Chapter 1: Luck of a Potter
Hermione Granger had a splitting headache, and she seemed to be lying on the ground. Which was exceedingly odd, because the last thing she remembered was donning her Unspeakable robes and making her way to her laboratory in the bowels of the Ministry of Magic.
Keeping her eyes closed and her limbs loose, she assessed herself and as much as she could determine of her surroundings.
She was not hurt that she could tell. She was lying on leaves and grass, and she could hear insects, birds, and a myriad of other animals, almost as if she was using a charm to extend her senses. Something seemed to be whispering, almost singing to her, and an instant later she realized it was the trees. They were speaking. To her. Inside her mind.
Well. That was new, but not the strangest thing she'd ever encountered. It was entirely possible that they were simply a breed of singing tree that she'd never heard of, not having an especial interest in herbology.
No, more concerning than the talking trees was the fact that she appeared to be entirely naked, judging by the feel of air on her skin.
It wasn't until she opened her eyes and sat up that she realized that her body was much smaller than it should be. And not as if she'd been shrunk, but as if she'd been de-aged. Her proportions were those of a toddler - flat chested and pudgy with lingering baby fat.
She cursed, and then cursed again when her voice came out in a little girl's warble that was more musical than her voice had ever been, no matter the age.
"Bother. These sorts of things are supposed to happen to Harry, not me," she groused, and then groaned when she realized that she wasn't speaking English, or any language she recognized, but could understand all the same.
Perhaps this was what it was like to be a Parselmouth? Though the words that fell from her lips sounded nothing like the hissing of a snake. Rather, it was a language of flowing syllables that seemed to go with her bell-like voice.
Time to take stock of her circumstances then.
There was a little stream not far from her, so Hermione got unsteadily to her feet and made her way to it in order to study her reflection.
She was beautiful. Cherubic, even. It was as if she had become her perfect self. Her skin was even and clear, and it glowed with a soft light. Her hair was a rich mahogany brown, and not bushy at all, but rather fell in ringlets around her face as if she'd used a whole bottle of Sleakeasy and then spent hours on hair charms. Her eyes were a deep oaken brown and were large in her face, her lips rosy pink and perfectly shaped. Her nose was an adorable button, and when she opened her mouth, her teeth were white and perfectly proportioned. She was the most beautiful child that she herself had ever seen, human or non.
She raised a small hand to push her shoulder length hair back, and gasped when she saw that her ears ended in delicate points.
Events suddenly came back to her, making her squeeze her eyes shut and fold herself down into a defensive ball.
After the war, she'd worked hard to get her NEWTs and establish herself in a career. She dated Ron, and then broke up with him, and then dated him again in an endless cycle that would probably end in marriage, once she was ready to settle down - which was one of their most recurring fights. She wanted a chance to just be Hermione Granger, to work, to do something other than fight a war and worry about what Harry was doing at any given moment. Ron didn't see why she couldn't do that and be his wife at the same time.
Part of her, a part deep down that she tried not to listen to, but could not help agreeing with, didn't want to marry Ron because he left. They needed him, they hurt just as much as he did, but with him it was always about him first and everyone else second, and he left when they needed him the most. How could she trust that he wouldn't do the same thing again? Why would she want a husband who would flee every time the going got rough?
Of course, he'd come back. Ron always came back. But that wouldn't stop him leaving the next time, and she didn't know if she could take that in a marriage when it was already such a strain as a friend.
But that wasn't the point. She was going off on mental tangents as her mind tried to process what had happened to her.
The point was that she'd become an Unspeakable, and she'd been assigned to divine the secrets of an artifact that was thought to date back to Avalon. To the time of the High Elves who had interbred with humans and so given them magic. (Supposedly. There wasn't enough research on the topic to satisfy Hermione.)
She'd been in her lab, attempting to discover what sort of magic would activate what she thought to be a ritual stone of petrified wood that had been found buried in the Forbidden Forest. And then there'd been an explosion, not in her lab, but the one next door. An explosion so devastating that it had completely blasted apart the wards that were supposed to contain such things.
She'd been hurt, all over, and her mind was foggy, wouldn't work, and then she'd slumped over the ritual stone, rivulets of red paint - no, not paint, it was her blood - running over the table.
And then nothing, and she woke up here. Completely naked, and a beautiful child. With pointed ears.
Like a High Elf.
Hermione heard someone panting, and looked around wildly before realizing it was her. She was hyperventilating. She should stop that.
When next she woke, it was dark in the wood she'd found herself in, and her skin was glowing even more brightly than before, as if she were somehow infused with a lumos, or else was a very solid patronus.
She was sure now that she had somehow become one of the fabled High Elves who had long ago vanished through a portal into a different world. All of her new characteristics matched what few credible descriptions they had of the beings. (The most detailed account Hermione ever read came from Hogwarts, A History. It was said that Helga Hufflepuff was considered an elf-friend and one of the last High Elves had blessed the land surrounding Hogwarts at Helga's request.)
Perhaps the ritual stone Hermione had been working on was once a part of the elves' world portal, and something about her life sacrifice - and yes, she could not flinch away from the most likely scenario that she had died in that explosion - had resulted in her waking here, in the body of an elf child, in a forest that she was becoming more and more certain was not in England, perhaps not on Earth at all.
She took a deep breath, tamping her emotions down as best she could (which wasn't very well at all), and rocked back and forth as she thought. She didn't notice the tears flowing down her cheeks.
Working theory: The Avalon artifact was part of the portal used by the High Elves to leave Earth. Her life blood falling on the stone at her moment of death activated it somehow, and pulled her through a similar portal. But as the portal was only meant for elves, it either transformed her body when she went through, or it only pulled her spirit through and created an elf body for her.
Alternate theory: She died and was in some kind of afterlife, or was resurrected in a different world as a different species.
But if she had been reincarnated, shouldn't she be a baby, not a child? Shouldn't she have new parents? And why did she remember her old life as a witch?
Was she still a witch? She'd never been powerful enough to feel the currents of magic around her. Not like Harry, who did it without even realizing. But what she lacked in power, she made up for in cleverness.
She wanted to know if she still had magic? Well, then she needed a wand. And while she'd never made a wand before, she'd become quite an artificer in their year on the run and the two years following. She'd made her beaded bag, and improved their tent, and studied all sorts of secret techniques once she joined the Unspeakables. And she had the materials right here. All she needed was a branch from a tree, and a part of a magical creature for the wand core. And wasn't she a magical creature, one of the most magical of all?
So Hermione got up and toddled around her little glade, trailing her fingers over the tree trunks, looking for the one that felt right, careful not to lose sight of the stream. She didn't want to go too far, as she seemed to be safe where she was, and she had water here, if not food.
At last she found herself standing at the base of a massive willow that seemed as inviting as the Whomping Willow was ominous.
"Hello. Can you help me, please?" she said to the tree, both hands on its trunk. The trees seemed aware, with their whispering and singing, so it couldn't hurt at all to be polite.
Her question echoed through the tree's branches, passing from root to leaf, and tree to tree, like a game of telephone, spiraling out through the forest until the whole of it rang with the sound of a little girl saying Help me, please, to those who were able to hear. In the center of the Greenwood, in a palace carved into shining caverns, a crowned head jerked up and a young prince gasped.
But Hermione didn't know any of this. Instead she focused on the willow tree, and smiled when it whispered back to her, yes, yes of course, little elf, my little elf, come sit in my branches and sing to me.
And then the flexible branches of the willow wove themselves into a ladder for Hermione to climb up, which she did, settling herself into a little hollow in a junction of the tree's branches that seemed made just for her. The willow then crowned her with a tiara made of its own woven branches, giving a little sigh as it let go of part of itself, and Hermione giggled, an overwhelming happiness pushing her tears away.
For the moment, at least, the childish nature of her new body overcame the calculating mind of the adult, and Hermione thanked the tree for her crown, and then sang it nursery rhymes until she started to yawn, lulled by the swaying of the branches.
As her words had before, her songs spiraled out through the wood, and gave hope to those who could hear it.
"Keep singing, little dove," the Elvenking said, turning his mount. "Lead us to you."
Chapter 2: Born From the Green
There is now cover art posted at the beginning of the first chapter. :D
The third time Hermione woke in the wood, there were men searching the trees all around her. She shrunk back into the shadows of her willow, her first instinct being to hide. Memories of Death Eaters and Snatchers danced before her eyes, coupled with a childish fear of people, adult people, that she didn't know. She grit her teeth, pressing her lips into a thin line, irritated at herself for both things. These were not Death Eaters or Snatchers, and while she might look like a toddler, she was twenty years old, and would not succumb to a child's unreasonable fear.
But still, a little caution wouldn't go amiss.
Pressing her face to the silvery willow, she whispered as quietly as she could, "Who are they? Will they hurt me?"
She was not quiet enough, for every head turned toward her tree, making Hermione cringe. Their ears! How could she be so stupid, when it was so obvious! They could all hear extremely well, these elves. Hadn't she noticed how enhanced her own hearing was when she first woke up?
Elvenking, Elvenking, the willow tree sang to her, echoed by the others in the little glade. Keeper of the Green.
Hermione giggled, and then shushed herself, cursing the impulses of her childish body.
The elves were all looking at her tree now, and the one wearing a crown much like her own - woven of branches accented with budding flowers, which obviously meant he was the Elvenking - stepped forward to stand at the base of her tree.
"We will not hurt you, little dove," he called softly. His voice was surprisingly deep and smooth, making Hermione think of the phrase 'a voice like chocolate.' "Won't you come down?"
He was speaking that musical language. Hermione could tell if she concentrated hard, though it sounded like English otherwise.
The Elvenking looked up at her with icy blue eyes. His face was set in a gentle expression. His hair was a fine white that hung straight down to the middle of his back, and his features were as perfect as her own. His shoulders were wide and strong, his figure trim, and his legs long. He wore finely embroidered robes with flowing sleeves and an exquisite cut. He was every inch what an Elvenking should look like, and he reminded her strongly of Lucius Malfoy. Unconsciously, she ran her fingers over her arm, where she had once had 'Mudblood' carved into her flesh.
But the scarred word was not there anymore. Her new body was soft and unblemished, and lest she forget, naked save for the delicate crown of willow branches she wore on her head.
There were ten more elves in the glade. All were male. One looked very like the Elvenking, though his hair was a shade more golden and his cheeks a touch fuller, his eyes warmer. He had a coltish, unfinished look about him as if he were not quite grown, and Hermione deduced that he must be the king's son or nephew or perhaps younger brother. They were so similar, and yet different all at the same time. If the Elvenking made her think of moonlight, then the younger elf - Elvenprince? - reminded her of the sun.
The other elves were variations on the same theme - perfect, angelic beings with either blonde, light brown, or red hair, and eyes that ranged from brown to blue to green. All of them glowed just as Hermione did, though not as brightly as her. Aside from the Elvenking they were all dressed in tunics and the sort of leather armor that Hermione associated with childhood tales of Robin Hood. Perhaps they were the king's guard. Or perhaps the king had gone into the forest unexpectedly, unless he always dressed so… regally, in flowing robes and capes as finely woven as any tapestry to be found in Hogwarts.
"Won't you come down?" the Elvenking said again, reclaiming her attention.
Hermione looked at him, and thought to herself yes, he did look like Lucius Malfoy, but there was something else about him, a feel to him like he was one of the singing trees, a great tall redwood that would protect her from harm. Perhaps it was part of being an elf, that she could sense this about him. Perhaps it was because her willow was still whispering, Elvenking, Elvenking, Keeper of the Green.
Perhaps, a new thought surfaced, becoming an elf had twisted her magic to align with the abilities of her new body, and that was why she, who had always operated on logic and reason, was being swayed so much by a feeling and singing trees.
Well, there was nothing else for it. By all appearances she was a baby elf, and she wasn't going to get anything accomplished hiding in a tree, so even if she was naked she was going to climb down. Hopefully the Elvenking was a gentleman and would give her his cape.
It wouldn't be until years later, when Hermione had learned the history of the elves and how rare and wondrous children are to them and how advanced her connection to the wood was compared to other elves, that she would appreciate how she must have seemed to them in that moment.
For as soon as Hermione decided that she would climb down, the branches of the willow reached into her little hollow and gently wrapped around her, lifting her out and placing her on her feet before the Elvenking. All the while, all the trees around them sang,
Born from the Green.
Destined to be Queen.
It wasn't a prophecy. The trees just liked to make up rhymes. And even if it was a prophecy, prophecies were nonsense. Hermione certainly had enough experience with that. They were all self-fulfilling tripe. But the elves, who had seen an elfling seemingly be born from a tree already wearing a crown, thoroughly disagreed with her.
They all knelt, even the Elvenking, though he seemed to be doing it so he could more easily wrap his cape around her. So he was a gentleman then. That was a point in his favor.
"What is your name, little dove?" he asked, tilting his head to examine her.
She curtsied, because he was a king after all, and answered, "Hermione, your majesty" in her lilting little girl voice.
"Hermione," the Elvenking repeated, putting a fluting accent on the vowels that made the name sound exotic. "I do not recognize it. What does it mean?"
Hermione's question-answering reflex kicked in before she could stop herself. "Earthly messenger."
Murmuring broke out among the elves, Hermione's ears picking up the phrases 'Hall of Mandos' and 'glows in the way of Glorfindel.' The Elvenking's eyes sparked with some emotion that Hermione could not name. He seemed almost reverent… and perhaps a bit greedy. A few seconds later she realized the meaning of her name, the silly poem the trees had made up, the crown the willow tree had given her, and the fact that she glowed a bit more than elf-standard made her seem like some sort of demigod and honestly, this had Harry Potter stamped all over it. He'd somehow found a way to transfer his penchant for the ridiculous onto her.
Hermione opened her mouth to straighten everything out, but before she could utter a word, the Elvenking motioned his son/nephew/younger brother forward and had the younger elf kneel next to Hermione. Hermione turned her head to peer up at the youth, and he smiled, revealing two dimples that made Hermione smile back.
"Take her hand, Legolas," the Elvenking instructed.
Legolas reached down for her hand, which Hermione allowed because she was a toddler, so maybe the king was worried about her wandering off, but the instant their hands were joined she felt some kind of spark go through her, making her jerk in surprise. It was like a static shock. Legolas had obviously felt it too, because he was looking at her with wide eyes and a dopey smile.
Hermione just stared back at him, everything else around her fading into the background. Like the answer to a puzzle that had been just out of her reach, Hermione suddenly knew that Legolas was important and she must learn everything there was to know about him, effective immediately. She would follow him around for the rest of her life if she had to.
The Elvenking gave a rare blinding grin, but Hermione did not notice. She was too busy memorizing Legolas' face, deducing things about him based on what she could see. She did, however, notice when the Elvenking rose and spun to face the other elves, his robes swirling dramatically around him. In a commanding voice he announced to the gathered elves, "Behold your prince and his destined wife, sent to us by the Valar!"
And, wait, what?
Before she could process the fact that she'd just been declared engaged by the Elvenking or stop to wonder who the Valar were, Legolas was picking her up and holding her securely against his chest.
"Do not worry, little dove," he said to her, his expression earnest. His voice was not as deep as the Elvenking's, nor as smooth, but it was still a nice voice. Like honey instead of chocolate. "I will protect you and love you always. This I swear."
Ah well. That wasn't so bad then. He was handsome and she was planning on staying with him anyway, though she wasn't quite sure why - No, no, no, no one had asked her! And she was a child, sort of! And she'd be damned if she was going to be parented by her future husband, even if she did go through with this farce!
Swiftly coming to the conclusion that throwing a temper tantrum would just get her put in time out, she attempted to come up with an alternate plan. And she had something… but it was a bit mad. Not as mad as jumping on a dragon's back, but...
Wriggling around in Legolas' hold, Hermione stuck out her arms in the direction of the Elvenking, and very firmly called out, "Daddy!"
Of course, it came out as, "Ada!"
The king looked at her, his brows arched in surprise, and Hermione made her bottom lip wobble (which wasn't hard, she was about a hair away from a major meltdown) and called out again, "I want Ada!"
Legolas laughed and passed her into the stunned Elvenking's arms. Hermione latched on, wrapping her legs as far as they would go around the king's waist, and fisting her hands in his robes. They would have to pry her off!
The king was equal parts bemused and delighted, his lips quirking up at the corners. Just to cement her place, Hermione pressed a kiss to his cheek and called him 'Ada' again, then buried her face in his shoulder. The king rubbed her back.
She'd feel bad for the manipulation, but he had just unilaterally decided that she was marrying Legolas so. Serves him right.
Chapter 3: The Halls of the Elvenking
The Elvenking, whose name was Thranduil, had a palace carved out of caverns in the center of the wood, which the elves called 'Greenwood the Great.' Hermione learned that much by eavesdropping, though she suspected the elves were speaking for her benefit. Unless the king's halls were always poetically described as 'a palace of magnificent caverns, hewn from the living stone by the most subtle and skilled of elves: each room a masterpiece of rock that glitters like stars, scenes from tales and history dancing along the walls. But grandest of all is the throne room, where the Elvenking sits upon a chair grown from a great tree crowned with antlers.'
The elves were taking her there now, where the royal nursery would be prepared for her, and a special feast would be held to celebrate her rebirth. (Yes, the elves knew somehow that this wasn't her first life. It seemed to have something to do with the way her skin glowed.) Then there would be invitations sent to other elven kingdoms, inviting them to come to a ball to celebrate her rebirth even more, as well as her betrothal to Legolas. Thranduil didn't want any foreign elves to get ideas about stealing her away. She was his daughter, given to him by the trees, and she was going to marry Legolas, who was Thranduil's son, and Crown Prince of the Greenwood.
It seemed unwise to protest the betrothal just yet. She needed more information on how this world worked, and as much as she loathed someone thinking they had the right to decide for her, it was entirely possible that she would come to love Legolas, or at least decide marrying him was the best course of action. She had time to decide whether to go through with it or find a way out of it. They wouldn't expect her to marry until she was grown, surely. And if what the wizarding world knew of High Elves was true, she would grow very slowly.
In fact, now that she thought about it, it was entirely possible that her new body was the same age as her old one, but twenty years as a High Elf equated to toddlerhood.
One way to find out.
Hermione looked up at Thranduil and tugged on his robe to get his attention. She was still pressed securely to his chest, riding in front of him on an elk of all things. All the other elves ran on foot or had horses, but her new father was riding an elk. Hermione was beginning to suspect he was a drama queen.
"Yes, little dove?" Thranduil asked her, giving her an indulgent, besotted look.
"How old is Legolas?" she asked bluntly. She was young enough to get away with it.
Legolas looked over at them, his elvish hearing notifying him that he was the topic of conversation.
"Legolas is eighty-eight, dear one."
Hermione nodded, her brow wrinkling as she thought that over. A couple of the elves who could see her face broke into song, singing out their joy to have an elfling among them. It seemed to be the elvish version of saying "Awww."
Ignoring the singing elves - no matter how beautiful their voices - Hermione asked Thranduil, "When are we getting married?"
This time Thranduil laughed, and Legolas looked shocked at the sound. Hermione noted that and filed it away. What had happened, that Legolas was shocked to hear his father laugh?
"You have some growing yet to do, little one," Thranduil told her with an indulgent look. "After you have reached your hundredth year, you will be an adult, and Legolas will court you properly. A year after you exchange betrothal tokens, you will be wed, and all of Greenwood will rejoice."
Hermione nodded, deciding that was enough information for the moment, despite her burning curiosity. "Okay, Ada," she said, then promptly laid her head on his chest and went to sleep.
Her new body was easily tired. Tired enough that she didn't realize she was sleeping with her eyes open.
When she woke, she was ensconced in a lavishly carved cradle in an equally wonderful room, wearing a ruffled nightgown and tucked in with a thick quilt. Looking around the room, she found that the earlier descriptions fell short of the true majesty of the king's palace. The nursery was large and had the usual furniture - cradle, rocking chair, wardrobe, some sort of toy chest - though this furniture was all carved to the lofty standard of the elves. If Hermione had not been so used to magical surroundings she was sure that she would be acting like the worst sort of rubbernecking tourist.
There was a cheery fireplace that was carved to look like a tree, the fire within the grate reflecting off little bits of metal embedded in the grain of the walls, giving the impression of winking fireflies. On the floor was a rug of some kind of brown fur. Perhaps elk, like the one Thranduil rode? All in all it made for a very cozy setting. It was like being back in her common room in Hogwarts castle, though the castle had always had a feeling of having seen hard use, whereas this palace sang with glory at its height.
Hermione let out a long breath. She was safe now. Out of the woods, quite literally. Cherished. Loved and protected, if for no other reason than because she was a child.
She immediately burst into tears.
She didn't need to concentrate, didn't need to plan, didn't need to shove everything away in order to keep herself alive anymore. She was safe, and now she was drowning in her own tears. She had died! She would never see Harry, or Ron, or Ginny, or her parents, or anyone or anything from her old life again! She'd had so much left to do! So much to change, so much to work to make right! She'd had responsibilities! A vision! Goals!
She would never teach at Hogwarts. She would never send her children there and wait on the edge of her seat to see what House they were sorted into. She would never become Minister of Magic. She would never free the House Elves, or conduct prison reforms, or fight for Creature Rights, which seemed even more important now that she was one of them. She would never see what became of Harry. Sweet, naive, heroic Harry, whom she half felt like she'd raised.
There came the sound of footsteps, and then Hermione was being lifted out of her cradle by a brunette elf woman and rocked back and forth. Another elf woman with red hair stood at the door, though she was armed and dressed like the guards from the forest. A personal guard? the part of Hermione that was always noting details wondered, even as the rest of her wept harder still, working herself into a coughing fit with the force of her cries.
"Ada!" Hermione screamed at the top of her lungs, suddenly wanting something familiar, even if it was a familiarity that spanned mere hours. She wanted Thranduil, and his mighty redwood presence!
"Hush, hush, little princess," the brunette elf woman attempted to soothe her. "Thranduil King is busy arranging a party just for you. You'll see him soon, I promise."
The woman, who was probably Hermione's nanny, started to sing a lullaby, but Hermione was having none of it. If she couldn't have Thranduil then she wanted, "Legolaaaasss!"
The red headed guard at the door disappeared, reappearing an instant later with Legolas at her side, his face set in an expression of worry. He wasted no time in taking Hermione from her nanny and clutching her to him, his eyes a little wild as he tried to work out what to do.
"Just stroke her back, your highness," the nanny instructed. "And talk to her. Let her know you're there."
Legolas did so, murmuring endearments to her, walking in a circle. Hermione kept her eyes on his face, tears pouring down her cheeks and her breath shuddering as she fought to get herself under control. Eventually Legolas started to hum, and Hermione seemed to run out of tears, spent for the moment. She snorted and snuffled, her breath hitching every few minutes and her nose clogged with snot.
Legolas pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and wiped her face, almost too gently at first before he figured out how much pressure to use. Then he put the cloth over her nose and told her to blow. She did, and he wiped her snot away and threw the soiled handkerchief into a linen basket in the corner of the room. To his credit, he didn't appear disgusted at all. He would be a wonderful father, as weird as it was to think given that it was his potential wife that he was currently caring for. But then with how long lived elves were large age differences between couples were probably not that uncommon.
That made Hermione feel a bit better.
Legolas went to sit in the rocking chair by the nursery fire, cuddling Hermione into his lap. The guard elf had gone back into the hall at some point, and presumably the nanny elf had too, as Hermione didn't see her.
"Are you alright now, my Hermione?" Legolas asked, stroking his hands through her hair.
"Yes, thank you," she answered, vaguely embarrassed that she'd acted like a child, despite all appearances. The rhythmic feel of his fingers against her scalp was making her sleepy again.
Legolas chuckled. "You are very well spoken for your age."
Hermione gave a weak smile. "Thank you."
"Did you have a bad dream?"
In that moment, Hermione decided to tell Legolas everything. Strangely, she wanted him to know everything about her almost as much as she wanted to know everything about him. She wanted him to know about her being a witch, and the war, and dying, and waking up here, and Harry, and Ron, and if she didn't tell someone she would go mad, and what if he caught her in a lie, after all Legolas and Thranduil had done and were planning to do for her? No, better tell Legolas everything now.
But when she opened her mouth to say, I came here through a portal, what came out was, "I was thinking about before I was here."
And that's when she knew that she was still under the Unspeakable Geas. Unspeakables were privy to so many state secrets that a powerful ritual was used to make them literally unable to speak of certain things to people without the proper authorization. It was meant to be a protection, both from those who would betray the department, and to prevent any Unspeakables from breaking under torture. To Hermione, who had been tortured for information by no less a person than Bellatrix Lestrange, to know that she would never have to rely on her own fortitude in such a situation again had been a blessing.
But the Geas had levels of security built into it. She couldn't mention department secrets to non-Unspeakables, couldn't discuss ministry business with magical creatures, and couldn't mention the wizarding world at all to muggles. It seemed the Geas had now expanded so that she could not mention her true origins to people not of her world.
Lovely. Just brilliant, really.
"Before you were here?" Legolas asked. "You remember before you came out of the tree?"
Hermione concentrated, her lips forming silent words until she managed, "I wasn't always in the tree. Before that I was somewhere else." Another long pause. "I was somewhere else with a… there was pain and red, and then I was here, and the trees were singing."
Legolas' breath caught, his chest going still. "You can hear the trees sing?" he asked.
Hermione leaned back so that she could look into his eyes. "Can't you?"
Legolas shook his head. "I can get a sense of what they mean, and feel what they feel, but I cannot make out words. Ada can, but only when he listens very closely."
"You're not missing that much," Hermione assured Legolas. "The trees are very silly. They like to make up rhymes."
Legolas' dimples made another appearance. "Is that so? Like what?"
Hermione giggled and chanted, "Elvenking, Elvenking, Keeper of the Green!"
Legolas laughed and resettled Hermione in his lap so that they could more comfortably face each other. "What did they say when you came out of the tree? I could feel them rejoicing and hear their song, but I don't know what the words were."
One of these days, Hermione would stop and think before she gave into her compulsion to answer every question presented to her. But today was not that day. Without thought to the consequences, she recited, "Princess, Princess, Born from the Green. Sorceress, Healer, Destined to be Queen."
Legolas' eyes widened, and Hermione, oblivious to his reaction, burbled on, "See. They just like to make up silly rhymes. You're not missing much."
"Silly rhymes," Legolas said, voice strangled. "Yes, I see."
Hearing the odd note in his voice, Hermione asked, "Are you alright, Legolas?"
He shook himself, and looked down at her. "Yes, I am fine. Now, we should get you ready for the feast, or else we will be late. Will you be alright with Maeves?"
"Who's that? The lady who was here before? Is she my nanny?"
Legolas smiled and tapped her nose with one finger. "Yes to both questions, my princess. You are a very smart elfling."
Hermione nodded. "That's true."
Legolas broke into another laugh. "And modest too."
Legolas picked her up, taking her back over to the cradle. Well, it was a bit big to be called a cradle. It was more of a crib/playpen, but it seemed too beautifully made to be called either of those things.
Legolas put her down among the blankets, telling her he would send in Maeves and she wouldn't be alone for a minute so she shouldn't be scared. Hermione stood up, just barely tall enough to see over the carved walls of the baby bed. (Baby bed, there, that was what she would call it.)
"Yes, little one?"
"Why do I have a nanny? Is the Queen too busy? Is Ada not married? Or does his wife not like me?"
An expression of pain flickered across Legolas' face, his eyes cast down. "My mother died when I was even smaller than you. And elves like us only ever marry once. Adar does not speak of it."
Hermione felt like a brute.
"Sorry, Legolas," she apologized, biting her lip.
"It is alright, little dove. You couldn't have known."
Maeves came back and introduced herself properly, and then set about bathing Hermione and putting her into a frothy little dress that Hermione would think absolutely adorable if she were not the child being subjected to it. It wasn't uncomfortable at all, so much as… demeaning? She was a living child, not a dress up doll for Maeves' amusement.
She did like her little pink slippers though. They made a satisfying clicking sound on the stone floors of the palace.
Maeves braided Hermione's hair back, because for some reason she was convinced that Hermione would get jam in it (she gathered that Maeves had been Legolas' nanny too, and Legolas had a lot of misadventures with jam), and finished her preparations by putting Hermione's willow crown back on her head.
"There now," Maeves said, fluffling Hermione's poofy pink skirt. "Aren't you the prettiest princess I've ever seen."
Hermione glared at her. Maeves was so fixated on Hermione being an elfling that she completely disregarded anything Hermione said or did as childish nonsense, and either humored her without taking her seriously, or told her not to be silly.
It was extremely frustrating. At least Legolas had talked to her like a normal person.
There was an idea.
"When is Legolas coming back? I want Legolas."
Maeves was delighted by this. She gave a lovesick sigh. "A fated match sparked at the first touch of your hands. It is the stuff of legends."
Hermione might come to hate Maeves.
"You will see the prince and the king at the feast, princess. We're going right now."
Maeves carried her into the hallway, where the red haired warrior woman from before automatically fell into step behind them. Looking at her over Maeves' shoulder, Hermione said. "Hi. I'm Hermione. What's your name?"
"Say, 'Well met. I am Princess Hermione of Greenwood,'" Maeves said in that sort of parental tone that meant Hermione was to repeat the sentence. Hermione rolled her eyes and did so.
The red haired woman gave Hermione a sly smile and said, "I am Tauriel, your highness. A star shines on the hour of our meeting."
Hermione paused a moment, to see if Maeves was going to insert anything else. When the nanny didn't, Hermione deemed herself safe from anymore niceties. "Are you my guard, Tauriel?"
"Indeed I am, your highness. You are a very smart little elleth."
No baby talking. Excellent. Hermione put on her most imperious expression and turned to Maeves. "I want Tauriel to hold me."
Both of the women - no, elleths...ellith? - smiled at one another. "Tauriel is supposed to keep her hands free so that she may guard you."
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "But if she's holding me then I'll be even more well guarded."
Maeves laughed a tinkling laugh. "You're just like a miniature Elvenking! Already so demanding."
Hermione huffed. "I can hear you, you know."
Maeves laughed harder. Hermione kicked her feet. Not enough to constitute a tantrum, but enough to make herself difficult to hold onto. "I want! Tauriel! To hold me!"
"I think I'll manage, just this once," Tauriel came to the rescue, competently swooping Hermione out of Maeves' arms. She easily arranged Hermione's limbs and weight, making Hermione think that Tauriel had experience with children. Perhaps she'd been Legolas' childhood guard as well.
"Thank you," Hermione said with great dignity, once she was balanced on Tauriel's hip. "Maeves talks to me like I'm a baby."
"You are a baby, dear little dove!" Maeves protested.
Hermione was brought into the banquet hall with much fanfare. All the elves burst into song when they saw her, a number they all seemed to know that was all about celebrating having a new elfling to care for. Their voices were mesmerizing to the point that Hermione suspected a siren-like magic. If she was so affected as a child of the race, other races must be completely hypnotized by the sound.
The tables were arranged in a way that Hermione recognized from the Great Hall at Hogwarts, with Thranduil and Legolas and a few others sitting at a High Table on a dais, and then ten other tables stretching the length of the hall for everyone else. There was a chair in between Legolas and Thranduil that seemed to be meant for her, for it was piled high with cushions to bring her up to the level of the table, but Hermione held her arms out for Thranduil the second she saw him.
Some intuition told her that a great many things depended on how well the king came to love her, almost as insistent as the feeling that she should know everything there was to know about Legolas. But as Hermione had always been firmly logical, she told herself that she was simply ensuring that she'd have resources and a good education by endearing herself to the king early, while she was still little and cute.
That was all.
And well, maybe she was starting to bond with him a little. Her childish emotions were getting the best of her again.
It felt a little like losing her mind, knowing something as an adult, but being unable to get her child self to believe it. For example, she knew she was a grown up, and did not need to be in Thranduil's lap. It would be perfectly fine to sit next to him. They'd be able to interact just as well.
But she could not get herself to believe it.
And so Tauriel made one attempt to put Hermione in her chair, and then gave up after Hermione said, "No. Ada will hold me."
Thranduil settled her in his lap, and Hermione looked out at the hall, trying to take in everything at once and peppering Thranduil with questions.
What stone are the caverns made of? Who made them? What's that? Who is that painting of? What year was it painted? What year is it now? Do we have a library? Can you teach me to read? Will you read to me? What are the proper names for the pieces of armor the guards wear? Is Tauriel the only elleth guard? Is this a salad? What are the leaves called? Do they have any medicinal use? Do we have a book of herbs in the library? When can I learn to read? Can I have a different nanny? Can Tauriel be my nanny? How about Legolas? Why not? How old are you? How old were you when you became king? What was your father's name? How old was he?
All these questions and more, Hermione asked in between Thranduil forcing her to eat and to chew, though he did not have to chastise her for talking with her mouth full. She had manners. She wasn't Ron.
Thranduil seemed both frazzled and amused as her inquisition went on, while Legolas had a fit of giggles and only laughed harder the more questions Hermione asked. Really! It wasn't that funny. She was brand new to this world and she needed to know things! So she was coming off a bit pushy. She wasn't interrogating Thranduil, she was just used to having answers, or at least the means to get answers. Being a toddler again was very inconvenient.
"You will like these," Thranduil told her as dessert was served. "Legolas always did when he was your age."
On a round silver platter was a stack of sweet buns that Hermione was willing to bet had jam in the center.
She reached for one, and then paused. "Will you help me, Ada? I want to show Maeves I can so eat without getting jam in my hair."
Thranduil gave a very unkingly snort. Legolas was turning red. "Well," Thranduil said dryly. "A royal with jam in their hair. We can't have that."
Chapter 4: The Princess of Greenwood
Wow you guys! The reader response to the last chapter on here and FF.Net was so great that I got all excited, so here's chapter 4!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Life settled into a comfortable routine for Hermione for the next few months. She woke up in the morning and was bathed and dressed by Maeves. Then she was taken to the private dining room in the royal wing for breakfast with Thranduil and Legolas. After that, Maeves took her back to the nursery to play with a small chest of toys. She had two realistically carved wooden horses with real horse hair for their manes and tails, a soft doll made to look like an elleth that had three different dresses, a much worn toy bow and sword, and a hand painted picture book that was the only book she was allowed to touch without adult supervision.
While at first she'd doubted she'd ever want to play, she'd underestimated her own childishness. The horses really were quite fun, especially when one pretended they were animagi. The book was by far her favorite, however, as it showed landscapes from around Middle Earth, and Maeves would answer questions about the pictures if she wasn't busy sewing new clothes for Hermione.
Following playtime, Hermione would beg to go to the library and be told no, as it was snack time and then her outdoor play time. While less fond of her toy bow and sword, she gamely took them with her to the royal gardens. Sometimes passing guards would play with her if she had the toys. And it was just logical to make sure her new body was in the best possible shape, wasn't it?
Of course it was.
There was a rose bush in the royal garden that Hermione particularly liked. It always had interesting things to say, being smarter than most plants Hermione conversed with. She wasn't sure why, but she was glad of it, especially as the rose bush kept tabs on Hermione's willow tree for her.
After outside play time, Hermione would wash up and go have lunch with Legolas and Thranduil, though sometimes one or the other of them would have to work or train and not make it in time. She threw a fit the first time that happened, despite herself. But though the elves were very indulgent with her, it was explained that being royal was a very big responsibility and she couldn't have a tantrum every time she didn't get her way, and she would see her betrothed and her Ada at dinner, wouldn't she? After her initial outburst was over, Hermione was grateful that she wasn't going to be completely spoiled. She'd hate to turn out to be like Draco Malfoy, of all people.
After lunch was her favorite time of the day. Maeves took her to the library and gave her lessons in reading and writing. She was supposedly a bit young for it, but she'd begged and pleaded until Thranduil caved and ordered she be taught, likely thinking that she'd get bored and give up quickly.
Well, the joke was on him.
Once she finished her lesson for the day, she could pick any book she wanted, within reason, and Maeves (or sometimes Legolas, if he wasn't busy) would read it to her. Then it was dinner time, and then bed. Thranduil always came to tuck her in, and Hermione was completely in love with him in the way that children love their parents, while at the same time being very aware of his faults due to her adult level of intelligence.
It was a strange feeling.
Things weren't all smooth sailing, of course. Hermione had several more total meltdowns, where Maeves had to send someone for either Thranduil or Legolas, or else dash through the halls with a wailing Hermione in her arms, for only the king or prince could calm Hermione in such a state. They would ask questions, and she, still under the Unspeakable Geas, would frustratedly tell them that she was 'remembering before I came out of the tree,' further reinforcing the idea that she'd literally been birthed by the willow tree.
Elves could be more idiotic than wizards at times.
Just when she'd started to really settle into her new life, guests started arriving for the ball Thranduil was holding in Hermione's honor.
The first to arrive was the ruling family of Imladris, along with their escort. Hermione had the feeling that Thranduil and Lord Elrond were friendly rivals as well as allies, and Thranduil was going to rub being 'given' an elfling supposedly destined for his son in Elrond's face. Thranduil could be very petty at times, which, while an unattractive trait in a king, was not the worst thing he could be. He was very proud, and that pride often led to pettiness, but he was also fierce in protection of his people and love of his family, so it evened out.
The royal family of Greenwood met their guests in the throne room, Thranduil seated on his throne on the high dais that let him look down at whoever stood before him. Hermione was perched in his lap, with Legolas standing at his father's left side. Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian came forward and made their greetings first, followed by their three children: Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen. The two ellyn were twins, and carried an air of mischief about them that immediately put Hermione in mind of Fred and George Weasley. Arwen looked to be around the same age as Legolas, sporting that slightly unfinished presence that said she wasn't quite all grown up.
The entire family was dark haired, save for Celebrian, who was a blonde. Elrond's features were not quite as elegant as those of most elves, though he was still gorgeous by any human standard. But then he was Half Elven, according to Thranduil. Otherwise, the family were your typical elves.
Arwen was very pretty though. Very, very pretty.
Hermione held her arms out to Legolas in a silent demand that he pick her up. When he did, Hermione sent a smug look at Arwen, which for some reason everyone found funny.
Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien were the next to arrive. Their introduction in the throne room did not go well at all, for the instant Galadriel's eyes met Hermione's, Hermione fell into a dead faint, slumping back against Thranduil.
She woke to a complete and utter mess. Maeves wouldn't stop fussing, and left it to Tauriel to explain that in the immediate aftermath of Hermione's 'fit' (apparently she didn't just gracefully keel over like fainting princesses were supposed to, but thrashed around a bit), Thranduil had ordered the Greenwood Guard to seize Galadriel and put her in the dungeon for attacking the Princess of Greenwood. Celeborn had naturally objected to this, and the only thing that stopped Greenwood's guards from brawling with Lothlorien's wardens in the hallways was Galadriel volunteering to go to the dungeon willingly. Now Hermione was ensconced in her nursery with Tauriel guarding her on the inside and Legolas standing in the hall outside the door. Thranduil was interrogating Galadriel while Celeborn threatened war for the way they were being treated, and all throughout this explanation Maeves was clucking that Tauriel should stop telling Hermione things that she shouldn't be worrying about, the 'poor little dove.'
Hermione took a deep breath and counted to ten, her mind working overtime as she considered what to do. She had to be in control in this moment. She couldn't let childish impulses rule her if she was going to make everything alright again.
"Maeves, dress me in my feast clothes, please. And get my crown."
"There won't be a feast tonight, little dove. Why don't you rest? Do you want any of your toys, or your picture book?"
Hermione sighed and rubbed her temples. "Tauriel, please get Legolas."
Tauriel got Legolas.
"How are you feeling?" Legolas asked, coming forward to rest his hand against Hermione's cheek. "I was worried for you."
Hermione raised her small hands cover his and rubbed her cheek against his palm. "I'm fine now, but things will not stay fine unless you take me to see Ada. Tell Maeves to put me in my good clothes and my crown."
Legolas considered her for a long moment, and Hermione looked straight back at him, her heart thundering in her chest. This moment was the first in which she really needed him to trust in her, and she couldn't help but feel it would set the tone for the rest of their lives.
Believe me, believe me. Be there for me, she silently begged, unwilling to do it aloud.
After what seemed like a hundred years, Legolas turned to Maeves and said, "You heard your princess."
Maeves' mouth fell open, but while she could ignore an order from the toddler princess, disobeying the almost-of-age crown prince was an entirely different thing.
She efficiently put Hermione into a frilly blue dress, brushed her hair, and placed her crown on her head, then called Legolas back into the room. (Toddler or not, it was inappropriate for Legolas to be in the room while his betrothed was undressed.)
Hermione held her arms up to Legolas and he picked her up. With Tauriel and a contingent of guards flanking them they made their way to the dungeon, where raised voices could be heard.
The dungeons were truly a dark and desperate place. Or at least the cells were. There was something eerily beautiful about the labyrinthine levels and stairways with their spatterings of whatever light could find its way there, but the cells were damp and moldy and infested with vermin and absolutely dreary. Hermione vowed that when she had enough sway in the kingdom she would introduce humane standards to their penal system. This wasn't quite as bad as Azkaban, but it was up there.
Thranduil was pacing in front of the cell that held Galadriel, something lethal in his eyes. His crown of branches gave him the appearance of antlers, making him seem like a stag preparing to charge. In that moment he reminded Hermione of the hippogriffs she'd seen in her old world: beautiful, yet liable to attack if offended.
