moved to sit down next to Gimli. Harry, who had ridden on the elf’s shoulder, perched behind them both so that he stared directly across towards the two elves.
“You expected us?” Calembren frowned. “None knew of our mission, save for the Lady Galadriel.”
“It was she who told us of your journey,” Legolas said simply.
“Have you found what you sought?” the King asked, leaning forward to stare intently at the two elves.
"We have found more questions than answers, and some unexpected surprises besides,” Reniril said. “But we will share what we know now. We have tracked this evil since our battle at Dol Guldur, where Lady Galadriel sensed a malignant presence fleeing from our onslaught. She sent us to follow it and gave us a peculiar stick to guide our way that taken from a prisoner captured during the battle.”
From Harry’s vantage point, he could see the way Legolas’s shoulders stiffened.
“It looked like a polished piece of wood, but it could track this presence better than the most skilled huntsman. Without it, we would have surely lost the chase during the first fortnight, for there were no tracks to follow except those left by local wildlife.”
Here, Reniril trailed off, clearly uneasy about which words to say next. The elf slowly continued.
“We thought we were following a malignant phantom, but there were times... there were times the tracks of deer or rodents seemed unnatural. I have never seen a mouse run in a straight line before, especially over open clearings. Eventually, the tracker led us to Minas Morgul, which we scouted after sending a message to you,” she said, referring to the King. “We dare not enter that cursed city, and thus set about to return when we were ambushed. A shadow creature served as distraction for a wizard to steal the tracker – likely the same prisoner who escaped Lady Galadriel’s grasp over a year ago. By now, the new evil surely knows of us and will expect our coming.”
“This wizard – he worked with the creature that attacked? You are sure of this?”
Harry was alarmed by Legolas’s sharp tone. Surely, the elf wouldn’t believe their word over Harry’s… would he? Legolas’s furious face flashed through his mind from the day before, and Harry felt a seed of doubt grow.
“The facts speak for themselves. The man stole the tracker as the shadow creature attacked, and he, too, had the ability to vanish into nothingness when we gave chase.”
“Then why would he…?” Legolas trailed off, mumbling to himself. Harry wished he could see the elf’s face for better insight into what he was feeling. Instead, he stared at the hunched shoulder blades and tried to divine what was going on inside Legolas’s head.
“He also matches the description of the man who escaped from Dol Guldur,” Calembren unhelpfully added. “Rather unremarkable in height and color, but for his eyes. These were livelier than the grass on a spring’s day.”
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Grass sounded better than a fresh pickled toad, but he would rather the comparisons stopped altogether.
“Sounds the same as our rescuer,” Gimli said. “Why he would rescue us and steal from you?”
Legolas’s back straightened from its tense posture.
“Perhaps he wasn’t attacking, but merely reclaiming what was his,” Legolas said. “I believe I saw this wizard after his escape. He appeared quite suddenly in the castle, clutching a wooden stick.”
His words produced an immediate uproar. Calembren and Reniril’s voices were drowned out by that of the King’s, who demanded to know why the security breach hadn’t been reported immediately.
“He sent flowers!”
The din quieted, as all eyes looked with bewilderment at Legolas.
“He sent flowers after startling me in the castle. He’s a tad… eccentric, but I don’t think he means any harm. Besides, Aragorn, how do you propose to keep out someone who can waltz through walls? He helped us near a fortnight ago, and I believe he means to continue helping us.”
“Your words have merit,” Aragorn said. “There is not much use for this tracker now. We know where the enemy is, and so we must act upon this knowledge. An evil is rising in Minas Morgul and we must go to meet it. For too long, we have waited as shadows have deepened; but now is a new age, one full of light. We must cut off this enemy before it can regain ahold of the cursed city. We must march on Minas Morgul.”
With this proclamation, he sat with a weighty finality. Whispers and mutters broke out throughout the room. One of the king’s advisors raised his voice.
"We could easily be led into a trap, in the city’s many unknown underground chambers. How certain are we that this is a new enemy arisen, and not a few troublesome pests?”
“Approaching Minas Morgul would lead to a great loss of life. The current attacks by these creatures aren't so bad. Let us continue with our current approach of attacking them after they show their face in daylight!"
"Listen to you, son of Man!" cried Gimli. "Ignoring them won't solve any problems. They will continue to grow stronger and then you will regret not fighting today. We must attack now and send them back to the darkness from which they came."
"I agree with Gimli." Legolas's voice was a cool contrast to the dwarf's flustered yelling. "Yet I would propose that a small party goes first, to scout out the territory. Minis Morgul could indeed be a maze, and it would be fruitless to show up at its gates with an army and with no plan."
Bickering continued amongst the Council for a while, but the debate revolved around those key points. Should they attack now, send a preliminary party, or avoid confrontations? Harry tuned them out until King Aragorn cleared his throat and spoke an authoritative voice. He, it seemed, had come to a decision.
"Minas Morgul used to be a grand city of Gondor, when it was still called Minas Ithil. Though long has it been outside the influence of Men, we must reclaim our lost city from this new evil. We cannot ignore these shadow creatures any longer; the time for battle is upon us. Yet Legolas speaks true; a small fellowship shall scout the way."
That was that, then. It seems Legolas' initial proposal was the winner. Now came an even more contentious question: who would go? As long as it wasn't a member of the company, Harry didn't really care. He wondered if he should offer some assistance to whatever team was assembled; after all, he had a unique ability to enter and leave without detection.
However, Legolas spoke up again.
"As the team should be quick and stealthy, I will volunteer myself for the task. I have the best chance of entering and leaving undetected, out of all of us assembled."
Harry's head whipped around to stare horrified at Legolas. This wasn't supposed to happen!
Gimli, not to be outdone, added his boisterous opinion. "Bah! The elf is too tall! Someone smaller would be less easily spotted. I could disguise myself in Orc or Uruk-hai uniform, and they would never suspect a thing."
Harry turned frantically towards Gimli. Not him too! A couple of Men threw in their reasons for being a part of the party. Surely, Harry thought, Aragorn would send them and not his two friends. The men were most affected by these new shadow creatures, so they should be chosen to defend their homeland. Unfortunately, Aragorn was obviously not as clever as Harry thought he was.
"We shall send several small parties. Those volunteering should split themselves into groups of two or three." he declared.
Harry couldn't keep quiet any longer.
"No!" All eyes turned to look at the normally quiet bird.
"Eclipse, do you object? This plan is sound.” Legolas said.
“There is no need for any of you to risk yourselves. I can enter and leave undetected – alone. It would not take long; I could shadow jump there and back within the day."
"No one should enter that place alone. A most depressing feeling hangs in the air itself. There are tales of men entering and then going mad."
If this was an argument meant to change Harry’s mind, Legolas had done a poor job of it. If anything, he was more determined than ever to block his friend from entering there. He could already see it – the once vibrant body of the elf being carted out of the city, unseeing and uncaring for the living any longer. It wouldn’t happen while he was around.
Gimli’s face grew suspicious, and the dwarf’s brows knit together.
“I thought you could only appear in places you had been before. Where were you yesterday, Eclipse?”
“You went to Mordor?” Legolas gave Harry a worried look. “No one should approach it alone; the very air feeds on depression and anger.”
“I can handle it,” Harry said defensively. “Besides, I only went to get out of the city for a bit.”
"One does not simply fly to Mordor on a whim,” Gimli said. His cheeks were flush with righteous anger and his beard seemed to stand on end. “What if you had been captured and put us all at risk?”
“I thought you could trust us,” Legolas added, a disappointed look flitting across his face.
Harry felt the world crumbling down around him and became viscerally aware of the silence that hung like a weight across the table. While a small part of Harry realized they were right to be concerned, the larger part railed against their words. He had faced trolls and dementors, had dueled the darkest lord in a century, and had led a resistance movement. A quick flight to Mordor was nothing in comparison.
"I can take care of myself!” Harry snapped back. “I’ve been taking care of myself long before I met any of you.”
He then dove off his perch into the shadow cast by Legolas’s chair and disappeared from sight.
A/N: Sorry for the wait! My sister helped edit this and the previous couple of chapters (chapters 16 and 17, specifically). I've changed a few things, so feel free to reread those chapters as well.
Chapter 20: A lonely path
“I don't care!" Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. "I’ve had enough, I’ve seen enough, I want out, I want it to end, I don't care anymore!"
"You do care," said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. "You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.
- The Order of the Phoenix
Harry berated himself. He had a good plan: live a life of solitude – he couldn’t get hurt, and he wouldn’t hurt others. The plan was simple. Safe. But he had to go and get involved.
An image of sitting around the campfire flashed across his mind, and he acknowledged that perhaps things weren’t so bad. If he had stayed within the forest, he would never have seen how Legolas would let out a soft smile at the first crickets began their song at dusk, nor how Gimli would carefully re-braid tiny amulets and beads into his hair each morning.
He had lived in the forest in a sort of limbo, his life no better nor worse from when he first arrived to Middle Earth. He had experienced hardship while traveling with the company – but also acceptance and patience. He also was now experiencing more irritation than before, Harry thought, as he stewed over Legolas’s parting comments.
Shaking his head, Harry tried to focus on the plan ahead and not on the argument that had just transpired. He needed to focus, if he was to fly in and out of Minas Morgul undetected. He had no doubt that he could: with the ability to shadow jump out of the entire city, Harry was definitely the best bird for the task.
He also had another task, unspoken but simmering softly in the back of his mind. Perhaps… perhaps if he found the leader of these creatures in his scouting, he could stop the war before it even began.
The phoenix trilled happily. This was definitely the best plan, even if his friends would try to forbid him from doing any such thing. Harry visualized the hill where he had liberated his wand and opened his eyes to see Minas Morgul spread out before him.
Legolas was furious. Partly at Eclipse but also at himself. While Legolas strongly believed that the phoenix needed to open up about his secrets, calling him out on them in the middle of a war council was not the best strategy.
And now he had no idea where Eclipse went. The only time he saw the bird around the castle was either during a meal or in his room. His room! That could very well be where the bird might have ended up.
Legolas made his excuses to the council, and started walking back towards his room. No one asked why he had to leave; Gimli simply laid a hand on the elf’s arm as he passed and murmured, “Good luck.”
Yet when he reached his rooms, no moping or angry bird was in sight. Legolas let out a sigh of disappointment; he would rather deal with an upset Eclipse than no Eclipse. As standoffish as the bird had been throughout their entire journey, he had seen glimpses of the bird’s true personality when he had reverted back into a chick. Usually, Legolas would be excited to see such an emotional reaction from the bird, even an outburst such as the one tonight, if it was over any other topic besides Mordor. Even the name gave the elf an internal shiver.
Legolas walked slowly towards the balcony and stared out at the inky expanse below. A few lights flickered here and there, as the citizens of Minas Tirith prepared for sleep. He couldn’t see any further; the rest of the world between here and Mordor was cloaked in darkness. Legolas stood long into the night, staring as the stars rose and fell across the sky while hoping for Eclipse’s safe return.
Harry spent several long minutes staring at the cursed city. He had no fear of discovery, as his feathers blended into the night sky and few lights were on in the city below. He silently flew closer. Below were a myriad of houses in varying stages of disrepair. While the dilapidated structures might house some of the shadow creatures, their base was certainly in the tower at the center of the city.
The Minas Morgul tower dominated the cityscape, rising out of the ramshackle houses without any such signs of disrepair. The main entrance was a heavy wooden door that was sealed shut and the windows were locked. Harry felt a vicious satisfaction uncurl within him; these creatures thought they had a stronghold, but what could keep out the shadows. He flew close to a window, peered through the glass on the shadows inside the room, and shadow-jumped inside.
The first thing he noticed was the noise. The clangs of metal echoed in the room, and he could hear sounds of fighting in the adjacent corridors. Harry cautiously flew out into the hallway, keeping to the ceiling. He soon found the source of the commotion: a handful of orcs were trying to bash each other with swords. Harry hoped they would continue for a while; if they were fighting each other, they would likely be too busy to bother looking up.
He flew through the arched doorway at the end of the hallway without any problems, which opened up to a spiraling staircase. More noise emanated from below. Harry couldn’t see the bottom of the stairs; the floors seemed to go below the earth and were encased in shadows. He cautiously flew down and down, hoping luck would hold and keep any of the creatures from using the stairs. No movement stirred, and Harry continued flying down beneath the earth. The staircase abruptly ended in a short hallway that opened up into a vast cavern. There, a crude set of stairs fashioned out of the rock continued its downward descent, while the rest of the cave stretched out below. It looked like a whole town could fit here, and Harry was struck by the bustle of activity below.
His heart sank as he surveyed the scene; this was no enemy that would be easily defeated. His eyes were immediately drawn to the large vat that dominated the center of this underground room; inside, a liquid bright orange like fire bubbled slowly. Orcs and Uruk-hai entered it with shrieks and moans on one side of the room; some more willing than others. Those that tried to escape were harshly hit at with the blunt side of swords and thick cudgels by other creatures patrolling the perimeter of the pool. In this way, the orcs were ushered across the length of the boiling liquid.
Not all made it out. Of the ten or so that Harry watched enter the vat, only three survived the length of the journey. Those that reached the end crawled out slowly, clearly exhausted from their ordeal. Those Orcs lay on the floor limply, occasionally racked by convulsions. Except, they weren't Orcs any longer. As Harry used the keen eyesight from the phoenix form, he realized that the beings exiting the vats were the new shadow creatures.
As Harry continued to examine the underground cavern; he came to a depressing realization. While there were a couple of shadow creatures who were obviously leaders, he couldn't find any evidence of a central chain of command. This wasn't like Voldemort, whose death had destroyed the tenuous alliances between vampires, werewolves, and the various Death Eaters. Many of these shadow creatures shared responsibilities for creating new ones and issuing orders. If he killed some now, others would surely rise up to take their place.
It looked like this was a reconnaissance mission after all.
He flew a slow lap around the whole cavern and found another passageway that looked to be carved from the rock and not a natural product of the original castle. Following it, careful to avoid notice noticed, Harry flew alongside the ceiling. After several twists and turns, and one worrisome moment when he flew over an Orc hurrying to the cavern, he eventually emerged. He was outside again.
As the light slowly stretched across the sky, heralding the start of dawn, Harry saw shapes begin to form in the darkness below. The faint outlines of Orcs and Uruk-hai were revealed in the growing light. The numbers were not insignificant. Harry tried to commit all of the positions and the full array of forces to memory, knowing that any scrap of knowledge might help his friends in the battles ahead. He slowly circled the city another time, looking for any and all details that might be helpful.
When there was no more knowledge to be gained, he reluctantly turned back towards Minas Tirith. The white walls of the castle were a welcome sight in contrast to what he had just seen. Harry hesitated, then decided to fly to Legolas’s balcony to see the elf first. He had an apology to make. Legolas' accusations had hurt but they were valid, especially since the elf didn’t know Harry’s full experience with war. He wondered if the elf was still angry at him and felt a sliver of anxiety as he approached the room. That changed into a guarded hope as he flew up: Legolas had left the balcony doors open for him.
Chapter 21: Secrets shared
"You can trust us to stick to you, through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” - The Fellowship of the Ring
Harry landed quietly on the balcony and peered into Legolas’s room. He didn’t need to look far: the elf lay sprawled across his bed.
Harry peered at him, concerned. Throughout their journey to Minas Tirith, Legolas had slept unnaturally still. However, the sheets that pooled towards the end of the bed seemed evidence that the elf had kicked them off during the night. The bedding lay in a disheveled tangle across his legs. Harry felt guilty for causing such obvious distress, even in Legolas’s sleep.
His gaze traveled upwards, glancing briefly at the elf’s toned back and then at his well-muscled arms that he often perched on indoors. Harry had a strange realization: he had never touched those arms with fingers instead of talons.
Harry squashed the fleeting thought as Legolas shifted. He turned his head to look at the courtyard below, which remained devoid of people in the early morning light. Perhaps he should leave and return later. The elf looked like he could use the extra sleep.
Legolas gave a gasp and bolted upright, breathing heavily. Harry couldn’t help it; he let out a low croon, trying to fill the room with a feeling of peace. Legolas’s head whipped around to stare at Harry.
“Eclipse?” His voice was raw and uncertain, and Harry decided he hated the sound. “You’re back? Unhurt?”
Legolas stood quickly and crossed the room to come stand before Harry. His eyes quickly roamed over the phoenix, looking for injury, while his hand reached out to touch – but then the elf aborted the movement and his arm fell back to his side, where his hand clenched into a fist. He gave a small, self-deprecating laugh.
“You seem fine. I should have trusted you when you said you could handle this.”
“ I am fine ,” Harry agreed. He was, physically at least, but the sight of Legolas made him feel like the worst kind of friend. “ And I’m sorry. You were right to question me. Despite calling you a friend, I kept you a distance. I… I want to change that.”
“No, it is I who must apologize. You do not need to explain your past to me. I was concerned about your inexperience in battle and worried you would get hurt without having anyone to heal you, as you have healed others.”
Harry closed his eyes, thinking briefly of Hogwarts. His heart gave a pang as he thought of what happened once he arrived in Middle Earth, but the grief had become a dull thing over the year.
“ I was in a war once. Not your war, but in many ways the same. There was an enemy who used the blackest of magic to fight. And there were my friends, who I often hurt by rushing headlong into danger.”
Hermione’s face flashed in Harry’s mind. She and Ron had learned to predict Harry’s reckless impulsiveness so well that he sometimes accused them of using Occlumency against him. He didn’t think he would ever find friends as close as them, but he needed to at least give Legolas and the others that chance.
“They were always by my side, even when I tried to leave them behind. One friend even started tracking me secretly, so I couldn’t disappear without her.”
"Your friend is wise.” Legolas unclenched his hand and slowly brought it before Harry, giving the phoenix ample time to pull away. Harry stayed still, and the elf’s hand gently reached out to touch his feathers. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”
“She was wise,” Harry agreed. He couldn’t say more. For all that he had come to terms with his memories, it was still painful to speak about Hermione out loud.
Harry thought the elf understood. Legolas’s eyes shone in the morning light, flickering silver like a swirling Pensieve. Yet instead of hiding memories, his eyes were open and emotive, showing only patience for the day Harry felt ready to tell him more.
As the sun slowly rose across Middle Earth, elf and phoenix remained side-by-side on the balcony, sharing stories of war and loss. Harry never noticed the figure in the courtyard below, where a dwarf shaded his eyes to peer up at the bird purchased on the balcony with a deep and troubled frown.
Harry felt lighter than he ever had since arriving in Middle Earth. His memories had been like a weighty shadow, ever-present and choking. The shadows were still there, but they were simply shadows now and Harry could turn his gaze away.
Legolas had told a courier of Harry’s return, and the messenger had come back to tell them both that King Aragorn would hold a council meeting in the evening.
In the meantime, Harry’s thoughts had turned back to his wand. With a quick excuse to Legolas, he glided on a warm air current to the uppermost tower. While the rooftop gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, the inside remained neglected and dim.
He flew and landed carefully on the well-worn stone, and transformed. Talons lengthened into toes, the phoenix’s long neck shrank and became squat and thick. Wings condensed and divided into arms and fingers. By the end, a young human sat in the dusty tower.
Wiping his watery eyes, he walked over to the trunk and pulled out his wand. He briefly eyed his hands, which remained as unwrinkled and as unblemished as the last time. He sighed. Harry hoped to one day figure out how fast he aged in his phoenix form, but so far hadn’t been able to spot any difference from one transformation to the next.
Despite the cool room, the wood gave a warm glow of recognition that quickly faded. He rolled the smooth wood across his hands, turning until he could see where a thin fracture occurred near the tip of the wand. The thin line ran nearly the length of the wand. It was broken.
Harry longed to cast a spell but worried about stressing the wand further. How in Merlin’s name would he fix this? He cast his mind back to the war, trying to remember what happened when others had their wands snapped or broken. Ron and Neville had simply bought new wands. Was his wand permanently unfixable?
He shook his head. Theory had always been Hermione’s love; he preferred action. He closed his eyes, trying to visualize the Reparo spell. He visualized the many times he had repaired his broken glasses, bookbag and other items that got damaged in the course of living with the other Gryffindor boys. He let loose his longing to have his wand back and functional in his hand.
“ Reparo .”
Harry breathed the word slowly, focusing all of his magic on his wand. A brief glow suffused the wand, and the wood grew warm in his hands again.
The light faded, and Harry peered closely at the crack. It was still there.
He let out a small sigh of disappointment. He would keep trying – he was nothing if not stubborn. But perhaps magic worked differently here. Perhaps he should seek the help of another wizard.
Harry slowly opened the door from the attic, marveling at the ease he could move around in the castle with his hands. He had thought of Apparating directly to Gandalf’s rooms to ask for help, but then imagined what the wizard might do to an unexpected visitor. It was probably better to knock.
Still, Harry wasn’t too happy with his plan to visit Gandalf. He hoped he could walk there without running into anyone else along the way, but imagined it would fail. What he did not imagine was that his cover would be blown so quickly. As Harry stepped out into the hallway, he almost immediately spotted an angry dwarf at the other end of the corridor.
Gimli stalked down the hallway, hoisting his ax menacingly between his hands. His eyes, black as beetles, glittered as he stared at Harry’s face without saying anything. He did not appear particularly surprised or pleased to see Harry.
“We need to talk.”
Gimli pointed his ax towards the door Harry had just exited, and Harry slowly stepped back into the dusty room. How had Gimli known he was here? And why – for all intents and purposes – was the dwarf looking for Harry and not Eclipse? Harry thought about Apparating away, but a smaller, curiouser part of him wanted to find the answers to these questions.
The butt of the ax thumped loudly on the stone floor, jerking Harry from his musings. The dwarf’s face looked as if it had been carved from stone, and he spoke in a quiet growl Harry had never heard before.
“Whose side are you on?”
Harry wasn’t sure what he had expected, but that was not it. His confusion must have shown on his face, for the dwarf continued.
“Eclipse – or whatever your name is – I know this is you. What I want to know is why you stole from the elves, and what you were doing in Dol Guldur a year ago.” He shifted the ax meaningfully.
Harry felt the world crash down around his ears. He thought he had been so clever the night before, when he tried to change the subject away from the elves complaining about his wand getting stolen.
Harry couldn’t think straight. He had long imagined the many ways his friends might find out his secret, but had never envisioned this.
“Well – it’s a long story,” Harry hedged.
Gimli looked decidedly unimpressed and shifted his grip on his ax in a very concerning way. Harry decided to speed up his explanation.
“I’m not a thief or an enemy. The elves captured me trying to escape from Dol Guldur. I wasn’t trying to fight them, and they stole my wand anyway. That they’ve been using it as a tracker is quite concerning, since my wand is broken and shouldn’t act as a tracking device without a spell – and I really just wanted it back to see if I could fix it but didn’t think the elves would listen since they attacked me last time.”
Harry took a large breath, realizing he had forgotten to breathe during the explanation.
“As to why I’m a bird…” He shrugged helplessly. “I wasn’t coming from a good place when I escaped and being Eclipse helped me forget my past. I needed a break from everything and by the time you all became my friends, it was too complicated to explain it. I’m sorry.”
Gimli gave an unimpressed grunt.
“What about your shadow abilities? The same ones that the creatures have?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t know what I can say to make you believe me. I’ve never heard of any others with my shadow abilities before – I don’t know how they have it,” Harry said honestly.
Gimli tightened his grip on his ax, and for a moment Harry thought he still meant to attack. Then the dwarf gave a snort and let the handle drop back to the floor with a clang.
“All Wizards are barmy in some way or another. Your actions do not make sense to me, but then, Gandalf’s rarely do either. Have you already told them? Am I the only one you didn’t trust? I knew it was strange that Legolas had been spending so much time with a bird.”
