Harry disliked being vulnerable. There were many varied and valid reasons for this. Unfortunately for his preference against vulnerability, Harry also liked to settle down with a good book and lose himself in the pages. Apart from when he slept – and he slept very lightly – it was his only vulnerable moments, and truly he was less aware of the world when he was reading than when he was sleeping.
At this particular moment, Harry had found himself a nook in one of the walls of Hogwarts, and had tucked himself up into it, curled almost completely around his new book, with his bag acting as a cushion between him and the cold stone. It was an early graduation present to himself, as his Hogwarts education (and extra curricular studies) would be complete by the end of the week. His extra curricular studies had included Ancient Runes on Hermione's insistence (and healing just because he spent that much time in the hospital wing), though they hadn't been particularly useful for defeating Voldemort (his other, primary, extra curricular which he had just completed very recently). The study had certainly been very interesting, and since the war Harry had figured out a way to combine the runes and the healing into tiny little tattoos at the corners of his eyes so that he didn't need his glasses any more. One less liability.
In fact, it was because of his runes study that he had chosen this book for his early graduation present. He held in his hands the rather fat compilation of the entire Lord of the Rings series, Hobbit not included. He'd begun to read the first book the previous night before going to sleep, but not gotten very far due to general exhaustion. The runes he had studied at Hermione's behest had reminded him, just a little, of the 'elvish script' that some of the more keen kids in his old elementary school had written their secret codes in.
"Boromir needs a thump on the head," Harry muttered to himself. "What good will a bit of jewellery do in a war?" he grumbled. Certainly, except for destroying bits of jewellery that Voldemort had attached his soul to, there hadn't really been any good reason to have trinkets in the newly ended war.
"Talking to yourself Potter?" a voice sneered.
If Harry hadn't been completely absorbed in his reading he would have heard it and recognised it as belonging to Draco Malfoy. However, grumblings about stupid characters aside, Harry was completely lost to the world.
Draco was never one to appreciate being ignored though, and there was a reason that he was a Slytherin, despite how he had begun his academic career. Now, the blonde scowled, withdrew his wand, and as he contemplated which spell would be best, a wicked smirk replaced his previous expression.
When his incantation was complete, Harry was swallowed up by his book.
"A new meaning to the phrase 'absorbed by his reading'," Draco declared smugly as he incinerated the only thing left of Harry's presence – the book.
"Oof!" Harry exclaimed as he landed, painfully, in the middle of the council that had gathered regarding the matter of the One Ring. "Ow. That hurt," he said weakly, coughing to get air back into his lungs as he pushed himself up onto his arms. Then he looked around and very nearly swore, but decided that in the face of elves he'd rather not come across as uncouth. Rearranging himself so that he was sitting and staring up at everybody, he decided that however he had gotten to be in Middle Earth, he very probably wasn't going to be going back the same way.
He was rather glad, therefore, that since he'd had that trouble with the goblins back during the war he'd taken to carrying his entire wealth in a mokeskin pouch, and hadn't properly unpacked his bag from when he'd still been on the move, hiding from Voldemort. It meant that he had everything he owned in his bag. Except for his book, which was gone. Probably a good thing though, all things considered.
"Who are you?" asked one of the elves. Harry guessed him to be Elrond. "And how did you come to be here?"
"In answer to the first: Harry. In answer to the second: magic, and probably at the hand of someone who doesn't like me very much," he replied. "Only an enemy would do magic on me when I was just having a quiet read after all," he supplied with a wearied, crooked smile. "Ow," he added as he tried to straighten his back a little more. "Again. I'm going to feel that landing for a few days."
"Why would your enemy send you here?" demanded an incredulous halfling, and as it was the younger of the two hobbits present, Harry guessed this to be Frodo. "This place is wonderful."
Harry chuckled at the small one's enthusiasm. "I very much doubt he knew where he was sending me," he answered, then sighed. "I am quite sure, however, that there will be absolutely no way for me to return."
Silently, Harry wondered if there was something in the air that made him talk more... eloquently than usual. Apart from just being in the presence of these elves and not wanting to seem too uncouth around them. Or maybe he was being all fancy-words from hitting his head when he landed. Carefully, he reached a hand up to his head to feel for bumps. Yep, there was definitely a lump growing where there hadn't been before.