Celeborn stood next to the tiny cell that didn't even afford Galadriel room enough to sit down, his hand gripping his wife's through the bars of the door. Now that Hermione was able to look at them for more than a few seconds, she could see that Galadriel was uncommonly beautiful even amongst elves, a goddess among angels. Celeborn had a stronger presence than most, but otherwise was gorgeous in the usual elven way. Both had golden hair like their daughter, Celebrian.
"Adar, stop this," Hermione called out to the pacing Elvenking.
Thranduil spun on his heel to catch sight of them, his eyes going wide in surprise, and then wider in fury. He moved to intercept them. "Legolas, I told you to guard her! Get her away from here!"
"Ada, no!" Hermione protested. "I asked Legolas to bring me. You have to know. Lady Galadriel didn't hurt me on purpose. Our magic just doesn't like each other."
Thranduil paused in his stride. Now that he was closer, Hermione could see that he was actually trembling with rage. She held out her arms to him, hoping that if he held her it would force him to calm down.
He looked for a moment like he might refuse, likely because he recognized that he wasn't in control of himself. But Hermione made her eyes big and soulful and full of a childish trust and the potential to be hurt if he turned her away, and at last Thranduil took her from Legolas, pulling her tight against his chest and breathing in the scent of her hair.
"It was an accident, Ada. Not an attack," she soothed. "The Lady tried to look in my mind, and my magic wouldn't let her. And then I fainted. But now I'm fine."
The Unspeakable Geas wouldn't let her reveal that it knocked her out to protect her from having her mind read, but saying 'magic' was vague enough to pass muster and get her point across.
"You see, Thranduil," Celeborn said. "It is all a misunderstanding."
Thranduil's spine stiffened and Hermione nearly groaned. Celeborn just couldn't keep his mouth shut…
"And why," Thranduil asked in a soft, deadly voice, "was your wife attempting to read Hermione's thoughts? Was that also a misunderstanding?"
The Elvenking turned back toward his prisoner, but Hermione couldn't see anything. Thranduil pushed her face down against his shoulder, one hand curled protectively over the back of her head. "In Lothlorien your subjects may have no objection to you sliding in and out of their thoughts like a thief in the night, but you are not in Lothlorien. This is Greenwood, and here I am king, and I say no subject of mine, from the highest royal to the lowest squire, shall have to worry about the sanctity of their mind!"
Hermione grinned against Thranduil's shoulder, her heart swelling. Certainly, she knew that at least some of his concern was that Galadriel would ferret out state secrets, but a great deal of his reaction was born of a true desire to protect his people. In this moment he was a great king. He was the Elvenking.
She squeezed her arms around his neck in a hug and kissed the bottom of his chin, the only part of his face she could reach. He gave her a little squeeze in return, but did not break eye contact with his captive.
"I only wished to be sure the child was truly happy here," came Galadriel's mellifluous voice, pierced with a dart of sorrow. "That is all I meant to do."
Oh hell no.
"You dare!" Thranduil spat, his top lip curling with renewed outrage.
Hermione cut him off.
"I love you, Ada," she said in her most determined voice. Then she pushed at his arms until she could crane her head around to look at Galadriel and Celeborn. "I love my Adar. I love Legolas. I love Greenwood." Then, childishly, because she could not help herself, she finished, "I was happy until you got here."
Galadriel gave a wistful little smile and bowed her head. "And for that I am truly sorry, Princess Hermione."
Before anyone else could open their mouth and ruin everything again, Hermione said, "I forgive you. Ada says that being royal is about doing what's best for Greenwood and everyone who lives here, even if you don't like it. So I forgive you, even though I don't like that you made my Ada so sad."
And now Galadriel's lips twitched, just a little, and Hermione knew that they were on the same page, mind reading or no mind reading. "Indeed, your highness is most gracious. And your Adar most wise. You will be a fine Elvenqueen in the fullness of time."
Hermione looked up at Thranduil. "You can let her out now, Ada. It's okay."
There was a feast that evening after all, and Hermione got jam everywhere because she deserved it.
The Unspeakable Geas: A lot of you asked questions about this, so I thought I'd address it here. No, Hermione can't get the elves to help her break it. She'd have to be able to tell them about it first, which she can't do. And it protects all ways she might communicate things covered by the geas, so no she can't write it down, show them memories, draw a picture, and so on and so forth. The geas wouldn't be worth much if all someone who wanted information from an Unspeakable had to do was give them a piece of paper or perform legilimency. The geas isn't designed to be broken.
That is the in universe answer. The out of universe answer, is that it is a construct that lets me prevent Hermione from spilling her history. I don't think she'd keep it from Legolas on her own, not with the soulbond prompting her to want to tell him everything, so the Unspeakable Geas was born to keep her mouth shut. I want the elves to deal with her like she's similar to Glorfindel, and if she told them her history it would change how they view her.
Years passed in one way or another, with lessons and laughter and sometimes tears. Hermione did not think of her life before Greenwood any less, but it hurt less and less as time passed by, until she was more likely to smile in fond remembrance than weep at what she had lost. By the time she was old enough to be allowed to conduct her own research in the library, it did not even occur to her to try to find a way back to her old world. Harry, Ron, and all the rest would always have a place in her heart, but she belonged in the Greenwood now.
They celebrated Legolas coming of age on his hundredth begetting day, and Hermione - by then a tall, skinny youngling that was all elbows and knees - danced with him, standing on top of his feet when the steps grew too complicated for her to follow.
When Hermione turned fifty-five, she was moved out of the nursery into her own suite of rooms in the royal wing. Relieved to have a form of true privacy at last, Hermione set at once to tinkering with runes and arithmancy, attempting to see if she could reclaim her magic as she'd once known it. She succeeded in enchanting her old toy horses so that they stamped and neighed and galloped across the room through the use of runes, but she had yet to make a wand that worked. Eventually she stopped trying, forced to concede that there was some trick to wandmaking she was unaware of, or else whatever magic she still possessed was not the sort that could be directed by a wand.
She turned her attention to her rapport with plant life instead, taking reams and reams of notes as she performed experiments and pushed the boundaries of what was possible, spending hours walking the gardens and begging to be allowed into the forest itself.
Thranduil declared that she would not leave the palace grounds until he was satisfied that she could adequately defend herself.
And so Tauriel began to train her.
Hermione landed on her ass in the dust. Again.
"Get up," Tauriel commanded, leveling her sword at Hermione. "Come now, Tathariel, an orc will not wait for you to catch your breath!"
Grumbling, Hermione got to her feet, knowing better than to complain too loudly.
"We shall spar until you get by my guard," Tauriel said, lunging forward to attack again. "Then we shall run the staircases of the palace. Then we will practice your archery. Your aim is very good, but I am unimpressed with your distance and rate of fire."
Hermione grit her teeth and parried Tauriel's blows with the long knives she held in her hands. She'd never been the most athletic, but Hermione Granger, brightest witch of her age, could master any discipline she set her mind to. Hermione Tathariel, Princess of the Greenwood, would do no less.
At last she managed to complete the maneuver that Tauriel had been instructing her in. Rolling beneath Tauriel's extended arm, she came to her feet behind the older elleth, then spun back around to cross her knives over Tauriel's throat before Tauriel had a chance to turn and face her. There was no doubt a hundred and one ways Tauriel could get away, but she relented in favor of praising her student.
"Well fought, my Hermione!" a male voice called out, shattering Hermione's concentration.
"Legolas!" she growled, refusing to face him. "You know I hate for you to watch me train."
And she did. While Legolas only grew more handsome as he got older, moving further into true adulthood, Hermione had entered a phase in which she was gawky and awkward, with her developing bosom and adolescent clumsiness. Interacting with Legolas took all of her mental fortitude now that she was becoming physically aware of him as an ellon. She had known for quite some time that she was expected to marry him, but her body had not had any sexual urges to speak of until very recently. Now it was all she could do to speak sensibly when she looked upon him, filled with a sweet yearning that made her blush. (And oddly enough this yearning was only for Legolas. Other ellyn interested her not at all.)
And so it was painfully embarrassing to her for Legolas to see her with her hair in disarray and her training uniform covered in stains and grit from Tauriel continually dumping her on her behind. She didn't like being less than excellent at anything, but for Legolas to witness her mistakes…
At least elves didn't get acne. Or have a monthly cycle. She could thank her lucky stars for that.
"You are holding the hilt of the blade too tightly," Legolas told her kindly. Hermione could feel the heat of his body as he stepped up behind her, wrapping his large hand around her smaller one as he guided her through the motion. She fought to pay attention to what he was showing her, hyper-aware of every point at which their bodies were touching.
"You must keep your wrist loose and flexible," Legolas went on, moving her arm through an upwards thrust, and then transitioning the motion into a sideways lunge, clearly demonstrating why flexibility was key in this type of fighting style.
Legolas' other hand moved to her hip, to adjust it into the proper alignment as they both shifted their weight, and Hermione abruptly said, "Yes, I understand now," and stepped away from him, easily breaking the light hold he had on her.
"Hermione?" Legolas questioned, looking at her with concern.
"I'm fine," she bit out, more harshly than she meant to. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, she retreated to the armory to put away her knives.
"Was it something I said?" Legolas asked Tauriel as Hermione stomped away.
If Tauriel made a reply, Hermione did not hear it.
"Do you wish to walk in the gardens with me, little dove?"
"I am sorry, Legolas. I can't now. Ada is expecting me to sit in on council today."
I can't stand this. I'll just avoid him until I understand what's happening.
"Hermione! There you are! Come, there is a new horse I wish for you to see."
"I shall see it later. I'm late for a lesson with Tauriel."
I wished I dared ask Tauriel about elven sexuality. There's no references in the library, and if I ask Maeves she'll just go on about destiny and soulmates and love at first sight. Which is utterly ridiculous.
"I am to join my first patrol of Greenwood. Will you not come see me off?"
"May your path remain golden, Prince Legolas."
Why does the thought of not seeing him every day terrify me? He's my friend and I fancy him, of course I care about him, but my heart hasn't pounded this hard since the Battle of Hogwarts. This is more than a simple crush. Am I under some kind of spell?
"I paid a visit to The Mother Tree. Hermione, are you listening? Hermione…"
"What? Oh, that's lovely. I must be going."
Maybe it's time I asked Thranduil. He is my father. This sort of thing falls under his purview. It will be embarrassing, but I've never let a little thing like that stand in the way of getting answers before.
Hermione's talk with Thranduil was simultaneously the most awkward and the saddest interaction they'd ever had. Thranduil apologized for not doing his duty by her, and explained that it was usually an elleth's mother who spoke to her of such things when the time came. Since Hermione's mother was widely believed to be a willow tree and Thranduil's wife was dead, she'd been left in limbo.
As always even an allusion to Thranduil's dead wife was enough to make his voice turn rough. He turned away to hide his face and Hermione studied the carpet in order to give him a semblance of privacy, counting the threads she could see. She wanted to hug her father, to provide what comfort she could, but knew he wouldn't appreciate it.
Eventually Thranduil poured himself a glass of wine and started talking to the far wall, as if it was the wall that needed instruction in elven sexuality, his tone like that of a professor lecturing at school. What he said knocked Hermione for a loop - first sailing high with happy excitement, before dropping low in impotent outrage.
It turned out that elves did not experience any intense sexual feelings at all until they met an elf (or one of the other races, though that happened rarely) whose spirit was compatible with theirs. They might meet several compatible elves throughout their lifetime before deciding to court one of them. Elvish courtship could last for decades, even centuries. It depended on the courting pair. Courting acts included many things Hermione and Legolas already did, at least before Hermione got confused and uncomfortable: tending one another's hair, going on walks and picnics, helping each other to learn new skills, exchanging small gifts, and so on. Elves did not lay together before marriage, as the sex act itself would bind their spirits together. She should not let anyone touch her ears before marriage ever. Not even Legolas. It was most improper.
Some elves were lucky enough to meet their destined, perfect match, and could tell because they would feel a literal spark the first time they touched each other. That was why Thranduil had betrothed Legolas and Hermione at their first meeting - the spark when they touched hands. Such elves loved only once. If ever the couple was separated, neither would be capable of taking another mate.
The thought that Legolas was her perfect match sent Hermione into a giddy high, right up until she realized that Legolas was basically having her forced on him by elven biology and the wooly concept of destiny, whether he really wanted her or not. And for that matter, how did she know that her feelings were genuine and not the result of some strange elven brain chemistry? Of course, all emotions were the result of brain chemistry, but now that the word 'destiny' had been brought into it she felt she couldn't trust herself.
Hermione really hated divination.
"Tauriel says that you are doing well," Legolas' voice interrupted Hermione at her studies. She was sitting at her favorite table in the library, piles of parchment filled with calculations and observations surrounding her. "She claims that Adar will allow you to go into the Greenwood any day now."
Hermione looked up, forcing herself to meet Legolas' gaze and smile. "Yes. Tauriel is a wonderful teacher. And a good friend."
Legolas did not return her smile. Indeed, his blue eyes, usually so bright, were flat and troubled. Without asking her leave he took a seat in the chair across from her, his long blond hair falling around his shoulders, so beautiful that Hermione's fingers ached to touch it.
Her mouth went dry.
"You were not always so still and silent in my presence." Legolas sounded sad. Stoic, as he always was, but sad. "Once you were my little dove, and I was your prince. But for nigh on four years now, you have shied away from my touch and sought to be everywhere that I am not. Ever since the day I joined Tauriel in instructing you in swordplay, though I think it began even before then. Please, Hermione, tell me what I have done to make you despise me so."
Hermione could feel her mouth drop open. Her quill fell out of her suddenly nerveless fingers, splotching ink across her latest proposal for Thranduil's council. Unable to process what Legolas had just said, she just sat there, unattractively gaping.
Legolas looked down at the table, carefully moving her quill so that the dripping ink would not spoil her work. "Is it that you no longer wish to be wed?" he asked, addressing the question to her inkwell. "Do you love another?"
"No one ever asked me if I wished to be wed," Hermione said, even as she thought, Shut up shut up shut up, why would you say that?! "I was simply told that we were to wed. By everyone. By the very trees. No one ever asked."
Legolas' head snapped up, all that lovely golden white hair swaying with the movement, and Hermione could read remorse written all over his face. "I am asking you now," he breathed out, barely above a whisper. "Do you want to be wed?"
Hermione opened her mouth, and then closed it, crossing her arms across her chest and wishing that the neckline of her dress was a bit more conservative, for she suddenly felt very exposed. "I…" she started, then cleared her throat and started again. "I do wish to be wed. But I wish for my husband to have a love for me that is born not from duty or affection for a child, but from respect and genuine desire." And here she blushed, she could feel the heat of it in her cheeks. "And I do not see how you will ever be able to look at me as anything but a silly elfling whom you thought you had to love just because our hands sparked when we first met."
"Hermione," Legolas started, but Hermione would not let him speak, shaking her head so hard that tendrils of her rich brown hair fell from her customary braids.
"You are so tall and strong, and kind, and patient, and everything a prince should be. And I'm just an awkward, irritating little thing in comparison and I cannot stand it. And I refuse to be a puppet of fate. I thought if we were apart often enough that it might get easier, and then we would both be able to reclaim our free will."
Now it was Legolas' turn to gape. "You think us being soul matched somehow means we have no free will? Who put such foolish notions in your head?"
"No one!" Hermione retorted. "I'm quite capable of thinking for myself."
"The whole of Greenwood knows that," Legolas said, then held his hand up for peace when Hermione glared at him. "While it is true that you came to us as a child in body, your brilliance has been apparent since the first time I spoke to you. Your mind is sharper than any elven blade, and your compassion and determination to care for our people is to be admired. For these reasons do I respect and love you, as I am sure I will desire your body when you are grown. No one has ever forced me to pledge myself to you, and you do me insult to think that I would lie about my feelings out of obligation, or allow another to dictate who I am to wed if I did not agree with the choice of bride."
Hermione's heart insisted upon doing some sort of fluttery dance at the end of that little speech. It was not the first time Legolas had proclaimed his love for her, but it was the first time she had allowed herself to see it as anything more than a reassurance given to a child. At some point her hands had found their way across the table, and now Legolas was holding them, ink transferring from her fingers to his. "So you're saying…?"
"That I choose you of my own will. I am just as able to deny what lies between us as you are, if I truly desired it. But my only real desire is to have you by my side," Legolas said, a muscle in his jaw flexing and his eyes shining with the passion she was used to seeing from him. "A desire that I am certain will only increase once your body has caught up with your intelligence."
Tears pricked at her eyes, her wish to give in and be happy warring with her distaste for anything that smacked of predetermination. "Oh Legolas…"
"Please, my princess, do not weep." Showing signs of distress now, Legolas reclaimed his hands so that he could pull a handkerchief from its customary spot up his sleeve. Then he dried her tears, just as he had done that first day she spent in the royal nursery.
That was enough to make Hermione laugh, patting at Legolas' hand when he passed her the handkerchief. He had that universal 'females are confusing and frightening' look on his face.
"This must be very strange for you," she said, dabbing at her eyes, a smile on her lips. "More so than it is for me."
"I will not deny that it has been odd at times. But I have loved you since Naneth'tathar gave you to us, and I believe that love will only grow deeper and more true as we age. But I shall still court you after you reach your hundredth year, and if you find then that you do not wish to wed me, then we shall not wed. Ada would never force you into a match you did not want. You have done so much to bring light back into his spirit. He cherishes you."
Hermione shook her head. "He cherishes you just as much. And he would not force you either. So if you find that you are the one who does not wish to wed…"
Legolas cut her off by raising her right hand to his lips and pressing a kiss there. She could not stop a tiny gasp from issuing forth, and a blush so hard that it felt as if someone was pouring a pitcher of warm water over her head.
"Promise you will not avoid me anymore, my dove."
"I promise, my prince."
Tathariel: Daughter of the Willow Tree
Naneth'tathar: The Mother Willow
Chapter 6: A Falling Shadow
Hermione was in her mid-seventies before she was allowed to ride out into the Greenwood. And even then, she was required to have either Thranduil or Legolas and a host of guards with her at all times. Thranduil was the very definition of overprotective, but since he had lost his wife to an attack in this same wood, Hermione could not bring herself to protest overly much.
Especially considering how uneasy she felt. There was something… the trees around them were silent. Silent like prey was in the face of a predator. Not all of them. But enough that Hermione held up a hand to halt their company when they were no more than half an hour's ride from the palace gates.
"There's something wrong, Legolas. Can you feel it?"
Legolas reined in his horse and closed his eyes, concentrating. "Aye. The trees are too quiet. I did not notice it before now, though I felt it whenever I rode out." He looked sheepish. "I assumed it was my own nerves at leading my first patrols."
Hermione understood, knowing how hard Legolas strove to make Thranduil proud. Swinging herself down from her mount, she passed her reins to Tauriel and went to place her hands against the nearest tree trunk.
As soon as she opened her mind to the song of the forest, she began to scream.
The trees were shrieking, and choking, and writhing in pain, and Hermione shrieked and choked and writhed with them. It was suffocating, a shadow, a poison that had invaded the southern edge of the wood and was spreading relentlessly. It was evil, true darkness that made her soul weep. Unbeknownst to her, her skin dimmed, a reflection of the wounds dealt to her spirit, her light leeching away at a pace that horrified those around her.
This was not just pain. She was being undone, twisted into a new image one inch at a time and the harder she fought the closer to death she came. Every dark feeling, every unkind impulse she'd ever had welled up within her, magnified by the sheer malevolence of the force that had seized hold of her.
The darkness found her heart a fertile field for evil. While her time as an elf had been spent in quiet study and happiness, in her old life she'd fought a war. She'd been violent. She'd been jealous. She'd been arrogant. She had blackmailed, and lied, and stolen, and destroyed. She had killed in battle. Oh Merlin, she had erased the minds of others, changing who they were, what they thought, what they remembered, their very names. She had as good as murdered the people they were before with no guarantee she'd ever be able to put it right.
Always for good though. Always to help. Always to save.
But, whispered a voice in the dark that was consuming her, why stop there? You are the one who knows best. Stop fighting. Let the Shadow change you, and you will emerge even more powerful than before. Think of all the good you could do if you ruled the wood. If you ruled the world.
It was like wearing that blasted locket horcrux around her neck again. She was being dragged down, devoured - except no. It was the forest. All that was light and true was being burned away, and she was burning with it.
"Hermione! My princess, answer me!"
Someone was snatching at her hands, pulling them away from the tree trunk, but it was no use. She was already lost.
"Please, please, my dove, my own, please…"
Drops of water were falling on her face. Was it raining? Why did the raindrops taste of salt?
"Ai! She is fading!"
"How has this happened?"
"She was born of the trees! Her life is tied to the Greenwood!"
Hermione could feel blood in her mouth. Her throat was raw from screaming. Her eyes were open, but she did not see Legolas' concerned face, or hear Tauriel issue orders to the guard. She was in the darkness, struggling to keep her light burning. It felt as if she was surrounded by dementors. As if she were under the Cruciatus Curse. She was back with Bellatrix, being tortured, but this time she had no information to give. Nothing but her soul would do.
"Something must be wrong with the wood. We have to get her back to the palace. Perhaps Thranduil King's presence has been sheltering her. Come, Prince Legolas. We must get her to safety, and then discover what it is that has caused this and root it out."
Hermione's lips moved soundlessly.
"Water!" Legolas called. A full waterskin was passed to him. He trickled it into Hermione's mouth, rinsing away the coppery tang of blood and soothing her throat enough for her words to be heard.
When she spoke, it was in the Black Speech. "Spiders, spiders, Shadow from the Deep. Webs, poison, creep creep creep."
After that, she knew no more.
Hermione woke in her bedroom. She was still in her riding leathers, so she couldn't have been unconscious long. Thranduil was sitting beside her on the queen sized bed, one hand clasping hers and the other stroking her hair. Worry formed creases between his brows and around his mouth, and his crown was askew. Hermione reached up to fix it, making him realize she was awake.
"Little dove. You gave us a fright."
"Ada?" Hermione frowned, examining her father. His skin looked ashy and his eyes were darker than they should be. "What's happened? Your spirit is dim in my eyes."
"Oh, little dove," Thranduil gasped, something like a rusty sob escaping him. In all the years of her new life Hermione had never known Thranduil to shed a single tear, so now she was definitely alarmed. Ignoring Thranduil's attempts to keep her lying prone, she sat up, looking around her room, her heart starting to pound.
"Are you fading, Ada? Where is Legolas? Has something happened to him?"
"You are the one who was fading!" Thranduil burst out, shooting to his feet as if he couldn't bear to be still any longer, and then immediately stumbling. Not one to be cowed, Hermione reached out to steady him, and he sank back down onto the bed, gathering her into his arms.
"I thought we were going to lose you," he croaked in a harsh whisper, kissing her forehead as he used to when he was tucking her into bed. Hermione wrapped her arms around her father and held on, tears filling her eyes as memories of the vile Shadow that was attacking the forest came back to her.
"Oh, Ada. You brought me back. I remember now. I was lost in the dark and you found my light and brought me back."
And he had paid a price for doing so. To keep Hermione from fading, he had used the parental bond forged between them and taken her pain onto himself. Not all of it, but enough. If she didn't know it would be useless, she would scold him for taking such a risk. What would Legolas do if Thranduil faded? What would the Greenwood do? What would she do? He was so important, and not just to her.
But it was useless to point out any of those things, so Hermione simply began to sing the lullaby that had always been used to soothe her nightmares as an elfling. Thranduil soon joined his voice to hers, and a feeling of peace came to them, both their spirits glowing just a bit brighter.
After some time, Hermione sat back, Thranduil reluctantly letting her go.
"Where's Legolas? I expected him to be here by now."
Thranduil turned his gaze to the window. "He and Tauriel took a contingent of the guard and have gone to search the Greenwood for whatever it is that affected you so. Legolas believes, and I agree, that as you were born to the Greenwood, your life is tied to the Greenwood. You have been protected by being in close proximity to me, for though your gift is stronger I am still king. But once you left the palace…"
Hermione groaned. "This is why you've been so mercurial lately, you realize? You are the Greenwood."
Thranduil drew himself up, affronted. "I am not mercurial."
Hermione snorted a laugh, and then sobered, fidgeting with her hands. "It's to the south. I had visions of giant spiders. Children of Ungoliant, who carry with them a plague and pestilence that is killing the trees and twisting the nature of the wood. They are altogether evil." She looked up, meeting her father's eyes. "I don't think I was fading. I think I was falling into Shadow. If you had not brought me back there is no telling what I would have become. A wraith perhaps. Or an orc."
She wanted to hide from Thranduil's stricken expression, but she wouldn't allow herself. He needed to understand exactly how dangerous the situation was if they were to save the Greenwood. These spiders were not simply creatures, like the acromantula of her old world. They were ill will and malcontent given form, spreading disease and bringing out the darkness in the souls of those they came across, purely by existing.
Thranduil rubbed one long fingered hand over his face, allowing himself the weakness because Hermione was the only one there to witness it. "I will increase the border patrols. And have our people move closer to the palace. Perhaps I will command that they all live in the caverns. There is enough room to spare."
It was Hermione's turn to become fixated on the window. "Legolas is out there. And he's going to keep going out with the patrols." She sighed. "I wish he wouldn't. I wish it didn't have to be him."
Thranduil laid his hand over hers. "We cannot keep him hidden and safe forever, no matter how much we both might wish it. He would fade as a flower deprived of the sun." Thranduil tried to smile, but it was rather ghastly, bereft of true cheer. "And I think if I had tried to stop him, he would have struck me. He is determined to slay whatever it is that attacked his lady, and I cannot help but approve of that. He loves you so. It is good to see."
Hermione rested her head on Thranduil's shoulder. "I used to worry that we wouldn't love each other. Or if we did, that it wouldn't be in the right way. But now… My spirit reaches for his whenever he is near."
"You complement each other." Thranduil smiled, and this time it was better, his grey eyes softening. "You have more a head for statecraft than he ever has, and he will be your sword arm when the time comes. The Greenwood will flourish under your reign."
Hermione turned to give him a blistering glare. "But that won't be for thousands of years, Ada. You aren't going anywhere. We need you." Her shaking voice betrayed her sudden upset.
"Shush, my dove. I am still here."
Another kiss was dropped on her brow, and Hermione relaxed.
They sat together, watching the window until the the sun sank below the horizon.
Then Hermione shook herself and stood up. "I'm going to- "
"The library," Thranduil finished with a playful smirk.
Hermione stuck her nose in the air and sniffed, then executed her best impression of Thranduil by spinning on her heel and flouncing from the room.
Chapter 7: The Injured Prince
Hermione soon devised a method for locating the Shadow that was trying to swallow their kingdom. Every morning she went to the royal gardens and communed with her favorite rose bush, opening herself to the forest in short bursts until she could build a picture in her mind of what direction the plague had taken. It allowed her to sense the wrongness of the Shadow without giving it enough time to grip her spirit in icy fingers as it had once before, directed by a malevolent intelligence that frightened her more than she could say.
What she was doing was a bit like echolocation, or sonar, and Hermione couldn't be certain that she would have thought of it without the memories of her old life for inspiration. It was in moments like these that she began to think that she had been sent here by some higher power. That her purpose was to save the Greenwood.
Then she would snort at herself, wonder where all her healthy skepticism had got to, and send a messenger to take the new coordinates to their warriors. (The latitude-longitude system of coordinates was something else she had introduced to the elves. She was hailed as a genius throughout all the elven settlements for her many inventions, most of which were concepts from her old life that she had applied to this one. At times she felt like a great fraud.)
Despite her efforts, they were losing ground to the darkness and the spiders. Hermione turned much of her attention to developing medicinal potions, working to find substitutes for the ingredients she had taken for granted in her old life that were just not to be found in Arda. Blood replenishers, Pepperup, Skelegro, potions to flush toxins, potions to banish cold, potions to aid breathing - she was soon given her own lab in an unused cellar after all the melted cauldrons and explosions she caused in her mad experimentation. Thranduil had almost ordered her locked in her suite after she scorched her own eyebrows off.
But after she burst into exhausted tears and demanded that she be allowed to help their people, after she shouted at him in his own throne room that she could not stand idly by while their subjects suffered, he relented.
And the people took their princess into their hearts. First they had called her Hermione Tathariel, Daughter of the Willow Tree. Now she was Hermione A'maeliel, She Who is Beloved.
Hermione was sitting in her smaller throne to the left of Thranduil's when it happened. It was the day when the throne room was open to any subject of the Greenwood, and Thranduil and Hermione had been hearing grievances all morning. She was just opening her mouth to make a suggestion when Thranduil paled dramatically and dropped his oaken scepter so that it clattered against the throne dais.
Holding up a hand for silence, Hermione picked up the scepter and turned to her father. "Ada?"
Thranduil's eyes were open, but it was clear that he was not seeing the throne room before him. His pupils were dilated and moving from side to side. Thranduil was not known to have a gift of foresight, but he was connected to the Greenwood through his oaths as its sovereign, and he had parental bonds with Legolas and Hermione as all elven parents did with their children.
Hermione felt herself go cold.
"Ada?" she called again, sharper this time, clenching her hands around the royal scepter to keep them from shaking.
Thranduil's attention snapped to her and he said one word. "Legolas."
Hermione did not wait. Not bothering to hand Thranduil's scepter back to him, she eschewed the curving staircase that led up to the throne dais, simply leaping from the platform instead. Landing amongst the guards and those who were still waiting in line for their chance to be heard, she took off at a run, her hair and dress streaming behind her in a wave of mahogany tresses and silvery blue silk. All the while her mind was moving a mile a minute, calculating what supplies she would need and which horse to take.
Something had happened to Legolas. He was hurt. Badly. But he was still alive. Thranduil's reaction was not extreme enough for him to be anything but alive. Hermione simply had to get to him. She would take Thranduil's elk, and all the healing potions she could carry. And some food. And maybe a fresh tunic, so Legolas could be comfortable once she had healed him. She really should have made a new bottomless bag for herself before now. She would get to work on one as soon as Legolas was home and safe.
Skidding into her rooms, she tossed the royal scepter onto her bed and all but ripped herself out of her dress, hurriedly redressing in the rust colored tunic and breeches she wore when training with Tauriel. She didn't have her own armor as she wasn't of age yet, but that wouldn't stop her. She had her training bow and her knives. Without the patience to braid her hair as warriors did she simply twirled it into a messy bun on top of her head and jammed her crown on top to hold it in place, uncaring for how she looked.
A quick trip into Legolas' suite of rooms, just across the hall from her own, and she had a set of clothes for him. Then it was time to sprint to her potions lab and stuff as many of the vials she had enchanted to be unbreakable as she could into her pack. With light steps, she made her way to the royal stables where her father's elk was kept.
Thranduil was there waiting for her, as well as his right hand Galion and a plethora of guards.
"You are not leaving the palace, my Hermione," Thranduil said once she had skidded to a halt. "I forbid it."
"No!" Thranduil roared, his hand slashing through the air to emphasize the command. "I will not risk losing you both!"
"I have to go to him, Ada!" she screamed back, uncaring that they had an audience and she was usually very conscientious about keeping family disagreements behind closed doors. "I have to! He would come for me!"
She moved to push past him, but at Thranduil's signal two guards came forward and grasped her arms, holding her back with apologetic looks on their faces. She gave a half hearted struggle, not wanting to truly hurt those who had played with her as a child.
Thranduil stepped forward, cupping her face in his hands and forcing her to meet his eyes. The pain she saw there echoed her own. "I have already sent guards to find him and bring him home."
Hermione bit her lip. "You would let him go after me."
"Oh, my little dove," Thranduil sighed. "He is of age, and one of the finest warriors our kingdom has ever produced. You are only eighty-three, and more of a healer than a warrior."
Hermione couldn't deny that. She'd mastered the bow and long knives sufficiently to be allowed into the Greenwood, at least before the Shadow and spiders had come, but she was a long way from being a candidate for the Greenwood Guard. "Ada, I can help," she protested, nevertheless.
At a gesture the guards released her and Thranduil wrapped an arm around her shoulders, forcing her to walk with him away from the stables. "I know you can, my daughter. But you will be best able to help once Legolas has been brought home. And how do you think he would feel if you were hurt while out looking for him?"
Hermione huffed, imagining the fussing and the plethora of handkerchiefs. Legolas had somehow gotten the idea that most problems could be solved by offering her a handkerchief. "You sense that he is well? That he will make it here?"
Thranduil nodded, turning his face away from her. "He was injured. But he will live. His light is still strong."
Hermione believed him.
It was three days before Legolas was carried through the gates of the palace. When Hermione saw him, his face bloodless and pale, limbs stiff and unmoving, for a moment she was certain that Thranduil had lied to her and her Legolas would not recover. His eyes were closed, which among elves was seen only in the very young, very sick, and the very dead.
But then her rational mind took over, and she squashed all of her emotions into a corner and barred them away. Unaware that she was keeping up a muttered stream of directions and observations to herself, she had Legolas brought to the Halls of Healing and bowled over three healers who got in her way.
Someone sent for Thranduil, and someone else informed Hermione that Legolas had been bitten by a spider even larger than the ones they'd grown used to fighting, which was something Hermione could see for herself, thank you very much, given that there was a giant great fang mark in her love's shoulder.
And he was her love, not just a friend, not just a brother. She loved him and his awkward attempts at comforting her, and his enthusiasm for new things, and his smug face when he showed off his archery prowess, and the wry sense of humor that was almost a little bit mean at times that he had no doubt picked up from Thranduil. Legolas always kept his word. Legolas was always there. He was steady, and handsome, and everything she had daydreamed about when she was a little human girl imagining her future. How foolish she was, for taking so long to accept that he was real, and hers.
Her spirit fluttered around her in distress, making little unseen eddies and currents, and Legolas' spirit rose to meet hers, reaching for her and making her gasp. Tears filling her eyes, she leaned over to whisper endearments into his ear, telling him how wonderful and brilliant he was, and how much she loved him and looked forward to being his wife.
Then she stood straight and bellowed for someone to bring her a goat.
Two healers looked at each other, and then one, in an obvious 'talking to crazy people' voice, said, "A goat, your highness?"
"Yes, a goat! Honestly, it's so obvious that he's been afflicted with a paralytic toxin. He needs a bezoar, which can be found in the stomach of a goat. Don't you know anything?" she huffed, already moving to the hall to flag down a servant. You'd think she was nattering on about nargles and wrackspurts with the looks they were giving her.
Eventually a goat was brought, and Hermione made short work of retrieving the bezoar and cramming it down Legolas' throat, along with a Blood Replenishing Potion and a Flesh Knitter.
Then she sat, and waited, and prayed, not noticing that she was clutching her own face so hard that her nails were leaving little half moon shaped cuts in her cheeks.
Thranduil showed up about an hour into Hermione's wait, very deliberately not running. Nothing would send the kingdom into a panic like the sight of the king running through the halls.
"How is he?" the Elvenking asked, his eyes on his son's face.
Legolas already looked much better. Hermione had bathed and changed him herself, daring anyone to say anything about propriety or what have you. He was now clean and bandaged and tucked up into a bed, his hair brushed until it gleamed.
Hermione didn't look up from her patient. "His breathing is easier. He seems to have fallen into a healing sleep, rather than being held immobile by the spider's venom. His wound is mending."
Thranduil said nothing else, but joined Hermione in her vigil.
Legolas awoke to a very impatient Elvenking and a very disheveled elven princess who hadn't brushed her hair, eaten, or slept, and in fact might keel over at any moment.
"Hermione?" he questioned, his voice coming out in a whisper. "What happened to you?"
Hermione's relief at seeing her betrothed awake was almost instantly replaced by a rage that made spots of color dance before her eyes. Grasping Legolas' shoulders, she gave him a shake. "Legolas Thranduilion, if you ever scare me like that again I will kill you myself!"
Then she burst into tears, kissed him, and fled from the room, leaving a totally bewildered prince and a smirking Elvenking in her wake.
Chapter 8: The Royal Blood Wards
Following Legolas' injury, Hermione threw herself headlong into researching a way to defeat the powers that attacked the Greenwood. For months she worried her family and friends with her refusal to sleep or eat regular meals, reaching a level of single minded focus that would have shocked even her old housemates from Hogwarts. Alternatively locking herself in the library and her laboratory, she memorized tomes of elvish lore and plumbed the depths of her memory for every scrap of defensive and protective magic that she had ever known. Over and over she cursed the fact that she could not use a wand.
Only Legolas could coax her away from her studies for any time at all, and then only by acting as if he still felt poorly and would find her company cheering.
In the end it was a doodle in the margins of her notes that provided the answer. She was chewing on the end of her quill, thinking, and idly drawing a picture of Harry Potter's face, sketching in his famous scar, when it came to her like a bolt from the blue.
The blood wards. The wards around Privet Drive that were the reason Harry had to return there every summer. The shape of his scar. It wasn't just a coincidence, it was a rune! Part of a protection ritual!
And if she couldn't figure out how to recreate it, then she'd never been Hermione Jean Granger!
With fresh determination, she trimmed her quill and reached for a fresh sheet of parchment.
Thirteen days later, four scouts left the Elvenking's palace, each riding in a direction of the compass. Once they reached the edge of the healthy forest, each retrieved a solid ball of oak that had been carved with an intricate pattern of symbols that made little sense to any but their princess, and buried it at the base of a tree.
In the throne room of the palace Thranduil King slashed his palm with a silver athame, bleeding into a wooden chalice along with the prince and princess. Once Princess Hermione nodded, the three wrapped their hands to stem the flow of blood and Hermione took the athame, dipping it into the chalice and stirring nine times. Stepping up to the throne, she carved yet more runes into the ancient seat with the bloody tip of the knife, chanting under her breath.
Finally she turned and inscribed a bloody lightning bolt, the rune sowilo, onto first the Elvenking's brow, then the prince's, leaving herself for last.
That done, the three joined hands.
"I freely give my blood, from the first drop to the last, in defense of my kingdom," Thranduil began the ritual words Hermione had given him.
"I give my freedom, that all may be safe," Legolas continued.
"So long as one of we three or one of our blood sits this throne, Greenwood shall be free of evil," Hermione finished.
"So mote it be," Thranduil and Legolas chorused.
"So mote it be," Hermione echoed.
There was a feeling of lightning in the air that lasted for several minutes, the little hairs on Hermione's arms rising with static electricity. And then with a whip-crack that was so loud as to be painful to elven ears, a dome of translucent white light formed over Greenwood the Great. Shining, perfect, beautiful, it rose up and up, spilling and rippling through the air like water. Hermione could see it in her mind's eye, the reverse of what she had witnessed when the wards of Hogwarts fell.
Once the dome was whole the great shield faded away as softly and gradually and inexorably as the setting sun, along with all traces of blood from the throne and the foreheads of the royal elves. Even their hands were healed.
The forest felt cleaner, the stars brighter. Pockets of elves began to sing, their hearts lighter than they had been since the first appearance of the Shadow, until it seemed that the entire kingdom swelled with the song of the beauty and hope that was theirs again.
Hermione smiled and pulled Thranduil and Legolas into an undignified group hug, standing on tiptoe to smack a kiss on both their cheeks.
"It worked!" she cheered, laughter bubbling out of her. "I can't believe it worked!"
Chapter 9: A Time of Peace
With the erection of the Royal Blood Wards, a time of great peace and prosperity began in Greenwood the Great, even as the lands outside of it became ever more fraught with danger. Orcs, spiders, and formless evils, no longer able to penetrate the wood, sought other prey, some even settling in the nearby area of Dol Guldur. Beings called Istari came to the Greenwood requesting to speak to the royal family, wanting to know the secret of the forest's protection and to request aid in combating the evil that terrorized Villages of Men and encroached on some place called The Shire.
Thranduil rode to the edge of the wood to question one of the Istari, a Radagast the Brown, but after discovering what he wanted turned the wizard away and kept all word of the goings on outside the Greenwood from his children. Both Legolas and Hermione were soft hearted and would allow themselves to be used to fight battles that were not their own. Thranduil would not allow it.
And if he had his way, Hermione would never meet an Istari. For, according to Radagast, she had appeared in the forest the very same year that the other Istari came to be. There was a Saruman the White, a Gandalf the Grey, Radagast, and two Blue Istari and a Green that Radagast had not met nor heard of being identified.
Thranduil did not have any doubts at all as to who the Green Istari was. For though she was female and Eldar and seemingly unaware of it herself, his daughter worked what Thranduil could only regard as miracles on a daily basis. He would not have her pressed into the service of the entirety of Arda. She was Hermione A'maeliel, Princess of Greenwood.
She would never be called Hermione the Green.
Years passed in peaceful study and song. In between attending her father and going on what amounted to dates with Legolas, Hermione refined her artificing skills, and soon every elf in Greenwood had their own bottomless bag, enchanted to keep any food or potions fresh and to weigh nothing at all. Members of the royal family and those closest to them had runic armor that was as light and flexible as cloth, yet as impenetrable as mithril, and self cleaning to boot. Legolas' bow was inscribed with runes for luck and clear sight, and his quiver enchanted to never run out of arrows. When winter came the people were given glass orbs filled with blue flames that never went out or burned the hand, but provided light and heat. It had been tricky to recreate that magic with only runes and arithmantic equations, but Hermione managed it in the end, and could not be prouder of herself.
She only wished that she were able to outfit every elf in the manner she did those closest to her. Alas, it was not possible. She had discovered early in her experimentation that she had to inscribe all the runes herself for an enchantment to work. If even one line was made by someone else, the symbols were only so much decoration. She suspected it was because no one else in Arda had magic quite like hers.