“No, I haven’t told anyone. Have you…?”
Harry thought frantically back to his morning spent with Legolas; the elf hadn’t seemed out of character, but he would surely be in a rage now if Gimli had told him after Harry left. His heart sank. He had just mended his relationship with Legolas too.
“Not yet,” Gimli said wryly. “It wasn’t too hard to figure out, but it requires a good deal of common sense – something that wizards and elves tend to lack. I will not tell them your secret myself, but I think you should. They deserve to know.”
“I will,” Harry promised. “I just – need to figure out the words to say.”
“Don’t take too long,” Gimli advised. “They’re slow, but they’ll figure it out sooner than later.” He made his way towards the door, pausing at the doorway. “By the way – you stink.”
Harry looked down at his robes, just now realizing that they still held the long dried remains from the battle of Hogwarts. This was another good reason to stay in his phoenix form, he thought as he shifted back into Eclipse. His heart still hammered from the meeting, but another part of him sagged with relief.
Author's Note: ...you may have noticed, I've gotten a little behind schedule. I live in a major metropolitan US city and have been unable to focus on anything but the protests. That's beginning to change, as I'm learning to balance self-reflection, education, and activism with time for writing. Thank you all for sticking with this story, and I hope it can bring some joy during this time.
Chapter 22: The tangled web
The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed. - The Prisoner of Azkaban
Steam rose from a hot bath, and Harry gave a sigh of contentment as he sunk deeper into the warm water. As a phoenix, he hasn’t minded dust baths and rain to keep him clean. However, Gimli was right – as a human, especially with his battle-stained robes, he had acquired quite the aroma.
Thankfully, Gimli had shown him this bathing room. He thought the dwarf, uncouth as he was in many respects, would have an aversion to baths. The truth was quite the opposite.
“Dwarves are famous for our baths!” Gimli had exclaimed, as he led Harry towards the bathing rooms. “Why, the halls of Erebor have over sixty bathing rooms, all heated by underwater vents. The faucets shone with quartz and the tubs were marbled with gold. My great, great grand-father, Farin, carved the largest of the tubs…”
When they arrived at the bathing rooms, Gimli took his clothes, promising to get them cleaned as well. Harry was happy to let the dwarf take care of it; he still wasn’t entirely used to interacting with humans.
Harry let out another long sigh as his eyes roamed across the room. The room consisted of one large bath area, which seemed to be continually heated by fires below. There were also an additional two, smaller baths; one for a quick rinse to get the grime away, and the other to cool off after. The baths looked as if they could hold a couple dozen people, but were thankfully empty at the moment.
Secure in the knowledge that he was alone, Harry closed his eyes and let his mind drift. All too soon, a door creaked open. Harry cracked one eye open, ready to tell Gimli to come back later. Instead, the words died unspoken as his gaze took in a tall lithe figure who had appeared in nothing more than a towel.
“You!” blurted Legolas, staring at Harry in obvious shock. Harry cursed as he realized Gimli still had his clothes. He moved away from the pool’s edge, seeking refuge in putting as much distance and water between him and Legolas as possible.
Blast that dwarf! This couldn’t be a coincidence. Harry wasn’t ready to speak with Legolas – especially stark naked.
Legolas crossed his arms, the movement causing his towel to shift lower on his hips. Harry swallowed, then turned to face the elf directly. It was not much better. Legolas looked both stern and furious, and Harry weighed the merits of Apparating away immediately.
“Do not think about leaving before this conversation is over.”
Harry looked at Legolas with even more alarm as the elf advanced slowly towards him, his voice rising.
“You’ve been stalking us. Then you used that information to steal the one thing we can use to track this new evil. And why, in the Valar’s name, are you taking a bath? You are no guest of the castle and you flout all laws of hospitality – hospitality that I gave you when we camped under the stars but which you have since repaid in wilted flowers and lies.”
“Lies? I am no liar!” Harry thrust out his hand, but belated realized that the words carved into his skin – I must not tell lies – had vanished along with all other scars after his Burning Day. He scowled and lowered his arm back into the water.
“Of course you would side with the elves over me. I told you they took me prisoner; I was merely taking back what was mine! I’m sorry that you didn’t like the flowers; I was trying to apologize for barging in unannounced, but I guess I messed that up too.”
Legolas appeared bereft of any rejoinder; Harry blushed a brilliant scarlet when he realized that in his anger, he had stood nearly out of the water completely.
“You – you’re a fool, Legolas Greenleaf.” Harry Apparated away before the elf could reply, leaving droplets in his wake.
Harry quickly transformed back into Eclipse and went searching to find the errant dwarf. He found him near the great laundry rooms, where smoke billowed out every time a servant opened the door to go in or come out.
“Did you enjoy your bath?” the dwarf asked upon seeing Eclipse. His eyes glinted mischievously.
“No thanks to you. Legolas hates me even more now.”
Harry landed on the dwarf’s shoulder. If his talons dug in a little too hard, it was because he was unaccustomed to the height difference between Gimli and Legolas.
The door opened once more, letting out another great gust of smoke. This time, a servant appeared holding a familiar bundle of cloth that Harry could have desperately used earlier today.
Gimli laughed as he took the clothes. His chuckles had faded as he rounded the corner, but the mirth was still evident in his voice.
“I had forgotten about your apology bouquet. Perhaps this time you could try gifting him jewelry instead? I am sure it will be better received. Better yet – perhaps you could tell him the truth. He can never stay mad at Eclipse for long.”
Now that the shock of Gimli knowing his secret was wearing off, Harry could see he would quickly grow tired of his snark. He dug his talons in a bit more.
“I told you. Not yet.”
The dwarf scoffed but didn’t argue. As they reached a courtyard, Harry shifted in preparation to take flight and think about everything that happened today.
But Gimli had one final question for him.
“Eclipse – is that your real name?” the dwarf asked, staring at him pensively.
Harry started. He had grown fond of it, but...“No. My name is Harry Potter.”
The evening bell rang, crisp and clear in the humid summer air. Harry had perched on the rooftop of the castle after his meeting with Gimli, and had been quietly brooding since. He needed to figure out a way to reveal himself to Legolas and Gandalf but couldn’t think of any way to casually reveal a hidden past and a human form to them.
He shook his head regretfully. He would have to think on it more later – at the moment, he had more immediate matters to focus on. Spreading his wings, Harry flew gracefully down to the entrance way of the castle and slipped inside the cool, dark hallway.
It had felt like a lifetime ago since Harry was in Minas Morgul, but in reality, it had been less than a day. King Aragorn announced that a full council would meet this evening to receive and deliberate on Harry’s information. Harry doubted they would like what he found. It could only mean one thing: war was coming.
Harry slowly drifted down to the palace entrance, where a bemused guard opened the door to let him fly inside. He had almost made it to the king’s meeting chambers, when he saw a familiar flash of blonde hair below. Harry drifted down to Legolas, and landed gently on this shoulder.
“Eclipse! You’ll never believe who I saw today: that strange istari, Harry, in the baths of all places.”
“The one who left you flowers?” Harry asked, a little sourly. He still hadn’t forgiven Gimli for the little set up, even after the dwarf let him complain for the better part of an hour. Harry had a sinking suspicion that none of his words penetrated the dwarf’s thick skull; Gimli had a gleam in his eye that made Harry swear off taking any more baths in the upcoming days.
“The very same. Though I feel a bit ashamed for my reaction to the flowers and the recent encounter. I do think he means well, even if he does pose a security risk for the castle. There is something about his eyes; for such a young face, his eyes hold a great sadness. I do not think I could forget them, even a thousand years from now.”
Harry’s feathers drooped. Legolas would never live for that long, but it seemed more and more like Harry might still be around then.
He quickly put those thoughts out of his mind as Legolas entered the meeting room, and Gandalf’s voice rang out in greeting.
“Back from Minas Morgul already? I am glad I do not share your gift of travel, or there would not be a single moment of peace left for me.”
The wizard’s words seemed to have a quieting effect on the already-quiet conversations in the room, and eyes turned expectantly towards Harry. Many of the faces were familiar, but Harry gave a start as his gaze landed on an unfamiliar elf and a trio of dwarves.
The King introduced them as Erestor, and Dwalin, and Gwalin and something or other - Harry had a hard time keeping track after the first batch of unfamiliar names. Apparently the dwarfs were helping repair some cavern or mine when the King of Rohan received Aragorn’s call to arms. Gimli had started to get teary eyed at the mention of their work and Harry made a mental note to not ask the dwarf for more details, unless he had an extra hour or two to spend.
Eventually the conversation meandered back to the purpose of the meeting: Harry’s scouting trip. He straightened up as all eyes turned to assess him. He tried to describe his journey as succinctly as possible, skipping past the flight to the city and focusing mostly on the army hidden underground.
"More orcs than I could count covered the underground chamber. But while their number is immense, the shadow creatures form only a small part of this army. There seems to be a sort of conversion process that takes place deep under the tower of Minas Morgul and there are only two entrances and exits. Both are heavily guarded.”
“The situation is dire,” the King said slowly, after Harry finished his descriptions. “Yet we cannot allow for more of these shadow creatures to be created. Every minute we wait is a minute that the enemy’s army grows more dangerous. We must ride to war.”
There was a low murmuring of agreement. Suddenly, one of the men stood. His hair was wild with curls, barely tamed by the circlet resting upon it.
“Rohan will join you. I have brought four companies, and we are ready to march.”
A dwarf stood up to join the man.
“We did not come this way to simply admire these halls. We too shall fight besides Gondor.”
The unfamiliar elf, though, remained silent throughout the exchange. As King Aragorn’s advisors turned towards debating the specifics of when and how they would attack, the elf quietly moved to sit beside Legolas.
“Prince Legolas, it is a surprise to see you here.” He gave Harry an indecipherable sidelong look before evidently deciding to ignore him.
“You as well, Erestor. I had not realized news travels so fast to Rivendell.”
“An unhappy coincidence, I am afraid. I only recently arrived to visit Arwen, but duty sends me back to warn Rivendell of this new trouble. Will you carry the same tidings to Mirkwood?”
“Not yet. My bow is needed here. I hope to share news of the battle with my father after we have driven out this growing army.”
“Many men have bows, but Mirkwood has only one prince.”
Erestor’s voice remained calm and seemingly unaffected, but Harry still caught the hint of disapproval in his words. Legolas did too, if the tensing of the elf’s shoulders was anything to go by.
Legolas gave a tight smile.
“Indeed, there is only one. My choice to remain will protect my people better than running back with an aged warning.”
Erestor stood and gave Legolas a shallow nod.
“Let us hope it is the right one. Until we meet again.”
Legolas was subdued for the rest of the meeting. Harry remained perched on his shoulder, even as Legolas retired to his room. He thought the elf needed a chance to talk.
His suspicion proved correct; as soon as the doors swung shut, Legolas gave a great sigh. Harry moved to perch on the back of a chair and watched as Legolas lit the candles around the room and then flung the balcony doors open.
The elf flashed a rueful smile towards the phoenix.
“I had not expected the day to be so eventful.”
“I’m sorry for the part I played in it,” Harry said, thinking back to his early morning flight from Mordor.
“Do not be; that was the brightest spot of my morning. Seeing the mage Harry was also a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. Both of you are individuals I would never have met, had I returned home to Mirkwood after the war.”
“About that...” Harry said. His heart had leapt to his throat, making it difficult to breathe. Harry tried to think carefully about what to say next. This was the perfect moment to confess to Legolas.
But the elf quickly filled the pause caused by Harry’s hesitancy.
“Before I joined the Fellowship, I had considered myself well traveled. Though I had seen towns and cities outside of Mirkwood, I never truly experienced life with Men or Dwarves or Hobbits. It’s a refreshing view of the world, and one my people could benefit from experiencing more often. Since the war, I’ve been… reluctant to return, fearing a return to normal and forgetting my experiences to the inevitable passage of time. Perhaps Erestor is right. I have become a poor leader.”
“You’re not.” Harry said emphatically. “I know a thing or two about living with high expectations. For some people, nothing you do will ever be enough. But for others - especially your friends - they will understand that you sometimes need space to vent or to reflect or just to take a break. If your people love you half as much as you love them, they will understand and they will wait.”
“Thank you, Eclipse.” Legolas gave him a smile, a real one this time.
“I will ask Erestor to relay the news to my father. Right now, my place is here… and this time, we’ll fight together.”
Chapter 23: Parting the shadows
And to that I hold. I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone. – the Fellowship of the Ring (movie ed.)
Harry woke to sunlight streaming in through a window. For a moment, he was disoriented; he hadn’t slept indoors since arriving in Middle Earth. He blinked sleep-laden eyes and peered about the room in foggy confusion until he spotted a familiar elf sleeping in the bed.
He was in Legolas’s room. Harry remembered talking late into the night, even as the glow of candles faded as the wicks burned out. Harry shook out his feathers, and started to straighten them back into place. He felt remarkably well-rested; this was the first dreamless sleep since his Occlumency barriers started to fail.
He hoped this pattern would continue but knew it would likely not last. Within a few days, Gondor would ride against Mordor, and both Harry and Legolas would be among the vanguard. Perhaps Harry could find peace after the battles, if all went well. But what would happen after the orcs were defeated? Last night, Legolas had mentioned that he would likely return to Mirkwood.
Harry blinked, mood plummeting. He could no longer imagine returning to the Forest of Fangorn to live as a phoenix permanently. Not when he realized how much he missed having friends. But he also wasn’t sure about following after Legolas like a… like a pet, trailing after him. The thought was intolerable. He liked it when Legolas saw him as a man and not as a bird.
Harry spotted a familiar bouquet of flowers and felt his guilt deepen. Legolas had kept his ill-conceived apology flowers.
He needed to tell Legolas that he was both bird and man. Gimli seemed to take the news fairly well; perhaps such transformations were common here. His stomach clenched as he imagined Legolas’s angry face - or worse, his hurt and disappointed look as the elf realized Harry had lied to him for weeks.
Maybe he could practice his speech by telling Gandalf first.
An hour later, Harry paced back and forth in an unused room.
“Gandalf – err, Master Gandalf. You’re a wizard and I am too. No, that’s too much Harry. Okay, okay. Master Gandalf. I have a confession to make. I may look like a stranger but we’ve known each other for some time. Er…”
Here Harry paused, unsure how his opening conversation might go. How in Merlin’s beard could he approach Gandalf without alarming him?. From what he had picked up, Wizards were not common in Middle Earth. Would Gandalf react well to an unknown wizard? Harry didn’t know.
But he wasn’t sure that pacing would help him come up with a better idea.
“Okay, here goes.”
He took a deep breath, and turned smartly on one foot. Harry disappeared for a sharp crack, and left only dust motes to continue their lethargic float around the room.
Harry reappeared near Gandalf’s rooms. He stared at the heavy oaken door for a bit, then took a deep breath and knocked.
There was a brief silence, then –
“Coming,” Gandalf said, opening the door. He paused in the middle of the process to stare at Harry intently.
“What an unexpected surprise. Hello, Eclipse.”
Gandalf walked back into his sitting room and settled onto a chaise chair. He looked at Harry expectantly.
“Er, hi.” Harry said lamely and followed. He sat opposite the White Wizard. In his hands, he held his broken wand. Harry tried not to fidget with it.
“You know me?” He blurted.
“Of course, my dear friend.” Gandalf replied. “Why, it was not that difficult – even Gimli has figured it out. Legolas should, but he is blinded by other things to see the truth. So, do you prefer Eclipse or Harry? I have heard you go by both.”
“Er” said Harry, whose mind had not quite caught up with this conversation. His thoughts were still stuck in the doorway, when he was trying to figure out what to say without telling Gandalf who he was.
“You’re right. A hundred names may bloom. The truth is what is found at the roots. Who - or may I ask what - are you?”
“I’m a wizard,” Harry said instinctively. “And... I need your help.”
He looked down at his hands, which gripped a broken stick of holly. The crack was slim and easy to miss. At Gandalf’s raised eyebrows, Harry handed over his wand.
Gandalf frowned and mumbled something under his breath. He ran a long, gnarled finger across the crack and glared at the wood some more. Finally, after what had seemed like ages, he handed back the wand to Harry.
“The core seems intact. A feather of your own?”
Harry frowned and shook his head.
“Why not ask your people for help? Your magic is surely different than mine; I do not believe I can be of help.”
“I can’t,” Harry said, thinking of the friends he had left behind. “I just can’t. But I need it to work. It could help turn the tide of battle.”
Gandalf chuckled and shook his head.
“It is folly to believe magic can guarantee the outcome, my friend. Your magic will rise to your aid when needed - make no mistake about that. Yet you must also trust in your friends’ wit and bravery to see them through the battle. You cannot shoulder their fate as well as yours; that is a sorrowful lesson every wizard must learn.”
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but didn’t know what to say. His friends had tried to tell him that before, yet it had never impacted him the way Gandalf’s words did. Perhaps it was because Gandalf reminded him powerfully of Dumbledore; yet, the old headmaster had never offered such a sharp rebuttal to Harry’s desire to save everyone.
“Yeah. Okay. I - I have learned that before but it is a good reminder.”
Harry didn’t linger long after that; he had a lot to think about. Gandalf bade him farewell with a sad, knowing smile.
In the end, Harry didn’t have time to prepare for his meeting with Legolas.
After leaving the wizard’s rooms, Harry had wandered throughout the castle as he reflected on Gandalf’s words. It was in this befuddled state of mind that he opened an unassuming door that led into a fragrant courtyard awash with flowers blooming. Two heads swiveled at his arrival, and he abruptly came face-to-face with both Legolas and the Queen.
For a brief second, he thought of retreating, in the hopes that they hadn’t noticed him.
Legolas’ sharp eyes locked onto his and Harry couldn’t move.
“ Harry. What are you doing here?” His mouth was set in a familiar slant of disapproval that always seemed to appear whenever Harry the human was around.
Harry took a tiny step back and Legolas narrowed his eyes, tracking the movement intently. Before Harry could come up with an excuse, the Queen spoke.
“It is a pleasure, as always Legolas. Yet I must be going now.” She tipped her head courtesy towards Harry and fixed him with piercing eyes. “Legolas, I hope to become better acquainted in the future with your... friend.”
She glided past him and slipped out of the small wooden door. Only after the door clicked shut with finality did Legolas exhale with a deep sigh.
“What is it this time?” Legolas asked, his voice punctuated with barely-suppressed exasperation. “You have already used the castle’s baths and now you wish to smell the flowers? You cannot keep this charade up. You must speak with the King and Queen for permission to be here.”
“I was invited,” Harry said, cutting Legolas short from his tirade. “Just, er, not in the most direct way.”
Legolas raised his eyebrows, and his frown deepened imperceptibly. Harry’s eyes darted across the elf’s face, trying to gauge his reaction.
“I meant to tell you the day we met… but the longer I waited, the more worried I became about telling you. You’ve become a friend to me and... your opinion means a lot to me.”
Legolas’s face remained impassive, though, and Harry decided that he needed to be direct. There was nothing for it; he took a deep breath and blurted out the secret he had carried for so long.
“The truth is…the truth is that I’m Eclipse.”
Legolas always knew that Harry was hiding something, but could never figure out what . There was always something Legolas couldn’t quite place – his mannerisms, or his style of speech – that nagged at him at the corners of his mind. It was a familiar itch that had kept him thinking long into the nights after he spoke with Harry.
Yet he had never expected this.
As the confession tumbled from Harry’s lips, the missing puzzle pieces slotted and fitted into pictures that played across his memory. Harry’s brilliant green eyes stared at him with a resolve and a touch of fear, whose eyes were so similar to that of… of Eclipse. Harry, who seemed to mysteriously appear at just the right place and time, who had found the company in the fields of Celebrant, as they made their way from Lothlorien to Gondor. Few people lived in such a desolate land.
Could it be?
The elf took a step forward, causing Harry to back up. Legolas continued his advance until Harry’s retreat took him to the edge of the courtyard. The wizard stopped and stared at him, face guarded.
Legolas reached a hand out and rested it gently on Harry’s cheek. It was smooth and unblemished, just as flawless as when he had first spied Harry alongside the riverbank.
“What – what are you doing?” Harry asked.
Legolas felt like he was on the edge of a precipice as he stared into Harry’s - Eclipse’s - eyes.
“Eclipse,” Legolas whispered. He tried out the word, still new and unfamiliar in this context. His amazement started to wear off as reality reasserted itself. If Harry was Eclipse, and Legolas had been talking to both this whole time…
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
He tried to keep the hurt from his voice. He had known Eclipse for months now, and had thought the phoenix trusted him. He had hardly slept the nights that Eclipse was relearning how to fly, and had helped the bird stay grounded when his memories had become too much. Yet after all of that - after all they had been through together - Eclipse had still kept a fundamental part of himself guarded.
Even worse - he had introduced himself as a stranger to Legolas, instead of telling the truth back in Lothlorien. Legolas had grown to like the wizard and had even lied for him when his fellow elves had reported the tracking stick stolen. Even when he had shown Harry that he would keep his secrets, Eclipse had still chosen to continue the farce. Had he ever truly known the bird...and did he even want to know the man?
Legolas had never looked at him like this before, Harry thought distractedly as the elf cupped his cheek. Legolas’s gaze was transparent, as all of the hurt and astonishment and joy shimmered behind his eyes. The elf had looked at him like this before, when Harry had his Burning Day and when he began sharing some experiences from his past, but Harry had never felt like this as Eclipse. He felt a stirring in his stomach, a weird mixture of queasiness and elation.
“I’m sorry. I meant to tell you before, but…” Harry shrugged helplessly. “I never knew what to say.”
His words seemed to break the stillness in the air, the feeling of anticipation and waiting.
Then Legolas withdrew his hands from Harry’s face, and his eyes shuttered and his face grew guarded. Harry felt oddly bereft.
“You -” The elf let out a long exhale and started again.
“I trusted you. Both versions of you. To know that you’ve kept this from me this whole time… I need some time to think.”
“Of course,” Harry said. “Take all the time you need.”
He tried to ignore the way his heart felt heavier with each word. Harry had hoped Legolas would take it in the easy stride that Gandalf and Gimli did, but he had always had a closer relationship with the elf. It was no surprise that Legolas would take this personally. He could give him space.
Two days later, Harry was wondering how much more space Legolas needed. The elf had avoided eye contact the few times Harry had seen him, and had generally kept to his rooms.
Harry let him have his distance, yet grew more anxious as every day grew closer to the day of the battle. Three days later, he woke, and Legolas had still not spoken to him. Harry’s heart sank as he looked at the sun rising from the east and casting long shadows across the land. The King and his army would ride there today, with Legolas at the forefront with his friends.
It was time to ride to Mordor.
Chapter 24: Revelations
It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. – The Return of the King
Hooves thundered across the rocky wastelands, as the small army rode towards Minas Morgul. The horses rode at a steady clip, their flanks coated with a light sweat worked. The early morning light cast long shadows over the land, and the light appeared fainter in Mordor, with none of its usual radiance.
Minas Morgul jutted into the sky up ahead, a towering edifice that shimmered with a ghostly glow in the dawn’s light. The army had been marching for a few hours by this time; during a pre-dawn meeting, the King had met with advisors to finalize the last-minute strategy for the battle today. King Aragorn wanted to give his men as much daylight as possible; though the shadow creatures would still have mobility, it would hopefully be limited under the noonday sun.
Below, those at the front of the army turned around a rocky hill and spotted the cursed city. Soldiers straightened in their saddles and adjusted their grip on spears and swords as they caught sight of their target. The entire army was horseback, but not by choice. The dwarves that accompanied those from Rohan had protested vehemently against going saddleback, and many were hopping off of their mounts where they rode double with the men as Minas Morgul appeared.