Then he noticed something else. "Ugh, why hasn't someone put a barrier around that thing?" Harry grouched, withdrawing his wand. Spotting where the ring had been set, Harry gave a flick and a translucent pink bubble appeared around the ring. The feeling of probing evil abruptly disappeared, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief. That was much better.
"Are you an Ishtar?" asked the man who had to be Gandalf. That he looked almost exactly like Dumbledore, only without the bright coloured clothing was... more than a little disconcerting actually. There was surprise and incredulity displayed on his wrinkled old face in equal portions.
"I don't think I qualify," Harry answered, finally pulling himself up off the ground, grunting out another 'ow' as he straightened. "But please excuse me, you look like you were having a meeting, and I just fell into it. I apologise for the interruption."
Somewhere in the crowd of gathered people – and they were mostly elves – someone's breath audibly hitched, halted, and then was carefully released. The sound of a pin hitting the ground could have been heard in that moment when Harry finally stood straight, tall (thank Merlin for nutritional potions, or he'd still be a shrimp), and looked around at the assembled council.
"Such an apology is not needed," the elf who Harry suspected was Elrond said. "For the meeting was almost completed." With this, he turned to Frodo, who had volunteered to take the ring to Mordor, though he didn't know the way just before Harry landed before the gathering. "This is a heavy burden," he schooled the hobbit. "So heavy that none could lay it on another, and I do not lay it on you. If you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right."
"But you won't send him off alone surely!" cried another hobbit as he rushed into the gathering.
"No indeed," agreed Elrond, and Harry was by this time quite certain that the elf was Elrond. "You at the very least shall go with him. You cannot even be separated from him when he is invited to a secret council and you are not."
The newly arrived hobbit, and Harry felt sure in his guess that this hobbit was Frodo's faithful gardener Sam, blushed and sat. "A nice pickle we've landed ourselves in Mr Frodo," he muttered.
The council were then released, and an elf that just fit all the descriptions Harry had read of Legolas of Mirkwood approached him. Of course, written descriptions weren't the best, and actually Harry was fairly sure that there had been ten elves present at the council who fit the same description, but Harry was kind of hoping that this was the Mirkwood prince.
Before the elf could say anything though, Frodo was tugging on his robe for attention. "Could I have the ring back now?" he requested, gesturing to the pink bubble which Bilbo was poking at and could not get through.
Harry chuckled. "It's not going anywhere," he answered the hobbit, "and for a while neither are you. When the time comes for you to leave, then I will disperse the barrier so that you may take the horrid thing with you," Harry promised.
Frodo frowned, but nodded, and took Bilbo away from his poking.
"It is a great magic you have done Ishtari," the blonde elf said. "How did one so young come to be so powerful?"
"Necessity," Harry answered shortly, then sighed. "All I wanted was to be normal, and to have peace. I was never going to have normal, but I'd finally gotten peace, or very nearly had, and suddenly I'm dropped here."
"Where war is about to take hold," the elf finished. "Come, Lord Elrond would no doubt be willing to give you rooms of your own, but he is very busy right now, so until then you may share my quarters. I am Legolas of Mirkwood."
Harry nodded, glad to have his suspicion there confirmed. "Thank you," he answered.
"So, relatively speaking of course," Harry said as he relaxed on the balcony attached to Legolas' rooms, stretched out on a bench. "We're about the same age."
"Relatively speaking," Legolas agreed with a smile. "The truth of years is quite different."
"Quite," Harry agreed, smiling back. "And the pains of experience different again."
"What do you mean?" Legolas asked, leaning forward in his chair.
"Your foe. You know how to fight against the orcs and the uruk-hai. You kill a few almost every day. There always seem to be more, but they're easy enough to kill individually. My foe, not so much," Harry explained.
"Your foe," Legolas echoed. "Who or what was your foe?"
"A man," Harry answered, letting his eyes lose their focus as he stared up at the sky. "A man who shucked his humanity as the snake sheds old skin. He killed others to gain immortality, and he sought immortality so that he could rule the world for eternity. He drank the blood of unicorns and took draughts of snake venom. He was killed, but did not die. Seven times he was killed and did not die. He willingly shattered his soul and studied the darkest of arts. But though he had once been a man, he wasn't when I faced him. His servants were still men though. Men, and women. He even had followers in children of my age and some still younger."
"Why did you fight him?" Legolas asked. "As you said, you are a child. Why did a child have to fight such a one?"