Almost sooner than seemed possible Hermione's hundredth birthday came, and the Greenwood celebrated for an entire week. Flower garlands were hung, feasts were held, and Hermione was stopped every few minutes by an elf wishing to present her with a gift. She was inundated with little sachets of herbs, freshly picked bouquets, sweet bread, and more extravagant gifts such as a new set of carving tools and blown glass vessels for use in her magic.
She found herself the recipient of an entire new wardrobe full of more gowns, breeches, and tunics than she could ever possibly wear, though oddly none of it was in any shade of green despite how often Wood Elves wore the color. Thranduil had developed an aversion to seeing Hermione in green, and no one wanted to displease the king. Hermione almost wanted to accuse him of anti-Slytherin bias, but knowing that he'd have no idea what she meant she accepted it as one of his odd quirks and didn't let it bother her.
Her most treasured gifts came from friends and family. Tauriel, who had long become her best friend, gifted Hermione with the very set of knives that Tauriel herself had been given on her coming of age. When Hermione tried to demur, Tauriel would hear none of it. So Hermione simply hugged her friend and promised to use the blades well.
Thranduil gave to Hermione all of the jewels that had once belonged to his own wife. Knowing how much he cherished everything he had left of the former queen, Hermione shed a few tears, but said nothing but, "Thank you, Ada."
After all these years, the pain was still too near for Thranduil to speak of his wife beyond a few words.
Legolas, knowing how much Hermione had come to enjoy riding on Thranduil's war elk, had spent several weeks in the forest in the utmost secrecy. And so on Hermione's birthday he was able to present her with not an elk, but a solid white hart that stood as tall as a stallion.
"I had almost given up," Legolas explained as Hermione stroked the stag's velvety nose. "So many times did he give me the slip. It was not until I fell to my knees, worn to exhaustion, and asked him why he did not want to be the mount of the Princess of Greenwood that he turned and looked at me, as if only just realizing why I hunted him. After that he stood still and allowed me to put the lead rein on him."
"He's beautiful, Legolas," Hermione said, turning to look up at her prince. "I name him Prongs, in honor of an old friend."
All at once, it occurred to her that she was officially an adult now. Her pulse thrumming and her palms sweaty, she stepped closer to Legolas and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, surging up to kiss him full on the mouth before she could lose her nerve.
He froze in shock for a single instant. Then, just before Hermione could begin to think she'd made a terrible mistake, Legolas' hands were winding themselves into her hair and his tongue was in her mouth and she was making a mess of his archer's braids, and one of his fingers grazed the tip of her ear and she shuddered against him, holding him even tighter.
The sound of a throat clearing stopped her before she could do something completely indecorous like hike her skirts up and wrap her legs around Legolas' waist.
Breaking away from Legolas, Hermione smoothed down her skirt and helped Legolas get his braids sorted out to the amusement of Tauriel, who was pointedly looking at the ceiling.
Hermione couldn't believe she'd forgotten Tauriel followed them to the stable. Tauriel followed Hermione everywhere. It was her job.
There was a great ball in Hermione's honor and, like they had once before, the rulers of Lothlorien and Imladris came to pay their respects. They found Greenwood much changed in the century since their last visit, all thanks to one young princess.
Both Elrond and Celeborn mentioned to Thranduil that they would be honored to have the princess visit their realms. Elrond in particular was most insistent that he wished to learn potioneering from Hermione, and would teach her his own methods of healing. Thranduil put them both off with a lazy, "Perhaps after the wedding," though he privately swore to keep the idea far from Hermione's ears.
Alas, it was not to be, for even as Thranduil spoke with the two elf lords Hermione was dancing with Arwen and several other elf maids in a ring dance, and coming to find that she liked the daughter of Elrond and Celebrian a great deal. She was especially taken with the idea of visiting Imladris, for Arwen spoke much of their great library and her father's prowess in the art of healing. Just as Elrond wished to learn from Hermione, she wished to learn from him. And Arwen was much talented in the art of sewing and weaving, something that when combined with Hermione's skills as artificer could lead to new wonders. Perhaps she'd even be able to manage an invisibility cloak.
Yes, Hermione wanted to visit Imladris. There was much for her to learn there.
Chapter 10: A Marriage of Souls
Hello all you lovely people! Unfortunately I don't have time to personally answer reviews this week, but I want you to know I have still read and appreciate all of them. I will hopefully catch up on the slack next time, but for now thank you all for reviewing!
While in her last life Hermione had wanted to put off marriage until she found herself, in this one it seemed like she'd been waiting forever. She'd already introduced modern concepts to a medieval society, become a pioneer in the field of potions and runes, and warded a forest kingdom, all before she'd been old enough to be considered an adult in the world she now lived in. She'd learned to wield bow, sword, and knife, how to track and hunt, how to skin a kill and treat a pelt, and how to start a fire without magic or matches. She knew the history of Middle Earth, could speak three dialects of elvish and one Tongue of Man, and could talk to trees. She could dance, and sing, and ride a horse and a hart and an elk. She was still hopeless at dressing her own hair, but one couldn't have everything.
In short, she already knew exactly who she was. Now she was tired of waiting. It was time to get married.
Hermione accepted Legolas' betrothal token only a week after her birthday. It was a beautiful pendant wrought of moon silver, depicting a willow tree. From amongst the delicate branches gleamed little gems that shone like starlight.
"Father let me choose from the treasury," Legolas confided between kisses. "He said that while he had once sought to hoard the gems kept there for himself, now he could imagine no greater pleasure than to see them enhance your beauty."
For her part, Hermione called for Prongs and the stallion that Legolas was currently favoring, and she and her prince rode to the little glade where Hermione had first appeared, where stood Naneth'tathar, The Mother Willow.
It was the custom, among the elves, for the mother of the bride to give the groom his betrothal token. Hermione had no other mother in Arda save for this willow tree, the tree the elves still believed to have birthed her.
In a way, Hermione was coming to agree with them.
Sliding off of the white hart's back, she went to Naneth'tathar and placed her hands against the trunk, asking for The Mother Tree's blessing.
Flexible branches seemed to dance, leaves whispering and whistling as the tree sang its acceptance and happiness and delight that its elfling had gotten so big.
When Hermione and Legolas returned to the palace, Legolas wore a crown of willow branches that matched Hermione's own.
The following year seemed like the longest Hermione had ever lived through. Her spirit was crying out to join with Legolas', just as her body ached for him. Servants and guards alike often stumbled over the two engaged in passionate clinches that Thranduil pretended to be scandalized by, but secretly smirked over when drinking wine in the privacy of his study. Tauriel threatened to dunk them both in the river than ran beneath the palace.
When at last the day of their wedding came, Hermione had eyes only for Legolas. There was a feast, and dancing, and crowds of elves wishing them well, and a dress that seemed as if it were made of clouds, but if asked Hermione would have been unable to provide a single detail. It was all a blur of revelry and breathless anticipation. Thranduil and Tauriel conducted the ceremony, Tauriel standing in place of Hermione's mother, since a willow tree obviously couldn't do it.
They exchanged rings studded with yet more shining gems, wearing them on their pointer fingers as was the elvish custom. And then there was more dancing, at least until the moon rose and Hermione slipped out of the palace, finding Prongs already waiting for her.
Using one of the stable fences as a mounting block, Hermione perched side saddle on the stag's back and rode out into the Greenwood, letting instinct and the song of the forest guide her until she found the perfect place - a clearing with a pond that had a surface like glass, reflecting the moon and stars, so that when Hermione shed her gown and dove into the water it was like being surrounded by the sky.
It didn't take Legolas long to find her. She was the only elf in the wood who rode a hart, and so all the prince had to do was follow the distinctive set of hoof-prints. When he stepped into the clearing Hermione stood up, water sheeting down her body, and let him look upon her completely bare for the first time. She was angelic as an elfling, and as an elleth her beauty had only grown. She was lithe and graceful, shaped like a dancer. Baby fat had melted away to leave her with defined cheeks and a strong jawline. Her lips were a dusky pink, the bottom lip fuller than the bowed curve of the upper. Her eyes were dark and catlike, a brown so deep as to be almost black. She was not incomparable, but still an example of classic elvish beauty.
When Legolas sighted her his breath hitched and his pupils dilated, and she smiled a little smile to herself, reveling in his obvious appreciation of her charms.
Legolas made short work of his wedding robes, and it was her turn to stare as his bare arms and chest, sculpted by years of archery and swordplay, came into view. His legs were just as strong and, ahem, other parts of him just as impressive.
She beckoned and he went to her, his lips seeking hers even as her legs locked around his waist and her hands found his ears. Hermione, while physically a virgin, had memories of having sex as a human and so was able to guide things along. Legolas willingly followed her lead, amazed at how wonderful his princess was at everything she did.
They came together in a rush of panting breaths and a burst of energy as their spousal bond was formed. In that moment they were one being, one soul with two minds and two bodies. Never again would their spirits have to reach for one another, for they would always be together, no matter how much distance separated them.
Abandoning the water, Legolas made a bed of sweet grasses for his wife and then carried her to it, laying her down and making love to her again. Three more times did they join together that night, Hermione teaching Legolas things that made him blush until, pleasantly tired, they fell asleep in each other's arms.
In the morning, whether through their connection to the wood or some natural magic of the elves, they found that every plant in the clearing had burst into bloom.
They spent the day together playing in the Greenwood, laughing and singing as was the way of the elves, pointing out favorite spots to each other and talking of their future.
"Will we have children right away?" Legolas asked, riding behind Hermione on her white stag, his hands idly wandering over her chest.
Hermione paused before answering. "Ada will expect it, but I think I would like to travel first. I want to visit Imladris and spend some time learning from Elrond and his family. I wouldn't want to risk the danger of the road if I was with child, and I'd hate even more to leave a child behind."
Legolas finger-combed her hair and then started to dress it for her, plaiting it into archer's braids like the ones he wore. "I would like that, I think. I have never been farther than the borders of the wood. It will be an adventure."
Chapter 11: The Meddling of Wizards
Thank you all for your continued patience and reviews. :D Also, please note that I have now posted my policy about translations and podfic being made of my fic on my profile, as I've gotten a lot of questions about that lately and I'm generally terrible at getting back to people in a timely manner. And now, without further ado~~
Despite their plans to travel, Hermione and Legolas found themselves bound to the Greenwood. Once their marriage bond had settled, Thranduil, perhaps sensing their wanderlust, named them the Regents of the Greenwood and went to treat with the dwarves that had carved a kingdom for themselves within the nearby Lonely Mountain.
And so it was that Hermione and Legolas sat together on the high dais in the throne room, both of them crowned with willow branches. But, contrary to expectation, it was Hermione who sat the monarch's throne and held the oak scepter, while Legolas occupied the smaller throne to the left at the prince's own insistence.
"I am a warrior and shall be general of our army when the time comes," he assured his wife. "But you are the true ruler between us, my Hermione. One day people of all races shall travel far and wide just to get a glimpse of the great Elvenqueen of Greenwood."
"Oh you," Hermione grinned, poking Legolas with the end of the royal scepter. "Flattery will get you everywhere."
"Your highnesses," a scout bowed to Hermione and Legolas. "There is an Istari at our borders. He requests an audience with the rulers of Greenwood."
Hermione blinked, not recognizing the word. She could feel an equal sense of bewilderment and curiosity from her husband. They met eyes and Legolas nodded.
"Approach," Hermione commanded, waiting as the scout mounted the steps to the throne dais. "Now, tell me. What is an Istari?"
"Welcome, Mithrandir, to the Halls of the Elvenking," Hermione intoned, sitting stiff backed on the throne of Greenwood as she examined the wizard standing before her. He reminded her a great deal of Dumbledore, appearing to be an aging man with a long white beard and tattered grey robes.
"Well met," the wizard replied with a bow, speaking flawless Sindarin. "Am I right in thinking that you are Hermione the Green, referred to in story and song as Stagrider?"
Hermione and Legolas exchanged a look, Legolas fingering the hilt of the sword he'd had a servant bring to him, just in case. "Never have we heard the names of which you speak," Legolas said. "Though it is true that my wife rides a stag and is gifted with more than just the usual elvish magics."
"Your wife?" Mithrandir - also known as Gandalf the Grey - blinked rapidly. "I was under the impression that you are both children of Thranduil."
Making a decision, Hermione stood. Legolas stepped forward and offered her his arm, and together they descended the twisting staircase that led to the throne, the train of Hermione's gown stretching over the steps. "Come, Mithrandir. Dine with us and we shall tell you our story in exchange for your own. Then we shall speak of what it is you want from the Greenwood, for I doubt that you are idly visiting. In my experience, wizards of your stature do nothing without reason."
"You have met other wizards?"
Hermione did not answer.
"I cannot believe Ada would do this! Hide the existence of wizards from us! Turn them away at the border!"
"I can," Legolas said. Hermione could feel his eyes following her as she paced back and forth in the chambers they had shared since their wedding night.
She gave a huff and inelegantly threw herself down on a settee. "Of course, you're right. It's just like him."
Legolas moved to the low table at the center of their sitting room and picked up a decanter sitting there, pouring two small glasses of elfwine. You could not be a child of Thranduil without coming to appreciate the taste of it. Coming to sit next to Hermione on the settee, Legolas handed one glass to her and kept the second for himself.
Hermione sipped and sulked, finding one thing imminently conducive to the other. "I know why he fears us leaving the Greenwood. He has never recovered from your mother's death, and ever since he faced the Dragons of the North he's not been overly concerned with anything that doesn't directly affect our kingdom. He cannot forgive himself for the slaughter, and so he worries for Greenwood and nothing else. But did he have to lie to us? I just feel so… betrayed. As if he does not trust us."
"It is hard to be reminded that he is not perfect, for all that he is our Ada and the Elvenking," Legolas agreed, staring straight ahead and yet seeming to see nothing. "He does what he thinks is best, but I find myself questioning who it is best for. The Greenwood? Us? Himself?"
"We aren't prisoners. Nor are we children any longer. He cannot pat us on the head and tell us to go play in the wood. And we cannot turn our backs on the evil growing in Arda. Whether it threatens Greenwood or not, we are elves! How can we possibly leave our sister kingdoms to fend for themselves? And what of the other races? Are we to let them die simply because their ears are not pointed?" Hermione spat, working herself into a righteous fury. "I have felt the touch of this Shadow and I can never forget it. I would keep others from the same fate."
Legolas took her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. "Peace, beloved. There is no one in this room who disagrees with you. And after hearing the news that Mithrandir bears… Talk of a Necromancer, possibly Sauron himself in Dol Guldur, of the spiders and Shadow that we drove away from the wood turning their attentions elsewhere, bands of orcs roaming the land… It is most concerning." Shifting his weight, Legolas snaked an arm around Hermione's middle, his hand coming to rest lightly on her belly. It gave her a pang, for whenever he did so she knew that he was thinking of the children they would someday have. "We will extend every hospitality to Mithrandir, and when Ada returns we will speak to him. Surely he can be made to see sense. Dol Guldur is so close to our borders, at the very least he will wish us to investigate those rumors."
Hermione tilted her head up and nuzzled her face into Legolas' neck, breathing in his masculine scent. "That is probably for the best. When did you get so smart?"
Legolas smiled. "With all the time I spend with yourself and Tauriel, it was bound to rub off sooner or later."
Now it was Hermione's turn to smile. Taking Legolas' glass from him, she stretched and wiggled to be able to reach the side table in order to set both of their glasses down upon it. Then she returned her attention to Legolas. "Why, my prince, I do believe you are flirting with me."
Legolas bent his head to kiss her. "And if I am?"
Thranduil returned to the Greenwood pleased with the alliances and trade agreements he had forged with the Dwarves of Erebor and the Men of the Dale. And yet there was a sorrow, a worry that pressed on him every time he thought of the hoard of treasure that had been amassed by the dwarves. For such an amount of gold and jewels was most impressive, but beyond that it carried a presence, a scent, a calling that he could feel, for elves were not immune to greed. But it was not the dangers of covetous elves that plagued him. No, Thranduil's dreams were haunted by dragonfire.
No creature in Arda treasured the riches of the earth as much as a dragon did, and Thranduil could still feel the phantom scars, still remember the blindness, the stink of his own flesh cooking as his people were slaughtered around him. He had tried to warn the Dwarven King of what his greed would bring, but the dwarves merely laughed and called him jealous. Spread rumors that he was trying to frighten them into giving more of their gems to the Elves of Greenwood.
It was all Thranduil could do to hold his temper.
So it was with great relief that he returned to the protective wards of the Greenwood, the trees and his people welcoming him. He greeted each glistening stairway and sparkling cavern of his palace as an old friend, only to pull up short when he found his children entertaining one of those thrice cursed Istari in the royal dining hall.
He entered just in time to hear the Grey Wizard invite Thranduil's daughter to a council to be held in Imladris to discuss the growing threats that existed outside the Greenwood.
"How is it," he hissed, his face contorting into an expression of narrow-eyed ire, "that you found your way into my wood, Istari?" he demanded, taking a strong stance in the doorway when they all turned to look at him. "Did you slither in as soon as my back was turned? What poison have you been dripping in my daughter's ear? What mad quest will you set before my son, hmm?" Like a hunting predator he glided forward, his hands resting almost too casually on the hilts of his blades.
"Ada!" Hermione rose, coming forward to greet him. He returned her embraces, never taking his eyes off of the wizard. Legolas, who was more familiar with Thranduil's temper, having seen it often in the years before Hermione came to them, stayed where he was. That was his little leaf, always watching, assessing. He would have been a good king. A quiet king, but a good one. But Hermione would be a better queen.
If the two of them stayed in the wood, where they were safe.
"I ordered him brought before me, Ada," Hermione said, stepping back to look up into his face. "I wanted to know what he was." Her eyes narrowed, unconsciously mimicking Thranduil's own facial expression. "Only to find that you have been hiding things from us."
Now Legolas intervened. If he were not pushed to the breaking point of his temper, Thranduil would find it humorous that his hot-headed son was forced to play mediator.
"This is not a conversation for mixed company," Legolas said, standing to lay a hand on his wife's shoulder, his gaze going pointedly to the wizard that sat watching them and puffing at his pipe, as if enjoying a performance.
"Quite right, Legolas," Thranduil said before Hermione could utter another word. With a gesture, he summoned the guards stationed at the walls. "Escort the Istari to the border of the wood. Ensure he does not return."
"Adar, no!" Hermione protested, holding up her hand to stay the guards. A few hesitated, having become used to taking orders from their princess, but Thranduil was still Elvenking. The wizard went with little fuss, only stopping at the door to bow to Hermione and Legolas.
"Thank you for your company and hospitality," he said to the two younger elves. "It has been most enjoyable. I look forward to seeing you again."
"May we meet again, Mithrandir," Hermione said softly.
"Until the time of our next meeting." Legolas offered his own farewell.
Then the wizard turned and allowed the guards to take him from the palace halls, hopefully never to be seen again. Thranduil was tired of the doings of wizards, with their whispers and insinuations, always warning and wanting and never willing to do anything themselves.
There was a long silence, heavy with unspoken things, and then Hermione rounded on him, her cheeks red and eyes sparking. "You lied to us!" she accused, her words seeming to echo against the stone walls.
Legolas said nothing, willing to let his wife do the talking, but the stiff way he stood and the muscle jumping in his jaw revealed his own anger.
Thranduil had no patience for this. They had just made the Greenwood safe again, he had no intention of getting caught in the affairs of wizards, or allowing his children to be so entangled. Not when there was the looming threat of a dragon coming to the Lonely Mountain and perhaps turning its attention on their halls. They must prepare, in case they had to fight to protect their home. Could their wards stand up to dragonfire? There was no way to know for sure. Hermione should be helping to organize plans to evacuate their people into the lower caverns and developing treatments for burns, not worrying about White Councils and long defeated Dark Lords.
"I did not lie," he said, instead of voicing any of this. He was tired.
"Lies of omission are still lies," Hermione persisted. She was like a warg with a bone when she put her mind to something.
"I will not discuss this with you now," Thranduil said instead of trying to reason with her. "I am weary, and still covered in the dust of the road." He moved to leave the dining hall, eager to have a proper bath and a rest.
Hermione stood in his path, her eyes searching his face. He allowed the perusal, hoping that she would see whatever it was she needed to in his expression. And yet it seemed she did not, for her face grew hard, and rather than try to sway him to her side she simply declared, "I will go to the meeting of The Council of the Wise."
Thranduil held himself back from sighing. "No, you will not."
Hermione clenched her fists, her eyes blazing her defiance and her surety that she knew better than her father, her king. But what could she possibly know of war, of hardship, of pain? She was his own little elfling, given to him by the Greenwood to protect and love and keep from the ugliness of the world. Barely past her majority, not even two hundred yet. She was still so young, so alight with life and innocence. Thranduil would not see that stripped from her, even if she hated him for it.
He started to move past her, stopping when she spoke again. "You will have to lock me in the dungeon to prevent me. I will not be stopped from doing what you are too afraid to do."
Coward. Thranduil felt that silent insult down to his soul, something within him turning cold. He did not yell, as was usual when he butted heads with his daughter. No, he did not yell. But so icy calm was his voice that it seemed more terrible still.
"Should you leave the bounds of the Greenwood, do not bother to return."
He did not mean it. Of course he did not. But Hermione was young and testing herself against him, and such ultimatums had always worked to bring Legolas to heel when he went through a rebellious phase.
But Hermione did not cry or shout. She did not berate him for being unfeeling, or try to needle him into seeing her side as was her wont. Instead she simply nodded, turned on her heel, and marched out of the hall.
Legolas stood frozen, looking between Thranduil and the archway Hermione had just gone through, clearly torn. Thranduil said nothing, and after a second's more silent debate, Legolas followed his wife from the hall, a choice that hurt Thranduil even as he was glad it was the one that Legolas made.
Like a puppet with its strings cut, Thranduil fell heavily into a chair. Legolas and Hermione would console each other, and he would speak with them in the morning. Make them understand. It was not enough to order them, not as it had been with Legolas before Hermione came to them. No, Hermione was always trying to figure out the why of every action around her. It would be simpler in the long run to explain to them his reasoning.
Yes, he would speak to them in the morning.
Except when morning came, they were not there.
Chapter 12: Out of the Wood
Hermione managed to hold back her tears until they reached the border of the wood. There, at the edge of everything of this world she had ever known, they escaped from her in great gasping sobs that alarmed Legolas so much that he dismounted his horse and pulled himself up to sit behind Hermione on Prongs so that he could hold her. She leaned back against him and let the tears come, blurring her view of the path that led out of the Greenwood.
"This is the edge of the wards," she croaked, quite certain that she looked a mess. She'd never gotten the hang of crying prettily as elf maids were supposed to. "You don't have to come with me. You should not."
"Hush," Legolas said, already dabbing at her cheeks with one of his ever present handkerchiefs. "We are one, my dove. Now and for always. Where you go, there so do I."
That set her off again, and Legolas guided Prongs to the side of the path, then slipped down, lifting Hermione off of the stag's back and cradling her in his arms, his elvish strength preventing any strain.
"Oh, my Legolas, am I being very selfish?"
"Yes," Legolas answered dryly. "You are so very selfish, defying the father you love in order to help, not only those in your kingdom, but all free races who live outside of it. It's sickening. How you disgust me."
Startled into a laugh, Hermione slapped at his shoulder, not even noticing that she had stopped crying and that had been her husband's aim all along. Taking the handkerchief that he still held, she mopped up her face and squirmed to be put down, setting her eyes on the path just outside the wood.
"Well, nothing for it," she said aloud, giving herself a bit of a pep talk. "Relax, keep your bow ready, and you'll be fine."
"Sound advice," Legolas agreed, his smile saying that he knew she wasn't talking to him. They mounted up and left the shelter of the trees where they had both been born.
"How do you fare?" Legolas asked on their second day straight of riding, having eschewed rest in favor of distance.
"I think my next project shall be to create a tent that is similar to my bottomless bags," Hermione replied. "Larger on the inside and weightless, so that you might have a proper bed and bath while traveling. You've never told me just how unpleasant it is to go without."
"To be fair, it's not this unpleasant in the Greenwood, where the grass is soft and the trees know us. I am just as surprised as you are by the lack of cover, the rocks, and the bugs." He made a face, slapping at his neck.
"Hm. Perhaps we will come across a village soon. It could be amusing to see humans with our own eyes, and it would be nice to stay at an inn."
"We shall have to be careful," Legolas cautioned. "Not all men welcome the presence of elves, according to my friends amongst our scouts."
But they found no villages along the forest road, just spider nests and orc packs and groups of hunting warg. Legolas soon taught Hermione the hand signals used by the Greenwood Guard, and they carefully maneuvered around the creatures that would harm them, knowing that they would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers if they engaged in battle. The few times they were forced to fight, Hermione took to the trees with her bow while Legolas used sword and knife. He was determined to keep the attention of the enemy upon himself, so that if he fell Hermione might have a chance to make an escape.
Hermione could not argue with the strategy, as much as she might wish to. Nevertheless, she swore that she would not leave Legolas behind, though she did not say this aloud for argument's sake. Legolas knew though. He was the other half of her spirit, and could feel her intention.
They eventually crossed the Old Ford and concluded that they were about halfway to Imladris, according to the map that Hermione had liberated from Greenwood's library. Ahead of them the Misty Mountains stretched on without end, filled with goblins and other foul things, no visible path in sight. Hermione began to think that it might have been foolish to attempt to find Imladris with only a map and a compass she had made herself.
She had been a princess for too long it seemed. Re-entering the real world was a slap in the face, especially without her active magic. And there were not even trees in the mountains that she could speak to. She wasn't sure how good a tree would be at giving directions, but it had to be better than this pointless wandering they were currently engaged in.
It was while they were lost in the mountains that Tauriel caught up to them. She and five members of the guard seemed to melt out of the shadows, giving Hermione quite a fright. Legolas, who was more a warrior and more attuned to his surroundings than she, was not surprised at all and simply went forward, placing his open hand over his heart and bowing his head to Tauriel in greeting.
"A star shines upon the hour of our meeting."
Tauriel smiled and returned the greeting, then raised an eyebrow at Hermione, who was standing with her arms crossed and a frown on her face.
"I won't go back," Hermione declared, though some part of her feared that Tauriel had not been sent to fetch them, but to make sure they did not try to return. They had been exiled, after all. Well, she had, from the moment she stepped outside of the Greenwood.
Tauriel's smile faded. "I did not expect you would. The Elvenking suspects this also. His regret is such that the whole forest feels it. Even the flowers are sorrowing."
Hermione looked down, unable to meet Tauriel's eyes as she thought of her Ada - her poor Ada, who had already suffered so much in his long life - and how it must have felt to wake to find her and Legolas gone. He must be so angry with her, not only for leaving, but for taking Legolas too.
"Nevertheless, the king bids me tell you that you are welcome in the Greenwood whenever you see fit to return, and that until then I and my fine friends are to guard the pair of you with our lives."
"He can't come after us himself," Legolas said, as if realizing it for the first time. "Not unless he's willing to let the blood wards fall. He is the only one left in the wood that can anchor them. We've made him a prisoner."
Hermione hunched in on herself, guilt making her stomach sour. But then she remembered Thranduil's cold words and his disregard for those outside the Greenwood. Let him stay in his precious forest. He would be happy to have an excuse to never leave. Forcing herself to straighten up, she said, "We're doing the right thing."
Tauriel, who was a little taller than her, glanced over Hermione's head to make eye contact with Legolas, the pair of them sharing one of those looks that Hermione hated. Those looks that said they were managing her. Harry and Ron used to do that too.
Pretending she hadn't seen, she went to mount Prongs. "Come then, let's be off."
"My princess?" Tauriel called.
"Imladris is the other way."
Hermione grit her teeth and expertly turned Prongs. "I knew that."
Chapter 13: A She-Elf Sets Sail
They arrived in Imladris a fortnight later, not to a serene haven, but a storm and tempest. The entirety of Imladris resembled an overturned anthill, harried servants running to and fro, guards on hyper alert, elf maids wringing their hands. Elladan and Elrohir, the Twin Sons of Lord Elrond, breezed by them on the path into the elven city, riding hard for the stables. Legolas signaled for Tauriel to follow the two while Hermione stopped to question one of the guards posted at the gate.
"Orc attack," the ellon grunted at her, not recognizing her and indeed not caring who she was. "In lands that we thought were safe. Some are injured. Some are dead. Lady Arwen is in the Halls of Healing. And Lady Celebrian… Lady Celebrian has been taken."
The sound of horse hooves thundered, and Hermione turned to see Elladan and Elrohir riding back out, having only returned to Imladris for fresh mounts. Tauriel was speaking rapidly to Legolas, who nodded to her and then turned his own horse back to the gate.
Hermione felt her heart in her mouth, but knew that she could not turn away from this. Orcs were cruel creatures, mockeries of life with no true light within them, but they were cruelest of all to elven captives because they hated them for being everything that orcs were not. It was said that the first orcs were made through torturing elves with dark sorcery and the orcs still felt this on some level, so wished to blot out the proof of what they could have been.
Hermione remounted Prongs and loosened her knives in their sheathes, then drew her bow. Legolas rode up and she shot him a look that dared him to make her stay behind. He tilted his head and raised both brows in answer, then nodded to her, saying only, "Stay behind me. Be prepared to run if there are too many."
She swallowed. "If they are somewhere with trees, I can find her. Find me a tree at the battle site that I can lay my hands upon, and I will ask the forest for aid."
Legolas broke into a blinding smile before turning serious again. "You are brilliant as the stars, my love."
"Flattery later. Rescue now," she quipped, turning Prongs to ride in pursuit of Elladan and Elrohir, Tauriel and their guards around them. Legolas pulled ahead, hailing the Sons of Elrond so that they could be told of Hermione's plan.
The twins, so alike that Hermione could not tell one from the other when they were not speaking (for Elladan was the dignified commander and Elrohir the mischievous wit), rounded on her and then hied their horses back to a gallop, taking Hermione to the site of the attack. Before she knew it, Hermione was among trees who were singing their distress at the darkness and taint of the orc, and their sorrow for the elves who had been slain. The Elves of Imladris were not one with the wood in the way the Elves of Greenwood were, but they were still elves and the trees mourned the loss of their light.
Dismounting Prongs, Hermione picked her way gingerly through the stinking bodies of dead orcs, puddles of black orc blood, and even more disturbing to her, splashes of elven red. Finally she laid her hands against a tall pine, closed her eyes, and sent her plea out to the forest. The Tainted Ones have taken an elf. Where? Where has she gone?
There was a sensation like she was falling, and then Hermione felt a roiling blackness come for her, but it was not as strong nor deeply entrenched as the shadow that had once plagued Greenwood, and so Hermione held fast. Imagining that she was a tree herself, she dug her roots in deep, frowning in shared pain. I know. I know it hurts, she told the trees who were screaming and shuddering in disgust and distress in her mind. I need to know where the Tainted Ones are. Where they have taken the elf?
The song of the forest grew quiet, and then rose again in renewed cacophony. These trees were not used to being spoken to and so did not weave a melody, but each clamored over the other to be heard, resulting in a symphony of discordant sound that made Hermione's pointed ears literally bleed.
"Hermione? My beloved?"
"Hush, Legolas! I have to concentrate!"
She could feel the blood running down her neck, staining her cloak and no doubt getting in her hair. Legolas hovered near her, but Hermione did not bother to lift her hands from the tree in order to wave him away. She had to listen. She had to pick out the strains of the forest song. Celebrian's life could depend on it.
"We cannot waste more time!" Elrohir burst out. Or was it Elladan?
"One of you take Tauriel and keep searching. We will stay with Hermione," Legolas proposed.
"I stay with my princess," Tauriel disagreed. "One of the others will go."
And then Hermione heard it. It was not a mighty oak, or a stately cypress. Not a great tree at all, but the tiniest of plants, a fungus largely regarded as a poison to be rooted out wherever possible. A single redcap mushroom chanted, She is here, she is here, she is here!
Hermione opened her eyes. "I can lead you to her."
It was a cave deep in the wood. The orcs had retreated there for the protection it offered from the sun. Hermione was sent into the trees with her bow at the insistence of Legolas and Tauriel. One of the guard, a tawny haired elleth called Achasbes, volunteered to stay with her. The rest of them, Elladan and Elrohir at the front, would go in with knives and swords. There was a quick argument conducted through whispers and hand signals about the best way to approach the cave mouth, but it was cut short by a protracted scream.
It was the shriek of a damned soul. A sound of unending pain.
It was Celebrian.
Elladan and Elrohir lost all reason at the sound of their mother's pain and dashed into the cave, Tauriel a step behind them. Legolas glanced up at Hermione one last time, then followed them at a run.
Hermione put an arrow to her bowstring and drew back, sighting on the cave mouth. She could see nothing of the battle that took place within, but could hear the sounds of it. Swords clanged and orcs grunted and roared, punctuated by elvish battle cries. The scent of blood and ichor was brought to her on the wind and Hermione grit her teeth against the urge to gag. She had forgotten the feeling of battle, the way time seemed to distort, the helplessness, and the sheer ugliness of it all.
After what could have been a few seconds or a few hundred years, the rescuers emerged from the cave, one of the twins carrying the battered form of their mother.
Hermione scrambled out of her tree in a controlled fall, rushing forward to see what damage had been done to the gentle Lady of Imladris.
"Lay her out on the ground there," Hermione ordered, slinging her bow across her back and reaching for her bottomless bag, where she kept an entire pharmacopoeia of potions. "Now!" she barked when whichever twin it was seemed like he would not obey her.
"Princess Hermione is just as skilled a healer as your father, in her own way," Tauriel put forth, her tone gentle. "Please, let her help."
A spark of recognition entered the twin's - Hermione thought he might be Elladan - face. Perhaps he was only now realizing that the elves who had aided him and his brother were from the Greenwood, despite the fact that all of them wore the tunics and leathers characteristic of their people.
A cloak was spread on the ground and Celebrian was laid on top of it, fortunately unconscious. Hermione left it to Tauriel to shoo away Legolas and the twins while she assessed the damage and began applying tinctures and ointments, as well as pouring various potions down the older elleth's throat. She kept calm, her touch impersonal and her emotions held at bay as she'd been taught by the healers of Greenwood, but it was difficult. Orcs are cruelest of all to elves, that was what was said. There was just so much blood. The things that had been done…
Celebrian's light flickered weakly, her skin grey from a combination of blood loss and her wounded spirit.
Tauriel and Achasbes came forward at Hermione's gesture and helped her strip away the ruined gown and clean Celebrian as best they could with their waterskins. Hermione pulled bandages and fresh clothes from her bottomless bag and Tauriel held Celebrian up while Hermione wrapped her wounds and redressed her in a billowy nightdress. The lady's physical hurts addressed, Hermione frowned to herself and dug out more potions.
A Calming Draught for the immediate trauma and an Oblivious Unction to heal mental damage and Hermione paused, wary of overdose. But Celebrian's flagging spirit made her willing to risk it, and she added an Elixer to Induce Euphoria to the cocktail, and a half dose of the Draught of Peace. If she could get Celebrian past the initial psychological damage without fading, then there would be hope. But she worried.
Some things could not be healed.
Once reunited with Elrond, Celebrian recovered. But even more grievous to elves than the wounds of the flesh where the hurts of the spirit. Grief could kill them as surely as any blade, and was more likely to do so because a sorrowing spirit could not be quenched as a bleeding wound. And Celebrian was not just grieving, she had been touched by creatures made from the darkest of magics, a foul evil that was the antithesis of everything it meant to be an elf.
So Celebrian healed, but her heart was no longer on Arda. She was not fading, Hermione's potions saw to that, but neither was she the lively elleth who had so brightened the lives of those that knew her. Elrond had permanent worry lines in his forehead, his spirit's light dimming as he did his best to shore up his wife through their marital bond.
Hermione's potions could stop nightmares, mend the psyche, and restore the mind. She could dull memories and regulate mood. She could repair the body and cleanse thought... but she could not heal a soul. Before, it had never occurred to her to try, and for once she had no idea where to even begin.
Elladan and Elrohir transformed into bleak demons of vengeance, riding out again and again in an effort to wipe orcs from the face of Middle Earth. Tauriel and Legolas took turns going with them while Hermione worked beside Elrond in the Halls of Healing, tending to Celebrian and Arwen and the others who had been injured in the orc attack.
How long this continued, Hermione could not say. It was at least a year, because she remembered there being snow at some point, but the fields were green now. It was in actually longer than that, but time passes strangely for elves, and so none of them paid it any mind. Until one day Arwen stood and said, "Enough!"
Going to her knees before her mother, she took a pale hand in her own and laid her cheek on her mother's knee. "Nana, enough. We all see how you suffer, how nothing in this world can make you smile. You are staying for Ada. For me and Elladan and Elrohir. But it hurts us to see you struggle so. Go. Don't worry about us. Sail to Valinor. Heal and learn to be happy again."
Celebrian burst into tears, Elrond swayed like he had just been struck, and Hermione quietly backed out of the room, thinking it best to give them privacy.
"This is what Ada wanted to protect us from," Legolas said as they gathered to bid Lady Celebrian goodbye before she sailed for Valinor. Arwen was leaving too, to spend time in Lothlorien.
Hermione sighed. "He couldn't have kept the ills of the world from us forever, though I understand his impulse to try. And this only makes me more determined to work for a world where things like this don't happen. We can't just hide in the Greenwood."
"How is it that you are younger than me, and yet can make me feel like an elfling?" Legolas asked with a small, crooked grin, lightly teasing.
Tauriel was standing between Elladan and Elrohir, Elladan leaning on her as if he would fall down while Elrohir stood so straight Hermione feared he was doing damage to his spine.
Finally it was their turn to make their farewells. Celebrian smiled at them, and she already seemed a bit better just for having made the decision to sail. "Thank you, Princess Hermione, for all you have done and tried to do for me. Do not let this make your heart any less warm. Prince Legolas, thank you for being a friend to my sons. Look after them for me, please? Both of you."
Hermione pulled Celebrian into a hug, and Legolas bowed over her hand.
"May we meet again on the shores of Valinor."
Chapter 14: One Hundred Years in Rivendell
They stayed in Imladris for decades. Hermione apprenticed under Elrond as a healer, and took him as a student in turn in the art of potions. Legolas trained under the great Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, he who had slain a balrog and returned to tell the tale, as well as being the only elf Hermione had ever seen who glowed as brightly as she did.
Tauriel was never far from the Twin Sons of Elrond, for a profound bond had sprung up between her and them, fed by a love of fighting, hunting, and the wilderness. Tauriel was happiest when she was working to protect those around her, and since their mother sailed the twins felt most alive when they were tracking one of the creatures that had harmed Celebrian so.
At first the prince and princess stayed in order to keep their promise to Celebrian to watch over her family. But as time passed and Elrond smiled more, and the twins began to laugh and flirt with Tauriel in turns, that became less and less true. Soon it was not concern for the Elf Lords of Imladris or desire for knowledge of the world outside Greenwood that held Hermione in place, but fear of facing Thranduil.
The Elvenking had written letters, though he had carefully addressed them only to Legolas. Legolas took to leaving them in conspicuous places in the guest quarters Elrond had so generously provided them. Unable to hold herself back, Hermione read the elegantly penned missives, noting that they included paragraphs of information that would bore Legolas, but Hermione found interesting. There were updates on the various projects to improve the quality of life in the wood that she had proposed and enacted herself, mentions of the doings of Hermione's old teachers in the healing arts, and long dissertations on whatever Thranduil was currently reading. One letter described the palace's reconstructed dungeons that now met every standard of fair treatment Hermione could come up with, and in fact were comfortable enough that Thranduil had plans to use them as a hideaway if the Greenwood came under attack from an enemy the Royal Blood Wards couldn't stop.
In return Hermione would mention things to Legolas that he should include in his return letters as if they were his own observations, completely oblivious to the smirk her husband wore as he considered how alike Hermione and Thranduil were: both stubborn, proud, and utterly immovable when they believed themselves to be right. Both despairing of recklessness in others, but each likely to charge through fire for what they considered a worthy cause. The Elvenking and the heir of his spirit.
The Council of the Wise met again, attended by Hermione, Elrond, Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White, and the Lady Galadriel. Through the far sight of Galadriel and Elrond, the magic of Gandalf and Saruman, and Hermione's ability to commune with the trees, they determined that for whatever reason the darkness in Dol Guldur had lessened for the time being, and declared a Watchful Peace. Saruman, intrigued by Hermione's powers and how she'd slowly taught the trees around Imladris to sing as they did in the Greenwood, invited her to Orthanc. He wished to see if she could wake the Tree Herders.
But while Hermione was very much interested in meeting the Ents and seeing Fangorn Forest, she felt that she could not go anywhere else before returning home to her father - which she still could not bring herself to do. She was ashamed of her actions even as she was resolute that she would do the same thing again. She refused to be caged or ruled, even by a king. She missed her Ada. She was confused.
She felt as she did when she had gone to retrieve her human parents from hiding after the wizarding war of her first life - full of hope for forgiveness, and yet equally sure that she did not deserve it.
It was when they had been in Imladris for a century, almost as long as Hermione and Legolas had lived in the Greenwood, that Legolas put his foot down and told her they were returning home.
"We have done what we came to do," he said, his blue eyes piercing. "We have traveled and learned. You have grown wise and I am stronger than I was. We have seen evil, and done our best to cast it out. It is time to go home."
Hermione ghosted her knuckles across Legolas' cheekbone, watching as he closed his eyes and leaned into the caress. Extending the motion, she brushed tender fingers along the curve of his ear and down the length of his hair, so bright and golden when compared to her dark brown locks. Standing close, so close that her lips brushed her husband's, she said, "I don't know that I'm strong enough to face him."