Harry looked down at a familiar silhouette below. Gimli had grumbled when paired on a horse with Legolas, but the dwarf remained seated while some of his brethren now opted to walk. Perhaps he saw wisdom in conserving energy before the battle.
Harry wished that Gimli would dismount, though. Legolas hadn’t spoken to Harry since he revealed his secret, and Harry had been trying to give the elf space. Yet he was growing concerned about the ever-growing rift between them. He hoped Gimli had spoken with Legolas on the ride; Gimli had certainly taken the discovery in stride and still treated Harry the same as before. Yet Gimli remained on the horse, and Harry kept his distance in the air.
Instead, Harry tried to look for areas where there might be a surprise attack. It was nearly impossible in the morning light; the sun cast long shadows over nearly every part of the land.
A horse whinnied and reared, breaking the quiet.
Harry saw a shadow twist and extend, solidifying into a shape that launched itself at the horse. Soon the ground became a writhing mess of shadows as more creatures emerged below the horses’ legs and attacked their underbellies. Men and dwarves hastily unsheathed their swords and axes to begin fighting back to protect their mounts, but more horses shrieked and bucked under the onslaught.
“Head for the citadel!” the king yelled, his voice rising above the whinnying of horses and clang of swords. “We must destroy them at the source.”
Some horses charged ahead; those who could not continued to rear and lash out against the shadow creatures. Harry hesitated, wondering if he should help. Then he saw the horse that bore Gimli and Legolas streak past the melee below and towards the city of Minas Morgul. He wheeled around and followed, determined to ensure his friends remained safe.
It was chaos.
Harry had lost sight of Gandalf; he had last seen the wizard at the gates of the city, fighting to keep the way open for more of Aragorn’s men to pour through. He had tried to direct the army to the cavern beneath Minas Morgul, but much of the fighting remained spread out across the city.
Below, Legolas and Gimli had finally reached the citadel along with a group of men from Gondor. Orcs and Uruk-hai guarded the entrance; the fighting was fiercely concentrated around the large steel doors, as their bulk effectively stopped anyone from sneaking through. As Harry watched, he saw a handful of shadow creatures appear behind the small army and begin to attack at the rear of the fighting, causing soldiers to curse and turn around to fight on two fronts.
Two could play that game, Harry thought. He dove into a shadowed alcove of Minas Morgul and reappeared behind the entranceway. The orcs and Uruk-hai were even more concentrated here; if a soldier managed to get one foot through the door, they would be met with even more resistance.
Harry flew deeper into the citadel, finding a partially-hidden area behind a door left half-way open. He quickly glanced around, but all of the attention was focused on the fighting at the doorway. Harry quickly transformed and concentrated on one of the few wandless spells he knew. He closed his eyes, trying to visualize the spell being cast in a wide net, instead of targeting a specific orc.
“Expelliarmus!” he cried.
Swords flew through the air, some being propelled out of the hands of one orc only to be buried in its neighbor. Orcs screamed in pain or bellowed in anger as their weapons flew out of their grasp. In the moment of panic, Aragorn’s forces seized on the brief period of uncertainty and pushed forward. Men broke through the ranks and spilled into the building.
Immediately, groups began to spread out to try and cover more ground before their enemies could regroup.
“Go downstairs,” Harry yelled, gesturing towards the path he had found in his prior reconnaissance mission here. A few men started towards the stairs, but most others remained caught up in the fighting or ventured down corridors on the main floor.
“This way,” another voice bellowed. Gimli strode forward with a group of fighters following him. The dwarf held a bloodied ax, but he barely stopped to engage with an orc that ran towards him. He hit the creature with a powerful blow and continued. “Come! We must use this chance!”
More men began to congregate around him, forming back into a single-minded mass of fighters instead of scattering within the keep. The group pushed their way into the staircase and ran down the stairs. Harry hesitated before following. He looked wildly around the room. Where was Legolas? The elf had been with Gimli outside, but Harry didn’t see him now.
More men were fighting their way into the building, but their progress was also noticed by the enemy. The orcs and Uruk-hai had regrouped and began to block the doors once more, and familiar shapes began emerging from the shadows. Some of the creatures attacked the men in the entryway, while others crept down the stairwell.
Harry transformed back into Eclipse and threw himself into the shadows as well. He re-emerged in the cavern below. There, Gimli’s party was quickly becoming surrounded by the creatures. The floor swarmed and flickered as the creatures attacked and melted away from any retaliatory strikes… only to reappear behind a different soldier.
While the creatures had an obvious advantage, the soldiers were learning to attack together. Harry watched as a couple of men successfully stabbed a shadow creature to death, its still form giving one last half-hearted flicker before coming to rest motionless on the floor. Yet the creature’s death was only one out of many attacking, and the low light in the cavern made most of the attacks miss their mark. They needed help.
Harry pivoted again, shifting back to the city’s edge. The remainder of the army seemed to have entered the city and Gandalf was no longer at the gates. He flew in one circle, then another, frantically looking for a familiar pointy hat in the crowds below.
Harry swooped down and transformed in a single motion.
“They need your help,” he said, and unceremoniously grabbed Gandalf’s arm. Before the wizard could react, Harry turned sharply on one foot and Apparated with a crack. Both wizards reappeared in the caverns, where the shadow creatures seemed to loom in the dim light.
Gandalf didn’t hesitate. He raised his staff and shouted a word that seemed to echo through the chamber. As the staff slammed into the ground, a brilliant ball of light burst into existence and grew in size and intensity until a miniature sun appeared to hang from the ceiling of the chamber.
The shadow creatures hissed in displeasure at the bright burst of light, and then in pain as the soldiers’ swords finally found their marks.
Under the harsh glare, light glinted off of a familiar set of golden hair and Harry heard voices that made his heart soar.
Across the cavern, Harry saw Legolas and Gimli fighting side-by-side. They had almost reached the vats that created the shadow creatures, but a group of orcs stood in the way. Harry quickly Apparated over; the sharp crack of his arrival earned a quick nod from Gimli, but Legolas only gave an indecipherable look and turned back to the battle.
"Sixteen!" Gimli cried and plunged into the thickest part of the swarm of Orcs.
Harry was horrified. Both Legolas and Gimli took a light-hearted view towards battle, but at the very least they ought to stay together. Harry looked at the space where Gimli disappeared and then back to Legolas, feeling conflicted.
“Twenty!” Legolas cried as he used a long knife to slice at an orc that had crept too close. While the elf preferred to use his bow, the close quarters fighting made him rely more and more on a knife to defend himself.
Harry quickly used a wandless Expelliarmus on the orc and then turned to where Gimli had disappeared. He could guess at the general location of the dwarf by the loud war cry Gimli just uttered in response to Legolas’ count. As Harry worked to disarm the attackers, more soldiers joined the fighting by the vats. Soon, a handful of men had opened up a path to Gimli and Harry gave a brief sigh of relief at seeing the dwarf unharmed.
His relief was short-lived; while Gimli found additional support, Harry turned to help Legolas once more and saw a shadow creature emerge from behind Legolas. It held a dagger in its long sinewy hand and thrust it towards Legolas.
“Look out!” Harry cried but he was too far away.
Legolas must have sensed the creature, for he twisted out of the way at the last possible second. But the second of inattention caused the orc that Legolas had been fighting to press forward and thrust its sword into the elf’s torso.
Harry apparated to Legolas’s side as the elf fell to the ground. Harry’s heart leapt into his throat as he frantically reached out with his hands to try and stem the bleeding. The blood made it slippery and difficult for his hands to find purchase, while Legolas’s clothes became stained in a dark red. He kept trying to apply pressure for another long second, until the shock wore off and his brain kicked in.
Tears, he needed tears! His hands wouldn’t help Legolas, but tears would. Harry fluidly transformed into Eclipse. The tears came faster than they ever had before, as his thoughts were consumed with worry for the elf. Let him be alright, let him be alright . Harry thought desperately. Just please, don't let him die!
One tear fell, then another and another until Harry was crying in earnest.
"Eclipse?" Legolas murmured in confusion. He opened his eyes and stared with wonder at the cut that began to seal itself shut.
But Harry wasn't the only one who watched the elf fall. Several orcs had seen the elf fall and the bird crouch over him. They had not wasted that time in closing the distance, and Legolas’s eyes widened with alarm as he saw what approached.
“Behind you,” he said urgently, and Harry whipped his head up, tears flying through the air, as he turned to face the attackers. Harry's mind raced as he quickly assessed the situation. It did not look promising. But Harry had survived worse than this – and he would do anything to keep the elf from harm. Letting out angry clicks, he was going to launch himself at the creatures when someone else did it for him. The being made short work of the creatures, knocking them unconscious with a rusty sword.
It was a naked man. His skin was caked with filth and blood, and his body seemed vaguely deformed.
The man swallowed thickly. "I can – I can think again."
He licked his cracked lips and looked up at Harry, with a slightly off look in his eyes. It was the same look Sirius sometimes wore when he was thinking of Azkaban. A not-all-there sort of look. He looked down to his finger in fascination, moving them slowly as they obeyed his commands. "I -" he trailed off. "I'm sorry. Hurt him." The words came out strangely, with an accent. Harry didn't look where the man's fingers were gesturing. He knew who was behind him. Legolas.
" You were the…orc?" Harry asked hesitantly. Were the orcs created just as these shadow creatures were? From something previously whole?
Legolas let out a gasp as he heard the man speak.
"Please" the being begged hoarsely, "The others... we were all elf or man before the Wizard came. And then there was pain, pain, pain, pain..." his voice trailed off in a singsong. The man – or elf? – slowly sank in on himself and rocked on his heels on the ground.
Harry glanced at Legolas to double-check that he was healed. The elf looked ashen.
"There were tales," he whispered, his eyes unable to tear themselves away from the man. "Ever since Morgoth. Of how prisoners were twisted beyond recognition. Of how the Orcs and Uruk-hai weren't truly created from scratch, they were molded from other beings. Have we been killing elves all along?"
Harry sucked in a breath. There was only one way to find out. He launched himself into the air, wings straining to get aloft in the cramped space. Once he was above the fighting, Harry started a soft, mournful trill. He sang his pain and tears coursed freely, first a few and then a fountain.
As Harry flew over the cavernous hallway, his teardrops landed on orcs, Uruk-hai, and the shadow creatures. A single tear seemed to slow them down, but those who received multiple tears folded in on themselves and slowly transformed. Some of the newly transformed men continued to attack, disregarding their new look; but many more fled or simply stood transfixed, prodding their new features in disbelief.
So concentrated was Harry on crying and staying aloft, that he hardly noticed when his wings became more and more sluggish or that he had started dipping erratically from the air. All he knew was that he had to help as many of these creatures as he could. It wasn't until his vision – which had been clouded by tears – began to swim with darkness did Harry realize he was falling.
His last conscious thought was of hands cushioning his fall, curling around to cradle him.
Chapter 25: Homecoming
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. – The Return of the King
Harry awoke slowly. Everything felt weightless, like he was floating in a pool of water. He slowly cracked one eye open to see a room painted in soft, muted colors. The windows had been left open, and a lazy breeze stirred the curtains. He cracked open the other eye, but then groaned as pain lanced through his forehead.
He clapped both hands over his scar, as a worried voice said, “Eclipse! Are you alright?”
He felt a cool hand move over his own, and Harry squinted up at Legolas. He took a few deep breaths, and the pain became more manageable.
“It’s been a while since my scar acted up; I’d forgotten what it felt like.”
Harry felt back over his forehead but there was no tell-tale bump of raised skin. He had forgotten; the scar had disappeared with his Burning Day. He had never thought he would miss his scar, but the absence made him feel off-kilter.
“I used to have headaches - it’s been awhile since my head hurt like this. Since everything hurt like this,” he replied, trying to sit up in the bed. His limbs protested and pain lanced through his head once more. Legolas gently pushed Harry back down onto the bed. “Not so fast. You exhausted yourself at Minas Morgul.”
“Minas -- where am I?” Harry looked down in alarm at his hands, which were pink and fleshy instead of clawed. His memories were coming back to him. The initial fight, Legolas getting hurt… "Are you okay? You were stabbed."
There was a pause, and Harry remembered with a start that Legolas wasn't on speaking terms with him. He opened his mouth to offer an apology when Legolas spoke.
“I am fine, thanks to you,” the elf offered Harry a small smile. It quickly turned to a worried frown as he continued to speak. “Many of the orcs also owe you their thanks. Those that received your tears transformed into something not-quite-human, but much closer than before. While some continued to fight, a great many dropped their arms and bade peace with us. Many are in nearby rooms, healing.”
“What of the others? Surely I did not heal them all?”
“No, but not for lack of trying. We almost lost you, Eclipse. You’ve been asleep for the last four days.”
Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had exhausted himself that badly. There had been one time, during the war, when he was out for three days. Four was a new record.
“And everyone else is okay? Gimli? Gandalf?”
“We are both fine,” Gandalf said, and Harry looked up to see the wizard and Gimli standing in the doorway. Gandalf’s robes had been cleaned since the battle, but his face remained lined with weariness.
“We are more than fine!” Gimli said cheerfully. “Though you cut the battle short, we can still claim a great victory. We drained the vats and broke the machinery that operated them, while the orcs that had not been transformed fled in terror. Prince Faramir remained with a few soldiers to root out the remaining enemy, while the rest of us marched back to Minas Tirith.”
“A victory indeed,” Gandalf agreed, but his eyes remained shadowed. “Yet also our biggest tragedy. Now that we know the orc’s origins are reversible… Harry, I must ask you: how did you come by such magic? Even the smallest insight may prove immensely valuable.”
Harry shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Gandalf. There is still much about magic I don’t know. All phoenix possess healing tears. I could cry tears into a bottle and perhaps you could replicate it.”
“A wise suggestion. I will return once you have a chance to heal.”
Gandalf inclined his head and then disappeared back into the corridor. As the Wizard left, muttering to himself, Legolas murmured "He has taken the recent revelations particularly hard. I believe he feels guilty for not realizing the blight of the orcs sooner. Legend says that the first orcs were cursed by a wizard turned evil; yet no one thought the curse still lingered, generations later.”
“I hope he can figure something out,” Harry said, as he sank back into the bed. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open; his eyelids felt like lead. “I don’t fancy crying for the rest of my life…”
Harry was out by the time his head hit the pillow.
The next time Harry awoke, his head felt clear. Soft light streamed into the room, and all was quiet but for the morning birdsong that drifted into the window. He sat up, testing his strength and was reassured when there was no lingering dizziness.
Harry slowly walked towards the window, gaining surety with every step. The world below was lit in pastel pinks and purples that drifted into deep blue beyond the city. Somewhere out there was Minas Morgul, which had sheltered the shadow creatures but hopefully would no longer.
He took a deep breath, savoring the crisp morning air. It was too lovely a day to be spent indoors again, especially when Harry hadn’t slept inside for over a year. He transformed into Eclipse into a single movement and launched himself out the window.
He beat powerful wings up and up and up, until he was high above the tallest tower of the castle. Below, the Minas Tirith lay spread out before him, sparkling in the early morning sun. Here and there were dark patches, areas which had not recovered from the recent war. The people had suffered from the previous war, but were now free of a new evil.
And yet, Harry wondered if it was truly so simple. The battle had gone easily... perhaps too easily? He shook his head, trying to clear the lingering doubts. He had become jaded through the many fights. They had won; there was no need to overthink things.
Below, a ray of sunlight glinted off of the northern tower and illuminated a riot of colors below. Harry flew closer and saw a small garden filled with rows of flowers and herbs that sat in quiet, orderly rows.
Harry landed ungracefully on the soft grass, next to a huge bushel of flowers. Their large red petals looked similar to roses. He took some awkward, shuffling steps across to a nearby bush, grateful that no one was there to witness his ungainly movements.
“Hello, Eclipse.” The lilting voice sounded like wind chimes on a cheery day.
Harry turned in surprise, and came face to face with a woman seated cross-legged in the midst of the garden. Her skin was radiant in the morning light and her cascading hair as dark as Eclipse's own feathers. This, he knew, was no mere mortal: this was Lady Arwen, Queen of Gondor.
He hesitated before approaching closer; while Arwen had been present at a few of the council meetings, he had never really met her. However, the decision was taken out of his hands when she said, "Please stay. I would like the company - in whichever form you prefer."
There went that question. Harry supposed it was a good thing that the King and Queen had heard his secret; at least he would not need to explain himself to them. He transformed back so he could chat without craning his neck.
“Hi.” Harry said. He wondered if he should bow.
Arwen smiled, showing twin dimples. Harry could see why Aragorn had fallen in love with her; regardless of her outward beauty, she exuded a sense of peace and tranquility.
“Thank you for your actions in Minas Morgul.”
Harry shifted. He wasn’t sure what to say; he certainly hadn’t intended on taking so active a role in the battle.
“To think we have been fighting our own for so long… It will be a difficult road to recovery, but the hardest routes are the most rewarding. I have already written to my father to send his healers.” She announced with finality. These orcs-turned-men would be getting help, it seemed – whether they wanted it or not.
“If I can help in any way, let me know,” Harry said.
“You have done more than we could hope, yet I expect we will ask for your talents sooner than later. You are lucky to have a devoted friend who will make sure we do not ask too much of you. I am surprised Legolas let you out of the healer’s wing.” She said with a knowing smile. Arwen seemed to guess that Harry had not had this particular outing approved by Legolas.
“I hope we are still friends,” Harry said with a sigh. “I should have told him sooner. I’m afraid he wasn’t pleased with me before we rode on Minas Morgul.”
Arwen nodded with understanding.
“He confided in me before he left. I don’t believe his feelings were the type to fester. Especially in the face of seeing a loved one in danger. It tends to put smaller arguments into perspective.”
“Oh? I mean, we care for each other, of course…” Harry trailed off and turned to look at a nearby flower intently.
Arwen reached over to pluck the flower and add it to a small pile at her feet.
“I must be off. I bring flowers to the healing halls every morning to brighten up the rooms. Typically, Legolas is already awake and fussing over you by then - you may consider sneaking back in before he notices your disappearance.”
She shot him a mischievous grin, she gracefully rose and exited the garden.
Harry remained lost in thought for a few minutes after Arwen left, mulling over what she said. Then a sunbeam landed directly on his face and squinted, looking up at the sky. It was almost mid-morning. Harry quickly transformed back into Eclipse; Arwen may have had a point about the healing wing. Harry quickly shut his eyes and disappeared with a small ‘pop’.
Arwen was right; Legolas arrived with breakfast not longer after Harry had stealthily retreated back under the covers. Either Harry had underestimated the elf, or the Queen had slipped him a word, for after breakfast Legolas suggested they go enjoy the gardens for a bit.
It was the height of summer, and the flowers were in full bloom. Their perfume clung to Harry’s nose as they strolled amongst the garden. Finally, Legolas spoke.
"It's a nice change from the room, isn't it?"
"It is." Harry agreed. It was nice, Harry reflected to spend time with the elf like this. Yet his words to Arwen lingered in the back of his mind, until Harry could no longer hold them in. He had to know.
“Are you still mad at me?”
Legoals looked over at Harry, startled. He shook his head slowly.
“I was angry,” the elf said pensively, “But more at myself than you. I felt foolish to have missed all of the signs for so long, and hurt that you did not trust me with your secret sooner. Yet when I saw you fall from the sky, right after you had healed me no less, I was ashamed for having kept you away. You are my friend, Harry. No matter what arguments we may have.”
Harry smiled, feeling an invisible weight rise from his chest.
“I feel the same.”
“Though… I do have a few questions, in retrospect,” Legolas said, looking at Harry in askance. At Harry’s nod, the elf continued. “So you are a wizard, correct? Of what color?”
For a moment, Harry was thrown by the question, then he remembered a few other off-hand remarks by Gimli and Gandalf about Brown and Grey and White Wizards. He shook his head.
“I’m not. Or, at least, I don’t think I am one. I’m… something else.”
He always seemed to be an oddity, no matter what world he was in. Harry sighed, looking out over the garden. Everyone in Gondor had a place, a purpose. What was his? He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure if he had ever known, outside of fighting Voldemort.
“I’d believe that,” Legolas said. “Most ithron are not quite as direct as you. You are refreshing.” He gave a slight smile to show he meant no implied insult in the words.
“So - what now? Do you hope to fly off to Fangorn Forest again, to spend your days eating berries and singing to the Ents?”
“I’m… not sure. I hadn’t realized how vast Middle Earth is. I would like to see more of it.” Harry paused here, as he abruptly became aware of a new hope unfurling within his chest. “I… I would like to see more of it with you and the others.”
“We may need to part ways soon. I must return to my people soon, but I would be honored if you would accompany me for the journey.”
“To the elves?” Harry asked, wrinkling his nose. Lothlorien was quite enough for his experience; he had hoped Legolas and Gimli had planned to travel the world, or at least visit more hospitable places. Surely the dwarves would have more welcoming cities, at the very least.
“ I am an elf.”
“Yes, but you’re different.”
“I know you did not have the best reception with most elves, but Mirkwood would be different.” Harry remained unconvinced. Legolas must have sensed his reticence, as the elf continued in a more subdued tone. "You don't have to if you are so opposed to the idea, but I would like to show you my home."
Harry plucked absently at the grass as he considered the Legolas's offer. Lothlorien hadn't been all bad. Perhaps Legolas made a fair point. "I guess I could stop by." He cautiously amended.
A brilliant smile met his words.
"Thank you, Harry. I know you're cautious around strangers, but I've come to care deeply for you over the course of our journey. I've also noticed…" the elf hesitated. "I've noticed that you seem very alone at times. You should know that Gandalf, Gimli and I are always here for you; but you might also do well with more friends. Not that I'm saying you need friends! What I mean to say: I want you to be happy, Harry."
While Harry had become defensive at the first criticism of his lifestyle, his angry retort died away with Legolas' last admission. Given the elf's honesty, Harry thought he could give him the same.
"I'm sorry. The war – my war," he amended, "has made it hard for me to open up. I keep expecting to wake up alone again. But since being with you all, I'm beginning to see that maybe isolation is not the answer. I can't promise I'll get happier overnight, but I'll try. Starting with these other elves."
“All I ask is that you give them a chance,” said the elf. Their conversation slowly turned to lighter topics, as Harry felt a strange emotion bubbling up in his chest. Hope.
A voice calling out to the both of them quickly broke the mood.
“Harry, Legolas - there you are.”
The king stepped into the garden, trailed by a few of his ever-present advisors. The small courtyard quickly felt claustrophobic. “Sorry to disturb you, but we heard you are in better health.”
“He’s still recovering,” Legolas rejoined. “What is it that could not wait?”
“One of our men just arrived from Minas Morgul. We had left a company to finish cleaning out the old catacombs below that cursed city; they were expected to return two days ago. Instead, only one appeared today. He… well, you should hear directly from him.”
A dark man stepped out from behind the king. He looked weary, but straightened as all eyes turned to look at him.
“My lords. Commander Faramir found several exits from the main underground cavern. We pursued each of these in groups and killed several orcs that sought to oppose us. My group was the only one to make it back to the main cavern. We followed one of the other trails and hardly crept down it before we saw Falroy - one of our comrades. He was frozen in place. We dared not go forward; the shadows seemed to come alive under the torchlight and we heard an ominous rumbling noise. We turned and fled back to the cavern, but...but I was the only one who made it out of the tower alive.”
The grim faced man fell silent, as Aragorn looked directly at Harry.
“You have done so much, yet I have more to ask of you. You are the only one with the ability to sneak into Minas Morgul undetected. Please see if any of my men survive. We will send a large force, but it will take several days before they will arrive.”