"I hate prophecy," Harry answered. "Dislike the whole field of divination. Nothing is certain but the past. Unfortunately, he rather took prophecy seriously, even when he hadn't heard all of it. I was the unlucky sod who was fated to fight him, and if I did not kill him then he would quite happily kill me."
Legolas was silent a while, and then the soft sound of him rising from his chair could be heard before he appeared over Harry's face.
"You know what Frodo must feel then," Legolas said. "For now it is his place to save us all. What is that feeling?"
"Fear. Even in those small times when all around me were happy and laughing, in those rare moments that I will treasure to my dying day, I felt fear. Sometimes that fear made me angry. Sometimes it drew me into an overwhelming sadness. I lost hope of ever finding happiness again, several times I felt that hollowness. I asked why. Why it had to be me, why I had to fight. I was frustrated and helpless. I ran recklessly into danger, to fight my foe so that I felt that I was doing something, that what I was doing would save someone. I killed myself a thousand times within my own mind, thinking of all the things that could have gone wrong. I felt guilt for every life that was lost. I felt fear," Harry answered.
"Thus you were brave," Legolas said, entranced by Harry's speech. "For no man, elf, or dwarf can be brave who does not first fight against his fear."
Harry smiled a little. "I know there were many who feared with greater intensity than I did. They were braver than me. Still, I felt fear the longest of them, for they all conquered their fears. I simply learned to live with the feeling, even after the main reason for my feeling it was gone, still I felt that fear."
Legolas reached down to stroke Harry's face. "You no longer have to carry that fear."
"No," Harry agreed. "No, now I shall shoulder a new fear. I had recently brought peace to my people, to my world, and now I am here where the world is on the brink of war and destruction. Again." He leant into Legolas' touch though, and closed his eyes gratefully as he breathed deeply of the almost-pine smell of the elf. There as just something about the elf, and it wasn't that he was a looker, but something else, that drew Harry in and made him feel comfortable, safe, and something that he hadn't ever felt before and couldn't recognise. He was sure he'd figure it out later.
"Do you mean to say that you will accompany Frodo?" Legolas asked. "Lord Elrond has said he will choose who goes with the halfling."
Harry chuckled. "He can claim it," he answered. "But we who go on such things are chosen not by such means. Fate does the choosing. It's up to us how hard we struggle against her. I learned early in my life that kicking and screaming and railing against a higher power has no effect. That's a yes," he clarified. "Lord Elrond can even tell me that I'm not permitted to go. I'd still leave with Frodo, and stay with him until Fate weaves me a divergent path from his."
Legolas nodded. "I wish to go as well," the elf said. "The hobbit will certainly need help."
"Hobbits," Harry corrected, emphasising the 's'. "Since Sam will follow Frodo anywhere, and I suspect he is not the only hobbit in Rivendell at this time who feels so."
Damn. Being inside Lord of the Rings was making him really wordy. Maybe it was just Rivendell. Maybe once he was out of this elf-rich environment he'd get normal words back, and the monosyllabic teenage answers! Sweet Merlin he hoped he would. He wasn't this big of a talker normally. Nice as it was to talk to someone about all this stuff, it was also undeniably weird. Still, at least he was making sense... kinda... mostly.
Harry spent the following two months almost exclusively in Legolas' company. Well, no, that wasn't right. Wherever Legolas was, there Harry wasn't far behind. Sometimes he was even in front. But they didn't stray far from each other generally, though they did keep company with others as well. Frodo and the other hobbits were pleasant company, and Harry was pleased enough to meet, properly meet, all the people who'd been in that council meeting he'd fallen into. Boromir the exception, but Harry still held that the man needed two tight slaps across the face for being a wilful idiot about some very obvious stuff. The man was alright though, apart from that.
Seriously though, Harry did spend most of his time with Legolas over anybody else, even if there were others present as well sometimes.
One day Legolas had taken Harry to the archery fields and taught him the bow, and laughed when Harry could barely draw that first time. Honestly, he hadn't expected it to be so hard, but now that he knew what kind of resistance he faced with this thing, he put a lot more of himself into the action. All those summers doing the housework for the Dursleys, all those Care of Magical Creatures classes with Hagrid, and all that hanging onto a broomstick with all of his might so that he didn't fall to his death? Yeah, that paid off in a big way. Just because he was a good flyer didn't mean he held on any less tightly than someone who was terrified of heights. Some of the stunts he pulled up there, he had to hold on even tighter.