Legolas kissed her, chastely, sweetly. Then he said, "Then I shall be your strength."
And that was that.
The Greenwood they returned to was not the Greenwood they had left, even as the Elvenking they stood before was not their same old Ada. Hermione was surprised, and then wondered why she had thought that nothing would change while she was away when she herself was not the same. She knew things now, and she was not only referring to the healing techniques taught to her by Elrond. She had re-learned lessons from her old life about darkness and loss and hardship, lessons that she had forgotten swaddled as she was in the embrace of Thranduil and the Greenwood.
Legolas too was not the young ellon who had followed his wife from the wood. He was still young in years for an elf, but stood straighter, his shoulders broader, the training he had received from Lord Glorfindel marking him in ways that Hermione could not pinpoint, but sensed all the same. He had seen the world beyond their kingdom, and fought for that world, and sometimes failed. He had grown.
Thranduil, on the contrary, seemed to have retreated into himself. Hermione and Legolas stood looking up at him as he sat on his throne, a statue of marble and ice. His eyes were heavy lidded and he moved as if it were a bother, as if his limbs were too heavy for his body. And yet his brightly shining skin showed that he was not fading. In the absence of his children, he had become cold and hard and ever more formidable, an aura of barely restrained violence surrounding him. Hermione struggled to see anything of her stern but loving Ada in the Elvenking that regarded them as a snake waiting to strike.
"So," the king said, after Hermione and Legolas had bowed. "The prodigals return."
"Adar," Legolas responded, taking Hermione's hand after she found herself unable to speak.
The forest sang of buried sorrow and indomitable will and worry never ending.
"Leave us," Thranduil commanded. Tauriel gave them a sympathetic look as she and all the other guards exited the room. "Approach," came the next command.
Together Hermione and Legolas climbed the winding stairs that led to the Great Throne of Greenwood, with its back of tree limbs twisted into the shape of antlers. Together they stood before their father as he rose to his feet and looked each one of them up and down.
Quietly, Thranduil said, "Welcome home, my children."
Then his mask of apathy cracked, and he grasped each of them by one shoulder, pulling them to him and holding them there, his head bowed. Hermione bit her lip in an effort to fight back tears and wound her arms around Thranduil's waist, while Legolas silently pressed his forehead to his father's. And there they stayed for several long moments, their spirits dancing around them as their parental bonds were renewed, surging with love and anger and worry and regret upon regret, for elves feel nothing so keenly as the regret they have no end of time to contemplate.
"Ada," Hermione whispered, yet still loud enough for elvish ears to hear. Thranduil moved to lay a kiss upon the top of her head, and Hermione knew then that all would still be well, and she would not willingly leave the Greenwood again for a good many years.
Chapter 15: The Desolation of Smaug
It took them time to learn each other again. Thranduil was not used to the command in Legolas' eyes and the way he carried himself with grace and an air of majesty, the promise of strength waiting to be unleashed. Hermione was not used to the tight rein Thranduil had begun to keep on his expressions, his exaggerated otherworldliness. The Elvenking had always been regal, but now he was breathtaking in a way that made her feel stupid and small in comparison. She did not see how she herself had grown under Elrond's tutelage to be a stately elleth with eyes as deep and knowing as the night sky, and did not notice Thranduil's jealousy that it had been Elrond to guide her into her power, nor the awe the Wood Elves held for her.
But Hermione began attending council meetings and sitting in the smaller throne at Thranduil's left again, and Legolas led patrols along their borders and impressed warriors centuries older than himself with his prowess, and Tauriel was still impertinent and poked at each royal in turn when she thought they needed it. Gradually, Thranduil began to smile and laugh, coming to accept that his children were truly grown now, some small part of him afraid that if he did not accept it that the pair would simply leave him again, never to return.
And so Greenwood the Great flourished along with its royal elves. They traded with the Men of the Dale and the Dwarves of Erebor. Hermione created new wonders, from moving tapestries to communication mirrors. Legolas led their warriors to victory against any who sought to test them. The Elvenking was content and so too was the wood, making all that grew there succulent and sweet.
To the surprise of many, the Sons of Elrond became frequent visitors. At first they said that they missed their good friends and were there to visit the Prince and Princess of Greenwood. But it soon became clear that whom they were really there to see was Tauriel, and they twisted the poor elleth in knots by taking turns in courting her. Distraught at having to choose between them, Tauriel sought Hermione's advice as one who was already married to the mate of her soul. But Hermione had no advice to give, for she had been betrothed to Legolas literally the very first moment she saw him and so had no insight into how one would go about choosing between two brothers who were each as alike as the other.
"But they are not alike at all!" Tauriel protested. "That is the problem. That they are so different, and yet my traitorous heart yearns for them both. Can you really not tell them apart?"
"Not unless they speak," Hermione admitted. "And sometimes not even then. Certainly not if they are deliberately impersonating each other." Sometimes she wondered if she were not the only one from her old world to be given a new life in Middle Earth. Elladan and Elrohir could have been the Weasley twins if they were human and had magic. Tauriel could have been Ginny, though that was an odd thought given the circumstances.
"Which one does your spirit reach for?" Hermione asked, hoping the answer would lie there.
"That is the thing," Tauriel rubbed her brow. "That is the only way in which they are completely indistinguishable to me. Elrohir says that they have been that way since birth, their brother-bond so strong as twins that they are like one soul with two minds and two bodies."
Hermione froze, her mind racing with the implications. "Perhaps," she said slowly, "that is a sign from the Valar that you are to wed them both."
Tauriel was scandalized. "No elf ever takes more than one mate!"
"Not true," Hermione corrected her. "Some elves have endured arranged marriages and then married again when they were free and found their true mate. I read it in the histories. It is only when an elf has found their soul match that they forsake all others. And it seems to me that if Elladan and Elrohir share a soul, then they both together are your match. You should be with them, and be happy."
Tauriel didn't look convinced. "We would be condemned."
"No one would dare!" Hermione drew herself up, putting on her most prideful, puffed up expression. "I am Hermione Thranduiliel, Princess of the Greenwood, and one day I shall be Elvenqueen. I decree that this is the will of the Valar, and thus it shall be so!"
It wasn't quite as easy as that, but in the end Hermione's theory became accepted amongst the three kingdoms of the elves (Galadriel being very helpful in that regard, as she was the twins' grandmother and wished them happy) and Tauriel, Elladan, and Elrohir were soon all wearing betrothal tokens in the form of pendants around their necks. Hermione and Legolas had the jewelry crafted specially as a gift for their friends - each was in the shape of a tree and the three interlocked, Tauriel's in the center.
The Elves of Greenwood held a feast to celebrate the joining of the three in the fall, when the forest canopy was red, and then bid them farewell as they left to be married in Imladris. Hermione would miss Tauriel, but between letters and the communication mirror she'd given to them as a wedding gift from the royals of Greenwood to the future Lords and Lady of Imladris, it wouldn't be so bad.
Soon after that Thranduil began to drop hints about grandchildren, and Legolas seemed to agree if his lusty smirks and hot kisses were any indication. Hermione was beginning to think it was time herself.
But then the dragon came.
The summons came in the middle of the night. Hermione was sleeping, but Legolas was not. Elves didn't need to sleep as much as other races, and Legolas liked to stay on the same cycle of rest that he used when he was out on the border patrol and had to take his turn keeping watch. So it was he who opened the door to their chambers when one of the palace message runners began to pound on it.
"Your highness," the ellon said. "Urgent messages from our allies to the north. Thranduil King bids you and the princess to attend him in the council chamber."
Hermione was awake by the time the ellon finished speaking. Shrugging into a dressing gown and a pair of slippers, she padded into their sitting room. "This can mean nothing good."
Legolas nodded, a frown creasing his brow though he said nothing. He paused only to strap his weapons into place, and then offered Hermione his arm. She took it and they swept out into the hall to answer their father's summons. They did not run, for they had both been schooled from an early age to always maintain an appearance of calm when they could be seen by others, but they did stride quickly enough for their hair to blow back behind them like twin streamers.
Thranduil and his senior advisors were waiting for them, Thranduil clad in a robe so heavily embroidered that Hermione wondered how he could stand to sleep in it.
"Ada?" Legolas broke the silence.
"A dragon has laid siege to Erebor, and the City of Dale is burning," Thranduil said without fanfare.
Hermione gasped and clutched at Legolas' arm, her mind drifting back to the dragons she had seen in her old life. From her readings, she knew the wyrms of Middle Earth to be more dangerous: larger, able to speak and with a cunning intelligence, as well as the ability to lull other creatures into a sort of trance with their voice and gaze. And worse still, Thranduil had been involved in a great battle once where he was horribly burned, and witnessed the death of his comrades to dragonfire. No matter how well he was controlling himself, Hermione could see his upset in the way he kept his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes slightly too wide, and his pupils too small.
He was terrified.
"Our treaties require that we give them aid," Legolas was saying. "I will gather the best of the guard- "
"No!" Thranduil shouted, his fist coming down on the council table with a hard smack, the noise sudden and jarring. He took a long breath through his nose and let it pass out of his lips in a hiss, his nostrils flaring. More quietly, "No. No, Legolas, you are needed here." He turned to meet Hermione's eyes. "You are both needed here."
Hermione watched her father and saw the plea in his gaze. She bit her lip and inclined her head just enough for him to catch the motion. Then she turned to Legolas.
"He's right," she said. "One of us must stay to hold the wards, and I cannot do this without you. Please don't make me try."
Legolas blinked at her for a moment suspended in time, his arm sliding out of her grip as if he would refuse to be left behind, only for him to hold her close a second later. "Of course, my dove," he said at last, but it was Thranduil he was looking at.
Well, her husband wasn't stupid. He could see how shaken Thranduil was.
Of course Hermione truly did want Legolas with her. In many ways he was her strength and her sense when she'd gotten herself tangled up trying to think around corners. And as much as she did not want her father to have to face another dragon, she knew that one of them had to go in order to fulfill their promises to their allies, and she'd rather Thranduil went than Legolas. Legolas was a deadly warrior, one of the best alive after his training with Lord Glorfindel, but Legolas was also a self-sacrificing idiot. Thranduil would know what he was up against, and if he knew he could not win he would not engage the dragon.
Legolas might just decide his death was worth it, if it would save people, and Hermione was selfish enough to want to keep him from that.
"Good," Thranduil said, then began issuing orders to have all members of the Greenwood Guard who could competently wield pikes and lances assemble in the stable courtyard. Swords, knives, and regular arrows would be of no use against a dragon. While he was talking, Galion came in and began to strip Thranduil of his sleeping garb and strap him into his armor even as the king continued to consult with his advisors.
At last all was arranged for a company of elves to ride out to give aid to their allies, and Thranduil, now dressed in dazzling mithril armor with two matching swords and a coronet shining against his hair, came to place his hands on Hermione's shoulders. Voice some strange combination of bleak and proud, he kissed her brow and said, "From the moment I leave the border of the wood until the moment I return, I declare Hermione Thranduiliel to be the Elvenqueen."
Though they were spoken at a whisper the words echoed and multiplied, sliding through the room and filling the air as if by some strange magic.
"Ada," Hermione began to protest, before being cut off as all the wind was knocked from her lungs, making her wheeze. She could feel a shift in the Royal Blood Wards and a change in the forest's song as power was transferred from Thranduil to her. There was an oppressive feeling of some immense unseen being looking at her, examining her for flaws and judging her as a blacksmith would a blade upon the forge; and then a surge of information as she became connected to the life and moods of the forest. She staggered and would have fallen back if Legolas had not been there to steady her.
She knew everything. She could control everything. From the flow of the river, to how long it took to traverse the paths of the forest, to the density of the canopy. She felt every life as if it were her own, every insect, every animal, every elf, and all of their emotions. She knew exactly where the Greenwood ended, could feel the hum of the wards. It was overwhelming, a depth of communion and understanding of the wood than even she had never before experienced.
She was not just Hermione anymore. She was the Greenwood, and the Greenwood was she. She was the Elvenqueen.
Someone was calling her from far away.
"Hermione?" It was Legolas. "Ada, what has happened?"
"I did not expect this, but I should have. Her connection to the wood was stronger than mine even before I passed her the crown. Now that she is queen, however temporarily, she is more one with the Greenwood than I could ever hope to be."
"Hermione! My own, come back to me!"
"Legolas?" Who was that? Was that her voice?
"Yes, that's it. Follow my voice. Come back to me, my own."
She blinked, and the song of the forest became… not muted, exactly, as it was still there inside her head, but she was able to put it aside in order to focus on her immediate surroundings.
"Apologies, husband. That took a moment of getting used to."
Some of the tension left Legolas' frame, but he did not let go of her. Belatedly, Hermione realized that he was holding her up, and straightened her shaky legs.
Thranduil cupped her chin, forcing her to look at him as he examined her spirit through his parental bond with her to ensure that she was well. "The fault is mine, daughter. I did not think to warn you."
He took a deep breath, his tone shifting as he looked at Legolas. "Evacuate our people into the lower caverns. Keep them calm, but most importantly keep them safe."
Then he met Hermione's eyes. "Sit upon the throne with the scepter in hand. Once I and those I lead have exited the wood, close our kingdom. With enough will you can make the paths impassable, the canopy impenetrable, and the wards unassailable."
Hermione smiled, the forest song in her mind already changing as the Greenwood trembled in anticipation of doing her bidding. Or was she doing its bidding? She could not tell where she ended and it began.
When she spoke, it was clear to Legolas and Thranduil that she was already different in some way, for she wasn't just Hermione any longer, but the voice of the Greenwood.
It wasn't surprising that it made her that much more like Thranduil.
With a playful curl to her mouth she grasped the hand that still held her chin, turning it and bringing it to her lips to kiss Thranduil's ring as a subject would to a monarch. It was a tribute that Thranduil had never before required of her. "I am Elvenqueen, but you are still my king. I will hold the wood against any intruders, but when you return the throne shall be waiting. And you will return, Thranduil Oropherion. I am not done with you yet."
Hermione took the time to return to her rooms to dress in a simple gown of blue silk. It was regal enough to be fit for the Elvenqueen, and yet not so elaborate that it would hinder her movement if she needed to run or fight. Legolas laced the back for her, and then she brushed her hair out so that it hung in a wavy curtain to her hips and donned the crown that had been bestowed upon her by the forest when she first appeared.
Legolas too put on his crown of willow branches, though he stayed in his customary guard's tunic, the crown the only clue that he was more than another Warrior of the Wood.
Each of them armored in their own way, Legolas and Hermione exchanged a kiss and parted ways, Legolas to begin evacuating their people into the lower caverns of the palace, Hermione to sit the throne and open wide her connection to the forest.
The waiting was the hardest part.
Sitting on the Throne of Greenwood was not exactly easy, but it was something Hermione had been trained for since her rebirth in Arda. She knew her duties to her people and was prepared to fulfill them. Merging her consciousness with that of the wood was also less than difficult. It was an instinctive process, nearly like breathing. The forest sang a song, and Hermione's heart and mind sang back to it, making her the conductor of the melody. And like a conductor and their orchestra, she was setting the tempo of the music only because the forest itself chose to follow her lead.
If this had occurred even two hundred years ago, she would not have been ready. She would have balked at something that was so difficult to explain and understand and yet so easy to do. Something that she could not be instructed in, something that just was. Her old human self would be screeching with indignation, but more and more she was realizing that she was no longer Hermione Granger. She was Hermione Tathariel, Hermione A'maeliel, and most importantly Hermione Thranduiliel. And while she would never lose her curiosity and desire to learn, where Hermione Granger would have been unable to accept that the forest was sentient and bonded to her and would have searched for some rational way to explain the phenomenon, the Elvenqueen simply smiled and let herself be one with the life force of the Greenwood.
It took but a thought and the forest melody changed into a thing of swift, sweet notes that shortened the journey of Thranduil and his company. The trees shifted around them, bringing them to the edge of the wood in a fraction of the usual time. It seemed that they rode out from the palace, Thranduil riding his elk at the head of their column, turned a bend and found that the borderlands were somehow minutes away from the heart of the wood. When they looked back, all they could see was the forest road stretching out behind them.
Hermione listened to the trees sing farewells and blessings onto Thranduil as he passed through the Royal Blood Wards. The Greenwood loved him, as it loved all those it allowed to assume the mantle of ruler. Hermione could feel echoes of her predecessors in the forest song - a lingering line of melodies sung into the wood by Oropher, notes and rhythms left by Thranduil. It was not like having them there to advise her, not exactly, but she could feel the strongest, most frequent requests they had made to the wood and such things told their own stories.
Once the last of Thranduil's Company had passed from the trees Hermione took a deep breath, grasped the royal scepter in both hands, and opened her mouth to sing.
First she sang of shelter and thick grown trees, a canopy impenetrable by sunlight, and paths that could not be found by the unworthy. In her next verse she sang of winding ways and rushing rivers, of a forest that was in itself a labyrinth that led intruders back to the beginning again and again. And finally, she sang of wards unbreakable, a protection from evil, a shield from flame. She poured every ounce of her will and earth magic into the song, singing it again and again, tiring her spirit and even drawing on her bond with Legolas until, exhausted, she collapsed back against the throne.
Servants and guards moved to attend her, but she waved them away. Barely conscious or not, she would stay upon the throne. For it was when there was a royal elf upon the throne that the protections of the Greenwood were at their strongest. So there she would sit, refusing food, sleep, and drink, until her father came home.
But Thranduil was not the first to come to the Greenwood.
Hermione stirred from one of the meditative trances elves could utilize in place of sleep, not sure at first what had roused her. Legolas could not be back yet. He was still riding through the wood to be sure that all elves were relocated to the caverns of the palace. She could feel him, feel his life and his determination and the strength of his love.
And then she realized what had woken her. There was a group of dwarves and men gathered at the edge of the wood. They were still outside the borders, but close enough that the trees were trying to alert her.
Closing her eyes, Hermione merged herself once more with the Greenwood and thought, Show me.
They were a ragtag group, dirty and marred with smoke, blood, and burns. There were males, females, and children of both races among them, and they appeared to have walked, carrying what meager belongings they could scrounge. Segregated by race, they were fighting over whose fault the dragon attack was and how to enter the forest. A fight that could soon turn into a vicious battle of vengeance and survival.
If they did not find shelter soon, many of them would die. They needed healing and food and Hermione recalled that dwarves and men were not as hardy against the elements as elves were. Perhaps they would freeze to death. Hermione was no longer sure how cold it had to be for such a thing to happen, for she had been an elf for several lifetimes more than she had lived as a human.
Remember the fall of Doriath, sang the song of Oropher.
Our people come first. No others. Not for glory, not for honor. Never again, was Thranduil's song, made up of haunting notes that rose and fell in an eerie descant. They are mortal. They will die. Does it really matter when?
Hermione listened to the words of the kings that had come before, and she wavered. Neither Oropher nor Thranduil would open the wood to these men and dwarves, not when they fled a dragon's wrath and might be violent, or thieves. But Hermione remembered a human girl who had the word 'mudblood' carved into her arm. She remembered witches and wizards who turned away, willingly blind to the plight of others. She remembered an entire race of enslaved elves, centaurs who were restricted to one forest, werewolves who were persecuted.
Yes, she was the Elvenqueen, heir of Oropher and Thranduil, but she remembered Hermione Granger.
She sent the Greenwood Guard to escort the refugees through the wards.
The dwarves and men were helped to set up a camp about an hour's walk beyond the borders of the Greenwood. They were not so far in that they would be able to find the Halls of the Elvenqueen, but they were sufficiently deep enough in the wood to be protected by the wards and the forest itself. As an extra insurance, Hermione sang the forest paths into leading any men and dwarves straight back to their camp if they left it. She was willing to help them, but not at the expense of the safety of her own people.
Through the trees Hermione watched as the men and dwarves were healed with elvish medicine, given fresh clothes, food, and some of Hermione's enchanted tents to live in. At first they were thankful and happy, taking the time to rest and eat. But soon enough there were angry mutterings, tears, and accusations. The dwarves screamed that the elves had failed them, that the army of Thranduil had taken one look at the dragon and turned away, and was even now doing nothing more than riding back to their precious woods. The men screamed that the dwarves were the ones who had brought the dragon down upon everyone with their greed, and the elves were smart enough to realize when they couldn't win. The dwarves should be thankful that the elves were helping them at all.
One younger dwarf of regal bearing shouted to any who would stand still long enough that Thranduil was a coward and the elves were oathbreakers for not fighting the dragon, whose name was Smaug. A man shouted back that he didn't see the dwarves staying to die in the dragon's teeth. The dwarf responded with a litany of dwarvish profanity and wished a plague upon the House of Thranduil and the Men of Dale.
Hermione's anger made the trees around the camp shake, their limbs twisting and snapping like whips.
The dwarves and men grew still, glancing around in fear. One of the elves who had been idly watching the exchange smirked and spoke in Common Tongue so that he might be understood. "I would not insult the Elvenqueen in her own wood were I you."
"So now you threaten us! Never trust an elf!" the irate dwarf exclaimed.
The elf who had spoken, a healer whose name Hermione did not know, gave an elegant shrug. "You are free to leave Greenwood at any time, Master Dwarf. And that goes for all gathered here."
A dwarrowdam with an infant in her arms grabbed the troublemaker's sleeve and hauled him back toward her tent, thus ending the confrontation.
Day faded to night and back again, and the refugee camp grew. Legolas rode to survey the camp himself, hoping to question the dwarves and men about what had happened and where Thranduil's Company was. He took Prongs IV (the original Prongs having long since passed from the world) as his mount, most of the royal horses being in use.
At the sight of a crowned ellon mounted on a white hart the humans swarmed the path, hands reaching out to touch whatever part of Legolas they could reach, offering effusive thanks for the generosity of the elves. Others stood back and stared, clearly elf-struck despite having already seen those elves that attended the camp. The dwarves kept their distance, save for the troublemaker who stalked forward to insist that the elves were obligated by their alliance with Erebor to go fight the dragon to reclaim the Lonely Mountain.
Legolas merely raised an eyebrow. When Hermione prodded him through their marital bond (of course the trees were telling her what was going on, honestly), he informed the dwarves that their treaty required Greenwood not to field an army, but to give aid, which they were doing. Legolas went on to ask the dwarf if he would order his own people to spend their lives against the dragon, knowing that their defeat was all but certain.
The dwarf's only response to that was to tell Legolas to go kiss an orc.
Hermione could feel her husband's spike of outrage and sent him a wave of calm. It would be best not to respond to the dwarf's insults. It was obvious he was spoiling for a fight, and it would only annoy him more if the elves refused to give him one.
Legolas heeded her advice and departed, heading back to the palace.
Thranduil's Company returned, all of them unharmed. They'd quit the field of battle when it became obvious the situation was hopeless, but stayed close enough to observe until the fires were out and the dragon appeared to have settled in the mountain. Thranduil had not wanted to risk attracting its attention and leading it back to the Greenwood.
Hermione made sure the forest path steered the returning elves around the camp of men and dwarves, not wishing her father to see the refugees until she'd had a chance to explain.
Thranduil was not as angry as Hermione was expecting, though it likely had a lot to do with her transferring the kingship back to him. After all, if Hermione had been able to hear the songs of Oropher and Thranduil and feel their intentions while she was connected to the Greenwood, then it stood to reason that Thranduil was able to do the same with Hermione once he had resumed the mantle of Elvenking.
Taking his rightful place on the throne, the royal scepter clasped in both hands, Thranduil met Hermione's eyes and said, "They can't stay."
Hermione bowed her head. "I never intended for them to."
The night after giving up the monarch's crown, Hermione lay shaking in Legolas' arms, unable to tell him what was wrong.
"I feel as if something within me has awakened," she managed at last, after a particularly violent shiver. "And now it cannot sleep again."
Legolas called for the healers, but after they found nothing wrong he could do nothing but hold his wife and make love to her when she begged him to fill the empty ache inside.
When Hermione reached the peak of ecstasy, everything in the room was blown back in a burst of accidental magic.
The surviving Dwarves of Erebor were given supplies, enchanted tents, and an escort to the Grey Mountains, where they hoped to make a new home. With that Greenwood's obligations were fulfilled, no matter how the dwarves disputed it, seeking to blame any but themselves for the fall of their kingdom.
The Men of the Dale were also given supplies, though Thranduil refused to help them rebuild on the grounds that the site of what would be Lake Town was far too close to the Lonely Mountain. Thranduil would not risk drawing the attention of the dragon. Still, Greenwood would trade with the town of men so long as no elves had to go so close to the mountain. In the end they settled on sending their goods floating down the river on barges for the men to pick up.
Smaug dominated the land surrounding the Lonely Mountain for nigh on three hundred years. Thranduil ordered that all elves of the Greenwood were to live in the palace, since the rock of the caverns would do more to protect them from dragonfire than trees would if the Royal Blood Wards failed. Only their most skilled warriors were allowed to patrol the borders. No one, especially the prince and princess, was to risk travel.
After her bout of accidental magic, Hermione concluded that she had simply not been old enough before to harness her magic due to differences in elvish physiology. That or connecting with the Greenwood so deeply had done something to free her old powers. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. She set out to make a new wand, and was drawn by some instinct to use a branch from the Mother Willow as the wand-wood, and for the core claimed a braid of Legolas' hair.
When green sparks shot from the finished wand tip, she grinned like a loon.
When she found that her magic didn't work quite the way she remembered it and she would have to retrain herself, she was frustrated anew.
The first major stumbling block to Hermione's magic was that every time she attempted to speak a language that was not native to Arda, whatever power it was that had transformed her into an elf automatically translated whatever she said into the Sindarin dialect of elvish. So when she tried to cast accio, what came out of her mouth was "I summon!" At first she'd hoped that it wouldn't matter and once she'd gotten her wandwork back up to snuff intent would do the rest.
Not so. She could not speak any of her old world's languages and her magic didn't like being commanded in the language she used for everyday speech, so she had to come up with something else. She attempted to perform spells in several different languages of Middle Earth before hitting upon one that worked. And of course it would be Quenya, the older language of the elves that was spoken by very few since the Sundering. Which made it the obvious equivalent to Latin in hindsight. She really should have tried it first.
So she went through the spells she could remember. Lumos became "Alta!" The Levitation Charm became "Ortan!" And so on and so forth. Sometimes she had to try several different words or phrases to find one that would work, either because there wasn't a direct translation or because the magic didn't… like, for lack of a better term, whatever the direct translation was.
It was when she was going through every spell from her old world that she could remember that Hermione hit her next stumbling block. There were a great many spells she could not cast, never mind that the new incantation was accepted by her magic. Checking her list and mentally comparing it to her old Hogwarts textbooks, she found that she was only able to cast the spells expected of a first year, no matter how perfect her wandwork and how focused her intent. Until suddenly, after a hundred years of striving, she was able to cast the spells taught in second year at Hogwarts.
She reasoned then that her magical core was growing at an elven pace. That is to say, every century or so it grew the equivalent of one human year. So she would be back to her full strength in another six hundred years. Lovely.
Silent casting was completely beyond her, and would be for another five hundred years.
Eventually a significant period of time had passed between sightings of Smaug. Thranduil did not believe the dread wyrm dead, not at all, but he saw it as an opportunity to get his children to greater safety than Greenwood could offer, with a dragon lair so close. It had been long enough that the dragon was not likely to be watching the pass through the Misty Mountains.
So Thranduil told Hermione and Legolas that he wished for them to go to Imladris, to renew their friendship with the House of Elrond. Of course they both realized quickly enough why he wanted them to leave the wood for the first time since Smaug had appeared.
Legolas watched his wife from the corner of his eye, and then obviously decided not to protest. Thranduil knew how Legolas longed for an elfling, but did not feel right bringing one into the world when danger was so near. Perhaps if Legolas took his wife elsewhere, somewhere they felt safer, they would be blessed.
Hermione was convinced to go by the observation that Gandalf the Grey had been named elf-friend by Elrond, and so she would likely see the wizard and be able to compare their magic. Thranduil almost choked on the words, well remembering his vow to keep the Istari away from Hermione, but now Smaug was the bigger threat.
So it was that Princess Hermione and Prince Legolas left for an extended stay in Rivendell. Thranduil only hoped that it would soon be safe for them to return, and that when they did it would be with his grandchild.
Chapter 16: Estel Legolasion
The trip to Imladris was filled with skirmishes. Just outside the Greenwood orcs roamed, pressing closer than they had dared for many a year since the Wood Elves no longer left the wood to hunt the beasts, by the order of Thranduil King. The Shadow over Dol Guldur was growing darker again, calling to the evil things that walked the world. Hermione had to close herself from the song of the forest once they were no longer protected by the Royal Blood Wards, lest the feel of the Shadow make her sick.
Once they were in the mountain pass they were set upon by goblins and spiders. As was usual, Hermione was sent to whatever higher ground could be found, though now she did not rely on her bow, but her wand. She'd spent the last few centuries focusing on charms and curses, as she would not be strong enough to perform any transfiguration useful enough to bother with for quite some time. Her spell repertoire consisted of what could be done by a Hogwarts third year and some very weak versions of fourth year spells.
So she found her higher ground and banished spiders away from her husband and their guards, cast cutting hexes with a shouted "Maika!" to sever multi-jointed legs, and on two occasions single-handedly defeated incursions of goblins by conjuring sunlight, a simple enough deviation on her light spell. When the battles were done she moved through her people, healing scratches with a lightly glowing wand and offering potions for more serious wounds.
It felt good to use magic again. It felt right. Her wand was more comfortable in her hand than any other weapon had ever been. But still, she would not take back her years without active magic, even if she could. Another life ago she had defined herself by her skills in magic, felt that she was worthless if she was not the best, knew the most spells, had the highest marks at Hogwarts. But here, on Arda, she had proven that she was more than that. She had learned governance, healing, how to shoot a bow and wield long knives. She could feel the trees around her, and the earth beneath her. She trusted in her heart as well as her mind. If her wand was snapped, she would not be helpless.
She could not be sure that she would have ever learned so much or grown as a person if she'd kept her magic all along. So she was grateful.
She thanked the Valar.
They arrived in Imladris on a sleepy afternoon, a far more sedate entrance than their last visit. Tauriel was the first to come out to meet them, and Hermione was pleased to see that she still wore the shade of green associated with the Greenwood Guard, even if her tunic and breeches were cut in the Rivendell style.
"Princess Hermione!" she smiled, offering a bow of one equal to another.
"Lady Tauriel," Hermione returned, curtseying. "A star shines upon the hour of our meeting."
Tauriel's lips twitched. "I never thought to be called a lady, least of all by the royals I once served."
"You have always been a lady, Tauriel," Legolas said as he walked up, having been directing their guards to take their mounts to the stables.
Both of Tauriel's brows arched. "Oh really? I recall a certain prince once calling me -"
"I was barely thirty!" Legolas protested, sending Hermione a panicked look that said he very much did not want her to hear what he'd once called Tauriel. "I was still in short breeches and you wouldn't let me go outside."
"Where are Elladan and Elrohir?" Legolas asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject.
"They should be in Elrond's study."
Legolas nodded and set off swiftly in that direction, leaving the two ellith behind.
Hermione smirked. "What did he call you?"
"He said I was the son of an orc. Though to be fair, I don't think he really understood what an orc was at the time," Tauriel replied. "But enough of that. I want to know what you've been up to and how your trip was. We've been hearing the strangest stories."
They linked arms and strolled after Legolas, pausing every now and then to nod greetings to the elves they saw in the streets.
"What stories have you heard?"
Tauriel's face lit with mischief. She'd obviously been spending too much time with the Sons of Elrond. "Stories of Hermione the Green, the Lady of the Forest. It's said that you can cause the sun to rise in the middle of the night, and transform yourself into a stag."
Hermione snorted. "That's quite an exaggeration. Honestly, I only ride the stag."
"But you can make the sun rise?"
"You'll just have to wait and see, won't you?"
They dined privately that night with Elrond, Elladan, Elrohir, Tauriel, Glorfindel, and Erestor. Arwen was still in Lothlorien, having not returned to Imladris since Celebrian sailed. She kept in touch with her family via the floor length communication mirrors that Hermione had gifted to Galadriel and Tauriel. The elves had taken to calling the three mirrors collectively 'The Gate of Hermione' or just 'the Gate.'
The mirrors, big by necessity since they were powered by runes carved into the silver beneath the glass, worked like walkie talkies. One simply stood in front of one of the three mirrors and called out the name of the kingdom one wished to reach, and whatever elf was assigned to keep an eye on the mirror would fetch whomever one wished to speak with. The Gate was usually reserved for the business of the rulers of the three kingdoms, but any elf was allowed to request time with one of the mirrors to contact a friend or loved one.
Hermione and Legolas would be using the Gate to speak with Thranduil after the meal in fact, to let him know they'd arrived safely.
They quickly settled into life in Imladris, enjoying reconnecting with their friends. Hermione and Elrond compared notes on new healing techniques, and Hermione taught him to brew a few new potions she'd worked out. Elladan revealed that he had been learning healing as well, because the twins and Tauriel were trying for an elfling and Elladan wished to be able to assist in the birth and heal any hurts of their child. So far they'd had no luck, but elven births were few and far between. Hermione herself was the youngest elf on Arda, and she was just shy of one thousand years old.
Glorfindel met Legolas on the training fields and proceeded to fight him to a draw in a duel of long knives, smiling and clapping Legolas on the shoulder with the exclamation that he'd been practicing. Then he made Legolas spar him with a variety of different weapons, proving that he could still best the prince when Legolas was not using the fighting style he favored.
Hermione rolled her eyes heavenward from her seat on the fence surrounding the yard. "Ellyn."
Of course then Glorfindel demanded to see Hermione's battle magic. With a twist of her wrist the wand holster she'd enchanted dropped her wand into her hand. Before Glorfindel knew what was happening to him she'd levitated him into the air, spun him around just enough to make him dizzy, and then dumped him on the ground.
His face bruised and hair flying every which way from his series of spars with the mighty Glorfindel, Legolas grinned at her and said, "I love you, my own."
Hermione's lips curled up at the corners. "I know," she said smugly. Glorfindel sat up, looking rather gobsmacked to find himself on his ass in the dust.
"Now I must be off." Hermione hopped down from her perch on the fence. "I have to tell everyone that I have bested the Balrog-slayer."
Glorfindel laughed and chased her from the training grounds.
And so it went. The members of the Greenwood Guard who'd escorted Hermione and Legolas to Imladris returned to the Greenwood. Hermione settled into working in the Halls of Healing and assisting Elrond and Glorfindel with any issues they brought to her attention. Legolas joined the twins and Tauriel on their patrols, and was introduced to the Dunedain. They kept in touch with Thranduil through letters and the Gate. Their Ada encouraged them to stay in Imladris and be happy.
Hermione and Legolas, along with the twins and Tauriel, tried for an elfling to no avail. Hermione began to suspect something was wrong. Perhaps if only one couple (or trio, as the case may be) was having difficulty she'd have thought nothing of it, but two?
So Hermione began to cast her awareness out through the trees, carefully sorting out the clumsy melodies of the forest and reminding the trees who'd forgotten how to sing in harmony again.
It was not enough that she would notice without looking for it, and she did not think she would have felt it without being so intimately connected to nature as she was, but there was a sort of pressure seeking to crush her, a shade casting a pall over the world that the light of her spirit was constantly fighting against. The strength of the Shadow was growing once again. Hermione could feel it in the air here as she could not when she was safe behind the wards of Greenwood.
She was not certain enough yet to mention it to anyone. But Hermione decided that when it was time for her and Legolas to return home, she would invite Tauriel and her husbands to join them. Perhaps behind wards that held the Shadow at bay, all five of them would get the elflings they wished for. And if they did it would prove Hermione's theory, and she'd offer to design blood ritual protections for Imladris and Lothlorien. Galadriel had power enough to be able to pull such a thing off, and Tauriel was a Wood Elf, so should be able to anchor Rivendell if the peredhil could not.
"Help! Healer!" a frantic voice cried out. Being the healer on duty, Hermione took her cauldron off the fire and left the still room at a swift walk, the skirts of her plain blue gown rustling around her. She expected to find a guard who'd run afoul of an orc or spider, or perhaps a younger elf with a training injury, as sometimes happened.
What she did not expect to see was Elladan and Elrohir, their faces pasty white, standing on either side of her own husband. "Legolas?" she called, her heart thumping painfully at the thought that he could be the one injured. Legolas turned to face her, and she could see he had something bundled in his arms. He rushed towards her, his expression grave, holding the bundle out, and Hermione registered that the bundle was a child.
"He is Dunedain," Elladan, or perhaps it was Elrohir said. "We found his parents. His father was overrun by orcs and slaughtered. His mother got away, but she was hurt. We tracked her, but we were too late. Spiders had already killed her. The young one was wrapped in web, but we could hear him making noises."
Legolas seemed unable to speak. Wordlessly he held the child out to her, a silent entreaty for help.
"He isn't breathing well," Elrohir put in, sounding distressed. Hermione was distressed herself.
She took the child from Legolas, carrying him to a bed and laying him down to remove his swadling. A shock of unruly black hair was revealed and her breath caught, drawn back to memories of her old life. Somewhat stupidly, she checked the infant's forehead for a lightning bolt scar.
There wasn't one, of course, but that didn't matter. That the child needed her was enough reason for her to help. The reminder of Harry just made her determined that this child would live and have everything that Harry never had. Hermione would heal him and make sure he was taken in by good people, if she didn't raise him herself.
Briskly she finished stripping the child, confirming he was a boy and checking him over for any obvious wounds. He had two shallow puncture marks on his left shoulder, likely from being carried by one of the spiders, but no venom had been injected (thank the Valar). A potion applied topically would fix that. More worrying was his dehydration and the wheeze to his breathing. Hermione swiped the child's mouth with one finger and found it clear, but found his nose obstructed by remnants of webbing. He might have swallowed some as well.
"Sorry for this, little one," she said, drawing her wand. "He may cry when I do this," she warned the three ellyn who watched her from across the room. They were plainly worried, but all knew better than to get in the way of a healer.
Hermione pointed her wand inside the child's mouth and incanted, "Tulta spider web."
A filmy grey ball zoomed out of the baby's mouth and landed in Hermione's open palm, resulting in a squalling cry from the boy and a muttered "yck" from Hermione. She dropped the slimy web on the child's ruined clothes, then holstered her wand and picked the baby up, cradling him against her chest.
The baby opened his eyes, and even watery with tears they were a deep elven blue. A blue that very nearly matched Legolas' eyes.
Hermione fell head over heels in love.
"Legolas," she said over the sound of the baby's - her baby's - whimpers. "Please go to the still room and fetch one of the potions in the small brown bottles. Elladan, if you would find some clothes for our little prince? Elrohir, a basin of warm water and some drying cloths, please."
Giving the ellyn something to do would keep them out of her way and let them feel useful. Useful elves were calm elves, as Elrond was fond of saying. Hermione had to admit that it often worked, and got concerned friends and family out from under a healer's feet.
Legolas returned first, potion in hand. "Here," he said, handing it to her. Hermione held it up to the light to check it was the right one, the baby cradled in her other arm. "What is it for?" Legolas asked, his face creased with strain, though he was trying hard to keep it a blank mask. "What is wrong with him?"
Hermione gave him a reassuring smile. "Peace, my love. The child will be fine. This potion is not for him. It's for me."
Now it was confusion that creased the prince's brow. "For you?"
Hermione nodded, sitting on the bed and uncorking the potion one handed. "I created this potion many years ago to stimulate milk production in mammals. It was so that we wouldn't have to breed our goats so often just for milk and cheese. It's easier on the animals and less work for those who care for them. We've been exporting it to Imladris and Lothlorien for decades, so I knew Elrond would have some. I just need to calculate the proper dosage, as I've never heard of it being administered to an elleth."
Legolas stared for several minutes before he worked out what it was that she was really saying. That or it took him that long to wrap his head around the idea. "You intend to nurse him yourself."
Hermione met his eyes. "Do you object? I know he is not an elfling, but he is still a child in need of parents. And we wish to be parents, but have no child."
A slow smile spread across Legolas' face. He looked down at the boy, who'd stopped crying and managed to acquire a fistful of Hermione's hair which he was studying with quiet intensity. "No. I do not object," Legolas said, stroking the babe's soft cheek with one finger. "But he is Dunedain, making him kin to Elrond. It is they who might object to our keeping him, for they have the claim of blood."
"They can fight me for him," Hermione replied, then tilted her head back and downed a third of the potion that would stimulate her breast milk. It tasted like honey and grass, something she'd ensured so that their livestock would not despise drinking it. Her breasts began to tingle, then ache. When the bodice of her dress became uncomfortably tight, she had Legolas hold the baby while she loosened her laces.
By the time Elladan and Elrohir returned, Elrond and Tauriel in tow, Legolas was sitting up against the headboard of the bed with Hermione reclined against him, breastfeeding the child.
"What about Hurion?" Hermione suggested.
Legolas made a face, scrunching up his nose. "He does not look like a 'Hurion.'"
"How?" Tauriel wondered aloud, looking at the babe suckling with gusto.
"Magic?" Elrohir said, blinking.
"A potion," Hermione corrected him, shifting the baby so he could reach her other breast, Legolas helping her to arrange her dress. While under normal circumstances it would not be proper for ellyn who were not her husband to glimpse Hermione's breasts, elves held children and the care of them to be sacrosanct. So there was nothing wrong with Hermione's breasts being exposed to feed the babe. It was a nurturing act, and one that all present were honored to witness.
"The basin of water and the cloths are here," Elrohir told them. "Erestor is going to get our baby clothes out of storage until new things can be made for the little one."