“He’s not healed,” Legolas then interjected. "He only just moved out of bed today.”
“I’ll do it,” Harry said, cutting off Legolas. “Tomorrow, at the first light of morning.” He wanted to end this evil - once and for all.
Chapter 26: The darkness within
The truth – it is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. - The Philosopher’s Stone
Legolas paced anxiously as Harry readied himself to return to Minas Morgul.
"Don’t worry so much. I’ll be back before you know it.”
"Yes, stop pestering him. He's done this before," Gimli said. However, the dwarf stooped down to whisper directly into Eclipse’s ear. "But you should do everything in your power to get back soon. He won’t admit it but he frets."
There was nothing more to do. Harry said a final farewell towards the small group and disappeared into the shadows. He reappeared silently in the heart of the city of Minas Morgul.
All was quiet below.
A faint breeze caught on a ragged piece of fabric, which fluttered over to reveal glassy eyes. Bodies bloated under the summer sun, and flies buzzed with bloated contentment. From his aerial view, Harry could track the movement of battle by the bodies left in its wake. The macabre directions led him back to the heart of the city, into the tower and down the stained steps to the vats below.
Little liquid remained. A steady drip fell from one of the broken open pipes, in a slow, rhythmic beat. The pools had been destroyed, and all the water had drained into the ground or left small puddles. Harry gave the area a quick scan and continued towards the back of the room. There, two corridors branched off in opposite directions.
Harry hesitated, unsure of which route to take. He ended up choosing the left path. He couldn’t point for any particular reason, but it felt different. Darker. As he flew down the corridor, the air seemed to get colder and the air seemed to grow heavy with an unseen weight. The feeling - it almost felt like... like something long forgotten. Like a baby blanket or an old teddy bear that had rotted over with mildew. Familiar and yet repulsive.
The temperature continued to drop and Harry suppressed the urge to shiver. He arrived at another fork; this time there were steps that led both up and downwards. On a hunch, Harry lowered his Occlumency barriers slightly.
The air immediately solidified, pressing against him with physical force. Whispers caressed his ears. Harry couldn’t make out what they promised. All he had to do was lower his Occlumency barriers a little more, and he would be able to understand.
Harry firmly strengthened his Occlumency shields. The whispers cut off in mid-sentence and the air grew lighter again. So. He would head down the stairs then; that was where the siren’s call had come from. As he carefully flew down the staircase, Harry saw the first body in a while. It was a man, dressed in Gondor’s colors. He stared blankly ahead, in mid-stride. Most unnerving was the face; the man did not appear startled or frightened; he looked as if he had died with no warning.
At the bottom of the stairwell were two more men, both frozen in similar states as the first.
Harry had a bad feeling, that grew like weeds in the pit of his stomach. He continued flying silently down a long tunnel.
Too soon, the tunnel began sloping upwards. A faint light appeared ahead, bathing the corridor in a pale and murky light. Harry saw more bodies, but these appeared to have died fighting. Their shields were up and their sword arms raised to strike a blow that would never land. One body lay slumped by the wall, his sword discarded on the cold stone floor.
The man groaned.
Harry quickly turned and descended to land next to the man. Blood had crusted on his face, where it fell in irregular lines from his forehead. He appeared to have hit the wall violently. The man squinted at Harry, and he must have recognized the phoenix for he slowly said, “You came. The others?”
“They are on their way,” Harry said. “But I can help you - hold still.”
Harry thought of the others who had fallen, those for whom it was too late to save. A tear slowly trickled down his feathered cheek and landed gently on the injured man. The tear quickly sank into the skin and began its work. Already the man’s face began to hold more pallor.
“You should turn back now, while you still can,” the man warned. “I brought my best men with me, yet we weren’t enough.”
“What is it? What lies ahead? ” Harry asked urgently, but it was too late. The man’s breathing had evened out and his eyes had drifted shut. The healing had begun its work but not finished it. Harry wasn’t sure if it was safe to move him yet; he would come back to Apparate with him on the way out, but in the meantime, he had to find out what caused all of this.
Harry cautiously flew into the cavernous hall before him. It had high vaulted ceilings, from which the barest cracks of light shown through. Shadows danced across the walls, twisting into inhuman shapes that seemed to have a life of their own. The oppressive feeling was familiar as it was repulsive. It solidified the growing certainty in the back of Harry’s mind: he had felt this evil before.
He could hear the whispers now, even with his Occlumency shields slammed shut. The voices buzzed in his ears like angry bees. There was a movement against the far wall. Then a voice… a voice that Harry knew better than his own.
"Harry Potter. We meet at last," came a serpentine hiss.
Harry reared back as if struck. He almost shadow jumped away from surprise but sheer instinct made him act as he always had: to stand his ground against Voldemort. He glanced wildly around the cavern, but only the middle of the room was light in a ghostly light from the rafters above.
"Riddle." He replied, thankful that the phoenix mind speech couldn't betray his nerves. "I killed you."
“Oh yes. Him.” said the low voice. Harry thought he saw a shadow flicker to his left, yet nothing moved when he turned his head to stare directly at the shadowed pillars.
"You did kill Voldemort, foolish boy. But after all those Horcruxes, how could you never notice the one watching? I slept with you, ate with you… But the great Harry Potter never noticed that he carried the thing he most detested."
Harry stilled outwardly. Inside, his mind raced. Voldemort...Voldemort had placed a Horcrux inside him? Harry had painstakingly destroyed all seven, including Voldemort himself. Had there been a secret, eighth Horcrux?
"If you were with me, how did you become free? You couldn't escape when I was a baby." Harry asked, trying to goad him. Voldemort's biggest weakness had always been his pride.
The light in the middle of the room disappeared entirely, as it was engulfed by a much larger shadow. In the darkness, Harry could hear something heavy moving in a low whisper across the ground.
The voice boomed in sharp contrast to the silence.
"There were many opportunities, you stupid boy. Every time you've nearly died... but then where would I go? Would I feast on a host like Quirrell? Or better yet, maybe I could possess a unicorn."
If shadows could sniff, this one sniffed contemptuously at the thought of Harry's old defense teacher.
"Better to remain, watching and waiting for my chance. My patience paid off. When we arrived here, I sensed a great power ." The shadow moved and a frail light once more attempted to penetrate the deep darkness of the underground room. Harry looked around, still trying to determine the source of the voice. He had thought it had come from his left, yet now the shadows to his right danced in unnatural forms.
A glint disappeared as quickly as it had appeared; Harry wouldn’t have noticed if he wasn’t staring so intently. It had reflected the golden glow of light in the brief instance, but Harry couldn’t guess what it might have been.
"You were unconscious and nearly dead, so it was quick work to leave – and what power I discovered. This world has had few great wizards, but this was the work of a master wizard. A power that could rival the philosopher’s stone. It has given me the gift I have long sought: a body."
Harry was glad he could rely on Tom to be long-winded no matter which universe he was in.
"This power you gained hardly seems great,” Harry taunted. “Your followers can travel through the shadows - well so can I. You haven’t done anything I can’t do.”
A hissing laugh followed his query.
"Ignorant child. As you have gained some of my powers, I have gained yours. The shadows share their secrets with me the same as the serpent’s tongue unveiled itself for you. My servants were created from none other than your powers. Imagine what your friends will say when they discover the beasts are yours!"
The last came out in a discordant hiss, that reminded Harry of chalk screeching across a blackboard. Harry felt his heart stop as he thought of all of those who risked their lives fighting against something he had inadvertently created.
The shadows finally coalesced into a being that emerged into the light. Harry noticed the body first; it was thicker than an old tree. Scales rippled under the faint light, a jet black that disappeared under Harry’s gaze as soon as they were covered in shadow once more. Harry’s eyes tracked the sinuous body up and up, and then common sense screamed at him and he closed his eyes before meeting the deadly golden gaze that waited above.
"Your animagus… it could have gone two ways, you know. Not that you would know, of course – you always relied on that mudblood to think for you." With a sibilant hiss, the basilisk rose to its full height, completely dwarfing Harry.
"On the same night, you were bitten and cured by two very powerful beings. Even then, you fool, even then – your blood could cure the most toxic of wounds or cause them. Channeling that into an animal form only expanded this ability. Yet while you transformed into a bird," another drawn hiss of disdain," I have embraced the king of serpents.”
The shadows seemed to lengthen as the basilisk drew itself into its full and impressive height. More scales rippled under the light as it coiled its body tighter and tighter.
“Now, Harry Potter, prepare to die."
The giant snake lunged forward at a speed unimaginable for animals of flesh and blood. But Harry was just as fast, and already melted into the shadows to reappear above off to the side.
"You always did talk too much, Tom," he said.
The snake snapped at him, quick as lightning, but Harry had already disappeared again. He reappeared to hover over the basilisk's head. Harry dropped down like he had seen Fawkes do in his first fight against this monster, but had to veer away at the last minute as Tom sensed his movement. The basilisk reared and lunged again in a fluid motion, nearly clipping Harry.
Harry appeared behind Tom and managed to briefly rake his claws against the basilisk's scales, but they skittered off the tough hide. The basilisk swung his tail and Harry was propelled back against the floor. He quickly disappeared and appeared above the snake again.
This time he had a different plan.
Harry thought of the injured man he had left in the hallway, and of the many orcs-turned-humans still healing in Minas Tirith. He summoned up tears and flew directly over the basilisk. As expected, Tom moved his head to track Harry’s flight and looked up as Harry’s tears began to fall.
The basilisk roared in pain and rage as the tears landed. For a second, Harry thought that his plan had worked and he risked a quick look below. Yet Voldemort had not reverted into whatever true form he may have. Instead, the once golden eyes were pockmarked and frothy, as if Harry had cried tears of molten fire instead of tears of healing.
" You will regret that, Harry Potter! " The snake bellowed. Even without sight, the basilisk still had its hearing; the snake lunged upwards towards Harry. Harry thought he was high enough above the basilisk, but he miscalculated: the body disappeared in a split second into the shadows and reappeared to crash into Harry.
Harry couldn't react in time and was flung through the air. He could feel the ache of his recent magical exhaustion; it had returned during the fight and was getting worse as he continued. Before he could hit the wall, Harry shadow jumped again, even higher than his last position. He didn’t have a better idea than before. Harry concentrated and tried to cry again…but nothing happened.
Voldemort, of course, noticed his lagging energy.
"How pathetic. You are weak, and you will die here!"
The snake lunged once more and as Harry flashed into the shadows once more, but this time Riddle followed him through the darkness and they both tumbled to the floor on the far side of the hall, with Harry held tight in the basilisk's coils.
Harry wiggled in its grasp, but the coils only tightened, crushing a wing in the process. He cried out with pain.
"At long last," came the laughing voice. The pressure tightened and Harry started seeing black dots swim across his vision. "Though this was not the world I intended to conquer, its inhabitants will do quite nicely. The first to be transformed will be your precious friends.” Harry lashed out, increasing his efforts to escape. He couldn’t fail!
The snake's body shook with laughter, jostling Harry and sending more shooting pain up his broken wing.
“Don't think I didn't know about the wizard, dwarf, and elf. They could even be my trusted generals, once the shadows have consumed their mind ."
In the growing blackness obscuring his vision, Harry began to see red. He let out a wild wave of wandless magic that blasted him across the room. Harry struggled to stand before the basilisk returned. Voldemort was right though; he was drained and quickly running out of energy to fight.
What could he do? He had done all he could as a phoenix, but Harry could see little reason to transform back into a human. Even if there was a sword conveniently laying nearby, he was too tired to swing it.
There was no way he could win. Yet dying here meant leaving Middle Earth open to a monster worse than Sauron. And besides… Legolas' face swam into view. He had his own reasons to keep living now.
As the basilisk rocketed forward again, mouth open to crush the broken bird, Harry tried to visualize what it would feel like with venomous teeth and a hide resistant to almost any punctures. He closed his eyes and thought back to that night in the Chamber of Secrets, as a twelve-year-old boy prepared to die to save his school. This time, he was prepared to live - through whatever means necessary.
The basilisk’s jaw clamped down around the bird, expecting to meet fragile bones and feathers; yet it could not swallow. The basilisk had sunk its fangs into the tail of another tough hide. The blinded head rose and scented the air, but could not scent the phoenix. Instead, the musky odor of a basilisk was all that remained.
Harry lunged, going straight for Riddle’s monstrous head. Fangs sank down over eyes and then pierced into a soft brain. Poison, the natural defense of a basilisk, seeped out. Tom screamed and thrashed in convulsive shudders. Harry’s venom coursed through Tom’s body and the basilisk thudded to the floor.
It made no sound upon impact; instead, the body seemed to collapse inward, until all that was left was a pool of shadows. The shadows twisted and writhed, then disappeared silently into a small object. It looked like an oversized golden ring, but Harry knew what it was. A Horcrux.
He had to destroy it before it could sow any more discord. But as Harry tried to slither forward, he swayed. Harry felt woozy. Just like his poison could affect Tom, so too could he feel Tom's bite coursing through his body. It would be so easy to go to sleep…
The basilisk thudded to the floor, as still and lifeless as a corpse.
Chapter 27: Familiar faces
It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. – The Return of the King
Harry awoke to the feeling of vibrations and a blinding headache. The headache, unfortunately, was a familiar feeling that he tried to ignore as best he could. The vibrations on the other hand… he could somehow feel footsteps.
That was new.
He groaned and startled himself when a low hiss emerged instead. His headache flared as he jerked his head back in confusion. He looked around wildly, just now noticing how everything was bathed in a grayish light - even the golden sunbeams from earlier.
He turned his head, taking in the jet-black scales where talons and feathers should be. His body was monstrously big, larger than a tree trunk. He tried to move, but everything still felt sluggish. The wound near his midsection still throbbed from Riddle’s bite.
Riddle! Where was he? Or, as Harry’s memories caught up to him - where was the Horcrux?
His tongue flickered out, tasting the air. Information flooded his mind: where a small pool of water sat in the corner of the room, the exact pattern of pale sunlight that fell across the middle of the floor, and the faint traces of warm bodies that had since departed. There were three that Harry could sense; one that left a charred aftertaste in his nostrils, another that smelled like decaying things under a rotted log; and the last, the fearful, ripe scent of easy prey. These scents were faint, though; nothing remained in the cavern now, save for himself.
Yet there were footsteps approaching. He would not be alone for long.
The vibrations grew louder, and Harry could sense the pairs of feet that drew closer. He heard voices, too, one low and gruff and the other musical and lilting. “Could you be any louder?” the soothing voice hissed. Harry knew that voice. It was Legolas.
He couldn’t be seen like this. His transformation had been borne of desperation for something - anything - to defeat Riddle, but now he had to live with the result. An Animagus form always reflected the innermost part of a witch or wizard; Harry did not want to think about what the basilisk represented about him. He could not let his friends see him this way.
Harry shut his deadly, yellow eyes and willed himself back to a human. It was slow going – the basilisk did not want to relinquish its freedom. But Harry could not accept either Gimli or Legolas seeing this form, nor would he risk meeting them with a basilisk’s gaze. Slowly he changed, until an exhausted man appeared on the cold flagstones.
Harry groaned again, as his wounds reappeared in his human form. Twin puncture wounds appeared along his calf and again near his stomach. Purplish bruises covered his body from where he had been flung against the packed ground.
“Another survivor,” the hushed voice whispered.
“Durin be damned!” Gimli swore.
Harry could see the faint outlines of both rescuers in the low light. He silently cursed his human eyesight. Eclipse never had much trouble with the darkness but he didn’t have the strength to transform, and he wasn’t sure if he even could revert to his phoenix form. It suddenly felt difficult to breathe. Harry wheezed, though it came out like a gurgle.
Legolas’s head snapped towards him, unerringly pinpointing Harry’s location.
“I thought I heard -- Harry!”
The elf rushed over. He paused, hands clenching and unclenching at his side, as he took in Harry’s injured state.
Harry tried to smile, but something cracked on his cheek and a coppery taste filled his mouth. The elf knelt by him, eyes bright with worry. As a cool hand reached out towards him, Harry finally felt at peace.
“Stay with me,” Legolas warned.
Legolas’s hand was warm on his forehead. Harry’s eyes began drifting shut, feeling safe in the knowledge that he was surrounded by friends. Something shook his shoulder, white-hot pain racing up his arm. Harry groaned, and cracked an eye open. Silvery-blue eyes stood not a heartbeat away, looking at him intently.
“You can’t sleep yet. It is not safe.”
“It’s fine,” Harry said, his voice was tight with pain. “The basilisk is dead.”
The elf’s arms tightened briefly on his shoulder, sending another rush of pain and a low hiss from Harry. Legolas quickly loosened his grip.
“The what? It is you I am worried for. You cannot sleep just yet.”
Legolas carefully positioned himself so Harry could lean most of his weight against the elf. Together, they slowly moved back towards the corridor. They had nearly left the cavernous ruins of a room when Harry remembered the horrible, terrible thought that had been bubbling up in the back of his mind.
Both Legolas and Gimli stopped and looked at him with alarm.
“ The ring?” Gimli asked, his voice gruff.
Harry paused for a minute before he remembered the tales of the one ring that Gimli and Legolas had spoken off in still-wary tones over long nights around the campfire.
“No, but… a similar ring. We can’t leave here without it.”
Legolas and Gimli searched the room, struggling to see in the low light.
There was no sign of the ring.
Harry’s eyes watered as they staggered into the courtyard. He leaned heavily against Legolas and Gimli during the walk upwards, but their uneven heights made it difficult to move quickly. Harry paused for a moment, catching his breath and raising a hand to shade his eyes from the sun.
About twenty horses stood side-by-side in a picket line; a handful of men had started a campfire in the middle of the flagstones and were cooking something that smelled wonderful. Harry’s stomach grumbled. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious but suspected it must have been a few days for the king’s reinforcements to arrive.
A few heads looked up at the movement in the doorway; two men quickly hurried over when they saw how heavily Harry was leaning against Legolas.
“Did you find any others?” one of the men asked.
“A few. Most are dead. One… one looks dead, yet he has a pulse. I am not sure what magic ails him.” Gimli said, his voice troubled.
“He might be petrified,” Harry said. “There is a way to cure it… but I do not know how.”
“Your tears would not fix this disease?” Legolas asked.
“No; at least, I don’t think so. I can try.”
Legolas placed a firm hand on Harry, still mindful of his injured shoulder.
“You can try once you are healed, and not a moment before.”
Legolas hesitated and eyed Harry critically. “I am worried about taking you back to Minas Tirith. The others are fine; the few that are alive are not so injured and can make the ride back to Gondor. If it does not take too much of your energy, it might be better for you to return through the shadows.”
Harry nodded slowly. The action felt like a hammer taken to his head and he quickly aborted the movement. He couldn’t imagine he would fare better while being jostled by a horse.
“I’ll...see you there?” He asked.
Legolas nodded decisively.
“We will follow once we have rescued everyone there is to rescue.”
The elf grasped Harry’s hands for a long moment.
“I am glad you’re safe. When you failed to return that morning… I worried the entire ride that something had happened. I am glad to see you whole, though I would be gladder to see you healed. Go straight to the medical wing and try not to find more trouble before we get back.”
“I will,” Harry said, wondering if that was the type of promise he should make. It had never worked before, but after listening to the elf’s beseeching tone, Harry thought he could at least try.
Then, before he could think too much about how much this might hurt, he turned and Apparated away with a crack. In the next instant, the soft white bed came into view; then Harry puked all over the stone floor as everything went black.
The next few days passed in a feverish dreamlike state. When Harry felt cool liquid against his lips, he drank; when he sweated too much, the sheets were replaced. Both dreams and reality overlapped with each other; until, Harry woke one morning and everything fell slotted into place.
He took a deep breath and looked around. He was back in the same room as before, with white curtains fluttering in the breeze. The scene was so familiar, he had a sudden flash of deja vu. Something was different though. The atmosphere seemed tranquil, but there were whispers of discontent that ate quietly at the back of Harry’s mind.
He jerked upright and concentrated on strengthening his Occlumency shields. The whispers stopped.
Harry heard a commotion in the hallway. There were a great many voices, all talking over each other, but he was able to pick out a few sentences.
“—about twenty returned—” “—bring them here—”
Harry slowly lowered his Occlumency barriers and the nearly inaudible buzz of discontent returned. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing thoughts. Harry slowly turned his head one way and then another, trying to pinpoint the source of the noise.
He took one step from the bed, then another, quickly crossing the room. He flung open the door and entered the corridor. It was bustling with healers carting several men with bandaged arms or makeshift casts.
The buzzing came from down the hall, so Harry tried to walk around the commotion.
“Where do you think you are going?” said a voice. It was one of the healers, who did not look happy to see Harry leaving his room.
“Bathroom,” Harry said and twisted away from the healer. He didn’t dare run; his legs still felt shaky after so much time in bed. The sense of malaise was growing stronger with every step. Harry lowered his Occlumency barriers further, straining to get a sense of the exact location. He felt a hot flash of rage, which slammed against his mind and then—it vanished.
Harry sank to the floor under the unexpected onslaught. His head pounded and he had to wait a few seconds for his vision to clear. He gingerly removed his shielding, piece by piece, waiting for another mental attack. But the feeling had disappeared without a trace. He cursed and started to stand.
“Harry! Are you well? You should be resting.”
Legolas appeared beside him and helped him stand. Harry gratefully leaned his weight against him.
“Not yet,” he said. “I need to see something.”
The two continued walking down the corridor. Harry eyed a few doors as they walked, hesitating over the doorknobs. Where had it gone?
“You… you didn’t end up finding a ring, did you?”
“We did not.” Legolas frowned and took a long look at Harry’s face. “What is so terrible about this ring?”
“It’s a Horcrux .” Harry said the last word in English, having no better way to translate it. “It can change your thoughts, and take over your body if it’s powerful enough. I think this one is.”
Legolas grabbed his arm in a grip that hurt.
“It’s the One Ring?” the elf hissed, trying to keep his voice down. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?”
“It’s not. Yours was thrown into a volcano; Tom found this one in Dol Guldur.”
After I brought him here, Harry didn’t add. Had Voldemort really told the truth in the caverns? Harry thought he had. Harry had hunted Horcruxes before; this one sang a song both familiar and haunting, like a nursery rhyme. Tricky as he might be on the battlefield, Lord Voldemort usually wielded the truth as a weapon in their private encounters.
Harry quickly looked around the still-crowded hall but didn’t see anyone who had taken notice of Legolas’s outburst. The elf followed his gaze and came to the same conclusion; he opened the nearby room and dragged Harry inside so they could chat in private.
“We need Gandalf for this,” Legolas said with a sigh.
“Gandalf? Gandalf was just here,” said a voice. Both Harry and Legolas spun at the unexpected noise. A white privacy curtain hung in the middle of the room, likely obscuring another hospital bed behind.
Legolas pulled back the curtain to reveal two figures. The speaker was a woman with untamed curls and a simple embroidered dress of blue. She straightened from where she had bent over a man, her hand lingering over his, before retreating into the pockets of her skirt. The woman was unfamiliar to Harry, but Legolas let out a sigh of relief at the sight of her.
“Do you know where he went, Lady Eowyn? And how does Lord Faramir fare?”
“You can ask him yourself,” the woman said with a smile, as she gestured to the man. True to her word, the man appeared healthy. His appearance was youthful, but with a grave countenance; he looked at the party with tired eyes. A long cut ran from his cheek to his neck. It was the man that Harry had healed beneath Minas Morgul. Harry was glad to see him well.
“I have been better,” Lord Faramir said. “Let us hope that we have flushed out the final remnants of evil from this war.”