Legolas stopped laughing when Harry finally drew back the arrow, sighted down its length, released, and hit the bullseye. Aim was important in spell casting as well. He was glad it had carried over somewhat. It took practice to get his aim with the bow as instinctual as it was with his wand, and such practice always left him covered in sweat, but it burned his muscles in new and pleasant ways.
Of course, there were times when they weren't together. As Legolas had suggested, Lord Elrond had provided a room for Harry, and there Harry slept at night, showered when he needed to, and dealt with the single regular reminder that, despite everything else, in at least one way he was still a normal male teenager.
The lessons in wielding daggers and a sword were more difficult than learning to use the bow had been. He had a very basic understanding of how they worked: the pointy end goes into the other man. Or by his experience into the basilisk's head, or Nagini's head. Or as was more appropriate in Middle Earth, into the orc. Enemy. That worked. The pointy end goes into the enemy.
Frustrated though he was with these weapon lessons, he just couldn't help but laugh at the blatant relief on Legolas' face to see that Harry wasn't as automatically good at this as he was with archery.
Then there was magic. Here in Rivendell, Harry mostly used it to entertain, particularly to entertain the hobbits, though he spent a good amount of time checking his portable ward schemes and comparing plants from home with those available locally – with Legolas' help of course. He needed to know such things for potion-making. He didn't fool himself into believing that he had enough blood-replenisher or skele-grow or anything to last him the rest of his life in Middle Earth. He only had enough to last a year or two, and that only if injury wasn't as regular as it had been during the war.
Seeing as another war was about to begin here? Yeah. Not bloody likely.
When these two months of alternating between intense weapons training and heavy magical thought were over, Lord Elrond gathered up the council again to discuss who was best to send with Frodo on his quest, and why. They also needed Harry to release the shield from around the ring so it could be taken out of Rivendell.
Sam of course refused to be separated from Frodo and would go with him, but that had been previously established. Gandalf was going as well and in several capacities: friend of Frodo, Ishtari, person who knew where they were going, etcetera. Lord Elrond wanted there to be representatives of all races, so there was a dwarf called Gimli and Legolas was to be the elf member. Aragorn and Boromir both had to go to Minas Tirith anyway, which was on the way to Mordor, so they'd be going along. Then Merry and Pippin had insisted on going as well, not wanting to be parted from Frodo any more than Sam and even going so far as to say that they'd have to be tied up in sacks and sent back to the Shire to stop them.
"Nine," Lord Elrond said with satisfaction.
"Ten," Harry corrected, standing form his seat, daring anybody to deny him. "You can tie me up and send me off somewhere else if you want, but I'll still join up with them within the day," he added with a nod to the hobbits.
Lord Elrond looked like he wanted to object to the one extra person, but Gandalf called peace on the matter just as he had when Merry and Pippin had demanded they be sent as well.
"The Valar's will works in ways not known to us," Gandalf said. "But I believe he will be needed on this journey."
Lord Elrond sighed as he acquiesced. "You go tomorrow. For now, there is packing to be done."
"What's so amusing?" Harry asked.
Legolas' eyes danced with barely restrained amusement as he strode up to Harry where the young man was resting in one of the courtyards.
"The hobbits," he answered. "Merry and Pippin are having to empty out some of the food they have packed because they fell over when they tried to lift their bags."
Harry sighed. "Where are they?" he asked wearily. "I'll make the packs lighter."
Legolas blinked in surprise. "You can do that?"
Harry chuckled and held out his satchel for Legolas to hold. The elf took the bag and raised an eyebrow at his friend.
"That has inside of it all of my worldly possessions, save a creaky old house and a mildly insane indentured servant. If it wasn't nailed down it went in that bag. That includes several million gold coins," Harry explained.
Legolas' jaw dropped. "How does that even all fit?" he asked.
"Magic," Harry answered, all cheek. "Should I bother doing this for you as well?" he offered with a smile as he took back his bag and headed to where the hobbits were roomed.
"If it means I can fit more arrows in my quiver," Legolas said as he followed Harry, "then by all means do."
Harry nodded in agreement to do this, and pushed open a door. Beyond it, the hobbits were lamenting that they had to leave food behind. Harry chuckled quietly and walked up to them, then picked up the nearest bag. It was quite heavy and quite full, but a couple of taps with the elder wand and it deflated, looking and feeling empty while still holding all the food that it had before.