"Thank you," Hermione said without looking away from the child in her arms. "I'll let him finish before we bathe him. I'm more worried about dehydration than anything else at the moment. He's feeding well, though, so that's good."
Legolas was equally mesmerized by the child, one of his arms braced beneath Hermione's to help support the boy. "We are trying to choose a name. Hermione favors things that start with 'H' but they are all terrible."
"He has a name," Elrond spoke for the first time since entering the hall, his forbidding tone shattering the air of serenity that had grown up around the young couple. "He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the rightful Chief of the Dunedain since his father has been slain, and heir to the throne of Gondor."
Legolas looked up in concern, though Hermione did not. "Is this true?" he asked of Elladan.
"Aye," Elladan confirmed softly. "We recognized his parents, but there was no time before to tell you."
"So he shall be a prince twice over then," Hermione asserted, and finally looked up.
Her brown eyes were dark and deep and older than they should be. Her tone was calm, but it was a silky calmness that bore much resemblance to Thranduil's voice before he did something particularly vicious. Her spirit, for those who could sense such things, was simultaneously reaching for Legolas and flaring in what could be warning or preparation for a magical attack. To all present it was clear that they were not looking upon their friend Hermione, but the one who would be Elvenqueen.
An Elvenqueen who considered the child in her arms to be her son, and would fight tooth and nail against any who tried to say otherwise.
Elrond had two choices in that moment. He could try to claim his tiny kinsman and irreparably damage his relationship with Hermione and Legolas and the Greenwood as a whole, or he could entrust Aragorn into the care of the two royals.
"He is the Hope of Men," Elrond said. "Perhaps you could call him 'Estel?'"
Hermione blinked and the aura of danger surrounding her vanished as if it had never been there. "Hope," she mused, looking down at Aragorn's face. "It is a heavy name to lay on one so small. To be the hope of an entire race… yet, so long as he is Legolasion, I find I am content."
"Then Estel Legolasion he shall be," Legolas said, kissing his wife's neck. 'Thank you,' he mouthed at Elrond, his eyes moving from the Lord of Imladris to Elladan, Elrohir, and Tauriel in turn.
"I would have him call you aunt and the twins uncle, if you would permit it." Hermione offered to Tauriel. "For you have long been the sister of my heart." It was a balm, a gesture of peace and goodwill between the two families. Hermione knew that her heart-sister wanted a child just as badly as Hermione did.
Tauriel understood. "Come, I will help you bathe him. I cannot have a nephew of mine be so dirty!" She cut a sly look at Legolas. "No matter who his father is."
The tension in the room was broken with that bit of teasing, just as Tauriel had no doubt intended. She always had been good with managing the moods of the Greenwood royals.
Hermione stood, Legolas doing up her laces for her. The newly christened Estel was passed to Elrond, who explained that Dunedain children needed to be burped after feeding and demonstrated. Then the infant was bathed by Tauriel and Elrohir and dressed by Elladan, who'd left during the bath to get whatever baby clothes Erestor had located.
Finally, a happy Estel was given back to Hermione and Legolas. Hermione held him since Legolas had yet to clean himself up from the rescue of the child and ride back to Rivendell.
They introduced Estel to his grandfather through the use of The Gate of Hermione.
Thranduil was shocked to see Legolas standing there with a baby his arms, then excited when he was told he was a grandfather, then concerned when they explained the circumstances.
"He is mortal," the Elvenking said carefully, his eyes darting from face to face.
"We know," Hermione answered. "But we shall make the most of our time with him."
Another long silence fell in which Thranduil stared them down, using that piercing gaze that always made Hermione feel as if he could see every thought in her head. At last he said, "I see I will not be able to change your minds. You have already considered every pain and heartache this will cause and decided it is worth it anyway." He sighed. "The Dunedain heir… the Rangers are good men. Arathorn was a good man, and I am sorry to hear of his passing. Though Estel will never be able to inherit the throne, I acknowledge him as Legolasion and a Prince of Greenwood."
A stray tear fell from the inside corner of Hermione's eye. She hadn't realized she was so tightly wound until she felt a knee weakening wave of relief, her legs threatening to collapse.
"Thank you, Ada," she said. Thranduil had given them as much as he could. Estel would never be able to be king because he wouldn't be able to hold the Royal Blood Wards, but he was still a Prince of Greenwood. Even if he never claimed Gondor he would be royalty, and if he did claim Gondor he would have a ready made alliance with the Greenwood.
"Yes, thank you," Legolas said. Then he held Estel up to the mirror and babbled, "Can you say thank you to Grandfather? Thank you, Grandfather!"
Hermione burst out in a fit of giggles. Legolas was baby-talking. It was adorable.
Thranduil looked both amused and horrified at his son's behavior.
Estel, as all Dunedain, grew one year for every two that passed. He would continue in that way until he appeared to be around forty or so, and then keep his youth until death. So it was that when a group of thirteen dwarves, one hobbit, and a wizard came to stay in Rivendell, Estel was the human equivalent of five, having just passed from toddlerhood into childhood.
Estel spent most of his time following along after his Naneth, because his Adar said that he was too young to learn swords and bows yet, even if he did want to be like Ada and Uncle Elladan and Uncle Elrohir and Aunt Tauriel. His Naneth was a healer though, and knew magic, and she let him help in the Halls of Healing and encouraged him to ask questions and 'engage his mind,' whatever that meant. Nana could be odd sometimes. For example, she was very fixated on how often Estel cleaned his teeth, even though they were his baby teeth.
And if he got bored, or Nana had to make a dangerous potion he couldn't help with, Estel could go get Great Uncle Elrond to read to him, or play with Erestor. Erestor was going to be Estel's tutor in just two more years, when Estel became a big boy and had to start learning things. He was looking forward to it, because Estel wanted to be a big boy, but he also didn't want lessons because he wouldn't get to spend as much time outside and he would miss his Nana. But he had to learn things because he was a Prince of Greenwood, even if he'd never been to Greenwood, and he could be a Prince of Gondor, if he wanted to. He wasn't sure he wanted to. What if being a prince of two places meant he had to have twice as many lessons?
Estel finished his breakfast and his Nana wiped his face for him. Estel leaned away because he was a big boy and he could wipe his own face! Ada would let Estel wipe his own face.
"When's Ada coming home?" Estel asked, swinging his feet. He was too short for them to touch the floor when he sat at the table.
"The patrol should be back in a few hours," Nana said. "Are your hands clean?"
Estel held his hands up for inspection. "Good job," Nana praised, then grabbed his hands and kissed them over and over. Estel giggled and squirmed to get away, but he didn't try that hard because he liked it when Nana kissed and tickled him.
Nana helped Estel get down from his chair. She was wearing her pretty green dress today. Estel and Ada had picked it out as a gift, because Nana looked nice in green with her dark hair and eyes and she didn't have anything green. She said it was because Grandfather Thranduil didn't like it when she wore green, but she would wear green from then on because Estel and Ada did like it. Estel thought that was good. It wasn't like Grandfather Thranduil would know. He lived inside a mirror.
"What are we doing today, Nana? Can we go see the horsies?" Estel asked. He liked the stables. When he was big he was going to ride a horse just like his Ada's. Nana could keep her silly white hart. It ran funny. It wasn't even a real run. It just kind of hopped over and over again.
Nana was about to answer Estel's question when Erestor came in and bowed. "Your highness, our scouts report a group of dwarves heading this way, traveling with Mithrandir. They appear to be running from something."
Nana smiled and tilted her head the same way that Grandfather Thranduil did sometimes. "And I suppose that you are telling me because you wish me to greet them?"
Erestor smiled a little smile back. "Elladan, Elrohir, and Tauriel are patrolling the lands with your husband, and Lords Elrond and Glorfindel have gone to hunt a band of orcs sighted to the west. You are the only one here of sufficient rank."
"Don't sell yourself short, Erestor." Nana said. "You're just as grand as any of us. But I shall do as you say. Allow me a moment to retrieve my crown from my rooms and get Estel's hair into some order."
Estel couldn't stay still. He was going to meet a wizard! The wizard that Nana talked about so much!
"Welcome to Rivendell," Nana said, speaking a language that Estel didn't know. It sounded funny, all… stoppy and starty, not smooth at all. It was the Common Tongue, Nana said. It was called that because it was a language lots of people spoke, no matter what race they were.
Estel and Nana were standing at the top of a staircase, looking down at the group that had just come into Imladris. Nana said that the short ones with all the axes and funny clothes were dwarves. Estel had never seen dwarves before. They were so short! Still taller than Estel, but much shorter than Nana and Ada. And their ears were shaped funny, all big and round, and they had beards. Estel had never seen people with beards before. He liked them.
Estel wanted a beard.
The dwarves and Nana were talking in that funny language Estel couldn't understand. Estel studied the dwarves. Nana might test him later to see how his 'observational skills' were coming along. She said it was important for a prince to notice things. Ada did the same thing, except he said it was because a warrior needed to always pay attention to the people around him, in case they turned out to not be nice.
One of the dwarves was dressed different and didn't have a beard, and was a bit shorter and not as wide. Estel decided that must be the hobbit.
The wizard was reaaaallly tall. So tall! And he had a pointy hat! And his wand was huge! Nana's wand was little, small enough that she kept it strapped to her arm, but Mithrandir's wand was taller than Estel!
They kept talking and talking and Estel was usually very good when the grown ups were talking, but this time he couldn't even understand what they were saying, so he was bored.
Nana suddenly picked him up, and Estel was going to complain, but then he saw the look on Nana's face. That was Nana's serious face. She only got that face when someone was hurt or Ada had been gone longer than he said or when Lady Galadriel came to talk about grown up things. Maybe since Mithrandir was here Lady Galadriel was coming too?
"Nana?" Estel said, touching her face. "What's wrong?"
"I think these dwarves are being very silly and I'm worried something bad might happen," Nana told him. Nana never lied to him. Sometimes she wouldn't always tell him everything, but if he wasn't old enough to know yet she would just say so. "And Mithrandir says there is a bad person in Dol Guldur who is doing bad things, and I'm scared because that is near the Greenwood. We need to go tell your Grandfather."
"Speak so we can understand you!" one of the dwarves said in an angry shout. He was the tallest one.
Estel frowned at the dwarf. He didn't know what the dwarf just said, but he didn't like the way he said it. He was shouting at Estel's Nana, and that was bad. "Be nice to my Nana!" Estel demanded. Ada wasn't there to defend Nana, so it was Estel's job. Nana could defend herself, but a lot of times she wouldn't because she felt bad for people, so it was up to Ada and Estel to do it. Especially if they were dwarves. Ada had explained it to him.
The dwarf yelled again, but this time he yelled at Estel. Estel didn't mind, he felt brave because Nana was holding him. But Nana minded! She minded a lot! She had what Ada called her 'queen face' on now. Estel had only seen it a couple of times before that he could remember, but everyone in his family knew that if Nana had her queen face on you did what she wanted and hid until she cheered up. Nana could be downright scary when she had her queen face on, even Ada thought so.
Well, Ada said that, but Estel thought he secretly liked it. Whenever Nana put her queen face on Ada kissed her a lot afterwards. Uncle Elrohir teased Ada about it, but Ada always said he was distracting her so the rest of them could get away.
Grown ups were silly.
It looked like Mithrandir recognized the queen face too, because he was hustling the dwarves (and hobbit) in the direction of the Hall of Fire and watching Nana out of the corner of his eye like she might attack. Which she might. The last time Nana had the queen face she almost cursed a man with her wand before Ada talked her out of it. Then she just punched the man on the nose. Estel didn't know why though. He'd been too little to understand what was going on.
And now Nana had queen face and she was going to go talk to Grandfather, and Grandfather was probably going to put on his king face and they'd be really boring and scary together.
Estel decided to see what Erestor was doing.
Estel didn't get to see much of the dwarves after that. Nana kept him cooped up in their private rooms with her. Estel whined about it at first, but then Nana got out his magic toys and he was distracted. He had two figures that looked like Uncle Elladan and Uncle Elrohir that really fought with their tiny swords thanks to his Nana's magic, a map of Greenwood with little soldier tokens used for planning battle strategies (the soldiers sometimes made suggestions, but it wasn't always wise to listen to them), and his very favorite, a toy bow just like Ada's that had soft tipped arrows for him to shoot. But he wasn't allowed to play with it inside. He could still carry it on his back like Ada carried his though.
So Estel and Nana spent their time playing with Estel's map and soldiers. Estel got to be in charge of the Greenwood Guard, and Nana was the orcs. She made ugly faces every time she had to give an order, making Estel laugh. She also said she was trying to get a good map of Gondor for him, so he could learn to defend it too. Estel wondered what the elves of Gondor were like, for he assumed that every city in the world was ruled by elves. He even thought that he himself was an elf, until the day he asked his Nana when his ears would get pointed.
For some reason that question made Nana cry. Estel felt so bad that he sent himself to his room.
Estel's Ada was due home and Estel couldn't be happier. So excited was he that he ran ahead of his Nana to the courtyard where Ada would enter Imladris, searching for a good place on one of the balconies that overlooked the path. He would be the first one to see his father come through the gate!
Estel was very proud of his Ada, because Ada was a prince and a warrior and he was so good at everything that the only person who ever beat him on the practice courts anymore was Lord Glorfindel, and Lord Glorfindel had come back from the dead once according to Erestor, so that probably didn't count.
Estel's Ada was the best.
It was too bad the dwarves didn't think so. They were lurking around the main courtyard in a big group, being loud and tending their weapons. So they were right there when Ada came through the gate, disheveled from travel but not obviously injured anywhere that Estel could see.
It seemed like a couple of the dwarves knew his Ada, because as soon as they saw him enter the main courtyard they pointed at him and started screaming at him in that language that Estel didn't understand. Ada's face went all stiff. Ada had 'prince face' in the same way that Nana had queen face. Maybe it was just a royal face. Maybe Estel would do that with his face too when he got bigger.
Before Estel could think of doing anything about the dwarves insulting his Ada, Nana came marching down the main thoroughfare with her magic wand in hand.
"You have taken your insults too far, Thorin Oakenshield," she intoned, her voice resonating throughout the courtyard in a way that made Estel shiver. Estel couldn't understand what she was saying, but she looked very impressive and scary in her fancy council dress with her curly hair flowing around her. "My husband returns from slaying the orcs you led to our doorstep and all you can do is cast aspersions upon his honor! I have tolerated your appalling manners in regards to myself, but I will not have my family slandered."
"Honor?!" The dwarf roared. "What would any child of Thranduil know about honor? Or family? Nay, you are all gutless liesmiths! From the king to the pair of you. No doubt that poor product of your incestuous relations will be the same!"
"Quilde!" Nana shouted, jabbing her wand at the dwarf. Estel's eyes went wide, halfway expecting the dwarf to explode or turn into a frog or something else fantastical. That was how mad Nana looked. She didn't just have queen face, her teeth were bared like a wolf preparing to strike. And Ada looked just as angry. His eyes blazed and he was making no move to stop Nana from doing whatever she wanted to the dwarves.
But Nana's spell didn't seem to do anything, and the dwarf tossed his head back to laugh. Only no sound came out. The other dwarves all gripped their weapons and half were glaring around at the elves that had been drawn by all the commotion, and the other half were fussing over their silenced leader. Thorin Oakenshield, realizing what the spell had done, spat at Nana's feet and in an instant Ada was standing at Nana's side, his bow drawn and aimed.
The hobbit, whom Estel had not noticed before, stepped forward with his hands raised to show they were empty. "Please, my lady, don't hurt him. That was a vile thing he said, and I do apologize for it. I don't know what's got into him, most uncalled for, only please just don't hurt him too badly."
Nana turned all of her attention to the little hobbit and the creature shrank back from the rage written across her face. Ada kept watch on the dwarves, ready to let an arrow fly.
"Never in this life have I been more tempted to use dark magic, Bilbo Baggins. I could cheerfully torture him as I was once tortured, not for his vulgar insinuations about my relationship with my husband, but for what he has said about my child. However," Nana looked at Thorin again, "the use of the torture curse carries with it a terrible price. It is one of three curses considered to be unforgivable. You have to truly want to cause pain for it to work, you see. You have to mean it. So I have very little doubt that I am capable of performing it in this moment. But you are not worth the stain upon my soul. You... are... nothing."
With that Nana turned to sweep away, the train of her gown swirling dramatically behind her. "Come, Legolas," she said in Sindarin.
Ada backed away, keeping his bow up, refusing to turn his back on the dwarves.
"My lady?" the hobbit called timidly.
"She is a princess," Ada snapped.
"Oh," the hobbit shrunk in on himself before gathering his courage again. "Your highness? About Thorin?"
Nana did not even turn around. "He will be silent until the sun sets and rises once more. Perhaps it will teach him to think before he speaks."
Then Nana was on the staircase right in front of Estel and Ada was with her. Estel left the balcony to meet them on the steps.
"Oh, little one," Ada said, bending down to scoop Estel up into his arms. "Did you see all that?"
Estel nodded. "I don't know what they were saying, but it sounded mean. I don't like dwarves."
Ada cuddled him and Estel cuddled back, playing with his father's braids. Nana leaned over and kissed Estel's head. "I will admit that these dwarves are not good company, but do not judge an entire race on their example. I have known other dwarves who were decent folk."
Ada snorted but said nothing at all.
The longer the dwarves were in Rivendell, the more upset everyone seemed to be. Estel's Nana and Ada kept smiling and telling Estel not to worry, which they wouldn't do unless they were worried, and Estel had even seen his Nana raise her voice to Mithrandir. All the grown ups were spending a lot of time talking to Grandfather Thranduil in his mirror, and Estel wasn't allowed to stay and listen. He had to go play with Erestor after saying hello to Grandfather, and sometimes he wasn't taken to the mirror room at all.
So now Estel was lying very, very still in his bed, holding his breath so he could hear his parents talking in the sitting room. He thought sometimes that Ada and Nana were so used to elf hearing that they thought Estel couldn't hear anything at all. But he could. Especially when Ada and Nana thought he was asleep.
"Lord Elrond has had a vision."
"You know how I feel about divination, Legolas."
"Yes my own, I know. But he has seen Lake Town burning and our father marching on the Lonely Mountain. You know this means that at least one of us returns to Greenwood. Otherwise Adar would not be able to leave the palace."
"Or perhaps the wards fall, and that's why he marches. We could talk in circles all night and still be no closer to knowing what shall really happen. The future is not set in stone. Every choice we make shapes it. That is why prophecy is folly, why they are all self-fulfilling."
"Nevertheless, trouble is upon Greenwood. Those dwarves care for nothing save gold, and they will risk the ruin of all with no thought to those who live within sight of the Lonely Mountain. I have a duty to our people. I must return."
"We have a duty, husband, or am I no longer Thranduiliel to you?"
"You are a queen in my eyes and always shall be. But more important than that you are the mother of my son. I would not have him lose us both to dragon fire. I wish for you to stay here with Estel when I ride for Greenwood."
"Perhaps you are the one who should stay here. What can your weapons do against a dragon? My magic might succeed where your arrows cannot, and I have already held Greenwood's wards once. I can do so again."
"Hermione… You are not able to speak much of your first life for reasons I do not understand, but I know that you remember it. And I suspect that you know your magic will not prove effective against a dragon or you would have tried to slay Smaug many years ago. Is this not true?"
Nana sighed. "You know me too well. I would not have let people live in fear if I thought I could solve the problem relatively safely."
"Then please. You are a healer, and you are Estel's mother. He needs you more than me, and I am better suited for this journey. When Greenwood is safe again, I will send for you."
"And if Greenwood cannot be made safe again? If the dragon wakes?"
"Then I will do everything in my power to return to you. I swear it."
"Oh, very well. I do not like this but I do see the necessity of it. Give me a few days at least to put additional enchantments on your weapons and armor. Tauriel's too. She will insist upon going with you. In her heart she is still our private guard."
"I do not want to leave you."
"And I do not want you to go."
It was only a few days later that Estel's Ada and Aunt Tauriel took their leave. They wanted to get to the Greenwood before the dwarves did.
Estel tried very hard not to cry when they all gathered to say goodbye. It wasn't the first time Ada had gone to slay monsters, but the talk Estel had overheard scared him. What if Ada didn't come back?
Estel cried. He tried to hide his face in Nana's skirts so that no one would see, because he was a big boy and a prince so he shouldn't cry, but Ada noticed anyway and coaxed Estel out of his hiding place.
"Now now, what is this, my son?" Ada asked, kneeling so that he was the same height as Estel. Estel looked into Ada's face with watery vision, taking in his perfect elven beauty and his gold hair and his pointed ears. Ada gave him a tender smile and Estel threw himself into Ada's chest, his tears coming faster.
"Don't want you to go," he sobbed, his hands twisting into Ada's cloak. "I heard about the d-dragon and d-don't go."
Ada stood up, picking up Estel as he straightened. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his sleeve and started to wipe at Estel's face. Estel scrunched his nose up and turned his head. He might be crying, but he wasn't a baby! He didn't need anyone to wipe his face!
"Be still, little one," Ada said in his gentle voice, the one he used to comfort Estel when he had a nightmare, or thought there was an orc in the closet.
"Why do you have to go?" Estel demanded, still twisting to avoid Ada's handkerchief. Ada looked somewhere behind Estel. He was probably looking at Nana.
"This is what it means to accept the title of prince, my son," Ada said, his eyes serious and old. Estel forgot sometimes just how old his Ada was. "I have allowed the people of Greenwood to call me their prince. I have accepted their praise and obedience. Now I must uphold my duty to protect them. Remember, Estel, that to wear a crown is to be a servant to your people."
"Can't you just stop being a prince?" Estel whined.
Ada smiled a little. "No. I can no more stop being a prince than I can stop being your father. It is a responsibility and privilege that, once taken up, cannot be put down again."
Estel felt a soft hand on his back and heard Nana's voice. "Once a royal of Greenwood, always a royal of Greenwood."
Estel didn't really understand, so he just laid his head on Ada's shoulder.
"My little Estel, how would you feel if Ada decided not to be your Ada anymore?" Nana asked.
Estel clung harder to Ada, his head jerking up, eyes wide with alarm. "Calm, calm, my son," Ada said quickly, shooting a glare at Nana. "Your Nana does not mean that I do not want to be your Ada anymore."
Nana rubbed Estel's back. "No indeed! But do you see how you just felt? That is how the people of Greenwood would feel if Ada decided to stop being their prince. It is not a nice feeling, is it?"
"No," Estel agreed.
Ada tried to pass Estel to Nana and Estel refused to go for a minute, but then let the switch happen. Ada had to go take care of Greenwood, just like how he took care of Estel.
"My heart will weep until I see thee again," Ada said, kissing Nana on the mouth and then Estel on the forehead.
"May your journey be swift and your arrows fly true. We shall meet again in the Greenwood," Nana replied.
After one last embrace Estel and Nana watched Ada mount his horse and ride away, staying until even Nana's elf eyes couldn't see him anymore.
That day a fire was woken within Estel. He knew he was a Prince of Greenwood and a Prince of Gondor, but he had never understood what it really meant before. But now he did. Estel decided that day that he would be the best prince there ever was, as good a prince as Ada was a father. He would make his parents proud to call him son, and his people proud he wore a crown.
Estel was sure that time stood still while they waited for word from Greenwood. It felt like all of Imladris was holding its breath. Estel's Ada was very popular, and Aunt Tauriel was their future lady. Everyone was nervous. Uncle Elladan and Uncle Elrohir were insufferable. They had wanted to go with Aunt Tauriel but couldn't be spared from patrolling because of all of the orcs around lately. Nana went on a cleaning rampage, reorganizing the Halls of Healing and brewing potions nonstop.
Finally they started to get news.
"Ada!" Estel exclaimed. "You're inside Grandfather's mirror!"
Ada laughed. "So I am."
Ada and Aunt Tauriel had made it to Greenwood safely and then detained the dwarves at the edge of the forest (just the dwarves, Mithrandir and Bilbo Baggins were not there). According to Ada, Grandfather tried to reason with the dwarves but the mean one named Thorin just shouted rude things at Grandfather like how he had at Nana. Grandfather put the dwarves in the dungeon as punishment and to keep them from making the dragon everyone was worried about mad. But the dwarves escaped. Ada and Aunt Tauriel went after them, and the dragon woke up and set things on fire, and there was a big fight and the dragon was dead, but then the dwarves started being crazy. Ada went to get Grandfather and Aunt Tauriel stayed behind to keep an eye on the crazy dwarves.
Now Ada was holding the wards of the Greenwood, whatever that meant, while Grandfather led a company of elves to the Lonely Mountain. That was the last Ada knew. He was waiting to see what happened.
Nana decided that since the dragon was dead that they would go to Greenwood. Estel wasn't sure how he felt about that. He wanted to see his Ada again and he'd heard so many stories about Greenwood, but he'd never been anywhere but Imladris. He would miss Great Uncle Elrond and Uncle Elladan and Uncle Elrohir and Erestor and what if no one in Greenwood liked him? What if they didn't want him to be their prince?
"Your uncles will be coming with us, Estel," Nana reassured him. "They want to be reunited with Aunt Tauriel. So you will not have to miss them, at least. And we can always come back to Imladris for visits in the future. But it is time now for you to see our kingdom."
"Yes, Nana," Estel said obediently, remembering his vow to be the greatest prince the Greenwood had ever seen. Besides, since they were going on such a long trip he was getting his own pony! Nana would lead it for him, but still.
They just missed getting to Greenwood in time for a big battle against orcs. It was being called 'The Battle of the Five Armies,' though Estel wasn't sure why. Wasn't it just everyone versus the orcs?
Anyway there was a battle. Aunt Tauriel had been wounded, but Grandfather had cut down a bunch of orcs to get to her and then carried her to safety himself, where she was healed with a bunch of Nana's potions. Estel was surprised to learn that Grandfather could come out of his mirror.
Aunt Tauriel wasn't the only one who got hurt. Three of the dwarves had been killed by the orcs. One of them was the mean dwarf, Thorin. Estel thought he should feel sad about that and he did a little, but Thorin was always mean. Estel didn't want to help sing Thorin's lament because he would have nothing nice to sing about. But it turned out that dwarves didn't sing laments anyway, so that was okay.
Estel also saw other humans for the first time. It was shocking to him, as used as he was to elven beauty and grace. He'd expected the humans to be more elf-like than they were. But they were hairy and dirty and loud like dwarves, though a lot of them seemed nice like hobbits. They had round ears like Estel's and the men had beards and the ladies all wore their hair pinned up all the time, instead of letting it hang free. The humans had lots of children though. Estel had never seen other children, and he was excited to play with them.
Except the children were odd around him. They kept bowing and calling him 'your highness' and trying to see his ears and staring at his finely made elven clothes. Estel wondered if this was part of being a prince. Maybe he could just pretend not to be a prince sometimes, so people wouldn't be so odd. So long as he was just pretending it should be alright, surely. He would ask Ada.
Seeing Grandfather Thranduil in person for the first time was odd too. They just stared at each other for a long time, Grandfather looking Estel up and down like he could see every naughty thing Estel had ever done. Then he said, "Welcome to the Halls of the Elvenking, Estel Legolasion, Prince of Greenwood. Long has it been since a child brightened our kingdom. Your Naneth was the last, in fact."
Estel smiled. "What was Nana like? Did she ever get in trouble?"
Grandfather smiled back, his blue eyes sparkling. "Like you would not believe."
After that it wasn't so strange anymore. Estel ended up sitting on Grandfather's lap and playing with his rings.
"I'm glad you aren't stuck in the mirror anymore," Estel told Grandfather Thranduil when it was time for him to go have his bath and go to bed. Nana was waiting in the doorway for him.
"Stuck in the mirror?" Grandfather asked. Then he laughed really loud.
Estel wasn't sure why.
Chapter 17: Renewed is the Blade
I'm posting this from my IPad, so the formatting may be off. It looks right to me, but who knows, amirite? Anyway, please bear with me. Also note I will be replying to reviews next time I'm on a desktop.
The dwarves returned to Erebor and the City of Men was rebuilt from the ash of dragon fire. The humans revered the Elves of the Wood for their aid in such dark times and their gratitude translated into a healthy flow of trade and a new alliance. With Hermione back in residence in the Greenwood, she insisted upon housing any who needed shelter within the Royal Blood Wards, staying up at all hours to enchant enough tents to serve them all. Greenwood became a haven for all who were lost, though few ever saw the palace where the elves dwelled.
Thanks to her compassion, stories of The Elven Enchantress grew and spread, until no one was sure what the truth of the matter was anymore. Some called her the Elvenqueen and insisted that she was the wife of Thranduil, come back from the dead. Others held that she was the daughter of Thranduil, one of a set of twins who had scandalously married each other and had a mortal child, the child's mortality being a punishment for brother lying with sister. Still another story went that she was an earthly messenger of the Valar, born from a tree within the Greenwood and the destined mate of Prince Legolas. But few believed that tale, for how ridiculous was it to believe the Princess of Greenwood was birthed by a tree?
The only thing the stories had in common was that she had magic and a full heart.
The Dwarves of Erebor did not look to the elves as saviors or accept the aid offered in Hermione's refugee camps, but neither did they completely disdain their neighbors. A formal agreement of trade rose up between the two peoples, but is was far from an easy or cordial thing.
Bilbo Baggins was named an elf-friend by Thranduil King for the part he played in events, and was permitted into the king's halls and made much of over a feast. He was the life of the party, telling tales, singing songs, eating, dancing, and very sweetly playing with Estel. But after only a few days the hobbit expressed his wish to return to his home in the Shire. Hermione had to admit that she was glad to see him leave, for whenever she was near him she felt a hint of darkness, an icy finger dragging down her spine and probing at her thoughts. The evil did not originate from the hobbit himself and was faint enough, so Hermione assumed it was the lingering taint of treasure that had for so long sat beneath a dragon and put it from her mind.
Tauriel recovered from her wound well, and Hermione extended an invitation to the elleth and her husbands to stay for some time in the Greenwood. They accepted, and within a year Tauriel announced that she carried twins. Having had her theory about the effects of the Royal Blood Wards on elven fertility confirmed, Hermione wrote to Galadriel and Elrond and designed similar warding rituals for them to use on their own kingdoms. Unfortunately, Hermione did not know of the Rings of Power that the two elven rulers wore, rings that still bore marks of the dark purpose Sauron had tried to turn them to, and so could not understand why the wards kept collapsing before they could fully form.
So it was that Greenwood remained the only elven kingdom with such a protection. Its population grew as couples who wished for an elfling came to live there, some choosing to return to their old land once their elflings were born, and others staying to make their home in the Greenwood.
Tauriel birthed her twins, two healthy little ellyn with hair as red as her own and each as alike as the other. They were named Elhadron and Ellavorn and the wood celebrated them for weeks, for they were the first elflings born in nearly a thousand years. In the way of elflings, they grew very quickly in their first year and then halted in the toddler stage that they would embody for some decades. The two regarded Hermione and Legolas as their aunt and uncle, and Estel took delight in having young cousins.
As for Estel, he continued to grow much quicker than Hermione would have liked, though she was proud of the wise young man he was becoming. He was tutored in the same way that Hermione and Legolas had been to prepare him for the demands leadership would place upon him, for he would be Chief of the Dunedain even if he never claimed Gondor. He was more sensitive than Legolas and more tactful than Hermione. To his mother's eyes, Estel was the distillation of the best things each of his parents had to teach.
He took his duties to Greenwood and Gondor very seriously, at times asking philosophical questions that his parents were hard pressed to answer, especially concerning all the songs and whispers surrounding the prophesied Return of the King to Gondor.
"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all who wander are lost,
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
Estel sang the words in a sweet tenor, his brow creased in thought. "Do you think it really means that I am the one to reclaim Gondor? That I should? I have not yet been there, but in my studies I have learned that the White City has been ruled well by its stewards for many years now. Why should I push a great leader to step aside purely because of the blood that runs in my veins?"
"I will tell you a secret, my dear Estel," Hermione said, choosing her words carefully. "There is no such thing as destiny. Your blood does not matter. Your choices do." She paused, taking in the almost weary look her adopted son had. His shoulders slumped, making him appear older than he was. "You don't owe anything to anyone," she continued. "You do not have to become a king of men or elves, or any of the other races. What you must ask, however, is what you owe to yourself. Once you have answered that, then you shall know what path to take."
"But you and Ada are always talking about being servants to the crown."
Hermione smiled, her brown eyes softening. "But we have chosen to wear our crowns. You have not yet taken up any such mantle, and until you do no one may fault you for not wishing to bear the burdens all good leaders bear."
Estel still looked troubled, so Hermione ushered him to sit across from her in one of the chairs by the fire.
"Let me tell you a story of a boy who lived many years ago. Some might say he lived in an entirely different world. His name was- " she stopped, struggling with the Unspeakable Geas that even now held her tongue. She had learned how to speak around it throughout the centuries, but giving specifics of her life before was still impossible. "Well never mind what his name was. He would have been the first to tell you that his name wasn't important. The point is that he too had a heavy weight on his shoulders. He too had the hopes of his people laid at his feet. But unlike you, he never knew it. Not until he was eleven years old, and even then he did not find out why until many years later…"
When Estel reached the age at which the Dunedain considered him a man, he chose to leave the Greenwood to make his own way in the world. For the journey he was given the sword Anduril, forged by Lord Elrond's own hand from the shards of Narsil. Runes put there by Hermione danced up and down the blade, giving it a fey quality.
"I have enchanted it so that it will never need sharpening and you need only shout the name of the sword for it to come to your hand," Hermione told Estel, tears in her eyes. "And if you need to light your way, say 'alta.' It will obey only you."
Estel drew the sword and held aloft, softly incanting, "Alta."
The blade lit with a bright white glow, casting Estel's face in sharp relief. "A light from the shadows shall spring," he murmured, his attention held by the magic.
"Renewed is the blade," Legolas continued, his expression tight, though he forced himself to smile. He too was dressed for travel, as he would ride with Estel until they found the Dunedain.
Hermione choked on what was most certainly not a sob.
Estel hugged her. "Do not take on so, Naneth. It is not forever. I will return."
"I know," Hermione sniffled. "I just can't believe my sweet little one is now a handsome man." She patted his cheek, then made an effort to shake off her melancholy, asking briskly, "Are you sure you packed enough socks? And your toothbrush? Your shaving mirror? It won't do to look scruffy when you make your first impression."
"Nana!" Estel protested.
Legolas tried to hide his laughter behind a closed fist, but was not successful.
With Estel gone, Hermione's world was suddenly in muted colors.
"I understand now," she told Thranduil, "how hard it was for you to let us go. I want nothing more than to go find him and forbid him from ever leaving the wood again. At least here I know he is safe. But he would not be happy."
Thranduil graced her with an understanding smile. "I think it is harder on you, daughter. As you and Legolas are elves, I was at least able to know of your general well-being through my bonds with you both. You have no such reassurance with Estel."
She sighed. "Often I wonder who he will be when he comes home again. For he is no longer my Estel. Or, not only my Estel."
Thranduil rested a hand on her shoulder and poured her more wine. "But he will always belong to the Greenwood."
So much did Hermione miss the days of Estel's childhood that when she felt a spark in her spirit one evening after lying with Legolas, she was not surprised.
Sensing her mood, her husband rolled over so that he could see her face, tracing her wide grin with his fingertips. "What is it that fills you so with joy?" he asked, his arched brows and smugly quirked lips hinting that he thought it was something of his doing.
He was right, in a way.
"You have just made yourself a father again," she told him, watching as his expression froze, his eyes glazing and mouth parting. Hermione giggled at him like a schoolgirl, her happiness making her giddy.
"After all this time," Legolas breathed, his hand going to her abdomen in the familiar motion he'd been making since the very night they were wed. Hermione closed her eyes and opened their soul bond wide, guiding Legolas to the little spark that was now being nurtured within Hermione's spirit.
Legolas wept tears of joy and then sprung out of bed to announce the good news, only to sheepishly come back a few seconds later when he realized he was still naked.
A year later their daughter was born, the trees singing their welcome at the moment of her first cry. They named her Laerornien. She was perfect from the tips of her tiny pointed ears to her little baby toes. She had Legolas' dimples and Hermione's dark eyes and ringlets, though her hair was the same white as Thranduil's. If Hermione had looked cherubic as an elfling, Laerornien was a true angel. Legolas claimed that she would be heralded as the most beautiful of all ellith when she was grown.
Estel made a visit home to see his new sister enter the world and was there when Laerornien was put into the very nursery that had housed Thranduil, Legolas, Hermione, and Estel all in their turn. Laerornien loved her brother, so much so that her first word was "Stel." She reached for him whenever she saw him, her chubby baby hands pulling on his beard.
"It's the beard you love, isn't it?" Estel would often say to her. "It makes me a novelty to you."
"Stel!" Laerornien agreed, tugging on his beard again.
"I think that is enough for today," Legolas said, moving to take Laerornien into his arms. "It is time for a certain little princess to have a nap."
"Stel!" Laerornien protested, reaching for her brother.
"Estel will still be here when you wake up," Legolas promised, flashing Hermione a look that screamed help me! While Legolas had managed to strike the perfect balance of discipline and understanding when raising Estel, he was wrapped entirely around Laerornien's little fingers and found difficulty in denying her anything she wanted.
Hermione took her squirming daughter and continued out of the room. "Come now, my daughter. It is time for you to rest. You can play with your brother more later."
"Steeeeeeel!" Laerornien wailed.
An invisible wind swept through the room and Estel's beard jerked forward as if pulled by an unseen hand. He yelped, forced to his feet, and took little shuffling steps as whatever it was continued to yank on his facial hair. Finally he was within reach of Laerornien and she stopped crying, burying her tiny fist in Estel's beard once more.
Hermione could have been knocked over with a feather. "That was accidental magic. That was accidental magic! Legolas did you see?"
Legolas' eyes were wide, staring at his family. Oblivious to the uproar she was causing, Laerornien happily plucked at Estel's beard. Estel himself looked dumbstruck.
"That was accidental magic!" Hermione said again.
Laerornien was a witch.
Somewhere deep inside Hermione a voice whispered, Is this how it begins?
"You what?!" Hermione shrieked, her voice several octaves higher than usual. Thinking something was wrong, Legolas came sprinting into the sitting room with Laerornien in his arms, looking between Hermione and Estel.
Estel swallowed heavily, but to his credit continued to meet his mother's eyes. "I have spent time with Arwen Evenstar during my travels and fallen in love with her. I plan to ask for her hand, and wish your approval. Yours and Ada's."
Hermione sputtered, waving her arms around in an entirely graceless manner. "But she's too old for you!" was the first coherent thing that came out of her mouth.
"All ellith are too old for me," Estel replied calmly. "And all human women too young."
Hermione opened and shut her mouth like a landed fish. Legolas laughed, Laerornien joining in and clapping her hands simply because she saw her father laughing.
"It isn't funny, Legolas!" Hermione scolded, swatting at his shoulder and inspiring Laerornien to join this fun new game. She beat her little fists against Legolas' chest, still giggling. "Arwen is older than you are! And she's been, been preying on our son! By the singing trees, they're related!"
It was Estel's turn to sputter, his cheeks turning pink. "Nana!" he squeaked, sounding scandalized. "We have a common ancestor, but our relation is so distant as to be no relation at all!"
"Peace, Hermione, peace," Legolas said, finally getting his laughter under control. "Our son is grown and can make his own choices in this matter. And you have said yourself that you like Arwen."
Hermione crossed her arms. "That is entirely beside the point."
Legolas arched a brow. "Is it?" Ignoring Hermione, he turned to speak to Estel, absently pulling a strand of his hair from Laerornien's mouth as he did so. "You have my approval for the match. She is a fine elleth. I am sure you will find your happiness with her as I have found mine with your mother."
Estel smiled and clapped Legolas on the back, then turned his big blue eyes on Hermione.
Hermione never could resist that look. "You really love her?"
Hermione could not help but soften at the blissful smile on her son's face. "Oh very well. I shall make arrangements with Elrond. But I reserve the right to make Arwen's life difficult for at least two days!"
"Thank you, Nana!" Estel beamed, bending to press a kiss to each of her cheeks.
Hermione used the Gate to call Elrond so that they could work out the details of a marriage alliance between their two houses. Elrond appeared in the mirror almost immediately, looking unusually stern.
"Well met, Lord Elrond," Hermione said. "I suspect you know why I have called for you."
"Well met, Princess Hermione," Elrond returned, frown lines digging themselves ever deeper between his brows. "And yes, I have already spoken with Arwen. She is most insistent that this alliance take place."
Hermione studied the elf-lord in front of her carefully. "I see that you are as taken aback by this development as I was. I will admit that their difference in age and the blood they share gave me pause, but they seem truly happy with one another. I have given my approval of the match, as has Legolas."
"As I will give mine," Elrond bit out, "if certain conditions are met."
"Conditions?" Hermione asked, trying not to take offense at Elrond's manner. She had just been screaming like a fishwife herself, after all, and Elrond had no spouse this side of the sea to calm him down. And it was not unusual for there to be certain set conditions when two elves - well in this case an elf and one of the Dunedain - of such standing were wed. Elrond likely wanted to ensure that Arwen would be well looked after. Perhaps he would specify a clothing allowance or some other such thing and ask that Arwen be made a Princess of Greenwood and allowed to keep her title even after Estel passed on. Perhaps he would want to ensure that any children Arwen bore would also be considered royals, though they would not carry the blood of the Line of Oropher.
