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When Worlds Collide: The Plight of the One Ring Rewrite

Chapter Text

Chapter One: A Dark Corner of the Past

‘Run, Draco!’ Severus Snape snapped as he pulled the younger boy along with him.

‘Professor… I can’t…’ Draco Malfoy coughed, trying to catch his breath. The front gates of Hogwarts were so close, but he felt his body starting to drag him down.

Draco stumbled on a stone, tumbling to the ground. Snape leaned down, deflecting the spells Harry Potter, who was chasing them, was sending their way. ‘Come on! Get up!’ Snape snarled, hauling the blonde Slytherin to his feet.

Draco forced himself to run next to Snape, and eventually, the two caught a break as another Death Eater attacked Potter. ‘Stop! He belongs to the Dark Lord! We are not to touch him,' Snape instructed him, pulling Draco out the gates. ‘Come, now!’ he commanded, and with that, the Death Eaters Disapparated away from Hogwarts.

Draco gawked around the forest Snape had taken them to in uncertainty. ‘This is not-’ he started, but Snape cut him off.

‘I’m well aware, Draco,’ Snape snapped, shaking his head and sitting down wearily on the ground.

‘Sir, why did you do it?’ Draco asked Snape, wondering what was making the older man so distressed. Snape had his head in his hands, and Draco was stunned to see tears rolling down his face.

Snape didn’t answer, he barely even perceived what Draco was saying. His mind was plaguing him with images of Dumbledore’s face before he said those words. Snape knew it would haunt him forever. Eventually, he looked at Draco. ‘Whatever happens, you will be protected, Draco. For now, we must submit to the Dark Lord and do anything he asks,’ Snape told him seriously, lowering his hands.

‘The Dark Lord will likely kill me,’ Draco countered, shaking his head as the dread of what he would have to face overwhelmed him. ‘I failed,’ he whispered, annoyed at himself for not being able to kill the old man.

‘You are not a killer,’ Snape alleged, causing Draco to look up at him in anger. It was almost an echo of what Dumbledore believed.

‘I have to be!’ Draco roared, standing up and clenching his fists. ‘I have to be, or the Dark Lord will kill my mother! I can’t allow that to happen!’ he cried, glaring at Snape heatedly. Draco felt the blame would be on Snape if anything happened to his mother.

‘Your mother will be fine,’ Snape replied, shaking his head and standing. ‘Come, we must return and report back to the Dark Lord,’ he ordered, placing his hand on Draco’s shoulder.

Terror filled Draco’s eyes at the mere notion of facing the Dark Lord after failing his task. Snape sympathised with him. It was expected Draco would be facing the Cruciatus Curse upon his arrival, but he would survive.

Just like Dumbledore said he would.

oOoOo 

Severus Snape awoke with a sharp intake of breath. He scanned the area in a daze, grasping he was not on top of the Astronomy Tower with his wand pointed at Albus Dumbledore. Snape sat up, taking a deep breath to calm his nerves.

A year had passed since that night, but Snape recalled it as if it transpired only yesterday. Unyielding nightmares tormented him as his mind forced him to relive the memory every time he closed his eyes. Snape had even thought about removing the memory and storing it in a Pensieve, but that was the easy way out, and he felt he warranted the suffering which had come with his transgression.

Snape murdered Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard and man he had ever known.

Snape cursed under his breath, still unable to believe he had agreed to follow through with it. Dumbledore had been his friend, perhaps even the closest thing he had to a father, and he had saved him from a fate worse than death on many occasions.

Stupid Albus and his plans! Snape thought crossly, thumping his hand onto the ground. He hadn’t wanted to do it.

Snape stood and lit the fire which had long gone out, before glancing over at his charge, Draco Malfoy, who was fast asleep on the frosty ground within the Forbidden Forest. Snape sighed, turning his gaze back to the fire as he recollected how they came to be here; hiding away like fugitives.

It wasn’t exactly like they were on the run from the Dark Lord. On the contrary, they were supposed to be on a reconnaissance mission to watch Hogwarts and report back anything suspicious. However, Snape had elected to camp for a few days instead. Draco had objected, not wanting to be on the receiving end of the Dark Lord’s Cruciatus Curse ever again, but the ex-Potions Professor had told him not to worry. Snape would take all responsibility and penalty, and this seemed to comfort Draco, but not entirely.

Snape looked back over at Draco as he stirred and rolled over without waking. Snape frowned at him, loathing the fact that Draco had been mixed up in everything that had happened. How could the Dark Lord have expected Draco to murder Dumbledore? Even with the threat against his mother and himself, Draco was no killer. Even to this day, Draco had still not killed a single person, and Snape knew the Dark Lord was becoming impatient.

Snape had agreed to the oath with Narcissa because he wanted to protect his Godson. Now, the Dark Lord purposefully sent Draco on missions which endangered his life so he could murder an innocent and become a “real Death Eater”. Snape would need to be cautious. The Dark Lord's plan was getting close to fruition, and he had overheard him telling Lucius to kill Draco if he didn't step up soon. Snape was furious with Lucius, knowing full well he would proudly eradicate his own son for his beloved Lord.

Lucius had been disappointed in Draco, and he remembered the night he told the boy of the assignment set to him by the Dark Lord. Draco had scoffed in front of his father, assenting eagerly at the chance to prove himself and feel he was imperative to Lucius and the Dark Lord. However, once alone with time to take in the information, Snape saw the dread and fear in his eyes.

Snape observed him from afar so he could assist him if needed. Draco never requested support, and the burden on him became so much Snape speculated if he actually lost his mind by the end. Particularly when his task was upon him, and Dumbledore smiled even though he knew he was about to die. Snape saw it in his eyes, before saying the words himself, he knew Dumbledore was grateful. Snape wanted to hate the man for being so pleased to die. However, Draco could never have understood it, and Snape had never explained it.

Not yet, Snape would tell himself, knowing he would have to confront Dumbledore’s plan soon and get the wheels in motion.

When Snape had found out about the mission Draco had, he had gone straight to Dumbledore and told him everything he knew and had overheard. Dumbledore was troubled, that much was obvious, but Snape was also kept in the dark about a lot of things he disclosed to him. What was the old man hiding? What if it was something that could help us now? These were questions Snape knew he would never get an answer to.

Snape shook his head as he tried not to question Dumbledore’s motives. Dumbledore assured him this plan would work, and he had to trust him. Snape closed his eyes, recalling the reason why he ended up killing his old friend and mentor.

oOoOo

Snape settled into the seat Dumbledore conjured for him appreciatively. He pondered what Dumbledore had summoned him here for at such a late hour, but he came to the conclusion it was either about Draco or the Horcruxes, so he didn’t protest.

‘You called me, Headmaster?’ Snape questioned, observing the old man who was looking through an ancient, tattered scroll.

‘I wanted to ask how you are progressing in your search for the Horcruxes,’ Dumbledore enquired, picking up a quill and making a note on a piece of parchment in reference to something he regarded in the scroll.

Snape leaned forward in his seat. ‘Not very well, although I believe we may have miscounted how many there are,’ he replied, shaking his head apprehensively.

Dumbledore paused midway to his parchment, ink from his quill dripping onto the page. ‘What would give you that notion?’ he queried, waving his hand at the parchment to clear the ink blots. He put his quill into the inkwell and looked at Snape expectantly, giving him his full attention.

‘Well, the Dark Lord has this ring, he's obsessed with it, and it seems he also talks to it. Sometimes he just gazes at it fixated when he thinks no one's watching. His eyes are always wide, and he has a gleeful expression on his face,’ Snape responded reflectively, looking down at his hands, so he missed the flash of concern in Dumbledore's eyes. Snape looked back up at him. ‘I believe it might be another Horcrux. He constantly wears it though, so I wouldn't even know how to retrieve it from him,' Snape divulged, shaking his head again.

Dumbledore stood unexpectedly, startling Snape, and he moved towards the window, leaning on the windowsill. ‘This ring… what does it look like?’ Dumbledore enquired, reaching up and rubbing his bearded chin broodingly.

Snape frowned as he thought of the mysterious ring. ‘I managed to get a look at it when I saw him last. He requested me to apply some potion to his hand, and-’

‘Just tell me about the ring!’ Dumbledore snapped abruptly, making Snape jump and grimace at his tone.

‘It was a typical gold band, but he just gazed at it the whole time mumbling things under his breath. It was like I wasn’t there,’ Snape replied quickly, wondering why Dumbledore was suddenly so irritable.

For several moments, Dumbledore stared out the window and tension draped the room like a blanket. Finally, Dumbledore shook his head. ‘So, that was the reason, Tom. I did wonder,’ Dumbledore mumbled, lowering his head forlornly.

‘Sir? Is it a Horcrux?' Snape questioned, making Dumbledore look up as if he just remembered Snape was in the room.

‘No, Severus,’ he responded, turning to look at Snape with a sigh.

Snape frowned as he took in the grimace his old friend wore. Dumbledore looked more his age now than he ever had. ‘What is it?’ he probed, wondering if Dumbledore would tell him.

‘Some things are better left unknown, Severus,’ Dumbledore countered, eying him meaningfully.

‘You don’t trust me?’ Snape asked in astonishment.

‘I trust you implicitly, but if my suspicions are right, and things go wrong…’ Dumbledore trailed off, shaking his head at the train of his thoughts. Whatever happens, Tom must never know, he thought, closing his eyes for a moment.

Snape nodded, understanding what Dumbledore meant by that although he thought he had proven himself by now. ‘So, what does this mean? Is it going to be a problem?’ Snape questioned, thinking Dumbledore could at least answer those queries.

Dumbledore nodded to himself, a sudden melancholy in his eyes. ‘One thing I am certain of…’ he trailed off, turning to look out the window again. ‘I have to die,’ he revealed, making Snape look at him in disbelief.

‘What!?’ Snape cried, standing up and gaping at Dumbledore in alarm.

‘Yes, it’s the only way,’ Dumbledore whispered, speaking more to himself than Snape.

‘You’re going to have to enlighten me as to how you came to that conclusion,’ Snape snapped, crossing his arms and eyeing Dumbledore in incredulity.

Dumbledore moved back to his desk, picking up a gold necklace from his desk. He studied it for a moment, weaving it in his hands while being cautious not to touch the individual sections. Snape examined it for a moment, grasping it looked like a Time Turner. ‘Yes, this should work,’ Dumbledore mumbled, sitting down behind his desk.

Snape glared at him in impatience and slammed his hand on Dumbledore’s desk. ‘Headmaster!’ he barked, making the old man look up at him in surprise.

‘I apologise, Severus. My thoughts were running away with me there,’ Dumbledore explained, setting the necklace aside and looking at Snape. ‘Please take a seat,' he said, and Snape sat back down in the seat in front of the desk. ‘It's a long story, so allow me to describe the main points,' he said, receiving a nod from Snape, so he plunged on with his story. ‘I am not who you think I am,' he started, and Snape raised an eyebrow at that, but he didn’t interrupt. ‘I do not belong here. I should never have come to this time,’ Dumbledore clarified, but Snape was only more mystified at these words.

‘“This time”?’ Snape repeated, frowning at Dumbledore like he was crazy. ‘What are you talking about, Headmaster?’ Snape asked, leaning forward in his seat and regarding Dumbledore with frustration. He wished Dumbledore wasn’t so cryptic with his words.

Dumbledore exhaled loudly, and Snape sensed what the Headmaster was about to tell him was not going to be pleasant. ‘I am a Time Traveller, and with that comes the responsibility of not being seen. To meddle with time can be dangerous, and now I am faced with the consequences of a decision I made in 1899 after experimenting with this power,' Dumbledore elucidated, steeping his fingers and eyeing Snape seriously.

‘I don’t understand,’ Snape whispered, trying to recount what occurred in 1899 which involved Dumbledore. Snape thought he knew everything about everyone he had ever met, but this information about Dumbledore was new. Snape narrowed his eyes suspiciously, wondering if someone was somehow impersonating the old man.

Snape was surprised when Dumbledore chuckled darkly. ‘I am not under an Imperious Curse, Severus. I’m just an old man who was selfish. Selfish and romanced by idealistic dreams of greatness,’ Dumbledore said, tears forming in his eyes.

Snape took a deep breath. ‘Tell me, I want to know what happened,’ Snape requested, sitting back in his chair and wondering what consequences Dumbledore had caused.

‘As I mentioned I made a decision in 1899 which I now understand may have irreversible consequences to this present and my past. I was ambitious and idealistic, I was astonished I didn't end up in Slytherin,' Dumbledore paused, chuckling to himself at those words before continuing, ‘I ended up meeting a young man whom I became enamoured with. Everything about him drew me in, and I decided to stay,' Dumbledore paused again, letting his words sink in.

‘Grindelwald,’ Snape said, understanding now what Dumbledore was talking about.

‘Yes, Gellert was the reason I decided to stay in the future. I…' Dumbledore stopped himself and took a deep breath. ‘I did something terrible back then. I forced myself to fit into that time,' Dumbledore told him, and Snape could see the guilt the old man concealed.

‘What do you mean?’

Dumbledore looked out the window, refusing to meet the eyes of his Potions Professor. ‘I meddled in things I should never have and cost the life of someone who became very dear to me,’ he explained, tears appearing in his eyes again.

Snape frowned. ‘I don’t understand. What did you do, Headmaster?’ Snape asked, and part of him wished Dumbledore would just get to the point.

‘I forced myself into the Dumbledore family by placing fake memories into their minds. They considered me as part of their family, Ariana and Aberforth believed I was their brother. It’s one of the biggest deceits I have ever concocted!’ Dumbledore growled, angry at himself for the gruelling implications he forced on that family.

Snape was stunned, and he gaped at Dumbledore. Snape didn’t even know what to say to that. He couldn’t believe Dumbledore was so ruthless in his youth.

‘After Ariana died, I attempted to go back in time and prevent it from happening, but I couldn’t. Some force stopped me, and I realised it was because of the consequences of meddling with time. It was a punishment, a curse. I could no longer travel through time at will. The only way for me to go back now is if I die,’ Dumbledore clarified, his voice thick with emotion and Snape thought he might break down.

‘So, let me get this straight…’ Snape said after a moment of silence. ‘If you die, you would go back to the past? Where you came from originally?’ he asked, trying to understand what Dumbledore was trying to tell him.

‘Yes,’ Dumbledore replied, looking at Snape. ‘I am from the Third Age, and I need to return to my time, Severus,’ Dumbledore enlightened, hoping Snape would understand.

Snape took a moment to process that information which was not easy. ‘So, you want to die?’ he finally asked, looking at Dumbledore in bewilderment.

‘Yes and no,’ Dumbledore replied with a chuckle, and Snape wondered how the old man could laugh at something like that.

‘Please elaborate,’ Snape whispered, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation.

‘I cannot tell you any more than is necessary,’ Dumbledore replied, leaning back in his seat.

‘So, the point of your story was?’ Snape said snidely, glaring at Dumbledore.

‘To let you know why I have to die,’ Dumbledore answered, his lips curling into a smile. Dumbledore stood then and walked to the window, peering out through the glass at the dark grounds of Hogwarts. ‘Young Draco has a task to kill me,’ Dumbledore said abruptly, and the comment surprised Snape.

‘Yes, he does,’ Snape countered hesitantly, wondering what that had to do with anything.

‘You can’t allow him to commit the act, Severus. Young Mr Malfoy is not a killer nor should he be forced to become one,’ Dumbledore said stonily, and Snape knew his anger was directed at the Dark Lord.

‘No, he shouldn’t have to do it. I plan to put him and his mother into hiding before that,’ Snape answered, enlightening Dumbledore to his plan now they were on the subject.

‘Tom will find them,’ Dumbledore said, turning to look at him with raised eyebrows.

Snape sighed explosively and leaned back in his chair knowing Dumbledore was right. Hiding from the Dark Lord was futile. They would be found and slaughtered. Snape looked over at him. ‘What do you suggest we do?' Snape asked him.

‘You kill me.’

Snape stared at him in shock. ‘Me!?’ he exploded, standing up and clenching his fists.

‘It's the only way,' Dumbledore reasoned, shaking his head. ‘Draco will remain innocent as he should, and I return to my own time as I should. Things will be exactly as they were meant to be,' Dumbledore explained, but his response only fuelled Snape's anger.

‘What about the Order!? We need you now, most of all!’ Snape shouted, walking towards Dumbledore. ‘Why ask me to do it!?’ he added.

Dumbledore sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He turned back to the window and rested his hands on the windowsill. ‘I do not want to leave things the way they are, but the Order will go on without me. There are plenty of good wizards and witches who can keep things going,’ Dumbledore explicated, turning to look at Snape who was glaring at him. ‘I have to go back, but I need your help,’ he added, shaking his head.

Dumbledore turned towards him fully. ‘I ask you to do this because I trust you more than most, and you're still an acting Death Eater. If I were to ask someone else in the Order to do it, it would ensue chaos, and everything would be lost. The Order members would bicker and fight amongst themselves, the trust would die, and Voldemort will win,' Dumbledore explained, sighing as he looked at Fawkes who cowled softly as he looked at his master forlornly.

Snape shook his head. ‘There has to be another way! Surely, there’s a spell or some other way which could take you back. Do you have to die?’ Snape questioned, trying to think of anything that could get him out of this position.

‘Oh, there is, but it would be rather heartless of me to just disappear. No, the Wizarding World needs to know I am dead,’ Dumbledore retorted adamantly, crossing his arms. ‘I do not intend to return or meddle with Time Travel ever again. I have caused much chaos in my time by leaving and hurt too many people in this era,’ Dumbledore added sadly, looking out the window towards Gryffindor Tower. Snape realised he was including Potter as well in his last comment and actually agreed Dumbledore had made some questionable decisions concerning the boy.

Too many, in fact.

‘I… understand,’ Snape replied, defeated. He knew there was no way to talk Dumbledore out of his decision.

‘As it stands,' Dumbledore whispered, making Snape look back at him. ‘We will not win this war,' he stated, and Snape frowned at him, waiting for Dumbledore to explain. ‘Voldemort's army is increasing rapidly, and we have already lost so many to this cause. More are dying as we speak, and if we were to attack him it would be suicide,' he explained, pacing in front of the window. ‘We don't have a large enough force to fend him off, and Harry is not ready to fight him. So far, only two of the seven Horcruxes have been destroyed, and until they are all found, Voldemort cannot be killed,' Dumbledore told him to which Snape nodded broodingly.

‘Have you discovered any more?’ Snape asked curiously, wanting to get away from the morbid task he had been given and get back to the original reason why he was summoned here.

‘I have an idea as to where one of them is. I plan to take Harry along with me to get it,’ Dumbledore told him, receiving an absent nod. Dumbledore observed the strain on Snape’s face and took hold of his shoulders, making the Potions Master look up at him. ‘You should feel no guilt, Severus. Do not think of it as killing me, but doing me a favour,’ Dumbledore told him, hoping to ease the worry in Snape’s mind.

‘Do you really think we can’t win? You would leave us to that fate?’ Snape asked him, shaking his head.

Dumbledore sighed and moved away from Snape to sit behind his desk. He gestured to the chair, and Snape sat down. ‘No, I have a plan,' he replied, pulling a fresh roll of parchment towards him. Snape watched him write out a lengthy letter, sanding it, and placing it in an envelope. He picked up the necklace and put it in the envelope, before closing it with the Hogwarts seal firmly in place. Dumbledore pushed the letter towards him.

Snape looked at it interestedly but made no move to pick it up. He glanced up at Dumbledore with raised eyebrows. ‘A letter will save us?’ he asked, his lips curling slightly at his poor attempt at humour.

Dumbledore chuckled. ‘No, Severus, but there are instructions within this letter. I need you to deliver it,’ he told him, steeping his fingers.

‘When? And to whom?’ Snape asked, picking up the letter and wondering what was written on the sheets within.

‘Mr Draco Malfoy and Miss Hermione Granger,’ Dumbledore answered, his eyes twinkling as he looked at Snape over his half-moon spectacles.

Snape actually laughed out loud. ‘Those are names I never expected to hear in the same sentence,' he said, shaking his head in amusement. Snape sobered up after a moment, remembering the gravity of the situation. ‘What about Potter and Weasley?' he enquired, realising Dumbledore had failed to mention them.

‘They each have their own parts to play,’ Dumbledore said cryptically, and Snape doubted if he would ever find out what those parts were.

‘Yes, sir,’ Snape mumbled, stowing the letter in his cloak for safe-keeping.

‘That letter will explain everything to them. Make sure they get it,' Dumbledore requested, and Snape nodded.

‘Is there anything I need to know about this letter? After I… well, I doubt Miss Granger will appreciate the delivery from me,’ Snape supposed miserably, lowering his eyes to the ground.

‘She will if you show her your memory of this conversation,’ Dumbledore told him, and Snape nodded.

‘And when should I-’ Snape cut himself off, not wanting to say the words.

‘When Mr Malfoy puts his plan into motion,’ Dumbledore told him, and Snape nodded.

‘Yes, sir,’ he answered miserably, slumping in his chair as he tried not to think about his impending task.

‘Now, I need you to follow my instructions exactly as I tell you to. Do not waver or make any alterations. Do not question them,’ Dumbledore warned him, looking at him seriously over his half-moon spectacles. ‘If you do, I do not want to fathom the result as it may not be favourable,’ he explained, exhaling loudly.

Snape frowned in worry, hoping he was up to the task. With each word Dumbledore told him, his eyes widened in disbelief, but he took it all in and vowed to follow the commands to the letter…

oOoOo

Snape opened his eyes and sighed, the memory was still so fresh. He had gone through so many scenarios of how he would get Granger to listen to him. He hadn’t even given the letter to Draco knowing it was addressed to him as well. Snape deduced that whatever Dumbledore had written was for both of them to read and understand together.

Snape shook his head, wondering what on earth could have happened to throw Granger and Draco together, but he didn’t want to question Dumbledore. The old man may have been missing a screw or two, but he wasn’t stupid.

Snape reached into his pocket, pulling out the crumpled letter he had held for over a year now. He had always assumed only Granger and Draco could open it, so he never bothered to try in case Dumbledore placed a nasty jinx on it to ward off prying eyes.

Snape heard an explosion off in the distance and jumped to his feet. Draco stirred and sat up in panic. ‘What was that!?’ Draco yelled, getting to his feet.

‘It’s begun,’ Snape countered, grabbing Draco’s shoulder. ‘We need to move,’ he said, and Draco started gathering his things hastily, shoving them into his satchel.

The two ran towards Hogwarts hoping no one would spot them making their way to the front gates. As they reached the treeline, Snape looked up at the sky towards Hogsmeade Village where smoke could be seen covering the area.

Hogsmeade was burning.

Snape pulled Draco along behind him as they skirted Hagrid’s hut and used the sparse trees by the Black Lake as cover. They made it to the front gate and escaped quickly. From this vantage, Snape could see the entire village was engulfed in flames, and he swallowed thickly.

The war had begun, and Snape knew this was the prelude to the final battle. Voldemort was ready to take his fight to Hogwarts.

A single tear rolled down his cheek, falling to the ground.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Our Solemn Hour

‘You have to!’

‘I can’t do that!?’

‘You have to! You have to protect him! You promised!’

‘Narcissa…’

Narcissa collapsed to her knees, tears streaming from her eyes. Snape pulled her into his arms, trying to calm her. The two of them were in the Forbidden Forest, away from all the fighting at Hogwarts.

‘Please,’ Narcissa implored, clutching onto Snape’s cloak.

‘But, you’ll…’ Snape cut himself off, not wanting to finish the sentence.

‘I know, but he’ll live,’ Narcissa countered, pulling away and placing a shaking hand to his cheek. ‘Do this one last favour for me, Severus,’ she entreated, looking into Snape’s eyes.

Snape was hesitant, but he knew Narcissa had made her decision. ‘Alright, stay here where it’s safe, I’ll be back,’ he whispered, standing up and running through the trees away from Hogwarts, Narcissa’s anguished cries echoing in his mind.

oOoOo 

Draco Malfoy poked the fire with a stick, listening to the explosions in the distance. He loathed the idea of hiding in the Forbidden Forest alone, but Voldemort and his father were after him. He had forsaken his calling as a Death Eater, and now there was no going back.

Draco feared for his mother, knowing Lucius would kill her as well as soon as he saw her. He looked up, gazing around sharply as he heard rustling and stood, his wand pointed towards where it was coming from.

Draco lowered his wand when he grasped it was Snape. ‘Bloody hell, you almost gave me a heart attack!’ Draco barked, stowing his wand away. He looked behind Snape, noticing he was alone. ‘Where’s mother?’ he asked worriedly, dreading something had happened to her.

‘She’s safe, for the moment,’ Snape answered, moving towards Draco and pulling out a knife.

‘Whoa, wait a minute-’ Draco was cut off as Snape grabbed his head and cut off a lock of his hair.

‘There’s no time,’ Snape countered, popping the hair into a flask of potion he pulled out from his robes.

‘My hair! What the hell, Snape!?’ Draco seethed, reaching up and running his hands over his hair. ‘Is that Polyjuice Potion? What are you going to do with that?’ Draco questioned, looking at Snape with wide eyes.

‘I can’t explain now,’ Snape replied, placing a hand on his shoulder. ‘You will be safe. Stay here and douse that fire. We don’t want the Dark Lord finding you in here,’ he told him, turning and walking away.

‘Wait, why would the Dark Lord come in here?’ Draco asked, grabbing hold of his cloak.

‘He believes Potter will sacrifice himself to save his friends, so no doubt the Forbidden Forest is where he will meet him,’ Snape responded, shaking his head. ‘I need to get back before he realises I’m missing,’ he whispered, swiftly walking away without a backward glance.

Draco swallowed hard as he tried to process the information he had just learned. Saint Potter would do the courageous thing to protect those he loved. Draco clenched his fists and looked into the trees.

Maybe I could do the same…

oOoOo

Snape ran through the woods as if a dragon were chasing him. Finally, he found Narcissa and handed her the potion. Narcissa drank it, and after a few moments, he was looking at Draco. Snape exhaled and took the flask from her, stowing it away in his cloak.

‘How long?’ Narcissa asked, but it was Draco’s voice he heard.

‘An hour at most,’ Snape answered softly, reaching out and touching her shoulder. ‘You don’t need to do this… there has to be another way,’ he said urgently, trying to rack his mind for anything he could think of that would get them out of this situation.

‘It’s the only way…’

Snape closed his eyes as Dumbledore’s words echoed in his mind as Narcissa said them. She watched him with sorrowful eyes. ‘You have been a good, loyal friend, Severus. You know what you need to do. Dumbledore had a worthy reason to trust you. He knew you would do whatever is necessary to make sure his plan doesn’t fail,’ Narcissa told him, reaching up and cupping his cheek. ‘You will not fail,’ she told him resolutely and stepped into his arms, holding him tightly. ‘Protect him for me,’ she whispered, tears falling from her eyes.

‘I will,’ Snape vowed, closing his eyes as tears stung his own eyes.

The two of them looked up as Voldemort’s voice penetrated the air, reverberating around them. ‘You have fought valiantly… but in vain. I do not wish this. Every drop of magical blood spilt is a terrible waste. I, therefore, command my forces to retreat. In their absence, dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured,’ Voldemort instructed.

Snape grimaced, wondering what Voldemort was planning. He knew fine well this had to be a ruse. Voldemort was not merciful, he was ruthless. All he wanted was to destroy the world and take his war to the Muggles. How he intended to do that was still a mystery to Snape. It was a massive undertaking, and incredibly stupid in Snape's opinion.

Snape pushed his thoughts to the side as Voldemort continued, ‘Harry Potter, I speak now directly to you. On this night you have allowed your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. There is no greater dishonour. I ask you to join me in the Forbidden Forest and confront your fate. Should you do so, I give my word that no other life will be lost on this night. You have one hour. If at the end of that time, you have not given yourself up, then I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who tries to conceal you from me,' Voldemort's disembodied voice faded, and there was an eerie silence that followed.

Narcissa let out a shaky breath. ‘It’s time,’ she whispered, looking at Snape.

‘Yes, it is,’ Snape supposed dejectedly, reaching over and taking her hands. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered, before pointing his wand at her. ‘Incarcerous!’ he cried, watching as ropes wound their way around Narcissa securely.

Narcissa smiled at him. ‘Don’t be,’ she whispered, letting Snape guide her through the forest.

oOoOo 

Harry leaned heavily against the wall, thinking about what Voldemort had now demanded. Hermione and Ron observed him with pained expressions, not sure how to console their friend.

One hour.

‘I have to go. I can’t ignore him again,’ Harry said resolutely after a moment, before marching very quickly towards the marble staircase leading to the main doors.

‘What? No, Harry!’ Hermione yelled after him, and the two ran after him.

Ron grasped his shoulder. ‘Are you barmy, mate?’ he asked, looking at his friend.

‘I can’t let him hurt anyone else,’ Harry said unwaveringly, clutching Ron’s shoulders. ‘I have to end this now,’ he argued, moving past Ron towards the doors.

Harry froze as McGonagall came in carrying a large stretcher with Lupin and Tonks lying on it, their blood-stained fingers entwined even in death. Harry felt tears sting his eyes and tried to move forward, but an agonised cry from the Great Hall stopped him. Ron frowned, identifying it to be his mother’s voice, and ran towards the hall. Hermione followed him, and Harry managed to force himself towards the door, but he couldn’t enter.

Harry stood in the doorway, taking in the dead bodies laid out in the middle of the Great Hall. A heart-breaking cry drew his gaze to George, who was kneeling over a familiar body, tears dripping from his eyes. Hermione moved over to Ginny, embracing the girl while Ron jogged over to George. Ron draped his arm over George, drawing his brother into a loose embrace, and Harry recognised the body to be Fred.

Harry couldn’t take it, he staggered backwards and sprinted away from the Great Hall and out the main doors, the crisp cold air hitting him. ‘Harry!’ came a shout from behind him as Ron and Hermione caught up with him. ‘Don’t do this!’ Ron shouted, moving to block Harry from continuing.

‘You have to destroy the Horcruxes. Only then can he be killed,’ Harry told them, shaking his head. ‘It’s ironic, really. I figured out why I am connected to him. I can feel it… him,’ Harry whispered, reaching up and touching his chest. ‘I think I knew, deep down,’ Harry said, looking up at Hermione. ‘I think you’ve known for a while, too,’ he said to her, seeing her expression crumble.

‘We’ll go with you!’ Hermione cried, tears falling from her eyes. ‘I’ll…’ she trailed off, wavering desperately as more tears spilt over, tracing her cheeks.

Harry reached out, wiping them away. ‘Destroy Hufflepuffs Cup, Ravenclaws Diadem, and kill that damn snake. Once that’s done it’ll just be him, and I won’t be needed for that. It will be all over,’ Harry told them, turning away and leaving them.

Ron and Hermione stood mutely, watching every step he took until he disappeared down towards the Forbidden Forest. ‘The Basilisk Fangs,’ Ron whispered, his voice shaking, and Hermione looked up at him.

‘What?’ Hermione questioned, not understanding.

‘That’s the key to destroying the Horcruxes,’ Ron replied, looking at her and grabbing her arm. ‘Come on, there isn't much time!' and with that, the two hurried back into the castle.

oOoOo 

Harry felt like a prisoner walking to the gallows. He reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest and looked into the depths. Dementors were drifting within the trees, and Harry felt a prickle of dread.

Harry moved to enter the forest, but something made him pause. He reached into his pocket and removed the snitch, realising it was fluttering and very warm to the touch. He frowned and eyed the words etched upon it which he had tried to comprehend since he got it. ‘I open at the close,’ Harry mumbled with a frown before closing his eyes and bringing the metal orb to his lips.

After a few moments, Harry’s fingers trembled, and he lowered his hand, watching as the metal shell fell away to reveal a stone. A jagged crack ran down its centre, along the line representing the Elder Wand. The triangle and circle, signifying the Cloak and Stone, were faintly discernible. Harry ogled at it, scarcely believing what he was seeing and rolled it over in his hand.

‘So, it was in there all along,’ Harry whispered, tightening his grip on the stone. ‘You really did think of everything, Professor,’ he uttered and steeled his nerves. Harry looked back, taking one last look at Hogwarts in the distance before setting off into the trees.

Dozens of Dementors coasted amongst the smouldering trees, but they didn’t seem to be concerned with him which was a relief. Harry didn’t want to give himself away just yet by casting a Patronus to get rid of them. Harry strode on, his legs driving him and carrying him onward to his fate, but he no longer feared what was to come.

A light splintered the trees ahead, and Harry could make out a clearing. A large bonfire had been put together by the throngs of Death Eaters assembled. Voldemort was walking around the fire, the Elder Wand clutched steadfastly in his hands.