“We must hope indeed,” Legolas said. “Yet the fight might not be over yet. Do you know where Gandalf is headed?”
“Back to his quarters, I believe. He came to see Inithor and then left.”
Her eyes flicked over to the far side of the room, where Harry realized there was another bed. The soldier lay on it in rigid repose; he had none of the small movements of life, such as the rise and fall of his breath.
This must be the petrified soldier, Harry thought, as he moved closer to the bed. He stared down at the frozen face; the eyes were caught wide-open so that Harry could see the exact shade of brown of the iris. Harry’s eyes watered in sympathy.
Harry wondered if he could heal the man.
He closed his eyes, partly to avoid the unnerving gaze of the petrified soldier and partly to focus on his transformation. Harry didn’t think that phoenix tears could cure this, but he wanted to be sure. Harry visualized sharp golden talons and black feathers, but as he concentrated, the images were suddenly replaced with luminous giant eyes and dark scales. Harry could feel himself beginning to become heavier instead of lighter, and he wrenched his eyes open with a gasp.
Legolas was by his side in seconds.
He shook his head in response to the elf’s question, for he had no answer. Harry had been trying to transform into his phoenix form but had almost changed into a deadly snake instead. He might have crushed Legolas and Eowyn by his sheer size alone in the small room.
“I… I’m tired. I was going to try to heal him but I think I should wait.” He said, not having to feign the short breaths he took while speaking. Harry was beginning to feel panicked. Could he transform into a phoenix once more, or had his choice down in the caverns irrecoverably changed his animagus transformation? Wizards could only have one Patronus, after all. The forms could change, but there could never be two at the same time.
The walk back to his room passed in a fog. Even as Legolas helped him back into bed, Harry could only think of one thing: was Eclipse gone for good?
Chapter 28: Darkness Rising
“It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay though never quite eradicated.” – The Half-Blood Prince
The next morning, Harry moved to a room of his own in the castle.
“It is a bit small,” the servant said as she unlocked the door with a heavy iron key. The door swung noiselessly open, revealing a tidy room consisting of a heavy wooden desk and wardrobe, a hearth that remained empty for the summer, and a bed bigger than the one in the hall of healing.
Harry’s eyes gravitated to the light that splashed across the polished floor, which glistened like drops of oil atop a bucket of water. The light filtered through a small door on the far side of the room.
Harry crossed the room, ignoring the furnishings. He hadn’t slept indoors for over a year; he did not care how the room looked, except that there was a way outside. The wooden door had a small latch, which opened soundlessly onto a balcony. It would be the perfect entrance for Eclipse if Harry could figure out his transformation troubles. His stomach clenched at the memory of his failed attempt yesterday.
“It’s not much, especially for such an honored guest as yourself. Yet all the larger rooms are filled, and —”
“This is perfect,” Harry said.
The servant shut the doors with a soft click, leaving Harry alone with the silence of his thoughts. He laid down on the bed with a sigh and stared at the ceiling. The stone appeared muted at first glance, but slowly colors began to sort themselves out, some pale whites mixed with flecks of darker greys and blacks. The grey was not calm at all; it was a barely constrained tempest of contrasting colors.
Harry turned his head so that his cheek pressed into the soft bedding. From his vantage point, he could see out the balcony door and to the open sky that beckoned.
He sighed and sat up. He had to try again.
Harry moved to a sitting position and closed his eyes against the outside world. Slowly, his thoughts settled until he could only hear the sound of his breathing. He let his mind wander, thinking about what it meant to be a bird. He thought about the freedom of flying and of navigating the wind like an old sailor did the sea. He thought of black feathers that could melt into shadows, and tears borne of sorrow that could cause relief and joy.
Harry began to transform.
He could feel his bones hollowing, becoming lighter with each breath. His heart rose with each breath. Then, so too did his head rise. Harry started elongating, becoming larger and wider; his skin thickened and hardened.
Harry’s eyes flew open and he stared in dismay at the black scales that decorated his hands. The sight pierced him and he deflated, shrinking and condensing until he was a human once more. Harry squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the mocking blue sky and the evidence of his failed transformation.
What was he doing wrong? He knew how to be an Animagus, knew better than nearly any witch or wizard alive. He had lived as Eclipse for the better part of a year; he knew the phoenix better than he knew this pink and fleshy form he had now.
The sight of his hands, blackened with scales, flashed across his mind.
Harry shoved that memory away, wishing it would sink to the bottom of his jumbled thoughts. Animagus forms always reflected a wizard’s character; though he logically knew that the basilisk was merely an animal like any other, it was hard to think well of a creature that had tried and nearly succeeded in killing him. The same creature that had carried out Tom Riddle’s orders, that had brought only grief and misery to Hogwarts. Even if he were to complete the transformation, there was always a risk that Harry might open his eyes.
No, Harry decided. He would never become the basilisk again.
A knock sounded. Harry jumped and guiltily hid his hands, as though to hide any inward evidence of his thoughts.
“Come in,” he called. Gimli opened the door and peered inside.
“Heard you had a room of your own now,” the dwarf said with a nod of approval. “I’m just down the hall. Would you care to join me to break fast?”
“Haven’t you already eaten?” Harry asked with a grin. Gimli’s beard looked even wilder than normal, thanks to a collection of bits of bread and jam stuck to it.
“Haven’t you heard of second breakfasts?” Gimli countered. “It’s a delightful invention of hobbits. You could use a few second breakfasts yourself.”
Harry laughed. He had always been scrawny and wiry, and doubted that a year of eating berries had changed that.
The two walked towards the dining hall. To Harry, everything passed with a weird sense of deja vu; before, he had only flown through these halls as Eclipse. Everything looked higher now, as if he were walking below ground and peering up at the rich tapestries and portraits that adorned the halls.
The dining room doors came into sight, but Gimli veered from them and instead led Harry into a smaller room. Harry paused, his foot hovering over the threshold when he saw the figures inside.
Gandalf, Legolas, and the king and queen sat around a table. It was clearly an informal affair; the king and queen forwent their crowns and Aragorn was in clothes much the same as Legolas.
“Harry,” Legolas said with a warm smile, as he gestured to an empty seat. “Come, sit. How do you care for your room? You are right next to Gimli and I.”
Harry sat, and the conversation began to ebb and flow once more, embracing him instead of excluding him like he feared.
“It’s great,” Harry said, then stopped. He didn’t know how to give voice to the anxious thoughts crowding his brain about his Animagus form.
Legolas gave him a questioning look, which Harry responded to with a half-hearted smile that he wasn’t sure the elf believed.
“When you visit again, you will be given our best rooms in honor of your role at Minas Morgul,” the King said. “We are short on space right given our unexpected guests, but I will make sure you have anything else you wish.”
“It was nothing,” Harry said, feeling his ears turn red.
“Nonsense,” the king replied. “We will hold a ball to celebrate this victory, and you shall be a guest of honor.”
Apparation was sounding really attractive right now, Harry thought as he tried to fumble a way out of this conversational minefield.
“You might want to wait on that,” Harry said. “There is a ring, and I think it’s in your castle.”
Gimli took too large a sip and started coughing on his drink.
“We looked everywhere in that cavern! How could it be here?”
“I don’t know, but I can feel it. It’s here.”
Gandalf had stilled at Harry’s words. When he spoke, his voice sounded as unyielding as a mountain.
“Impossible. The ring is destroyed.”
“Not that one, but it was a ring. I saw it. It was gold and lumpy.”
Harry thought back to the dank room where they had fought, and that brief second at the end of their fight when Voldemort had become a wraith once more. As the shadows receded, there had been the barest reflection that shone under the pale light, like a mirror that had been covered with dirt and grime over the years. The small circular shape could only be that of a ring, yet it had seemed uneven in a way that rings usually were not.
“Lumpy? I wonder…” Gandalf said. Harry raised his eyebrows expectantly, but Gandalf said no more.
“Ring or no ring, we cannot cease all activities. Can you still sense it?”
Harry shook his head.
“It has hidden itself from me.”
“Then there is not much we can do. I will tell my men to be on guard, but we must continue as usual in the meantime.”
It made sense, but Harry had a sinking feeling that this would not be enough. Though this world was recovering from a similar war, they didn’t know Voldemort like he did. The Dark Lord would be back, and Harry wasn’t sure how he could fight him with a broken wand and no Animagus.
As the morning passed slow and leisurely, the discussion turned from serious matters to reminiscing about the past. Harry sat and listened for a few moments, nibbling on his breakfast roll, but couldn’t keep the thoughts in his head from returning to the matter of the Horcrux.
He couldn’t shake the feeling of dread. He had surreptitiously strengthened his Occluding, to make sure the ring itself wasn’t introducing these thoughts. Yet even behind the fortress of his mind, the doubt lingered like a seed slowly spoiling.
Harry quietly snuck away.
He found the nearest staircase and started to walk up. He didn’t remember the exact way, but when one staircase ended, he wandered the hallways until he found the next. Eventually, Harry found the narrow hallway that led to a familiar dusty room.
Inside, Harry quickly crossed the room and opened the cabinet. His wand lay hidden at the bottom. It still sported a wide crack down the middle of the wood, and Harry could see the hint of Fawkes’ reddish-orange feather inside. He picked it up, mindful of the break, and almost felt a warm glow of recognition.
He gave it an experimental flick, but nothing happened. He tightened his grip on the wand for a long minute, then gave a sigh and turned to leave.
A hint of movement caught his eye, and Harry turned around curiously. He crouched down and looked at the small space between the old creaky cabinet and the floor. A small tuft lay there, it’s blackness blending in with the shadows. It was a feather. His feather.
Harry carefully transferred both wand and feather to his pocket. He hoped the day when he could use both feathers and magic was coming soon. Yet, privately, in a thought buried in the deep recesses of his mind, Harry wondered. The door gave a definite thud as he closed it and walked back to his room.
Harry opened the door to his room as someone else walked out of it.
“I was wondering where you went,” Legolas said. “I just left Lady Galadriel’s gift on your nightstand. I’d been carrying it, but figured you might want it back now.”
“Oh, thanks,” Harry said. He had quite forgotten about the gift. He walked over to the nightstand and looked at it curiously. It was a desiccated seed, the size of a lumpy golf ball. The fibrous texture felt rough under his hands, and Harry picked it up to stare at the bulbous object.
“I forgot what this is,” Harry confessed. He glanced at Legolas to see if the elf had any ideas. Legolas obligingly moved closer, so that Harry could feel the warmth radiating from his body. The elf prodded the walnut-like seed.
“I believe this is a gilith-rhiw seed.” He said. “The flowers are a sign of hope and healing during the long winters.”
“Should I plant it?” Harry asked. The seed looked awfully dry. Was it even alive?
“I suppose,” Legolas said doubtfully. “Perhaps she meant for you to hold onto it?”
“Another thing to ask Gandalf,” Harry said, and he slipped the seed into his pocket. His hand brushed his wand, which was also stored there. Harry gave the wand one more hopeful squeeze, but it remained cold and inert, feeling like nothing more than a dead stick.
Harry nodded decisively. It was time to visit Gandalf again; perhaps the wizard could help.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait! I just moved across the country to be closer to my family and underestimated how much packing and unpacking needed to be done. I'll hopefully be more frequent now.
Chapter 29: Writing on the wall
No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does. – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry’s plans to see Gandalf were cut short the next morning when the wizard failed to appear at breakfast. He didn’t think anything of it until he stopped by Gandalf’s rooms, which seemed conspicuously bare when Harry popped his head inside. The suspicion began to solidify when Harry started to ask the servants if anyone had seen the white wizard.
The sun was nearly overhead when Harry finally got his answers: Gandalf had left the city. For how long – no one knew. Nor did they know why he had left.
“This is quite common,” Legolas said, eyeing Harry in concern.
Harry grunted and continued to pace around the gardens. Flowers burst into color in a cheerful celebration of the warm summer days. Harry wished he could find a similar joy, but felt cold dread instead.
“He should be here,” Harry growled. “He needs to help find –”
“The ring, yes, I know. Maybe he has gone off in search to find something that could help locate the ring.” Legolas said, cutting Harry off. “You must have patience.”
“I know,” Harry said. He did know; he felt as if he were the only one with the bone-deep certainty that something was going to happen. He knew that a storm was brewing, but he wished to brace for it with others at his side. He especially wanted Gandalf here, as his own magic was next to useless without his wand.
Harry stopped pacing and flopped down onto the grass. He shielded his eyes as he looked up at the bright sky above, but the cloudless day only reminded him of his inability to turn into Eclipse. He huffed and turned onto his side, trying to content himself with pulling up the grass with more viciousness than was necessary.
A cool hand covered his own, halting the imminent demise of another green blade.
Harry looked up into Legolas’s shadowed face. The sunlight behind the elf seemed to make him glow at the edges. Then Legolas moved and Harry’s eyes watered at the bright sunlight.
“Why don’t you take a break?” Legolas suggested. “We can see the city.”
“I’ve already seen the city,” Harry said as he tugged at more grass experimentally. Legolas’s hand tightened around his own, and Harry looked up, surprised. He had forgotten that Legolas hadn’t let go of his hand.
“Come on,” Legolas said, standing. He pulled Harry up with the motion. “You need a change of scenery. Besides, I bet you have only seen the city from the air.”
Harry supposed he had a point. This was the first real city he had seen in Middle Earth but he hadn’t seen much of it besides the attic and hospital wing. Which wasn’t that abnormal, now that he thought about it. Still, he followed Legolas up when pulled, and left the grass to grow in peace.
“I haven’t seen Eclipse in a while,” Legolas added. His voice was hesitant, but he took a breath and forged ahead in a casual tone. “I like it. I like spending time with you like this.”
“Oh, er, thanks,” Harry said. The tips of his ears felt warm. “What do you recommend seeing?”
As Harry followed the elf out of the garden, he thought Legolas was right. Surely he could take a day off of worrying.
As the sun began to cast long shadows across the city, Harry and Legolas climbed the last of the seemingly never-ending set of stairs that led back to the castle. While Harry’s feet ached from walking down to the plains and around the city, his heart felt light. Minas Tirith wasn’t Diagon Alley, but it was intriguing in its own right; throughout the day, Harry kept stopping to better see houses seemingly carved from the mountainside and to smell the foods peddled along the street corners.
Now, under the fading light of the setting sun, Harry welcomed the sight of the castle once more. His stomach grumbled, and Harry wondered if he might skip the formal dining hall in favor of having a quiet dinner alone and retiring early to bed. He was slowly pulled out of these thoughts as he passed under the stone entranceway to the castle courtyard. There was a slight shift in the air called Harry’s attention back firmly to the present. Harry slowed imperceptibly; Legolas matched him step for step.
“Something’s wrong,” Harry said and Legolas nodded. His eyes darted around the courtyard, but he didn’t see anything out of place. It wasn’t until Harry heard his own soft footsteps on the cobblestone that he realized what the problem was. “Why is everything so quiet?”
Normally there was a quiet buzz of activity and discussions going on as deliveries were made to the castle or the guards stole a few moments to gossip together under the glorious summer sun.
These guards stood ramrod straight and did not speak. Their eyes darted across the courtyard, looking assessingly at all who walked within.
Legolas and Harry hurried their pace. A doorman opened the ornate entranceway without meeting their eyes. The inside of the castle was not as quiet; yet while hushed whispers lingered around every corner, Harry could not see anything wrong when he looked at anyone directly.
“Let’s find Aragorn,” Legolas said, his mouth a flat line of worry. They made their way unerringly to the chamber room, where the king typically received supplicants. Both drew short just outside the doors as they spotted a familiar figure.
“Gimli!” Legolas cried. “What happened?”
The dwarf wore soft clothes meant for the indoors, yet in his hand was his axe, which he lowered upon catching sight of Legolas and Harry. Gimli nodded towards the doors.
“Take a look. I will stand guard until someone returns with soap.”
Harry and Legolas shared twin looks of confusion. Legolas pushed open the gilded door and they entered into the great hall. Thick tapestries woven out of fine thread and brilliant colors hung on the walls, but the centerpiece was the two throne chairs sitting upon a raised dais. One of the tapestries lay behind the chairs in a crumpled heap. There, on the empty stone walls, was spelled out a word in dull red hue.
The paint - Harry hoped it was paint - was fresh. It glistened wetly and two small beads of liquid ran down the wall. They hadn’t quite hit the floor.
“Who would dare?” Legolas said in a low voice that rumbled like a mountain. Nothing answered in the hushed room.
They cautiously approached, but nothing rose to impede their walk. Harry approached the wall slowly and lightly scraped his fingernail across the writing. It flaked and crumbled in his hand and smelled faintly of copper.
“He’s moved fast,” Harry said quietly.
Harry forgot how sharp the elf’s hearing was. Harry turned to look at Legolas; he had never heard the elf speak in such a flat tone. His posture was still but tense, like a cat just before a pounce.
“Tom - the one who controls the ring. I’ve seen him do this before.”
He thought back to Ginny, who hadn’t done anything until late October, despite holding the diary since the start of term. Perhaps the ring was a more powerful vessel for the Horcrux.
“Can you find him? He was here recently” Legolas asked.
“I’ll try,” Harry said. He closed his eyes, and reached out with the sense that was not a sense, something that existed only in his mind and in his magic. He could sense a vestige of dark magic. It was quickly sinking into the walls and flagstones, ready to disappear into nothing like a shadow. Yet the magic had an oily feel that lingered.
Harry took one halting step forward, then another. His pace was slow but with increasing confidence as he moved across the antechamber and into a corridor. Try as it might to disappear, the Horcrux’s muted presence was still traceable in a castle where magic had otherwise not been used for decades.
The traces took Harry and Legolas up one flight of stairs, then another, and then -- the trail abruptly ended. His mind still cast about for lingering magic, but any trace of the ring was well and truly gone.
Harry blinked and refocused on where his feet had led him. He stared at a familiar hallway.
“Is this --?”
“The hospital wing,” Legolas confirmed. “Someone injured could have brought the ring back… but who?’
They tried looking into the first few rooms, but the first one was empty and the second had a nurse and two sleeping men. The nurse looked at them with a frown as Harry and Legolas made a cursory sweep of the room; they didn’t dare try their luck with rifling through the patients’ belongings.
Back in the hallway, Harry gave a sign.
“I’m sorry. It’s gone.”
Legolas squeezed his shoulder.
“We will find it.”
They returned to the throne room to find Gimli, Aragorn, and many of the king’s advisors gathered there. The king ignored the heated whispered discussion that surrounded him in favor of staring stoically at the message, watching as it was slowly washed away.
The castle buzzed with speculation about the mysterious graffiti for nearly a week, but no leads were found. Instead, as gossip was wont to do, the conversation slowly shifted to a newer and more exciting topic: the upcoming ball.
“Surely,” Harry said, “They could postpone a little longer? They still haven’t caught the culprit!”
Gandalf had not returned, either, and Harry had yet to transform back to Eclipse. He was in a foul mood, and if he had one more servant approach to take his measures, he was going to Apparate back to Fangorn. The king or queen had apparently found out that Harry had only one wardrobe, his robes, and had been trying to get him fitted in more appropriate attire for the ball.
“Peace, Harry,” Legolas said, ruffling his hair in a nonchalant motion. Harry fell silent, but not because he felt at peace. It was rather the opposite; though Legolas used to run his fingers through Eclipse’s feathers, the motion felt entirely different now. Harry’s stomach clenched. He wasn’t sure what he felt and didn’t know whether to try and identify the unnamed emotion or to ignore it.
“There is not much we can do. Why don’t you go flying?”
Harry’s hand reached into his robes and clenched around a lone black feather. It was small and broken, but it was the only reminder he had been able to find. He had spotted it when he went to retrieve his wand from its hiding spot at the top of the castle. Originally both wand and feather had lain next to his bed, two broken keepsakes.
“I — I can’t,” he said. He barely whispered the words; admitting them out loud seemed to solidify them with a weight that he couldn’t ignore. Legolas heard everything of course. The elf’s voice dropped into one of low concern.
Harry glanced down at his hands, which had clenched into fists. He deliberately opened his hands, trying to relax. The feather sat unassumingly in his palm, looking the worse for wear. Legolas gently reached out and picked it up and smoothed over the vanes of the feather so that they aligned in the same direction.
“I haven’t been able to transform back into Eclipse since going to Minas Morgul. I’m not sure why,” Harry said, though he had a fairly good idea of the change. It was enough to speak of Eclipse; he didn’t want to think about the monster he was sure he could become.
“Oh Harry,” said Legolas, “I am so sorry.”
Arms encircled Harry’s waist, and Harry tensed as he was pulled into a hug. The comforting weight didn’t disappear, and Harry slowly relaxed into the warmth. He gave a shaky exhale.
“Yeah. Me too. But if I wouldn’t do anything different. If I had, Tom might have gotten to you all. He still might.”
“We will not face him unawares, thanks to you. That must be enough.”
“I hope so,” Harry replied. Prepared or not, this was Harry’s battle, not Gondor’s. It was personal, and not just because of his past; he couldn’t imagine the elf or Gimli winning a fight against Tom. With Gandalf gone, he was the castle’s only defense.
“There you are,” said a voice, pulling Harry away from his maudlin thoughts. He and Legolas turned to see the Lady Eowyn carefully picking her way through the garden.
Harry flushed and pulled himself away from the hug. He then let out a soft groan at the figure who appeared behind Eowyn. The queen walked purposefully towards Harry and Legolas, and Harry had a sinking suspicion why.
He had successfully avoided a number of servants over the last few days who wanted to get him fitted for the ball. Harry didn’t think he would be able to ignore the Queen, and he hadn’t been able to ignore the Queen.
“Harry, Legolas,” the Queen said with a nod as she approached. “What a surprise to see you here.”
It wasn’t a surprise at all; when Harry wasn’t apparating to unused corners of the castle, he was nearly always found here or in his rooms. He tried to smile back, but wasn’t sure how much of his grimace came through. He wasn’t too successful if Lady Eowyn’s barely-suppressed smile was anything to go by.
“You have been rather absent of late. My tailors have been searching for you, did you know?”
“Were they? I have just been enjoying nature,” Harry said.
“Yes, I’m sure he didn’t hear about the ball,” Eowyn said drolly, as a servant rushed by with an arm full of stationary. Harry grimaced. The castle had been a virtual hive of activity for the past week, as the preparations began to be finalized. It had been impossible to miss.
The queen fixed him with a look. It was a commanding look, one that spoke of getting its way quite often and one that was undeterred by shoddy excuses.
“The gardens will remain for centuries, but the ball is only days away. Come! You must get fitted.”
Harry cast one last glance around the gardens, looking for an excuse to stay. Yet Legolas traitorously ignored his unspoken pleading and gestured for him to leave with a smile for the Queen.
With as much grace as he could muster, he said, “Please, lead the way.”
The Queen turned purposefully to lead out of the gardens, while the Lady Eowyn fell into step beside him. Eowyn offered him a sympathetic smile. “Not all of us enjoy these things. But an invitation to a royal ball is an honor that must be borne.”
“I wish I could go as Eclipse,” Harry said, keeping his voice low. The lady shot him an assessing look, and Harry wondered how much she had overheard in the gardens.
“You will be the topic of the night either way,” Eowyn said. As if punctuating her point, they had now moved into a crowded hall where both servants and nobles bustled to and fro. Hush whispers broke out as the Queen passed, and Harry desperately wished he was anywhere else.
“Yet the right clothing can be armor in its own right. You should appreciate the favor that the Queen is giving you.” Eowyn continued as they turned into a less populated corridor and came upon an unremarkable door, which Arwen gave a sharp knock.