"Yes," Elrond said. "I have one condition. Before I allow my daughter to wed, I must be assured that a crown is waiting for her. Estel shall not have her until he is a king."
For a moment Hermione didn't understand. "You wish Thranduil to abdicate in favor of Estel? You wish Arwen to be Elvenqueen?" she asked incredulously. It was a ridiculous idea, as good as refusing to approve the match. Even if Thranduil would abdicate in favor of Estel, neither Arwen nor Estel could hold the Royal Blood Wards of Greenwood. Hermione would be Elvenqueen and Laerornien was her heir.
"What?" Elrond blanched, realizing how Hermione had taken his demand. "No. I speak not of Greenwood, but Gondor. Arwen shall wed a king or not at all."
Incredulity quickly gave way to offense.
"Estel is an acknowledged Prince of Greenwood. He already has a crown, and I can think of no reason why Thranduil would deny Arwen the coronet of a princess. She will be well looked after here, Elrond, and part of a dynasty much more lasting."
Elrond's expression did not change. Nor did he speak. Hermione's temper got the better of her, an ugly suspicion taking root in her mind. Her eyes narrowed, her head tilting to the side, one strand of hair falling over her cheek.
"You have never been one to stand by titles, Elrond. You cared for nothing save Elladan and Elrohir's happiness when they bound themselves to Tauriel, who has no noble lineage to speak of. Why now the change? Are you perhaps hoping that my son will fail to secure the throne of Gondor?"
Stiffly, Elrond said, "I am trying to protect my daughter just as you seek to protect your son."
Hermione's eyes widened, her breath coming out in a hiss. "It is not his pedigree you object to. It is his race. You hypocritical, bigoted- "
"He is mortal!" Elrond burst out, losing his composure completely. "Arwen has the choice given to all the Half-Elven! If they wed, she will choose to age and die with him, and never see the shores of Valinor!"
That pulled Hermione up short. She had not considered the implications of Arwen's heritage. Elrond's behavior made more sense now. Yet Arwen was not a child. She was older than Hermione's own husband. Quietly, she asked, "Is that not her choice to make?"
"And if it were your boy who would be giving up his immortality?" Elrond countered, a snide tone coming into his voice. "What would you do, o wise one?"
Hermione grit her teeth. "I would let him live his life, and be happy for his happiness. Just as I did when he wished to leave the shelter of Greenwood and become a Ranger. I could have done as my Adar did to me and ordered him to stay home, but I did not. You cannot protect a child from everything, Elrond. You must allow her to have her life."
"I am guarding her life," Elrond asserted quietly, but with so much venom he might as well have roared. He turned his back, but Hermione spoke before the image in the mirror could fade.
"Damn you, Elrond Half-Elven. So long as you scorn a Prince of Greenwood, so do I scorn you. No trade shall flow from my kingdom to yours until you see sense!" With that parting curse Hermione stormed off, slamming the door behind her.
Before Elrond could leave the frame of the mirror, Legolas stepped out of a concealing shadow, startling the elf-lord who hadn't known he was there.
"She does not mean that," Legolas assured Hermione's long time mentor and friend, some kindness yet in his eyes though the set of his jaw was hard. "My wife does not take it well when her elders disappoint her, and she, like my Adar, often says things in the heat of the moment. When she calms she will rescind the order, for she is too good-hearted to see your people suffer for an offense caused by you alone." Here he paused. "However, she is still right. I too expected more of you, Elrond. May the weight of the sorrow of both our children rest uneasily upon your shoulders."
After being told of the condition Elrond had set for his marriage to Arwen, Estel resumed his journeying with new purpose. He wandered in all directions, familiarizing himself with different peoples and places, moving across mountains until he had seen more of Arda than either of his parents. He became known as Strider and earned a reputation as a good, brave man and a wise one. Hermione soon thought only Mordor was unknown to him, and that only because Gondor was so close to the dark border, and Estel was set on avoiding Gondor until he thought he was ready and could avoid it no more.
Taking on yet another new name, the Heir of Isildur entered the White City at last. Letters and visits were few and far between during that time, but Elladan and Elrohir often rode with the Dunedain and they brought back tales of a dark haired warrior known in Gondor and Rohan as Thorongil. For thirty years was Thorongil a celebrated warrior in both realms, until the Battle of the Havens in which he led his men to victory against the Corsairs. Then, tired of war, he left the Kingdoms of Men for the peace of Lothlorien.
"It is so good to see your face, Estel!" Hermione said. "Or do you prefer Thorongil?"
"Nay, Naneth," her son said. "I am pleased to be simply 'Estel' again."
They were speaking through the use of Hermione's Gate, Estel in Lorien and Hermione and Legolas in Greenwood. Laerornien stood timidly a little behind her parents, now in her awkward adolescent phase.
"How are you finding Lorien?" Legolas asked, his eyes raking over Estel's form, noting what differences there were.
"It is a most beautiful and peaceful place, as always."
Legolas grinned. "I think you mean that Arwen is as beautiful as always."
At that comment Estel did not smile in the silly, secret way that he usually did when Arwen was mentioned. Instead his brow creased and his mouth turned down, a palpable air of sorrow overtaking him.
"Estel?" Hermione prompted.
"Naneth," Estel croaked out, sounding as if he were being strangled. Hermione got a sinking feeling.
"Tell us what has happened, my son," Legolas said, reaching forward to touch the glass of the mirror, as if he Estel would be able to feel the comforting hand.
Estel took a deep breath, turning his face away while he mastered himself. It took him only a moment, a reflection of the hard life he had lived since he left the Greenwood.
"You have spent three decades among the Men of Gondor," Hermione observed. "Yet you still have not revealed yourself. Why?"
"At first I wanted to come to know my people," Estel began. "There are things a common man may discover that a king will never hear. Then it was not the proper time. There was strife and war and to change leaders would have destabilized the kingdom. So I became a warrior and served under those who have guarded the White City in my absence. Aside from the usual concerns of a realm the people are happy and well looked after. They have all but forgotten the kings who once ruled them."
He stopped, struggling with himself. His hands went to his belt and Hermione was dismayed to see him pull out a pipe and a small pouch of pipeweed. She'd no idea that he'd picked up such a filthy habit.
Estel lit his pipe and puffed at it, and they waited patiently for him to find the strength to continue. "You once told me, Naneth, that I should focus on what I owe to myself and in that way will my path be revealed. I have found that what I owe myself is to serve my crown to the best of my ability. I owe myself a life of honor. I can live no other way. So then the question became: What do I owe the people? Following that was: Are the people unhappy? Would I do anything differently than those who rule? And ultimately: Do these people need a king?"
He blew a smoke ring. "The answer to the last three of those questions was no. I would have caused more harm than good if I tried to take the throne. Perhaps even caused a civil war. So that is why I never announced myself. I stayed while Thorongil was still needed, and then I left."
"Even knowing that you cannot wed Arwen without the crown?" Hermione asked.
"Even so, yes."
"Then you are their king, though they know it not." Legolas was solemn. "You have put the needs of your people before your own happiness. I am proud, my son, even as my heart bleeds for you."
Estel squeezed his eyes shut, his teeth clenched around the end of his pipe.
"What of Arwen? What does she say of this?" Hermione demanded. Surely if Arwen truly loved Estel, she would simply defy Elrond. Estel was a Prince of Greenwood and the two would always have a home in the Halls of the Elvenking.
Estel pushed his shoulders back, a sure sign that he was refusing to allow himself to hunch forward. He had been trained to carry himself as royalty from a young age, after all. "She will not go against the wishes of her father in this. She cannot bear to shame him so. I have attempted to release her from her promise to me, but she would not hear of it. She continues to see hope where there is none."
Before either Hermione or Legolas could respond to that, Estel tilted his head back, his eyes determined. With a forced false cheer he said, "But no more of this sad talk. Tell me what I have missed. Is that my sister I see there, hiding behind Ada? Why so shy, Laerornien? Have you forgotten your big brother?"
"No, Estel," Laerornien spoke now that she had been addressed. "I could never forget you."
Since it was clearly what Estel wanted, Legolas and Hermione allowed themselves to fade into the background while their children talked. Laerornien, her dark eyes big and expressive, told Estel about her magical studies and the new foal that had just been born in the royal stables. She was a quiet elleth but had a real gift for bringing comfort to those around her. Thranduil had even relaxed enough once to comment that she reminded him of his late wife.
Hermione worried that Laerornien would wilt under the pressure of being the heir to the throne, but then she still was still young so perhaps she would grow into it. Or perhaps Hermione and Legolas would have another child someday who would be more suited to rule. Hermione also worried for Estel. Was it possible for one of the Dunedain to fade of a broken heart?
She foresaw many hours spent fretting over her children in the days ahead.
Thank you for your patience and interest! I'll try to catch up on replying to reviews over this upcoming week. :D
Chapter 19: Where the Shadows Lie
Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing! I will try to catch up on review replies soon, I just have limited time and figure most of you would prefer a new chapter to review replies.
For those of you who asked:
Laerornien is pronounced 'Lay-ROAR-nee-in.'
Gollum was a pitiable creature. That was the first thing Hermione thought when the strange little being was brought before her and Thranduil during a session of the court. He was apparently caught following after Mithrandir and Estel when they were traveling together, and Estel had brought the creature to be imprisoned in Greenwood to keep him from endangering himself and others. Estel also thought that Hermione might be capable of healing the creature's fractured mind, and Hermione intended to try.
Gollum's body and mind had been twisted by prolonged contact with dark magic. Hermione could still feel the foul echo of it like oil on her skin. Pale as a fish's underbelly, Gollum walked on all fours more often than not, had bulbous eyes, little hair, and a mouthful of broken teeth. He'd also developed several psychoses, the most noticeable being some kind of split personality that could have been caused in equal parts by the dark magic exposure and the isolation Gollum had lived in for so many years (according to Mithrandir).
He reminded Hermione of Kreacher, the mistreated house elf Harry had inherited from the House of Black. Fortunately Gollum didn't have any of a house elf's powers, so he was significantly less dangerous than Kreacher had been. Unfortunately, Gollum was also not bound by a house elf's vows not to harm their masters. Not that Hermione considered herself Gollum's master. But there were quite a few violent episodes. Enough so that Hermione began to lightly dose Gollum's food with potions in order to keep him calm.
Little by little, she felt she was earning Gollum's trust. And his trust she would need to have in order to do anything to heal his mind. After several weeks of visiting him daily he revealed to her that his true name was Smeagol. His backstory was fed to her a crumb at a time. Smeagol was a hobbit once. He found a ring that seemed to be the source of the dark magic that had corrupted him. He referred to the ring as his 'precious' and spoke as if it had a mind of its own. The ring led him to live in a dank cave for hundreds of years. The ring was taken from him by 'the Baggins.'
Hermione remembered a hobbit named Baggins. Bilbo Baggins, the funny gentleman who'd been so helpful during that awful business with Smaug and the dwarves. If he had the ring he was in danger of becoming another Gollum. Hermione would have to send word to Mithrandir immediately.
Smeagol had begun requesting to spend time out in the wood. He missed fresh air and sunlight, he said. Hermione obliged him, letting him run farther afield day by day (properly guarded of course, though the guards stayed at a distance.) She viewed each request she granted as another step towards getting Smeagol to trust her, and thus being able to heal him. When he wanted to have his restraints removed, she asked for his word that he wouldn't run away. Smeagol gave it, and so she removed his restraints.
Smeagol came back.
Things continued on and Hermione felt she was making real progress. She didn't notice when Smeagol began to hoard the potions she'd prescribed for him. She paid no mind to the mutterings of what she called the 'Gollum' personality. So when Smeagol proposed they go on a picnic and Smeagol himself catch and cook fish for her as a thank you for everything she'd done for him, Hermione viewed it as a breakthrough in his recovery and readily agreed.
Smeagol caught the fish, allowed himself to be coached through cooking it over a fire, and proudly served it to Hermione and her guards, giving a portion to each guard first and begging them to taste it to make sure it was good enough for "Princess Her-my-oh-knees." Hermione smiled at the production he made of the meal, at last accepting her plate.
Being the potioneer she was, she knew something was amiss after her first bite. The fish had a delayed aftertaste that stuck to the back of her tongue. She sniffed the next morsel on her fork and detected the scent of herbs that were not used in cooking.
"Smeagol," Hermione said in her best no nonsense voice, "what have you put on the fish?"
Her eyelids were drooping. She tried to stand and instead lurched to one side, unable to find her balance. She started to have trouble thinking. Her vision greyed at the edges. She knew she should be alarmed, but couldn't seem to find the energy to care.
"A little of this, a little of that, precioussss," Gollum said. "We saves and saves all the nasty little drinkses, and then we gives them back!"
One of Hermione's guards fell forward, out cold. A thud to Hermione's left a second later signaled that another had fallen. Hermione tried to calculate how much of an overdose Gollum had given to them to knock them out this quickly, and tried to remember if he would have had access to any potentially lethal combinations of potions.
"Smeagol- " Hermione started, but got no further before oblivion claimed her.
She awoke a day later in the Halls of Healing. A patrol had stumbled across her and her guards all laid out on the forest floor and brought them back to the palace. The potions they had been given kept them all calm and slow, so none of them were able to alert their loved ones through their family bonds. They were lucky that the blood wards kept out most things that would be willing to attack an elf. Otherwise it was likely that they would all be dead.
Hermione was adamant about going to the council that Elrond had called to report Gollum's escape herself.
"It is my fault he's gone," she argued with Legolas and Thranduil, who didn't want her traveling with the increased danger of the roads. There'd been an unusual amount of orcs and spiders about lately. "And my relationship with Elrond is already strained. I do not wish to damage it any further. I must make an accounting of my mistakes. And besides, you forget that I am just as formidable in my own way as Mithrandir. If he can travel with only his magic to protect him, then I can certainly do so with my magic, skill with a bow, and half a dozen guards."
"I will accompany you," Legolas declared, taking her hand in his. "I dislike being apart from you, and I dislike it even more when I know you will face danger without me by your side."
"We cannot leave Laerornien by herself," Hermione protested.
"I will hardly be by myself, Nana," Laerornien interjected, looking up from her latest piece of embroidery. She had a patience for sewing that Hermione had never found within herself. "Grandfather is here. And besides, I am not in the nursery any longer."
"I would prefer neither of you went," Thranduil drawled over the top of his wine goblet. "But I know better than to attempt to prevent you. Though I do not understand why you cannot simply use the Gate."
"Just a feeling I have, Ada," Hermione replied. "A dark foreboding that the mirrors are no longer safe. I have learned to heed such feelings. I will report to Elrond in person."
"At least you will get to see Arwen and Estel," Laerornien put in, always one to look on the bright side. "Estel's last letter said they were both in Imladris."
The road to Imladris was rife with orcs, wargs, and spiders. It seemed that they could not move two feet without becoming embroiled in yet another skirmish. Worse still, the trees whispered to Hermione of darker things stirring.
"What do they say?" Legolas asked, visibly disturbed. He was able to feel the emotion of the trees but was not able to understand their song, leaving him to interpret a vague sense of doom.
Hermione rode to the side of the path and laid her hand against a tree trunk, her stag fidgeting beneath her, its nostrils flaring. "They are riding. They are riding. They seek it. He needs it. The birds fly. The birds lie. The birds spy," she repeated the words of the forest around them.
"Who are 'they'?" Legolas demanded. "And what do they seek?"
"The Fallen. The Haunted," Hermione gave the forest's answer. "The Nine. It is calling. We are falling. They seek the end." Pulling her hand back from the tree, she shuddered. Prongs danced from side to side as he sensed her agitation. "We must make haste," she said when she felt she could speak again. "There is more happening than we yet know."
Rivendell was peaceful when they arrived, deceptively so. Arwen met them at the gate, wishing to welcome the parents of the one whom she loved. Hermione had to admit that Arwen did have lovely manners, and an even lovelier face. Everything about her, from disposition to appearance, was fair and full of grace. It was not without reason that she was called the Evenstar.
Still, Hermione could not help but harbor some small resentment toward the elleth for Estel's sake, no matter that Estel himself found no fault in Arwen. Though Hermione had to admit that if she were forced to choose between devastating Thranduil or giving up Legolas she would not find the choice easy.
"Come, I have had your usual rooms aired," Arwen told them with a smile. "Adar has been expecting you."
"Thank you, Lady Arwen," Legolas said when Hermione would have let the conversation lie. "Tell us, how fares Estel? He has not written in some time."
Arwen frowned, and the crease of concern in her brow somehow added to her beauty. "He left with Mithrandir on some mission of great import. I know nothing more than that. Neither he nor the Grey Pilgrim have returned."
Hermione's hands clenched.
"I am certain he is fine," Legolas said. "He has been trained by the best warriors to be found among elves and men. He will no doubt come straggling into the valley in the middle of the night and track muddy boot prints all over the cobbles." Whether he truly believed what he said or was trying to comfort the two ellith, no one could tell for sure.
"We must speak with Lord Elrond as soon as possible," Hermione changed the subject. "The trees have told me things which disturb me greatly."
"This confirms our fears," Elrond said. He stood behind the large desk of his study, his hands folded behind his back. Glorfindel stood at his side, the glow of his skin visible even in the afternoon light, just as Hermione's was. They were like two beams of sunlight given form.
"Then it is them. The Nazgul ride again," Legolas put words to what none of them wanted to say.
"Indeed." Elrond turned to Glorfindel. "You must ride. If the Nine are searching, then I fear the road from Bree is no longer safe."
"Who is coming from Bree?" Hermione asked, her manner abrupt. Elves had long memories, and Hermione had not yet forgiven Elrond for the demands he placed upon Estel.
Elrond watched her a moment, and then bowed his head. "Mithrandir and your son went to fetch a hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins from the Shire. They were to guide him here for the council, but I fear now that their path will not be easy."
"You mean the wraiths will hunt them." Legolas tilted his head. "Why? What do they have that the Dark One seeks?"
"Let us speak no more of this until the council," Elrond cut them off. His eyes flitted around the study as if his own home may harbor spies. "All will be made clear then."
Glorfindel bowed to them. "I will take Asfaloth and go to guard the way."
"I wish to accompany you," Legolas put in at once. "It is my son who is endangered."
"Nay, Legolas," Glorfindel held up a hand. "I will be able to repel the wraiths if it comes to that. You have no such protection."
"Why?" Hermione asked, studying Glorfindel thoughtfully. "Why is it you are able to repel the wraiths?"
Glorfindel locked eyes with her. "As you know, this is not my first life. I have dwelt in the Blessed Realm and so live at once in both worlds."
"You mean that you came back from the dead. The Grace of the Valar has clung to you somehow, even in the realm of flesh." Hermione nodded to herself. "Then I shall accompany you. I too glow with the light of a life twice lived." She held up her hand to emphasize her point, for her skin shone with the same intensity as Glorfindel's.
Unable to refute her, Glorfindel nodded in acquiescence and went to ready Asfaloth.
"Hermione." Legolas said her name as if he would never see her again. She grasped his hands, squeezing his fingers and standing on tiptoe to place a gentle kiss against his lips.
"I shall bring our son back to you," she promised. "Both of us safe."
There was no time for debate or drawn out goodbyes. Hermione met Glorfindel in the courtyard and pulled herself up to sit behind him on Asfaloth, still in the breeches and armor she had worn for the trip from Greenwood.
Hermione had difficulty keeping her seat on Asfaloth at first. Centuries of riding a stag had made her unused to the gait of horses. But she adjusted swiftly enough and was soon moving in tandem with Glorfindel, though she would likely be sore at the journey's end.
She didn't have time to worry about it, however, for soon she could sense creatures of Shadow at the edges of her senses, and had to concentrate on blocking out the pained shrieking of the trees lest she be unable to think.
"You feel them," Glorfindel said quietly, not bothering to raise his voice.
"Yes," Hermione confirmed. She felt them. They were cold, and dark, and very similar to dementors. And yet they were not the same, for while dementors sucked away all happy memories, the Ringwraiths did more than that. They were characterized not by an absence of light but by the reinforcement of despair. Hermione tightened her mental shields, her skin glowing brighter as she braced herself, drawing on her bond with Legolas to fend off the fear and pain the wraiths inspired. There was a creeping horror, a blinding terror waiting to consume her just beyond the edge of her control.
Asfaloth's ears flicked back, flattening to his head, and Glorfindel murmured to the stallion, praising him for his bravery. Hermione drew her wand and flicked her eyes around the forest, not daring to open her senses to the trees.
They burst into a clearing and Hermione could see her son striding along looking quite scruffy and unkempt, a small figure in his arms, three more trotting along behind him. Of Mithrandir there was no sign.
Asfaloth slowed to a trot, and then a stop. Estel looked up, relief plain in his blue eyes. "Thank the Valar," he said in Sindarin. He held out the hobbit in his arms. "He is injured. Struck with a Morgul blade. He needs your touch, Nana."
Glorfindel and Hermione dismounted, moving forward to assess the condition of the travelers. Glorfindel was already quizzing Estel on the path they had taken and the location of the wraiths, while Hermione gestured for the injured hobbit to be stretched out on the grass so that she might tend him.
But when she drew close to the dark haired hobbit she was swept up in a sensation of vertigo, a cloying sweetness drawing a curtain over her senses. In the distance a high pitched unholy wail could be heard, signaling the wraiths were on their way. Hermione's stomach pitched and rolled, her skin ultra sensitive, the very air crushing her as she knelt by the injured hobbit. She took several deep breaths, her chest heaving. Estel called for her, but she did not hear.
Something is not right, the thought came. Hermione tightened her mental shields as much as she possibly could. She had once been nearly consumed by the darkness that attacked Greenwood and these feelings were familiar. It was the same entity that pressed her now, but she was stronger than she had been all those centuries ago.
He's evil, he's evil, kill him! some part of her demanded, her eyes locked on the face of her patient.
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to ascertain the source of the darkness that hammered at her mind, clawed at her heart, tried to twist her into its instrument. The longer she knelt by the hobbit, the more she could not tell what was her own will and what was other. There was no sense of floating and peace as there was with the Imperius Curse. She felt like herself. It was only her magic and connection with nature that allowed her to see that she was being affected by something.
She moved to open the hobbit's shirt so that she could check the field dressing Estel had put on the halfling's wound. Something glinted gold, catching her eye.
It was a ring.
Put it on, something urged her.
She touched it and then recoiled, hissing. It was so dark. Soaked in centuries of blood. Battlefields of corpses had fed it. Were sacrificed to it. For it. It was foul. Loathsome. Powerful, but tainted. Terrible, but great.
Pick it up. Just for a moment. Just to examine it to see if it is the darkness you sense.
Hermione glanced at Estel to see that he and Glorfindel were engrossed in forming a strategy against the encroaching wraiths.
She lifted the chain holding the ring over the hobbit's head, holding the ring in her palm. It burned against her hand, but she could not feel pain. It was not hot, but radiating a cold so profound that her skin blackened. Still, she did not let it go.
It's evil. It has a mind and will of it's own. I must let go of it. She struggled, her fingers twitching as she fought to turn her hand over. To let the ring fall from her palm.
No, do not drop it. Would you place this burden back on the shoulders of a hobbit? A child? You must keep it. You must keep it until you can destroy it. Like the horcruxes. It feels just the same as Slytherin's Locket. Only you have the knowledge and experience to do this. Put the ring on, for safekeeping.
Hermione's fingers closed around the ring. She was the only one present with the knowledge and experience to deal with this twisted shard of soul. She would protect these poor creatures, these hobbits who looked like children. And what did the other elves know of darkness, when they were beings of such light? She should not bring the ring among them. She would leave with it now, to keep it from affecting her family. Her friends. They would understand. She would send a message… She would take the ring… She would protect them… She knew best...
She could hear the Nazgul coming now. She wanted them here. She was eager for them to get here and take her back to Mordor, to her rightful place. She was the only one who could guide this world. She was the only one to be trusted with true power. She would return to Mordor and make the dark kingdom rise again. Then she would conquer the rest of Arda. All peoples would have the same rights under her rule. There would be no war, no hunger, no dissent. Any who disagreed would be dealt with. There was no room for greed and stupidity in her kingdom.
"Ai!" a horrified scream caught her attention. Pausing in the process of slipping the ring on her finger, Hermione looked up to see Glorfindel and Estel holding their swords on her. Estel was crying. "Nana!" he pleaded.
"Why do you look so, child?" Hermione asked, not realizing that she was using the Black Speech.
Glorfindel flinched, his ears twitching. The hobbits were in a terrified huddle off to the side, looking at her with wide eyes.
The blackness on Hermione's hand, the flesh marred by the ring, spread outward until her whole body was a mottled grey. Dark patches of inky blackness that seemed to absorb light were broken up by little pinpricks were her natural light still fought through, making her look like a stormy night sky. Her eyes turned a poisonous yellow and acquired a film of scum. Her hair faded to the color of rusty steel.
She did not look like an orc and not quite like a wraith, but it was clear that she was well on her way to becoming some monstrous amalgamation of the two.
Dropping his sword Estel gave an anguished cry and leapt at her, tackling her to the ground and knocking the ring from her hand. At once she began to revert, her light bursting out of every pore and chasing away the taint that had already begun twisting her body and soul. Legolas was suddenly present in their bond, the swirl of his feelings battering at her already fragile spirit as he all but screamed in repulsion at the darkness that had nearly succeeded in turning her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she knew that Legolas had collapsed in Elrond's study and was even now thrashing in one of the beds in the Halls of Healing.
There was no time for thought or explanation. Without warning the Nazgul were upon them. Glorfindel went to their defense while Estel shouted at the hobbits to run and grabbed up Frodo, tying the hobbit to Asfaloth's saddle and sending the horse galloping toward Imladris. Hermione raised her wand in a weak hand and tried to conjure a patronus, and when that failed, fire. Her wand sputtered with feeble sparks. Her vision swam, her hearing fading in and out like a badly tuned wireless. She couldn't get her shaky legs to obey her enough to stand.
There was muffled shouting and then one of the hobbits grabbed her cloak and started to drag her across the forest floor, away from the battle between Glorfindel and the wraiths. How noble a creature, was all Hermione could think, trying to help me after I literally became a monster before his eyes.
One of the wraiths swooped down, its horrible voice grating at her ears as it said, "The Lord wants her. She will be the Witchqueen. His queen," in the Black Speech.
It touched her and Hermione screamed. Even more than the influence of the ring, the touch of one already corrupted beyond salvation awoke all the evil that Hermione had shed when she was reborn into her new life. And it was not only the flaws in her own soul, her sins, but every piece of darkness that had ever touched her that was called forth. Her ears filled with jeers and insults, cries of "Mudblood!" taunting her in many overlapping voices even as the word wrote itself in red on the flesh of her forearm, the jagged letters gouged there one by one as if Bellatrix Lestrange once more stood over her with a cursed blade.
Lurching forward, Hermione tried to bring her wand to bear only to find that she had dropped it. Desperate, she clutched at the wraith's bony hand, intent on pushing it away, her spirit pleading for aid. Help me help me HELP ME echoed down her bonds with Legolas and Thranduil and even her daughter Laerornien, though she knew it not.
In Rivendell's healing rooms, Legolas stirred fitfully and called out his wife's name, a flickering light from his bed making strange shadows on the wall. In Greenwood, Thranduil rocked on his throne, only to be bolstered by his granddaughter rushing to him and clasping her hands around his where he held the Oaken Scepter. The rune sowilo glowing golden on both their brows, their hair blown back by the force of magic, they dug the roots of their spirits deep into their forest and held; every plant and tree, every elf and creature contributing to Greenwood's symphony, weaving a melody of protection and defiance.
We will not fall, sang the song of Oropher. Not to darkness, not to greed, not like Doriath. Never again.
Not my daughter, Thranduil's spirit rang out, the notes weaving up and down. She is immortal. She will not die. Take me instead.
My own, my own, I love you, Legolas whispered in an endless refrain. My heart is in your hands.
But it was Laerornien, glowing with the purity and innocence of a child and possessed of an unshakable belief in her elders that saved them, her wordless shout of MotherLoveFatherFaithGrandfatherTrust WeAreStrong, WeAreStrong, WeAreStrong making her burn bright as the moon and filling them with righteous determination. The kind of force that moves mountains.
Hermione's forehead split open, her blood spraying the wraith as the full force of the Royal Blood Wards of Greenwood were channeled through Hermione's body for one moment of mingled pain and ecstasy.
The wraith burned, unable to make a sound. It could not stand in the face of such power, such love, the willingness of Hermione's family to sacrifice their well being for her own, and was obliterated until not even scorched air remained.
And then the backlash hit.
Unwilling to risk her family further, Hermione slammed her bonds with them shut with the last of her mental strength. Then her back arched and her screams reached a new pitch as she relived every Cruciatus Curse, liquid fire boiling along her nerve endings. Bloody foam gathered at her lips as she fell silent, though her mouth was still open in agony, her voice giving out. Then more blood still gushed from her mouth, the cursed wounds she had earned at the hands of the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries in her fifth year of magical schooling tearing open her belly. Pushed beyond even elven endurance, she blacked out, only for her entire body to stiffen as if made of stone. As if she had once more seen the reflection of a basilisk's deadly gaze.
Ironically, the petrification saved her life.
Chapter 20: The Grey Istari
As always, thank you for your encouragement and patience! I had a lot of trouble with this chapter, and I'm still not entirely happy with it, but I think this is as good as it's going to get so here it is.
I will try to reply to reviews sometime next week.
"Hermione, wake up!"
Hermione jerked, looking wildly around her, trying to locate the person calling her. She couldn't see whoever it was anywhere. And how had she been sleeping? She was standing in the middle of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
Something wasn't right. She didn't remember getting dressed, let alone packing her trunk for Hogwarts. But the red steam engine of the Express was blowing its whistle, so she gamely maneuvered the trolley with her trunk and pet carrier to a likely looking carriage. (And how did Prongs fit in that little basket? It wasn't as if he was a cat. Ah, well. Magic.)
She could figure out what happened to her missing memories later. It wasn't important. In fact, it seemed to happen rather often. Wasn't there a teacher who lost all his memories? And her muggle parents. (But not Ada, a voice whispered. Ada would never forget her.) Really she should be grateful that she'd only forgotten how she got to the train platform.
Getting situated in a compartment, she slid the door closed and then frowned down at her hands. Shouldn't they be larger? And why wasn't her skin glowing. She was fairly certain her skin should be glowing.
How old was she anyway?
Her contemplation was interrupted by the compartment door sliding open once more, admitting a boy with black hair. It was short and messy one moment, and long and wavy the next. His eyes too cycled between being bright green and clear blue, sometimes hidden behind thick glasses and sometimes not.
"Alright, Hermione?" the boy asked.
"Harry," Hermione smiled back, fiercely glad to see him. So much so that she thought her chest would burst. Her sweet, precious boy.
She hugged him and knew everything would be alright now.
The Welcome Feast was excellent as always, though it was odd that there were Christmas decorations. Or was that because it was the Christmas Feast? How odd she hadn't noticed time passing. And why hadn't she gone home for Christmas? Oh, but she remembered now. She could never go home.
"Too much green. Not enough meat," grumbled Ron. For some reason he was a dwarf with a braided beard. He must be wearing a costume since it's the Halloween Feast.
Hermione opened her mouth to tell him vegetables were good for him, but then Professor Quirrell came storming into the Great Hall, throwing the doors open with a loud crack as he screamed, "Troll! Troll in the dungeon!"
Harry stood even as the professor fainted, that familiar blaze of conviction shining in his face. "You have my sword!"
Hermione nodded and smiled at what a good man her sweet boy was, even as she reached for the bow and quiver of arrows strapped to her back. But they weren't needed. Professor Dumbledore had taken care of everything, raising his staff and shouting "The dawn take you all!"
Somehow Hermione knew that the trolls had turned to stone. Then she blinked and she was using a mirror to peer around the corner of one of the many halls of Hogwarts and catching the reflection of a great flaming eye that made the very air scream with malignance. Elvenqueen. My queen. Witch Queen, a soundless voice hissed in the eerie descants that denoted Parseltongue. How could she understand it?
Her body went stiff and she was in the infirmary, and a dark haired woman was nursing her. She was so beautiful. As beautiful as a star. Hermione wondered who the woman was, and why Harry looked at her with such longing whenever he visited.
"Any change?" Harry asked the beautiful woman.
The woman gave a sorrowful smile, and Hermione would have sighed at the loveliness if she could move. "Together Ada and Mithrandir have mended her physical hurts... but her spirit wanders, lost in dreams."
Harry gripped Hermione's hand. She could feel the warmth of his fingers. She wished she could squeeze back.
"The Fellowship leaves on the morrow, and my ada still insists on taking part."
"It is what she would want. You know that. She would hate you going into such danger without Legolas at your side. There is little he can do to help her, and much he can do to help you."
"It isn't right. Nana needs him! He should stay here."
"Safe, you mean?" The beautiful woman drew Harry away from Hermione, but not so far that Hermione couldn't see them embrace or hear their words, spoken in a beautiful fluting language that Hermione somehow understood. "Tell me, my dear Estel. If it were I lying in that bed, would you forsake your duty to remain with me?"
"You are your father's son. He can no more wait for others to fight this battle than you could. So he will go with the Fellowship and fight for all the free peoples of Arda and keep you in one piece so that your mother doesn't skin him alive when you both return. And I shall tend Hermione myself until she wakes. Not a breath shall pass her lips without me knowing of it."
They kissed, and then pressed their foreheads together, taking comfort in their closeness.
"Elrond thinks she may sleep until the Ring is no longer part of this world," Harry whispered.
"Then you best destroy it quickly."
Hermione sat in the library idly studying books on dragons. The last one had been killed, so she wasn't sure why. Oh right, Hagrid was trying to hatch one. Norbert might steal the Arkenstone. No, no, the stone would be fine. It was on the third floor.
A shadow fell across her face. She looked up to see Malfoy standing there. He'd gotten very handsome somehow, his white blonde hair falling to the middle of his back and dimples in his cheeks. His silver eyes were sad.
"My heart will bleed 'til I see thee again," Draco told her, bending to press a kiss to her forehead, and then bury his nose in her curls. A few hot tears dropped from his face to hers, and their warmth spread, suffusing her limbs with a sensation of feeling that she'd only now noticed was missing.
Hermione tried to ask him to wait, suddenly not caring that he'd ever called her a mudblood, but then, as if merely thinking the word had conjured the scene, she was on the floor of the drawing room in Malfoy Manor, unable to scream as she was tortured.
Lucius Malfoy pushed Bellatrix out of the way and loomed over her, for some reason wearing a crown of thorns. "Not my family," Lucius said, picking her up in his arms and rocking her like a babe. "Not for duty, not for honor. Never again."
Lucius was joined by Narcissa, who looked like a young girl for some reason. "We are with you, Nana," Little Girl Narcissa said. "You just need to follow your heart."
Hermione cried and her tears formed an ocean. There was an island in the middle of it, haunted by shapes in black cloaks. She ran.
Fenrir Greyback cut off her escape. "Where are you going, Preciouusss? Gollum, gollum!"
"No!" Harry screamed, an anguished cry that shook her soul. Hermione looked up. Fenrir Greyback was gone, but Dumbledore was falling, yanked down into an abyss by a creature made of Fiendfyre. But they couldn't stay. They couldn't help. The Death Eaters were coming.
Hermione tried to help Harry, to give him her strength, but he couldn't feel her. And yet light was cast across the cavern, and Hermione turned to see Draco standing next to Ron, his skin glowing. "Your Naneth sensed my sorrow," Draco said to Harry. "She sends her love."
"She's awake?" Harry looked so hopeful.
But Draco was shaking his head. "No, she yet slumbers. But her heart is with us still."
Harry's expression crumpled, but a moment later he was pulling himself together just as he always had and always would. "Come. We must away."
"You must gather yourself," Professor McGonagall instructed Hermione. They were the only ones in the transfiguration classroom. Professor McGonagall was wearing her usual tartan robes and hat, but was young and blonde for some reason. Her voice was filled with the wisdom of ages, but that had always been true.
Hermione raised her wand, determined to master whatever new lesson this was.
"I know the horror, the confusion you face," the professor went on. "I too almost succumbed to the Ring. But I am older than you and have left more pieces of myself throughout the world. You must reach out - find those things that hold your power, that resonate with your touch, trace the bonds that anchor you. Only then will mind and body be whole once more."
Hermione frowned, a bit bewildered. This didn't sound like transfiguration.
Professor McGonagall looked to the left, to where the Malfoys stood with Harry and Ron and four little boys with hairy feet. "I have done what I can."
"I thank you for the boon, my lady," Harry answered. He was so polite. Hermione smiled at him, then frowned when she realized he couldn't see her. In fact, she was a tree for some reason. No, she was several trees. A forest.
The Forbidden Forest loomed around her, monstrous spiders - acromantula - rushing through the trees, trying to invade, to reach the palace at the center of the wood now that the wards surrounding it were weakened. Lucius Malfoy, wearing a circlet of shining silver this time and armor of the same metal, wielded two swords as he led an army against the spiders and werewolves and goblins that threatened his home.
"Help us, Nana," a voice called.
Hermione turned and she was within a shining cavern of carved rock and twisting roots looking up at a throne grown from a tree. And upon the throne sat Little Girl Narcissa, a wreathe of flowers upon her brow and an oak scepter in her hands. She raised the scepter, a look of determination on her face, and the very forest began to fight back against the invaders, trunks and branches whipping and lashing like they were all Whomping Willows.
But it did not come easily to Little Narcissa. Her face was going grey, the light of her skin dimming.
"Help us!" the little girl called again, her white curls flying around her head as her eyes zeroed in on Hermione.
"I don't know how," Hermione answered, her hands shaking. She couldn't remember any spells. Why couldn't she remember any spells?!
"Follow your heart! You know the way!"
"I don't know how!" Hermione said again, shouting this time. Frustration and despair made her eyes leak with bitter tears. She couldn't remember any spells or how old she was or why Draco was handsome or why her skin should be glowing but wasn't.
"The Third Floor Corridor is off limits," Professor Umbridge said, nine dementors drifting in the air behind her. She was wearing Slytherin's locket, and there was something wrong with her eyes. They were red. Hermione was fairly certain that they shouldn't be red.
"Of course, Professor," Hermione agreed. She didn't want to get detention. Though she did wonder… what exactly was on the third floor? It was something important, surely. Something that had to be protected. But if Professor Umbridge was here with dementors, that meant that Professor Dumbledore was dead. Yes, he fell. I remember now.
And if Professor Dumbledore was gone, there was nothing stopping …. Someone…. From getting to whatever was protected on the third floor. Why couldn't she remember what was there?
She went to find Harry, to tell him they had to do something, but he was busy riding in a boat. Was he just now starting Hogwarts? That didn't make sense. Ah, he was going down a river, not crossing a lake. Perhaps he was on holiday. Well, if he was on holiday he wouldn't mind Hermione borrowing his Invisibility Cloak. Not when it was so important.
Hidden from sight, Hermione crept toward the locked door on the third floor, opening it with a whispered, "Alohomora."
The door clicked open, and Hermione was falling.
It was dark and deep and full of terror. Evil and hatred thickened the air. And there, on the slick black floor of cracked lava rock, lay the broken body of Dumbledore.
Hermione ran to him, choking on her sobs. Her tears touched his mutilated flesh, and to her increasing horror he began to dissolve.
"No!" she shouted, trying to hold onto him even as he disappeared between her fingers like smoke. "No, no, no, no, please don't. I need help."
"Help will always be given to those who ask for it."
And suddenly it was light. The cavern was gone, replaced by a soothing nothingness that formed itself into a spectral library. A wash of calm relaxed all of Hermione's muscles, drying her tears and making her feel clean and new. Reborn.
She turned around and saw -
"Olorin," she addressed the Maia, knowing exactly who he was and remembering herself. "Mithrandir."
He smiled at her, or so Hermione thought. Neither of them had a body at the moment, so it was more of a sensation than anything.
"Ah, the name given to me by the elves. I'd almost forgotten." He laughed. "It seems we're both rather scattered, my dear."
Hermione snorted. "So scattered that I didn't realize it myself until you found me."
They walked together, or so it seemed, Olorin leading her toward a pair of doors that had appeared at the end of the row of bookshelves. Above them various texts floated, flapping their pages like birds.
"And yet we must pull ourselves together, for our time on Arda is not yet through. That is, if you choose. It's entirely up to you."
Hermione nodded. "I should have died, but I didn't."
"No. That wonderful protection spell of yours could not be defeated by darkness of any sort, anchored with the love of your family as it is. It was the shadows that already lived within you that caused such harm. It is those shadows you will have to overcome and cast away if you choose to go back."
Hermione looked up, and up, and up, for in that moment Olorin seemed taller than a mountain. "Just as yours have been burned away in fire."
"Yes." He gestured to the two doors. "The question remains. Will you go on, or will you go back? You do not have to return. You could remain at peace, and see the friends of your old life in the Halls of Mandos."
"The battle can be won without me."
Everything slotted into place within Hermione's mind. Her memories, her history, her self restored. She smiled, reaching for the door that would take her back. "Books and cleverness. I've never been the hero of the story. But that doesn't make it any less mine."
"I thought you might see it that way," Olorin said as Hermione opened the door.
They had bodies again. A tall man with a long beard and a slender elf with wild curls. Looking back over her shoulder, Hermione inclined her head. "Fare thee well, White Wizard. We shall meet again soon."
Olorin bowed. "Swift travels, Hermione the Grey. I shall see you at the turning of the tide."