Just to the side of where Voldemort was pacing, a body lay on the ground. Harry squinted, trying to see who it was, but he couldn’t quite make them out. He hoped Voldemort had kept his side of this short truce and not murdered someone from their side. Although, Harry also wouldn’t be shocked if he did.

Harry took a deep breath and stepped forward towards him…

oOoOo

Draco moved as silently as possible through the trees, trying to locate the source of the voices he could just make out. As they got louder, he disillusioned himself and cast a charm to quieten his footsteps. Draco hid in some bushes, peering over them and took in a shaky breath as he grasped it was Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

Voldemort was pacing around a large bonfire, while he waited for Potter to appear no doubt. Draco had heard Voldemort’s voice reverberating throughout the trees and wondered if Potter really would turn up. Draco gasped as Snape emerged into the clearing dragging someone behind him, and he realised he was looking at himself.

‘No,’ Draco hissed, understanding what the Polyjuice had been for. Why hadn’t Snape told him! He knew just from observing the clearing that the individual impersonating him was his mother. She’ll be killed! What is she thinking!? He screamed in his mind, but he knew he couldn’t do anything to prevent what was about to transpire.

‘My Lord, I found him wandering through the forest towards the castle. I suspect Mr Malfoy was trying to help those blood-traitors,’ Snape spat, pulling on the rope so hard the fake-Draco fell to his knees in front of him.

‘Lucius,’ Voldemort hissed, not taking his eyes off the terrified expression on the fake-Draco’s face.

‘Yes, my Lord,’ Lucius replied, coming to stand next to him. He pointed his wand at the fake-Draco. ‘I am disappointed in you Draco, and your mother will receive the same fate once she has been found,’ Lucius declared, moving towards fake-Draco and clutching his chin roughly.

‘I hate you,’ fake-Draco spat, and the anger Draco could see was genuine. His mother really did loathe Lucius after everything he had done to them. She had undoubtedly wanted to say it for years but didn't want to be on the receiving end of a thrashing from Lucius. Everything Narcissa did was to protect Draco, and he knew that even as he watched her now, pretending to be him so Voldemort would think he was dead.

Draco wanted to rush forward and shake his mother’s shoulders furiously, but then they would both be dead. His mother wanted him to live, to help Potter succeed. Draco surfacing after he’s seemingly been executed would stump the Dark Lord, hopefully, long enough for Potter to eradicate him.

‘Impudence!’ Snape sneered, smacking fake-Draco across the face. Draco made a mental note to beat the hell out of Snape later for daring to hit his mother. Draco understood this was a charade, but he was still pissed. Draco had to hand it to Snape though, his acting skills were remarkable.

‘Severus, step away from the boy. I believe his father should be the one to discipline him,’ Voldemort bade silkily, gesturing out his arm in welcome as Snape came to his side.

‘I apologise, my Lord,’ Snape fawned, kneeling down and kissing the bottom of Voldemort’s robes. Draco shuddered at the sight.

‘I understand, Severus, but I have something else for you to do,’ Voldemort told him, and Snape looked up at him.

‘Anything, my Lord,’ Snape said making Draco want to gag at his display of affection for Voldemort.

‘I believe Harry knows my secret. He would have sent his little friends to… deter me,’ Voldemort whispered cryptically as most of the Death Eaters didn’t know about his Horcruxes. ‘Exterminate them,’ he commanded, and Snape nodded.

‘At once, my Lord,' Snape replied and hurried away from the clearing. His throat constricted painfully as he heard the tortured screams of Narcissa, but he had to press on. Voldemort had given him the excuse he needed to get away from him and find Weasley and Granger. Dumbledore was right… and now the chess pieces were getting ready to make their move, and Voldemort would be powerless to prevent it.

Draco watched Snape run away into the woods, and he had half a mind to follow him, but the sound of his mother’s distressed shrieks immobilised him. All he could do was stare as his mother writhed on the ground. Draco felt sick viewing his body heave and convulse as the Cruciatus Curse ripped through his mother. Draco clenched his fists so tightly, blood trickled down his palms where his nails penetrated his skin.

A flash of green light lit the area, and when Draco pulled his arm away from his eyes to stop himself from being blinded, he saw himself lying dead on the ground. Fake-Draco's eyes were open, the same agonised expression frozen on his face. Draco looked away, his body shaking violently. He had to get away, but he couldn’t move. Draco tried to take a deep breath and used a silencing charm on himself so his position wouldn’t be given away. He let out silent screams, which became murderous promises of vengeance as Lucius picked up Fake-Draco, his mother, and threw her into the fire.

‘Such a pity,’ Voldemort alleged as he watched, shaking his head forlornly. ‘Such a talented young man and a shame pure magical blood was lost,’ Voldemort whispered with a sigh, and Draco really wished he could punch him in his obnoxious, snake face…

oOoOo 

Snape rushed out of the Forbidden Forest and shifted into a bat, flying towards one of the shattered windows in the castle. When he reached the girl's lavatory on the second floor, he changed back into himself and ran through the door.

Snape reached into his pocket and pulled out a potion, downing it hastily before looking at where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was. Snape pointed his wand towards the sink, and when he spoke a hiss came from his mouth instead. The portal opened, and Snape turned back into a bat so he could traverse the labyrinth quickly, stopping only to open the other doors to the Chamber.

Snape flew towards the statue of Salazar Slytherin and landed as himself next to the body of the Basilisk. Dumbledore had told him that Potter managed to demolish the Diary with the fang of a Basilisk and he had come to the deduction that this was the key to destroying the Horcruxes.

Snape waved his wand, and the Basilisk Fangs dislodged and flew towards him. He stowed them in a black leather bag, which he hid in his cloak carefully. He turned back into a bat and flew back out through the chamber, and landed as himself on the bathroom floor. Snape looked at the entrance and hissed again, making it close upon itself again.

Snape reached into his pocket to get the counter-potion, but voices outside the bathroom stopped him, and he moved into a cubicle swiftly as the door opened. Snape peered around the corner to see Weasley and Granger walking towards the entrance. So, they figured it out as well, Snape thought, almost proud of them. He downed the counter-potion, shivering in disgust at the taste, before stowing it back in his cloak.

‘We have to hurry, we’ve already wasted so much time!’ Hermione shouted, looking at the tap faucets.

Ron frowned at her, crossing his arms. ‘I’m not a Parselmouth, Hermione. I don’t even know if this will work. I said we need the Basilisk Fangs, but I didn’t say how we would get to them. There must be another way in,’ Ron stated, shaking his head.

‘Harry could be dead, Ron! Just try imitating the noises or something,’ Hermione cried as she started to panic.

‘Calm down,’ Ron whispered, moving towards her and wrapping his arms around her. ‘That was years ago, I don’t remember what Harry did or how to imitate it,’ he replied, looking down and wiping the tears from Hermione’s face.

‘Then it’s all for nothing,’ Hermione believed, shaking her head.

Snape decided to end this heart-warming show of friendship and pointed his wand at them. Wordlessly, both of their wands shot from their hands into his waiting one. The two spun around. ‘Snape,’ Ron growled, clenching his fists.

‘I apologise for interrupting your sickening display of affection, but you were wasting time,’ Snape declared, walking out of the cubicle with his wand pointed at them. ‘Looking for these?’ he imparted, pulling out a Basilisk Fang and waving it at them.

Ron and Hermione’s faces fell as they looked at the fang in his hand. ‘Sorry, Harry,’ Ron whispered, comprehending they had botched their last mission for him. Tears filled Ron's eyes, and he slammed his palm against the sink.

‘Potter is not dead yet. If he were, you would hear the cheers from here,' Snape revealed in boredom, looking at the two of them. ‘No, there is still time. I need you both to shut up and do precisely as I tell you,’ Snape ordered, but the two looked at him in scepticism.

‘We’d rather die than do anything for you! You murdered Professor Dumbledore! You may as well kill us too!’ Ron roared, feeling Hermione grab his arm painfully, but he didn’t push her back even when her nails dug in.

‘I have no intention of killing you,’ Snape countered, pulling out a stone from his pocket, placing it on the floor and pointing his wand at it. Hermione and Ron watched as a Pensieve now stood in place of the stone. Snape pulled a flask from his pocket, and they watched him pour the silver memories into the Pensieve. ‘Look,' he ordered, gesturing to the Pensieve. ‘Now!' Snape barked, and the two jumped before moving towards the Pensieve.

Snape waited while the two dipped their faces into the Pensieve. He picked imaginary lint from his cloak as the minutes ticked by. Finally, the two emerged and looked at him with shocked eyes. ‘Now, you know,’ Snape told them, receiving numb nods in return.

‘So, you’re helping us?’ Ron questioned in bewilderment.

Snape nodded. ‘You’ll need these,’ he said, handing Hermione a bag with the Basilisk Fangs in them. ‘And these,’ he added, handing their wands back to them. ‘Destroy the Horcruxes, and meet me at the edge of the Forbidden Forest,’ Snape ordered them, before going through the door and turning back into a bat.

Ron and Hermione looked at each other in disbelief. Ron reached over and took the bag from her. ‘How do you suppose he managed to get into the Chamber of Secrets?’ Ron questioned, glancing back at the sink which looked like it hadn’t been touched in years.

‘Who knows, but we have them,’ Hermione said, pulling out the two Horcruxes from her bag. They took a fang each and nodded to each other before stabbing them into the trinkets. The two separate soul pieces flew out of the Horcruxes with pained screeches and the two Gryffindors covered their ears. They ducked as they flew out the door and dissipated into nothing.

In the Forbidden Forest clearing, Voldemort shrieked in agony…

oOoOo

Harry tried not to yelp when his scar burned, and he clutched his head. Through dazed eyes, he observed Voldemort almost fall over clutching his chest. A small smile appeared at the corners of his lips as he grasped Hermione and Ron must have found a way to destroy the Horcruxes. The sting alleviated, and Harry took a breath in relief.

Harry looked back at Voldemort who was breathing heavily and caught the glint of a gold ring on the middle finger of his left hand. Harry stared at the ring, feeling almost like he was going into a trance…

‘My Lord,’ Bellatrix cried, moving towards Voldemort but he pushed her away.

This snapped Harry's attention back to what was happening, and he shook off his dazed feeling. He frowned, wondering where the ring came from. Harry could have sworn the ring was almost… speaking to him. It was unnerving, and he shook it off believing it had to be a figment of his imagination.

‘Don’t touch me!’ Voldemort barked, getting to his feet.

The light from the fire flickered over the faces of the Death Eaters making them look ominous. Harry didn’t think it was fair that Voldemort had all his followers present while he had no one. A noise from the side caught Harry's attention, and he realised Hagrid was in their custody.

Resentment flowed through Harry at the sight of his friend in chains. He scowled at Voldemort who was standing with his head bowed, and his skeletal hands folded over the Elder Wand. Harry looked down, seeing Nagini lying in a heavy coil at his feet. He wanted to reach for his wand and kill the blasted thing, but he knew it would be fruitless.

Harry ducked as Yaxley entered the clearing. ‘No sign of him, my Lord,’ he notified Voldemort, bowing his head.

Voldemort nodded slowly, staring into the fire. ‘I thought he would come,’ he whispered, shaking his head and turning away. ‘I was, it seems… mistaken,' he murmured and started walking away.

Unable to wait any longer, Harry emerged from the trees. ‘You weren’t,’ he declared boldly, coming to a stop at the edge of the clearing as all eyes shifted to stare at him.

Hagrid wrestled against his captors. ‘HARRY! NO! WHAT’RE YEH DOIN’ ‘ERE!?’ he howled.

Yaxley pointed his wand at him. ‘Quiet!’ he demanded and flicked his wand. Hagrid slumped and fell silent.

Harry glared at Voldemort furiously as he prayed Hagrid would be okay. He squeezed the stone in his hand for a moment, before letting it tumble from his fingers. He just hoped Voldemort wouldn’t notice. Taking a deep breath, Harry stepped forwards into the firelight.

A cackling laugh rose on the air, and Harry turned to see Bellatrix glancing eagerly from him to Voldemort. He turned away from her as Voldemort took a step forward and the flickering flames washed over his pale skin. Voldemort tilted his head to the side, a smile curling on his mouth. ‘Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived,’ Voldemort paused, tilting his head to the other side. ‘Come to die,’ he whispered, as Nagini hissed behind her protective guard of Death Eaters.

oOoOo 

Snape rushed through the trees, coming to a stop behind the one Harry had hidden behind earlier. He looked into the clearing to see Harry facing Voldemort. Snape took a breath before skirting the trees. He needed to hurry.

Snape managed to get behind the Death Eaters protecting Nagini and raised his wand at them. Wordlessly, he fired several spells which froze them in place. He disillusioned himself and snuck towards Nagini with one of the Basilisk Fangs. Snape lifted it high above his head and stabbed it down into Nagini. She let out several strangled hisses before falling to the ground dead.

Voldemort let out a shriek of pain which echoed through the woods as Snape hastily retreated through the trees. He stopped and looked back when he felt he was a safe distance away…

‘Checkmate…’ Snape muttered, shaking his head as he caught his breath. ‘It’s up to you now, Albus,’ Snape whispered, closing his eyes.

oOoOo 

Harry gasped as his scar seared and Voldemort screamed in agony, grabbing at his chest again. Harry glanced behind him in bewilderment to see a dark soul fragment materialise from the lifeless body of Nagini. Voldemort twisted around, looking at Nagini’s body before turning fuming red eyes back on Harry. ‘You!' he seethed, raising his wand at Harry.

Harry stood his ground waiting and knowing what was about to happen. He didn’t falter as a beam of green light shattered the night and sped towards him, engulfing him and then…

Nothing.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: The Illusion of Progress

A bright white mist swathed the area as Harry lay face down on the ground. Finally, he stirred and sat up, touching his face. His glasses were absent, and he peered into the mist, but he couldn’t see anything. Harry frowned as he heard a faint thumping somewhere out there, in the mist.

Harry stood and looked up, seeing a domed glass roof suspended above him which looked oddly familiar. The thumping persisted, intimidating, and Harry squinted into the mist as he walked through it. The thumping grew louder until up ahead a small mass quivered making Harry recoil. A thing, like a small naked child, lay shuddering on the ground. Its skin was raw and rough, and Harry leaned close to it.

‘You cannot help,' came a familiar voice and Harry spun around to find Dumbledore standing within the mist. Dumbledore beamed at him, spreading his arms wide and Harry noticed his hand was whole and no longer damaged. Harry ran to him, and Dumbledore encircled him in a hug. ‘Harry. You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man,' Dumbledore said, tightening his arms around the younger man. He pulled back and smiled down at him. ‘Let us walk,' he suggested, and the two started wandering through the mist leisurely.

After a few moments of silence, Harry looked up at his old Headmaster. ‘Sir, this… is this… I mean, forgive me, but you are dead, aren’t you?’ he faltered, not wanting to offend Dumbledore.

‘No, Harry, but to the Wizarding World I am dead,’ Dumbledore countered cryptically, making Harry frown at him.

‘Sir?’ Harry enquired, deliberating on what Dumbledore meant by that. ‘Am I dead?’ he asked, glancing at him.

Dumbledore smiled. ‘Ah, that is the question, isn’t it?’ he disputed, eyeing Harry over his half-moon spectacles. ‘On the whole, I think not,’ he finally replied with a snicker.

Harry glanced up at him in uncertainty. ‘Not?’ he queried, his frown deepening.

‘Not,’ Dumbledore confirmed, beaming down at Harry.

Harry looked back at him in bewilderment. ‘But, I didn’t defend myself. I let him kill me,’ he stated, shaking his head.

‘And that will, I think, have made all the difference,’ Dumbledore contradicted, looking down at Harry with twinkling eyes. ‘I suspect you now realise that you and Tom have been connected by something other than fate since that night in Godric’s Hollow all those years ago, Harry,’ Dumbledore said earnestly.

Harry nodded. ‘I was right then. A part of his soul does live in me, doesn’t it?’ he answered, looking up at Dumbledore for confirmation.

‘Did,' Dumbledore said with a nod, glancing sideways at him. ‘It was just destroyed only moments ago by none other than Tom himself,' Dumbledore elucidated as Harry moved his fingers over his sternum. ‘You were the seventh Horcrux, Harry. The Horcrux he never meant to make,' Dumbledore clarified with a sigh.

‘And you knew this? That’s why you were certain I wouldn’t die?’ Harry questioned, stopping and turning to face him.

‘I wasn’t just certain, Harry, I knew you wouldn’t die,’ Dumbledore responded, looking back at Harry with a smile.

‘How did you know?’ Harry asked him dubiously and ran his fingers through his hair.

‘I am a Time Traveller, and I've come from the Third Age, Harry. I saw what would happen and I knew how to prevent it,' Dumbledore clarified, and Harry gaped at him, wondering if the old man really had utterly lost his marbles.

‘Sir, forgive me, but I’m not sure I quite understand what you mean,’ Harry said, shaking his head as he tried to process Dumbledore’s words.

‘Tom’s Horcruxes may have all been destroyed, but he had one more trick up his sleeve, Harry,’ Dumbledore said, shaking his head. ‘It was something I never even fathomed until Severus tipped me off,’ he answered, looking off into the distance.

‘Snape?’ Harry probed with a frown, marvelling how Dumbledore could still have confidence the man after he deceived him. ‘But, Snape murdered you! I saw it! How could you still trust him after that?’ Harry questioned, asserting his thoughts and gaping at Dumbledore in confusion, expecting he had a damn good reason.

‘Severus was not a traitor, Harry. On the contrary, he’s the reason Tom’s Horcruxes are now just memories,’ Dumbledore answered, his blue eyes twinkling. Dumbledore placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘Severus enlightened me to a rather… peculiar object in Tom’s possession. Something which I overlooked,’ Dumbledore advised cryptically, looking away thoughtfully.

Harry frowned in thought, wondering what Dumbledore was talking about. Suddenly, the ring he had seen on Voldemort’s finger came to mind. ‘Sir, Voldemort was wearing a ring,’ Harry told him.

‘Ah, you saw that did you,' Dumbledore stated with a sigh, gesturing for them to keep walking. ‘Harry, Tom was not always as he is now. As you know, he was a student at Hogwarts, and you'll be astonished to hear he was very much like yourself,’ Dumbledore told him, making Harry look at him in disbelief.

‘Like me, how?’ Harry asked, trying to imagine Tom Riddle as anything but evil.

Dumbledore chuckled. ‘Tom was a decent student. He was quiet but intelligent and resourceful. He was good-natured and a delight to teach,’ Dumbledore told him, and Harry gawked at him in shock.

‘What? Seriously?’ Harry enquired, wondering if this was really Dumbledore he was walking next to considering as he had literally just labelled Tom Riddle as the perfect student.

‘Oh, yes,’ Dumbledore countered, eyeing Harry seriously. ‘Tom had a lot of potential, but then something I never predicted transpired,’ Dumbledore paused, shaking his head forlornly. ‘I suspect Tom found a ring and has possessed it since, or rather, it has possessed him since. If I am correct in my theory, Tom Riddle was controlled by a malevolent spirit lingering in that ring. A malicious spirit many in my time tried to destroy altogether,’ Dumbledore explained despondently.

‘Sir, what is that ring? It sounds like a Horcrux,' Harry replied, speculating if someone else had made a Horcrux and manipulated people with it. ‘Does that mean Voldemort is under a spell like the Imperious Curse?’ he queried, unable to stop the flow of questions entering his mind rapidly.

Dumbledore nodded. ‘You could say the ring is a Horcrux in a way. In all honesty, I never even thought of that. It belonged to a Dark Lord of my time and, with it. Middle-Earth was completely razed, and his followers were all that remained. I left believing all hope was lost and came to this time. I let my own selfish motivations get in the way of aiding those who needed me back then and instead of gaining allies to help them, I chose to stay here, and live in peace,’ Dumbledore elucidated, tears welling in his eyes at his greatest failure.

‘Sir, you said you are a Time Traveller. Couldn’t you go back to before it ever happened?’ Harry enquired, frowning in confusion.

‘Yes, but meddling with time has repercussions, and as a punishment, I was compelled to live with my transgressions. I could not go back unless it was forced. The only way to make a Time Traveller go back in time and give them a chance of redemption is through death,' Dumbledore clarified, smiling at Harry sadly.

Harry’s eyes widened in realisation. ‘So, you told Snape and he…’ he trailed off as more questions came to the forefront of his mind. Everything had rapidly become so grey, he could no longer see it in black and white as he initially believed.

‘Yes, Harry. I gave Severus several errands of utmost importance. One of which, was to kill me. It was the foundation of a strategy we discussed. As far as I can tell he has followed my commands precisely as I instructed and my plan is coming together nicely,’ he told him with a chuckle.

‘Sir, what was your plan?’

‘As a Time Traveller, I could not only travel through time, but I could see it. However, visions in one's dreams can be obscured in shadows, and there were some things I did not grasp. Tom’s ring was one of those things. I already had an idea about how to defeat him, but Severus’ revelation caused that notion to change significantly,’ Dumbledore said, pausing in his story to smile at Harry.

‘I believe Tom found the ring at the beginning of his second year. There was an unexpected change in him, and he also started to hate me, which was very unusual in itself,’ Dumbledore said with a snicker.

‘How so?’ Harry enquired in interest.

‘I was Tom’s favourite Professor,’ Dumbledore responded, looking down at Harry’s dumbfounded expression. ‘One morning Tom woke up and he had a peculiar air about him. I could sense a shift in his demeanour and the way he started to regard others. As I cited, Tom was quiet and amenable, even to Muggleborns. Abruptly, they were blood-traitors and beneath him. It was deplorable and unsettling. Now I wonder if it was the ring’s influence which took hold of him. If Tom is under Sauron’s control, and we kill him now, the ring will only possess another, and they will become a Dark Lord,' Dumbledore enlightened, stopping and regarding Harry.

Harry looked at him apprehensively as the magnitude of Dumbledore’s words hit him. ‘So, killing Voldemort would be a waste of time?’ Harry asked looking at Dumbledore in alarm.

‘It would bring peace, but only for a time. Tom would have taken up the mantle of “Dark Lord” because Sauron is the Dark Lord. Sauron desires power in this time and will use anyone to achieve his goals. If we were to look back far enough through history, we could probably determine who had the ring before Tom chanced upon it,’ Dumbledore explained, shaking his head dejectedly. ‘It is a pity Tom didn’t have the will to contest the effects of the ring,’ Dumbledore added forlornly with a sigh.

‘Sir, when I saw the ring I experienced something odd. I felt like it was talking to me,’ Harry told him.

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at him. ‘Yes, what you would have sensed would have been the soul fragment inside you responding to the call of the ring,’ Dumbledore clarified, and Harry nodded in relief. Dumbledore saw this and shook his head. ‘Do not take that for granted, Harry. You may yet feel the call of the ring, but a strong will can overcome its effects,' he told him, and Harry nodded.

‘But, it's over now. The Horcruxes have been destroyed, so someone is bound to kill Voldemort and Sauron will just possess someone else. It's all been for nothing,' Harry said despondently, lowering his head and thinking of all those people who died.

‘As soon as Tom's last Horcrux was destroyed, Sauron would have told him to pull out. Tom would not dare go against him, especially not while under the influence of the ring. No, I imagine Sauron has guessed I have been working against him, but whether he knows exactly what I have set in motion, we may never know. In any case, Sauron will do anything to stop us. The ring must be destroyed,’ Dumbledore enlightened and started walking at a faster pace through the mist.

Harry jogged to catch up. ‘Sir, only Snape knows about the ring though, right? Does he know to destroy it?’ Harry enquired, hoping whatever Dumbledore told Snape would stop this madness from happening again.

Dumbledore laughed mirthlessly. ‘If it is the same ring, it cannot be destroyed here, Harry. No, only in the fires of Mount Doom can that ring be unmade. And Mount Doom only existed in my time,’ Dumbledore explained.

‘So, is that why you went back?’ Harry asked, receiving a nod to his question. ‘So, what now, sir?’ he posed, trying to keep up with Dumbledore.

‘Severus played his part splendidly, but the game has only begun,’ Dumbledore told him, slowing to a stop as the thumping Harry heard earlier became much louder.

‘Professor is that-?' Harry paused in his question, squinting through the mist trying to make out a large object which was the source of the thumping.

Dumbledore sighed. ‘Yes,’ he answered, looking around the area.

‘Exactly where are we, sir?’ Harry asked, peering around and comprehending there were now two large objects making equally frightening thumping sounds.

‘I was going to ask you that,’ Dumbledore chuckled, reaching up and stroking his beard thoughtfully. ‘Where would you say that we are?’ he asked, looking at Harry with twinkling eyes.

‘It looks like King’s Cross Station, only a lot cleaner,’ Harry said, pondering on his surroundings.

‘King’s Cross! Is that right?’ Dumbledore exclaimed with a smile.

‘Sir, why are there two trains waiting?’ Harry questioned as the two thumping objects became clearer revealing them to be trains.

Dumbledore looked at him. ‘This is where you need to make a choice, Harry. I will be leaving on that train,’ he said, pointing to the train on the left.

‘Where does it go?’ Harry asked nervously, not wanting this conversation to end. He was so pleased to be reunited with Dumbledore.

Dumbledore smiled. ‘It will take me to Middle-Earth, back to before this disaster began. The other train will take you home, to Hogwarts,’ he clarified, looking at Harry.

‘Wouldn’t my choice be clear then?’ Harry asked, playing with a ring on his middle finger.

Dumbledore's eyes moved down to the ring, and he smiled wistfully. ‘Do you know what that is, Harry?’ he asked, reaching out his hand with his palm facing up. Harry took his ring off and handed it to Dumbledore without question. The old man studied it for a moment, before looking at Harry over his half-moon spectacles.

‘It was my father’s ring, passed down to him. I didn’t think it had any real importance. If anything, it made me think I was related to Slytherin when I received it in second year,’ Harry said reflectively, looking at the silver ring, dulled with age. The base of the ring was two twin serpents with eyes made from emerald. Both the snakes’ heads met beneath a crown of golden flowers, which one of the snakes upheld, and the other was devouring. Between the snakes was a large emerald in the shape of an oval. ‘I never even questioned it, if I’m honest. Does it have some sort of significance, sir?’ Harry asked him, frowning at the ring.

‘In my time, it does,’ Dumbledore stated, making Harry look at him with wide eyes.

‘You mean I had ancestors in your time?’ he asked, looking at the ring in wonder.

‘Of course, you did, Harry,' Dumbledore replied, scrutinising the ring more closely. ‘It has been passed down to the eldest son in your line for thousands of years. It was more noteworthy back then, but only because of what it symbolised,’ Dumbledore answered, shaking his head. ‘You will learn soon enough, Harry,’ Dumbledore added, smiling down at Harry who frowned as he pondered how he would learn about it.

‘How?’ he said, voicing his thoughts out loud.

‘That remains to be seen, but it depends on you,’ Dumbledore answered cryptically with a shrug, and Harry couldn’t help the slight irritation he felt at that answer.

Realising he wasn’t going to get anywhere with that line of conversation, Harry decided to ask, ‘Do I have to go back to my time, sir?’

‘No, you can finish what you started. If I am right about this ring, Sauron is your greatest adversary for it is through him that Voldemort acts against you. Even if you were to kill him, Sauron would find another to come after you and your friends. You will never know peace until he is destroyed,' Dumbledore clarified, and Harry's eyes widened in understanding.

‘So, it was technically Sauron that killed my parents and so many people that I loved?’

Dumbledore nodded despondently. ‘Yes, Harry. I believe Sauron’s spirit within his ring has been manipulating people throughout the ages to do his bidding,’ Dumbledore countered, looking back at the trains. ‘Whether you go back or not, that is up to you,’ he added, gesturing to the waiting trains.

‘Why is he after me, sir?’ Harry probed, eyeing the left train which would take him to Dumbledore’s time.

Dumbledore was silent for a moment, and Harry had the sneaking suspicion he was about to keep something important from him. ‘You oppose him, and he will destroy everything that goes against his ultimate design,’ Dumbledore replied, shaking his head sheepishly. Harry felt he was right in his assumption. Dumbledore had left out volumes in that statement.

Harry sighed. ‘And what is his ultimate design?’ Harry enquired, although he anticipated he already knew the answer.

‘To rule over all,’ Dumbledore answered without missing a beat.

‘And by destroying his ring, Voldemort will cease to exist,’ Harry asserted contemplatively, rubbing his chin.

‘As he is now, yes.’

‘With all due respect, sir, I think what we need here is a miracle,’ Harry said with a chuckle.

‘I’ve never put much stock in miracles, Harry. On the other hand, I can attest wholly to the extensive advantages of a related phenomenon,’ Dumbledore said, grinning down at Harry.

‘Which would be, sir?’

‘Luck.’

Harry studied Dumbledore’s face for a moment before peering back into the mist. The thumping continued, more faintly now. ‘Professor?’ he questioned, looking back at Dumbledore. The old wizard raised his eyebrows, and Harry gestured to his surroundings. ‘Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?’

Dumbledore chuckled. ‘You and your surroundings are real. I am but a projection of myself here to advise you of the choice before you and guide you,’ Dumbledore told him, and Harry frowned in uncertainty.

Harry nodded watching as Dumbledore moved towards the left train. He turned back just before stepping on and smiled at Harry. ‘The choice is yours,’ he reiterated before vanishing into the train.

Harry glanced between the two trains and thought about his life up until this point. He nodded to himself, making his decision, and stepped on the train…

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Of Life and Death

‘Is he dead?’ said one of the Death Eaters as they slowly shuffled towards Harry Potter’s motionless body.

From his hiding place, Draco looked on in shock that Potter had just thrown his life away. He felt like he was viewing one of those Muggle movies where the hero feigned death until the very last minute. Come on Potter, you can’t be dead, Draco thought, shaking his head. Of course, he would never declare to anyone he actually preferred Potter to live.

Bellatrix pushed past the Death Eaters, sauntering up to Potter. She looked down at him gleefully, a nervous giggle escaping her lips.

Snape frowned as he moved closer, while still trying to remain out of sight. Albus, surely this wasn’t what you intended? He questioned, dreading the ramifications Potter’s death would have.

Bellatrix leaned down, reaching out to press her fingers to Potter’s neck with a repulsed sneer on her lips. Just as her fingers touched his skin, the Boy Who Lived… vanished.

Draco stood up in disbelief while Snape’s eyes widened.

Pandemonium erupted in the clearing as Voldemort pushed his followers aside and stared at the vacant space Potter’s body had been only moments before. Voldemort screamed in rage. ‘Where did he go!?’ he roared while the Death Eaters scurried away from him to avoid being in his line of sight in case he turned on them.

Voldemort’s eyes blazed red in his fury, and he turned his wand on the nearest tree, blasting it into pieces. After a moment of everyone holding their breaths and praying they would make it out alive, Voldemort tilted his head, scrutinising the ground. He started to laugh hysterically, and the Death Eaters glanced at each other in alarm.

‘Have I been deceived?’ Voldemort whispered, his eyes gleaming intensely. ‘Did they manage to play an elaborate hoax on me?’ he fumed, his rage returning. Voldemort yelled furiously, blasting a hole into the ground where Potter’s body was.

‘Leave… now…’ a voice whispered to him and, after a few moments of silence, Voldemort nodded slowly.

‘My friends, for now, we will leave. I will exterminate Harry Potter and every one of those wretched blood-traitors, but it can wait… for now,’ Voldemort told them, and his followers ogled at him in disbelief.

Snape watched this with interest before turning his gaze to the crater Voldemort blasted into the ground. What is going on, Albus? He asked into his mind, knowing his mentor would never be able to reply.

Voldemort strode purposefully towards the trees, but he halted and glanced back. ‘Ah, I almost forgot…’ he trailed off, aiming his wand at Hagrid who was weeping.

‘‘arry,’ the half-giant whimpered desolately, closing his eyes.

‘Avada Kedavra!’ Voldemort barked, and the green light engulfed Hagrid making him plummet to the ground.

Snape looked away forlornly and exhaled. He had never liked Hagrid, but he would never have wished him dead. After the Death Eaters left the clearing, Snape moved towards Hagrid and picked up a leaf, transfiguring it into a blanket which he lay across the half-giant. ‘I’ll be back, Rubeus,’ Snape promised, glaring at the withdrawing Death Eaters.

oOoOo

Snape trailed after the Death Eaters at a slower pace, flitting from tree to tree to keep hidden. As they reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest, he listened as Voldemort instructed several of his Death Eaters, including Bellatrix and Lucius, to stay behind and eliminate any who left the castle.

Snape watched the exchange and cursed his luck. He doubted Granger and Weasley would be able to make it to the Forbidden Forest without running into them. The group of Death Eaters split up into pairs and left to patrol the grounds in all directions; some towards the castle, others towards the lake, and two even moved back towards the forest, disappearing inside.