"Hey!" Pippin cried. "What did you do? Where'd all the food go?"
"Look inside Mr Pippin," Harry offered, holding the bag out to the hobbit.
"Cor!" Pippin exclaimed as he took the bag and looked in. "It's still got all that food in it, and you'd never know! Merry, pass me that loaf of bread!"
Harry went around each of the hobbit's bags and enchanted them, making them light and bottomless. The hobbits could continue to stack food in them until there was no food in Rivendell, and still there would be room inside the bags for more. The food would go off before it all got eaten. Harry paused with a frown as that thought entered his head. No, wasting food would not do. He'd suffered enough of seeing perfectly good food go to waste at the Dursleys. Harry went around the bags again and put stasis charms on them, so that the food would remain as fresh as the day it was packed, however long it stayed in the bags.
"Come on," Harry said to Legolas quietly as the hobbits cheerfully packed even more food into their bags. "I promised I'd spell your stuff."
Legolas nodded and walked beside Harry through the corridors until they reached the elf's chambers. "You said that everything you own was in that bag of yours," Legolas said as he handed Harry his quiver. "What about your weapons?"
Harry held up his wand and gave a signifying look.
"Then why -?" Legolas started, as what Harry was silently implying sunk in.
"Don't get me wrong," Harry said, not letting his friend finish his question. "I enjoy firing the bow, and learning the blade, but this is my primary weapon."
"I'm going to talk to some of the other elves about getting you other weapons for the journey," Legolas answered firmly.
Harry shrugged. "By all means," he agreed. "I'm not going to object."
Cloaks over their shoulders and weapons in their places, the Fellowship of the Ring – as they had been dubbed by Lord Elrond – set off the next day. When, not two hours later, discussion started up about the best way to reach Gondor, Harry slammed the heel of his palm into his forehead and grit his teeth in frustration. This caught everybody's attention, or maybe the thing that caught attention was the frustrated "yarg!" he let out – and not quietly either.
"Harry?" Legolas called gently.
"We were in Rivendell for two months after deciding that the ring had to be destroyed," Harry said, frustration clear on his face. "You couldn't decide which road to take during that time?" he demanded, perhaps a little more harshly that needed. "Look, before we commit to taking any of them, what are all the options, and what are the pros and cons?"
"Pros and cons?" Aragorn echoed, confused.
"What is good and what is bad about each option," Harry explained.
"We can go by the road," Boromir said. "It is an easy path."
"It will be watched," Gandalf countered. "We can go over the mountains. We are unlikely to encounter the enemy."
"Unlikely is not a guarantee," Gimli piped up. "And it will be uphill, hard climbing, cold. There will be a great deal of snow at this time of year. We can go through the mines of Moria. The dwarfs there will be hospitable."
"Dwarfs who your own father admitted at council he has not heard from for some time," Legolas quipped.
"I would not go through the mines of Moria if I could help it," Gandalf added.
"Right, so none of the options are perfect," Harry said. "Is there some reason we can't follow the road without being on it?" he suggested.
"Let the ring bearer decide," Gandalf said judiciously.
Frodo looked around nervously. He had not expected to be so put on the spot.
Harry crouched down in front of Frodo and looked him in the eye. "Take a deep breath," he counselled gently, laying a hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "You're the one in charge here. You said that you would take the ring to Mordor, but did not know the way. Well, here you have three different ways to get there, all lined out before you," Harry said with an encouraging smile.
Some of the panic left Frodo's eyes, though the fear lingered as Harry had known it would, then he closed them and, following Harry's suggestion, took a deep breath.
"The road," he said when he opened his eyes. "If we follow the road and are set upon, then at least we shall see them coming, and we will not have to worry about snow or getting lost in the mines."
Boromir smirked in triumph, feeling that he had won the argument.
Harry, upon standing, bapped the man on the back of the head. "Don't get cocky, child of Gondor," he told the man who was older than him. "Pride comes before a fall."
"You have no business calling me a child and scolding me," Boromir answered with a frown.
Harry fixed serious green eyes on the man, staring flatly into the older man's own brown orbs. "I will stop calling you a child when you stop acting like one," he answered bluntly. "And if I catch you trying to take that bit of junk jewellery from Frodo, I will put you over my knee and spank you."