Chapter 21: Erised S’traeh
Hermione could feel sunlight warming her face. The scent of flowers and fresh linen tickled her nose, bringing a contented smile to her lips. It felt wonderful to stretch, to revel in having a physical body again, to luxuriate in the soft sheets she was wrapped in.
Opening her eyes, she found herself in her usual bedroom in Rivendell, her family all standing around her, happiness writ in their expressions. Arwen stood with Estel, their arms linked. Elrond was beside them, and for once seemed approving of their relationship. The floor length mirror of gilded gold that made up one third of Hermione's Gate stood against the wall, and within it were the images of Thranduil and Laerornien, both wearing thorny crowns and beaming at her. And Legolas, dear, sweet, handsome Legolas, was at her side, bending to press a kiss upon her cheek, making her skin tingle with both ice and heat and her magic spark within her.
She frowned up at him, her brow furrowing as she took in that strange reaction. But she had changed while her spirit wandered. She was the Grey Istar now, and there would surely be a period of adjustment while her new power settled.
Confident with that explanation, she allowed Legolas to help her from the bed, questions falling from her lips all the while. How long had she been asleep? Had the Ring been destroyed? Was the Shadow defeated?
"Long enough," Legolas answered her, his voice ringing like the sweet chime of a bell, and yet somehow deeper than before. His inner light too was brighter, or maybe it just appeared that way to the eyes of the Istari, and it made him so beautiful that it almost hurt to look upon him. Like the last star of morning, the sun brought to earth, lightning in a bottle, he was wonderful and untouchable and desirable and unknowable, and yet she yearned to know him, to understand, to have the truth of him spread beneath her fingertips and mapped out with her tongue.
He pulled her close and the way he moved was like a lion on the prowl for someone to devour. She didn't hear the rest of the answers to her many questions. She was engulfed in the musky scent of her husband, her nose twitching and her breath quickening at the pleasure of it. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to be alone with him, to reconnect in the most primal way.
But there would be time for that later. She had duties to attend to.
Shaking her head as if to clear it, she smiled up at Legolas, certain that he was aware of the effect he had on her. Then she turned from him, moving to embrace Estel.
"Nana," her boy whispered into her hair, tucking her beneath his chin. It would never stop being odd, her little boy being taller than her.
"You must tell me what I missed," she ordered softly.
"It is a long story, Nana. For now it suffices to say that all is well and the world is at peace again. While we will have separate kingdoms, it has been decided that all will answer to a High King and Queen, in order to spread justice and equality from shore to shore. Never again will our enemy be able to muster forces against us."
Hermione leaned back to look at her mortal son, only now taking in the circlet on his brow and the richness of his clothes. Even his beard was finely combed. "And will you be this king?" she asked, knowing now why Elrond said nothing against Estel and Arwen's closeness: her boy had fulfilled Elrond's condition for their marriage by placing a crown upon his head.
Estel laughed, mischief sparkling in his bright blue eyes. "I have taken the Throne of Gondor, just as Arwen always believed I would, but I am not the High King. No, a council was called while you still slumbered, and a selection made by the Wise and Good of the land."
"And?" Hermione asked impatiently.
Estel smirked at her, Arwen's lips twitching in the corner of Hermione's vision. Even Elrond cracked a grin.
"Are you not the Elvenqueen?" Legolas' voice sounded from behind her. She shivered at the delicious timbre of it, all the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end even as her belly clenched with lust. Was it just their long separation that made her want him so? She faced him and was blinded anew by his impossible grace. How was it that she both wanted to rip his rich scarlet tunic from his body and yet felt unworthy of touching him, content to gaze upon him as if a priceless work of art? Her mouth dropped open, lips parted as her breath escaped her. There was a swooping sensation in her chest and tears pricked at her eyes, a deep all encompassing feeling of awe and wonder stealing her words.
He smiled and her tears fell, for it should not be possible that someone so perfect exist, and there was an alluring sorrow in knowing that nothing could ever quite compare to this moment, this vision of her husband dressed in red elf-silk with his white hair tumbling over his shoulders and galaxies swirling in his eyes.
"Me?" Hermione croaked in a bare whisper, her tongue like cotton in her mouth.
"Yes." Legolas reached for her and she was drowning again, her every sense overwhelmed by his presence. "You and I shall rule all of Arda together, and a new age shall begin. An age of prosperity and peace."
He kissed her, and she moaned, completely forgetting that they weren't alone, forgetting everything but the feel of his lips on hers and the taste of him, the flush of her skin as she was both burned and frozen by his touch.
Lightning in a bottle, she thought again, wondering if her hair was crackling with ozone. She reached for their bond, wishing to merge with her husband in all ways, and was confused by how far away he felt when he was standing right before her, body pressed to body.
Perhaps she was less of an elf now that she was Istari, and so her bonds were muffled for they could only occur between elves? She changed at her first rebirth, and so her second could be just as profound. Not an Elvenqueen, but a Maia. The High Queen of All Arda… And on the heels of that thought came another, one that struck her with the shock of cold water, and yet barely reached her, as if fighting through fog: Being queen of all Arda was exactly how the Ring had tried to corrupt her.
She pulled away from Legolas abruptly, her entire body trembling, though she knew not the cause. Even her teeth chattered, and she had to clench her jaw against the tremors.
She swallowed harshly, a dry gulp that sounded loud in the quiet of the room, and tried to gather her wits. "I can't," she said.
The vision the Ring had shown her was enough proof that she shouldn't be High Queen - that she could not be trusted with that level of power. The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. How like him was she?
And the Ring was not the first horcrux to tempt her. No, her first temptation came not from the Ring, but an emerald encrusted Locket filled with a sliver of soul.
She'd never told anyone. Not Harry. Not Ron. She'd never breathed aloud the things the Locket horcrux whispered to her in the space between thoughts; the dreams it sent; the longing it inspired and the promises it made for an intellectual equal, a man who thought her magic and her mind more attractive than all else; the imaginary life of magical research and absolute rule because only she could be trusted to be just in an unjust world.
She never spoke of how it wasn't Harry, but Tom Riddle she compared Ron to. She never let on that she wondered what would have happened had she been born earlier or Tom Riddle later. Would she have been the Dumbledore to his Grindlewald?
"I can't," she said again, voice stronger, more sure.
"Why not?" Legolas asked, stroking her cheek with one of his burning, freezing hands. The touch went straight to her groin, making her bite her lower lip as her nipples pebbled within the thin white gown she wore.
They were alone now. Estel, Arwen, and Elrond had discreetly left at some point, and the mirror where Thranduil and Laerornien had stood was dark, reflecting only the room.
"The Ring," she gasped as Legolas ran a hand down her thigh, her lips a hair's breadth from his. "This is what it showed me. Myself ruling Arda. So I must not."
"Of course that's what it showed you." Legolas was hiking her skirt up, her head falling back as he pressed kisses to the column of her throat, moving toward her breasts. His touch was so exquisite that any moment she would die.
"The Dark Lord is not a deceiver," Legolas said into her skin, his voice rumbling and rough. "Despite what stories claim. He tells the truth that no one wishes to see, rips away scales of self delusion to reveal the rot beneath. The Ring did not lie. It seduced. It knew that you were destined for greatness, that you were meant to be a mighty queen, so it showed you that truth to twist you to Sauron's purpose. That does not mean you should fear your fate. The power is in your grasp, beloved. You need only trust in me and reach out to take it."
He picked her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist, her resolve weakening, her skirts bunched around her thighs. She could feel his arousal pressed between her legs and could not stop her hips from bucking against him. "You have that much faith in me?"
"Think of the good you could do," he told her between kisses. "You were brought into this world to be mine, to complete me, to rule Arda at my side. Of course I have faith in you, beloved." He moaned. "You did well to resist the Ring's siren call, but do not let it hinder your future. Trust in yourself, in the greatness of your purpose. All other ways are closed to you except the way already chosen."
"My love?" the elf holding her asked, lifting his rapturous face full of passion to look at her.
Hermione studied him, her eyes watering and tearing as if she was staring directly into the sun, and this time she saw him. His hair was not white, but black as night, seemingly made of spun shadow. His eyes were not blue, but a bright piercing gold flecked with spots of red, shining as if made from molten fire. His skin was so luminous he appeared made of moonbeams, a star given flesh, and his features were sharper than Legolas', though no less handsome. He looked like the Tom Riddle who plagued her human dreams might have if he were an elf as handsome as the day and fathomless as the sea, an aura of majesty about him that could not be put into words save to say it was like standing at the bottom of a waterfall and trying to speak in the vacuum of space. And it was then that she knew.
This was her last temptation.
They were still in their intimate clinch, her legs around him, his face level with her breasts, and his arousal pulsing hot and hard between her thighs. Very deliberately, she leaned down and kissed his noble forehead with its darkly slanting brows, ignoring the glint of the three jewels that winked at her from their places woven in his hair.
"Sauron," she breathed.
He went rigid, and then pulled her closer still. "I prefer Tar-Mairon, or Annatar if you must." He tilted his head, locking eyes filled with dying planets on her face. "You see me."
"All other ways are closed to you except the way already chosen. To which I say: You only offer dreams to damnation...The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason. T.S. Eliot. 'Murder in the Cathedral.' Legolas would not know those words."
And indeed, he could not know those words. So used had Hermione become to the Unspeakable Geas stilling her tongue that she had long ceased trying to speak of her first life beyond generalities. And yet, Sauron was quoting twentieth century literature.
"How?" she echoed his question.
"I took them from your mind. Such a lovely place, a beautiful symphony. You invited me in, and here I made my home, basking in the presence of one whose heart desires order as I do." And now he looked upon her as if she were every bit as lovely and impossible and magnificent as he appeared to her, and she could not look away. "You are mine. My queen. You will never be more loved than you are in my arms. You will never be whole save for at my side. I will take the world and then give it to you. We will save them from themselves."
"Mairon," Hermione said, and the name rang between them and made the Lord of the Rings flinch back, pained by the sound of it. For however he wished it, he was Mairon no longer, and would not be again until he truly repented and threw himself upon the mercy of Manwe, which he was both too shamed and too prideful to do. But he had not began in evil, and still did not believe himself to be so, so Hermione stroked the Dark Lord's face as if comforting a small child in the midst of a nightmare, seeing her own arrogance reflected in him as the skin of her hand split open and left a trail of blood upon the Fallen Maia's cheek.
"No," she told him.
Sauron snarled and kissed her again, and this time it hurt, making her bones ache and her hair writhe like snakes.
"You do not have a choice," the Deceiver hissed at her, his fingers digging into her flesh. "You do not have the power to stand against me. Your soul has been sung into a new shape, yes, but I am greater still."
Hermione smiled through her pain. "There is always a choice. You wouldn't be trying so hard, Sauron the Seducer, if you didn't need me to agree. To give in. To let you have the last inch of me. And if I let you in, as you said, then this is my mind. My heart. My soul. You may be more powerful than I in the waking world, but here?" She gasped, her lungs scorching and black smoke curling from her nostrils. Sweat dripped down her face. And yet her voice echoed when she spoke once more. "Here I am limitless."
She gave Sauron one last kiss, and it was as chaste and soft as phoenix down. As pure as spring. It was a kiss of kindness and understanding and regret and the tenderness of it agonized Sauron as no weapon ever had. He dropped her, scrambling away, his hands clapped to his face as his skin withered, ruining his image of perfection.
Hermione climbed to her feet, watching him and thinking of another boy who made all the wrong choices.
Sauron's eyes widened and he stared, reverence warring with disbelief even as his face continued to crumple, his skin flaking off in puffs of ash.
"You weep for me?" he asked, his voice no longer melodic, but a strident screech that carried an undertone of hissing snakes and doomed screams.
"Not for you," she answered, only now feeling the tears that leaked from her eyes, clear tracks that shone like diamonds on her face. "For the man you never were."
Then she turned away from him, taking careful steps to stand before the enchanted mirror in the corner, noting as she did so that it was not a part of the Gate after all, for the filigree was wrong. Across the top scrolled the inscription erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.
Hermione cleared her mind and demanded, "Show me the truth."
The surface of the mirror rippled, and Hermione saw herself lying in a sick room with Arwen sewing a banner at her bedside. Behind her loomed a tall pale creature, as twisted and ugly as Voldemort ever was. Part wolf and part snake, and with the wings of a bat and three cursed jewels snared in its tangled, stringy mane. "I have seen your heart and it is mine," the broken being rasped. "You know that I am doing what is right. They cannot see. Not like you and I."
"You're wrong, as I have been wrong in the past, as I may yet be wrong in the future." She thought of saying more, but for once realized the futility of it. For the truth of Sauron as he appeared in the mirror was an extreme of all her worst traits, what she could never allow herself to be, and she knew herself to be stubborn. And perhaps this was why the Valar had seen to reshape her, to send her to Olorin and have her take a new place in their song - she was as Sauron was meant to be before the corruption of Melkor.
So she said only, "Try for some remorse" to Sauron's reflection, even as he reached for her, covetous longing in his gaze and desperation in his grasping hands.
Then she stepped through the mirror and merged with her physical body.
At the very same moment she began to stir, the Great Red Eye appeared in all three remaining kingdoms of the elves within the enchanted windows of Hermione's Gate for a single second before the glass blackened and shattered and the gold melted into slag; and a howl of such intense loss, rage, and despair that even the Dark Spider Shelob fled before it echoed over Mordor.
Chapter 22: The Three Sisters
We're coming up on the end now! Just one more chapter and an epilogue. I hope to have it all edited and posted by the end of February. Thanks to everyone who continues to read and review.
Hermione's Line: That begins "I am become now…" is a direct quote about Sauron in which I have just changed all the adjectives to their antonym.
Hermione woke to a cool cloth and warm hands. Her eyelids fluttered, her lips parting. Despite having been abed for five months she felt fine. Better than fine. She was not thirsty or sore. Her lips were not dry and cracked. Her muscles had not atrophied. She felt better than she had since even her rebirth as an elf.
What does one call it one one is born again for the second time?
She opened her eyes and sat up, a gasp coming from the elleth sitting at her bedside. The one who had been dabbing at Hermione's forehead with a sweet smelling salve. Hermione wrinkled her brow, recognizing the scent of one of her own healing concoctions, one meant for tainted wounds and old scars.
There was a pull in the skin of her forehead that had never been there before. Lifting her hand Hermione ran her fingertips over the anomaly, somehow unsurprised to find puckered scar tissue raised in the shape of a jagged lightning bolt. An incredulous laugh escaped her even as she wondered if wizards would find the remnants of the ritual she used to protect the Greenwood one day. And would those fragments make their way to Lily Potter's hands in time to protect her son? But if that was so, then where did the magic come from, seeing as Hermione herself based the ritual on what she suspected had been done to protect Harry? Was her mark a result of knowing Harry Potter or his mark the result of hers? Perhaps both and neither, an endlessly turning wheel of time. Or perhaps the multiverse theory was true and she was in a different universe and part of a different timeline entirely.
She was pulled from her musing by movement from the corner of her eye.
"Arwen," Hermione said, and found it both natural and strange when the word painted itself in the air, hanging there for a moment before it faded.
Arwen could not see the word, nor did she paint with her voice, and Hermione found that unbearably sad somehow even as she knew that things were as they were meant to be.
"Princess! You wake at last!" Arwen exclaimed, knocking over her sewing basket in her haste to tend to Hermione, placing one hand against Hermione's forehead and another at the pulsepoint of her wrist.
"I am well, Arwen Evenstar," Hermione said in her musical voice, watching the sentence swirl like smoke, the words wrapping themselves around Arwen and sinking into her skin, subtly reinforcing her loveliness, for Hermione was the Maia of Accord now, the realization of a wrong note righted, inheritor of Mairon's mantle, and so when she Spoke the world Heard. "Though I am not as I once was. I am both more and less, apart from myself and yet a part of the whole. I am the Grey. I Hear the Song."
Arwen's lips creased in worry. "I don't understand."
Hermione smiled, and it was as beautiful as the day and as fathomless as the sea, taking Arwen's breath away. "I know."
Arwen left to retrieve Elrond, the furrow between her eyebrows singing of her worry and apprehension that Hermione had been damaged somehow. She feared most for Estel and how he would feel to find his mother so changed.
Hermione was not worried for Estel. He was a man grown now, and soon would claim his kingdom and have Arwen by his side. His life would be too full once he had passed his trials to worry over his mother for long.
No, it was Laerornien who would feel this change most keenly. Laerornien who was a child still and yet old enough to see the difference in her mother. Laerornien who sang with the trees. Laerornien who was sensitive enough to magic and the Song that she would not consider the Grey Istari to be entirely the same woman as Hermione the Green and would start her own settlement of elves away from the Greenwood once she reached her majority, taking up a duty that would have once been her father's if Hermione had never appeared in the wood.
She would be a good Princess of Ithilien, for Hermione knew now that none of her children would follow her to the Oaken Throne.
Closing her eyes, she used the quiet and solitude of the Halls of Healing to reach out through her familial bonds. And there was her daughter, a spark in the darkness, a wind that stirred leaves. Her spiritual presence rushed toward Hermione's own, then recoiled, already able to tell through her greater spiritual senses - the greatest Hermione had ever seen in any elf apart from Glorfindel - that something was not quite right. That Hermione was not as she once was, having been changed by more than Sauron's touch.
Hermione sent her daughter a stream of reassurance and acceptance. For now, it was all she could do.
She moved on to her ada.
Thranduil was stressed, pressed to the limit by the forces that sought to break the barrier around the Greenwood. The barrier that had been weakened by Hermione's fall into Shadow.
Hermione sent him love and confidence and felt his renewed energy and purpose at finding her awake.
Legolas' presence in her mind was pulsing with determination and the strident call of war. Ever her warrior prince… She touched his mind lightly and felt his responding joy that was underscored by a faint sound of ocean waves. The Sea Calling was coming for him, and he knew. Had been warned of it. But he would do his duty to the world, his people, and his son, no matter where it may take him or what he may lose of himself in the process.
Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
Before her transformation Hermione would have railed at this. She would have done all in her power to avert it, to keep her husband's mind, heart, and soul firmly present with her on Arda until both were ready to sail. But she was the Grey Istar now, and such power came at a cost. Hermione loved her husband and her children and her friends and this world, but she no longer thought or felt like a human. Like an elf.
She painted words and breathed magic and heard the Song. She might be housed in a body of flesh with pointed ears and wild brown curls, but it was no longer who she was. Already her mind hummed with tasks she must complete, already her heart dwelled in a place beyond the stars. She chose this, chose to return, and she was glad that she did. But she was not the same. And so she did not despair that the sea would soon call to Legolas, for it would be easier for him to understand the draw of voices that whispered in her mind when he could hear the cry of gulls and smell the salt of the ocean wherever he went. When he too was compelled by his spirit to do what he must, drawn forever between present and future.
And it was a relief. For Hermione owed fealty to those who remade her and Legolas and her love for him was perhaps the only thing that could turn her from her path. She has seen in Sauron what became of those who did not pay their debts to the Valar. Those who broke their Word and disrupted the Song.
She looked forward to the day she might lay her burdens down and reunite with her family in both body and spirit, but it would not be for several ages yet, and she would revel just as much in her purpose. In being needed. In changing the world, repairing the Song.
She did not wait for Arwen to return. Hermione simply stood up and held out her arms, Singing a silk dress of dove grey into shape around her body and Calling forth her Crown of Willow. It appeared on her head, softly glowing with power as if burning from within. Three jewels that had not been there before winked out from amidst the curving weave of the branches, twinkling like fading stars at dawn.
The crown was her focus now, a symbol of the power of the Elvenqueen just as Sauron had his rings and Olorin and Saruman their staves.
Saruman. Hermione's lips curled. He was another who did not pay his debts, who sought power without cost, who discarded his purpose and twisted what he touched. So she did not grace him with his true name, even in her thoughts, for he was unworthy of it. What she knew of his corruption, and the pain she could feel even now from the trees of Orthanc… But he was not hers to deal with. That particular honor would go to Olorin. No, Hermione would be heading towards Isengard, but only so far as the mouth of the Entwash to perform the first of many tasks.
Hermione made it as far as the River Bruinen before an alarm went up and the elves of Imladris began to search for her outside the city. Which was pure foolishness in her opinion. She'd left Elrond a note telling him of the supplies and boat she'd taken and she was quite capable of looking after herself.
She'd just removed the elegantly carved river boat from a pouch on her belt and restored it to full size on the shore when she felt eyes upon her. Magic gathering in her hands, she whirled to face her attackers, only for Tauriel to melt out of the shadows cast by the crown of a nearby tree, standing amidst the branches as she had done so often in the Greenwood. How she was so stealthy with hair so bright a red, Hermione had never been able to understand.
Tauriel smirked at her. "My husbands and Glorfindel are leading a company to relieve the siege on the Greenwood. With them go a host of those who cannot fight with the hope of getting them to safety behind your wards, for even Imladris cannot stay hidden forever. I was to go with them, as were you, whether you were awake or not. And yet this morning I espied you making for the river with a pack on your back. Why is that, I wonder?"
"Go back, Tauriel," Hermione said, while being careful not to Say. Tauriel deserved for her choice to be hers alone. "I shall not be dissuaded from my course."
"And what course is that?"
Looking down the river, Hermione's eyes were distant, gazing at things that no one else, not even another of the Istari, could see. "There are things I must do now, while I am at the height of my power. A new day approaches, the dawn of a new age, and though it shall be the end of a great evil, it will also be the end of opportunity for me to do what I must. To restore what was always meant to be, yet never was." Shaking herself, Hermione looked back to Tauriel. "I make first for the Fords of Isen."
Tauriel got her familiar 'humoring the royals' expression on her face and eyed the boat. "You mean to ride the Loudwater as far as the North-South Road and there cross the Gap of Rohan."
Hermione nodded. "Yes. It is my hope that staying on the water as much as possible will aid me in bypassing the dark forces now crawling the land. And if He Who Must Not Be Named sees my approach, all the better, for if his eyes are on me then they are not on others."
"Why did you tell no one of your plan?" Tauriel huffed, leaping from the tree to land next to Hermione, knees bent, as easily as breathing. Her red hair fluttered in the wind like a banner.
"Too many would have delayed or tried to stop me, or else saddled me with warriors who are more needed elsewhere. I am not the helpless princess many envision. And I would not have those who need to focus on their own missions be distracted by worry for me. So they shall not know."
Tauriel snorted. "I am coming with you."
"No," the older elleth cut her off with a slicing motion of her hand. "I am a warrior and have spent too many years guarding you to stop now. And I know these lands in ways that you do not." Her smirk was back, but her eyes were deadly serious. "Besides, that boat is meant to seat four and be manned by two. How are you going to row and steer at the same time?"
"I was going to propel it by magic," Hermione huffed, somehow feeling as if she were a little elfling again demanding to go outside. She almost didn't mind simply because it was good to know that she could still be sheepish and frustrated by her long time nanny turned friend. "Oh very well. Come then, before someone catches us."
"Too late," a second voice called from the trees, though this one was on the ground rather than amongst the branches. Arwen stepped into the light, dressed in what looked to be a spare set of Tauriel's Greenwood armor, her black hair woven into a long braid and a pack slung across her back.
"Where did you come from?" Hermione asked, exasperated. While she could Hear the Great Melody of the Song and easily find the wrong notes from their sheer discordance, the smaller things eluded her, leaving her vulnerable to surprise. She didn't like it. Or did she? Perhaps after a few years as the Grey she would welcome the small surprises for lack of any big ones.
She turned to Tauriel. "Did you know she was there?"
"No," Tauriel answered, eyeing Arwen speculatively. "She is more adept even than my husbands at hiding her presence."
"The dangers of growing up with older brothers, I fear," Arwen smiled cheekily. "I was helping to organize the search for you when I saw Tauriel slinking off in her armor. I knew that she would find you if anyone could, so I mimicked what preparations she made and followed her."
Hermione held back a sigh. "How much did you hear?"
"Enough to demand to accompany you."
This time Arwen cut her off.
"I have been coddled and cosseted even more so than you, Grey Princess. But I learned the bow just as every elfling does, and I cannot sit by while my love goes into danger and my people are threatened. It seems to me that we are fated to make this journey together, the three of us. You the sorceress, Tauriel with her knives, and I with the bow. Sworn sisters shall we be until our purpose is at an end."
It was Tauriel who said, "You have had a vision."
Where Hermione would have once scoffed at talk of visions, now she paused. "You choose this? Of your will and yours alone?"
Arwen and Tauriel exchanged a glance. "Yes, the two of us choose to bind our purpose to yours."
"What kind of mother would I be if I allowed harm to come to the mate of my son's soul?" Hermione asked, not sure if she was speaking to Arwen, herself, or the Valar.
"And what kind of wife would I be if I allowed my love's mother to tramp through the wilderness alone?" The Evenstar retorted. "We have chosen and shall go with you no matter what you say. I foresaw the need and left a note upon my father's desk telling him that I and Tauriel follow where you lead. I have also secured all of Tauriel's usual hunting supplies in my own bag. These magic satchels of yours really are ingenious, princess."
"You seem to have thought of everything." Hermione muttered, wondering if she and Ron had annoyed Harry this much. Then she realized she was acting like Harry, and should stop it immediately. She straightened, meeting their eyes one after another. "Very well, it is your choice, as you say." She took a deep breath, and when she Spoke again it shook the world, summoning summer wind and morning light and the scent of rain and the sound of birds. The very air trembled and sang with it. And more than that it drew the Eye of Sauron, blinding him to all but this moment, deafening him to all but his rage.
"It is known. Three Queens of Wood and City White
Journey forth through Shadow's Blight.
Sworn Sisters now and forever be,
Though their way will part at the Speaking Tree."
Arwen and Tauriel stood as if stunned, even as their skin began to glow as brightly as Hermione's own while Hermione burned brighter still.
"How?" Tauriel managed to choke out, eyes wide. "You were not this powerful before. Not even Mithrandir commands magic so profound."
Hermione smiled, and it was sorrowful, bringing to mind the call of gulls and the desolate blackness of a winter night. "I am become now a sorceress of marvelous power, Mistress of Magic and of Dreams, sweet in wisdom, gentle in strength, restoring what I touch, healing what I rule, Lady of the Wood; my dominion is peace. I am Sauron's mirror, the First Star of Evening to his Last Star of Morning." She traced her finger over her lightning bolt scar, her lips twisting ruefully. "We are connected and so when he is powerful, so too am I. And when his power breaks, so too will mine."
And neither may live while the other survives.
"That is why we must make haste," Hermione said into the stunned silence that followed. "I must complete my tasks now, while I still have the power to do so."
A howl pierced the wood, followed by the baying of a pack of wargs.
"With the Eye upon us our journey will not be an easy one." Arwen said after shaking herself. "Already he sends his creatures to harry us."
Tauriel nodded and moved into the boat, taking up one of the oars. "Come, the river awaits."
For three weeks they sailed the Loudwater, sleeping in shifts, going ashore only to stretch their legs and relieve their bladders. Hermione used her magic to propel the boat faster, knowing that she had a deadline to meet if she was to be successful in what the Valar wished of her. Whenever Hermione slept, Tauriel and Arwen took turns rowing so as not to lose any precious time. They did not know exactly why Hermione must be at the Fords of Isen within a single moon's turn for she would not explain out of fear that Sauron would hear through his spies and take steps to stop her, but they trusted enough in her and her power to follow anyway.
Her fears were not unfounded, for several times bands of orcs and warg appeared on the shore to run alongside their boat, keeping pace with their progress until Hermione could be roused to cast the protective spells on their vessel that she had once utilized when hunting horcruxes with Harry. Unfortunately such protective magic was designed to be anchored to a stationary object and would not hold on the boat for more than an hour or two. Therefore at times they passed unseen and unheard, and at others Arwen and Tauriel kept their enemies at bay with their bows while Hermione sent out blasts of concussive magic that rippled through the air like concentrated waves of heat.
When things were peaceful and their path clear, they spoke quietly of their families, the men in their lives, and their hopes for the future. Tauriel thought it would be fitting if one of her sons found his match in Laerornien, for it would tie her to Hermione by blood. Arwen countered that perhaps Laerornien would instead find her heart's other half in the son that was foretold for Arwen and Estel. Hermione merely laughed at them both and asked to see the banner Arwen had made to be Estel's standard when he took up his kingship, the dark haired elleth having finished it just before they all left Rivendell.
Alas, such peaceful times could not last, least of all on the road. They at last reached the beginning of the North-South Road and put their boat to shore, Hermione shrinking it and putting it in her bag. Waste not, want not, after all.
"From here we must run, both night and day," she informed her companions, her sisters. "We have no horses and no time to waste. If you fall behind, I cannot afford to tarry."
"We understand," Tauriel nodded, already leaping into a tree. Hermione followed a second later, used to this method of traversing the Greenwood and knowing that it was the slightly slower but safer option considering what creatures roamed the road with them. Arwen leapt up last, a little less certainly, but by no means ungraceful.
"I will keep up," she promised, a glint in her eyes and steel in her spine. Hermione thoroughly approved.
Hermione turned her face southeast. "Then come."
When they arrived at the Fords of Isen, they were greeted by a killing field. A scene of devastation, a beautiful place marred by dismembered corpses and puddles of blood. Some monstrous orcs - Uruk Hai, the Song told Hermione - lay fallen, but there were far many more men. Their horses dead beneath them, their limbs crushed and flesh hewn, an entire company of Rohirrim would never ride again.
"We're too late," Arwen gasped, eyes wide in horror. She had never ridden to battle before, and so was not used to the sight of so much death. Not as Tauriel and Hermione were. It was likely that only her work in her father's Healing Halls allowed her to keep her gorge from rising.
"The Istari are never late," Hermione answered as she left the trees to approach two men who were still alive, one kneeling on a little hill in the center of the River Isen with the other cradled in his arms. The second man would not live for long, his life's blood pouring heavily into the river, washing the water pink. "Neither are we early. We arrive precisely when we mean to."
"Let me lie here to protect the Fords, until Eomer arrives," the dying man said just as Hermione stepped onto his little island, the bottom of her grey dress turned black by the water of the river. Arwen and Tauriel waited on the shore, sensing that this was a moment for the Istar alone.
"You shall not die this day, Theodred, son of Theoden," Hermione said, startling both men. The one kneeling paled and tried to reach his sword without letting go of his dying prince. Theodred was so pale already that if he got any whiter he would rival snow.
"Who are you?!"
Hermione inclined her head, her voice infused with a soothing melody of trust, the same quality that had allowed Sauron to seduce so many to his side so many years ago. "I am Hermione the Grey. And I am here to right a wrong."
"You can heal him?"
Hermione shook her head, regret in every line of her body. The rushing water of the river began to sound like weeping. "Unfortunately I cannot, Grimbold of Grimslade. But I can transform him, so that he might be saved." Kneeling, she looked into Theodred's fevered eyes, laying her soft cool hand on his brow. "But you will never be again as you once were. Never again will you sit in the Halls of Rohan. And yet you will be a king still. You need only to choose."
Theodred blinked at her, his mouth opening and closing.
"Choose quickly," she urged him. "Your time runs out as your blood stains the water. Are you ready to be a true Lord of Horses? Yes or no?"
"Yes!" Theodred gasped out, his head jerking once and then falling limp.
"No!" Grimbold exclaimed, brandishing his blade. "I will not let you defile him, witch! This is no doubt a trick of Saruman's!"
"Hoooom humm hooo, what is all this noise?" came a new voice. It was loud and deep and accompanied by the shushing whisper of leaves and a creaking of branches.
"What sorcery is this?!" Grimbold demanded, taking a swipe at Hermione with his sword, only to find the blade struck from his hand by a blunted arrow, courtesy of Tauriel. Hermione looked over her shoulder to see both her sisters with their bows drawn, Tauriel's eyebrows lifted as if to say, 'you're welcome.'
"No sorcery," the loud leafish voice said again. And with a great heave, one of the trees along the shore stood up. It was old beyond guessing, with bark of bright gold and leaves of the deepest green. Great trailing ribbons of moss hung from its branches, blowing and swaying in the breeze and somehow giving the impression of a lion's mane. Large eyes of gold shot brown opened and surveyed them, sparkling with life on the surface, and yet filled with a sturdy slow wisdom and a horde of ancient thoughts. "Just an Ent," the tree continued in his ponderous way.
Grimbold looked back and forth between Hermione and the towering form of the great speaking tree, his eyes wide and rolling like a spooked horse. Before he could say anything, the Ent seemed to recognize Hermione.
"Oh. Greetings, Sister. Is it time at last?"
"Sister?" Hermione inquired, tilting her head back so that she might look at the Ent's face properly.
The Ent nodded with a great creaking sound. "The Dark Lord was a servant of Aule once, and so it is only fitting that the Lady of Light serve his wife. Ingoletar I name thee, Blessed of Yavanna. Just as we."
Hermione saw his words paint themselves in the air, and felt the rightness of them down to her bones. "I thank you for the name, Brother. May I know yours?"
The Ent chuckled and despite his appearance it was as musical and smooth as the song of any elf. "To say my name would take a very long time, hooo hummm hahooom, for Old Entish names grow as we do and I have been waiting here for you since everything began. Rather call me 'Father' instead, for that is what I will be."
And with a great and terrible certainty, Hermione understood, a chill touching her heart and horror gripping her guts. Tears sprang to her eyes. "I knew the Valar had a plan and that I would have what I needed at the proper time, but I did not imagine this."
But the Ent was jolly and unconcerned. "Weep not for me, Ingoletar. The Entwives are gone and we are too few for our duty. The Song must be Sung. I stand ready to provide."
"You are certain?"
"I am certain. Yavanna will welcome me as a dutiful son. Do what you must, Mother of Magic."
Hot liquid spilled down Hermione's face even as she felt that her eyes were on fire. "You will be remembered, Ent by the River. Father of Fortune. I will be as gentle as I can."
The Father nodded his enormous head, and then lifted his feet, tearing roots from the ground. Each of his legs was as big around a great tree in its own right. In two strides, he was standing in the river before the little island, Hermione's face even with his gnarled shins.
Hermione looked to Arwen and Tauriel, who were still holding their bows on Grimbold, likely the only reason the panicking man hadn't tried to flee with Theodred's near lifeless body. "No matter what you see," Hermione warned them. "No matter what you hear. You must not interfere."
"Aye," Hermione's sworn sisters answered, neither taking their eyes from Grimbold.
It was him that Hermione addressed next. "You should move back, or you will be caught in the spell."
"I'm not leaving him," Grimbold asserted at once, a stubborn cast to his jaw.
Hermione nodded. "It is your choice, just as it was his. Remember that."
With the time for talking finished, Hermione raised her hands, a massive fireball forming in each one. A flick of her wrists sent them spinning into the river, instantly boiling the water and giving rise to a wall of steam and vapor that all but obscured her and the other occupants of the little island. He skin glowing so brightly that she resembled the moon, light spilling from her eyes, she cast a bodybind on Grimbold and pulled Theodred from his arms, levitating his body into the boiling water. Grimbold's face was frozen in a rictus of terror and rage, but Theodred's expression was clear. Peaceful, as if he were sleeping.
"Life of the Father, willingly given, you shall renew your son!"
Hermione could not afford hesitation, and so she did not hesitate, even as her soul cried out against what she must do. "Maika!" she whispered, pointing both hands at her Ent brother. An overpowered cutting curse, the strongest she'd ever cast, burst from her hands and completely bisected the Father, sending him tumbling into the water with a great thundering splash. The thick sap that served as his blood swirled around the island widdershins thirteen times, and then thirteen times again.
He would have died instantly, with very little pain, Hermione told herself, struggling against the lump in her throat. It was the best I could do for him without using the Killing Curse. She could not afford a misstep now, or the Father's sacrifice would be meaningless, and she would not, could not allow that to happen.
"Tulta Theodred's horse," she incanted, summoning the corpse of the animal and delivering it into the brewing river.
"Flesh of the Servant, unknowingly sacrificed, you will revive your master!"
The water was spinning around the island faster now, the steam getting thicker.
Hermione drew a dagger from her belt.
"Blood of the Mother, shed with a blessing, you shall create new life!"
Hermione slit her palm, and squeezed her fist over the water.
Nine times Nine crimson drops fell into the boiling river, each landing with a hiss. And when the last one merged with the steaming vortex, the water exploded upward, overflowing the banks and surging over the battlefield of the ford, though somehow not washing Arwen and Tauriel away. Rather, the tsunami swirled around them, the shapes of horses and men dancing in the foam and flowing over the land farther than should be possible.
And when the tidal wave disappeared in the distance, and there was no more steam, they turned to look upon the little island and there found a tall man with broad shoulders, tawny skin, and long fair hair, his eyes a piercing blue. And yet he was not a man, for at his waist sprouted the body of a horse, a golden stallion as fine as any that ever graced the stables of Edoras, or even the halls of elves.
And he was not the only one, for all around them the dead Rohirrim were alive again, joined with the horses they had once ridden, now of one body. They were as many and varied as these new creatures as they were as men, some rough and wild, others slender and handsome, but all of them impossible and wondrous and strong. But none was stronger or grander than the golden stallion who stood on the island; and upon his back sat the Elvenqueen, crowned with sunlight, a streak of grey in her curly brown hair to mark the working of such a great magic.
"Welcome Theodred, Lord of All Horses, Protector of Forests, First Centaur King."
Chapter 23: The Return of the Queen
I have struggled with this chapter for a really long time, so I finally decided it was as good as it was going to get and just to post what I have. I hope you all enjoy it, as well as the upcoming epilogue that will be posted soon. (Don't worry, it's mostly done. Won't be a year long wait this time!)
"We should be at your side," Tauriel insisted, as she had been insisting for the past hour.
Hermione ignored her, instead continuing to inventory the supplies she'd brought with her and divide them out amongst three enchanted bags.
"Our way parts here," Arwen intervened for the first time, her voice soft and yet filled with a note of finality. Tauriel spun to face her, red hair flying, but Arwen held up a hand to stay whatever words might fall from her sister's lips. "I have seen it too. We are to make for Gondor on foot, keeping to the trees when we can, and shall arrive just in time to fly my Estel's standard in battle. Elladan and Elrohir will meet us there, though I know not why. Perhaps my ada got word to them and sent them in search of us once he realized we could not be found near Imladris."
"And my princess?" Tauriel gritted out.
"I'm not your princess anymore, dear friend," Hermione spoke up at last, standing to hand one bag each to Tauriel and Arwen, keeping the third for herself. Hers was the lightest, for Tauriel and Arwen would be on foot and Hermione would not, and they went into danger.
Hermione was going home.
"I am your sister, now and always. And you knew we would be parting before our journey even began."
"I don't like it." Tauriel huffed even as she accepted the bag, slinging it across her back to rest there with her quiver.
Hermione didn't bother to suppress a fond smirk. "No, you never do. But take heart. The end is upon us now, and though we will both will be different when we meet again, we will meet again."
The sound of hooves on the spongy ground of the river bank forestalled any further arguments among the three ellith, all of them turning to face the towering form of Theodred, the First Centaur King. He loomed over them, even standing at a distance, thanks to the height of his horse legs, his mane and tail both equally gold and his eyes a blazing blue. To Hermione, he looked very much like Firenze, a figure from her past life at Hogwarts.
"Are you ready, Mother?" the stallion asked in a deep voice, a palpable air of majesty surrounding him that Hermione had only experienced before in Thranduil's presence.
Hermione shared one last look with Tauriel and Arwen, and then she nodded her head. Moving to stand next to the centaur, she let out a little shriek of surprise when he grabbed her around the waist and hauled her up onto his back, displaying just how flexible he was at the waist where his human half merged with his horse body.
"Honestly, Theodred," Hermione groused as she got herself sorted, straightening twisted skirts and making sure her grown wasn't askew. "You aren't a beast of burden to bear me from place to place. I could ride a horse."
Theodred smiled at her in a roguish manner that reminded Hermione sharply of both Legolas and Estel and said, "I am not a beast, but neither are horses. Not in Rohan. They are friends and so there is no shame in my performing the same tasks. Besides, would you deny a son the opportunity to dote upon his mother?"
Hermione could find no response to that.
Theodred started toward the column of centaurs standing at attention a little ways away from the river, formed up like soldiers ready to move out. Which they were, of course. They had all been Rohirrim before Hermione righted the wrong Note in the Song.
"Horse Lords!" Theodred called, easily pitching his voice to be heard by all present with the experience of a seasoned battlefield commander, aided by the increased capacity of his centaur lungs. "Our mother's home is besieged! Will we allow this to befall her forest?"
"No!" shouted a hundred hundred voices.
"Then we make for the Greenwood, the First Star of Evening our guide!"
"We follow the Star! The Star! The Star!"
And with a sound like thunder the entire column burst into motion.
Hermione looked back, and with her elf eyes was able to make out her sisters, her friends, watching her leave. Not another word was spoken between them, but as Theodred started to crest a hill, Hermione bouncing along on his back, Hermione saw Tauriel press a hand to her heart and bow, Arwen following suite.
The journey back to Greenwood the Great passed strangely. It was no quicker than Hermione's exodus had been, and yet the time melted away, swirled together with the approaching crescendo of a symphony millenia in the making. The Song written by the Valar for all of Arda was reaching the end of a movement, the end of an Age, and a new dawn would swiftly be upon them.
A star would fall as another rose, only to burn out on the very eve of its inception.
As it should be. As it would be.
The three jewels that rested in Hermione's crown glowed ever brighter as the days went by, until they rivaled the moon in luminance, making even her elven glow seem wan in comparison. She took to wearing a hood at all times, for the gems caught the attention of all who beheld them, twinkling and fascinating and dazzling with a promise, with power, with a thrum, thrum, thrumming of life that made one covet.