Snape turned into a bat and soared towards the castle. Looking around, he managed to make out Weasley and Granger darting towards the collapsed bridge. Damn, Snape thought, flying towards them. He turned back into himself as he touched ground in front of them. Granger and Weasley came to an abrupt halt next to Snape, and he held out his arm to prevent them from going any further.

‘Snape!’ Weasley exclaimed in surprise. ‘What the hell-’

‘Shut up, Weasley!’ Snape fumed, pointing down the slope leading to Hagrid’s Hut. ‘Look,’ he hissed, and they followed his line of sight. The group of Death Eaters were cackling, and one of them aimed their wand at Hagrid’s Hut, setting it ablaze.

Ron and Hermione watched, tears filling their eyes, as the hut was overwhelmed in seconds. Snape grimaced but didn't comment as he waited for the Death Eaters to move on and find something else to destroy.

After a few moments, they started drifting away from the area, and Snape scanned the expanse of ground from where they were to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He had intended to lead them to Hagrid’s Hut where they could navigate the massive pumpkins and scarce trees there for cover, but it was too dangerous. Death Eaters littered the entire area, and he knew it would be challenging to traverse past them all without being spotted.

Snape exhaled loudly, making Hermione and Ron look at him. ‘We’re going to have to be vigilant,’ he whispered, scowling at the Mad-Eye Moody reference. ‘I want you both to make your way towards the greenhouses cautiously and take cover. I’ll join you there,’ he told them, receiving nods from his two charges.

‘What about you?’ Ron questioned, looking down at all the Death Eaters still circling the area.

‘I’ll clear a path,’ Snape countered, shifting into a bat and flying towards the greenhouses ahead of them.

Ron and Hermione watched curiously, before peering around themselves. ‘We’ll just have to do as he says,’ Hermione supposed, gripping Ron’s arm and the two moved down the hill, and took cover behind some large boulders near the bridge. From here, it was a straight run to the greenhouses, but there were Death Eaters in their way.

Ron took out his wand and peeked around the boulder. Hermione did the same, realising two Death Eaters were standing just on the other side. Fortunately, their backs were to them. Ron took a deep breath and nodded to Hermione. At the same time, they circled around the boulder on opposite sides, and with a whispered, ‘Stupefy,’ the Death Eaters crumpled to the ground.

Ahead of them, Ron and Hermione could see flashes of light from spells appearing seemingly from nowhere. The Death Eaters near to the greenhouses collapsed to the ground, and the two Gryffindors couldn’t help but be grateful Snape was assisting them at that moment.

They glanced around swiftly before bolting up the path towards the greenhouses, using the bushes and trees along the trail for cover. They reached the greenhouses and hid behind them to wait for Snape.

Snape observed this from his vantage above them and smirked before changing into a bat and gliding down to land next to them, shifting back into himself. His lips twitched as they jumped. ‘We’re almost there,’ he whispered, and they nodded. Snape peered around the greenhouse they were hiding behind and swore. ‘They’re coming this way,’ he said, motioning for them to move into the greenhouse. They disappeared inside just as calls came from outside indicating they had found the unconscious Death Eaters. ‘That could be problematic,’ Snape suspected, realising their yells would alert any other Death Eaters to the area.

‘What now?’ Hermione solicited, her face pale with fear as they took cover in between a large plant pot and a worktop.

‘I’ll take a look,’ Snape offered, creeping out of their hiding place towards the door on the other side of the greenhouse. He pushed the plastic sheet aside and peeked out at the congregation of Death Eaters. He could see Bellatrix and Lucius advancing up the hill towards them. Snape noted they all seemed to be accounted for in one area.

Snape moved back to Ron and Hermione hastily. ‘This is our chance,’ he whispered urgently, signalling for them to follow. Snape looked around as he got back to the entrance they came in before, noticing it was clear. Ron and Hermione trailed out after him and watched as he peered around the corner before gesturing it was safe. Ron and Hermione moved over to him, and he studied their fearful faces. Snape pulled out his wand and tapped them on the head. They both trembled as a cold sensation washed over them, and recognised he had disillusioned them. He did the same to himself. ‘That should buy us some time,' Snape whispered and looked around the corner again.

Nothing was there, so he swiftly moved to the other end and peered around the corner. The Death Eaters were on the move, investigating the area for clues of what happened to their associates. They were alert, and Snape knew being disillusioned wouldn’t throw them off entirely.

Snape gestured for Ron and Hermione to join him, and they moved quickly to his side. ‘We’ll need to make a run for it. Be careful, and follow my lead,’ Snape told them and hurried down the hill with Ron and Hermione pursuing closely behind him.

Hermione stumbled on the root of a tree, falling over with a yelp. ‘Hermione!’ Ron breathed, jogging back over to where he heard her tumble.

‘My ankle,’ Hermione groaned, tears falling from her eyes.

‘What happened?’ Snape whispered urgently, joining them by following their voices.

‘She fell,’ Ron replied, reaching for Hermione who was still disillusioned.

Snape glanced around hurriedly before tapping their heads making them reappear. He moved to Hermione’s ankle and used a spell. The red glow made Snape sigh impatiently. ‘Her ankle is broken, but it’s too risky to mend it here,’ Snape told them, while Ron tried to shush Hermione’s whimpers.

‘I’ll carry her,’ Ron said, bending down and pulling Hermione into his arms before picking her up bridal style.

Snape nodded, taking another glimpse around the area. ‘Good, come on!’ he countered, darting off towards the border of the Forbidden Forest.

Ron followed at a slower pace trying not to fall over himself and remaining watchful to his environs now they could be seen. From here, he didn’t think any Death Eaters would actually see them though. ‘Are you okay, Ron?’ Hermione queried, her voice weak, and she looked up at him. His freckles were a striking contrast to his pale face.

Ron smiled down at her. ‘Yeah, just got to keep going,’ he replied, but his voice was trembling.

‘Do you think Snape helped Harry as well?’ Hermione asked, wincing as a sharp pain shot through her ankle.

Ron took a deep breath. ‘Merlin, I hope so,’ he whispered, his voice almost cracking with emotion. He wanted to believe Harry had survived more than anything, but he couldn’t quell the fear that it was unlikely. One look down at Hermione’s face confirmed she was thinking the same thing. Ron tried to smile, but it was more like a grimace. ‘We’ll soon see,’ he supposed, trying to keep himself together. If not for himself, Ron wanted to stay strong for Hermione.

Hermione nodded against his shoulder, closing her eyes. Ron took a deep breath and tried to speed up his steps so they could catch up to Snape. After a few moments, Ron reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest where Snape was waiting, looking about for any Death Eaters nearby.

‘We only need to stop once as we make our way to safety,’ Snape told them as they followed him into the forest. ‘There’s something I… we must to do,’ he told them forlornly, and an uneasiness hit Hermione and Ron as they pondered what could cause such a reaction in Snape, but they both drew the same conclusion.

‘Sir, what happened to Harry?’ Ron asked him, terrified of the answer.

‘I will tell you everything soon enough, but I think we should get out of danger first,’ Snape countered, hastening his stride through the trees.

‘Is he… dead?’ Hermione whispered, her voice breaking.

Snape stopped and turned to them before swallowing thickly. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied candidly with a shrug. Snape turned away from them and continued. Ron followed, still holding Hermione.

They hurried through the trees, and Snape led them to the clearing where Voldemort and the Death Eaters had been a short while ago. Ron stopped as it came into view, taking in the vast hole in the ground and the concealed body next to it. ‘Who…?’ Ron trailed off, his voice fading as he ambled towards the body.

Snape sighed and moved towards the body, pulling the blanket back just enough for them to see it was Hagrid. Hermione burst into tears, while Ron stared angrily, tears filling his own eyes. Snape shook his head and covered him back up. ‘The Dark Lord murdered him before they left the clearing,’ he told them, shaking his own head regrettably. ‘I did not want to abandon him here,’ he whispered, looking over at the two stricken Gryffindors.

Ron nodded, kneeling down so he could let Hermione down. She cried out as her ankle throbbed, and he grimaced. ‘Sorry, Hermione,’ he muttered, glancing at Snape.

Snape moved over to them and pointed his wand at Hermione’s ankle. ‘Ferula,’ he muttered, and Hermione cried out as her bones shifted back into place, binding it with a splint and tightly wrapped bandages. He muttered another spell and the pain eased off, but it wasn’t gone. ‘I am not very good at curative spells,’ Snape murmured, pulling back and moving over to where Hagrid’s prone body was.

Ron helped Hermione stand, her ankle was still tender, but she was able to get up now. ‘I think I’ll be okay,’ Hermione whispered, putting her foot down gingerly to see if she could put pressure on it. Once she felt it was okay, she let go of Ron.

Ron walked over to Snape who was eyeing the hole in the ground and Hermione limped over after him. ‘What happened?’ Ron inquired, gesturing to the crater.

‘The Dark Lord,’ Snape answered, shaking his head as he tried to comprehend what happened to Potter. ‘Potter… The Dark Lord killed him, but when they went to make sure, he vanished like he had never been there,’ Snape replied with a grimace.

Hermione felt tears come to her eyes again. ‘So he's…' Her voice cracked as she leaned on Ron, crying into his shoulder. Ron held her firmly, tears falling from his own eyes.

Snape shook his head. ‘I don’t know what happened. The Dark Lord believes it was a hoax. He has left to regroup before hunting for Potter,’ Snape told them, and they looked over at him with hopeful expressions.

Ron turned to look at Hagrid. ‘Maybe we could use this hole to bury-’ he cut himself off as his voice broke.

Snape nodded in agreement and turned towards the half-giant. He levitated Hagrid, still concealed by the blanket, into the crater. Snape transfigured three sticks into spades, and they gruellingly overlaid his body with dirt until it was just an incline in the ground.

‘I’ll miss him,’ Hermione whispered, leaning on her spade as fresh tears trickled over onto her cheeks.

Ron wiped his own tears away. ‘So will I,’ he murmured, his voice a little sturdier than hers.

Snape didn’t comment, but he looked at the makeshift grave dejectedly. ‘We should leave,’ he said after a few moments of silence. ‘There’s a small encampment not far from here,’ he said, moving away from the grave towards the trees.

Hermione and Ron looked down at the grave for a moment longer. ‘Farewell, Hagrid,’ Ron whispered as Hermione picked up a fallen branch and transfigured it into a bouquet of beautiful roses in pink, white and yellow. She placed them on the grave as another wave of tears choked her.

Ron pulled her away tenderly, leading her over to where Snape was waiting for them patiently. Ron appreciated that he didn’t make any snarky remarks about them, and felt a little respect for the Potions Master, which was something he never thought would happen. Ron helped Hermione up the slope, and they followed Snape deeper into the forest.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Dumbledore’s Letter: The Truth Revealed

After what felt like hours of walking through the forest, the trees became thicker and denser the deeper they went, they came upon a small clearing. There was a fire burning in the middle, and sitting on the ground staring into it was none other than Draco Malfoy. He looked up in confusion as they approached, whipping his wand out.

‘What are they doing here?’ Draco demanded, pointing his wand at them.

Ron pulled out his wand. ‘We should be asking you that, ferret,’ he seethed, aiming his wand at Draco.

Snape rolled his eyes. ‘Put your wands away, now!’ he barked, stalking into the camp wearily.

Ron and Draco glared at each other for a moment before obliging. Draco cursed under his breath, sitting back down next to the fire as Snape sat on a tree stump near it. He looked at Ron and Hermione who were looking about timidly, like unwelcome visitors, and sighed. ‘Take a seat, we have much to discuss,’ Snape told them, making the two Gryffindors jump.

Ron and Hermione glanced at each other before sitting down on the ground near the fire. There was a thick tension blanketing the air around them all. Hermione looked at Snape who was staring into the fire, and Draco was leaning on his knee, his head resting on his palm. He was tapping a tune with his wand against his other knee.

Eventually, Draco exhaled loudly. ‘So, Snape, did you get us all here for a reason or is this a premature death-day party?' he asked, raising his eyebrows at Snape.

Snape shot him a glare before reaching into his pocket and taking out the letter Dumbledore had given to him. He stared at it for a long moment before handing it to Hermione who took it and looked down at it. It was the same letter she saw Dumbledore writing in Snape’s Pensieve memory.

Hermione looked up, realising three pairs of eyes were watching her expectantly. She sighed and tore open the envelope, pulling out the sheets within. Hermione looked back into the envelope and tilted it, making a necklace fall out into her waiting hand. Draco and Ron moved closer to her, so they were on either side of her and studied the necklace.

‘A Time Turner?’ Hermione asked, dangling the necklace. ‘No, it’s similar, but these inscriptions…’ she trailed off, shaking her head.

‘Do you know what they are, Hermione?’ Ron asked, taking the necklace from her and moving to touch the strange pendant.

‘Don’t touch the pendant!’ Hermione suddenly shouted, grabbing Ron’s hand quickly.

Ron pulled his hand back. ‘What is it?’ he asked in confusion.

‘Whatever you do, don’t touch the separate sections. If it’s like a Time Turner, who knows what will happen,’ Hermione answered, taking the necklace from him and placing it back into the envelope.

Snape sighed, making them all look at him. ‘If you’re quite finished, it might be wise to read the letter,’ he said, shaking his head.

Hermione frowned suspiciously. ‘Do you know what this letter is about?’ she asked, waving the parchment at him.

Snape sighed. ‘No, and I don’t expect Albus knew I would be sitting here when you opened it. He said it was important. It’s instructions, I believe,’ he advised softly, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Hermione nodded, glancing at Ron before unfolding the letter and scanning it for a moment. ‘Wait, this is only addressed to myself and… Malfoy?’ Hermione stated in bewilderment, looking up at Snape.

Snape shrugged. ‘Dumbledore never clarified, he just told me to deliver it,’ he countered, smirking at her.

Ron sulked, looking down at his hands deliberating why he wasn’t included in the letter. Did Professor Dumbledore assume I was going to… die? Ron questioned, closing his eyes irritably. He felt Hermione squeeze his hand, and he glanced at her, giving her a small nod.

Hermione bit her lip, looking down at the letter and opted to read it out loud:

Dear Miss Hermione Jean Granger and Mr Draco Lucius Malfoy,

If my letter has reached you, then I know Severus has assisted you when I could not. I must express regret for my absence at such a terrible time, but I was obligated to make amends for my own selfish mistakes.

For it is those mistakes which are the reason you are now reading my letter instead of living a perfectly normal life and enjoying your last year at Hogwarts.

Hermione stopped, staring at the letter in confusion. ‘What does Professor Dumbledore mean by it’s his mistake?’ she questioned quietly, looking up at Snape.

Snape shook his head. ‘Professor Dumbledore told me he made a decision back in the day which had repercussions on the present and the past…' He trailed off trying to recall precisely what Dumbledore told him, but his mind was drawing a blank. It was odd and not like Snape to forget significant information. ‘Read the letter, Miss Granger, I am sure Professor Dumbledore has it all described in there,’ he muttered, rubbing his forehead in frustration.

Hermione nodded, looking back down at the letter and continuing:

I did not anticipate the things I knew before my death. Finding a missing puzzle piece can make all the difference when the picture is made whole. It enlightened me to the repercussions of meddling in affairs for one’s own gain.

Hermione, Draco and Ron frowned at these words. ‘Trust Dumbledore to be cryptic as hell even in a letter,’ Draco mumbled, shaking his head.

‘That’s Dumbledore for you,’ Ron agreed with a grimace.

Ron and Draco’s eyes enlarged, and they looked at each other in bafflement. ‘Did we just agree on something?’ Draco asked him in astonishment.

‘Let’s never do that again,’ Ron countered.

‘Agreed,' Draco muttered. After a few moments, the two cursed under their breaths.

Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘Let’s just continue,’ she hissed, shaking her head.

I must make you mindful that I had no intention of dying last year, but I comprehended it was the only way to put things right. Our side was on the brink of losing this war, and we would have been forced into enslavement to Voldemort. As you will know by now, my death was prearranged by Severus and myself. It was fortuitous Mr Malfoy also had plans to “do me in” as the expression goes.

At this, Ron and Hermione shot a glare at Draco who held up his hands in surrender. The two Gryffindors glanced at each other and Hermione continued reading:

I came to the year 1899 from 3019, the Third Age, by use of my gift to travel through time. I came to pursue aid from a Dark Lord destroying a dear place to me: Middle-Earth. However, I became infatuated with a young man and his ideals and elected to stay and live in peace. I presumed there would be no Middle-Earth to salvage, but I was irrational. I let fantasies and dreams of greatness eclipse my actual goal and caused so much pain to many in your present and my past.

‘Hold up!’ Draco exclaimed, stopping Hermione from continuing. ‘Dumbledore is a fricking Time Traveller?’ he grilled Snape, looking over at him accusingly like he knew this and kept it to himself.

Hermione and Ron also eyed Snape askance. ‘Did you know this?’ Hermione quizzed him, indicating to the letter.

‘It was not my secret to tell,’ Snape refuted, crossing his arms.

‘A hint would have been nice,’ Draco muttered, shaking his head. Hermione and Ron nodded broodingly at this but appreciated Dumbledore must have had his reasons.

‘The man Professor Dumbledore mentioned is Grindelwald, right?’ Hermione enquired, receiving a nod from Snape. Hermione looked back down at the letter with a sigh:

In his second year, Tom Riddle chanced upon a ring which belonged to a Dark Lord in the Third Age. The spirit lingering within the ring possessed Tom and altered him into who he is today. The only way for this ring to be destroyed is in the same fires from whence it was forged. I wanted to set things right, and the only way to do that was to die. Of course, I am not really dead, I just returned back to a point in time where I can make a difference. The war is commencing, but I will not abscond to the future this time. I will remain with others and help them prevail, but I will require help.

Now, Miss Granger, you hold an essential heirloom, passed down to you from mother to daughter over thousands of years. This heirloom is connected to another, which Mr Potter has in his possession. Once joined, the power within them would be invaluable in helping the war here. Although these heirlooms do exist in the Third Age, they did not hold the power then that they do now. They were fashioned by legendary Elven-smiths and imbued with protective magic. Over the years, they have amassed trickles of magic from their wearers and are far more potent than any other ancient magical relic in existence.

Hermione stopped reading, realising everyone was ogling at her interestedly. She timidly reached up and unfastened a necklace from around her neck. ‘I think he means this,’ she told them, holding it in her palm. Draco and Ron moved closer to her to see it properly. The pendant was held by a silver chain, which looked almost like two chains entwined together. ‘It’s called an Elf-Stone,’ she whispered, pointing to the white crystal-like stone in the shape of a flower. It was attached to silver leaves and vines that twisted and connected at the bottom. ‘When I was old enough to ask about it, my parents told me it was named “Evenstar”,’ she told them, glancing around at their fascinated expressions.

‘I do not think I have seen anything like it,’ Snape murmured, gazing at the jewel wistfully as he strained to recall if he had come across it before.

‘I’ve never seen you wearing it,’ Ron said in puzzlement.

Draco shook his head. ‘I have,’ he muttered, making all eyes turn to him.

‘What? When?’ Ron said, glaring at him.

‘She wore it at the Yule Ball, dimwit. Shows how much you pay attention,’ Draco snapped, crossing his arms.

Hermione looked between the two of them, wondering how it was Draco had noticed, but not her best friend of seven years. She shook her head, a lot was going on over the years. Not many people would look at a necklace, and Hermione did keep it tucked away most of the time. ‘It says Harry had an heirloom as well, but not what it was,’ she said, scanning the letter for references to it, but there was nothing else. She clasped the necklace back around her neck, tucking it under her shirt.

‘Harry wears that ring,’ Ron replied, making the others look at him. He flushed in embarrassment and looked at Hermione. ‘You know, the one with the snakes?' he said, and Hermione nodded.

‘But Harry’s gone…’ Hermione whispered, feeling tears come to her eyes.

‘We do not know what happened to Mr Potter, Miss Granger. Dumbledore had a plan, and he may have cited it in his letter,’ Snape said, and she nodded, looking back down at the letter to continue reading it.

I am delegating a new mission of great importance to you both. There is a tome you need to retrieve which will be able to take you back to the Third Age. Time Travel is perilous, so be cautious when using this spell. I have filed another letter within this tome which will explicate everything else. Mr Weasley, if you are present, and Mr Malfoy – I trust you will both protect Miss Granger on this mission.

‘So, he did include me… kind of,’ Ron muttered with a sigh, shaking his head.

Hermione reached out and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. ‘I’m sure he meant nothing by it, Ron,’ she alleged, looking back at the letter.

‘Time travel?’ Draco whispered apprehensively, making them turn to him. ‘Nobody said anything about that,’ he whispered, looking at them in alarm.

‘Mr Malfoy, remember what I told you?’ Snape said softly, staring at Draco meaningfully.

Draco nodded and glanced down, taking deep breaths to still his nerves. ‘Yes, sir,’ he mumbled, reaching out and toying with a stone on the ground.

Hermione and Ron observed this exchange with curiosity, but neither of them commented. Hermione imagined they’d have plenty of time with Malfoy to discern what Snape told him. Hermione looked back down at the letter.

It is imperative you tell no one in the Third Age of where you are from after you arrive here. There will come a time when you will be able to unveil this, but keep it to yourselves until the opportunity arises. If anyone perseveres in quizzing you on where you are from, you are to tell them you’ve come from the far North, past the Grey Mountains and Forodwaith. I will provide more knowledge to you on this while you are here. I must also stress, Miss Granger, that you keep your heirloom out of sight at all times while you are here. I will touch on this more when you are here. Mr Potter is already aware of this, and you will be reunited with him soon.

‘There! He said we'll be reunited with Harry, soon!' Ron exclaimed, grinning at Hermione. She smiled back at him in relief and looked back at the letter.

Now, the tome. I must apologise for this next riddle, but should this tome fall into the wrong hands the results could be catastrophic. I am optimistic the three of you will be able to decipher the message.

“You will find it in the heart of danger, but stealth and cunning must be applied to your search. Concealed in a dwelling you know well, unseen from those outside the law, but in plain sight. It is farthest away from its home; next to the closest thing it has to a complete opposite”.

Inside, I have placed another letter with additional guidelines which you must read carefully. Remember, it is crucial you follow these directions precisely as I have written them. Do not question anything, for everything is possible.

Good luck and take care.

Yours faithfully,
Albus Dumbledore, formally known in the Third Age as Gandalf the Grey.

Hermione grimaced, folding the letter back up and placing it back into the envelope with the necklace Dumbledore gave them. ‘This book could be anywhere. There are so many places the Death Eaters have taken over. I don't think Hogwarts would be a choice as there are still Order members there,’ she assumed, her eyes becoming disheartened as she thought about the fate of the Order and what would happen to them.

‘Hogsmeade is devastated, so I don’t think Dumbledore would have kept it there. He undoubtedly knew that would happen,’ Draco put in, tapping his chin pensively.

‘Diagon Alley?’ Ron enquired, making them look at him. ‘Dad said the Death Eaters had pretty much taken over Diagon Alley since Ollivander and Luna were captured,’ he told them.

Ron and Hermione shuddered as they remembered their escape from Malfoy Manor. Hermione subconsciously touched her arm where the word “Mudblood” had been carved there. It was covered by a bandage and still stung like hell. Hermione believed Bellatrix had used a cursed dagger and it would never heal until she was dead. Hermione had tried everything, and no spells would work to treat or cover it.

Draco looked down regretfully. ‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered, not meeting their eyes.

‘It would have been worse if you’d given us away, Malfoy,’ Ron mumbled shaking his head. ‘Why didn’t you?’ he queried, looking over at Malfoy curiously.

‘I… I never wanted this. Neither did my mother, but we were safer this way. I know we were cowards, but I thought if I could keep the Dark Lord from discovering Potter even a little longer it would be worth it,’ Draco muttered, confessing his reasons for doing it.

‘I think it was brave of you,’ Hermione believed, glancing at him.

Draco looked up at her. ‘I’m a coward. I couldn’t even save my mother…’ he trailed off as tears came to his eyes.

Snape's eyes snapped up to Draco at that. ‘I told you to stay here,' he whispered, his black eyes glittering in the firelight. Hermione thought he looked close to tears himself.

‘Yes, and when have I ever done what I'm told?' Draco countered, looking at Snape heatedly. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ he implored, his voice cracking.

Snape sighed. ‘It was your mother’s choice. I wanted to find another way, but she had already made up her mind,’ he replied, shaking his head.

Ron and Hermione looked between them in uncertainty. ‘What happened?’ Hermione asked gently, receiving a nudge from Ron who shook his head.

Draco observed this exchange, waving it off. ‘My mother… she sacrificed herself… to save me,’ he whispered, his voice shaking. ‘And that reminds me,’ Draco added, getting to his feet. Hermione and Ron watched in amazement as Draco marched over to Snape and punched him in the face. ‘That’s for hitting my mother,’ he told him as Snape gripped his nose which was bleeding.

Snape’s dazed eyes softened to understanding, and he nodded. He reached for his wand, pointing it to his face and used a couple of spells to fix the mess and his now broken nose, but he did nothing about the throbbing and his eyes watered. ‘I deserved that,’ he supposed nasally, flinching at the discomfort.

Draco moved back over to his spot on the ground and sighed deeply. ‘It helped,’ he muttered, getting a nod from Snape. Draco pushed his grief to the back of his mind for the moment, glancing at Ron and Hermione. ‘So, what’s the plan?’ he asked them, not particularly keen on the idea of being around them, but he had no other choice at the moment.

‘Well, it seems…’ Snape trailed off, recoiling in pain. He pointed his wand at his face, and the spell eased the discomfort. Snape’s face relaxed. ‘It seems apparent the Dark Lord has won this war for now. Although his Horcruxes have all be destroyed, there is something else going on. From what I concluded from Dumbledore’s letter, he needs you and Granger in the past. It is conceivable Potter has already gone to the past, and that's what he meant by you being reunited with him. The ring he mentioned seems to be the key to fathoming what is going on, but Dumbledore never told me anything about it,’ Snape explicated, shaking his head. ‘Something is clearly occurring in this Third Age, and Dumbledore needs to hinder it to stop the Dark Lord there and here,’ he added, frowning at his own words.

‘This is getting way too confusing,’ Draco said, shaking his head.

‘It’s not really,’ Ron said, making all eyes turn to him. Ron flushed again at being the centre of attention. ‘Well, think about it. Professor Dumbledore said in his letter that You-Know-Who found a ring which possessed him. The Dark Lord in the Third Age was working through You-Know-Who, and he stated this ring can’t be destroyed here. If it gets destroyed, it cancels out the future where You-Know-Who found the ring and was possessed,’ Ron explained, hoping this made sense.

Everyone stared at him blankly for a moment, but then Hermione beamed at him. ‘That’s brilliant, Ron!’ she exclaimed, making his blush deepen.

‘It’s all there, in the letter,’ Ron mumbled, looking away in embarrassment.

‘Then there's the thing Dumbledore didn't mention if he even knows about it,' Draco added reflectively, looking at Snape.

‘What thing?’ Hermione asked, looking between the two.

‘The Dark Lord had my father and Bellatrix searching for an ancient artefact, but not much information was given to those outside his inner circle. I believe it was used for scrying, and I think he was going to use it to search for Potter but found out he was at Hogwarts anyway. However, he still sought it even after he knew, so I think it has another purpose,’ Draco told them, receiving an imperceptible nod from Snape.

‘Were you ever part of his inner circle?’ Ron asked Snape, frowning at him.

‘Not exclusively. The Dark Lord trusted me only with certain errands and information. I knew about the search, but I was never part of it,’ Snape responded with a shrug. ‘I don’t know what he intends to use it for. I only knew about the ring because I saw it and I questioned Albus about it, but he wouldn’t explain anything to me,’ Snape whispered, sighing as he looked into the fire.

‘Do you think we might be in danger of You-Know-Who finding a way into the past as well?’ Hermione enquired pensively, glancing at Snape.

Snape shook his head. ‘I don’t think this artefact allows him to travel back in time. However, that doesn’t rule out the likelihood of him finding a way, especially if Potter is there,’ Snape advised.

‘So, from what we’ve gathered and the evidence provided...’ Hermione trailed off, looking down at the envelope. ‘Dumbledore and others tried to go up against this Dark Lord to destroy his ring, but failed. Dumbledore came to the future to enlist support but decided to stay instead. The ring has been around throughout the ages, and this Dark Lord has undoubtedly been manipulating hundreds of people to do his bidding,’ Hermione paused as she thought about all the atrocious things that had occurred in the past. ‘Then Tom Riddle happened upon it, and the same fate befell him,' she concluded, shaking her head.

‘And you and Potter have powerful tools which they want to use in their war against this Dark Lord,’ Draco surmised, tapping his chin. ‘So, why am I included in this?’ he asked, raising his eyebrow.

‘No idea,’ Ron muttered, using his wand to draw pictures in the dirt and make them move about.

‘There must be a purpose. You know Dumbledore and his secrets. I’m sure he’ll explain everything once we get there. I’m pretty sure he expected Ron to come too,’ Hermione said to them, shaking her head. ‘All we need to know, for the moment, is that Dumbledore has entreated our presence in the past. It's the request he should have made when he came to the future initially, and now he wants to make amends,' Hermione believed resolutely, placing the envelope in her beaded bag. She was so pleased she still had her bag. It would prove useful with its vast storage space.

‘I agree,' Ron said, giving Hermione a small smile. ‘Dumbledore always had a reason, and it won't do us any good to question him,' he added, crossing his arms and leaning them on his knees.

‘In his letter, Dumbledore stated these heirlooms will help to win the war, right? But, he also said you have to hide them?’ Draco questioned, glowering at the fire.

Hermione frowned and turned to look at him. ‘That doesn’t make any sense,’ she said in confusion.

Draco raised his eyebrows at her. ‘Doesn't it? And they call you the smartest witch of this age?' He said with a chuckle, making Hermione blush. Draco sobered up and looked at her. ‘These heirlooms are magical,' he told her, and she frowned at him.

‘They have magic imbued into them, but that doesn’t mean anything. Mine has been passed down through generations in my family who were all Muggles,’ Hermione said, shaking her head. ‘Harry’s ring I can understand, but…’ she trailed off, looking at her necklace as it twinkled in the flickering light from the fire.

Draco scoffed, waving off her words and she glared at him. ‘Just listen to my theory,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘What if they are? Dumbledore said the heirlooms have gained magic from their wearers for thousands of years, which means those wearing them had to have some magic. I don’t think using this combined power will be as simple as Dumbledore makes it out to be. I reckon there will be a trick to it or something you have to do to unlock it,’ Draco trailed off as he stood and paced around the fire, tapping his chin. ‘And you have to keep it hidden. Why do you need to keep them hidden?’ he asked, looking at Hermione and he could almost see the wheels in her head taking in everything he was saying and processing it.

Hermione frowned, looking down at her necklace curiously. ‘I imagine the Dark Lord back then may have known about them. If he realises we’ve got more powerful versions of them, he’ll probably try to kill us and take them for himself,’ Hermione surmised, and Ron nodded in agreement.

Draco halted in his pacing and looked at her. ‘Good hypothesis, but that wasn’t entirely what I was denoting to. Well spotted though, Granger. I didn’t look at it that way,’ he countered, smirking at her.

Hermione looked at him in bewilderment. ‘What were you referring to?’ she asked, deliberating on what she had missed.

‘I was going along the same line of thinking, but my “who” was not the same as your “who”,’ he countered, scrunching his face up in contemplation as Ron, Hermione and Snape stared at him in misunderstanding.

‘Mr Malfoy, would you please just get to the point?’ Snape hissed, rolling his eyes at his former student.

Draco sighed. ‘You guys are no fun,’ he huffed, crossing his arms. ‘They are heirlooms, so it’s possible you need to hide them from people who may know what they are and whom they belonged to back then. I guess it may cause some issues,’ Draco said with a shrug, sitting back down on the ground.

‘Ah, I see what you’re saying!’ Hermione said in excitement.

‘Yeah, now you get it!’ Draco exclaimed, grinning at her.

Ron shook his head and looked up at the sky with a quiet sigh. He wasn't jealous, but he had to admit he felt pretty left out of this whole mission. Something nagged at the back of his mind that he was never meant to be part of it.

Ron shook away his deliberations as Snape stood. ‘Well, now that we have somewhat exhausted our analysis of Dumbledore’s letter, I would recommend getting some sleep,’ Snape said, moving towards the trees and casting several spells around the area. ‘I have set up wards around the area; we should be protected. I will keep watch during the night to be safe,’ he told them, and they all nodded.

Draco threw several blankets at Ron and Hermione which they lay on the ground. Hermione lay on her blanket, pulling one of the other ones over her and tucked it up under her chin. She had a feeling she wouldn’t be able to sleep with everything they had just learned. Hermione was both frightened and eager to be going to the Third Age, and she wondered what awaited them there. She was mindful that they were going to assist with another war. The original war which ultimately instigated their own battle. To see the world as it was back then would be utterly fascinating though.