An older man opened the door, looking at once both disheveled and put-together. Upon closer look, Harry saw that his appearance was at odds because of the many bits of threads and small fabric pieces that clung to his suit. On his wrist, the man wore a large pincushion from which hundreds of pins stuck out like a hedgehog.
Upon seeing the queen, the man gave a short bow.
“Your highness, do you have another suggestion for your dress?”
The Queen shook her head. “It is perfect. No, I have a new project for you instead.” Arwen moved out of the way, so that the man could see Harry directly.
“Our guest of honor?” he asked. “Welcome, welcome, do come in.”
The tailor swung the door open, revealing bolts upon bolts of fabric inside. The floor was strewn with scraps of cloth. Only one table wasn’t messy; there, a woman bent over to painstakingly embroider a rich, green dress. Harry gingerly stepped into the threshold, trying not to walk on anything.
“Don’t mind the floor,” Mr. Hayward said as the door thudded shut. “Now, let’s see here…”
Harry turned and realized with a sinking heart that Arwen and Eowyn had abandoned him to his fate. His attention quickly reverted from the door, as Mr. Hayward thrust a piece of velvet blue fabric in front of him.
“No, no, it clashes with your eyes. Let’s try this instead.”
Rich green fabrics, ocean blues, and velvet blacks were paraded in front of Harry, who looked at the long, silken bolts as one might confront a highly venomous snake. He hadn’t shopped for anything beyond the simple black robes required by Hogwarts and was only able to answer in short monosyllabic sounds to the many questions thrown at him: “How do you feel about this shade of burgundy?” “Um…” “Would you like this to have a more traditional or modern fit? The king wears it here.” “Well…”
Harry looked about in a panic, but the Queen and Eowyn had left him to deal with the fitting alone.
The tailor caught his wide-eyed glance and smiled.
“Here. Don’t move, and I will make something fit for the ball. And perhaps...” the tailor said, plucking gingerly at Harry’s battle-stained robes, “Perhaps I have a few leftover pieces for your everyday wardrobe.”
Hours later, Harry finally escaped the musty-smelling room, absently rubbing at his skin. It had been pricked by pins and needles so many times he had stopped noticing after a while, but, now free, was registering its protest. Thankfully, he was almost done with the tailor. After giving him a new set of clothes to change into immediately - and no, that was not a suggestion, Mr. Potter - the tailor promised he would only need to return in the morning of the ball for a final fitting.
Harry grimaced. What was it about balls that made wizards and men alike lose their senses? At least it would be over soon.
Chapter 30: Star light, star bright
“I want to be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” – Return of the King
A thousand candles dotted the ballroom, chasing away any hint of a shadow. The flickering flames seemed to sway in time with the music and well-fashioned guests mingled, danced and laughed with ease.
Harry stood at the top of the stairs, hesitating as he looked down at the merriment below. There was a firm cough to his right and Harry turned to see an officious-looking man peering back at him.
“Name?” the man asked in a dry voice.
“Oh! Harry. Harry Potter.”
The man shot him a sharp look at his name, giving Harry a strong sense of deja vu at the immediate reaction.
“Most distinguished guest, Mr. Harry Potter, Wizard.” the man called out, surprising Harry with a deep resonant voice that seemed to float over the ballroom. Heads turned to look at him, and Harry wished desperately that he had Apparated in via the balconies.
“Er - thanks,” he mumbled to the man as he quickly made his way down the staircase. Harry tugged self-consciously on his robes. They were a deep navy embroidered with gold and silver that shone and reflected the light. He felt horrendously uncomfortable. It wasn’t that the fabric was too stiff - though it was - no, it was the way it seemed to glitter and attract attention as he strode down the steps.
When he reached the floor, Harry quickly surrounded himself in the crowd. Yet the whispers and side glances continued to follow him, as invitees craned their necks to see the main guest of honor. Harry hunched his shoulders up, hoping to ward away the attention through sheer will power.
“Harry!” cried an exuberant voice. Harry turned to see Gimli approach him and nearly had to shield his eyes. The dwarf wore his armor, but it had been polished to shine. The gleaming metal caught the candlelights and reflected them back one hundredfold. What parts of the dwarf weren’t encased in armor had been bedecked in all manner of jewels that twinkled in the light.
Gimli held a ruby-encrusted goblet, which he thrust into Harry’s hands. It was heavier than expected, and some of the liquid sloshed over the side before Harry righted it.
“Take this,” Gimli said. His cheeks were flushed and Harry wondered how long he had already been at the party. “There is a lovely dwarrow by the cellar who is distributing the drinks.”
With that Gimli dove back into the crowd, and Harry quickly lost sight of him behind the overflowing gowns and suits. He looked down at the drink Gimli had left. It appeared a light golden color. Harry sniffed it and wrinkled his nose. Not wine, but some other alcohol.
He looked out at the busy ballroom, where couples danced and friends congregated to laugh and drink. He took a deep sip of the drink and wondered if it was too early for him to leave yet. Despite the crowds, Harry felt oddly empty as he looked at the festivities before him.
He turned back to the door, where the official-looking man continued to gravely announce new names to the guests below. Harry wondered how many more people could fit into this room before it burst.
“Looking to leave already?” a familiar voice teased. Harry turned and his response dried in his throat as he looked at Legolas. The elf wore a deep black tunic with silver threads that seemed to radiate moonlight in contrast to the golden glow of the room. He, too, wore gems, but where Gimli shone brilliant under hundreds of emeralds, rubies, and lapis lazuli, Legolas wore only a handful of pale moonstones. Instead of reflecting, the stones seemed to capture the light and hide them within their depths. They nestled around the elf’s pale collarbone, and twinkled secretly from his ears and fingers.
Harry took another long drink and nearly spluttered at the sharp taste.
“Yes,” he said, giving another longing look at the doors. Then, because he was grasping for something else to say and had no filter, he blurted, “You look great.” Harry’s face burned with mortification and he turned back to gazing at the rest of the room. The elf grabbed Harry’s hand, and Harry reluctantly turned to face him.
“You look uncomfortable,” Legolas said, with a hint of laughter in his voice. “Come, this is a celebration. Dance with me?”
Harry’s hands felt clammy as Legolas led him to the dance floor. Flashes of the Yule ball danced in his head, but Legolas’s grip was firm and unyielding as Harry tried to pull away and disappear into the crowd.
“I’m a terrible dancer,” Harry warned. Legolas’ hand burned where it had settled in the small of his back.
“You, who are so graceful in the skies? I don’t believe it,” Legolas said. Harry was thankful for the room left between them. He wasn’t sure if he could breathe if Legolas were closer, and the space between let him stare down to watch the elf’s light steps. The room felt awfully warm.
So focused was Harry on watching his feet that he barely noticed when they had completed a circuit around the ballroom.
“Was that so terrible?” Legolas asked as he picked up the pace. Harry looked up in time to catch the elf’s quick smile.
“I guess not,” he said, starting to relax. That was precisely the moment that his feet forgot the next step, and he landed on Legolas’s foot instead.
“Sorry!” Harry tried to step back to give Legolas some room but stumbled into another couple dancing behind him. He bit his cheek, as he tried to brush off his embarrassment.
“It’s fine,” Legolas said, as he led Harry back into the rhythm of the song. But it wasn’t fine. Harry could hear light laughter, but it lacked warmth. It came from outside the dance circle, where fine lords and ladies ate finger-sized food while swanning about in extravagant dresses and suits.
“Where did he learn to dance?” said a voice, pitched to carry. Harry was mid-turn with Legolas and couldn’t see who had spoken.
“Haven’t you heard? He was a bird until recently. He never learned how,” a deeper voice replied, with the barest hint of derision.
“Poor thing. Perhaps I could show him how.”
Harry grabbed Legolas’s arm and dragged him off of the dance floor. He didn’t have to say a word; Legolas looked murderous.
“I can’t do this. I should have stayed in my room.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Legolas said. “Some things must be borne, especially celebrations in your honor. They would do well to remember that.”
“But,” the elf continued, moving so that they gracefully exited the swirl of dancers. “You don’t have to dance. Let us go near the balcony.”
They stepped around the fine court ladies and gentlemen who eyed them with interest as they made their way through the crowd. Whispers and snatches of conversation broke out in their passing. Harry tried to keep his eyes straight ahead, but he kept looking for the voices out of the corner of his eye. Legolas was right, of course; running had never helped in the past. He thought he should be used to being the center of attention by now, but it was like second year all over again each time.
It was only when they reached the balcony that Harry realized he hadn’t let go of Legolas’s arm. He quickly dropped his hand and breathed deeply from the cool night air. He turned to look out over the city. Lights still flickered in many of the houses below; interspersed by dark shadows of people wandering out in and out under the street lamps.
He turned to find Legolas stepped back into the ballroom and was turning with two drinks. Harry gratefully took one and sipped at it, hoping the liquid courage could calm his nerves.
“I’m usually better at ignoring things,” Harry said bitterly. It had just been a while since he faced so much attention.
“You shouldn’t be,” Legolas said fiercely. “You’re a hero.”
“People are people,” Harry replied with a sigh. The alcohol was making him feel morose. He had never had much chance to be normal, but now he wondered if he was entirely human anymore. Would he regress in age with the basilisk form now? Or would he age normally now? He didn’t know, and he wasn’t sure which was better.
He looked back at the glittering ballroom with the chatter and gossip and only felt tired. He didn’t want to become like them, only concerned with small talk and pleasantries. He didn’t want to move from one shallow concern to the next, not with his – he suspected – long lifespan. Possibly immortal lifespan. Harry had never feared death; but he did fear living.
“They live such short lives,” he said. He shouldn’t have drunk so much; it always made him introspective.
“Short, but purpose-filled. I marvel at how much has been accomplished by Men; and I worry that the Elves will soon grow outdated, living quietly in our forests.” Legolas said.
“Short, but violent,” Harry amended, thinking of his own experiences. “Living peacefully sounds…nice. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried it before.”
“Come with me to Mirkwood,” Legolas said earnestly. “Being here, watching Aragorn – it reminds me of my own duties that I have neglected. I shall return after my business here is concluded. I have been far from home for long enough.”
Harry’s heart gave a pang at the thought of Legolas leaving.
“Perhaps I will visit,” he said instead.
They stood in silence after that, looking out at the city below. Harry grabbed his drink and tipped it back, enjoying the feel of the cool liquid.
Everything was becoming soft around the edges, smoothed over like a well-worn photograph. The air had warmed too, leading him to pluck at the long sleeves of his robes. He took another long sip. His hands felt fuzzy and Harry laughed at the sensation.
He cut himself off as he registered the sound, then frowned. When was the last time he had laughed?
Legolas watched him with those unreadable eyes. Harry wished he could understand what thoughts passed behind them. The elf had done so much for him, and what had Harry done in return? Lied about his identity, had an Occlumency breakdown, and lit himself on fire. Well, the last one was an accident, but still. He hadn’t been much of a friend in return.
“Legolas? Thanks. For everything.”
“I think you’ve had enough to drink,” Legolas replied with a small smile.
“I haven’t,” Harry said. “Or, perhaps I have, but I know this: I would still be hiding out in a tree if it wasn’t for you.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Legolas said with a teasing tone. “For all that you mean to be inconspicuous, you have a knack for attracting trouble.”
Harry gave a small chuckle of agreement. It really had been a minor miracle that he had stayed in the Fangorn for as long as he had without accidentally awakening a sleeping dragon or setting off an ancient curse.
“Still. I am grateful to have met you all, and don’t think I say it as often as I should.”
“So you like us equally then?” The elf’s voice had lowered, causing Harry to lean in slightly to hear him better. The elf really did have beautiful eyes.
“No,” said Harry, and his boldness surprised him. But the act of saying it felt freeing instead of terrifying. He couldn’t stop the rest of the words from coming out any more than he could stop an avalanche. “I like you the best.”
Then Harry closed the small gap between them and kissed Legolas. Their lips met, and for a split second, all of Harry’s doubts came crowding back into his mind. But then Legolas kissed back, and his thoughts receded under a warm glow of happiness that threatened to rise up and spill out of him.
When they broke for air, Legolas’s arms had wound their way around Harry’s waist, and his hands were tangled in the elf’s normally straight hair. “I guess I will have to visit Mirkwood after all,” Harry said and smiled. He leaned in again, just to be certain the elf hadn’t changed his mind.
They might have passed a pleasant evening but for the shouting.
A glass shattered inside the ballroom. Voices started talking, clambering to be the loudest, but one rose above the rest. “Help! She’s been poisoned.”
Harry broke away from Legolas with a start. They each shared a horrified glance, then ran back into the ballroom.
The crowd was thickest near the long tables of food, and Harry unceremoniously pushed people aside who were standing around in confusion. After a few more well-placed elbows, Harry burst from the cluster and into an empty space before the wine table.
Lady Eowyn briefly looked up as Harry arrived, her face drawn. She quickly turned back to her main focus; she was trying to hold the convulsing form of Queen Arwen still. The king was there as well, and Aragorn tried frantically to keep his wife’s head lifted to ease her breathing. But the queen’s face was rapidly turning blue from the suffocation.
“Harry,” Eowyn said urgently. “We need Eclipse.”
Harry paled. “I -, I can’t,” he said. “I can’t, something’s wrong with me --” He sank to his knees, staring wildly at Arwen. Her dark hair was in disarray; her eyes wild and tearing up as she struggled for breath on the cold marble floor. Glass lay scattered around her, and wine seeped in between the flagstones.
“You must,” Eowyn said. “That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? To celebrate your miraculous healing?”
Harry shook his head mutely, feeling the weight of the crowd burn into his back. He tried to close his eyes briefly, to reach back into his phoenix form, but all he could feel was coiled darkness waiting to unwind. He opened his eyes and stared down at the dying queen.
Perhaps… Unbidden, Harry’s hand reached into his pocket. His fingers ignored the holly wand, much as he might wish to use it, he knew the magic wouldn’t respond. Instead, he grabbed something dry and wrinkly. He pulled out Lady Galadriel's gift.
He didn’t know how it would work, but he didn’t need to. Cracks of light split through the seed as soon as he put it near Arwen. The cracks grew and spread, until with a small click, the seed split into two. A miniature ball, blazing as bright as a star, fell gently through the air to settle like a fine gossamer net around Arwen. It glowed brighter for a second, then slowly disappeared.
Harry blinked the afterimage from his eyes and opened to see Arwen groan, putting a fair hand to her neck. She took deep breaths and slowly sat up with King Aragorn’s assistance.
“I can breathe,” she said, massaging her throat. “Thank you,” she said to Harry.
Harry nodded, then stepped back. Lady Eowyn leaned down to pick up the shattered wine glass. She eyed the remaining wine with a critical eye and sniffed it.
“Poison,” she said gravely, causing the nearby courtiers to renew their hysterics. “I suspect the culprit is long gone by now. Good thing you were here, Master Harry.”
Harry nodded, but the thanks felt hollow. It almost hadn’t mattered if he had attended or not. It was only out of habit that he had brought the seed and broken wand, and pure luck that one of them had worked. Otherwise, he would have been as helpless as the rest of the guests.
Some of them appeared to feel the same way. Harry thought he caught whispers as he stood, whispers that silenced as soon as he looked towards their source. He heard the snippets anyway, as he slowly picked his way across the ballroom and up the stairs. Legolas must have heard them as well, if the way he tightened his arm around Harry was any indication.
Why couldn’t he heal her? I thought he was a wizard.
Harry couldn't answer them and the whispers swirled around his head and echoed long after he and Legolas walked out the ballroom. Both walked back through the corridors in silence, until they arrived at Harry's door. Then, Legolas grasped Harry's hand before he could go inside.
“Are you okay?” the elf said, looking at Harry intently.
“Of course,” Harry said, keeping his doubts from showing. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
Legolas hesitated, perhaps not believing Harry’s cheerful voice, but then he nodded. The elf tucked an errant hair back around Harry’s ear, and the gesture almost made his voice catch. He placed a chaste kiss on Harry’s forehead before departing.
“Sleep well,” he said. Harry spent a long time after Legolas closed the door, looking at the space that he left and feeling the phantom echo of his lips. It was a long time before sleep claimed Harry.
A/N: So excited to finally have this chapter out! I had so much fun writing it, I hope you enjoyed reading it just as much. :)
Chapter 31: Siren song
“He must have known I'd want to leave you."
"No, he must have known you would always want to come back.” - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Gimli woke hungover.
He squinted at the soft light filtering through the room, but the morning sun hadn’t yet reached his bed. He turned over to go back to sleep when the knocking started up again. It pounded through his skull, reverberating like a hammer on an anvil. Groaning, the dwarf stood up and glared at the door, but the pounding didn’t abate.
“What is it?” He growled as he flung the door open, which hit the wall with the bang. Gimli winced at the noise.
On the other side of the door stood Legolas. The normally pristine elf had slightly disheveled clothes and Gimli thought he even spied a lone tangle in his hair. Legolas stroad into the room without waiting for Gimli to invite him, which was probably a smart move; Gimil had thought of slamming the door back in the elf’s face.
“You interrupted a dream about that dwarrow from last night,” Gimli grumbled. “What could not wait any longer?”
“It’s Harry,” Legolas said. His voice was even but the words rushed out just a little too fast.
Gimli sighed. Of course it was about Harry.
“What has he done now?”
“Nothing!” Legolas said. “Nothing wrong, at least. He did kiss me last night.”
Gimli grunted, not terribly surprised by this statement. He had seen how out of place Harry felt and had kept an eye on his friend throughout the night, and knew when he disappeared with Legolas outside. Everyone knew what happened on balconies during warm sunny nights.
“I’m failing to see the problem here. You sound like you enjoyed it.” Gimli said, as he eyed his bed longingly. He suspected sleep was still far off, though, and instead chose to sit down on a hard wooden chair.
“That’s the problem,” Legolas said, “It would never work between us in the long run, and what is long for most creatures is but a blink for me. And...” Here the elf hesitated. His fingers played with a small signet ring, the only jewelry Legolas had ever carried with him. It marked him as the prince of Mirkwood to those who knew. “I could not follow the fate of Arwen, if it came to it. I do not fear death, but there are other responsibilities to which I must see.”
“Legolas,” Gimli said, half-exasperated. “You barely know him. Take advice from this mere mortal - you don’t need to have the next 1,000 years planned out yet.”
“Since when have you become so wise?” Legolas said with a rueful smile. “Can I bring you a platter from the kitchens to make amends for my untimely visit?”
“No,” Gimli said as he turned back towards his bed. “An undisturbed rest is all I require.”
Harry woke with the dawn. He had barely slept, his thoughts jumping from Legolas to the Horcrux and back. His tumultuous thoughts hadn’t straightened themselves out during the night, but his spirits lifted as he stood at the windowsill, watching the dawn battling furtively to rise in the eastern sky against dark clouds overhead.
The sky suited his mood. After months spent in Middle Earth, thinking he would be without anyone, he now had a community, friends, and possibly…a lover. He had hardly had the latter while the war was going on. Dare he imagine it could work here? All he knew was that something irrevocable had shifted between him and Legolas, but it was newly-born and fragile.
Below, the city was just beginning to wake up, the still houses and shops starting to show some movement. In the castle courtyard, delivery men dropped off the many packages constantly coming to the castle: fresh herbs and game to be used in the kitchen later that day; letters that had arrived at the gates by horse couriers during the night; an assortment of more personal packages and gifts sent by nobles throughout Gondor to herald their visit to the new king.
He spotted movement in the private courtyard, where the stables reserved for guests were housed. A familiar set of white robes, somehow untouched from the rigors of the road, was dismounting an equally white horse.
Gandalf had finally returned.
Harry was half-tempted to Apparate into the courtyard directly, but decided to give the wizard time to unpack. Gandalf would probably not appreciate Harry showing up at his rooms this hour; he supposed, grudgingly, that the wizard would just ignore him even if he did appear. Gandalf could be frustrating like that.
Instead, Harry left his rooms and detoured towards the main breakfast hall. Legolas was usually an early riser; perhaps he would run into the elf there. They had parted on good terms – perhaps more than good terms – last night, but Harry needed to see Legolas to make sure it remained that way.
His traitorous heart did not quiet when he saw the familiar blonde hair at the long oaken dining tables; it seemed to quicken even more. He sat down across from the elf, trying to feign normalcy but feeling even more gangly than Eclipse had with his talons on the finely-made chairs.
“Morning,” Harry said, for lack of anything better to say.
Legolas smiled at him, and his face transformed. The classic agelessness gave way to laugh lines.
“Good morning to you as well, Harry.”
They both stared at each other, restricted by the limitations of language in conveying what they actually wanted to say.
“Good morning, Gimli. How are you today,” came a burly voice to Harry’s right. The voice was weirdly pronounced, as if he was trying to imitate Harry’s accent. Harry looked down at the dwarf, who had sat down next to him. Gimli affected a look of surprise.
“Oh, Harry! I didn’t see you there. Good morning to you too. And to you as well, my dear Legolas. What a fascinating day it is.”
Legolas gave Harry a long-suffering look.
“Did you hear Gandalf has returned?” Gimli continued, reaching into the middle of the table to grab a roll. He started buttering it, adding, “I told you he would turn up before anything else happened.”
“I’m hoping to talk to him after breakfast,” Harry said. “Hopefully he has some insights into the poison.” King Aragorn had saved the broken wine glass that Arwen drank, in case the wizard could glean any information where his staff had not. So far, they had not found any leads; no one could remember precisely who had poured the glass – or if they did, they weren’t saying.
As Harry thought about that night, another crash cut him from his reverie.
He looked up, to see an opaque bottle splintered at Eowyn’s feet. The servant who had bumped into her was apologizing profusely, as a light mist coalesced onto the stone floors and a low rhythmic sound swelled, sounding a lot like –
“The ocean?” Harry murmured. What an odd bit of magic.
However, Eowyn’s face looked ashen and as Harry looked at the high table where she had sat, he noticed that King Aragorn was gripping tightly onto Queen Arwen’s arm. The Queen looked pale, but as Harry watched her gaze hardened and she began to look furious. He turned to ask Gimli to ask what was going on, and grew more alarmed.
The dwarf also wore a small frown, and his shoulders slumped in a resigned fashion. Worried, Harry turned to the one he cared about above all else, the one who surely could tell him more of this strange Middle Earth custom.
Legolas stood as if entranced, his eyes bright by some unknown light and his lips parted with words forgotten on his tongue.
“Legolas? What is it?”
The elf didn’t answer, seemingly captivated by the waves crashing. A gull cried out in the distance, from the non-existent water, and Legolas gave an imperceptible shudder.
“Gimli, what’s wrong?” Harry asked, his concerns rapidly mounting. “Why is Legolas…?” Legolas never ignored him, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that out loud.
The dwarf sighed.
“It’s the sound of the sea,” he said, as if that explained anything. “It happens to all elves eventually.” He also looked up at the high table, at the Queen.
“She seems alright – I suppose she’s not exactly Elven any longer.”
The Queen? Harry’s mind raced.
Such a specialized attack meant that she was the target all along – not the new king of Gondor. Why would anyone want to attack Queen Arwen? She was highly regarded in the court; elves apparently had that effect on most races besides the dwarfs. Unless the Horcrux wanted to attack the king’s love? But why would Tom have focused on the royal couple at all? Harry had thought he would need to be more worried about himself, if he was honest. Tom could never resist an attempt on his life.
By this time, the sound had evaporated completely with the mist. Harry looked at Legolas, but the elf still retained his unfocused, glassy look.
Upon the dais, King Aragorn’s face looked thunderous, while Lady Eowyn’s was faint. The queen’s expression was glacial, but it thawed slightly when she took in Legolas’s state. She put a restraining arm on her husband, then stood up and walked over towards them.