She was Mairon, as Mairon was meant to be, and Mairon was meant to be beautiful, to fascinate, to inspire… to burn.
"Mother," Theodred said to her on one last eve, when they stood with the silhouette of Greenwood's great trees looming on the horizon, precariously perched upon the crossroads of destiny. "The outriders have returned. An army of orcs, warg, spiders, and other fell beasts which have no name even now presses your kingdom, seeking to crack it like an egg. So far the protections hold, but they are weakening. Further, no trade can flow while the roads are blocked and with the all the refugees the Greenwood shelters, their supplies will dwindle if the siege continues."
Hermione looked up into Theodred's face, and though she did not smile, her eyes seemed to, the three jewels blazing with light beneath her hood winking at him. He gazed at them as if they held all the answers to every question he had never asked.
"All will be decided soon," Hermione said in a voice that was both familiar and not, for the brighter her star jewels glowed, the more she became and it showed in every breath she took, every eyelash, every step, every word she spoke saturated with the promise and duty that is Mairon.
She gestured for Theodred to kneel, and he did so, folding his great legs beneath him so that she might reach his head. Hermione ran her fingers through his hair, as she had done so often for her husband and children, and then she plaited it with warrior's braids to keep it from his eyes.
"We will prevail," Theodred said, leaning into her ministrations.
Hermione gave a hum, and reached out through her family bonds to send them all her love.
You deny me, and yet you are here, Sauron whispered in a voice made up of hisses and the screech of steel on steel.
Can you think of no reason why? Hermione returned.
Sauron's Great Eye looked far and wide, surveying his black armies, searching for his Ring.
Hermione sat meditating beneath a tree in the Greenwood, guarded by two centaurs even as the rest went to position themselves to ambush the forces besieging Thranduil's armies. Sauron's creatures lacked discipline. If the centaurs attacked from the rear the next time Thranduil led a sortie out from the woods, the orc line would break.
You cannot resist me. You were made for me. Sauron sounded smug, even as he pushed hard on Hermione's occlumency shields.
They held, though a stabbing pain centered on the lightning bolt scar that bisected her brow made her vision go white behind her closed eyelids. Once it began the pressure only increased, pulsing with every beat of her heart, the flesh of her forehead inflamed as if with infection until her skin stretched tight and split, blood weeping from the mark.
Hermione grit her teeth. I will never be yours.
Once I have a body, you will sing a different tune, Sauron both whispered and screamed. Her skin crawled even as tears pricked her eyes. What was it you thought of me? Ah, yes. 'As beautiful as the day.'
He pressed harder on Hermione's mental shields, but they were equals in power and Hermione would not yield. The jewels in her crown blazing so bright that one of her centaur guards cried out and covered his eyes, Hermione pushed back, momentarily taking control of the Great Eye and spinning it in a dizzying, disorienting motion while trying to make Sauron think she was attempting to distract him from the Greenwood.
The truth of course, was anything but. If his attention was on her, it was not elsewhere on the Black Gate or other places even closer to Sauron's home.
She knew the Song, and the part she needed to play in it.
Obligingly, Sauron shoved her from his mind with mental fingers that scalded and ate at the light of her spirit like acid, and then focused the Eye on Greenwood - only to let out a mental roar that rattled Hermione's bones and turn to the Black Gate a moment later.
Your distraction did not work! Sauron crowed to her, secure in his arrogance that he knew her thoughts despite her shields.
Hermione sent a wordless expression of dismay and then cut their link, opening her eyes to find her scar swollen and tender to the touch and streaks of blood drying on her face.
"Now," she said weakly to the centaurs, the light of her own crown making her squint in pain. Had Harry's scar ached so much? However had he managed to function?
Her nearest guard raised a horn to his lips and blew a signal for attack that was used amongst the Greenwood Guard. Hopefully Thranduil's forces would hear it and heed the call.
Hermione tried to stand, but distracting Sauron while simultaneously keeping him from her innermost thoughts had drained her more than she thought. She managed to gain her feet, but immediately swayed with dizziness and pain, her head pounding as she fell back to one knee.
"Rest, Mother," her dark haired guard told her. She really needed to learn all their names as soon as she had a spare moment if the centaurs were going to keep calling her that.
"We will protect you while you gather your strength," the blond one confirmed.
From the trees came a horn call. An echo of the signal to attack she had ordered only a few moments before.
Thranduil, regal and deadly and in armor that was showing signs of wear and covered in splashes of dried orc blood, came charging out of the Greenwood astride a mighty elk, wood elves and Imladris elves alike charging and whooping at his back.
Battle was joined.
In later years, Hermione would look back on the Battle of the Greenwood and remember only flashes of color. The silver of the Elvenking's hair. The blue of Theodred's eyes. The lush foliage of the various plants, and everywhere the burnished bronze and gold of the armor of her people.
It was the burning fire of The Great Eye that will stand out the most in her memory. There was something arresting about it, even though she could not physically see it. She was aware of every move it made, of the pressure of Sauron's gaze, his thoughts banging on the doors of her mind to the tempo of her lightning scar throbbing.
It was not until she spied a group of orcs digging at the base of a tree at the edge of the wood, scrabbling in the dirt with their clawed fingers, that she realized what the Dark Lord planned for the battle. Perhaps she had underestimated Sauron and he had pulled more from her mind than she thought. Or perhaps he was simply utilizing his own knowledge of how he would create such a powerful protection, given that they were equal and opposite.
The Uruk Hai were looking for the runic anchors of the Royal Blood Wards. Those spheres of hard oak carved by her own hand and soaked with the blood of her family. If even one of them was destroyed, especially as the ward was already weakened from being used to shield her against the Ring...
It could not be allowed, and so when Hermione saw it, understood what they meant to do, she broke ranks, leaving her two centaur guards behind to duck and weave through the chaos of the battlefield as she searched for Theodred or Thranduil, for anyone who could organize hunting parties to kill all those who tried to dig.
Two of the Greenwood Guard spied her moving towards the team of digging orcs, and they moved to help her when they recognized it was their princess there with a bow in hand and a look of grim determination upon her face. She knew these ellyn, played with them when she was a child wandering the Halls of the Elvenking. Remon, who was the son of a fisherman but wanted to be a warrior. And Rirosson, who had hair even redder than Tauriel's.
It happened so fast that one moment Hermione was opening her mouth to command one of them to carry a message to Thranduil, and the next she was halting in shock as blood stained the ground.
Some creature that was too large to be an Uruk Hai but too agile to be a troll roared like the unholy beast that it was and wrenched at the arms of the two ellyn, yanking them off balance. Then the creature reached across and slammed a meaty fist into Remon's face while pulling Rirosson's sword from his hands. A swing and a stab later and Remon was reeling back with a broken arm, having caught the blow meant to behead him on his vambrace, and Rirosson was fountaining blood from a hole in his throat, falling to his knees.
There was a second of eerie silence in which the only thing Hermione could hear was the wet coughs of the dying elf and the patter of his blood hitting the forest floor.
Then everything happened at once, a series of moments that were oddly disjointed in her memory, as if every time she blinked something else was happening.
Someone screamed, and then Thranduil King was there and shouting orders for Hermione to be taken to safety.
The dark army of Sauron was rushing forward, surrounding the king, thirsty blades seeking Thranduil's end with a rallying cry of of Black Speech that Hermione could understand and wished she could not, the Dark Lord lurking in the back of her mind.
Theodred, a spear in one hand as he reared up on his back legs, doing a war stallion's dance of death as he cut a path to allow Thranduil to escape. Someone had a grip on Hermione's arm and was trying to pull her away from the battle, but she was pulling back, trying to warn them about the danger to the ward anchors. A hair raising scream made her assailant let go as both of them startled at the ear splitting sound, turning to see Thranduil's elk has been taken in the throat by a Black Arrow and was plowing head first into the ground, Thranduil throwing himself clear over the animal's neck and to the side.
"The wards," she heard herself say. Her voice wasn't weak, but the battle was too loud. Her chest felt like a horse has fallen on her, and her head throbbed in a hot angry line along the ridge of her scar.
You cannot win. You are already too late, Sauron crooned.
Hermione bit her lips bloody, falling to one knee under the Dark Lord's mental onslaught, catching dizzying glimpses of the battle occurring at the Black Gate interspersed with flashes of The Great Eye.
The dark army seemed endless, but Hermione knew that it was merely because she was standing at the heart of the battle. Her husband and son were facing far greater numbers at the Black Gate, and she could only spare a moment to pray to the Valar for their safety.
Everywhere there were elves and orcs screaming, fighting, and dying, the Uruk-Troll hybrid still near and shouting Black Speech obscenities as it did its best to cut down any elves that got within range of its stolen weapon. Thranduil was practically dancing through the men that surrounded him, wielding a golden spear that he got from somewhere, probably one of the centaurs. With his white hair flying and the smoothness of his movements, he looked as if he was made for this. Tulkas walked with him, making of him a god on the battlefield.
And another fought at his back. Glorfindel cut his way through orc, Uruk, spider, and warg alike, a feral smile on his face, and somehow he was better with a sword than Hermione had ever seen before. He moved like a song come to life, with a speed and grace that was beyond even elves, a corona of light burning fiercely around him. Something out of the First Age. A poet who wrote with death.
A horrific cackling both within and without, a triumphant shout that came from both orc and the Dark Lord within her mind drew Hermione's attention back to the orcs and Uruk moving from tree to tree and digging at the roots. Not even she knew where the anchors were as an additional protection for the wards. Had they found one? They must have. How long had she been distracted by battle? Five minutes? Ten? Long enough.
She opened her mouth to shout a warning, or she thought she did, but it was still too loud, too chaotic, or she was too quiet. She should have used magic, but the Song was whispering Not yet, Not yet, and she dared not disobey. Glorfindel noticed that something was happening and started fighting his way towards Hermione to see what she was trying to tell everyone, but he was slowed by the number of acromantula lining up to die on his blade.
Catching Glorfindel's eye, Hermione pointed toward the group of orcs digging at the base of a tree with four Uruk Hai to guard them. Glorfindel jerked his chin down in a nod and changed course towards the digging orcs.
One of the orcs screeched and pulled something from the hole in the ground, then lifted the muddy ball over its head. Hermione ducked under a blade aimed at her throat and ran toward the orcs with the ward anchor, even as a pinkish white dome of pearlescent light formed over the whole of the Greenwood, the ward rendered visible by having one of its anchors pulled out of alignment.
The orc put the muddy wooden ball of the anchor down on the ground. A brute of an Uruk Hai hefted a warhammer.
"No!" Hermione roared, the jewels in her crown blazing bright. She unsheathed one of her throwing knives.
The warhammer came down. Hermione threw her knife. It bloomed from the side of the Uruk's head, but the hammer was already falling and the impact of the knife was not enough to knock it off course.
The hammer struck the ward anchor.
The hammer struck the ward anchor, smashing it in a spray of dirt and wood chips, a magical backlash of invisible force knocking the surrounding orcs off their feet.
Glorfindel emerged from a crowd of dying foes, hauling the dead Uruk with the hammer away from the scene and going to his knees by the destroyed artifact. Behind him, the dome over the Greenwood flickered. Once. Twice.
Then it went out. Not suddenly or all at once. No, it was like the sun disappearing behind a cloud. Bit by bit it faded away, until it was as if it had never existed at all.
The battle came to a standstill.
And then an acromantula, its mandibles making a skin crawling clicking sound, zoomed into the trees, easily passing the line where it once would have been rebuffed. An elven arrow struck it, making it shriek, and the struggle resumed, the clang of metal and twang of bows and roar of war once more filling the air.
It was then that shadow fell across Hermione's face. Looking up, she found herself directly beneath one of the Nazgul, the wraith mounted on the back of a fell winged beast.
You will be mine. My queen, Sauron promised, sending a spike of pain like a metal poker through her scar.
The beast landed and all Hermione could do was watch as the Nazgul dismounted, sword in hand. All she could do to keep her feet and hold back her screams while her scar blinded her with pain and blood, while Sauron assaulted her mind, pushed to own her both body and soul. It didn't matter. It didn't matter if they took her, didn't matter how much it hurt, for as long as his attention was on her then it was not elsewhere. As long as he focused on her there was a chance…
And then Glorfindel was there, and truly was as beautiful as the day, as shining as the sun. He took a spear from the hands of a fallen centaur and launched it into the neck of the fell beast, killing the misshapen flying creature in one blow even as he assumed a ready stance, sword raised, between Hermione and the wraith that has come to claim her for Sauron.
"If you want her, come and claim her," Glorfindel challenged in an almost conversational tone. His voice still seemed to echo across the quagmire of mud and blood.
The Nazgul hesitated, a hiss coming from its shadowed face.
Now, the Song urged. Sing, Ingloletar. Sing so that all may know the Last Star of Evening is setting on the dawn of a New Age.
And Hermione Sang.
She sang of pixies and muggles and griffins and potions. She sang of dragons and schoolbooks and wands and spells. She sang of Four Founders and Merlin and a Sword in a Stone. She sang of unicorns and sphinxes and gnomes and robes. She sang of friendships and hearts, both kept and broken.
She sang of love and sacrifice and a Boy Who Lived.
But most of all, she sang of magic, and felt it embrace her.
Stretching out her hand, idly noting that her skin was the exact shade and brightness of Glorfindel's, Hermione grit her teeth and willed. A stream of fire came from her fingertips, so hot that it was blue-white, and Hermione knew that she had created the antithesis and precursor of Fiendfyre, a holy flame meant to burn evil from the world. The whip of fire wrapped itself around Glorfindel's sword, cheerfully dancing up and down the blade.
"The Valar are with us, brother," Hermione said, for she could see now that Glorfindel was as she once was, not quite one of the Maiar, but not quite not one either. A Maia in waiting to replace one who falls. Just as Olorin was now the White and Hermione now the Grey, by the time twilight melted into eve the ellon before her would be Glorfindel the Green.
"Run, sister." Glorfindel never took his eyes from the Nazgul. "I have this in hand." Glorfindel smiled a smile that was more like a sword cut, his eyes bright and lit from within. "I can kill it now."
But Hermione never got to heed that warning. For in that moment The Great Eye turned toward them, and when Sauron beheld Glorfindel facing off against his servant with a sword of holy flame in hand, his rage was so terrible that it pulled Hermione apart from within. Her scar immediately split open, her blood boiling in her veins, her back arching as she collapsed even as it felt like her bones melted. The star jewels in her crown burned like hot coals and if she could only have moved her hands she would have wrenched them from her head.
All the while the Dark Lord's wordless scream of outrage thundered in her ears.
It was only through The Great Eye that Hermione saw what happened at all. Her physical body was writhing on the forest floor, blood and black tar oozing from the lightning bolt on her forehead and sealing her eyes shut, her muscles locked in a rictus of pain.
The Nazgul raised his sword with an awful cry wrenched from his throat, the sound of a long lost soul.
Glorfindel's sword met the wraith's, driving him back. Then they traded blows again and locked swords, blade pressed against blade, Glorfindel gritting his teeth against the effort. The holy flame starts to creep from the ellon's blade to the wraith's, and the wraith cringed, its blade slipping, and in that second of weakness Glorfindel drove the pommel of his sword into the wraith's hand, forcing it to drop its weapon.
Hissing, the wraith relinquished the blade touched by holy flame and darted around Glorfindel, bending down to scoop something from the ground.
It was the warhammer that was used to smash the ward anchor.
The next moments were a blur.
The Nazgul surged forward, but not toward Glorfindel. No, its black cloak flaring behind it like raven wings, it made for Hermione's prone form. Exerting herself, Hermione tried to open her eyes. Tried to push past the pain and get up, tried to pull herself out of The Great Eye's vision, tried to open her damn eyes, but only succeeded in turning over. Not wanting to watch whatever was about to happen, Hermione exerted herself in the other direction and seized control of The Great Eye, sending it into another dizzying spin.
When Sauron wrested control back from her and refocused the Eye, her body had been dragged a few feet, but Glorfindel was once more standing at the ready between her and the wraith.
Balrog Slayer, Sauron seethed in hatred, sending snakes of agony down her spine. She could see her own fingers twitch.
With one of their eerie screeches, the wraith launched itself at Glorfindel.
The elf out stepped it. The Nazgul's hammer buried its edge into the side of a fallen tree, staggering as Glorfindel delivered a pommel strike to the back of its head, the holy flame imbuing his sword with the power to harm the wraith for it was now as much a spiritual weapon as it was a physical one.
The wraith pitched forward, something wet and black erupting in the back of its head and then evaporating into malodorous mist.
Glorfindel was close behind it, but the wraith refused to be taken like this, to fail the Dark Lord whom Hermione could hear whispering insidious encouragement. The Nazgul pushed itself upright, hands curled around the handle of the hammer. Whipping around, it dodged Glorfindel as the elf rushed at it. Ducking and dropping to one knee, it slammed the hammer's head into the side of Glorfindel's thigh.
Glorfindel cried out and stumbled, through the blow was dulled by the layers of his armor, and it took him only a second to recover before his sword was firm in his hands. Taking a deep breath, he lunged, driving his holy blade towards the Nazgul's throat. The wraith caught it on the haft of the hammer, pushing back, hissing at the lick of the flames. Glorfindel took a step back, careful, ever conscious of his footwork, allowing the wraith to drive him back.
But Glorfindel did not account for the broken remains of the shattered ward anchor, and just before Glorfindel's heel could brush one half of the ruined sphere, the wraith threw its weight against their joined weapons.
What would only be a stumble became a fall as Glorfindel's foot skidded and slid out from under him. He landed on the ground, catching himself on his elbows in a puddle of orc blood and gore as the wraith reeled backwards and Sauron cackled.
But Glorfindel recovered quickly, already back on his feet before the wraith could press the advantage. They start circling each other, Glorfindel on one side of Hermione's fallen body, the wraith on the other, weapons poised in the air between them. Hermione had no idea how long the exchange had taken. It seemed like years of suspense, but with how fast they both moved could have been less than thirty seconds.
Glorfindel's eyes flickered to her, his lips twitching into the shadow of a grimace. She tried to give him a sign, tried to reclaim her flesh, but she was still awash in Sauron's wrath, drowning in a tide of agony.
The wraith, perhaps thinking Glorfindel meant to take her body and run, screamed as it barreled at Glorfindel, gliding over Hermione to throw the full weight of its force against the elf.
Glorfindel's armor took the full blow as the hammer hit him just below the breastbone, but the brutal violence of the hit and the relentless driving force of the wraith's gliding jump sent Glorfindel flying back and then toppling backwards over the fallen tree the Nazgul had struck earlier in their battle.
The wraith followed, shrieking in victory as it pinned the elf to the ground. Glorfindel struggled, grasping for his sword which had clattered to the ground next to him, the fire going out. The wraith pressed the hammer to his throat, forcing his head down to the forest floor, though Glorfindel stared up at it with defiance.
Glorfindel's hand grasped at the hilt of his sword, dragging it across the ground. The Nazgul stopped him, releasing its hammer to twist its hands into Glorfindel's hair and slamming his head down with an audible smack. Glorfindel cried out, then groaned, disoriented, wincing as his head lolled to the side.
Then, to Hermione's horror, the wraith reached into its cloak with one hand and drew a Morgul blade.
She wanted to intervene. Oh how she wanted to intervene. This was enough she thought, that she might be able to fight through the pain, might be able to force herself upright, might be able to take control of her body once more.
But the Song said she must not.
The blade flashed down, the wraith driving it up to the hilt in Glorfindel's shoulder, and Glorfindel's mouth opened wide in a soundless scream, black veins of poison crawling across his neck as Hermione watched.
It is done, Sauron gloated. And your husband shall be next. And your son. Unless, of course, you wish to give yourself to me so that I might show them mercy.
Glorfindel turned his head, his eyes dazed. And yet he reached for his sword again, despite the poison working to make him a slave of the Dark Lord. Sauron didn't notice, too wrapped up in his nightmarish vision of the future.
Get the sword, Glorfindel told himself, pushing aside all else to focus on that one thing. Get the sword.
That last blow dislodged something in his head or…. is that how that worked? It was hard to think, harder still to breathe. The hammer blow he took to his breastplate surely bruised him badly, though thankfully between the lighter weight of this particular warhammer and the strength of elven armor, the metal didn't buckle. Otherwise he'd already be dead or dying. (Ignore the Morgul blade, ignore it, ignore it. He need only finish the battle quickly and then get to a healer. He will never fall to the Shadow.)
He was overconfident in this battle, thinking that after driving more than one wraith off on multiple occasions, a duel with only one of them would be simple. He forgot to account for the Dark Lord whispering in the wraith's ear now that his power was stronger. He forgot to account for his own fatigue, didn't properly mind his surroundings in his concern for Hermione and now he couldn't think, couldn't think, and oh Eru, he could feel the poison crawling up his neck to spiderweb across his face….
Get the sword.
His vision was blurry and further obscured by sweat and blood. Peering up at the wraith and then over the creature's shoulder, he squinted and could make out Thranduil as he put down the last of a host that was trying to reach Hermione, no doubt to spirit her away. There were not quite two of the Elvenking to Glorfindel's vision, and yet there was not quite one of him either. Rather there was one and a half, the one constantly lagging behind the half.
Get the sword.
Someone was shouting something but Glorfindel couldn't understand what. Everything sounded as if it was under water, a sea of meaningless sound that made Glorfindel's head throb. It was probably for the best. Glorfindel needed to focus on the wraith, to put everything else aside (the Morgul blade was still in his shoulder and he had to leave it there to avoid bleeding out, Valar save him) to avoid making even more mistakes.
Get the sword.
A ringing started in his ears, a jumble of memories and wisps of thought making him dizzy, making the gorge rise in his throat, the taste of blood on his teeth.
He couldn't fail here. Couldn't let this kingdom of elves fall as another fell, so long ago.
He resisted the urge to shake his head to clear his thoughts. What was…? Had his double vision affected his mind as well? Not one Glorfindel, not two, but one and a half with scrambled memories from both his lives.
He is following Turgon to Gondolin. No, he is finding a home in Rivendell. Did he fail Aredhel? Does Aredhel wear a crown of stars? Are these Melkor's forces that surround him now, or is it Sauron's poison in his blood? Is that a Balrog's claw in his shoulder, or a blade made to twist the best of men and elves?
Does it matter?
Does it matter?
He is Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower. Glorfindel of Gondolin. Glorfindel of Imladris.
He will fight.
Glorfindel's fingers brushed cold steel. He got his sword.
The first swing was wild, misjudged thanks to Glorfindel seeing one and a half of everything. The wraith caught Glorfindel's wrist and slammed his hand back to the ground with a roar. Pain shot up Glorfindel's arm, but he grimly maintained his grip on the hilt of his sword. The wraith lifted Glorfindel's hand and slammed it down again, using its other arm to grab up the warhammer and once more drive it into Glorfindel's neck, choking him with the pressure. Glorfindel let go of the sword to clutch at the haft of the hammer with both hands just below the head of the weapon, wheezing and coughing. His vision went grey at the edges.
And yet he could still see Princess Hermoine lying there on the forest floor. And in the distance was the silver blur of Thranduil, keeping the rest of the fighting away from them. Trusting Glorfindel to defend his only daughter.
With renewed vigor, Glorfindel bucked beneath the Nazgul, straining his muscles to dislodge the murderous fiend.
The wraith was too dedicated to Sauron's will and too solidly rooted over Glorfindel's body to be knocked aside. Glorfindel could not reach the sword again, and he was out of knives. He was choking against the hammer at his throat and fading fast to the poison in his veins. There was nothing near that he could use as a weapon. Nothing except…
Glorfindel let go of the hammer and pulled the Morgul blade from his own shoulder with a wheeze that would be a cry had he any air in his lungs. He swiped at the wraith's arms, but of course it did no true harm. Not without the holy flame.
Affronted, the Nazgul let out a screech so loud that it made Glorfindel nauseous, thanks to the concussion playing with his senses and poison seeping through his blood. But then the wraith lifted the warhammer and Glorfindel pushed through the pain, the nausea, everything to brace himself as the wraith lifted the hammer high and went for a doubled handed overhand strike that would cave Glorfindel's face in and pulp everything between his ears. Glorfindel just barely managed to cross his arms above his chest, catching the haft of the hammer just beneath the head and holding, biting is tongue with the effort of keeping the hammer at bay and almost certain that he had fractured the bones in his arms.
The wraith was silent for once as it presses down, relentless and smelling of death and disease enough to make Glorfindel's stomach roll, and Glorfindel strained against it, arms shaking, muscles screaming, pained grunts coming from his throat. Black ichor dripped from the Nazgul's face and splattered on Glorfindel's cheek, and Glorfindel gurgled as he pushed back as hard as he could and something in his bruised chest pulled in a way that made black spots dance before his vision.
My Glorfindel, sounded a voice in his head that he somehow knew belonged to one of the Valar. It was a relief to hear it. You know what to do.
Glorfindel looked over the wraith's shoulder and met the eyes of the Elvenking. Thranduil stood among elven warriors, both of Greenwood and Imladris, his hair in disarray and blood splattered across him, though Glorfindel instinctively knew that none of it was his. Next to the king was a translucent specter that only Glorfindel could see. It was Princess Hermione, her spirit shining and distinctly more than elven, watching him from outside herself even as her body lay in a pile of leaves. She smiled, and Glorfindel realized that he did know what to do, he understood, a plan unfolding even as he struggled to keep the warhammer from kissing his face.
The Nazgul broke their stalemate, raising the hammer for another two handed swing. Glorfindel did not bother to brace himself, knowing his arms did not have the strength to block another such strike. Instead he jabbed the Morgul blade still clutched in one fist into the wraith's gut and with an exertion of will and a twist of something that he supposed was magic, the vile dagger burst into holy flame. The wraith shrieked in agony and flinched back, dropping the hammer as it tried to scramble away.
Quite please with his first spell, and already feeling stronger as something within him shifted and his wounds began to heal, veins of poison receding, bones mending, flesh knitting, eyes turning as green as new leaves, Glorfindel moved, raising his newly cleansed holy dagger and shoving it up into the retreating wraith's inner thigh. Like most non-elven warriors, the wraith's thighs were unarmoured save for chainmail tassets and skirt. It traded protection for maneuverability, but speed was oft more important, not to mention there were damn few human smiths who could make a proper knee joint to connect cuisse to greaves. The chainmail did a fine enough job against blows aimed down or forwards.
Of course, Glorfindel was beneath the Nazgul and stabbing up.
The holy blade cut through the wraith's breeches as if they weren't there, sinking into the meat of its thigh and severing the big vein in the leg. A gushing geyser of black ichor erupted and the Nazgul screamed. Glorfindel twisted the knife and dragged it to the side, mangling the muscle and willing the fire to burn hotter, to seep through the Nazgul's veins as the poison of the Morgul blade had crept through Glorfindel's.
The wraith's leg gave out and it tumbled backwards, screaming and screaming and screaming until Glorfindel thought his ears would bleed. But the wraith's shouts were already dimming, its body going slack.
By the time Glorfindel managed to lever himself up into a sitting position, the wraith was dissolving into a cloud of black mist.
Thank you, came a voice on the wind, so softly that he was not sure if he truly heard it at all.
Glorfindel retrieved his holy dagger from the pile of dust the Nazgul left behind, already intent on making his way to the unconscious form of Princess Hermione. He knew somehow that if he added his power to hers she would be able to break the hold Sauron had on her and wake. Kneeling next to her, vaguely aware that Thranduil King and a contingent of elves were converging on them, he clumsily shoved his magic down his arm and into Hermione's body.
Then he toppled over sideways, his vision going black, his chest heaving, suddenly realizing that he was completely exhausted.
"Three cheers for Glorfindel the Green!"
Glorfindel expected to hit the ground, but he was caught by something softer. Deft hands lowered his head onto a muscular thigh, cool fingers stroking his hair away from his face and tracing his cheekbones.
"Rest, Glorfindel," Thranduil said. "I have you."
Glorfindel let out a long breath.
Just as he closed his eyes there was a rumble that shook all of Arda, and, far in the distance, a piercing red tower of light as Mount Doom exploded.
The remains of the dark army broke and ran.
Hermione reclaimed her physical body just as Glorfindel succumbed to slumber, the poor thing as tired as any of the newly born. The newest of the Maiar was cradled in Thranduil's lap. Her lips twitching, Hermione raised her eyes to her adar's face, but forebore to make a comment.
Instead, she turned to face the distant spectacle of Mount Doom's eruption, even as the star jewels that adorned her crown winked out one by one and fell to the ground, losing their shine as they thudded dully into the mud, now nothing more than stones. Before the eyes of those watching, all of Hermione's hair turned a steel grey, making her appear aged in a way elves rarely do, and her skin dimmed. While she had always shone with the brightness of one twice alive, a status shared only with Glorfindel, now she was no more radiant than any other of Illuviar's children. And this, more than anything else, told her that Sauron's power was truly broken and the last remnants of Mairon had passed from the world. For they were bound together, two sides of a coin, opposite and equal, and now, at journey's end, Hermione was just another elf.
She had never understood Harry more.
And yet, even when she was a mortal child, Hermione was a witch. Rising, and wincing when she tried to put weight on a leg she must have injured at some point, Hermione took a deep breath. For too long, her husband had been gone from her, so she would retrieve him and return him home for as long as she could before the Sea Calling claimed him. The war was done, but she was not. She would rebuild, and have more children, and love her husband, and see her son crowned.
"I will return soon, Ada," she said softly. "It is time I brought Legolas home again."
Thranduil, about to protest at her leaving without even stepping foot in his halls, subsided at that and returned to stroking a hand through Glorfindel's hair.
Whoever expected that? she thought to herself. She wondered what the Song would say about them, if she could still hear it. Everything was different now. It was a New Age. Perhaps elves had changed enough that her ada would find happiness again after centuries alone.
She would wait and see.
Focusing in on the bond she had with Legolas, using his spirit as a beacon to guide her, Hermione closed her eyes and pictured his handsome face.
Destination. Determination. Deliberation.
Turning on her heel, she apparated directly into her beloved's arms.
Well, here we are! This is it! Thank you to everyone who has read, and a special big thank you to everyone who has commented, good or bad. I take great pride and pleasure in knowing that whether you're just finding the story or if you've been here all along, you felt moved enough to tell me about it.
Na lu e'govaned vin.
Legolas sailed for Valinor many years before Hermione did, though she had to convince him to go in the end.
"I will be with our children," she said to him. "And you must go soon if you wish to take Gimli with you."
"But why can you not sail now? Are you not ready?" Legolas asked.
"I am waiting for something. Or the Greenwood is," Hermione mused. "I am meant to be here, to be Elvenqueen. It is time you stop fighting the Call of the Sea. You are suffering, and I cannot bear it."
Legolas kissed her, squeezing his eyes shut. "My heart shall weep until I see thee again."
Hermione stroked his hair with one hand. "Sweet waters and light laughter, my love. We will meet again on the shores of Valinor."
An age passed, then two, then three. More and more elves sailed, and the shorter lived races began to forget them. Lothlorien was no more, and the last elves of Imladris moved to the Greenwood when Rivendell's wards failed, until they too sailed. Still, Hermione waited, bidding her children and grandchildren goodbye, assuring them that she would follow when she could and giving them letters to take to Legolas.
As more and more elves sailed the centaurs and unicorns moved closer into Hermione's Halls, and Hermione welcomed their company, for she was the last. If not for her ability to speak with the trees she would have gone mad from loneliness long ago.
Then came the day that Hermione had been waiting for.
It started, as many worthwhile things did, with a hobbit. She was tall for a hobbit, and had strawberry blonde curls, an easy smile, and rosy cheeks. Like all hobbits, she was built sturdy and round and was wearing a very sensible dress with thick stockings and walking boots. She carried a staff and had a pack on her back and was singing a silly song to herself about badgers and buttercups.
But the most important thing was that when she sang, the forest sang back. This hobbit had magic.
Hermione asked the trees to tell her about the hobbit's traveling companions next. There were two dark haired Dunedain, both richly dressed. The man was tall and the image the trees sent of his face made Hermione reel, for he was almost an identical match for Estel, Hermione's sweet little Estel who had been dead for so very long. The man wore blue and carried a staff like the hobbit's, though his had a living snake wrapped around it. The woman was resplendent in green and leaning on her staff as if she did not exercise much.
The last companion was a burly dwarf with bright red hair and an intricately braided beard. He carried a staff as well, though he also had an axe strapped to his back and a sword at his waist. He was wearing well used armor beneath a rusty brown tunic that bore the device of a rearing lion.
Hermione contacted the centaurs and asked them to bring her the travelers.
"Welcome," Hermione said, poised elegantly upon her throne in a display designed to impress, "to the Halls of the Elvenqueen." She was wearing a dress of dove grey that had a pattern of a willow tree embroidered on the skirt in white thread, with real diamonds used to form the leaves. A cape made entirely of swan feathers floated around her, the train carelessly tossed over one side of the throne to trail down the steps that led up to the dais. Her crown of branches, accented with white roses that contrasted starkly with her steel grey hair, completed the picture. To those standing before her she appeared as an angel or a goddess might, her skin lit with the light of her race.
The four stood there, elf-struck, and Hermione was hard pressed not to grin.
The hobbit was the first to shake herself out of it, bobbing a polite curtsey. "Thank you kindly, your majesty. I'm Helga Hufflepuff of Huffpaddington Place. I must say this is ever so exciting! I grew up hearing tales of High Elves, but I never thought they were true!"
Hermione stood and descended the stairs of the throne dais so that she could stand before her guests, the train of her gown and cape sliding behind her in a whispering sea of silk and feathers. "You would be surprised how much truth there is in old tales, my dear hobbit. Now tell me, are you related to the Tooks in any way? You remind me of one I once knew."
Helga nodded her head enthusiastically. "Oh yes! On my father's side! There's none what actually have the name left anymore, but we hobbits are very good about keeping up with our family trees. My great great uncle was a Took, and even if the name is gone the Tookishness comes through, if you understand my meaning."
Hermione could not help but laugh, and then laugh harder at the reaction of her guests to the bell like tones of her laughter.
"And what of you, Master Dwarf? From where do you hail?"
"Begging your pardon, your majesty," he said in a bold, brash voice. "I am Prince Godric, third son of Gryffindor, King of the Hidden Mountain. I have ventured far from my homeland in search of glory and adventure, and met dear Lady Helga when she was fleeing from a pack of goblins! She's a nose for trouble, as she says, and I thought traveling with her would be just the thing for a warrior of my caliber! Those other two Big Folk just started tagging along. No idea why."
The man who looked so like Estel snorted and rolled his eyes, plainly used to the dwarf's attempts at teasing. Hermione turned her attention to him and the woman beside him.
"You are Dunedain," she said.
The woman looked surprised, her blue eyes widening, but the man merely watched Hermione, his expression wary. "We are," the man agreed. "Though few know that term anymore. Most refer to us as warlocks." He gave a bow, careful to keep his staff upright so as not to upset his snake. "I am Sal-Elessar Slytherion, and this is my cousin Rowyn the Ravencaller, both of the line of the Forgotten Kings."
Unable to stop herself Hermione reached out to touch him, only to draw back when Sal-Elessar's snake hissed at her. He offered no apology for the animal's aggressive behavior, merely watched her with calculating eyes.
"Tell me, Sal-Elessar, Rowyn, Godric, and Helga, what brings a group of such mixed company to my wood?"
"We've all got magic!" Helga blurted out before any of the others could stop her. "And that makes folks plenty nervous of us, and make no mistake."
"Aye," Godric put in. "There's been killings and burnings, and with all the fighting and running from those that hate us just because, we've barely a chance to learn more than how to make pebbles float." He gave a bloodthirsty grin. "Though that's mighty useful when you want to fight long range and you don't have a bow handy."
Rowyn was frowning and Sal-Elessar's hands tightening on his staff, both watching carefully for Hermione's reaction. Hermione did not doubt that if she showed even a hint of hostility, Sal-Elessar would not hesitate to fling his snake at her to buy he and his companions time to flee.
Hermione smiled at Helga and Godric and opened her arms wide. "Then you shall stay here, and I shall teach you all I know. The Greenwood has ever been a haven for those who truly need it, and I would have it continue to be so."
"You would teach us magic?" Rowyn burst out, her eyes alight with a passion and spark of life that had been missing until that very moment.
Sal-Elessar subtly put himself between Hermione and Rowyn. "Why?" he demanded. "Why do this for us?"
Hermione met his eyes. "Because it is the right thing to do. Because I have been waiting for you four. And because if you are truly of the line of the White Tree, then I am your many times great Grandmother."
Hermione would cherish Sal-Elessar's gobsmacked expression until the end of days.
For ten years did the Elvenqueen train the four. Godric excelled at battle magic and Rowyn at runes and arithmancy. Helga worked hard at all subjects, but was only truly good at making things grow and communing with the trees, though she cheerfully said to any that asked that being a tree-talker was plenty enough for a hobbit. Sal-Elessar's blood ran true, for he became Hermione's equal as a healer and potioneer, his facility with snakes allowing him to design rituals and spells that none but another Parselmouth would be able to replicate.
In the eleventh year of their apprenticeships the four could pass any test Hermione put to them and she knew they were ready. It was time for her to say goodbye.
Helga cried at their parting. So did Godric, the dwarf never being shy about showing his emotions. Rowyn and Sal-Elessar showed her blank faces, angry that she would leave them, but not angry enough not to see her off. Hermione understood. For Rowyn and Sal-Elessar, shunned because of their powers and their extended lifespans, Hermione was the only real parent they'd ever known.
"I have one final gift for each of you," Hermione told them, reaching into her bottomless bag.
She went to Sal-Elessar first. "Pride in your ancestors is all well and good," she told her grandson. "But do not let love of what has been overshadow what can be." She held out a golden locket. "For that which is closest to your heart."
Rowyn was next. She would not look up, so Hermione gently grasped her chin, making the woman meet her eyes. "Oh young Rowyn. You remind me so much of myself as I once was." She pulled out a mythril diadem, studded with star sapphires. "To you I say do not close yourself away in your tower and forget to live. There is more to learn than what can be found in the pages of a book. Remember that."
Hermione handed the elven coronet to Rowyn and watched the woman put it on. "I will remember, Grandmother," Rowyn promised, the sapphires and mithril shining against her black hair.
Hermione moved on to the boisterous dwarf who had entertained and frustrated her by turns in the past decade. "This may seem a paltry gift in comparison to the other two," Hermione said as she pulled out a large grey hat with a wide floppy brim. "But it was worn by one of the greatest wizards I have ever known and has been a dear keepsake to me since he passed from this world. This is the hat of Mithrandir. Wear it in good health." Bending, she pressed a kiss to the top of Godric's head before putting the hat on him, making him flush a ruddy red that clashed with his hair and beard. "Protect them," she whispered.
"Aye," Godric whispered back.
Last of all was Helga, trying to put on a brave face through her tears. For the hobbit Hermione knelt and removed her own crown. "I leave my castle to all four of you, but the forest is yours alone, Helga Hufflepuff. May your song join to those who have come before."
Hermione lowered the crown of living willow onto the hobbit's strawberry curls, watching as the branches rearranged themselves to fit on Helga's smaller head.
"I don't know that I can do this!" Helga burst out, wringing her hands. "I'm just a hobbit, and a silly one at that. And I still can't hit the broadside of a barn with a battle spell, no matter how many times Godric shows me!"
Hermione laughed and pulled the little she-hobbit into a hug. "I have every faith in you. Hobbits can do amazing things when they are determined enough. The fate of this world has rested on the shoulders of more than one hobbit, and as you can see it is still here."
With that Hermione stepped back and took the four in. Helga Hufflepuff, Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. Her students. The Founders Four.
"May the leaves of your tree never wither. May your paths always be golden. May your friendship always be true. Hold to each other, my children, for you shall not see me again."
With that final goodbye Hermione climbed into the silvery boat that would take her down the river, to the sea and beyond. She did not let herself look back, so she did not see the centaurs galloping to the river's edge, but heard the thunder of their hooves.
"Hail to the First Star of Evening! She who taught us to read the sky!" the centaur chief proclaimed. Others in the herd took up his call.
"Hail to the White Lady!"
"Hail to Stagrider!"
"Mother of Magic!"
"Hail to the elves!"
"Hail," came Godric's voice, "to a friend!"
"Hail to our mentor!" Rowyn shouted.
"Hail to her song!" Helga added.
Sal-Elessar's salute encompassed them all. "Hail to the last Elvenqueen!"
"Hail to the last Elvenqueen!" umpteen voices agreed.
Looking ahead, Hermione wondered if this was the beginning of the history of her old life, if it would all happen as it did before. Would they turn her halls into Hogwarts? Would Sal-Elessar leave them in the end? Had she gone back in time instead of into another world as she'd always thought? Was the artifact that would send her human self to the Greenwood something her elven self had made?
Or was this a new story for a new world that merely echoed the old? Perhaps Hermione's presence had made a difference. Perhaps Sal-Elessar would take her words to heart and not put so much importance on the blood of his students. Perhaps Rowyn would be the one to leave. Perhaps they would not start a school at all.
Ah well. It mattered not to her. This was their world now, to do with as they would. It was time for Hermione to let go, time for her to see her loved ones again. She tilted her face back, basking in the sun against her skin. She imagined she could already hear the sounds of sea birds calling, already smell the salt in the air. Yes, her long wait was done at last.
With no other elves there to do it for her, she raised her voice to the heavens to sing her own lament, the story of her life. The time of the Elvenqueen was over.
She was for Valinor.