Hermione smiled and closed her eyes, listening to the light snores coming from Draco and the heavier wheezes from Ron. With the sound of the crackling fire as well, Hermione eventually lulled off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: The Point of No Return

Harry felt nauseous, and when he tried to open his eyes, a blinding light made his head throb. He shut his eyes, wondering if he had ended up in hell. However, when Harry moved his fingers, he could feel soft grass, and when he took a moment to listen, all he could hear was the hums of bees and the chirping of birds.

There were no other sounds.

Which was odd in itself because Harry could have sworn he was surrounded by Death Eaters. He faced off with Voldemort and… died!

Harry sat bolt upright, regretting it immediately when his head felt like someone was repeatedly hitting it. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, squinting in the light, but everything was blurred. Harry felt around the grass, finding his wand and his glasses which he slipped on.

Harry swallowed thickly, trying not to retch as a fresh wave of nausea washed over him. He breathed deeply, taking a moment to calm his racing heart. When Harry felt he could look around without throwing up, he took in his surroundings. He had woken beneath the stippled sunlight of an old tree. White flowers were scattered among the well-seeded grasses. It was quite an idyllic setting and Harry thought he must be in heaven. However, he also questioned why arriving in heaven was so painful.

For a moment, Harry wondered where everyone else was. Surely, his parents, Sirius, and Lupin would come to greet him, but no such welcome had happened. He frowned, sighing as he grasped he was entirely alone in this beautiful forest. Harry used the old tree to clamber to his feet, taking a moment to breathe deeply before deciding he would just have to find them first.

Harry halted at another tree near a long dirt track and listened as a gentle clip-clop of an approaching horse could be heard. Harry ran behind the tree as they came around the bend. His heart thudded in his chest when it stopped right next to the tree he was hiding behind.

‘Harry, you can come out,’ said the deep voice, and Harry frowned as he recognised it. Harry peered around the tree, looking at the hunched figure, garbed in grey robes, sitting on the horse. The beautiful white horse snorted and reared as it looked at Harry.

‘Professor Dumbledore?’ Harry whispered, his voice dry and gravelly. He coughed, wondering why his throat was so tender.

‘Yes, Harry, but I must ask you to call me Gandalf from now on,’ the old Wizard told him, motioning for him to come down. He looked back up at Harry who hadn’t moved. ‘Well, come on, Harry, we must press on,’ Gandalf told him, and Harry shook his head. He climbed down from the bank, and stood next to the horse, stroking its neck.

‘What happened?’ Harry questioned, feeling like he was missing something important.

‘Oh, yes, well…’ Gandalf said, taking Harry’s wand from him and tapping the young man on the head with it abruptly.

‘Ouch! What the-’ Harry snapped, but his eyes widened when everything became clear. Memories of everything that had happened came back to him in seconds. For a moment, Harry stared at Gandalf in alarm, before leaning over and emptying the contents of his stomach onto the dirt track. Harry wiped his mouth, closing his eyes against the throbbing behind his eyelids, still looking a bit green.

‘So, I see you took the left train,’ Gandalf said in amusement, looking over at Harry.

‘It would appear so,’ Harry slurred, breathing heavily and trying to quell the churning of his stomach.

‘Do you remember what I told you before you got on the train?’ Gandalf asked, looking at Harry seriously.

‘Yes, sir,’ Harry replied, standing upright and swallowing thickly.

‘Now, Harry, I must stress you call me Gandalf, and nothing else. Gandalf the Grey is my name in this present,’ Gandalf said sternly, looking at Harry who realised his half-moon spectacles were missing.

Harry nodded. ‘Where are we?’ he asked, looking around interestedly.

‘We are close to the Ford of Bruinen,’ Gandalf answered, smiling at Harry. ‘And just past it is Rivendell, the home of the Elves,’ he told him, his eyes twinkling.

‘Elves?’ Harry probed curiously, letting Gandalf help him up onto the horses back behind him.

‘Elves,’ Gandalf countered with a chuckle as they came over a hill revealing the wide river Bruinen beyond.

‘So, this is Middle-Earth?’ Harry enquired, perceiving it wasn’t unlike the future. ‘Tell me everything,’ Harry said eagerly, wanting to know all about this time.

‘What, everything?’ Gandalf asked in shock, his brow furrowing. ‘Well, what can I tell you that I have not already told you? A war is coming, but for the moment life in Middle-Earth goes on as it has this past age. At the moment, the date is October the eighteenth, and the year is three thousand and eighteen…’ Gandalf trailed off as he surveyed the peaceful scenery around him. ‘And by my reckoning, Frodo should already be in Rivendell,’ he added softly, and Harry frowned wondering who Frodo was.

Harry looked around as they galloped over a stone bridge towards a mountain. Harry was startled when Gandalf changed his course unexpectedly and took a path through a narrow gorge. When they reached the end, it opened up into a beautiful valley, and nestled in the middle was a small cluster of elegant Elven buildings below towering cliffs and snow-capped mountains.

When they reached the courtyard, Gandalf dismounted and helped Harry down. ‘Mithrandir!’ came a voice, and Harry turned to see a beautiful woman running towards them.

‘Arwen,’ Gandalf greeted as she came to a stop in front of him. ‘What has happened?’ Gandalf quizzed fearfully, taking in her appearance. Arwen looked exhausted, and her riding gear was covered in mud. Harry thought he spotted blood on there as well.

‘It is Frodo,’ Arwen responded simply, before leaving swiftly again.

Gandalf turned to Harry. ‘I will have to ask you to wait in Elrond’s study, Harry. It is just up those stairs,’ Gandalf told him, pointing to a building.

‘But-’

‘Now, Harry,’ Gandalf said, cutting him off. ‘I will be there shortly,’ he added and walked away after the woman.

Harry looked around, noticing quite a few people were running around and supposed there must be some sort of emergency. ‘You must be a friend of Gandalf’s,’ came a voice from behind him.

Harry turned around hastily and looked down to see a tiny man standing next to him. He looked like a child and only reached up to his waist. However, on closer inspection, this little person was not a child as he had wrinkles on his face and hands, and his hair was grey. He was a man of indeterminate age, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He was wearing a dashing brocade waistcoat, and he looked every inch the eccentric gentleman.

‘Uh, yes, sir,’ Harry answered in surprise.

‘What? Never seen a Hobbit before?' the small man asked although he didn't seem as astonished by this as he sounded.

‘Uh, no, sir. I don’t get out much, I guess,’ Harry replied, shaking his head.

‘Hobbits are small folk. We live in Hobbit Holes, and Bag End, where I used to live, is a particularly fine example of one,’ the Hobbit told him proudly, puffing away on a pipe.

‘Maybe I’ll see it someday,’ Harry said, smiling down at the Hobbit.

‘Yes, maybe,’ the Hobbit responded, looking up at Harry. ‘My nephew, Frodo, arrived in poor shape. Got all the Elves in a tizzy. Lord Elrond has been working tirelessly to save him,’ the Hobbit clarified anxiously, gesturing to the Elves. ‘I know he’ll pull through, he’s a Baggins,’ the Hobbit added softly, more to himself than to Harry.

Harry and the Hobbit moved up the steps towards Elrond’s study. ‘Oh, I almost forgot my manners, how silly of me,’ said the Hobbit, chuckling to himself. ‘I am Bilbo Baggins,’ the Hobbit greeted, reaching out his tiny hand to shake Harry’s.

Harry held out his hand, and Bilbo had to use both of his small hands to shake his hand. ‘I’m Harry Potter,’ he greeted back, grinning at Bilbo.

‘Oh, that’s an unusual name,’ Bilbo said, leading the way into Elrond’s study as Harry raised his eyebrows in disbelief. ‘And where are you from, Harry?’ Bilbo probed, and Harry froze at the question.

‘Uh… I’m from-’

‘Bilbo Baggins!’ Gandalf exclaimed with a beaming smile, saving Harry from having to answer.

‘My dear Gandalf!’ Bilbo cried as Gandalf dropped to his knees to embrace his old friend.

Gandalf pulled back, holding Bilbo’s shoulders. ‘Good to see you got here safely,’ he said, his eyes twinkling.

Gandalf pulled back and placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘Harry, here, is my apprentice,’ Gandalf told Bilbo, to which Harry glanced up at him in surprise. Gandalf smiled at him, giving him a look which said he would explain later and to go with it.

‘An apprentice? Well, this is a new thing for you, my friend. I didn’t think Istari took on apprentices,’ Bilbo answered pensively, eyeing Harry with a slight frown.

‘Maiar, Bilbo,’ Gandalf corrected him, smiling at his old friend. ‘And we do, from time to time,’ he told him, a twinkle in his eye.

Bilbo nodded indecisively. ‘Any word on Frodo’s condition?’ Bilbo asked, wringing his hands nervously.

‘Frodo is going to be fine,’ Gandalf replied with a smile, and Bilbo sat down in relief.

‘Oh, good,’ Bilbo answered, shaking his head. ‘Are the Elves finished? I want to go see him,’ Bilbo said, standing up and moving to the door.

‘Yes, Bilbo Baggins, it is done,’ came a deep voice from the other side of the room. They all turned to see a strikingly handsome man standing in another doorway. His face was neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. The man nodded to Bilbo, and the Hobbit beamed at him before rushing away out the door.

‘Lord Elrond,’ Gandalf greeted, lowering his head in reverence.

Elrond moved further into the room. ‘And this is one of the three you mentioned before?’ he questioned, sitting down behind his desk.

‘Yes, Mr Harry Potter,’ Gandalf replied, placing his hand on Harry’s shoulder.

Elrond’s eyes moved to Harry’s hand before moving back to his face. He sat back in his chair, clasping his hands together. ‘I can see the likeness,’ Elrond said cryptically, making Harry frown. Elrond sighed. ‘I trust this information will be kept secret for now?’ he asked, looking at Gandalf.

Gandalf nodded. ‘Yes, Lord Elrond,’ he countered, turning to Harry. ‘Take your ring off, Harry, and keep it hidden,' Gandalf said, and Harry frowned up at him.

Harry took his ring off. ‘Why?’ he asked, looking down at his ring which he slipped into his pocket.

‘I’ll explain when the others get here,’ Gandalf explained, looking out the window. ‘Which I imagine won’t be long,’ he added with a smile.

‘What others?’ Harry asked, looking between Gandalf and Elrond.

‘Soon, Harry,’ Gandalf said, shaking his head. ‘For now, let us leave Elrond in peace,’ Gandalf said, leading Harry from Elrond’s study.

The two wizards walked down the stairs and further into Rivendell. They met with Bilbo who was sitting at a small table on a patio outside a large hall. Harry looked into the room, seeing a lot of Elves singing and dancing. ‘Tea, Harry?' Gandalf asked him, taking a seat at the table.

Harry nodded, moving over to another table with maps scattered all over it. ‘Ah, those are maps of the places I’ve been to,’ Bilbo told him, pouring tea into two teacups.

‘Do you mind if I have a look?’ Harry asked, gesturing to the maps.

‘Not at all!’ Bilbo answered with a smile, sitting down and turning his attention to Gandalf.

Harry frowned when he noticed some drawings of a ring on some parchment next to the maps. He squinted, wondering what it was meant to represent. Harry glanced towards Gandalf who was watching him before turning his eyes back to the picture. He moved some of the sheets, looking at other sketches. One of them was covered in rings all over the page, and mad scribbling he couldn't quite understand. Harry's frown deepened, and he moved the papers back into place, hoping that ring wasn't the same one he suspected it was.

Is that why Gandalf is here? Harry wondered, turning back to Bilbo and Gandalf. He took a seat, making a note to ask Gandalf when he got a chance.

Harry noticed another map on the table; this one was framed and charred in one corner. Gandalf smiled to himself, looking sideways at Harry. ‘I may have given Bilbo a nudge out of his comfort zone in the past. He went on a journey with a dwarf named Thorin. He gave Bilbo this map,' he explained, and Harry nodded, looking at it a bit more closely. The title at the top read: The Lonely Mountain.

‘I was shocked to find the Elves don’t know about Afters, Gandalf! I was very disappointed indeed,’ Bilbo complained, picking up a pork pie and taking a bite.

‘Afters?’ Harry asked Gandalf in confusion, receiving a chuckle from the old wizard.

Bilbo stood up and picked up a sponge cake from another table. ‘But I found this, so we should be fine. I just hope it will be enough,’ he said thankfully, placing it on the table.

Gandalf nodded, looking at Harry. ‘Afters,’ he reiterated in amusement, pointing to the cake.

Harry, on the other hand, was eyeing the stack of food Bilbo was piling onto the table with raised eyebrows. ‘Not enough?’ Harry asked Gandalf, who shrugged and smiled.

‘Hobbits, Harry,’ Gandalf countered with a chuckle. ‘You will become well acquainted with them,’ he advised, leaning back in his chair and sipping his tea.

‘Cake?’ Bilbo asked, turning to Harry.

‘Uh, no thanks,’ Harry replied, eyeing all the food. His stomach growled as he realised he hadn’t eaten in days.

Bilbo turned back, his eyebrow raised. ‘No, that will not do. You need some food too, I should think,’ he said, his eyes glinting.

Harry moved to stop him. ‘No, sir, it’s fine,’ he said quickly, but it fell on deaf ears. Harry looked at Gandalf for help, but the old wizard just smiled.

‘One thing you'll learn, Harry, is Hobbits have an insatiable appetite and are very generous hosts,' Gandalf told him, smiling at Bilbo.

Harry smiled, watching Bilbo pile food onto a plate for him, and shook his head.

oOoOo

Hermione opened her eyes, squinting against the sunlight shining through the trees, momentarily blinding her. She loathed camping, wishing with hindsight they had thought to use the tents she still had in her beaded bag. Then again, if they needed to make a swift getaway, they would have to leave them, and Hermione didn't want that to happen.

Hermione shivered in the cold morning chill. The blanket she covered herself with was thin and scratchy. Hermione felt groggy and agitated from sleeping rough. For a moment, she lay there, listening to the chirping of birds, and looking at all the little things she missed the night before due to the darkness.

Hermione looked over at Ron. He was facing her, but he was still sound asleep. Ron’s face was tranquil, and he was missing the pinched expression he had adopted from all the trauma they suffered over the last year. The Horcrux hunt was a complete nightmare. Not only did Ron leave because of the effects of Slytherin’s Locket, but Hermione also discovered the redhead had feelings for her. Feelings which Hermione wished, with everything in her, that she reciprocated, but she just couldn’t find it in herself.

Hermione’s gaze moved to Malfoy, and she speculated if he would ever change. Draco Malfoy was free to be whoever he wanted to be without the burden of his father or Voldemort arbitrating his every move. Although, Hermione thought this would not happen any time soon, and she appreciated he would always be a Slytherin at heart. Hermione couldn’t help feeling sorry for him though, having lost his mother. It was clear there was more to the Malfoy’s than she initially thought.

Hermione sighed, realising they really needed to get up and make a plan for what they were going to do. She knew Diagon Alley was the next stop in their new mission, but Hermione knew they would need to be cautious. Death Eaters would be everywhere, and there was the likelihood that they would need to fight their way through them to achieve their goal.

Hermione rolled her eyes, letting the cold air of the early morning wake her up a little more. She sat up, wrapping the blanket around her to keep the chill at bay. Hermione shivered, looking around the small camp. The fire had gone out, but a warmth lingered in the embers.

‘Ah, you’re awake,’ came a voice from behind her.

Hermione turned to find Snape emerging into the clearing. He lit the fire with a flick of his wand, before turning back to her. ‘Wake the other two up. It’s about time we left. I’ll double check the area,’ Snape advised, moving off into the trees.

Hermione frowned, stifling a yawn and looked at her two sleeping companions. Draco was blinking, apparently having been woken up by Snape's voice. He yawned and pushed his blanket back as he sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Draco stood, stretching, and moved over to his satchel, pulling things out of it which Hermione couldn’t quite see.

After a moment, Draco moved over to the fire, which was now burning merrily, and placed a triangle cooker in the middle of it. Hermione understood he must have been using this to cook food for himself. She found it a little curious to watch him using a Muggle technique to cook when he had always seemed to abhor anything to do with Muggles.

Draco pulled his satchel towards him; it was an expensive bag he had used in school. Hermione noted it was now tattered, with burns here and there. She was relatively stunned at this, as Malfoy’s tended to keep their personal items in above perfect condition. Alas, Hermione supposed Draco had abandoned that right when he turned against Voldemort and his father.

Draco paused, looking over at her. ‘Do you want something for breakfast?’ he slurred, his voice still groggy from sleep. Draco kept his tone polite, but you didn’t have to be sorted into Slytherin to know he wasn’t a morning person.

‘Sure, just whatever you can spare is fine,’ Hermione replied, giving him a smile and keeping her tone soft so as not to set him off.

Draco nodded, reaching into his satchel and pulling out various breakfast delicacies and setting them on the triangle cooker.

Snape came back into the camp. ‘Good, you’re awake,’ he said to Draco, receiving a short nod. Snape moved over to Ron, nudging him with his foot. ‘Wake up, Weasley,’ he snapped, getting an irritated groan from the redhead.

It took Ron a moment to come to, and he sat up, rubbing his eyes blearily before scowling at Snape. ‘Geez, can’t a guy sleep,’ he protested, but as soon as Ron detected the food Draco was making, his stomach gave a loud growl. Ron lowered his head in embarrassment before glancing at them sheepishly.

Hermione laughed, and even Draco let out a little chuckle. ‘Hungry, Weasley?' he asked, sparing Ron a glance.

‘I haven’t eaten since yesterday,’ Ron mumbled, his ears turning red in mortification. Ron yawned, standing and stretching before moving closer to the fire.

‘Snape, you wanting anything?' Draco called to the Potions Master, receiving a negative response. Draco shrugged nonchalantly like this was a typical response.

Once the food was ready, Draco shared it equally onto three small plates that he pulled from his satchel. He handed a plate to each to Hermione and Ron, before digging into his own food.

Hermione ate slowly, having not eaten properly in days she wanted to savour every morsel of food she could get. Although, Hermione was never one to rush her food in general, even if she was starving.

Ron, on the other hand, was eating his share like it was his last meal. After he was finished, he passed his plate back to Draco who raised his eyebrows at him. Ron shook his head, looking at Hermione who wasn’t even halfway through her own, and it was only a couple of sausages, a hash brown, an egg, and a bit of black pudding.

Ron studied her, it was something he did a lot, hoping she wouldn’t notice. It wasn’t just because he loved her, he just found her mesmerising. Ron thought Hermione was the most beautiful woman in the world, although he knew he was biased in this, she just had an otherworldly aura about her. The way she moved sometimes, it was almost graceful and calculated.

Ron remembered the first time Hermione corrected his homework, and he had to ask her what she had written because her writing was like calligraphy. It was like Hermione didn't belong in this era. Ron shook out of his thoughts and looked away from Hermione when she stood to hand her plate back to Draco.

‘So, what’s our plan?’ Ron posed casually, picking up his and Hermione’s blankets and folding them up.

‘Diagon Alley, right?’ Hermione countered, moving to help him.

Draco nodded. ‘We can Apparate there,’ he said, not moving to help them, but observed them from his position on the ground.

‘But…’

‘Granger, the Dark Lord shattered the Apparition Wards around the Forbidden Forest so they could get in and out. I highly doubt your Order have had a chance to put them back up with being confined to the castle,’ Draco argued before Hermione could question his logic about Apparating.

Hermione’s mouth snapped shut, an indication that she was about to contend his point, and crossed her arms. ‘Well, do you know the safest point we can Apparate to?’ Hermione probed instead, glaring at the Slytherin.

Draco shrugged. ‘Knockturn Alley is out; it will be teeming with Death Eaters. We could always Apparate to Muggle London and enter through the Leaky Cauldron. From there, Flourish and Blotts is across the road,’ Draco surmised, tapping his chin contemplatively.

‘I hate to say it, but Malfoy’s suggestion is probably our best bet,’ Ron said with a sigh, grimacing at agreeing with Malfoy again.

‘Of course, I’m a prodigy,’ Draco countered smugly, making Ron want to punch him in the face.

Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘Wouldn’t the Leaky Cauldron be full of Death Eaters as well?’ she questioned, looking at Draco with an I-am-positive-your-plan-will-fail expression.

Draco’s grin abated slightly. ‘Either way, we have to be ready to fight,’ Draco countered with a shrug. ‘We don’t know that anyway. Last time I was there most of them stuck to Knockturn Alley,’ he told them.

Hermione sighed, realising Draco was right. ‘Fine, that’s what we’ll do when it comes to it,’ she huffed, shaking her head. Draco chuckled, earning a glare from the Gryffindor. ‘So, Malfoy…’ Hermione trailed off, looking at Draco.

Draco frowned at Hermione. ‘Yes, Granger?’ he probed when she didn’t speak for a few moments.

‘Can I ask a question?’ Hermione asked, looking directly at him.

Draco stared back at her, wondering if she could use Legilimency and pulled up his walls just in case. However, he didn’t feel anyone trying to probe into his mind. ‘You just did,’ Draco muttered, picking up a stick and prodding the fire with it.

‘No need to be pedantic,’ Hermione snapped, rolling her eyes. ‘I just wanted to ask why you joined You-Know-Who,’ she said, crossing her arms in irritation. Ron looked at Hermione in surprise, but when he glanced at Draco, the Slytherin didn’t seem perturbed by the request.

Draco remained silent for a few moments thinking about the question. ‘It wasn’t my choice,’ he finally answered, placing his empty plate on the ground next to his satchel. Draco pointed his wand at the three empty plates. ‘Scourgify,’ he muttered, placing the now clean plates back in his bag.

Ron and Hermione shared a stunned glance. ‘Everyone has a choice, Malfoy,’ Ron said darkly, scowling at the Slytherin.

Draco glared at him. ‘If you call being tied to a chair, tortured, and the brand forced onto my forearm a choice, Weasley,’ Draco retorted indignantly, clenching his fists.

Ron’s blanched, and he closed his eyes regretfully. Hermione stared at Draco in shock. ‘They did that?' she asked in a small voice. Hermione despised Draco, but she would never wish something like on anyone.

Draco sighed, shaking his head. ‘Everyone in the Malfoy family has served the Dark Lord since he was in school. My grandfather, Abraxas, was one of his closest followers in Hogwarts. My father, who heard stories of how great the Dark Lord is, joined as soon as he got a chance. When my time came, I was expected to join eagerly as well,’ Draco paused, jabbing the fire with the stick.

Draco continued after a moment of silence. ‘I was different,’ Draco whispered with a dark chuckle. ‘So, good old Lucius thought he could beat some sense into me. If I so much as doubted what the Dark Lord was doing…’ Draco trailed off, staring into the fire. ‘It’s a wonder I never became resistant to the Cruciatus Curse,’ he stopped, his voice cracking slightly.

Ron and Hermione stared at him, unable to comprehend what Malfoy had to go through. Ron still looked unconvinced, but he couldn't be sure, so he kept his comments to himself. Hermione, on the other hand, scarcely breathed for fear Malfoy would stop talking. She felt sorry for him, and everything that had happened to him, but this was a glimpse at the Slytherin who tormented them for years. Hermione wanted to know why and what his real views were. Hermione wanted to know who the real Draco Malfoy was.

Draco sighed, tilting his head. ‘I’m a Malfoy, so I was a slave to the Dark Lord before I was born. Now, I’m stuck with this mar on my perfect skin until I die or he dies,’ he told them, making Hermione and Ron raise their eyebrows at his choice of words for his skin.

Unexpectedly, Draco pulled his sleeve up, exposing the black skull on his forearm, the snake protruding from its mouth. Ron looked like he was about to be sick, and Hermione recoiled away from it. Just seeing it made her think Voldemort could see them through it.

Draco looked down at it in revulsion, his mouth a contortion of pain. ‘When it swells like that, it means he is calling us. It feels like someone is stabbing my arm with hot knives, over and over again. It only stops if we go to him, and if we ignore it, the pain is almost blinding,’ he cringed, biting his lip from the pain, and a tiny trail of blood trickled down his chin.

Snape came into the clearing, staring at Draco with a frown. ‘Ingorio,’ he muttered, his wand pointed at Draco’s arm.

Draco took a deep breath as the pain promptly faded. He smiled at Snape in thanks. ‘You really need to teach me that spell,’ Draco said, pulling his sleeve back down.

‘It is fairly simple, really,' Snape said, showing them the sharp flick to the left and wide anti-clockwise circle with his wand. ‘The incantation is "Ingorio",' he told them, putting his wand away. ‘It stops the pain, but only from cursed marks,' Snape added, looking around the area.

Hermione touched her bandaged arm, wondering if it would work on the word “Mudblood” carved into her arm. She looked over at Snape to see him watching her, and he gave a small incline of his head, indicating that he believed it would work.

Hermione was about to try it, but their peaceful surroundings were broken by the frightened screeches of birds leaving their perches in the trees. She frowned, wondering what had disturbed them at such an early hour in the morning.

Snape was alert immediately, listening for noises coming from within the otherwise quiet area. ‘We need to leave,’ he said, looking at them in turn. ‘Now,’ he ordered, and everyone rushed around the clearing, grabbing what little items they had with them.

Snape moved towards the trees, pointing his wand at his hand. Several red dots, close to their location, appeared on his hand in contrast to four green dots indicating them. ‘Go now!’ he called to them, sprinting over and pointing his wand at the fire, dousing it.

They froze when shouts emitted from the trees, before swiftly moving about. Hermione pulled out her wand as she grabbed her beaded bag. She ran over to Draco and Ron who were already waiting to leave. The two Gryffindors sprinted into the trees, but Draco stopped. ‘Snape!’ he called to the old Potions Master.

‘Go! I'll stall them!' Snape growled back. He disillusioned himself, and after a moment, figures emerged from the trees into the clearing.

Draco nodded, turning and dashing into the trees. One of the Death Eaters spotted him. ‘Don’t let him get away!’ he barked, and jogged towards the trees, but something tripped him up.

Snape appeared, his wand drawn and pointed towards them. ‘Lucius,’ he said in greeting as one of the Death Eaters removed his mask, uncovering the pale face and long blonde hair or Lucius Malfoy.

‘Severus Snape turned traitor,’ Lucius spat, pointing his wand at Snape. His blue eyes moved to the trees where he could have sworn he saw Draco disappear into. ‘Explain something, Severus. How is it that brat I called “son” is still alive?’ Lucius enquired conversationally, moving to circle Snape like a predator stalking its prey.

Snape shrugged. ‘I guess miracles really do happen, Lucius,’ he countered complacently, not moving to yield even though five wands were pointing at him.

Lucius paused, eyeing Snape. ‘Ah, I see,’ he said simply, the pieces clicking into place. ‘I did ponder where Narcissa had vanished to. Looks like I still have a brat to kill,’ Lucius fumed, raising his wand.

‘You won’t touch him!’ Snape barked, firing a purple beam at Lucius, sending the elder Malfoy into a nearby tree.

All hell broke loose as the other Death Eaters fired spells towards Snape, but he held his own, deflecting them and sending them back. Snape managed to knock out two of the five remaining Death Eaters, before the sixth, who was still on the ground, slammed his fist into the back of Snape’s knee. Snape lost his balance, falling to his knees.

The Death Eater got up, retrieving his wand while the other two moved towards him. One of them sauntered over, stopping in front of Snape. They pulled off their mask, revealing the eccentric curls and gleaming eyes of Bellatrix Lestrange. ‘Such a shame, Sevvy,’ Bellatrix whispered, leaning forward and licking his cheek.

Snape scowled, pushing her away and Bellatrix cackled maniacally. She moved over to Lucius and revived him as the other Death Eaters made sure Snape wouldn't escape. Lucius got up with a groan, glaring at Snape before moving over to him. ‘Good show, Snape, but it was not enough,' Lucius raged, pointing his wand at Snape. ‘Now, tell me, was Draco with anyone else?’ he interrogated, trying to use Legilimency, but Snape’s mind was a fortress.

‘Albus has won…’ Snape said contently, smiling up at Lucius. ‘My conscience is clear,’ he added, closing his eyes and waiting for death which would inevitably come.

Lucius shook with fury. ‘What do you mean?’ he grilled, but when Snape didn’t reply, and he started humming a familiar tune under his breath that Albus Dumbledore used to sing, Lucius lost it. ‘Avada Kedavra!’ he screamed, and the green light engulfed Snape, who slumped to the ground, the smile still on his face.

‘You shouldn’t have killed him, Lucius,’ one of the Death Eaters said in astonishment. ‘There are other ways to get information-’

‘I know!’ Lucius shouted, shaking his head. ‘I will explain to the Dark Lord,’ he said, not looking forward to that exchange. Lucius stalked towards the trees where Draco had disappeared. ‘Did any of you see anyone else with Draco?’ he asked, rounding on his five companions.

‘I saw a girl,’ Bellatrix answered in her high baby-like voice.

‘Did you see what she looked like?’ Lucius probed, moving over to her and clutching her chin forcefully.

Bellatrix glared at Lucius, pulling her face out of his grip. ‘No, but if we find Draco we will find her,’ she said heatedly, strolling past him to look around the area.

Lucius clenched his fists. ‘I want them found!' he ordered the four masked Death Eaters, and they Apparated away.

Bellatrix glanced up at him. ‘What are we going to do, Lucy?’ Bellatrix enquired, and Lucius flinched at the nickname she had given him.

‘We will go to the Ministry,’ Lucius countered harshly and Apparated away without waiting for her to follow.

Bellatrix sighed, looking around the clearing again, and her eyes focused on something that could be of relevance. She moved over to it swiftly, leaning down to scoop it up, and twirled it around. It was a green-tinted pebble, something Draco used to collect when he was a child. ‘Interesting,’ Bellatrix whispered, but she sulked when she grasped it wouldn’t give her any hint as to where they had gone.

Bellatrix scanned the area again, her eyes falling on the body of Severus Snape, and her mouth split into a wide grin. After searching him and finding nothing of importance, Bellatrix scowled in frustration and Apparated away to join Lucius at the Ministry of Magic.

oOoOo 

Harry sat in a window seat in Frodo’s room while Gandalf moved to the chair next to the bed. Harry had been in Rivendell for six days already with no sign of Frodo waking up, and he hoped the small Hobbit would pull through. Elrond had been pretty resolute the small Hobbit would be fine, but Gandalf looked concerned.

‘Do you think he’ll wake, Gandalf?’ Harry asked, standing and moving to look at the bookcase along the wall. They were all written in Elvish, so Harry had no idea what the titles said, but he wanted to keep active. There wasn't much to do in Rivendell at the moment, and most of the Elves kept to themselves.

‘Yes, any moment now,' Gandalf muttered, and Harry looked over at him with a frown. Frodo groaned, and Harry moved over to the bed in astonishment. He cast a sideways glance at Gandalf but didn’t comment.

‘Where am I?’ came Frodo’s voice, feeble and alarmed.

‘You are in the House of Elrond, and it is ten o'clock in the morning on October the twenty-fourth if you want to know,' Gandalf replied, grinning down at the small Hobbit.

Harry moved to open the curtains, brightening the room up before moving back to stand next to Gandalf. ‘Is he okay?’ Harry asked softly, receiving a nod from Gandalf.

Frodo’s eyes flickered open, and he looked around at the room. His bed was next to an open window, and dappled sunlight played on ornately carved timbers. The sound of a nearby waterfall drifted through the panorama of fir trees outside. Frodo looked over at Gandalf and Harry. ‘Gandalf!’ he whispered faintly, looking relieved to see the old wizard.

Gandalf puffed on his pipe softly, smiling down at Frodo. ‘Yes, I’m here. And you’re lucky to be here too. A few more hours and you would have been beyond our aid. But you have some strength in you, my dear Hobbit,’ Gandalf clarified, patting Frodo on the head warmly.

Frodo sat up in his bed, looking at Gandalf questioningly. ‘What happened, Gandalf? Why didn’t you meet us?’ Frodo questioned, shaking his head.

Gandalf looked away out the window. ‘I am sorry, Frodo,’ he countered gently, his eyes troubled. ‘I was delayed,’ he whispered dejectedly, closing his eyes.

Harry frowned at him. ‘I hope I wasn’t the reason,’ he said, shaking his head.

Gandalf turned to look at Harry. ‘No, you arrived after, but the plan was to meet you along the way. However, complications arose,’ Gandalf informed them cryptically.

‘I meant to ask… what happened to…' Harry trailed off, not knowing how to ask such a question in front of Frodo. He had explicitly been told not to talk about the future for the moment in front of anyone, and he hadn't had a chance to ask Gandalf anything without other people around. It was maddening. Harry just wanted to know what happened to Ron and Hermione.

‘They are fine,’ Gandalf answered simply, smiling at Harry who nodded in relief. Although this only quelled his curiosity for now. Harry still had loads of questions to ask.