"Junk jewellery?" Gimli cried in shock. "That is the One Ring!"
"And we're taking it to be destroyed. It is useless to anybody not it's maker, though it would claim otherwise. It may be pretty enough, it's still useless and on it's way to be disposed of. Therefore: junk," Harry explained firmly.
Legolas and the hobbits were the only ones who laughed.
"You have great fortitude," Gandalf said solemnly as he began walking again, "and wisdom."
Aragorn just nodded in approval when he caught Harry's eye before he followed the grey wizard.
Boromir was still grumbling, childishly, about being called a child several hours later. "I have killed orcs by the hundreds!" he exclaimed at last. "No child could do such a thing."
"And I have killed men," Harry returned sharply, his harsh answer halting the entire company, though only Legolas wasn't shocked by the revelation, having known already. "Which is much harder on the mind, because they were known to me by name but still had to be killed. Orcs are an enemy that are not of your own kind, child of Gondor. So much easier to kill something you have no sympathy for, so much harder is duty when it is unpleasant in more ways than just how it smells."
Boromir was silent after that.
Legolas lay a hand on Harry's shoulder and drew the young wizard to his side, offering comfort in silence.
Travel on the road was easy and fast, despite Gandalf's concerns about them being watched by taking it. At lunch they stopped a moment to eat, and there came the first true surprise to the rest of the Fellowship: the hobbits unloading food to eat from their bags.
"How did you fit so much in those bags?" Gimli asked, consternation furrowing his brow.
"Mr Harry magic'd them!" Pippin answered happily as he piled up a sandwich.
This drew attention to Harry himself, who was at that moment up to his shoulder in his satchel. His satchel which was only a foot deep on the outside. Frustrated an unaware of his audience, he stuck his head in as well before giving a triumphant cry within the depths of his bottomless bag before withdrawing a loaf of bread and a knife to cut it with.
"Why did you have to dig so deep Harry?" Legolas asked, amused.
"I'd piled other stuff on top," Harry answered easily, shrugging it off. "Food isn't a high priority for me. Water yes, food not so much, though I like to eat well when I can."
"How can food not be a high priority?" Merry asked, stunned.
Harry shrugged again. "I can go three weeks before I absolutely must eat, though I prefer to not go more than two. Starvation is something that I have been familiar with since I was young. I could not eat large meals if I wanted to, and I have wanted to. I was sick afterwards, so I have smaller meals or eat less often." Another shrug, and Harry cut off a piece of the bread. There was fruit in it, and cinnamon on top. A weak heating charm, so small it needed neither incantation nor even the drawing of his wand, and the smells of when this bread had been fresh out of the oven rose to invade the senses of all those having their lunch.
"Performing magic will only draw Sauron's attention to us that much faster," Gandalf scolded.
"Perhaps," Harry allowed with a nod. "But this sort of spell I think is too small to be noticed, and my magic is very different to yours as well remember. Sauron may not even know how to detect my magic."
The Fellowship ate their meal in peace, and even when the hobbits had finished their eating, packed up, and were ready to be on the move again, there was still no sign of the enemy bearing down on them.
"You make guesses that are suspiciously good Mr Harry," Aragorn said as they moved on. "The road, your small magic. How do you know so much, when even Gandalf is not so certain?"
"First, I did not choose to take the road," Harry countered. "Second, my act of magic was as I said, small. What does a dark lord care if some nobody warms his bread? As for Gandalf," he paused, aware that now everybody was listening to his words, Gandalf included. "I don't care how old or wise you are, sometimes people think around so many corners they tie everybody up in knots."
"How do you know Sauron does not watch the road this moment?" Gandalf asked.
"If he's smart, and to have gotten as powerful as he is, then he'd have to be smart, then he knows you would expect such a thing, knows also that you have no wish to go through the mines, and so is waiting for you to try and cross the mountains still," Harry answered.
Legolas bapped Harry up the back of the head, just as the young wizard had Boromir earlier in the day. "Pride comes before a fall you said," Legolas reminded his friend. "Arrogance is very near to pride, so I am told."
"Thank you," Harry replied with the greatest solemnity. "I both needed and deserved that." He made no move at all to smooth his hair back down from where Legolas had messed it up.
An hour later, it was Legolas himself who fixed Harry's hair, even while they were still walking.
"Evil rings are evil, and not to be trusted," Harry reminded Frodo quietly as they sat around the fire in the evening. "A man I hold in high respect once told me 'do not trust a thing if you cannot see where it keeps its brain'."