“What’s wrong with Legolas?” Harry asked, as soon as she was within earshot. “What does the sea have to do with anything?”
She sighed and took Legolas’s hands. “Come back to me, mellon ,” she said. Legolas slowly focused on her with effort.
“Lady Arwen,” he said. “You are well?”
“I am unaffected,” she agreed. “The call… has it taken hold in your heart?”
“It has,” Legolas said. He stared off to the right, seeing something Harry couldn’t. “How the gulls call!”
Arwen smiled sadly at him. “I understand. See me before you go, if you can. It is not how I wish we would part; but…” she sighed and glanced back up at the high table. “Things, terrible things, will always happen, even when the wounds of war are no more than song and tall trees grow where men once died. Still, we must find who sent that bottle. The servant was no more than a carrier; and even if Lady Eowyn had not surprised him, the bottle would have been opened eventually.”
“Will someone please tell me the meaning of the gulls? Legolas, are you alright?”
Legolas slowly turned to look at him. He moved slowly and seemed to focus on Harry with great effort. No hint of a smile lingered on his mouth now. He looked preoccupied, and his answer was distracted.
“I can almost see it – the Eressea, the Elvenhome. I must hear the gulls cry once more and see the white foam fly from the ships across the vast sea. Only then will I meet with my people.”
“But I thought his people were in Mirkwood?” Harry asked. Why must everyone speak in riddles today?
“Aye, that’s where his people live now,” Gimli said, finally speaking straight. But across the sea – that’s where all the elves go when they are done living on Middle Earth. Only elves. I’m sorry, Harry. He resisted the call once, but the Lady Galadriel warned that he would leave once he heard the sound of the gull again.”
So the Eressea was someplace elves went to – what, die? Harry’s thoughts spun.
“How – how long does he have?” Gimli asked Arwen, in a soft tone. He kept sending concerned glances between Harry and Legolas. Harry didn’t want his pity. He wanted to find this culprit, wanted to make Legolas stay here, with him ---
He turned and Apparated with a crack, heading straight for Gandalf’s rooms. The wizard had better have found answers on his trip.
Chapter 32: In plain sight
A/N: I forgot to upload this chapter! Sorry if chapters 31-33 previously didn't make any sense. :)
“'What do you fear, lady?' he asked. 'A cage,' she said, 'to stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire. – The Return of the King
Harry appeared in Gandalf’s rooms. The wizard swore an oath, his hand moving to grip his staff as he whirled around to face Harry.
“Fool of a bird! What could not wait –"
“I need to learn how to use your magic. Now.” Harry said, cutting the wizard off. Gandalf must have heard something in his tone, for he lowered his staff in favor of studying Harry. Harry crossed his arms and tried not to lash out in his impatience. He had learned how to wait during the war; he would not forget those lessons at this critical time.
“Acts of great magic certainly don’t come when called; it is more fickle than a cat full of cream. No, great magics require great sacrifice or great need. You must wait until the timing is right.”
“The timing is right.” Harry said, voice faltering. “Legolas – Legolas heard the sea. He will leave if I don’t fix this compulsion. I need my wand to work.”
Gandalf shook his head. “Such knowledge would be worth its weight in gold. But even if I could pay, I cannot make such a miracle happen. An act of great magic - it is something you must discover for yourself.”
Harry stared at him in silent despair.
“Such is the curse of being a wizard,” Gandalf said. He sighed heavily. “Everyone remembers the few miracles, but forget the times when I could not change fate. I am truly sorry, Harry.”
If asked about how he spent the next few hours, Harry couldn’t say where he was. He wandered around the castle as if in a daze, stepping out of the way of anyone else in the corridors and turning when he came to a dead-end, but otherwise not seeing anything. He only lifted from his reverie when a delicate hand touched his arm, and a melodic voice said, “Harry?”
He blinked and looked into the heart-shaped visage of Queen Arwen. She had changed out of her intricate court clothes and wore a simple blue dress; but even that adopted the regal bearing of its wearer. She watched him with attentive eyes, and for a brief second, Harry hated her.
Only for a second. The sound was originally meant for her; it was better that she too was not affected.
“Has there been any change?” Harry asked her. She didn’t need to ask him whom he meant. She paused, obviously looking for something positive to say, then shook her head slightly.
“I believe he is preparing to pack already. We can try to slow him… but I think it likely he will leave in the next few days.”
Harry closed his eyes against the wave of despair that threatened to rise up in him. He blinked once – then twice – and then looked at Arwen with clear eyes. He wouldn’t waste time on tears. He was a fighter, and he hadn’t given up this battle yet.
“And have there been any leads?”
Arwen shook her head. “None. The servant was given the vial from the healing wing, who said it was medication for Lady Eowyn. But, of course, none of the healers recall seeing the vial and none would have recommended anything for Eowyn, who is perfectly healthy. Perhaps they might have something for her husband Lord Faramir.”
Harry faintly remembered seeing Faramir when he woke up in the hospital wing. He had escaped as soon as the Lord had fallen asleep and hadn’t returned since.
“He’s well, now?”
Arwen smiled. “Nearly to the healer’s satisfaction. He was lucky – he was one of the few to survive the depths of Minas Morgul.”
Harry stopped suddenly. Arwen kept talking, but Harry couldn’t hear her any longer. It felt as if he were underwater, the sounds muted as his mind flashed. He had healed Lord Faramir before fighting the basilisk. He had healed the man just outside of the cavern where Lord Voldemort had waited.
“I – I’ve got to go.” Harry said, leaving at a run. Had Faramir picked up the ring? He hadn’t seemed furtive or skulking. But then again, Harry hadn’t noticed Ginny being any of those things either.
All of a sudden, Harry took in the details of his surroundings. He was two floors below the healing wing, on the east side of the castle. He raced up the twin flights of stairs and west across a long corridor before skidding to a halt at the double doors that housed the sick. He opened the door.
Before him, various men and elves lay in neat, orderly beds, still recovering from their time as orcs. They stared at him silently as he hurried past, with watchful eyes. These beings had learned to live through fear and quick obedience and were uncertain how to act in the healing wing.
Harry paid them little mind, brushing past them and the two healers. He ignored the greetings and questions from the latter, hurrying through two more sets of doors until he came to the room where Faramir had rested.
Inside, Faramir lay on the white bedsheets, slowly reading a book. His cheeks had a healthy tint, and the movement from turning one page to another was strong and sure. He rose to a sitting position as Harry entered.
“Hello. I hadn’t thought I’d see you again,” he said with an easy smile that deepened the dimples in his cheeks.
Harry felt momentarily flummoxed. How did one go about finding if another was possessed? Harry decided to go with his usual brand of tact.
“Erm, have you seen a ring? Golden and a little lumpy?”
Faramir's face crumpled.
“To my eternal shame, I did,” he said, voice low. He carefully closed the book and his eyes dropped down to his hands, which were now twisted around each other. “You must understand - I was very weak when I woke up in that hallway. It’s call overpowered my senses and it’s beauty transfixed me. I thought it odd that it looked different from when Frodo had it, but I could not resist picking up the wretched thing in my weakened state. I’m not sure if I would have had the strength to remove it… but when I woke up here, it had already vanished. I hoped it had fallen out on the journey and lay forgotten in a ditch.”
“Fallen?” Harry asked, incredulous. “With all of the attacks happening around here? How could you not realize the two were connected?”
“Attacks?” Faramir asked, his brow furrowed. “What do you speak of?”
“You haven’t heard?” Harry asked, incredulous. “Queen Arwen has nearly died twice! Your wife should know of this – she was there.”
“She was?” Faramir asked, his voice echoing Harry’s confusion. He gave a laugh without any humor in it. “It should be no surprise, I suppose. She has been distant lately. Sometimes I wonder if…” he trailed off, and shook his head, refusing to continue the thought.
“Distant? How?” Harry seized on his words. Was it possible that Lord Faramir had carried the ring back to Minas Tirith…and that Lady Eowyn had taken it?
“Yes, dear husband. How?” came a lilting voice from behind him.
Harry spun around.
Lady Eowyn stood in the doorway. She wore the same dress as that morning, a fitted tan dress with green embroidery along the hems. Her face remained lovely, oval-shaped with high cheekbones. But her eyes were flat and hard and Harry watched with horror as the brown irises flickered crimson.
As she stepped into the room, the light seemed to catch around a ring on her fourth finger. The ring glittered brightly but as if it were a mirror: it reflected light but did not generate it from within.
“Eowyn?” Faramir asked in disbelief. He tried to scramble out of the bed, but had to lean heavily against the frame. He shook his head as he stared at her. "No, she would never act in such a manner. What have you done with her?”
She bared another smile, full of teeth.
“She loves you dearly, you know,” Eowyn said. Her voice had a sibilant tinge to it. “If only the lovely Queen and King would die, then we could rule this backwater world together. If only someone,” she turned to Harry, “would stop ruining my plans. You are, as always, a thorn that will be removed from my side, Harry Potter.”
Harry stared defiantly at her. Her eyes were slowly becoming bloodshot, the red subsuming the natural brown. No one had ever said his name with such hatred here, except for one individual – or rather, Horcrux.
“Let’s end this, Tom,” he said. “Once and for all.”
Chapter 33: Out from the shadows
“It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world.”
Eowyn’s hand disappeared into the folds of her dress and reappeared with a dagger that glinted in the light. She lunged at Harry, eyes bright with rage, and Harry hurriedly scrambled backward. He had barely retreated three steps when his back hit the wall. Frantically, Harry glanced around the room, looking for a weapon.
Faramir shouted a warning and Harry turned back in time to see the dagger thrust towards him. He dove to the floor and rolled out of the way, coming to a stop painfully as his head hit the foot of Faramir’s bed. Eowyn spun to attack him again, and Harry’s hands blindly groped around the cold stone floor. As the dagger fell, his hands landed on something rough and sturdy and he held up Faramir’s leather boot like a shield.
The leather sole bravely foiled the attack on his heart, but the dagger bit into Harry’s arm instead. He gritted his teeth from the pain, but reached with his other hand to grasp Eowyn’s wrist holding the dagger and twisted. The air collapsed in on itself to form a tunnel and both fighters disappeared with a loud crack.
Harry squinted as direct sunlight suddenly shone in his eyes, then quickly rolled away from Eowyn as her free hand sought to claw out his eyes. He quickly stood and ran behind one of the many shrubs that grew in the castle’s gardens, putting a physical barrier between Eowyn and himself. While he had bought himself some space, he still desperately needed a weapon.
Eowyn took the time to calmly stand up and brush the matted grass from her dress. She wiped his blood carelessly on the hem and then stood to face him, one hand holding the dagger and the other wearing the golden ring that sparkled invitingly in the sun. Her eyes were now completely red.
“Ah, Harry,” she said. “I have found myself missing you. You always do provide an entertaining challenge.”
“Wish I could say the same,” Harry said, holding a hand pressed against his wound. He hoped it would stem the bleeding, but he didn’t think it would be particularly effective.
“I’m afraid you’re right,” Eowyn said in mock sympathy. “I can’t have you running around this land that is so ripe for the taking. I have always abhorred Muggles, but they have their uses, don’t they?”
Harry tried to tune out Voldemort’s words and focus on finding a weapon. His broken wand was in his robe pocket, but it was as useless as ever. Unless he tried to shove it up Eowyn’s nose, it wouldn’t serve as an effective weapon. Yet he didn’t have any other ideas, aside from trying to grab the knife without getting stabbed in the process. He needed to attack from afar, somehow.
Oblivious to Harry’s internal dilemma, Eowyn continued. “So easy to influence -- much easier than witches and wizards, who are always too stubborn for the stupidest reasons. ‘It’s after curfew, Tom,’” Eowyn said in a high voice, mimicking Ginny’s prepubescent tones.
Harry clenched his fists at the reminder. He couldn’t let Voldemort get away with this, especially in a world as defenseless to magic as Middle Earth.
An idea sparked in his mind.
Voldemort was right: Muggles were more susceptible to magic. Harry wondered if that extended to mind magic. There was only one way to find out. Harry sank into his mind, which he had painstakingly built up after losing control of his memories just weeks – was it only weeks? – ago. He lowered his defensive barriers and struck.
Eowyn’s mind was in a panic. Her thoughts swirled past him at lightning speeds, buffeting him in every direction. They crashed into him, each current laced with a sense of fear and helplessness. She knew she was trapped.
Once, the emotions would have bled into Harry’s own thoughts and overwhelmed him. But he had not spent the last month pouring over his own overly-charged memories without learning how to manage them. He let them wash over him, not trying to fight against the panic but not getting swept up into it either. He dove deeper. Distantly, he felt another pinprick of pain from his tenuous connection with his own body. He ignored it, continuing to chase after the memories that assailed him hardest.
In the midst of a maelstrom, where the deepest despair and rage emanated from, Harry felt a familiar presence.
The darkness uncoiled and rose to meet him, as another faint pinpoint of pain blossomed in the back of Harry’s mind.
“You’d better act quickly,” Voldemort whispered directly to his mind. “You’ve left your body defenseless.”
Harry summoned memories of Ron and Hermione, laughing in the common room; of Sirius, saying he was proud of him when Harry had never before had a parental figure praise him; of Hedwig, nibbling on his fingers. More recently, of Gimli laughing uproariously, and of Legolas tenderly cupping his face between his hands. These memories and more he gathered up, every expression of love that he knew, and he threw it towards Tom Riddle.
His feelings flew like a spear towards the roiling mass that could only be the Horcrux. But at the last second, just before the memories hit, Voldemort melted away, leaving Eowyn’s mind to absorb the blow. The bundle of joyous memories had no effect, other than calming the winds slightly.
Harry reached out in all directions, trying to figure out where Voldemort had fled. Distantly, he felt another pinprick of pain in his leg, which morphed into a soft pulsing ache. He redoubled his efforts, but he could feel his thoughts slowing, his body demanding attention from his mind.
‘Where is he?’ Harry asked himself, straining to sense Voldemort’s presence.
Something else prodded at his consciousness.
It took him a minute to realize that the chaotic nature of Eowyn’s mind had shifted; her thoughts of rage and fury were now directed in a single direction that tugged at him like an insistent wind. He followed her, letting himself get pulled by the current of urgency until Voldemort’s black stain appeared again. There, Eowyn’s anger split and swirled like a tornado around his presence, fighting to keep him contained.
Harry didn’t hesitate, his memories leaping forth at his command. Voldemort tried to twist away again, but as he retreated, Eowyn’s fury increased and pushed back. The Horcrux sent out its own feelings of grief and despair, but Harry had known his share of sorrow and his will did not falter.
Voldemort screamed, a high-pitched sound that burrowed into the deep recesses of his mind. Harry planned to endure the pain, until he felt a familiar headache emanating directly from the area where his scar used to be. Eowyn’s mind wasn’t the only one that Voldemort could infiltrate here.
Harry slammed his Occlumency shields in place, trapping Voldemort in his mind. Voldemort tried to slither back into his old home behind Harry’s scar, but Harry’s Burning Day had obliterated all old remnants of his time there. Harry caught a brief feeling of surprise from the Horcrux before it turned around to attack his shields, seeking to return to Eowyn.
Harry grinned triumphantly and opened his eyes. He had lived with Voldemort, however unknowingly, all of his life. He could handle him for another few minutes.
He squinted from the sun. It had felt like hours had passed, but in reality, it had likely only been a minute or two. Harry gasped as his wounds made themselves painfully known. As he suspected, Eowyn had moved when Harry had first entered her mind, and her dagger was buried into Harry’s stomach. She let go of it with a cry as Harry severed Voldemort’s connection to her. He left the dagger; while excruciating, it helped to keep pressure on the wound. Instead, Harry reached over to Eowyn’s limp hand and tugged at the ring. It tried to resist, but at the end of the day, it was only a ring and it reluctantly came off with a firm tug.
As soon as the ring was in Harry’s hand, Eowyn gasped and knelt to the ground, head bowed and body racked with tremors. Her eyes shot open and she stared at Harry with a mixture of longing and desperation.
“Is it gone?”
“No,” Harry said, tightening his grip on the ring. Already, he could hear its whispers trying to reach Voldemort.
Her eyes followed the movement and Eowyn gave an aborted twitch, as she alternatively tried to reach out and recoil from the ring.
“Please. Get it away from me. I have not the strength to resist,” she rasped.
“You must,” Harry said, wincing. Now that he was fully back in his own mind, his arm and stomach screamed with pain. He tried to ignore it, but it was a losing battle. “I’m not sure I can Apparate right now.”
Eowyn managed to hear her eyes away from Harry’s closed fist, and she gave a soft gasp as she saw the amount of blood lost. “I - I will find help,” she said, turning to stand on shaky legs. She walked unevenly to the courtyard door, then halted as a familiar figure emerged from the hallway within.
Legolas peered in, looking at Harry and Eowyn with dull eyes.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” he said in a distracted tone. “But I – I wanted to say goodbye. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Harry blinked and stared at him until his vision swam. After all they had gone through – everything they had experienced together… and Legolas didn’t even notice the blood oozing out of his side.
Use me , the ring screamed at him.
With the ring on his hand, he could restore his wand. Obliviated of the gulls’ call, Legolas would forget he had ever dreamt of the sea. Harry’s hand unclenched and he looked down at the simple golden band.
Harry forced his hand to close with difficulty.
“Fix him,” he gritted out instead. He had meant to sound commanding, but his voice came out as pleading. “Please.”
Eowyn froze, looking back at Harry with an anguished face. He could tell what her answer was before she even spoke.
“I can’t,” she said, voice breaking. “Maybe the ring…”
Harry hesitated. Perhaps – if he just used it this one time... he could destroy it right after. Spurred by his thoughts, his hand unfurled once more and the other hand reached out towards the ring. Harry’s eyes remained locked onto Legolas, who was obviously waiting for a response but seemed otherwise distracted and removed from the entire drama playing out before him.
Harry grasped the ring between his thumb and forefinger and brought it to eye level. He finally looked at the ring, his thoughts moving sluggishly as if moving through thick syrup. The ring almost slipped onto his finger. Wasn’t he supposed to destroy it? His thoughts felt muddled.
The ring glinted a merry gold, inviting Harry to gaze at it longer. He likely would have, but a movement caught his eye; Legolas had already turned his back to Harry. The elf began to walk away at a sedate pace, fully ignorant to the despair left in his wake.
Reality crashed back down around Harry, and he dropped the ring. He knew Tom was a liar; what proof was there that he could fix Harry’s wand? And even if he could, would it be worth the price?
Harry blinked hard, trying to keep the hot tears that sprang up in the corners of his eyes from falling. I am sorry, Legolas, he thought.
Then he shut his eyes and thought of scales as large as dinner plates; of luminous yellow eyes as large as the full moon; of a thick, coiled body as large as a tree. For a brief second as Harry was poised on the precipice of change, a familiar panic rose as he thought about what a successful transformation truly meant. Animagus forms mirrored their witch or wizard, and the basilisk was no different. Yet, this time, Harry was able to recognize that the basilisk had other traits aside from being a lethal predator.
As his body rapidly expanded and his bones hollowed, Harry felt the bottomless loyalty within the basilisk. The dagger in his stomach fell onto the ground and the pain receded, and he felt the basilisk’s anger bubble to the surface: slow to rouse but implacable once awakened. Bones multiplied to fit his elongated form, and Harry merged with a cunning mind.
Finally, the transformation stabilized and stopped. A basilisk, jet-black and enormous, sat coiled where Harry had once stood. A few rose bushes were now crushed beneath his heavy tail.
As soon as the transformation stopped, Harry tried to shut his eyes. Instead, he felt a filmy substance cover his eyes, which Harry hoped would lessen his gaze. He bowed his head, trying not to look anywhere but the ground beneath him.
There, nestled in the grass, lay a small golden ring. It looked so small from his new height, and completely incapable of the evil it possessed. But Harry recognized the misleading thought for what it was; a last-ditch effort attempted by the ring to change his mind. It was much easier to sense the ring’s insidious presence with an animal mind; unlike Harry the human, Harry the basilisk had a much more finely-tuned sense for predators.
Harry paused for a second and silently mourned the future that would never be. After this, Legolas would go to the sea. He didn’t know if it was worth it, but he hoped, deeply and desperately, that this sacrifice would be the last asked of him. It had to be enough. He wasn’t sure if he could endure more heartbreak after this.
Carefully, Harry opened his mouth and willed the venom to pool in his fangs. A drop coalesced on the yellow-tinged fang and then slowly fell to the earth.
The ring let out an inhuman screech as the venom touched it that was mirrored by Voldemort’s scream in his mind. But it could only last for so long, and eventually, the sound faded as the ring hissed and sizzled and disintegrated with the venom. At least, all Harry heard was silence. He bowed his head, hoping that this time would truly mean peace. A ring of dead grass lay beneath him – and the ring was gone.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait! Some personal issues came up but I solemnly swear that I will post the ending soon. :)
Chapter 34: Sacrifices
“He must have known I'd want to leave you."
"No, he must have known you would always want to come back.” - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The ground where the ring had lain was scorched, yet bare. The world seemed suspended in time as Harry stared at the blackened ground. Then the moment was broken as a bee flew lazily into view, hovering for a brief moment before moving onto more fragrant areas of the garden.
Harry kept his eyes tightly closed and concentrated on shifting back. His bones creaked in protest as they shrunk and thickened. The pain only intensified as the transformation completed, and Harry grimaced from the pain and slowly sank onto his knees in the grass. He had forgotten about the dagger wound; now, as his organs shifted back into place, he belatedly realized that transforming might not have been his best idea. He fumbled, trying to put pressure on his stomach, but the blood made his hands slippery. The blackened ground below was slowly taking on a rust-colored tinge.
“Don’t move,” Eowyn cried, rushing to his side. Her face was pale, either from the possession or fright at seeing him become a lethal monster. Likely, it was from both. Yet despite her fear, she approached him with a determined glint in her eyes and she expertly rearranged him so that Harry lay on the ground with minimal movement.
A dagger glinted in the sun, and for a heart-stopping second, Harry thought she meant to finish what Tom had started. Instead, the dagger continued downwards and out of sight. Harry heard the soft sound of tearing fabric and then hissed in pain as Eowyn took a strip of her dress and deftly wrapped it around his abdomen. He bit back another groan as she cinched it tight; the pressure helped, somewhat, but as Harry opened his eyes to look, he saw that blood was quickly soaking through the strips of her dress. Eowyn added additional pressure with her hands, but it was a futile effort. Harry coughed, and it was a wet gurgling sound.
“Stay with me,” Eowyn said in a low voice.
“Will he be okay?” Legolas asked, moving closer. Despite his words, his tone was mild. It sounded like Legolas was asking after a distant friend of a friend, and his eyes still retained a slightly glassy, far-off look.
Harry tried to look away. He didn’t want this to be his last memory of Legolas.
“Go find a healer,” Eowyn snapped. “Can you not see? He is dying.”
Legolas merely tilted his head and regarded Harry with those inscrutable eyes.
“It happens to all mortals eventually,” he said.
The words slowly seeped into Harry’s brain. He was having trouble thinking through the pain, but they sparked a note of confusion as he registered the meaning. He… wasn’t quite mortal anymore, was he? Harry’s vision was getting fuzzy along the edges. His thoughts flitted this way and that, but underneath there was a nagging thought that he was forgetting something. Harry wanted to go to sleep, but the feeling of missing something persisted like an annoying itch.
His pocket began to heat up. It started as an uncomfortable warmth but soon verged on a burning sensation. His broken wand: holly, 11 inches, with Fawkes’s phoenix feather. As if following his thoughts, the feather pulsed even hotter.
A phoenix! He was a phoenix.