‘Frodo! Frodo! Bless you, you’re awake!’ came a shout from the door and in ran Samwise Gamgee.

Harry had been introduced to the other three Hobbits, Sam, Merry, and Pippin when they finally arrived with that Ranger. "Strider", they called him, but Harry didn’t get a chance to really speak to him or see him before he departed. He hadn’t seen him since, and that was a few days ago.

‘Sam has hardly left your side,’ Gandalf told Frodo, grinning at the two Hobbits.

‘We were worried about you, weren't we, Mr Gandalf?' Sam replied, beaming at Frodo.

Gandalf nodded. ‘By the skills of Lord Elrond, you’re beginning to mend,’ Gandalf answered as the Elf Lord in question walked into the room.

Elrond walked up to Frodo’s bedside. ‘Welcome to Rivendell, Frodo Baggins,’ he greeted, nodding his head. Frodo sat up, looking at Elrond with awe. ‘You have found your way to the last homely house east of the sea. The Elves of Imladris have dwelt within this valley for three thousand years, though few of my kin now remain,’ Elrond elucidated with a smile.

Frodo nodded, getting out of his bed and sluggishly moved to the window with the assistance of Harry and Sam. Frodo looked out at the stunning valley, and a huge smile blossomed on his lips, brightening his face.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Diagon Alley; Where Once We Walked

Hermione, Ron, and Draco landed in Muggle London, in an alley just around the corner from the Leaky Cauldron. Ron shot out his hand to steady Hermione who stumbled while Draco leaned heavily against the wall.

‘Snape… do you think he made it?’ Ron asked, moving to the mouth of the alley and peering out.

Draco closed his eyes. ‘Probably not,’ he replied sadly, shaking his head. ‘That man always did have a death wish,’ Draco murmured, walking casually out of the alley.

Ron rolled his eyes at Draco. ‘You better not get us caught,’ he hissed, trailing after the Slytherin.

‘Hush, Weasley. I’m in as much danger as you are. Although, we’re more likely to get caught by your red hair acting as a homing beacon,’ Draco countered, frowning at Ron and tutting.

Ron’s face reddened, but any comeback was stopped abruptly by Hermione grabbing his arm. ‘Do not bait him, Ronald,’ Hermione warned, before scowling at Draco who was waiting for them. ‘And we need to work together if we’re going to get that book,’ Hermione reasoned, trying to think logically about how they were going to succeed.

‘Wonderful, you’re using your brains, Granger, but that doesn’t mean we’re best friends all of a sudden. I still despise you,’ Draco said, smirking at her.

‘The feeling is mutual, believe me,’ Hermione hissed through clenched teeth, holding Ron’s arm to stop the redhead from attacking Draco.

‘Do you have any spells in your vast arsenal which can change appearances?’ Draco asked, tapping his chin pensively. If they could disguise themselves, it would be much easier.

Hermione shook her head. ‘Not really. I can change hair colour, but that’s about it,’ she answered, hating the fact she didn’t know what to do.

‘That could work. Would throw them off at first glance,' Draco replied, nodding his head.

Hermione nodded. ‘Fine, but I don’t want either of you pestering me about changing it because you don’t like it,’ she huffed, tapping her wand on Ron’s head first.

Ron’s hair grew out to the length his brother, Bill, had his. It was curly and poofed out of his head. The colour of his hair changed from red to dark brown. ‘That actually suits you, Weasley,’ Draco said, raising his eyebrows. ‘You look like one of those Muggle rock stars,’ he added, making Hermione and Ron stare at him in bewilderment.

‘How in Merlin’s name do you know about Muggle rock stars?’ Hermione asked, trying to process what he said.

Draco smirked at her. ‘I know everything because I'm amazing,' he answered arrogantly. ‘And I don't need to explain myself,' he said, frowning at them.

Hermione shook her head before moving over and tapping Draco on the head as well. Draco’s blonde hair became black, and it grew out down to his chin while part of it covered one of his blue eyes. Draco looked in one of the shop windows before looking at Hermione. ‘I’m detecting a theme,’ he muttered, pointing at his hair. Draco had to admit, he liked it, but he didn’t think his mother would have approved. At this thought, Draco felt tears sting his eyes.

Hermione gritted her teeth, hoping Draco wouldn’t attract any female attention with how he looked. He looked more striking with dark hair… Hermione ignored her thoughts, knowing that just because he was attractive physically, his personality was foul.

Hermione tapped her own head, and her curls became straight and shortened to her shoulders. Her hair colour changed to blonde with green tips.

Hermione pointed her wand at Draco, Ron, and then herself, transfiguring their current clothes into plain, black robes, and frowned. ‘You know, we will probably draw more attention by looking like this than we would normally…’ she trailed off, looking in the shop window and finding she actually liked her hairstyle now.

‘Too late now,’ Draco muttered distractedly, grabbing the sleeves of their robes, and dragging them towards the Leaky Cauldron.

‘I can walk on my own, you know,’ Hermione snapped, pulling her arm away from him. ‘I think we should try and act as casual as possible. It might look suspicious if we rush straight through to Diagon Alley,’ she whispered thoughtfully, and the boys nodded.

‘Reconnaissance first, and then we make our move. That works for me,’ Draco muttered with a shrug and slowly opened the door to the Leaky Cauldron. He peered in, taking a quick look around. There was no one in there he recognised. ‘I think we’re clear,’ Draco said, pushing the door open fully and leading them in.

The three made their way to a table in a dark corner and sat down, trying not to look suspicious. ‘Repello wizards and witches,’ Hermione said softly, her wand under the table.

Hermione quickly pulled out three tumblers, a bottle of Butterbeer, a book, and a deck of cards. She poured the Butterbeer into the glasses before handing one each to them along with the deck of cards which Draco picked up and started shuffling.

‘Infinite Incantatem,’ Hermione whispered, taking off the repelling charm. ‘Muffliato,’ she then said, so they could speak without anyone eavesdropping.

Draco and Ron looked at Hermione appreciatively that she had thought this through. Draco dealt out the cards, and Ron picked his up even though he had no idea what they were playing. He didn’t know any Muggle card games even though he knew it was just a ploy to ward off awareness to them.

‘Do either of you recognise anyone in here?’ Draco asked, looking down at his own cards and smirking.

Ron glanced around swiftly. ‘No and I used to know everyone who came here,’ he told them, looking back at his cards. ‘What are we playing?’ he asked Draco.

‘No idea,’ Draco countered, placing one of his cards down. Ron frowned and placed one of his down. Draco smirked at him. ‘I win,’ he said with a chuckle.

‘How can you win a game if you don’t even know what you’re playing!?’ Ron seethed, glaring at the Slytherin.

‘Because I’m just that good.’

‘You’re a complete jackass!’

‘And you’re an unsightly twit!’

Hermione rolled her eyes, drowning out the insults Ron and Draco were throwing at each other. She looked down, feigning reading her book, but it was a unique book she fashioned that was see-through. It gave the illusion of someone reading, but they were observing everything going on.

Hermione raised the book marginally, noticing three hooded and cloaked figures entering the pub. ‘Shut up,’ she whispered urgently to Draco and Ron who stopped bickering. ‘Look,’ Hermione said, not looking up from her book.

Draco reshuffled the deck of cards, his eyes drifting over the pub. His gaze halted on the three cloaked figures who lowered their hoods. ‘Delightful,’ Draco said derisively, his lips in a thin line.

‘Who are they?’ Ron asked, not risking a glance at them.

‘Dolohov, Yaxley, and Goyle Senior,’ Draco told them, lowering his head.

Hermione blanched, remembering the curse Dolohov had used on her in the Department of Mysteries. ‘We should get out of here,’ Hermione said, cleaning the tumblers with a quick spell and putting them in her bag. The deck of cards went in next after Draco handed them to her.

The other patrons scrambled out the exit to Muggle London as the three Death Eaters made threatening comments about them daring to sit in “their bar” and that they would “kill any who were still in there within the next minute”.

Hermione, Draco, and Ron, not wanting to find out if this was merely a threat, hurriedly moved to the back door which led to the entrance to Diagon Alley. Draco shut the door, but not before the Death Eaters glimpsed their way. ‘Hold on!’ one of them barked.

‘Colloportus!’ Draco said, moving away from the door as the Death Eaters banged on it. ‘That won’t hold them indefinitely,’ he supposed, heeding the expletives of the three Death Eaters. ‘Language, gentlemen,’ Draco said, shaking his head. Draco moved to the wall. ‘Be ready for anything,' he warned them and raised his wand to tap the wall.

‘Too bad we don’t have Harry’s Invisibility Cloak,’ Ron said dejectedly, taking out his own wand.

‘I don’t think we’d all fit under it anyway,’ Hermione said, pointing her wand at the wall.

Draco tapped the bricks and moved back as the entrance opened. The three peered out into the streets of Diagon Alley which were utterly abandoned. They quickly stepped out onto the street as the wall moved back into place and an explosion was heard from the door to the Leaky Cauldron.

‘We have to move!’ Draco said, sprinting down the street with Ron and Hermione following closely behind. The managed to get into the alcove just before Flourish and Blotts and Disillusioned themselves as the three Death Eaters came into view, running past them down the street.

The three breathed heavily. ‘Do you think Professor Dumbledore knew it would be this dangerous?’ Ron whispered, trying to catch his breath.

‘Perhaps, but he would also have confidence in our abilities, Ron,’ Hermione replied, shaking her head.

Ron peeked around the corner, seeing several Death Eaters standing a few metres away from them. One of them was Dolohov, and he couldn’t see where the other two went. The others didn’t look familiar at all. Ron pulled back in. ‘There’s more of them,’ he told them.

Draco looked out, cursing under his breath. ‘We can’t fight them, there’s too many,’ he muttered, peering out again. The Death Eaters were walking down the street, glancing into the buildings and down the alleys. ‘They’re aware,’ Draco said, crossing his arms. ‘We’ll have to run to the shop,’ he told them.

‘But, what if they go into the shop while we’re in there?’ Hermione whispered, shaking her head even though she knew neither of them could see her.

‘Then we hide and take them out quietly,’ Draco countered, reaching out and grasping what he hoped was her arm.

‘Who’s touching my arm?’ Ron asked in a frightened whisper.

‘Shit, Weasley germs,’ Draco muttered, wiping his hand on his trousers.

Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘This is not the time, nor the place!' she said heatedly, looking out onto the street herself.

Draco gazed out as well. ‘Now’s probably our best chance while they’re all in shops. Come on,’ he said, silently making his way out of the alcove. Hermione and Ron trailed after the outline of Draco they could just make out ahead of them. Draco reached the door to Flourish and Blotts, trying the handle. ‘It’s open,’ he whispered, opening the door only a little and slipping through. Hermione and Ron followed.

Hermione turned to the door. ‘Colloportus,’ she said and the door locked.

The three moved to the back of the shop before removing the Disillusionment Charm. Hermione tapped Draco’s and Ron’s heads, making their hair return to normal before fixing her own. Draco touched his blonde hair. ‘Aww, I liked my new hair,’ he said with a pout.

Hermione shrugged. ‘You could always learn the spell yourself and change it back,’ she told him, moving towards the bookshelves.

‘I could… but I'm lazy,' Draco countered with a sigh and sat on the stairs watching Hermione search for the book. ‘You know, there's possibly an easier way to get the book…' he trailed off, shaking his head.

Hermione shot him a look over her shoulder. ‘Oh? Do tell, Malfoy,’ she said, turning fully to look at Draco with a smirk he thought would make Slytherin proud.

Draco smirked back, pulling out his wand. ‘Accio Time Travel tome,’ he muttered, and his eyes widened as tons of books came careering towards him. Draco raised his arms to protect himself as they bombarded him.

Ron and Hermione laughed and moved over to him. ‘Well, at least you got all the books in that category in one place,’ Hermione said, picking up one of the books.

Draco scowled at her. ‘It was intentional,’ he said, picking up a book and flipping through it. Hermione and Ron raised their eyebrows, but neither of them commented.

‘How do you think we’ll know what the right book is?’ Ron asked, skimming the introduction of the book he was holding.

‘Dumbledore’s letter said he placed another message in the book we’re looking for,’ Draco replied with a shrug, leafing through his book rapidly before tossing it away from the stack.

Draco grabbed another book, looking down at the cover and grasped it was a children’s book and wondered how that got into the pile. He opened it and perused the first page before shaking his head and flinging it over his shoulder onto the floor.

Draco reached for another, catching the disapproving glance Hermione threw at him. He shrugged nonchalantly; now was not the time to be fretting about the books. Draco highly doubted anyone would be back to claim them, so keeping them in perfect shape was not at the top of his list of priorities. Half the books in the shop were tattered and dog-eared, so several more wouldn’t make a difference.

After an hour, Draco’s pile of tossed books had expanded significantly, but they were no closer to discovering which book it might be than they were when they started. He growled under his breath, hurling another one on the discarded mound and shook his head. ‘This is futile,’ he muttered, sitting down dispiritedly on a chair.

Ron sighed, putting his book down on the table and leaned against the wall. The two wizards raised their eyebrows as Hermione let out a groan of frustration and threw the book she was holding across the room.

Ron moved over to Hermione, taking hold of her shoulders gently. ‘Hey, we’ll find it,’ he reassured her, but she shook her head.

Draco stood and wandered behind one of the bookshelves. He leaned against the bookcase, letting out a sigh. Draco was irritated, discouraged, and he just wanted to get away from this senseless war which was meaningless. His eyes burned with unshed tears, and he knew it was not healthy to try and disregard what happened to his mother and Snape. Draco leaned his head back against the bookcase, letting the tears fall, and he slid down to the ground, placing his head in his arms.

Hermione and Ron appeared at the entrance to the section, unsure of what to do when they saw the blonde Slytherin crying. Hermione moved slowly towards him, shrugging off Ron when he took her arm to stop her. She sat next to him, tentatively placing her hand on his back.

Draco flinched, pulling away from Hermione, so she moved away from him. The Slytherin stood, pulling out his wand and blasted one of the bookcases, making it fall over. ‘This fucking war…’ Draco seethed, lowering his head as his shoulders shook.

Hermione looked at Ron who didn't seem much better. ‘I know how you feel, Malfoy,' Ron said miserably, leaning against the bookcase.

‘What the hell do you know, Weasel!?’ Draco snapped, turning around and glaring at Ron.

‘Fred… was murdered… during the battle…’ Ron faltered, trying to keep his emotions in check.

Draco sobered and shook his head. ‘I didn’t know,’ he muttered, slamming his hand into the bookcase. ‘What the hell is it all for?’ he said indignantly, looking out the window.

They were silent for a few moments, all three of them glowering at nothing while lost in their own thoughts. ‘Shit,’ Draco mumbled, kicking one of the books on the floor.

‘What?’ Hermione asked, looking at his crestfallen expression.

‘It's not here,' Draco said, cursing under his breath. ‘Of course, it fucking isn't. Dumbledore would never make it that straightforward,' he snarled, running a hand through his hair.

‘What are you talking about, Malfoy?' Ron asked, moving toward the blonde.

Draco blew out a breath of exasperation. ‘The riddle…’ he snapped back, glaring at the redhead. ‘I was wrong,’ Draco growled, picking up a book and hurling it across the room.

Hermione moved towards Draco. ‘So, do you have an idea where it might be?' She asked him, watching him kick another book. Hermione didn’t think she’d ever seen Draco this angry. She knew he was letting out his grief though, which he needed to do so he could focus.

For a moment, Draco was silent, and Hermione wondered if they would get a reply from him. ‘Granger, read the riddle again, but slowly,' he said, glaring out the window.

Hermione nodded, pulling out the letter from her beaded bag. She cast an eye over it until she reached the riddle and read it out loud to him. ‘“You will find in the heart of danger, but stealth and cunning must be applied to your search”,’ Hermione paused when Draco held up his hand to halt her.

‘So, we’re looking for the most dangerous place in the Wizarding World at the moment,’ Draco deduced, tilting his head. ‘What was next?’ he probed, turning to look at Hermione.

Ron came to stand next to Hermione as she frowned and read the next part. ‘“Concealed in a dwelling you know well, unseen from those outside the law, but in plain sight”,’ Hermione paused again, glancing up at Draco who was frowning.

‘A place hidden from Muggles, maybe?’ Ron suggested with a shrug. ‘And somewhere only people who work with the law can go? Like Aurors?’ Ron added, looking between them.

Draco looked at him, raising his eyebrows. What Ron said made sense, but Draco wasn’t about to concede that. ‘And the last part?’ Draco said, nodding at the letter.

Hermione looked back at the letter. ‘"It is farthest away from its home; next to the closest thing, it has to a complete opposite",’ Hermione finished, looking up and frowning. ‘So, it will be on the wrong shelf. Linked to something completely opposite from Time Travel,’ Hermione construed, receiving an absent nod from Draco.

Draco tapped his chin pensively as he muttered the riddle back to himself under his breath. After a moment, he turned to look at them. ‘I know where it is,’ he said, moving back through the shop and grabbing his satchel.

‘What? Where?’ Hermione asked, picking up her beaded bag.

‘Weasel, where is the most dangerous place in the Wizarding World at the moment?’ Draco asked, startling Ron by aiming the question at him and not Hermione.

‘I would say the Ministry of Magic,’ Ron replied, crossing his arms and scowling at Draco.

Draco smirked. ‘Precisely.’

‘You can’t be serious,’ Hermione said, her eyes wide at the notion that the book would be there. ‘Dumbledore wouldn’t put it somewhere that dangerous,’ she argued, crossing her arms.

‘Do you even know Dumbledore?' Draco asked, looking at her in incredulity. ‘After everything the "Golden Trio" endured for seven years, without him even batting an eyelid, and now you say he wouldn't put it in the most dangerous place?' Draco said, shaking his head.

‘I…' Hermione trailed off and closed her eyes. There really was no arguing with Draco on this one. Everything he said was accurate. Dumbledore really had let them go through hell without stepping in once. The copious incidents where they almost died, and he just let it happen. Even with the battle in the Department of Mysteries Dumbledore hadn't made an appearance until Voldemort had…

Ron lowered his head, cursing under his breath. ‘You know he’s right, Hermione,’ he whispered, clenching his fists.

Hermione sighed resignedly. ‘So, how do you propose we enter the Ministry of Magic? And where would the book be? There’s no library there,’ Hermione said, glaring at the blonde.

‘I’ll take us in. I have authority to Apparate in there, courtesy of a friend of mine. Even Lucius and the Dark Lord don’t know about that,’ Draco told them, shouldering his satchel.

‘And? What about the book?’ Ron asked him, his mouth set in a grimace. He was not looking forward to trying to traverse the Ministry of Magic which could be teeming with Death Eaters.

‘The Department of Magical Law and Enforcement,' Draco countered simply as if he were merely commenting on the weather. ‘The last time I was there, the Death Eaters had moved in, and magical creatures were roaming the place, so we'll need to find a way through them. I have an idea though,’ he told them, crossing his arms.

‘And what exactly is your plan, Malfoy?’ Ron asked, reaching up and pinching the bridge of his nose.

‘We get in, we find some Death Eater garb, and move through the ranks like we’re meant to be there,’ Draco retorted, smirking at Ron.

Ron shook his head in disbelief. ‘And you actually believe that will work?’ he asked in scepticism.

‘You’re unbelievable, Malfoy,’ Hermione said, shaking her head. ‘How do we know this isn’t a hoax to get back in favour with You-Know-Who?’ she grilled him abruptly, giving him an accusatory stare.

Draco raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh, so Dumbledore just included me in his letter, and I elaborately planned my own mother's death and Snape's death just to get back into the Dark Lord's good graces?' Draco seethed, his face becoming red in anger.

Hermione closed her eyes. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have-’

‘Don’t presume to know anything about me, Granger. No ruses; my life is in jeopardy as well, which you seem to forget,’ Draco snapped, glaring at her. ‘If I didn’t have to work with you, I would leave you to rot,’ he added heatedly, looking away from her and scowling at the floor.

There was a thick tension left by Draco’s words, but neither Hermione nor Ron said anything. Hermione felt dreadful at what she said, wishing she could rip her tongue out to prevent it from letting loose any more snarky words.

Ron, on the other hand, was a little taken aback by how sudden Hermione had been. Sure, he didn't trust Draco, but it hadn't even entered his head that he was shipping them off to Voldemort. Now, Ron couldn't help the slight niggling of doubt he did feel, but either way, he knew they were going to get through this or die trying.

‘Well, if you’re done making false accusations, I suggest we leave,’ Draco finally muttered, having calmed down somewhat from Hermione’s remark. He moved towards them, grabbing their arms and without warning, he Disapparated with them with a small POP.

oOoOo

‘His strength returns,’ Elrond stated from where he was observing Frodo, Sam, and Harry from his balcony.

Gandalf nodded, coming to stand next to the Elf Lord. ‘That wound will never fully heal. He will carry it for the rest of his life,’ he replied forlornly, watching the young Hobbit.

Elrond tilted his head. ‘Yet, to have come so far still bearing the Ring… the Hobbit has shown extraordinary resilience to its evil,’ he said wistfully with a frown, casting a sidelong glance at Gandalf.

‘It is a burden he should never have had to bear,’ Gandalf said resolutely, moving away from the balcony, and picking up his staff from where it was leaning against Elrond’s desk. Gandalf let out a sigh, looking at Elrond. ‘We can ask no more of Frodo,’ he said, knowing what Elrond was implying.

Elrond’s frown deepened. ‘Gandalf, the enemy is moving. Sauron’s forces are massing in the East. His eye is fixed on Rivendell. And Saruman, you tell me, has betrayed us. Our list of allies grows thin,’ Elrond declared, moving to stand next to his desk and fixing Gandalf with a penetrating stare.

Gandalf closed his eyes. ‘His treachery runs deeper than you know. By foul craft, Saruman has crossed Orcs with Goblin Men...’ he trailed off, looking up at Elrond. ‘He’s breeding an army in the caverns of Isengard. An army that can move in sunlight and cover great distance at speed. Saruman is coming for the ring,’ Gandalf told him anxiously, taking a deep breath.

‘What of these others you have assured are coming to our aid?’ Elrond asked, turning to look at him interestedly.

Gandalf closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Their arrival is imminent, but they have some tasks to complete first,’ he told the Elf Lord who nodded distractedly.

‘One of them is a woman?’ Elrond asked sharply, looking at Gandalf.

‘Yes, a very powerful one. I ask that she be treated with respect,’ Gandalf entreated, and Elrond raised his eyebrows.

‘What form of respect does she demand? Is she royalty?’ Elrond asked, amused at the request.

‘In a manner of speaking…’ Gandalf muttered, taking a deep breath when Elrond cast him an astonished glance having heard him unmistakably as if he’d shouted it. ‘She is to be treated on the same level as Harry. She will be in my care, and I will take full responsibility for her,’ Gandalf told him stubbornly.

‘And what of the Council? Do you assume she will be hailed by our guests?’ Elrond asked, glowering at Gandalf.

‘No, I anticipate there will be a lot of discord amongst the male occupants with a female present, but that is neither here nor there. She should be revered as I am,’ Gandalf stated crossly, frowning at the Elf Lord.

‘Who is she, exactly?’ Elrond asked, tilting his head.

‘You will know soon, Lord Elrond, I assure you. I must speak to them once they arrive, and then you will be informed of what is happening,’ Gandalf promised, bowing his head to the Elf Lord.

‘You and your secrets, Gandalf,’ Elrond said, shaking his head, but a smirk played on his lips. ‘These visitors…’ Elrond trailed off, casting a hard look at Gandalf. ‘What is their connection to the Ring?’

‘I cannot tell you, yet,’ Gandalf answered simply, making the Elf Lord scowl at him. ‘But, I will in due time,’ he added rapidly, hoping to placate Elrond.

Elrond sat down behind his desk jadedly. ‘This evil cannot be concealed by the power of the Elves…’ Elrond stated with a heavy sigh. ‘We do not have the strength to fight both Mordor and Isengard,’ he said, looking at the old Wizard. ‘Gandalf… the Ring cannot stay here,’ Elrond said, shaking his head and leaning back in his chair.

Gandalf turned his head towards the window despondently as the sounds of galloping horses reached his ears. He moved out onto the balcony, watching Men ride through the gate into Rivendell, followed closely by a contingent of Elves, and a group of Dwarves appeared from behind them. Gandalf looked up at the sky. ‘Precisely on time, as expected,’ he muttered, turning to look back at Elrond.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Subjected to His Will
As expected, the Ministry of Magic was swarming with Death Eaters. The atrium was occupied with them all standing about awaiting orders, most likely. Draco had Apparated them to a small niche, and just beyond it was a low wall which they crouched behind, barely hiding them from view. They watched as more Death Eaters emerged from the fireplaces and Apparated into the atrium to join the others who were already there.

Hermione looked at them all, comprehending that hundreds had allied themselves to Voldemort. The Order, although they all fought valiantly, would have ultimately succumbed under these numbers. They did not have half as many people on their side to overcome this many enemies.

‘We never stood a chance,’ Ron said dejectedly, shaking his head and drawing the same conclusion Hermione had.

Draco nodded solemnly. ‘No doubt most of the people here were assured of something if they allied with the Dark Lord. Their families would be safe, power, gold…’ Draco trailed off, closing his eyes.

‘We would have lost, regardless,’ Hermione whispered, tears burning her eyes, but she pushed them back. She knew she needed to be strong and keep a level head if they were to make it through this next trial.

The scene before them did make Hermione wonder how on earth she and Harry, just two ordinary magical people, could help in the coming war. How could two mere pieces of jewellery, heirlooms, hold the power to defeat the most powerful Dark Lord ever to have existed? For Sauron, Hermione believed, had to be more powerful than any others as he seems to have manipulated all of them to do his bidding.

Hermione shook that thought away. No, they had to stay optimistic. One step at a time, one trial at a time, one obstacle at a time. No use thinking about what happened in the past or what was happening in the present. There was no use questioning any of it. Hermione just had to trust Dumbledore, even if Draco’s words from earlier had shaken that trust again.

Draco sighed noisily, distracting Hermione from her thoughts, and she turned to look at him. ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked in a hurried whisper.

Draco shook his head, turning to the two friends with wide eyes. ‘There are a lot more Death Eaters here than there were when I was here last. I’m just trying to work out the best way to get past them undetected. Even with a disguise, it’s risky,’ Draco explained, rubbing his chin contemplatively.

Ron nodded anxiously. ‘We need to get to the book. Are there any back passages that go to the Magical Law and Enforcement offices?’ he asked bemusedly, his eyes widening as more Death Eaters appeared.

‘Nope,’ Draco answered, shaking his head.

‘Well, we can’t give up now. Dumbledore is relying on us,’ Hermione whispered, crossing her arms.

Draco glanced at her, sighing in defeat. All he wanted was to turn around, leave, and try to hide until all this blew over. Draco knew that wouldn’t be the case though. If the Dark Lord prevailed in whatever new plan he had brewing, Draco knew he would be six feet under before the end of the week.

Draco glanced back out at the Death Eaters. ‘Alright, we need some sort of strategy. Disillusionment Charms will not work this time,' he told them and pointed to some dark hunched figures standing amongst the Death Eaters. ‘Dark creatures. Nasty bastards. The Dark Lord has ways of seeing through that type of trick, by using them,’ Draco clarified, wondering if they would be able to smell if they were not Death Eaters.

‘So, disguises then?’ Ron asked, looking back at the Death Eaters. He didn't like the idea of dressing as a Death Eater, but he wasn't sure what other choices they had at this point. Ron would take anything if it meant getting through this and completing their mission.

Draco nodded slowly. ‘Yes, I would say that is our only option,’ he answered, looking around the area for where they needed to go to find disguises.

Hermione didn’t like this idea, but she agreed anyway, somewhat reluctantly. Draco raised the hood on his cloak, followed by the two friends, and beckoned them to shadow him, carefully sticking to the wall as they made their way to a corridor to the left of the masses of Death Eaters mulling around.

Draco led them into the hallway, which was narrow and more secluded from the atrium. They turned a corner, after checking for any Death Eaters, and were out of view from anyone. Draco blew out his breath in relief and opened a door on the right. He pulled them both in before closing the door. ‘Lumos,’ Draco muttered, and the tip of his wand lit up the darkness revealing them to be in a storeroom.

‘This is where they keep the Death Eater uniforms for the new recruits,’ Draco whispered, pulling them down and handing Ron and Hermione a set each. Draco grabbed a set for himself, grimacing as he looked at it. He never thought he’d ever have to wear the uniform again. The three companions changed into the gear in silence, discarding their old robes.

They stood for a moment while Draco checked Ron and Hermione had put them on properly. Draco then handed them each a mask, before covering his own face with one of them. Ron and Hermione shared a sickened glance before putting theirs on as well.

Draco moved to the door, tapping his wand on his hand. Three green spots appeared on his hand indicating them, and at the tip of his fingers, there were two red dots. ‘There are no Death Eaters in the immediate area, but they're close,' Draco told them, signalling for them to follow him.

Draco opened the door, looking up and down the corridor, before leading them out. Ron and Hermione hurried down the hall after Draco as he led them towards the atrium. Hermione held in her gasp at the hundreds of Death Eaters and dark creatures standing in the lobby, and she felt her confidence slipping a bit.

Ron cursed under his breath, thinking along the same lines as Hermione. ‘Won't the dark creatures sense we're not Death Eaters?' Ron asked Draco softly while trying to calm his nerves.

Draco tilted his head, having thought the same thing earlier. After a few moments, he shrugged. ‘Just stay calm and follow my lead,' Draco whispered to them, and they nodded.

Taking Draco’s advice, Ron and Hermione casually tailed the ex-Death Eater into the crowd while trying to remain composed. Hermione and Ron discerned they didn’t seem to be paying them any mind. Both Gryffindor’s shoulders sagged in relief at this.

When they reached the other side of the room, Draco headed towards the lifts in silence, followed closely by the other two. Two Death Eaters were guarding the lifts, standing behind the table the Ministry used to inspect wands.

Draco groaned. ‘Let me handle this,' he whispered to them, straightening himself up to his full height. Draco was glad he was almost the same height as Lucius and could imitate his voice and demeanour as well. Years of observing his father and admiring him were good for something at least.

The Death Eater guards scrutinised them suspiciously and blocked them when they advanced. ‘What is your business here?' one of them asked.

Draco stood still, eyeing them indifferently. ‘My business is my own and that of my two companions,' he said, narrowing his eyes at the Death Eater. ‘Our Lord wishes for me to search the archives for any information on his device, if you must know. Surely you would not hinder me in such an imperative task,' Draco added calmly, raising his eyebrows.

Hermione and Ron stared at Draco, trying to hide their astonishment at how much he sounded like Lucius. It was frightening, and they felt chills creep down their spine.

The two Death Eaters looked at each other in alarm, before stepping aside immediately. They bowed their heads at Draco. ‘Our apologies, Mr Malfoy, we didn’t recognise you. Go about your business, of course,’ the other said, opening the golden gate permitting them passage to the hallway which held the lifts standing behind wrought golden grilles.

Draco nodded to the two Death Eaters, before leading Hermione and Ron into the closest lift. The Death Eaters closed the gate, and Draco pressed a button on the wall. The three companions clutched onto the gold ropes hanging from the ceiling to avoid getting thrown about the lift when it moved. Predictably, the lift moved back violently, before shooting up. Draco took a deep breath, lowering his head and closing his eyes.

‘Are you okay?’ Hermione asked Draco, watching him slump resignedly against the wall of the lift.

Draco nodded absently. ‘It’s difficult to impersonate my father,’ he answered, standing up straight and gripping the gold rope firmly as the lift lurched to the left unexpectedly.

When the lift reached the correct floor, the gates opened and a woman’s voice spoke from the speakers. ‘Welcome to the Department of Magical Law and Enforcement. Please present your wand before entering the department.

Draco rolled his eyes, leading Ron and Hermione to the next door. Draco took out his wand, placing it on the engraved slot. It glowed green after a moment, and another voice pierced the silent department. ‘Thank you for your patience. Work smart, work safe, your future depends on it,’ and the door swung open to allow them entrance. ‘Have a safe and productive day,’ the voice said.

Draco, Ron, and Hermione entered the large room which looked more like a hall than an office complex. Draco led them past dozens of offices and open desk areas, before finally reaching a door with a silver plaque. The golden words “Illegal” were engraved on the plaque.

‘Here we are,’ Draco muttered, smiling at the other two before reaching for the door handle to open it.

The door was locked.

‘Bugger,’ Draco whispered, his eyes widening as an alarm sounded, followed shortly by footsteps and shouts emitting from the lift at the other end of the room. Draco sighed, almost in boredom. ‘Well, shit,’ he added, turning to face the Death Eaters running towards them.

The Death Eaters stopped in front of them, their wands pointed at various parts of their bodies. Draco looked at them all, noting there were only four of them and he wondered if reinforcements were on the way. The three companions didn’t dare move or speak.