"Then you do not trust your knife, or your clothes?" Boromir joked.
Harry chuckled in appreciation. "No," he answered as he slipped his wand into his hand. "Clothes especially have a way of betraying a person," he said, giving a flick of his wand in Boromir's direction, changing his dark, sensible clothes and leather armour into a pastel pink and pale green spandex monstrosity, with feathers.
Boromir squawked in indignation, and probably some small amount of horror.
"Traitorous clothes," Harry said. "If they could be trusted, they would not succumb to such a spell."
Gimli and the hobbits were roaring with laughter, and Gandalf chuckled, while Aragorn and Legolas both bit their lower lips and averted their eyes, trying to let the warrior of Gondor keep some of his dignity. Harry changed Boromir's clothes back when the shock faded from the man's face and began to be replaced by anger.
"Laugh man," Harry insisted, even as he made his own clothes canary yellow and decorated with bright purple ostrich feathers. "It's just a joke."
"Me next!" Pippin called out, waving his hand in the air.
"You don't need help to look silly Pippin," Merry quipped.
Harry changed his own clothes back to normal and put his wand away, chuckling and shaking his head at the hobbit's antics.
When the first of them took out his bed roll and made himself comfortable, Harry took out one of his portable ward schemes and set it in the middle of the camp, adjusting how large he wanted the ward to be and what he wanted it to do, and then he set up a second one that was exclusively a warning, that was five minutes run from the outside of the first ward scheme.
"What's that?" Legolas asked.
"Warning of approach and a barrier to keep the nasties out," Harry answered. "No good letting the barrier down in the morning just to be swamped with orcs who'd waited at the edge after all."
Legolas nodded in silent, slightly stunned agreement. "Is there anything you can't do?" he asked.
"Go home," Harry answered. "Please my last living relatives. I'm absolutely lousy at any kind of divination. Completely pants at it. Other stuff? Dunno, haven't tried. Now," he said, opening up his bag. "Where did I put that camp bed?" he asked, mostly to himself, as he shoved an arm and his head into the bag and started searching.
He came out half a minute later with a contraption that had folding crossed legs at each end and at the middle with canvas stretched over poles that ran the length of the thing. Reaching into his bag again, he pulled out a pillow and a large thick blanket, which he laid half on the bed before lying down and wrapping the other half over himself.
"And we sleep on the hard ground," Gimli grumbled.
Harry pulled out his wand, pointed it in Gimli's direction, and with a flick a nearby stone turned into a feather bed.
"That will wear off at dawn," Harry said, not looking up. "Goodnight."
He proceeded to ignore the scramble between the dwarf and the hobbits to claim the large, soft bed and simply fell asleep to the sound of Legolas' laugh.
Harry groaned as his skull was invaded by the warning signal he'd set up before going to sleep. They'd managed to go a week on the road before anything more than regular animals had tripped the ward, and now they were just a couple of days from Gondor. It would be now they get attacked.
"Wake up," he called as he hauled himself off his bed, quickly shoving it into his bag. "Wake up. Orcs will be at my ward line in five minutes."
"If they can't get in, what's the fuss?" Boromir grumbled. Clearly he was still very much asleep, even as he began packing up his own bedroll. He didn't trust the beds that Harry transfigured into existence, not after the incident with his clothes.
"The more orcs that stop at the ward line, the more we're going to have to fight our way through when we leave," Aragorn answered, beating Harry to it.
"Which direction are they coming from Harry?" Legolas asked.
Harry pointed to the direction they had been travelling in. "Unfortunately," he said. "Looks like it's time to leave the road, since I don't think orcs understand the concept of 'retreat'."
"They don't," agreed Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas and Gimli all at the same time.
"How many orcs?" Gandalf asked. "Can you tell?"
"I'd guess twenty-five of the buggers have already crossed my alarm ward," Harry said. "So there's at least that many. Maybe more."
"We can fight our way through that," Gimli declared.
Harry sighed. Confrontational people. He was so glad he'd grown out of actually wanting to fight, and could hardly wait for the dwarf to get to that stage as well. Harry waved Frodo over to the portable ward matrix.
"You hang onto that once we get moving," he instructed. "If it's not on the ground then it's area of protection contracts to about this far -" Harry held his hand up a foot apart, "- around the person carrying it. Nothing will get in that you don't want to."