In his split second of clarity, Harry pulled out his wand and stared at the long crack that ran down its length. Part of Fawkes’ feather peeked through, a brilliant vermillion brighter than a sunrise. His world narrowed down to that small reminder and Harry pulled on his magic and pushed . Like a warm sweater, the transformation slipped on effortlessly. There was none of the warring between forms as before; the potential of the basilisk lay dormant in the back of his mind.
As the world loomed larger and his body shrunk, his blood felt like it turned into molten lava. Harry twisted his neck and watched as the wound slowly cauterized under the heat. Just to be certain, he carefully delved into a painful Occlumency memory and cried a single tear. The liquid disappeared without a trace into his feathers, but Harry could feel its healing working; he felt imperceptibly lighter.
“You’ve managed to transform again,” Legolas said dully, as if making an observation about the weather. His voice was still flat and unaffected by the events he just witnessed. “Good. I know you are Eclipse, but all the same… I wanted to say farewell to him personally. Farewell.”
Legolas turned and Harry watched him leave with barely suppressed despair. This time, the tears came unaided by any old memories; thoughts of his future without the elf held immeasurable sorrow.
“My heart aches for you,” Eowyn said softly, “but there is nothing we can do. Only the sea can cure him now.”
“ Maybe... there is something that can cure him ,” Harry said. He stretched his wings experimentally. Feeling no pain, he quickly flapped his wings and gained altitude.
Below, Eowyn lifted a hand to shield her eyes as she watched in confusion, while Legolas hadn’t bothered to look up. Harry felt a pang of hurt, but even that couldn’t douse the small spark of hope in his chest. He slowly flew over the elf and blinked, letting his unshed tears carefully fall on top of the elf’s head. They landed in two unassuming drops and then disappeared.
Legolas’s stride faltered for a split second and time seemed to freeze in place. Then the elf shook his head and continued.
Harry’s eyes felt hot with unshed tears. His magic could heal the most vile orc, but wasn’t enough to break the call. Perhaps it was because Legolas wanted to leave and there was nothing to heal him from.
An oddly pitched hum pulled Harry out of his spiraling thoughts. Harry reluctantly pulled his gaze away from Legolas and looked down at the grass below. There, his wand lay in the grass, almost seeming to vibrate on its own. More of the phoenix feather poked its way out of the broken wood, and it seemed to radiate heat.
Harry flew closer and he could almost hear Fawkes. As he picked up the wand in his talons, it was as if a radio knob had turned and the static was replaced with a clear, ringing phoenix song.
For that brief moment, a veil had lifted and Harry grasped for the magic which had lain dormant for the past year alongside his broken wand. The feather burned brighter in response and raw, untapped magic flooded through him. His own magic rose to meet it and the two entwined in a chorus only witnessed once before, when the wand had first chosen him on that fateful day in Diagon Alley.
The feather pulsed even hotter and the wood began to smoke. Harry knew what he must do. He closed his eyes and gave silent tribute to his wand, which had first introduced him to the Wizarding World all those years ago. But that was on Earth; this world relied on a different kind of magic. It had no purpose here, save for this one last task.
His wand burned in a blaze of glory, and Harry directed all of its residual magic at Legolas in a final, concentrated plea. Please remember, he thought as he poured his magic into breaking the elf’s spell.
The magic hit Legolas and swirled around him in multicolored sparks of yellows and reds and oranges. Fawkes’ feather incinerated the holly and then the fire turned to the feather itself, burning away any remnant of the wand.
Harry quickly landed on the grass and transformed as his wings gave out from fatigue. His magic had cooled and hardened, like a campfire that had been put out months before. He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would rarely use magic again; perhaps it could be roused in a time of great need, but it could no longer be used for tickling charms or dancing teapots.
It was a pity, Harry thought, as he stared up at the sky above. Middle Earth could use some dancing teapots.
Thoughts of charms were swept away as arms pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. Long blonde hair tickled his nose. “Oh, Harry ,” a muffled voice said near his ear.
Legolas pulled back from him, concern etched into his face. “I almost forgot you. My head was filled only with visions of the ocean waves and far shores of white, until I heard you calling.”
The elf’s eyes roamed over Harry’s face, trying to memorize his every freckle and mole. Soon, however, his gaze caught sight of the flattened shrubbery and the blackened area on the ground.
“It’s a long story,” Harry said, feeling lighter than he had all day, even as fatigue hit him and his knees buckled. The world seemed to tilt on its axis and darkness rose to meet him as he mumbled, “Perhaps after a nap?”
A/N: We're getting close to the end!! Thank you all for sticking with me on this journey :)
Chapter 35: Another dawn
“All’s well that ends better.” - The Lord of the Rings
Sunlight danced across Harry’s eyelids. He groaned and tried to shut his eyes, but found they were already squeezed shut. Maybe he could go back to sleep if he burrowed into the pillow? But his lingering dreams were startled away.
“Harry! You have finally awoken.”
Harry reluctantly cracked one eye open to see Legolas sitting within arms’ distance on a nearby chair. The elf looked as if he had seen better days, though the average observer might not have noticed. To Harry, however, the slightly out-of-place hair and gently wrinkled tunic looked radically different than before. It was an unusual sight that prompted Harry to ask, “How long was I asleep?”
“Three days. I was worried you wouldn’t –” Legolas looked down at his hands. “I pieced the story together from Arwen and Faramir, I think. You’ll be pleased to know that Lady Eowyn is recovering as well. She is physically well, even if she is still distraught in mind.”
“Good, good” Harry said absentmindedly. Then he realized what three days meant: three days of Legolas not going to the sea. “If you’re still here, does that mean…?”
Legolas nodded and shared a soft smile.
“My heart still longs to cross the sea – someday. But I would rather spend many more moons and suns here with you, if you’ll have me.”
Harry let out a shaky breath he didn’t remember holding. He swallowed and tried to tame the sudden surge of hope that bloomed in his chest. “I never thought I would find a home in this unfamiliar world,” he said thickly. “But I can’t imagine any man – or elf – I’d like to explore it more than with you.”
Much as Harry wished to, he couldn’t spend the entire day with Legolas. Instead, a steady stream of visitors appeared in the doorway and the elf excused himself when Faramir and Eowyn first appeared. The latter looked pale and wan, and as Legolas slid gracefully past her, she reached out with a frail hand.
“Wait. Please. I would like to say this to both of you.”
Legolas gently took hold of her hand and removed it. He raised it to his lips and placed a soft kiss on the back of her hand.
“We have already spoken of this, my Lady; truly, there is nothing for me to forgive for I am already cured of my affliction. Please, do not burden yourself on my account; your healing is more worthy than any apology.”
Having said his piece, Legolas slipped out of the doorway before Eowyn could respond.
“I suppose you’ll say the same then?”
Her eyes looked tired and dim, and Faramir’s arm curled protectively around her as she awaited Harry’s answer. Instead of answering directly, Harry gestured for her to come sit next to the bed. She approached slowly, walking as if one misstep could shatter her. Faramir’s hold never loosened until she had sat softly into the chair. Up close, she looked even worse: her skin was pale and washed out, like a faded photograph that had been left too long in the sun.
“When I was fifteen, I tried to kill my friend’s dad,” Harry said quietly. He could still remember the sensation of sliding along the cold, sterile floors of the Department of Mysteries.
“I dreamed I was a snake when I encountered him. His heart was pumping so loudly that I could feel the vibrations thudding against my skin. When I tasted coppery blood... at that moment, I shared the snake’s desire to bite and kill. In the brief moment as I woke up, before I started screaming for help, I was pleased about the successful strike.”
Shame had coiled in his belly then, and slowly choked him the remainder of that dark night. It had only eased, partially, when Harry had learned that Mr. Weasley would pull through.
“ That was Voldemort, Eowyn. He’s the one who took over your mind. He’s taken over mine, too.”
Harry reached out to squeeze her hand, and she squeezed back like it was her lifeline.
“When did you stop feeling the guilt?” She asked, her voice raw with suppressed tears.
“Time has helped me come to terms with it but some days, I still wake up with a heavy feeling of shame. Eventually, though, the good days will outnumber the bad. ”
She gave him a tight nod and took a deep, if tremulous, breath. “Thank you, Harry.” Eowyn then rose to leave, and Faramir, ever by her side, assisted her. Her steps seemed surer than before, and as they left the room, Faramir threw a grateful look his way.
Gimli barreled through the door next, giving Harry hardly any time to process his sudden appearance before the dwarf started talking.
“Bring me the next time you fight a giant snake. My ax has never tasted the blood of a serpent!”
“Why would you want to fight it?” Harry asked, unease pooling in his stomach. He should have expected that someone had seen his basilisk form. He wondered if it was too late to come clean; would guards already be on patrols for a giant snake?
“For glory, of course! Yet I know it is already too late. You already slew the serpent that hypnotized Lady Eowyn and have rightly earned that glory.” Gimli looked as if Harry had hit his head, while Harry stared back in equal befuddlement.
“Gimli,” Harry said delicately. “Who was telling you this?”
“I had intended to ask the Lady, but she looked as pale as the summer moon. On my way back, I might have overheard a conversation or two by the kitchens. I expect you and she will tell the full, most valiant tale when the memories are less fresh.”
“Gimli… I was the snake.”
There was a long pause, as Gimli digested this new information.
“Perhaps it is best you did not bring me along then. Is there anything you cannot turn into? A gemstone, perhaps?”
Harry barked out a laugh and winced as it caused his ribs to flare briefly with pain.
“That's it, I promise.”
He must not have kept the hesitation entirely out of his voice, for Gimli gave him a piercing look, then said seriously, “Harry, you sound afraid.”
“I just realized some uncomfortable truths, that’s all.” Harry looked down at his hands, grateful that they were now pink and fleshy instead of dark scales. The basilisk that bit him had survived over a thousand years in the Chamber of Secrets; that, coupled with his Burning Days, forced Harry to confront the very real possibility that he might not have a limited number of days on Middle Earth. How could he face his friends as they passed away, one by one? He did not know if he would have the strength to stand it.
“How old are you anyway?” Harry asked, not caring if his question sounded abrupt. “And Gandalf?”
“My kind lives for a while yet,” Gimli said, peering at Harry with concern. “And Gandalf has been around for a while longer. I would not presume to ask his age!”
Gimli leaned over to pat Harry’s shoulder; the force of it knocked the breath out of his battered lungs. “We are not going anywhere, Harry.”
Yet even as they spent the rest of the mid-morning in idle chatter, Harry couldn’t shake a lingering melancholy as he pictured Gimli, Gandalf, and Legolas leaving one by one. Harry might have saved Legolas from the sea, but the elf would eventually fade all the same, as all mortal beings were wont to.
He wasn’t able to brood for too long, though; soon after Gimli left, Gandalf appeared. Harry could smell the wizard’s well before he appeared; the wizard’s long pipe sent smoke spiraling out into lazy clouds that clogged up the room. This, Harry vowed, would be remedied before he left the healing wing.
Gandalf’s eyes crinkled as he looked at Harry from the doorway. A slow smile grew across his face, leaving a constellation of wrinkles as it spread.
Harry started to smile back but faltered as he remembered their parting meeting.
“Gandalf, I’m… I’m sorry I lost my temper. You were right.”
“A wizard is always right,” Gandalf agreed. He moved to sit down heavily in the chair next to Harry. Lowering his voice, he said confidentially, “That is why we wizards do not work together often.”
Gandalf leaned back and took another deep breath from his pipe and blew. The smoke twisted this way and that, before unfurling lazily into a snake that slithered to the ceiling and disappeared upon impact. He peered down his crooked nose and smiled at Harry.
“You have managed the impossible, my friend. Sometimes the simplest of actions is greater than the most powerful magic. I expect you’ll manage even greater miracles with him by your side. I shall watch your progress with pleasure. I expect great things of you – beautiful, and great.”
Chapter 36: Changed perspectives
“Which came first, the phoenix or the flame?” ... “I think the answer is that a circle has no beginning.” - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
“Are you sure you want to come out here ?”
Harry gave a sigh of relief as he stepped out into the sunlight, enjoying the gentle warmth on his skin. If he had been confined inside any longer, he would have become as pale as Legolas. As if sensing his thoughts, said elf eyed him with concern.
Harry didn’t hesitate as he stepped into the gardens.
Wreckage from the battle had been hastily cleaned, but evidence still remained in the forms of broken tulip stems and flattened bushes. A black spot marred the ground not far from where Harry stood. Nothing green remained where the basilisk venom had melted the ring.
Harry cast a critical eye over the flower beds; the weight of a basilisk had irreversibly destroyed a few of them, but others would regrow in the spring.
“I like it out here, even now. The flowers suffered too, but they can’t leave; they can only rebuild.”
A small yellow bud caught his eye, and Harry crouched down. The dandelion’s leaves had been trampled and one had been torn in half, but already the resilient weed had started to grow another flower in the few days since the fight.
Harry pulled out the broken leaf; it would only hinder the plant’s regrowth. Another flower caught his eye and he carefully pruned that one as well.
“I see what you mean,” Legolas said, as he crouched down to help. By unspoken agreement, the two slowly worked their way around the garden until the sun had set low in the sky.
They finally reached the other side of the garden as shadows stretched languidly across the garden like a lazy cat that had just woken up. All that remained was a small pear tree, which had half of its limbs ripped cruelly away, making it look oddly lopsided.
Working shoulder-to-shoulder, Harry could feel the heat of the day radiating off of Legolas. As he reached above the elf to twist off a bent twig dangling off of the branch, Legolas turned to pluck off a smashed pear from its stem. This brought his face dangerously close to Harry’s. For a suspended moment, the two simply looked at each other without speaking, though Harry could see pain churning behind Legolas’ eyes.
“ Arimelda .” The elf’s voice shook with suppressed emotion. “I ask for forgiveness, knowing I will never forgive myself. You could have died out here yet I would not have noticed.” Legolas let the fruit drop ungracefully onto the ground as he brought his hands up to cup Harry’s face gently in his palm.
“There is nothing to forgive, for you were not yourself. It is a choice I would make time and time again, no matter the years that pass,” said Harry, knowing that he would be around for a long time indeed.
The air felt warm, despite the cool evening breeze. Harry could not tear his eyes away Legolas’s as soon as he could defy the inexorable pull of gravity. They were planets, locked into orbit around each other in a suspended state. Seconds passed that felt like eons until Harry’s patience could last no longer; he closed the gap between their lips with a gasp that was stifled by an impatient, hurried kiss. Harry’s back hit the tree and his heart stuttered as Legolas pressed his body fully against his.
That was, of course, when the King and Queen discovered them in their evening stroll.
“Good evening, friends,” King Aragorn said in a dry voice, as Harry and Legolas leaped apart. “I am glad to see that you both are feeling better.”
Harry flushed, grateful for the low light.
“Indeed we are,” Legolas responded as he turned to face both monarchs. He did not completely extricate himself though; his arm slid down to wrap about Harry’s lower back, pulling Harry securely by his side. “The smell of flowers seems to encourage a natural exuberance; I seem to recall the two of you were also in fine spirits here a fortnight ago.”
“Only here?” The Queen laughed, a cheerful sound that sounded like small chimes. “But we must stop teasing, or Erestor will blush.”
It was only then that Harry noticed a third party, standing slightly to the side of the King and Queen. The elf did not seem capable of blushing; he gave a short nod but otherwise, no muscle twitched on that stern, unblinking face.
“I am relieved to see you both healed,” Erestor said. “King Thranduil has already suffered such loss; I worried what this news might have brought him.”
Harry felt Legolas stiffen beside him.
“You plan to see my father?”
“Though the journey is long, it would be even longer if I were to visit the elven realms separately after this trip. I plan to leave within the fortnight and will be speaking with King Thranduil in two month’s time. Is there anything you would like me to convey? Or perhaps you would like to accompany me?”
Though Legolas’s grip around his waist remained firm, Harry could feel the pressure slacken slightly and the elf gave a soft sigh.
“I suppose I have been away for longer than anticipated. Please, tell my father that I will return soon.”
Erestor smiled in satisfaction, but Harry felt a jolt of unease. The spark that had rekindled under the pear tree was still fragile and he had hoped to slowly nurture it in Gondor. Now he saw that the auspices of peace held a hidden threat: a return to normalcy also meant a return to the expectations and burdens that Legolas carried with him.
As if reading his thoughts, Legolas squeezed his hand and slowly turned to face Harry as the others continued their evening stroll.
“He always makes me feel as though I am an elfling.” Legolas said ruefully and he sighed. The elf looked around at the garden wistfully. “Though I spoke hastily, I also spoke true; I do feel the need to return to my people, if only briefly. Yet it need not be rushed: I want both of us to be in full health before the journey. That is, if you would join me?”
Harry hesitated. There was only one choice, really; it wasn’t as if Harry had any other pressing matters. Yet that in itself posed a problem: he didn’t have a purpose anymore. Cast adrift in a new world with an endless lifetime stretched before him, Harry worried about what the future would bring. It was a daunting prospect.
The thoughts led to another worry, quietly buried in Harry’s heart. Harry liked Legolas. Maybe even like, liked, if he gave himself the chance. But how could he knowingly open his heart, when Legolas would die like any of the others, while Harry would live on, well past the lives of men and elves. He wasn’t sure if his heart could bear it.
The silence stretched out taut between them and Harry realized he had been silent for too long.
“I’m sorry, I -”
“I would like you to come. In case I haven’t made that clear.”
Legolas’s words rushed out on top of Harry’s and the elf looked at him with a hint of nervousness and anticipation.
“I would like to join you.”
Harry could deal with his internal crisis later. However, something must have flickered on his face, because Legolas leaned in closer to look at him with concern.
“Have I misunderstood your intentions?” Legolas asked in a low voice.
“No! No. It's just… well, you remember that I said I’m a different kind of ithron?”
“Yes, though you may also recall that I said no two ithron are alike. There are too few of them to risk mixing them up.”
“Yes. Well.” Harry thought it was exceedingly strange – and concerning – that there were fewer than ten wizards in the whole of Middle Earth but he shelved that thought for another day. “I learned something else about my powers the other day when I turned into the basilisk. It confirmed a hunch of mine, that I… that is to say I am…”
Harry paused to collect himself. He had never said these thoughts out loud before, hardly daring to say them in the privacy of his own mind. “I think I might live forever and I don’t know how to handle that."
Bile rose up in his throat and choked any remaining words he might have said. But Harry didn’t have words anyway; his mind had gone static like an out-of-tune radio station, with occasional crackling as his thoughts collided into each other before winking out under the oppressive terror that had flooded his mind. He had no idea what Legolas might say: what he could say after such a statement.
“And?” Legolas asked, seemingly nonchalant at the fact that Harry might be immortal.
The word trickled slowly through his panicking brain. Legolas snapped into focus as Harry’s mind finally understood the word.
“What do you mean, and?” Harry said, turning to look accusingly at Legolas. “It’s inconceivable! How will I be able to watch everyone pass on to the next great adventure, while I’m here, purposeless and heartsick? I don’t know if I can stand it.”
Hot tears started to surface and Harry squeezed his eyes shut in anger to keep them from being seen.
Legolas gave an aborted laugh.
“You… you featherbrained bird!”
His hands clamped down on Harry’s shoulders almost painfully, and the elf looked as if he wasn’t sure to hug or shake Harry. "This is why you should live with the elves. You would not be an oddity there. Harry, arimelda, we are immortal.”
His words shocked Harry to the core. "You are? Truly?"
"I thought you knew. While mortals are welcome in elven halls, my kin and brethren ignore most mortal affairs for how fleetingly they appear and then vanish. You would not fear the quick passage of time if you stayed at an Elven house. Of course, I will continue to travel and visit Gimli, Aragorn, and other friends I have made in my journey. And I will likely visit their children and their children’s children. But I will do so knowing that there are others – my whole race – who will still be there against the passage of time."
Legolas smiled at him, eyes soft in a way Harry now knew – really knew – that the elf understood.
“Oh,” Harry said eloquently. There didn’t seem much more he could say. His heart was too full to speak. Other immortals? Not just Legolas, but a whole race? They weren’t wizards and witches, but he would never find his way back to Earth – he had accepted this over the last year. But to find a community that might understand him, and think him normal; he had never dared to hope for as much. There was only one thing to do.
Harry threw his arms around Legolas and pressed him against the half-demolished pear tree. The trunk creaked warningly under their combined weight, but Harry did not heed it. His world narrowed until his face was so close to Legolas’s that all he could see was the starlight reflecting off of the elf’s eyes. As Legolas’s eyes shuttered, Harry closed that tempting gap with a searing kiss.
Chapter 37: The world, anew
“And to that, I hold. I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” — Arwen
Legolas had planted a patch of seeds on the patch where the horcrux lay; as summer turned to fall and then winter, the soil slowly grew to resemble the same color as the earth around it. And then in the spring, sprouts appeared and unfurled into cheery yellow flowers that swayed warmly in the sun and brought joy to those who saw it.
Gimli had brought a pressing of one such flower when he visited Harry and Legolas in the great halls of Mirkwood on his return journey to the Lonely Mountain. Before continuing on his way, he extracted promises from Harry (and by extension, Legolas) to visit within the year. Harry had not taken much convincing; while he had several burgeoning friendships with the Mirkwood elves, he had a healthy respect for King Thranduil and his stern disposition.
That night, Harry carefully placed the flower on the table beside Legolas’ bed, anticipation churning in his gut. After nearly a year of enduring subtle and not-so-subtle assessments by the King and various advisors, Legolas had formally announced that they would be moving in together. While this effectively meant that Harry would move his meager belongings from one hall to another, it was much more symbolic than that: since elves apparently took only one romantic partner for life, the prince’s relationship status had come under intense scrutiny.
Harry reached to pick up the flower again, only to be stopped by a warm hand covering his. He turned and smiled at Legolas. The nervousness that had risen to his throat slowly settled as he looked at the elf, seeing a mirrored uncertainty there.
“I’ve never done this before,” Legolas confessed in a husky voice, as he guided Harry to the bed.
“But you’re so old!” Harry said as he fell backward with a breathless laugh.
Legolas gave him a wolfish grin. “That means I have had long years to imagine what I might do with a lover.”
Harry’s breath hitched as Legolas slowly undid the laces of his tunic. His fingers skimmed lightly across Harry’s exposed chest, leaving a trail of desire in their wake. Harry gasped and reached to pull Legolas’ shirt off as well. As the offending garment was dropped unceremoniously on the floor, Harry placed roving hands all over the elf’s body, marveling at the sinewy muscle that shifted with his fingers.
Meanwhile, Legolas had not ceased his ministrations, and his hands had circled lower and lower until they reached Harry’s breeches.
“Okay?” Legolas stared at Harry’s bright green eyes, searching for confirmation.
“Okay,” Harry said in return.
The air felt charged like there was a lightning storm brewing overhead. They undressed quickly after that, despite knowing that they would have centuries to learn each other’s bodies and minds.
How on earth had he thought to hide away on Middle Earth? He would not give up this moment for the world. That was Harry’s last thought until he was lost in the rising heat that engulfed his body. It felt like his Burning Day, yet it was fire without pain, only pleasure.
As the morning light filtered into the room, Harry felt as if the last crack in his heart had been carefully filled in with golden light. He smiled softly as he heard the warblers and thrushes sing of the rising sun. Harry couldn’t wait to explore this new world with Legolas by his side. After all, they had all the time in the world.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for sticking with me on this journey! It's bittersweet to close this chapter; this has spanned so much of my life, from when I first started writing in high school. I've really appreciated your encouragement and feedback throughout!
p.s. While I think it would make sense if the elves took multiple partners throughout their long lifespans, Tolkien was quite clear that they are monogamous to the extreme. Only one love per life for these elves.