‘Well, what do we have here?’ came a baby-like voice they recognised as belonging to Bellatrix Lestrange.

Hermione felt panic rise in her at that voice. It was a voice she had become all too familiar with, and she had never wanted to hear it again. Hermione felt the open wound on her arm prickling, reacting to the close proximity of the one who caused it. Hermione cringed at the pain while forcing herself to remain calm. After they were safe, she would have to remember to use the spell Snape taught them on it to see if it would help.

Hermione touched her wand which was up her sleeve, discreetly casting three Sticking Charms on the masks concealing their identities. Hermione wasn’t sure if it would work though if her spells were countered, but it may buy them some time.

Bellatrix took off her own mask, looking at the three of them with a demented smile and a wild gleam in her eyes. ‘Let’s see, shall we?’ she said in excitement, before reaching out and clutching the front of Draco’s mask.

Bellatrix attempted to pull it off but failed due to the Sticking Charm Hermione used. Bellatrix tried again, before taking out her wand and pointing it at the mask, but nothing happened. Hermione’s mouth twitched, but she fought the smirk trying to appear. It would not be in her best interest to smile at a time like this, but Hermione was grateful and surprised that her Charm seemed to be more potent than Bellatrix's counter-spell.

Bellatrix screeched in frustration. ‘Tie them up! I’ll get someone who can cut these masks off,’ she ordered the other three Death Eaters. ‘Don’t let them out of your sight or else,’ she added before stalking away back down the corridor.

The three Death Eaters nodded. Two of them grabbed Hermione and Draco first, while the third Death Eater cast ‘Incarcerous,’ at Ron, making ropes wrap securely around his hands. Ron growled when the Death Eater pulled at the ropes, tightening them further before turning on the other two.

Once Hermione was bound, she whimpered at the pain the ropes caused with being pressed snugly against the wound on her arm.

Draco, on the other hand, rolled his eyes as they tautened his ropes as well. ‘Now, now, no need to be quite so rough-’

‘Shut the hell up!’ the Death Eater, who was tightening Draco’s ropes, barked cutting the Slytherin off mid-sentence by pushing him into the wall.

Hermione let out an annoyed growl, making Draco, Ron, and the Death Eaters present whip around in surprise. Hermione kicked the Death Eater, who was gripping her ropes, in the tender area. The other two Death Eaters ran towards her, and Hermione kicked the first one on the shin, before drop-kicking the second one, causing him to smack his head off the wall.

Draco raised his eyebrows, smirking as he watched Hermione kick the one on his knees in the face, successfully knocking him out. Draco looked at Ron who was watching with wide eyes, and his mouth hanging open in shock. ‘Somehow I knew Granger would save us from this,’ Draco said with a chuckle as Ron nodded dazedly.

Hermione turned to them, after her outburst and blew out a breath. She dropped the rope which had been bound around her hands only moments before. ‘Come on, we need to get moving,’ Hermione said, disregarding their impressed expressions, and untied their hands.

‘Bloody hell,’ Ron muttered when he found his voice. ‘Where did you learn to fight like that?’ he asked, letting Hermione unravel the rope around his wrists.

Hermione smirked, and it was one a Slytherin would be proud of. ‘I don’t like being tied up and my arm…’ she trailed off, and Ron nodded in understanding.

Hermione freed Draco from his binds and then removed the Sticking Charms from the masks so they could take them off. ‘I think we need to get into this room now. We need to get the book,’ Hermione added, walking down the corridor to the door, her wand still clutched in her hand. She pointed her wand at the door. ‘Edr- or-’ Hermione whispered, in a strange language, and the door clicked open. (A/N: Sindarin Translation: ‘Open up,’). Hermione pushed the door open, before perceiving their looks of curiosity. ‘Uh… that was a spell Dumbledore taught me,’ Hermione muttered with a shrug.

Draco closed the door behind them, turning to look at Hermione interestedly. ‘Most spells are in Latin. What language did you use? I’ve never heard it before,’ Draco probed, crossing his arms with a frown.

Hermione shrugged, avoiding looking in Draco's eyes. ‘Some form of Elvish, I think,' she replied, pointing her wand at the door and speaking in the same language. The door locked. Hermione turned away from Draco and moved towards the room where all the forbidden books were kept.

Draco and Ron glanced at each other, before eyeing Hermione somewhat suspiciously. ‘When did Dumbledore teach you spells?’ Ron asked, trying to recall when Hermione wouldn’t have been with them long enough to learn them. ‘And why was Harry or I never taught them?’ he added as an afterthought.

Hermione let out an explosive sigh. ‘It was taught them throughout Hogwarts, and Professor Dumbledore could only show me the pronunciations and the mechanics behind it. He couldn’t actually use the spells himself,’ Hermione answered, shaking her head. ‘Not everyone is adept at learning them, apparently. I was one of the rare few who this type of magic answers to,’ Hermione clarified with a shrug, turning back to the large section of books.

Ron, sensing Hermione wasn’t going to enlighten them any further to this mystery about her, moved to stand next to her. ‘Whatever you did, let’s hope the door holds,’ Ron said, glancing back at it nervously. ‘We don’t have much time,’ he told them, receiving nods from Draco and Hermione. ‘Bellatrix left to get others. I’ll watch the door while you both look for the book,’ Ron suggested, moving over to the door with his wand drawn.

Hermione nodded, turning to Draco. ‘Any bright ideas?’ she asked, looking at the masses of books crammed onto dozens of floor-to-ceiling shelves.

‘It won’t be with anything related to Time Travel, obviously. What’s the opposite of that?’ Draco asked her, looking at the archives which were engraved into a board on the wall.

‘I’m not sure, but we both know that only the theory of Time Travel is not illegal. To actually go back in time is a huge felony. It would be straight to Azkaban if the Ministry of Magic were still in control,' Hermione said, going through all the information in her mind which could lead them to where the book was.

Draco nodded distractedly. ‘It would be no use to check if a book is missing from the Time Travel section. It would take too much time, and I don’t doubt this will be a book Dumbledore placed here himself,’ Draco explained, shrugging his shoulders to try and rid himself of the tension building there.

‘There are too many books here to search manually,' Hermione agreed, pulling the letter out of her bag and perusing the riddle again, and her eyes widened in understanding. ‘There's a hidden message here,' Hermione muttered, taking out her wand and pointing it at the library. ‘Revelio Time Travel,' she whispered, and all the books relating to Time Travel glowed green on the shelves.

‘There!’ Draco exclaimed, pointing to a book nestled amongst the books relating to Law.

Hermione moved over to the book, waving her wand over it. ‘Revelio,’ she muttered, and the book glowed several different colours. ‘Of course,' Hermione said, rolling her eyes. Draco watched as she began chanting in the other language again, the tip of her wand glowing bright blue. Sweat beaded on her forehead as her chant turned into a song, and after a few moments, the book levitated from the shelf towards them. Hermione breathed heavily, wiping the sweat away and shakily reached out for the book.

The two turned towards the door as shouting could be heard from outside. Ron looked back at them apprehensively as the Death Eaters banged on the door. ‘You guys really need to hurry it up!’ Ron shouted, his wand at the ready.

Hermione and Draco shared a quick glance, before looking down at the tiny book in her hand. ‘Time travelling for Dummies!?’ Hermione shrieked while Draco couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped. ‘Dumbledore, this is not the time for your stupid jokes!’ Hermione seethed, opening the book and retrieving the letter from inside.

‘Hermione!’ Ron shouted worriedly, as the banging on the door amplified. ‘Colloportus!’ he shouted at the door, doubting if it would strengthen the spell that Hermione cast at it earlier.

‘Shit,’ Hermione muttered, putting the book in her beaded bag, and ripped the letter open. ‘Malfoy, go stand with Ron while I figure this out,’ Hermione said, and Draco nodded, running to stand with Ron, and pointing his own wand at the door.

Hermione looked down at the letter, skimming it hurriedly.

Dear Hermione, Draco, and Ron,

If you are reading my letter, I trust congratulations are in order.

I enclosed a necklace in my former letter, which you will need, along with this book, to bring you to this time. The necklace functions much the same as a Time-Turner, only it has been classified as forbidden due to the distances through time it can allow one to travel.

Once you arrive in this time, I will need the book and this necklace returned to me so I can store it securely. You may have need of it to return back to your time once your mission here is resolved.

Hermione pulled out the other envelope from her beaded bag, and tipped it, letting the necklace fall into her waiting palm. She put the envelope back in her bag and took out the book, before looking back at Dumbledore’s instructions.

The necklace is called the “Anann K' ɔ vn” which means “Time Void” in Sindarin, which is the Elvish language used by the Grey Elves or the Sindar Elves. As this necklace is more potent than a mere Time-Turner, you only need to place it on top of the book and move the top and middle sections until it begins to spin. Once that is done, Miss Granger will need to speak the Sindarin spell at the bottom of this letter. I trust you will be able to enunciate each word.

I have attuned the Anann K' ɔ vn, so it is locked onto my location in this time. It will take you to where I am when you arrive. The spell you will need to speak is as follows:

Tul- ammen na a anand i na- lelya-. I ín, 3018, i third anrand, na- where mín baur na n-

As an added note, please be conscious of referring to me as Gandalf in this time to avoid unnecessary confusion. Good luck and Godspeed.

Yours faithfully,
Gandalf the Grey

Hermione read the Sindarin spell to herself, paying close attention to her pronunciation of each word. She looked up as another bang splintered the door, and she knew she had to move fast. Hermione placed the book on the floor, before untangling the necklace hastily, moving the top section and the middle section until it began to spin. Hermione set it on the book, and a bright green aura glowed around them. The necklace floated above the book, still spinning.

‘I'm ready!' Hermione shouted at them, and they nodded.

Draco levitated a few desks in front of the door as more banging fractured it even more. ‘They really want in here!’ he shouted, running over to Hermione, followed by Ron.

Hermione handed them the letter, and the two boys quickly read it before giving it back to her. ‘You know a lot of Elvish. I assumed it was just a few spells,' Ron mused, looking back at the door as it was blown to pieces. ‘Here they come,' he muttered, already casting spells towards the Death Eaters entering the room in swarms.

‘Shit!’ Draco exclaimed, firing off his own spells. ‘We’ll keep them occupied, you just concentrate on the spell!’ he told her, and Hermione nodded.

Hermione found it challenging to focus with all the spells flying around, and she knew she was really not safe with her back to the fight going on but she had little choice. They were running out of time.

Hermione closed her eyes, pointing her wand at the book and the spinning necklace. She started chanting the spell which soon turned into a song. ‘Tul- ammen na a anand i na- lelya-. I ín, 3018, i third anrand, na- where mín baur na n-’ she sang, her wand glowing the same green as the book and the necklace.

Nothing happened.

Hermione stared at the book and the necklace in shock, knowing she said the chant and spell correctly. Suddenly, a wave of magic erupted from the book and the necklace, sending the Death Eaters flying across the room, hitting the wall and sliding down.

Draco and Ron, who were unscathed, ran back to her side as the green glow became a portal hovering just behind the book and the necklace. Hermione watched the necklace clatter to the floor, and the glowing stilled. She grabbed the necklace and the book, putting them into her bag quickly.

The three peered into the portal but were pulled out of their wonder as more Death Eaters entered the room. ‘There's no end to them!' Ron shouted, firing spells at them as they advanced on them.

‘Ron, come on! We don’t have time!’ Hermione yelled, moving to grab his arm just as a spell hit him. ‘Ron!’ Hermione screamed, running towards him, but Draco stopped her.

‘Are you mad!?’ Draco barked, looking over at Ron.

Ron struggled to his feet, before looking at Hermione and Draco determinedly. ‘Go!’ he shouted to them.

‘No, Ron! You have to come with us!’ Hermione cried, trying to fight against Draco. She managed to get free of Draco’s hold on her and ran towards her friend, firing spells at the oncoming Death Eaters.

Ron was firing spells at them as well as Hermione reached his side. ‘Go, Hermione,’ he said, shooting “Incendio” at a Death Eater and setting their robes on fire.

‘No, not without you!’ Hermione said steadfastly, clutching his arm.

Ron ducked the Killing Curse, and the green bolt flew over his head, singeing his hair. ‘You have to get out of here!' He barked, pulling his arm away from her. ‘Don’t you get it?’ he asked, dodging another spell and throwing a “Stupefy” back at the Death Eater. ‘I was never included in this mission! Dumbledore only mentioned that I keep you safe, and I have!’ Ron shouted, tears threatening to escape, but he ignored them and kept firing spells, taking out another two. He cast Fiendfyre as more arrived, taking them all out.

‘No, Dumbledore didn’t mean for you to sacrifice yourself, Ron!’ Hermione argued, trying to grab his arm again, but Ron pushed her away.

Ron shook his head at Hermione’s shocked expression, knowing it would be forever etched into his memory if he somehow survived this. ‘Malfoy! Get Hermione out of here!' Ron bellowed, more tears burning his eyes.

Draco sent a few spells at the Death Eaters, before clasping a hand on Ron’s shoulder and nodding to him. Draco grabbed Hermione, who was still in shock, towards the Portal. Draco watched Ron fight valiantly against the Death Eaters, while tears fell from Hermione’s eyes.

Ron fell to his knees, utterly exhausted at keeping the Death Eaters at bay. He turned to them, tears falling from his eyes. ‘I love you, Hermione,' he whispered, smiling at her dejectedly as a Death Eater shot another Killing Curse at him.

‘RON!!!’ Hermione screamed as Draco pulled her into the Portal, and everything went black.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Delicate Negotiations; The Doom of Man

Hermione tried to calm her wracking sobs as Draco pulled her into the Portal. Her stomach flipped, and she felt nauseated as everything spun around her.

Through her tears, Hermione could see clocks in different shapes and sizes encircling them; the digital and original faces were moving backwards at a rapid pace. One by one, the clocks vanished, and peculiar objects replaced them; some looked similar to scales, others seemed like sundials, while others didn't have a name she could associate them with. However, from what she could tell, they didn't look like any time-related object she had ever seen before.

Draco, on the other hand, had to concentrate very hard on not emptying the contents of his stomach. He clung onto Hermione, knowing she was his only anchor at the moment. He was acutely aware that if he let Hermione go, they might not make it out the other end. He also knew travelling through time could be calamitous and hoped they would end up where they were supposed to go.

Different colours flashed before their eyes like they were disco lights. Draco and Hermione witnessed snippets of their lives, being young, attending Hogwarts, and some were even recent. Tears filled Hermione's eyes again as Ron swam across her vision, the look of resignation on his face before the Killing Curse struck him. She clutched to Draco and closed her eyes, not wanting to see any more memories.

Draco didn't like watching parts of his life being shown to him. Most of it was just him being ordered about or trying to impress his father, and failing miserably in so many cases. He stumbled, tightening his grip on Hermione as the ground disappeared from beneath their feet, and they had the sensation of falling. His chest seized up at the thought that they had done something wrong and were not going to live through this.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the Portal turned a violent shade of bright green and spewed them out. Draco and Hermione landed on a hard-stone ground in agony. After the ringing in his ears receded, Draco became mindful of Hermione clinging to him and, without thinking about who was crying against him and soaking his shirt, he enfolded her in his arms.

There was a cacophony of sound as chairs and yells emitted around them; something about spies and who they were. Draco registered a familiar voice saying, 'Something happened,' but he was too dazed to look up.

'R-Ron,' Hermione whispered against him.

Draco was pulled out of his stupor, and he looked up to find an arrow, an axe, and a sword all pointed at them. His eyes widened in alarm, and he gently shook Hermione, making her look as well. She shook her head, her brain not registering they were about to be killed at any moment. Draco swiftly stood, before reaching down and hauling Hermione up with him.

'Who are you? Where did you come from?' the man behind the bow probed.

Hermione strained to focus on him through the tears still clouding her vision. Thoughts of Ron assaulted her mind, but she forced her grief back when she comprehended they were in grave danger. Hermione wiped her eyes, before glaring at the man holding the bow. 'Go on, shoot,' she whispered dangerously, her gaze drawn to his eyes which were the most stunning shade of blue she had ever seen.

'Uh… Granger, don't goad him,' Draco whispered from beside her, but Hermione disregarded him.

Hermione looked at the other two with the Bowman; a Dwarf holding the axe, and a ruggedly handsome man holding the sword. She presumed if they were going to kill them, they would have already.

'Do not tempt me,' came the silky voice of the Bowman, his eyes darkening in irritation.

'Stop this! Now!' came the familiar voice Draco heard previously and he was stunned to see Dumbledore, alive and well, walking towards them. In tow, was Harry Potter, who broke through the growing crowd towards them.

'Harry!' Hermione exclaimed, running into his arms.

'Gandalf, I trust you have a good explanation for this?' the Dwarf said, turning to look at Gandalf while gesturing at Draco and Hermione.

'All in good time,' the old wizard answered, and Draco recalled they had to call him Gandalf here.

'Enough!' came another, imposing voice. Everyone turned to look up at a man standing in the archway. His entire demeanour and the way he held himself demanded respect from all those present. Everyone fell silent as he moved through their ranks, and they moved out of his way as he came to stand next to Gandalf. He eyed them suspiciously, before turning his intense eyes on Gandalf. Draco was astonished to see Gandalf almost shrinking under this man's gaze. 'What is the meaning of this, Gandalf?' he asked the elderly wizard steadily.

'These are the other two allies I promised, Lord Elrond,' Gandalf answered quickly, bowing his head.

Lord Elrond's gaze turned back to them, but his eyes lingered on Hermione for somewhat longer than Draco. He frowned, looking back at Gandalf questioningly. 'We have much to discuss later, Gandalf,' Lord Elrond said softly, but his tone left no room for any dispute.

'Of course, Lord Elrond,' Gandalf assured him, looking at Draco and Hermione. 'Allow me to speak to my companions in private and then I shall come to you once they are settled,' Gandalf stated, and Elrond nodded after a moment.

'In light of their delayed arrival, the Council will be postponed until we have debated this further,' Lord Elrond declared, loud enough for all those present to hear. Some of them protested but fell quiet when Elrond's gaze turned on them.

Gandalf nodded. 'Of course, I apologise for causing delay,' he answered, before turning to Harry, Hermione, and Draco. 'Come,' Gandalf said, leading them away from the inquisitive onlookers to a secluded area away from prying eyes and ears.

Harry hugged Hermione again. 'I thought you were dead,' Hermione cried, burying her face in his chest.

'So did I,' Harry answered, caressing Hermione's hair gently. 'Where's Ron?' Harry questioned, pulling away and looking down at her anxiously.

Hermione shook her head as fresh tears escaped her eyes. Harry felt his stomach drop knowing it couldn't be anything good. Draco was the one who answered, 'Weasley… he sacrificed himself so we could get away. It was…' Draco trailed off, shaking his head. He still couldn't believe what Ron had done. It was admirable and courageous. Two words Draco never thought he would ever associate with a Weasley.

Harry closed his eyes, tears prickling at his eyes. 'Ron…' he whispered sadly, kicking a stone away into the trees.

Gandalf observed them with a frown. 'There was nothing anyone could have done for Mr Weasley. I had hoped my visions were mistaken, but…' Gandalf said forlornly, shaking his head.

'What do you mean?' Hermione asked in a small voice, looking up at the old wizard curiously.

'It was inevitable. Whether Mr Weasley came to this time or stayed in the future. It was always going to happen,' Gandalf clarified, leaning on his staff.

'So, Ron would have… died either way?' Harry asked, lowering his head dejectedly.

'I am sorry,' Gandalf answered, placing a comforting hand on each of Harry and Hermione's shoulders. 'I understand your need to grieve, but we must press on with other matters,' Gandalf told them, an urgent undertone in his voice. 'Do you need more time?' he asked, looking at Hermione's tear-stained cheeks, Harry's disheartened eyes, and Draco's bemused expression.

Harry took Hermione's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. 'No, it's okay. I doubt Lord Elrond will be thrilled with another delay,' Harry replied, looking back up at Gandalf.

'Well then, come with me,' Gandalf told them, signalling for them to follow him. 'You have arrived in Rivendell, the home of the Elves. The year is three thousand and eighteen, and the date is October the twenty-fifth,' Gandalf enlightened them as they walked with him down a path towards a waterfall and some stairs. Gandalf led them to a small table. 'Sit,' he told them, summoning a teapot and cups to the table.

Harry, Hermione, and Draco glanced at each other before pouring themselves a cup of tea each. Gandalf poured himself one, before leaning back in his chair. 'We have much to discuss,' he told them, receiving nods from them. 'Firstly, I must ask if you brought the Time Travel book and the Anann K'ɔvn with you,' Gandalf enquired, looking at Hermione in particular.

Hermione nodded and opened her beaded bag, pulling out the book and the necklace. She placed them on the table, and Gandalf picked them up, stowing them away in his grey cloak for the moment. Harry watched curiously, making a mental note to ask Hermione about it later.

Gandalf took a sip of his tea before eyeing them. 'Now, I would like to discuss your heirlooms. As I have advised Harry already, these must be kept concealed for the time being. It would not do to have anyone find out about them yet,' Gandalf explained, eyeing Hermione pointedly.

Hermione glanced at Harry before reaching up and removing the Evenstar necklace from around her neck. With a sigh, she carefully placed it into a pocket in her beaded bag. It was then Hermione realised that she was still wearing the Death Eater garb from earlier. She grimaced, making a promise to herself to burn them later.

'Good,' Gandalf said with a smile, clasping his hands in front of him on the table. 'Now, I can imagine your endeavour to get here was rather trying,' he said solemnly, watching Hermione's gaze lower to the table while she played with the hem of her cloak. Draco stared off into the distance with unseeing eyes.

'I am afraid your perils have only just begun,' Gandalf counselled, making all three of them look up, two pairs of eyes were quizzical, while the third pair showed determination. 'Harry has had the luxury of finding out some of what is to come as he has been here longer, but all will be explained during the Council meeting,' Gandalf clarified, and they nodded. 'If Harry has time, I am sure he will fill in any missing pieces as well,' Gandalf added, receiving a nod from Harry.

'You arrived a little later than I predicted, so the meeting has been delayed for now. However, I must stress the importance of why these peoples have gathered together here,' Gandalf told them, leaning forward and eyeing them all in turn.

'"Peoples", sir?' Draco asked, finally finding his voice after a while of not knowing what to say to anything going on. He felt like an outcast. The Slytherin surrounded by Gryffindors who Draco had despised for the last seven years and the man he was tasked to kill, but couldn't. He definitely felt out of his element.

'Yes, the Men, Elves, and Dwarves of Middle-Earth. It is not very common a meeting like this arises, but this threat imperils everyone,' Gandalf elucidated, smiling at the Slytherin who only frowned back.

Gandalf turned to Hermione. 'A word of caution to you, Hermione. Woman are treated very differently in this age. I have spoken to Lord Elrond about it, and we are both of the opinions you will not be welcomed at the meeting,' Gandalf told her and held up his hand to halt Hermione's tangent before she could start it. 'However, I have entreated for you to be regarded as I am. I imagine once Lord Elrond steps in, there will be little problem in you joining,' Gandalf explained, and Hermione nodded, biting her lip in apprehension of what was coming.

'Sir, when will the meeting be held?' Draco asked, crossing his arms and looking at the old wizard.

Gandalf shrugged nonchalantly. 'As soon as I am done placating Lord Elrond with the knowledge he desires, you will be summoned. I will send for someone to provide you and Hermione with fresh clothing in the meantime,' Gandalf explained, standing up and walking away. When he reached the stairs, he turned back to them. 'I am relieved you all made it here safely,' Gandalf said with a smile and a familiar twinkle in his blue eyes. With that, he disappeared down the stairs.

An awkward silence fell across them now that Gandalf wasn't there to keep them occupied on what he had to tell them. Draco stood and walked to the elaborately carved railing, leaning against it dispiritedly. Harry and Hermione scrutinised him for a moment, before talking in hushed whispers about what had happened.

oOoOo

When Gandalf entered Elrond's study, he didn't quite anticipate the Elven Lord to be as outraged as he was. 'Gandalf,' he said in warning, his eyes gleaming dangerously.

'Lord Elrond,' Gandalf hailed, keeping his tone light.

'I want answers,' Elrond stated, gesturing to the seat in front of his desk.

Gandalf sat down, unsure of whether to be greatly amused or somewhat terrified at the way Elrond was speaking to him. 'What would you like to know?' Gandalf asked him, raising his eyebrows.

'The girl,' Elrond said simply, sitting back in his chair. 'Tell me about her. I want to hear everything,' he demanded, clasping his hands on the desk in front of him.

Gandalf sighed, knowing there was no way out of this discussion. He knew what he was about to tell Elrond would have him interested in Draco as well. 'Very well, but I must warn that this information is to remain strictly confidential. Even they do not know the truth yet,' Gandalf stressed, narrowing his eyes at Elrond.

'As you wish. You have my word,' Elrond vowed, nodding for Gandalf to continue.

Gandalf sat forward in his chair and looked at Elrond in slight amusement. 'Hermione is a…'

oOoOo

Harry, Hermione, and Draco followed Gandalf wordlessly as he led them to where the Council Meeting was being held. Harry and Draco had been garbed in Elvish robes much the same as what Lord Elrond was wearing, and Hermione was dressed in a long green gown which was tied at her waist with a golden rope. Arwen, Elrond's daughter, had been the one to pick it out, but Hermione would have favoured something less… Slytherin.

Gandalf paused at the entrance to the Council Chamber. 'Now, please mind your manners and do not speak out of turn. It will not be tolerated by anyone present. You are going to be sitting among leaders of the free peoples of Middle-Earth,' Gandalf explained sternly, looking at Draco in particular who pointed at himself in mock-surprise. 'Oh, I know all about your loose tongue, Mr Malfoy. Do make sure you keep it from wagging,' Gandalf warned, raising his eyebrows at the Slytherin.

'I would never…' Draco started, but at Gandalf's cautioning glare he held his hands up in surrender. 'All right, no tongue wagging. I got it,' he said, crossing his arms and sighing.

Harry and Hermione glanced at each other in confusion, wondering what that was about, but they didn't have much time to ponder the mysteries of Draco Malfoy as Gandalf had turned back to the entrance and was leading them into the Council Chamber.

The two Gryffindors and solitary Slytherin followed Gandalf to the middle of the circular room before stopping in front of a round pedestal made of stone. Mumbling broke out amongst those in attendance, but the three newcomers did their best to ignore them.

Gandalf moved to the side of the three, and they bowed their heads to Lord Elrond like the old wizard had directed them to do. 'Lord Elrond,' Gandalf greeted in a loud voice, bowing his head to Elrond. 'You have already become acquainted with Mr Harry Potter,' he said, and Elrond nodded to him and signalled to a seat next to a small man.

Harry, who was already aware he would be part of the council, nodded to Elrond and took the seat he had been allocated. Harry gave Frodo a small smile as he sat down, receiving one in return.

Gandalf nodded before placing his hands on Hermione's and Draco's shoulder and looked at Elrond. 'I would like to introduce Mr Draco Malfoy and Miss Hermione Granger. Lord Elrond, I humbly request you permit them both to attend this meeting,' Gandalf entreated. Just as Gandalf had presumed, many of those assembled, predominantly the Men, stood and began arguing about allowing Hermione to sit in on the meeting.

Hermione held her chin up, trying not to let the words of these people upset her, but some of the remarks were harsh and cruel. These Men, Dwarves, and Elves knew nothing about her, yet they instantly judged. Hermione took a deep breath, remembering what Gandalf said about the time period. Women were treated differently here and were not considered as fighters or warriors. War was not a place for a respectable woman.

One offensive statement directed at all women from a man with light brown hair made Hermione turn and scowl at him, her composure forgotten. All manners she assured she would keep in check also went out the window. Hermione pulled out her wand, aiming it at the man who looked back in confusion.

'Hermione!' Gandalf exclaimed, grasping her wand arm and forcing her to lower it. 'Boromir, that was unkind!' Gandalf barked, chastising the man Hermione now knew as "Boromir".

Hermione's glare did not leave Boromir, and red sparks shot from her wand in response to her anger. 'Women are not inferior,' Hermione said in a tone of voice which demanded she be heard. All those who were still quarrelling stopped and gaped at her.

'Hermione-'

Gandalf was cut off by Elrond. 'No, Gandalf, let her speak,' he ordered, and Gandalf nodded, taking a step away from Hermione.

'War is no place for anyone, but everyone is affected by it,' Hermione started, looking around at those assembled before her eyes moved back to Boromir. 'Including women,' she bit out through clenched teeth, her glare returning. 'I have seen war and what it does to people,' Hermione said, moving her gaze over everyone again. 'I have seen death, destruction, and chaos first hand due to the followers of a mad man who wanted power. Myself, Harry, and our best friend were captured and tortured,' Hermione whispered, her voice shaking, but she reached down and covered her hand over the bandage covering the engraved carving in her arm. She wasn't quite ready to reveal that just yet. 'We did everything we could to stop him and in the end…' Hermione trailed off as tears filled her eyes.

There was a moment of silence where everyone looked at each other, unable to say anything to rebuke her. Hermione eventually looked back up with determination. 'I watched my best friend sacrifice himself so we could escape and come here to help in your war!' Hermione shouted, clenching her fists. 'I will not stand here and let you call me weak just because I am a woman,' she snarled, directing this at Boromir. 'You do not know me, and you do not know what I am capable of,' Hermione added, her eyes flashing at him furiously as more sparks erupted from her wand.

Hermione sighed, putting her wand away and took a deep breath to calm herself down. 'Do not speak to me of war. I have seen enough of it to last me a lifetime, and there are stories I could tell you which would give even you nightmares,' Hermione finished, turning away from Boromir.

Draco reached up and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze before letting her go. He may dislike Hermione, but what she said struck him as well. They had all lost a lot in the war.

Boromir sat back down, stunned by Hermione's words. 'I… apologise,' he whispered, motioning for the other Men to sit back down. Hermione nodded to acknowledge she heard him, but she didn't turn to look at him again.

Frowning, Harry lowered his head to hide the tears filling his eyes as he thought of all those he had lost. His mother, father, Lupin, Sirius, Ron… all gone because of Voldemort. Harry clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, his resolve to end the reign of Sauron filling his being. Sauron was the cause of everything, and Harry couldn't help but ponder how things would have turned out if Tom Riddle had been resilient enough to fight off the effects of the Ring.

Lord Elrond, on the other hand, was moved by Hermione's speech. He knew much of what she had spoken of from what Gandalf had told him. Elrond regarded them for a moment, before nodding slowly, and two new seats appeared. There was one between the Elves and Dwarves, and the other appeared next to the ruggedly handsome man who had threatened them with a sword when Hermione and Draco first arrived.

Draco moved towards the seat between the Elves and the Dwarves while Hermione took the remaining seat. The man next to Hermione gave her a small smile which she returned before concentrating on Lord Elrond.

Elrond stood and looked around at the members of the Council. 'Now we are assembled, allow me to introduce the free peoples of Middle-Earth who are in attendance for our newcomers. My brethren, the Elves…' he pointed to the Elves sitting by Draco. 'The Dwarves…' Elrond then nodded to the Dwarves who held up their axes, letting out a war-cry. Elrond raised his eyebrows at this, clearly not impressed. 'The Men of Middle-Earth…' he said, gesturing to Boromir, the rugged man, amongst others. 'Gandalf the Grey and the Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, of the Shire,' Elrond concluded, smiling over at Frodo.

Draco raised his eyebrows and smirked in amusement at the tiny man, but bit his tongue when Gandalf sent him a threatening glare. Draco shot him an innocent smile, before leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.

Everyone looked at Lord Elrond as he paced in front of his chair. 'Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky. Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone. Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die. One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne. In the Land of Mordor where Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, one Ring to find them, one Ring to bring them all together and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie,' Elrond recited, closing his eyes when he finished.

Harry and Hermione glanced at each other and shrugged, while Draco stared at Elrond in bewilderment. Harry looked down, noticing the Ring lying in Frodo's palm. He glanced at Frodo worriedly before looking back at Elrond.

Elrond opened his eyes and clasped his hands behind his back. 'Strangers from distant lands… friends of old. You have been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor,' he said, looking around at everyone gathered. 'Middle-Earth stands upon the brink of destruction. None can escape it. You will unite…' Elrond paused, his eyes hardening as they fell first on the Dwarves and then on the Elves. 'Or you will fall. Each race is bound to this fate. This one doom…' he trailed off and turned his attention to Frodo. 'Bring forth the Ring, Frodo,' Elrond said, motioning to the stone pedestal.

Elrond returned to his seat and observed as Frodo, who was much smaller than he appeared when sitting down, stood up and moved towards the pedestal. He looked around uncertainly, before placing the Ring in the centre after receiving a small nod from Elrond. Frodo returned to his seat and took a deep breath.