Frodo nodded in understanding, and picked it up at the very last second after Aragorn started leading the way to the confrontation.
The creatures charged.
Harry turned his wand to the bed he had already transfigured from a rock – he made one every night, mostly to give the rest of the Fellowship the entertainment of watching Gimli and the hobbits do battle for the bed. A small flash and it was a very large grizzly bear. It waded into the orcs, clubbing them with its great paws, crushing skulls with ease.
"You really didn't need to learn any other weapons," Legolas commented, even as he drew his bow and fired at another orc.
"Sure enjoyed it though," Harry answered before he sent a reducto into the horde of still charging monsters, followed by an aquamenti, just to try and wash some of the stink away. It was hard to concentrate on fighting when they smelt that bad. That the water jet forced a bunch of them back onto the swords of other orcs didn't hurt either. He used the occasional incendio, but stuck mostly to blasting curses, keeping the orcs off the other's backs while they skewered the ones in front of them, and let his transfigured bear crush skulls as it moved among the horrible things. Since it wasn't a real bear, but a rock, injuries didn't bother it any.
Well, until the orcs managed to pull it down, but even then it crushed a lot of them by landing on them, and it continued kicking and swiping its paws until it's head was chopped of – a task that took five orcs to accomplish.
"Well, that didn't take long," Boromir commented, pleased, though clearly also very surprised.
"Yeah, great. These things stink even worse when they're dead," Harry answered, then quickly turned the entire spread of dead orcs into ash with another incendio, then grabbed his water bottle out of his bag and took a large swig.
"Let's get moving," Aragorn said. "The sooner we get to Minas Tirith, the better."
That was at least something that everybody could agree with.
In the Gondor city, Harry was standing on a balcony and looking out at Mordor, chin in hand as he tried to think.
"What is troubling you, my friend?" Legolas asked.
"I was just wondering if Mordor had a back door," Harry answered. "Frodo just walking up to the front gate to take the ring to the fires and destroy it really isn't a good idea."
Boromir was right about that much at least. It was one of the fastest ways in Middle Earth to get yourself killed.
"You think a lot of Frodo," Legolas observed, and his arch tone suggested that Harry might think more of the young hobbit than being ring-bearer required.
"I've been in his position," Harry countered. "Except I had to do things the hard way, because even the people who were supposed to be looking out for me were actually only looking out for themselves."
"I suppose it's a shame that the ring won't work to Frodo's benefit in Mordor, if he could be invisible that would definitely help him," Legolas said with a sigh. "On the other hand, it would be helpful if one of the eagles could fly him over so he could drop the ring in from a hight, except that they would be spotted."
Harry's spine went rigidly straight and then he flopped forward slightly, slapping his palm to his forehead.
"Of course!" he exclaimed, growling lowly at himself. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
"Harry?" Legolas asked, amused and worried at the same time by his friend's behaviour.
Harry just opened up his bag and shoved his arm in, rummaging around until he'd found the two objects he was searching for.
"Invisibility cloak and flying broomstick," he announced. "Why didn't I think of this earlier?"
Legolas laughed, shaking his head. "I don't know, and I don't care, just -"suddenly he bit his lip, stopping himself from saying what he had almost said.
"Just... What?" Harry asked, having caught the almost slip and wanting to know what his friend was keeping back – and they had become friends over their journey from Rivendell to Minas Tirith.
"Just..." Legolas closed his eyes, drew a deep breath, then looked at Harry once more. "Just don't ever leave me alone."
"I'm going to guess that you don't mean in the 'constantly invade your privacy' kind of way," Harry said, one eyebrow raised higher than the other in surprise.
Legolas smiled and shook his head in amused agreement.
"And I'm guessing that you mean in more than just a 'really good friends' capacity. Some kind of soul-mates thing?" Harry suggested, only half-hoping that he was wrong. After all, there were worse people to be stuck with than Legolas. Compared to Legolas, actually, everybody was a worse option to be stuck with.
The smile vanished from Legolas' face, and his answering nod was a lot more tentative.
Harry sighed, shrugged, and said "okay."
The grin he got as a reward for his apparently easy acceptance was radiant. The explanation of exactly what as soul-mate was (short version: whatever they needed the other to be, whether that was parent, friend, lover or something else entirely) only further cemented Harry's belief that he had given Legolas the right answer.