The Council members whispered urgently amongst themselves, some pointing towards the Ring in incredulity while others stood to get a better glimpse of it. 'So it is true!' Boromir cried in shock, his eyes widening.

'Sauron's Ring! The Ring of Power!' exclaimed the blonde Elf, who had nearly shot Hermione and Draco, in disbelief.

'The doom of man!' the Dwarf, who threatened them with the axe, said grimly.

Hermione frowned as an uncomfortable humming sound filled her ears. Several members of the Council also seemed to perceive of this, and she noted they almost looked as though they were falling into a trance as they gazed at the Ring.

Hermione glanced at the man next to her who was eyeing Frodo uneasily. Her gaze turned to the Elf who looked very uncomfortable as he stared at the Ring. He snapped his eyes up, locking them on hers. After a moment, he narrowed his eyes and looked away, leaving Hermione feeling perplexed. Was it because she had aggravated him into shooting them before? Or because she stood up to him? Hermione shook her head, before turning her attention to the Dwarves who were glaring at the Ring.

Boromir looked around at the Council before standing. He approached the Ring slowly as if drawn to it. 'In a dream…' He began slowly, his voice quiet, 'I saw the eastern sky grow dark, but in the West, a pale light lingered. A voice was crying: "Your doom is near at hand. Isildur's Bane is found",' he paused for a moment as he stared at the Ring. Elrond and Gandalf exchanged a troubled glance before looking back at Boromir who was reaching out to pick up the Ring. 'Isildur's Bane…' he whispered, just as his forefinger touched the Ring.

'Boromir!' Elrond shouted, standing from his chair.

Gandalf stood furiously, chanting in a different tongue. Around them, the clouds darkened as the Ring responded to the speech. 'Ash nazg durbatulûk…' he began as thunder rolled overhead. Boromir stumbled away from the Ring in fright, and the Dwarves looked around in alarm. 'Ash nazg gimbatul…' he continued as Elrond reached up to massage his forehead, his expression one of discomfort. Boromir continued to back away from Gandalf and the Ring in dread. 'Ash nazg thrakatulûk…' Gandalf spat, and the ground began to tremble. Hermione looked around in dismay. Boromir fell back onto his chair heavily, covering his head in distress. The painful expression on Elrond's face grew. Hermione looked at the Elf who seemed to dislike her and noticed his eyes were closed in pain. 'Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul,' Gandalf finished, and nature returned to normal as if nothing had happened. The only indication that anything had happened was the terror still plain on Boromir's face and the looks of disquiet on the Elves' faces.

After a moment of silence, Elrond turned to Gandalf. 'Never before has any voice uttered the words of that tongue here in Imladris,' he said sternly, his voice low with irritation.

Gandalf nodded at him ruefully, retaking his seat. 'I do not ask your pardon, Master Elrond, for the Black Speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the West!' Gandalf claimed to the Council crossly, signalling towards the Ring. 'The Ring is altogether evil,' he added, shaking his head.

'It is a gift… a gift to the foes of Mordor!' Boromir stated, contradicting Gandalf.

Draco looked at Boromir in confusion. 'How did you figure that one out?' he asked, frowning at him. 'Gandalf just said it was evil and you think it's a gift? I really don't think those two things go together if I'm honest,' Draco said with a shrug as a few people mumbled their agreement.

'But why not use this Ring against them?' Boromir asked the Council, standing and pacing in front of the members. 'Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at bay…' he said, looking around at them all. 'By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe. Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy! Let us use it against him!' he finished, and the Council broke into whispers.

'What good would that do, though? The only thing I have seen the Ring do is corrupt those who it takes hold of? Instead of using it for good, which I know you would try to do, you may end up using it for evil without meaning to,' Harry stated, receiving a smile from Gandalf and a frown from Boromir.

Harry stood and moved towards the Ring which he picked up to the surprise of everyone present. It didn't seem to affect him at all. 'Even if there is a way for us to wield this Ring, would you really want to risk turning on everyone and everything you love and cherish?' he asked, placing the Ring back down and frowning at it. 'I know a man who let this Ring corrupt him. Apparently, he was quiet and friendly, until it found him…' he trailed off, remembering what Gandalf had told him about Voldemort.

'But, despite that, there is always the chance that using it will help us win,' Boromir argued, trying to reason with Harry.

Hermione frowned. 'But the risk is too high. You could end up wiping out everything,' Hermione said, shaking her head.

Boromir turned to look at her with a frown and opened his mouth to answer her, but the rugged man next to her cut him off, 'You cannot wield it. None of us can. The One Ring answers to Sauron alone… it has no other master,' he said, shaking his head and narrowing his eyes at Boromir.

Boromir's eyes snapped to him. 'And what would a Ranger know of this matter?' he asked him coolly, glaring at him in disgust.

The Ranger said nothing to this, and Boromir turned away from him dismissively. The blonde Elf stood abruptly. 'This is no mere Ranger,' he growled, and Boromir turned to him with raised eyebrows. 'He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance,' he said heatedly, glaring at him.

Boromir turned back towards Aragorn in quiet disbelief. 'Aragorn? This is Isildur's heir?' he questioned in alarm, looking almost terrified at the thought.

'And heir to the throne of Gondor,' the Elf added, his eyes flashing.

Aragorn frowned, shaking his head. 'Havo dad, Legolas,' Aragorn told the Elf in Elvish, and Hermione discovered the Elf's name from this. (A/N: Sindarin Translation: 'Sit down, Legolas,')

Legolas sat down, ignoring Boromir's glare. 'Gondor has no King,' he told him scathingly, before turning to look at Aragorn. 'Gondor needs no King,' he muttered, sitting back down and scowling at Aragorn.

Gandalf leaned forward in his seat, resting his shoulder against his staff. 'There is a dark side inside all of us. Most have the strength to fight against it, but others are consumed until there is nothing left but evil. This is the very essence of what this Ring does to people. It is evil, and Aragorn is right. We cannot use it,' Gandalf stated to the Council.

Draco sighed, leaning back in his chair. 'I really don't want to do this anymore,' he whispered, closing his eyes.

'You are here for a reason, Malfoy,' Hermione said sternly, making Draco look up at her. 'And a time will come when you'll appreciate that coming here was the right decision,' she told him, her voice a bit more gentle.

Draco frowned, looking at the ground. 'Perhaps,' he said slowly, crossing his arms.

Lord Elrond's lips twitched slightly at the exchange before he turned to look at the Council as a whole. 'You have only one choice,' he said, looking down at the Ring before looking back at the members of the Council. 'The Ring must be destroyed,' he resolved. Boromir crossed his arms, looking a little disappointed at this, while Frodo looked at the Ring in contempt as the humming grew louder in his ears.

'Then, what are we waiting for?' the Dwarf shouted, standing unexpectedly and grasping his axe. He rushed forward, swinging his axe down on the Ring. The axe shattered with a deafening crack, sending the Dwarf stumbling backwards on the ground with a thump. The Dwarf gawked at the unscathed Ring to Elrond in disbelief while his companions helped him back to his feet. Frodo winced as an angry image of the fiery eye hit him, and he slumped in his chair, clutching his forehead. Gandalf looked at him in concern.

Elrond raised his eyebrows. 'The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Glóin, by any craft that we here possess,' Elrond explained, shaking his head. 'The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came,' he told them and stood from his chair. 'One of you must do this,' he announced, looking around at them all sternly. Everyone stared at him in stunned silence, before looking away with downcast eyes as if a great dread had descended upon them.

'Get Potter to do it. He loves getting himself into and out of danger,' Draco suggested to Elrond, breaking the silence and smirking at Harry who glared at him.

Boromir ran a hand across his forehead before looking at Elrond resignedly. 'One does not simply walk into Mordor,' he said in a quiet voice, making everyone turn to look at him. 'Its Black Gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland riddled with fire, ash and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly,' Boromir said anxiously, shaking his head.

Legolas stood, glaring at Boromir. 'Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said? The Ring must be destroyed,' he shouted at Boromir irritably.

Hermione was astonished at how quickly Legolas seemed to anger and made a mental note to stay away from him as he didn't seem to like her much anyway. As Hermione thought this, Legolas' eyes moved to her again, and she couldn't help but acknowledge how strikingly beautiful he was. His eyes were like sapphires that drew her in, but Hermione forced herself to look away from him, not wanting to drown in their depths.

Legolas' words seemed to rile Gimli. 'And I suppose you think you're the one to do it!' he shouted, causing the Elf to turn his glare on him instead.

Boromir leapt to his feet. 'And if we fail, what then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?' he yelled heatedly, but his words seemed to fall on deaf ears as Legolas continued to glare at Gimli.

Gimli sprang to his feet, stepping towards Legolas who was quite a bit taller than him. 'I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an Elf!' Gimli roared, clenching his fists and this caused an argument to erupt amongst the Elves and the Dwarves. Legolas held out his arm to stop the Elves with him from attacking the Dwarves, but that was about as much as he did. Legolas didn't actually join in with the dispute. After a few moments, the Men stood and joined in with the quarrel as well. 'Never trust an Elf!' Gimli barked at Legolas over the commotion, and the Elf's glare intensified.

Shaking his head tiredly, Gandalf stood angrily while Frodo looked on in curiosity before his eyes were drawn back to the Ring. 'Do you not understand? While we bicker amongst ourselves, Sauron's power grows! No one will escape it. You will all be destroyed, with your homes burnt and your families put to the sword!' Gandalf barked crossly.

Hermione reached up to rub her temples as she took in the sea of annoyed faces, shaking fists, accusatory fingers, and yelling coming from the Council members. 'Why can't they just talk about it? Do they really need to shout?' Hermione asked herself, not realising Aragorn heard her until he chuckled.

'Such is the way of the Council,' Aragorn answered with a smile at her. 'They think shouting will get their point across,' he said, shaking his head.

'It's really childish,' Hermione answered with a smile, receiving another chuckle from the Ranger.

'I will take it,' came a small voice from across the chamber. Hermione looked across at Harry who was standing next to Frodo, his hand clasped on the Hobbit's shoulder and a look of concern on his face. 'I will take it!' Frodo said again, raising his voice over the arguing people. Gandalf closed his eyes forlornly, having hoped it wouldn't come to this. The quarrelling died to stunned silence as everyone turned to look at the small Hobbit in astonishment. 'I will take the Ring to Mordor,' Frodo reiterated, looking around at them in determination.

'I can't decide if he's stupidly brave or bravely stupid,' Draco said, breaking the silence and earning a few chuckles. Gandalf rolled his eyes, smacking Draco lightly across the back of the head.

Frodo shook his head. 'Probably both,' he answered with a chuckle before looking at Gandalf. 'I do not know the way to Mordor,' he added.

Gandalf smiled and moved over to stand next to him. 'I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear,' he promised, smiling sadly at the Hobbit.

Harry placed his hand on Frodo's shoulder, before looking at Hermione and Draco meaningfully. The two came over to stand with him in front of Frodo. 'This battle is as much ours as anyone's. Gandalf said so himself. Plus, having some help along the way can't hurt, right?' Harry stated, giving Frodo a hug. Hermione smiled at Harry proudly, while Draco rolled his eyes and crossed his arms.

Harry and Hermione moved to stand next to Gandalf, both looking at Draco with raised eyebrows. Draco sighed explosively before moving to stand on Gandalf's right, next to Harry. 'I just know your hero complex will be the death of me one day,' Draco muttered, glaring at Harry.

'Oh? I can't wait,' Harry muttered, smirking back at him.

Aragorn's lips twitched, and he moved towards Frodo. 'If by my life or death I can protect you, I will,' he promised, taking out his sword and kneeling in front of him. 'You have my sword,' he pledged. Aragorn got back to his feet and moved to stand between Harry and Draco. Gandalf winked at Elrond who watched in amazement of what was unfolding.

'And you have my bow,' Legolas announced, bowing his head to Frodo before moving to stand behind him next to Hermione. Hermione glanced at him, noticing him looking at her before she turned her eyes back to the Council.

'And my axe,' Gimli avowed, much to Legolas' chagrin as the Dwarf moved over to stand next to him.

Boromir approached them, much to the uncertainty of everyone who offered their protection to Frodo. While everyone knew Boromir meant well, his willpower to fight the effects of the Ring had already proved to be weak. 'You carry the fates of us all, little one,' Boromir stated with a sigh, before glancing at Gandalf and then looking at Elrond. 'If this is indeed the will of the Council, then Gondor will see it done,' he pledged, and tried to smile at Frodo, but it looked more like a grimace in light of the circumstances. Boromir moved to stand behind Legolas and Gimli.

Frodo looked around in wonder as the greatest fighters in Middle-Earth stood at his side to protect him. 'Here!' shouted a voice. A rustling of leaves from a bush revealed another Hobbit as he pushed through it. 'Mr Frodo's not going anywhere without me,' he said, standing next to Frodo and crossing his arms.

Elrond looked at the Hobbit in amusement. 'No, indeed it is hardly possible to separate you even when he is summoned to a secret Council, and you are not,' Elrond said, making Sam smile guiltily back at him.

'Oi!' came another shout, and from another bush jumped out two more Hobbits who sprinted past an astounded Elrond to stand at Frodo's side. 'We're coming too! You'd have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us!' One of them said determinedly and crossed his arms. Elrond rolled his eyes while Gandalf chuckled in amusement.

The other one who appeared with him spoke next. 'Anyway, you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission. Quest. Thing,' he said, making Hermione giggle.

The other one looked at him in disbelief. 'Well, that rules you out, Pip.'

Elrond rolled his eyes again, shaking his head in amusement before surveying the group proudly. 'Twelve companions,' he said thoughtfully before nodding. 'So be it,' he added with a smile. 'You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring,' Elrond announced.

'Great! Where are we going?' The Hobbit called Pip asked, and everyone turned to look at him in incredulity. Harry and Hermione chuckled, while Draco reached out and patted Pip on the head.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Doubts that Linger; Pleasantries around a Bonfire

Draco kicked a stone as he wandered around the beautiful gardens within Rivendell. After Elrond had dismissed the Council, he found himself wanting nothing more than to be alone. It was apparent to him that Hermione and Harry wanted some time to catch up themselves, and Draco wasn't about to start hanging around Gryffindors just because they were in a different time and situation. He still had his pride as a Slytherin, and that wasn't about to change.

Draco stopped at the edge of a waterfall and sat on the rocks, watching the water cascade down into the pond at its feet. It was so peaceful, he wondered if he was dreaming all of this or maybe he had died, and this was heaven. Although, he didn't think someone like him would have ended up in heaven when he died. Draco was pretty sure there was a spot reserved in hell just for him.

Shaking his head, Draco closed his eyes, believing he would wake up from this wonderful dream and find himself back in the service of Voldemort. He had been nothing but a slave in his Master's fortress, forced to follow every order he was given blindly to ensure his own survival. However, he had one small triumph for himself; something Voldemort had never managed to succeed in taking from him. Draco's blood innocence. He had never killed a single person when he was told to, and Draco was adamant things would remain that way unless he had no other choice. He wouldn't be forced to take the lives of those deemed unworthy of living in a world where Voldemort was king. Draco shuddered at the thought of what could have happened had things turned out differently.

His mind turned to his mother, and he felt his chest tighten, tears stinging his eyes. Draco missed her terribly, but all he could see was the vacant stare of his own shell gazing back at him. It was disturbing, and he couldn't conceive how his mother felt when she knew she was going to die. Was she prepared? Did she feel fear? Draco shook his thoughts away. He felt responsible for what happened to her. His mother sacrificed herself to save him, and he wasn't going to let it be a waste.

With a sigh, Draco stood to continue his exploration of Rivendell while pushing the anguish of losing his mother to the back of his mind. He moved back into the radiant gardens, the smell of flowers overwhelming him. Some of the flowers blossoming on the bushes were completely foreign to him. He couldn't recall ever seeing them in his own time.

Eventually, he reached an area where there was a stunning, intricately decorated fountain made of marble. Sitting on the fountain was Harry and Hermione, deep in conversation. For a moment Draco watched them and felt a pang of isolation. He was alone in this time, and he had no one he could talk to. He felt envy knowing Harry and Hermione had each other amongst strangers. The pair looked up as he walked past them and he was surprised when they didn't throw an insult or scowl at him. Their expressions were neutral.

As he observed them, his jealousy turned to remorse upon spotting Hermione's bloodshot eyes. He could appreciate how she and Harry must feel. Draco felt the same when Crabbe died in the Room of Requirement after casting Fiendfyre. It was abnormal to see the two of them together without Weasley. Draco had questioned if he could have done more to help Weasley and, in retrospect, he wished he had tried harder. He felt wrong standing in this beautiful place when Weasley had done the courageous thing by giving them the window they needed to escape. Although Gandalf had said Weasley would have died either way, at least they would have been reunited for a time.

It would have been the right thing to do.

Draco scowled at his own thoughts. He couldn't even begin to tell right from wrong anymore. It was all just a matter of perspective whichever way it was looked at. Choosing not to do everything he could to help Weasley was a mistake, and Draco knew he would live with the questions of "what if" for the rest of his life. However, if he had chosen to stand by Weasley, he may be dead himself. Draco tried to tell himself he had been given little choice in this case, but when had he ever heeded Weasley before? Had Hermione not been there, Draco might have done things differently, but all their lives were at stake. He sighed, his reasoning doing very little to make him feel any better about the situation.

Draco tried to shake off the guilt, but while he seemed nonchalant on the outside, it was eating him up inside. He shook his head and left the clearing with the fountain, deciding he would return later when the two Gryffindors weren't there reminding him of his inner turmoil.

Draco found himself back at the bridge where he started, which would take him back towards the House of Elrond. With another heavy sigh, Draco kicked a stone and crossed the bridge, his head low, causing his blonde hair to fall into his eyes, and his hands stuffed in his pockets.

Back at the fountain, Harry and Hermione sat silently watching Draco's withdrawing figure crossing the bridge. 'Do you think he's lonely? His eyes were red like he'd been crying,' Hermione said, running a hand through her hair.

'I suppose he might be. He doesn't have anyone here,' Harry replied broodingly, picking up a stone and throwing it into the fountain.

'Is it wrong that I feel bad for him? I mean, he was so vicious to us throughout Hogwarts.'

'We were just as unpleasant to him. Hell, you punched him.'

Hermione smiled faintly at the memory, a blush colouring her cheeks. 'Yes, well, at the time he deserved it. If you or Ron had been laughing at that poor creature who was about to die, I would have punched you both too,' she told Harry, nudging him gently with her arm. At the mention of Ron, both Harry and Hermione looked down forlornly.

'He would have loved this place,' Hermione said after a few moments of silence.

'Yeah,' Harry said, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses.

'I miss him so much,' Hermione whispered, her voice cracking.

'I do, too,' Harry said hoarsely, trying to fight back his own tears. He took a deep breath to calm his emotions. 'Come on, Ron wouldn't want us to get upset. He would want us to remember the good times,' he said, pulling Hermione into a hug.

'You're right,' Hermione whispered back, shaking her head. She reached up, wiping away the tears trailing down her cheeks. 'Can we go to the library?' she asked, receiving a nod and a weak smile from Harry.

oOoOo

Harry looked back at the map he had borrowed from Bilbo. It was ancient, dog-eared, and discoloured with age. It dated back to the First Age but, according to Gandalf, it seems Middle-Earth had not changed much in the two thousand years since it was made.

Hermione was roving the aisles of the extensive library, quenching her thirst for knowledge as much as she could. She wanted to know everything about Middle-Earth, but most of the books were written in Elvish. Although Hermione knew Harry wouldn't question it – they had spoken at length about it, in fact, with Harry being particularly bitter for a short while at having that piece of information kept from him as well – but Hermione didn't want anyone else catching her. She resolved to come back later in the night to read those types of books.

'Trust you to find the library in this place, Granger,' came a voice from the doorway. They both looked up to find Draco leaning against the wall next to the door with his arms crossed.

'Malfoy,' Harry greeted casually, nodding at him.

Draco raised his eyebrows for a moment but held his tongue when the typical insults came to mind. Instead, he nodded back in greeting but didn't make any move to go over to them. They both looked at him in confusion for a moment before going back to what they were doing.

Draco sighed. 'Gandalf asked me to come and get you,' he explained with a shrug, and they both turned back to him expectantly. 'Ol' Lordy wants us to meet around some bonfire and exchange pleasantries,' he told them, his trademark smirk in place.

Harry's lips twitched at Draco's comment, but he just nodded and stood up from the table he was sitting at. Hermione frowned at Draco, placing her hands on her hips in disapproval. 'It's Lord Elrond, Malfoy. He deserves more respect,' she rebuked him, shaking her head.

'Oh? My apologies,' Draco countered satirically, giving her a mock bow.

The two Gryffindors came over to him. 'So, where are we meeting?' Harry asked, looking at Draco indifferently.

'In the gardens,' Draco answered, leaving through the door.

The two Gryffindors glanced at each other before following him. They trailed after him at a slower pace, whispering to each other. Draco disregarded them for the most part, but he felt that sting of loneliness again. He had thought about trying to build up some sort of truce with the two Gryffindors and imagined he would have to eventually, but he couldn't bring himself to do it just yet. Draco supposed being civil to them was a start, but he still found it hard to be, in any way, pleasant towards them without a plethora of insults assaulting his mind and possessing his tongue.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Boromir were lighting the bonfire when they approached the clearing. The area was small, but the Elves had gathered large logs for them to sit on.

Hermione was reminded of camping trips she used to go on with her parents. Her shoulders slumped, and tears threatened to fall when she thought about them. Now, Hermione didn't know if she would ever see them again. She had wanted to find a way to reverse the Memory Charm and try to form a relationship with them again. Hermione had no illusions her parents would be unreservedly furious with her for what she did. They wouldn't see it as protection, but a betrayal. Hermione frowned, reaching up to wipe away the tears gathering at the corner of her eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione pushed the thoughts of her parents to the back of her mind and looked around the clearing. The Hobbits were sitting cross-legged in front of the bonfire, holding thin, sharpened sticks with sausages skewered onto the end. She couldn't help but smile at them and found the scene to be rather endearing.

Hermione glanced into the trees to see Boromir collecting more wood from the neat pile the Elves had made for them. Aragorn was off to one side, puffing on a pipe and gazing into the fire. He looked lost in his thoughts. Gimli was sitting on the log next to the Hobbits, telling them a story about how he slew an ogre with a handaxe all on his own and that it was a coming of age ritual. Remarkably, Hermione noticed Harry and Draco had moved over towards Gimli and were engaging in his story. It was so unusual for her to see them both sitting together, asking questions and not trying to kill each other.

Looking around further, Hermione noted that Gandalf and Legolas were missing from the group. Shrugging, she took a seat on one of the logs and gazed into the fire, oblivious to the piercing blue eyes that had been watching her since she walked into the clearing.

It wasn't long before Gandalf appeared with Lord Elrond. The group were sitting on the logs, murmuring to each other or staring into the fire. Draco had moved over to sit next to her, but he hadn't said anything to her. Harry and Gimli were chatting enthusiastically to each other, and the Hobbits were giggling at their own private jokes. Boromir and Aragorn were speaking in hushed tones, but there was a sense of animosity between them.

It was then Hermione noticed Legolas, standing away from the bonfire at the edge of the clearing. He was almost entirely obscured in shadow, but she could make out his outline and golden hair. When Gandalf and Lord Elrond reached the clearing, Legolas came out of the shadows and came to stand just behind the log that Aragorn and Boromir were standing on. His eyes darted to her, and Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine at the intensity of his gaze. The spell was broken when Hermione forced herself to look away.

'Good evening,' Elrond addressed them, standing with his hands clasped behind his back. Everyone fell silent and regarded him with curiosity. 'Today we officially recognised the members of the Fellowship of the Ring. I will give you a two-month deadline to prepare yourselves for the journey awaiting you outside the protection of these walls,' Elrond explained, looking at each of them in turn. 'All preparations must be made within this time. It would be a good idea to hone your skills,' he told them, directing this mainly at the Hobbits.

Elrond turned to look at Harry, Draco and Hermione. 'I have been made aware of your skills in magic, but it may be wise to learn another profession so you can still defend yourself in the event that you lose your wand,' he explained, glancing at Gandalf who nodded thoughtfully.

'I will spend some time training you in new spells and abilities,' Gandalf told them, smiling at Hermione when her eyes lit up eagerly.

'Yes, but I must also advise you to seek out training in the basics of archery or swordsmanship. You are not expected to be experts overnight in these areas, but it may save your life,' Elrond counselled, looking at them earnestly. 'Of your companions, Boromir and Aragon are trained in the art of the sword, both with their own individual techniques taught to them by their previous masters. Legolas…' he paused, nodding to the Elf in question who looked somewhat uncomfortable as all eyes turned to him, '…has mastered archery and daggers. He will teach you what he knows, but do not be discouraged at being unable to match his level of skill,' Elrond told them with a smile. 'Make your decision wisely, for this may be the only chance you get. You will not be forced to choose a profession, but it is highly recommended,' Elrond said, eyeing them all sternly.

'I choose the banjo!' Draco blurted out before he could stop himself. Everyone chuckled at this except Legolas, Lord Elrond, and Gandalf who rolled his eyes.

Elrond raised his eyebrows, looking at Draco in amusement. 'Ah, have you been taught the way of the Bard, Master Malfoy?' Elrond asked, his lips twitching.

Draco shook his head. 'Umm… that would be a no,' he answered.

'Then, I propose you begin with something simpler,' Elrond advised.

Draco smirked, saluting the Elf Lord good-naturedly. Elrond held back a grin at the boy's antics before turning back to the Fellowship as a whole. He bid them a good night, before leaving the group to plan out the next two months.

'Have any of you used a sword before?' Boromir asked them, leaning forward interestedly.

'Or a bow?' Aragorn added, receiving a nod from Boromir.

Harry glanced at Gandalf who gave him a small nod with his head to let him know he could tell them about what happened with the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, but the Gryffindor knew he shouldn't say too much. None of these people knew where they were from, and he didn't even know if Hogwarts existed in this time. Harry cleared his throat. 'I once killed a Basilisk with a sword,' he told them softly, and all eyes turned to him. 'I wasn't trained to use one though. It was just survival instinct,' he clarified, not wanting to embellish it in any way.

Before anyone could say anything further, Lord Elrond emerged back into the clearing carrying something wrapped in crimson cloth. On the side was gold embroidery but Harry couldn't make out what it was. 'Master Potter,' Lord Elrond said, and Harry frowned but stood and walked over to him, bowing his head.

'Lord Elrond?' Harry quizzed in bewilderment.

Elrond glanced at Gandalf in amusement for a moment for looking back at Harry. 'I believe this belongs to you,' he told the confused Gryffindor.

Harry took the wrapped object and lay it carefully on the ground. He unwrapped the crimson cloth from around it and gazed at what lay beneath in astonishment. He couldn't believe it, but it was unmistakably the Sword of Gryffindor. It was the same silver, ruby encrusted goblin-made sword he thought he had left behind in the commotion leading to him being in this time. Etched across the blade near the hilt were the words "Godric Gryffindor".

'How?' Harry asked in puzzlement, looking up at Lord Elrond.

Hermione and Draco were also gaping at the sword in amazement. Harry had told Hermione he had wished he managed to grab some of the trinkets he had at Hogwarts in his dormitory. The Sword of Gryffindor was among them.

Elrond smiled, glancing at Gandalf. 'An old friend,' was all he said, before turning and leaving the clearing again.

Harry looked at Gandalf in confusion. 'How is it here, Gandalf? I left it behind,' Harry asked, being cautious not to give away too much information.

Gandalf smiled, glancing down at the beautiful sword. 'Gryffindor chose you to be the heir of his sword while it was still being forged, Harry,' Gandalf told him reflectively, observing as Harry picked up the sword. 'When you left with me, the sword returned to its master. Nevertheless, Gryffindor believed you may have need of it and sent it here to be protected by the Elves, until it could be given back to you,' Gandalf enlightened, smiling at Harry's overwhelmed expression.

'You mean, Gryffindor is here?' Draco asked, looking at Gandalf in disbelief and something akin to dread.

'Of course, he is,' Gandalf countered, shaking his head as if this should be obvious. 'He does not often refer to himself as "Gryffindor" here though. His real name is Aiwendil, and he is a Maiar, like myself. However, to most he is known as Radagast the Brown,' he clarified with a fond smile.

Harry glanced down at the sword for a moment, before grasping it in both hands with the tip of the blade suspended in the air. Harry arched it over his head, and swung it out deliberately in front of himself, listening to the steel singing with every move. Everyone observed this with fascination, in awe of the stunning sword.

Gandalf smiled at Harry in pride as he wielded the sword with ease. 'Yes, it was always going to be yours, Harry,' Gandalf said, making the Gryffindor look at him in interest. 'It does have a lot to do with your heritage as well,' he added, tapping his chin pensively.

'My heritage, sir? How is that even possible? How could Gryffindor have known to make me the heir to his sword?' Harry enquired in incredulity, almost forgetting for a moment that they had an audience who were listening raptly. He had to try and not give anything away that they were from the future. He would need to have a more in-depth discussion with Gandalf later, away from inquisitive eyes and ears.

'Ah, now I can answer that,' Gandalf said, sitting down on the log next to Draco and leaning on his staff. Harry sat on the ground in front of him with his legs crossed. 'Do you recall the unique skills gifted to Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff?' Gandalf asked Harry, being wary himself not to reference Hogwarts or Founders around the other members of the Fellowship.

'Slytherin could talk to snakes. Ravenclaw had intelligence beyond anything anyone had ever known. Gryffindor possessed loyalty and strength unrivalled by anyone. And Hufflepuff was known for her healing expertise,' Harry remembered, thinking back to what he had learned about them in Hogwarts. Also, Harry had to wonder what this had to do with Gryffindor knowing he should be the heir to his sword.

'Very good, I see you were heeding the tales, while others, besides Miss Granger, were inclined to sleep during those lessons,' Gandalf said with a chortle and Hermione flushed slightly. 'Hufflepuff was not only proficient at healing, but she also possessed another talent which only the four of them and the Elves knew about,' Gandalf explained, grinning at them.

Draco frowned. 'So, how do you know what it is?' he asked, tapping his chin thoughtfully.

'Why, they told me, of course,' Gandalf replied, shaking his head. 'They are dear friends of mine, in fact. Of course, you would not know who they are if you were introduced to them, except for Salazar. He was the only one who did not have an alias, and that is his real name. Only his last name was one given in the tales. No one knows what his real surname is or if he even has one. Those were the names given to them in the tales told about them,' Gandalf elucidated, smiling at their stunned expressions. 'Now, where was I?' he asked himself wistfully. After a moment his face brightened. 'Ah, yes, Hufflepuff. Well, she is a very powerful Seer. Unlike other Seers you have come across, Hufflepuff could use this gift at will,' Gandalf explained, looking around at everyone fleetingly as they gazed back, absorbed by his story.

Gandalf sighed contently. 'Helga Hufflepuff can see the future, and she listens to prophecies spoken to her on the wind. She saw you and permitted Godric to see you through her sight. And that is how he came to distinguish the strength you held, deeming you to be the only person, other than himself, who could tune themselves to his sword and wield the power it holds,' Gandalf explained, looking at the evident surprise on Harry's face.

For a moment, everyone was silent as they took in what Gandalf had told them. After a while, Hermione looked up at Gandalf interestedly. 'You said the names we were told were just aliases, so what are their actual names?' she asked, tilting her head.

'Well, I have told you about Radagast, which is only the name he is known by in Middle-Earth. It has been a long time since anyone referred to him as Aiwendil. He lives in Rhosgobel on the western borders of Mirkwood. He cares mostly for plants, animals and birds. His familiar is one of the great eagles, Gwaihir,' Gandalf told them. Harry, Hermione and Draco glanced at each other in awe before focusing their attention back on Gandalf.

'Regrettably, Salazar passed from this world recently. He was killed by a Mûmakil while shielding his wife and young son. The Hobbits refer to them as Oliphaunt's. They are comparable to mammoths, only much larger and their tusks are lethal,' Gandalf told them forlornly, shaking his head.

Draco looked away into the fire at this news. He had always held a deep admiration for Salazar Slytherin, and it was a disappointment to know the founder of his house at Hogwarts was dead. Draco had been excited about the news of the founders being alive in this time and would have been keen to meet Slytherin.

'Salazar possessed the long life granted to the Chieftains of the Dúnedain, but that is all I know. He was very secretive about his life and his heritage. All I do know is he never lived among them. Salazar took up residence with the Elves of Mirkwood for a long time. His wife was an Elf, and his son was half-Elf,' Gandalf said broodingly, glancing at Legolas who nodded fleetingly in affirmation of this.

'He was friends with my father,' Legolas said softly, making everyone turn to look at him.

'Yes, Lord Thranduil and he were great friends. I believe Salazar was the only person Thranduil took council from if I am not misguided,' Gandalf said in amusement, his eyes twinkling.

Legolas nodded in agreement but said nothing to this. Hermione looked up at him, but there was no palpable emotion on his face. If she didn't know any better, she might have thought he was a statue, his face carved from marble. His eyes moved to hers for a moment, before concentrating back on Gandalf.

'Now, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff are both highly respected Elves. Helga resides in Lothlórien and leads the Elves there alongside her husband, Celeborn. Her heritage is of the Noldor and the Teleri. She is one of the most influential Elves of her time, and she uses this power to protect the realm of Lothlórien. Their daughter, Lady Celebrían, was Lord Elrond's wife,' he elucidated, chuckling at the wonder on their faces at this news. 'Helga's real name is Galadriel, the Lady of Light,' he said, smiling fondly as he looked into the fire.

'Now, Rowena Ravenclaw's real name is Kérishiéra, and she is both wise and beautiful amongst the Elves of Mirkwood. Kérishiéra is known as the Mother of Elves and is extremely thought of and respected. She is even more powerful than Lady Galadriel. Kérishiéra was one of the first Elves to come to Middle-Earth along with Oropher, King Thranduil's father. Kérishiéra was much older than Thranduil when they married,' Gandalf told them, tapping his chin pensively. Legolas glanced around at the assembled companions, his face set in stone. However, for a fleeting moment, his eyes softened when they landed on Hermione.

'So, she's your mother?' Hermione asked, turning to look at Legolas, her eyes wide with admiration. It was startling to find a link to Rowena Ravenclaw, someone she had always revered and found inspiration from, standing with them in the flesh. Legolas looked over at her, nodding slowly before turning back to look into the trees.

Everyone fell silent again as they took in this new information on these four powerful beings in Middle-Earth. Harry, Hermione and Draco were still in awe at knowing they were present in this time. After a while, Draco turned to look at Gandalf. 'So, will we get a chance to meet them?' he asked, his tone hopeful.

'I am sure you will cross them on your journey with us. However, you must remember to address them in respect of who they truly are and not what you have learned about them,' Gandalf warned austerely, looking at Draco meaningfully.

Draco nodded, crossing his arms and looked into the fire. 'Are you a special person as well, Gandalf?' he asked, glancing at the old man in question.

Gandalf chuckled at the question. 'Yes, I suppose I am, but I am no more "special" than Radagast. I am a Maiar of the same order, known as the Istari. My real name is Olórin, but I have not been addressed by that name in a long time. I have been called many things: Albus Dumbledore by yourselves and those who live amongst you, Mithrandir by the Elves, the Grey Pilgrim, Incánus by those in the South, Tharkûn by the Dwarves…' he trailed off as he counted off the names, before looking back at Draco and smiling. 'But, most commonly, I am known as Gandalf which was the name given to me by the men of Arnor,' he advised with a small sigh.

Draco stared at him for a moment before frowning. 'Does it not confuse you to have so many names?' he asked, receiving a chuckle from the old wizard.

'It was perplexing at first, but you learn to accept the names you are adorned with. I look at each name as an endearment by the peoples who have given them to me. In their areas, I am known by the names they have chosen for me,' Gandalf told him, his eyes twinkling.

Harry looked back down at the Sword of Gryffindor lying on the ground in front of him. He looked over at Boromir and Aragorn. 'So, sword-fighting,' he said, changing the subject and making them look over at him. 'Is it a particularly challenging profession to learn?' Harry asked, tracing one of the rubies on the sword.

'It takes years of practice to master it, but this is not expected of you,' Aragorn advised, taking out his own sword which gleamed in the light from the fire. 'Boromir and I would teach you how to defend yourself,' he explained, receiving a nod from Boromir in agreement.

'We will not have you endure vigorous training,' Boromir told them, crossing his arms.

Aragorn looked down at his sword. 'This is a custom made Elven sword, imbued with their magic,' he told them, sheathing his sword again. 'Frodo was also given a similar sword, but it is instilled with knowledge. It knows if the wielder is in peril and glows if there is an enemy in the vicinity,' he explained, gesturing to Frodo.

'People learn to fight or defend themselves with swords for many reasons. Some specialise in duels, others do it purely for their own enjoyment. There are those who fight for survival, while others learn to defend themselves and their loved ones,' Boromir explained, grinning at them. 'In your case, you will learn defence in case you lose your instruments for wielding magic. Your main weapon is your magic, and that will always remain so,' he told them.

'If you should wish to learn archery, Legolas is the best Elf to ask. He knows the bow and arrow as if it is an extension of himself,' Aragorn added, nodding to the Elf in question. Legolas made no acknowledgement that he had even heard what Aragorn said, but his eyes did flicker to him for a moment before moving back to the fire.

For a long while, The Fellowship sat in companionable silence until the sky was dark and twinkling stars shone overhead. The only light around them was the dying bonfire and the moon glowing brightly in the sky.

When the bonfire turned to embers, Boromir bid them goodnight and retired for the evening. Sam was trying and failing to keep his eyes open, while Frodo stared into the fire wearily. Merry and Pippin had fallen asleep back to back, snoring serenely. It was then that Aragorn and Gimli decided to leave as well, each carrying a sleeping Hobbit, while Frodo and Sam shuffled off to their beds as well, all wishing them a good night.

Next to leave was Gandalf and Harry hurried after him, explaining to Hermione and Draco that he wanted to speak to him further about many things that had come up in conversation that night.

This left Draco and Hermione sitting on their log, gazing wordlessly into the fire, and Legolas standing at the edge of the trees, hidden in shadow again. The atmosphere didn't feel as comfortable now with everyone gone, but after a while, Hermione decided to break the silence. 'So, what did you think of tonight?' she asked timidly, unsure if Draco would even indulge her in a civil chat.

Startled, Draco looked over at her as if he'd forgotten she was there. 'Uh… I'm not sure. Well, I guess,' he replied, crossing his arms.

'Yes, I agree,' Hermione said, before frowning at how awkward she sounded.

Draco sighed. 'You know, it's actually pleasant to be somewhere that no one knows you or what you've done. I don't feel judged here, but I do feel like an outcast,' he said to her, not sure why he was even telling her this.

Hermione nodded. 'I feel the same,' she responded, making him look over at her.

'At least you and Potter have each other,' Draco muttered, looking back into the glowing embers.

Hermione looked at him for a moment, and she felt Draco just confirmed her earlier thoughts that he was feeling lonely in this time. 'I can't imagine how uncomfortable you must feel,' she answered, looking down at her hands. Draco looked over at her with a frown, but said nothing and waited for her to continue. 'And I know a lot of things happened in the past, but I think the best thing we can do is call a truce. We might never be friends, but we should at least have each other's backs. We don't know what to anticipate in this journey, but it would be easier if there wasn't bad blood between us,' Hermione said quickly, looking at the ground and blushing.

Draco's frown deepened as he thought about it. What Hermione said made sense, but he wasn't sure the past could be so easily forgiven. Draco didn't think he merited that kind of reprieve. He'd been a foul git to them for as long as he could remember.

After a moment, Draco sighed. 'A truce, huh?' he reiterated, making Hermione look over at him. 'I guess it would make things easier,' he agreed, nodding at her.

'Good,' Hermione answered, smiling at him.

Silence fell over them again, but it was more comfortable now. Hermione couldn't believe she actually accomplished in getting Draco to agree to a truce, but she knew he was an intelligent guy who probably would have considered the pros and cons before assenting.

'I wonder what he's thinking about…' Hermione whispered, more to herself than to Draco as she peered into the darkness at Legolas. He was still standing at the edge of the clearing like he was guarding the area. Hermione had a feeling he would be the last to leave.

'Who?' Draco asked, looking around the clearing.

'Legolas,' Hermione answered, nodding towards where Legolas was standing.

Draco squinted into the darkness. 'I thought everyone else had left,' he said, tilting his head.

'He just seems so reserved. All the other Elves we have met have been quite jovial and light-hearted, but he isn't,' Hermione said, looking back down at her hands.

Draco glanced at her, raising his eyebrows. 'How observant of you. Do you often analyse people you've just met?' he asked in delight, earning himself a glare from Hermione.

Hermione shook her head. 'No, I don't, but are you not the least bit curious about the people we've met?' she asked him, stunned that he wouldn't care.

Draco shrugged. 'Yes, okay I am a bit curious, but I make it a point to not be blatantly apparent about it,' he answered, rolling his eyes.

Hermione huffed. 'Forget I asked,' she said, crossing her arms.

Draco smirked. 'Consider it forgotten,' he answered, his smirk widening as her glare intensified. 'Anyway, I have had enough for one night. See you tomorrow, Granger,' he said, standing up and leaving the clearing.

Hermione watched Draco until he disappeared behind the high hedges bordering the gardens. She looked back into the shadows enshrouding Legolas and found she couldn't see him anymore, but she could feel his eyes on her, and she shivered.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Secrets Revealed; Overcome the Hesitation

Hermione snuck through the hallways towards the library. It was late; the only light filtering through the windows was from the bright moon shining high in the sky. She looked around as she arrived in the library, making sure no one was about. Hermione lit a small oil reading lamp and moved towards the floor-to-ceiling bookcases, taking one of the books that had attracted her attention off a middle shelf. The book was a telling of history of the Elves dating back to the exile of the Noldor from Valinor to Middle-Earth. The text seemed to be an account from an Elf who lived through it.

Although Hermione had learned much from her Elvish lessons with her parents and then Gandalf from Hogwarts, she was interested to read it from the perspective of an Elvish author who was there when it happened.

Hermione placed the lamp on a table and took a seat. She opened the ancient text, running her fingers across the beautiful Elvish script in reverence. From her beaded bag, which she had taken with her to the library, Hermione pulled out a quill, an inkwell, and her notebook which had all her notes from her Elvish lessons. She opened her inkwell and dipped her quill into the ink, before moving her eyes back to the text, ready to take notes.

A few hours passed where Hermione had been reading and note-taking before a shadow fell across her table. She looked up to find Aragorn looking at her with raised eyebrows. His eyes moved to the book she was reading and the extensive notes she had taken and written in Elvish and he frowned. Hermione opened and closed her mouth a few times, unable to get anything out.

Aragorn looked at her with curiosity. 'Unable to sleep, Lady Hermione?' he asked nonchalantly, but his eyes flitted back to her notes in interest.

'Um, no… I just wanted to do a little light reading and lost track of time,' Hermione answered, knowing Aragorn was not stupid enough to believe that.

Aragorn tilted his head. 'You did not mention you could read and write in Elvish,' he said, taking a seat at the table and glancing at the open book. 'But you are not an Elf,' he added, looking back at her.

Hermione sighed, leaning back in her chair. There was no point in hiding it now and she knew Gandalf wouldn't be pleased with anyone finding out. It was meant to be a secret for now until everyone was told the truth about Harry, Draco and herself. 'I was educated by my parents. I have no idea where they learned it, though,' Hermione answered softly, looking down at the book.

Aragorn nodded. 'Much like myself,' he told her, making her eyes move up to his in curiosity. 'I was brought to Rivendell when I was a child and raised amongst the Elves,' Aragorn clarified, smiling at her sadly.

Hermione smiled back. 'Please don't tell anyone about this,' she said and Aragorn frowned at her. 'Gandalf asked me to keep it to myself for now. I can't say why, but please…' Hermione trailed off, looking back at the book.

Aragorn nodded slowly. 'I understand. Your secret is safe with me, Lady Hermione,' he promised, bowing his head to her.

Hermione smiled. 'Thanks, Aragorn,' she said, breathing out a sigh of relief. Hermione gathered her things and put the book back on the shelf. 'I should probably get some sleep now,' she added, walking towards the door. 'Goodnight,' she called to him as she left.

Aragorn watched her go, leaning back in his chair. 'Interesting,' he whispered to himself before dousing the lamp and leaving himself.

oOoOo

The next morning, Hermione found herself back at the fountain in the small clearing she and Harry had been sitting in the day before. Hermione had told Harry about the truce she had arranged with Draco, but he had seemed tentative about whether it would stand. Eventually, after listening to Hermione's reasoning behind it, Harry had agreed it made sense to call a truce with Draco, but he was dubious. Hermione was as well, but only time would tell.

'Concentrate on the target!' Aragorn said to the Hobbits who were already working on their skills with the Ranger and Boromir. The Elves had set up targets for them to practice against. Frodo and Sam were both using one target between them due to them being much bigger than they were.

Harry was sitting on the grass, the Sword of Gryffindor lying across his lap while he polished it with a cloth Boromir had given him. Hermione hadn't understood why it needed polishing as there was not a mark on it. When she had mentioned this, Boromir had told her it was always a good idea to keep weapons maintained irrespective of whether they looked like they needed it or not.

'Try to visualise your enemy as you strike the target!' Aragorn advised, pulling Hermione out of her reverie.

Harry stood and moved over to a target next to where the Hobbits were training. He knew he didn't have to train as vigorously as the Hobbits, but he still wanted to make an effort. Harry glanced over at Hermione, waving at her before getting into a fighting stance, the Sword of Gryffindor held firmly in his hand. He looked at the target, thinking back to the Basilisk which would have killed him if he had looked it in the eye. If he had gotten distracted or looked at its reflection in the water on the floor, he would have been given a one-way ticket into becoming the huge snakes dinner. Concentrating and shutting out the banter around him, Harry imagined he was back in that dark and cold chamber, the Basilisk looming over him. He walked forward briskly, swinging his sword in an overhead strike, hitting the target hard.

'Very good, Master Potter,' Aragorn said, clapping a hand on his shoulder.

Harry smiled up at him. 'Thanks,' he said, getting back into his stance and attacking again.

Draco walked into the clearing, followed by Gandalf who was eyeing the Slytherin disapprovingly, and Hermione wondered what he had done wrong. From the look of him he had only just rolled out of bed or was rudely awoken by Gandalf. Probably the latter.

Hermione shook her head, turning back to the book she had been recommended by Lady Arwen. She was already engrossed in it again when a shadow fell over her and she looked up to find Draco looking at her. 'Too good to train with the rest of us, Granger?' he asked her with a smirk and sat down on the fountain next to her.

Hermione shrugged, glancing back down at her book. 'It's not mandatory, and besides I don't think sword-fighting is my thing,' she answered honestly, looking over at the Hobbits and Harry who were still striking the targets.

Draco nodded slowly before looking around at everyone, his eyes stopping on Legolas who was examining his bow. The Elf was watching Boromir who was showing Merry and Pippin how to sharpen a sword. 'What about archery?' Draco asked, turning back to look at her.

Hermione looked at him in surprise before looking over at Legolas. 'I don't know. I had lessons when I was younger, but I was terrible at it,' she answered thoughtfully with a frown.

Draco gasped in mock surprise. 'Hermione Granger? Terrible at something? Well, except flying, of course,' he said with a chuckle, earning a light thump on the arm from Hermione.

Hermione shook her head. 'Maybe I'm just more suited to the theory of flying and archery rather than the practical aspects. I'm not perfect,' she argued, closing the book on her lap and placing it in her beaded bag.

Draco raised his eyebrows. 'No, you are not perfect, but then no one is,' he agreed, glancing back over at Legolas. 'So, you took archery lessons from some Muggle when you were a kid. Whereas, here you would be taking lessons from a pro who probably has the patience of a saint…' Draco trailed off, and held his hands out, moving them as if he were weighing the pros and cons.

'Good point,' Hermione said with a sigh. In all honesty, she had been wanting to learn the basics of archery from Legolas, but she was also trying to muster up the courage to ask him. Hermione still held the belief that Legolas strongly disliked her and she couldn't understand why.

Draco shrugged and stood up. 'I guess I better go learn the basics of sword-fighting,' he muttered, moving over towards Boromir. After a few words were exchanged between them, Boromir handed him a sword and began talking him through it.

Hermione sighed, her eyes moving back to Legolas. The Elf was just about to shoot his own target, but his eyes moved to hers and held them as he let the arrow go.

Later that day, Gandalf began teaching Harry, Hermione and Draco the theory of some of the spells they would be learning. Most of the spells were powerful and mainly offensive, but there were some which would be good for defence. He also mentioned the counter-curse Snape had told them about in the forest.

'I will first teach you healing and defensive spells as I deem these to be more important than offensive spells,' Gandalf explained, conjuring up a floating target wandlessly. 'We may not have time, but I will try to teach you the theory and basics of wandless magic also,' Gandalf told them, their eyes lighting up excitedly.

'First, I will teach you "Curio" which is the most powerful healing spell in existence. It can heal the worst of wounds and bring people back to their full health. It can also cure curses and poisoning. I must warn you that this spell will not work on Elves,' he told them, making them frown in confusion.

'Why?' Hermione asked, tilting her head in curiosity.

'Elves are born with a natural resistance to magic. So, spells used by ourselves would have very little effect on them or may even do more damage,' he explained, shaking his head.

Hermione found herself looking over at Legolas for a moment at this revelation. When he glanced towards her, Hermione looked away and focused on Gandalf again. Gandalf taught them the theory of the spell first and the wand movement: a figure of eight and a sharp flick down.

Gandalf instructed them to try the spell against the target and none of them successfully performed it on their first go. Gandalf chuckled. 'It is a challenging spell to master, but keep practising,' he told them, receiving nods from them. 'Miss Granger, if you would come over here for a moment,' he requested and Hermione moved over to him while Draco and Harry continued practising the Curio spell. 'I have no illusions you will learn the spell quickly, so I want to go over some of the Elvish spells I taught you,' he said, walking away from the group until they couldn't be seen by anyone. Gandalf conjured another target and Hermione readied herself for exhaustive training. Elvish magic was one of the areas she struggled most with as it didn't just strain her magical energy, but her mental and physical energy as well.

oOoOo

'You are very formal in stance, Master Malfoy,' Boromir said, observing the way Draco held himself while in his fighting stance. 'Have you trained before?' he asked as the Slytherin struck the target.

Draco stopped and relaxed his stance, turning to look at Boromir. 'My father put me through fencing lessons as a child so I know a little,' he answered with a shrug.

'It is a good discipline,' Boromir told him, crossing his arms. 'But used more for duels,' he added, shaking his head.

Draco nodded slowly. 'Is that a bad thing?' he asked, tilting his head and looking at the target.

Boromir shook his head. 'No, it is not, but it will not save you against the armies of Mordor,' he answered, gesturing to the target. 'Loosen your shoulders and arms,' he instructed and Draco did as he was told. 'Now, try to think of your target as your worst enemy and then strike,' he said, taking a few steps back to observe Draco's new stance.

Draco smirked bitterly, envisioning the target to be his father. He walked forward quickly, bringing forth the rage he felt towards his father, and struck the target harder than he intended. Draco glared at the target before hitting it again and again until he fell to his knees in exhaustion, his mother's face swimming in front of his eyes and his father's cynical laughter echoed in his mind.

'Draco, you are a disappointment.'

'Draco, your swordsmanship is amateur at best.'

'Draco, you will never live up to the name, Malfoy.'

'Pathetic. I am ashamed to call you my son.'

'Draco…'

Draco stood up quickly at a hand on his shoulder and pointed his sword at the one who dared to touch him. After a moment, the fury he felt cleared and he grasped he had almost struck Boromir. 'I…' Draco trailed off, swallowing quickly before sprinting out of the clearing.

Boromir watched him go in astonishment as Gandalf came over to him. 'What happened, Boromir?' the old wizard asked, looking at where Draco had disappeared.

'I advised him to think of the target as his worst enemy and strike,' Boromir answered, still dumbfounded by what he witnessed. 'But his eyes, Gandalf…' he trailed off, shaking his head.

Gandalf frowned. 'What about his eyes?' he asked interestedly, grasping Boromir's shoulder.

Boromir shook his head. 'No, it must have been the light, but I could have sworn his eyes were glowing…' he answered, a chill going down his spine.

Gandalf nodded, his frown deepening as he looked at where Draco had disappeared from the clearing, and his eyes narrowed marginally in interest as he tried to ascertain what this could mean.

oOoOo

Draco had apologised to Boromir for what happened, but the elder man was still wary of him. In the two weeks following this, Draco had not picked up a sword, not wanting the incident to occur again. Instead he took to meditating with Gandalf and tried to relieve some of the pent up rage inside him.

The Hobbits continued to train with Aragorn and Boromir, while Harry, Hermione and Draco learned more spells and were still trying to master them. Hermione was still struggling with the Elvish magic, but Gandalf had told her it was difficult to master, but she would with time and practice.

Hermione had still been deliberating on whether to ask Legolas to teach her the basics of archery, but every time she thought she had mustered up the courage to go over to him he would give her a look that made her shy away. It was nerve-wracking for her and she didn't know how to approach him.

Late one night, Hermione was staring down at a beautiful waterfall flowing into a vast lake below the House of Elrond. The Elf Lord approached her, standing silently by her side for a while, watching her.

Hermione reminded Elrond of Arwen with her stubborn nature, her looks and her smile, which was the most shocking of all. She looked like a mixture of Arwen and his wife, Celebrían. Elrond had to know where she came from and if she was an Elf or a relative, even a daughter he never knew about.

When Gandalf had explained her heritage, Elrond had far more understanding of the girl who now stood before him, oblivious to his presence. He also appreciated why Hermione necessitated the reverence Gandalf had told him she deserved.

Elrond's lips twitched when Hermione sighed and leaned against the railing, with her arms crossed and her head resting on them. It was so unladylike it was rather amusing to him. Elrond coughed lightly, gaining her attention and she stood immediately, turning her attention to him.

Hermione smiled when she realised who was there. 'Lord Elrond,' she greeted, bowing her head to him.

Elrond frowned, placing a hand under her chin to tilt her head back up. 'You bow to no one, Lady Hermione,' he told her earnestly.

Hermione frowned and nodded, a little puzzled by his statement, but thought it better not to question the Elf Lord. 'Is there something I can help with, Lord Elrond?' she asked in curiosity.

Elrond smiled faintly, tilting his head. 'It has come to my attention that you wish to learn the basics of archery, Lady Hermione,' Elrond answered gently, coming to stand next to her.

'How do you know that?' Hermione asked softly, looking back down at the waterfall.

Elrond chuckled lightly, making Hermione look up at him. 'I have eyes and ears everywhere in Rivendell. Also, you have a rather entertaining companion who was very forthcoming when asked,' Elrond answered in amusement.

Hermione sighed in frustration. Trust Malfoy to blab about what she wanted to do. No doubt he told everyone who listened that she was afraid to approach Legolas. 'It is what I want to do, I just haven't really had an opportunity to get started,' Hermione answered, and it sounded weak even to her ears. She knew Elrond wouldn't believe her and from his raised eyebrows she gathered she was right.

'Legolas would be more than happy to teach you the basics of archery, Lady Hermione,' Elrond stated, placing a hand on her shoulder gently.

Hermione sighed. 'To be honest, I don't know how to ask Legolas. I feel like he doesn't like me very much,' she whispered, looking down and frowning.

Another chuckle from Elrond made Hermione look up at him in surprise. 'Legolas does not dislike anything or anyone. He has a cold disposition, but he is not unkind. Do not be afraid of him,' he answered, grinning at her.

'I'm not afraid,' Hermione argued, a little too quickly.

Elrond raised his eyebrows. 'Then I believe you should have no trouble in speaking to him about it tomorrow,' he told her and Hermione's eyes widened slightly at this. She opened her mouth to argue or make some excuse, but Elrond held up his hand to stop her. 'Do not worry, Lady Hermione. Legolas is an extraordinary Elf with many skills. He will help, you have only to ask,' he assured her with a small smile.

Hermione let out a breath before smiling at him. 'Okay, I will,' she promised.

Elrond and Hermione stood in comfortable silence for a while as Hermione revelled in the majestic beauty held within Rivendell and hidden from those who did know it was there.

oOoOo

Hermione wandered into the clearing very early the next day. She was surprised to find Draco already there with Gandalf who was showing him some defensive techniques with a sword. Boromir, Gimli, and the Hobbits hadn't arrived yet from what she could tell. Aragorn and Harry were sitting on the grass next to the fountain talking. The Ranger looked like he was telling Harry about the Elven knife he always carried on him.

Hermione looked around the clearing, her eyes finding Legolas maintaining his bow and checking his arrows like he did every day. She swallowed as she watched him, her throat becoming dry, as she realised she was going to talk to him today. Taking a deep breath, Hermione slowly made her way towards him. She paused when he moved suddenly into his stance and shot the target quicker than she could blink. With lightning speed, he pulled out another arrow, shooting it at the target and hitting the dead centre again.

Hermione shivered as she got closer to him, and glanced up into the trees where a raven was watching her. She flinched as she looked it in the eyes. 'Never look a raven in the eye for too long. It might steal your soul and fly away with it,' came a silky voice to her left and she jumped.

Hermione turned towards the voice, looking up into those beautiful blue eyes which seemed to hold her captive. Hermione couldn't speak, she couldn't move, she couldn't even blink. She felt like she had been caught in a spider's web, and he was the spider.

Legolas tilted his head, his expression betraying no emotion. 'Can I help you, Lady Hermione?' he asked quietly, his tone polite.

'I… uh…' Hermione mumbled nervously, struggling to find her voice. Legolas raised his eyebrows at her and she mentally slapped herself. Well done, Granger. Your grasp of the English language is truly astounding, she chastised herself. 'Sorry, I was just a little startled…' she trailed off, closing her eyes in mortification. She looked back up at him, realising his expression hadn't changed and she took a deep breath. 'I want to learn the basics of archery and I was wondering if you would show me?' she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

'As you wish,' Legolas answered instantly and giving her a quick nod.

'Thanks,' she replied, smiling nervously.

Legolas walked over to a rock, placing his own bow and arrows down before picking up a spare one and handing it to her. Hermione realised Legolas had had a spare one there all along and wondered if he was expecting to teach her archery. Maybe Elrond said something to him? Hermione thought, swallowing thickly as he came back over to her with the bow and a quiver of arrows.

Legolas placed the bow against a tree before turning back to her. He undid the strap on the quiver and stood in front of her. He quickly placed the strap over her left shoulder and pulled the other one under her right arm. Before she could think about it, the quiver was tied securely to her back.

Picking up the bow, Legolas moved back over to her and handed it to her. Hermione took it with shaking fingers and tried to remember how to hold it correctly. She got into the stance she remembered vaguely while Legolas observed her figure. After a brief shake of his head, Legolas moved over to her and placed his hand on hers, adjusting the way she held the spine of the bow. Hermione's mouth went dry and her fingers tingled at his touch.

Legolas stepped away from her again and Hermione felt a blush come to her cheeks as his eyes moved down her figure. She knew he was looking at her stance and not checking her out, but it was still embarrassing. Unfazed, Legolas tilted his head. 'Shoulders down, back straight. Keep your eyes on your target,' he instructed quietly and Hermione did as he said. 'Which hand do you write with?' he asked her.

'Um… my right hand,' she answered, fumbling over her words.

Legolas nodded, moving back over to her. He took her left hand and placed it on the spine of the bow. His eyes moved to hers fleetingly as he held his hand over hers for a second longer than needed before he let go. 'Now, use your right hand to pull back the bow string,' he instructed, moving away again to study her frame while he worked out the most comfortable stance for her.

After a moment, he came over to her again and took hold of her right elbow. Hermione jumped a little when his other hand came to rest on her waist and she gulped. Legolas turned her a little to the left and straightened her right elbow. 'Now, release the string,' he whispered into her ear, his breath fanning her cheek.

Hermione gasped slightly and released the string, hurting her wrist in the process. 'Ouch!' she yelped, looking down at her grazed wrist.

Legolas took her hand, examining the graze for a moment. 'Wait here,' he said quietly, walking over to a small bag sitting next to his own bow and arrows. He pulled out a small vial of clear liquid and a clean rag before walking back over to her. Legolas tipped a little of the liquid onto the rag and pressed it down gently on Hermione's hand. She flinched at the stinging pain as he cleaned the wound. 'It is called Nebra,' he explained at her questioning gaze. 'It will prevent infection and your wrist will be as good as new by dusk,' he told her, glancing up into her eyes.

Hermione smiled up at him, but he didn't smile back at her. She found herself wondering what it would be like to see him smile. It took her a moment to grasp she was downright staring at him and she looked away, blushing in embarrassment. Legolas retrieved her bow and handed it back to her.

Legolas pulled his right bracer glove off and stepped up to her. 'Give me your hand,' he whispered and she did, letting him put the bracer on. Legolas tied it, hesitating for a moment before letting her hand go. He looked at her, tilting his head. 'The bracer will stop the string from catching your wrist. You will no longer feel it. My bracer is too big for you, but I will have a pair made for you,' he said and Hermione nodded slowly. 'Now, into position,' he said in a commanding tone and Hermione did as he asked.

'Now, you will fire an arrow at the target,' Legolas instructed, receiving a fearful glance in return. 'Do not be afraid, Lady Hermione,' he said gently, his eyes softening.

'It's just been so long and the last time I did it I…' Hermione trailed off, shaking her head. 'Let's just say I never went back,' she muttered, blushing as she remembered her last catastrophe in archery lessons as a child. Her parents had been rather disappointed when the instructor had marched their daughter home and explained how she managed to hit one of the other students in the leg.

Legolas watched the array of emotions flit across her face. 'How many years has it been?' he asked quietly, his eyes roaming over her face.

Hermione sighed. 'Too many,' she answered, shaking her head.

Legolas nodded, frowning at her vague answer. 'Then there is nothing to be afraid of. It is not as hard as it may seem,' he explained gently, taking an arrow from the quiver on her back and handing it to her.

Hermione took a deep breath, knocking the arrow against the groove in the spine like she remembered from her lessons all those years ago. For a moment, all Hermione could hear was the disappointed comments of her instructor and she froze. Legolas waited for a few moments before frowning as she closed her eyes against the taunting from the other students.

Legolas moved over to her, placing his left hand on her waist and his right hand over the one holding the string in a death-grip. 'Relax,' he whispered into her ear and Hermione took a deep breath, releasing the arrow. She watched in amazement as the arrow hit the target on the outside line. 'Well done, Lady Hermione,' Legolas whispered and Hermione realised his hand was still on her waist and his other hand was still holding her other hand.

After a moment, Legolas moved away from her. 'We will wrap this up for now, but feel free to come practice at any time,' he told her, walking over to his own bow and picking it up. He took out a rag from his pouch, wiping it over the wood.

Hermione walked over to him and placed the bow she was using against the rock. Legolas picked it up, affording it the same treatment. Hermione watched him for a moment, suddenly feeling awkward and nervous again. 'Um… thank you,' she whispered, receiving a distracted nod from him in return.

Hermione turned to walk away, but Legolas' voice stopped her. 'What do you know of the Elves, Lady Hermione?' he asked, stopping the ministrations on his bow and looking at her.

Hermione turned back to him, surprised he wanted to have a normal conversation with her. 'Not much,' Hermione said, although this wasn't entirely true. She actually knew much about the Elves, but she found herself wanting to speak to Legolas so she played dumb.

Legolas nodded. 'Is there anything you wish to know?' he asked her, placing the spare bow down next to his own and leaning casually against the rock, giving Hermione his full attention which she was surprised at. Maybe she had been wrong thinking he didn't like her.

Hermione smiled a little. 'I want to know everything. I love learning and discovering new things,' she told him, her tone becoming excited.

Legolas eyed her curiously for a moment, before looking away into the trees with a thoughtful expression. After a few moments, his eyes flitted back to hers. 'Would you like to hear a story about my people?' he asked quietly, his eyes searching hers for a moment.

'Yes,' Hermione answered instantly, moving over to stand next to him.

Legolas's lips twitched at her eagerness. 'I am sure you witnessed the anger and hatred between the Dwarves and the Elves?' he asked her.

Hermione nodded. 'Yes, I noticed it at the Council of Elrond.'

'Our two races were not always like this,' he whispered with a frown and shaking his head. 'The Elves once traded with the Dwarves in harmony. This continued for thousands of years until just over 3 thousand years ago. My father, in an intense argument with one of the Dwarf Kings, killed him when the Dwarf took up his axe to attack him,' he told her, his lips twitching again when her eyes widened in shock.

'3 thousand years!?' Hermione gasped in shock, staring at him in disbelief. Hermione had learned of the longevity of Elves from her parents, but they never told her they could live for thousands of years.

Legolas nodded slowly. 'Elves live for many thousands of years, Lady Hermione. Therefore we have been given the name "ɑlfirin", meaning "immortal". I just turned 2931 years old this past Spring, so I was not around during the war, but my father told me the story. My mother has always desired harmony to return amongst our two races, but she is the only one willing to voice her opinion about it,' he said, shaking his head lightly. 'I do not like the Dwarves, but if our two peoples were to put aside our feud, I would accept it,' he added, looking down at her.

Hermione was staring at him in awe. 'You're 2931 years old?' she asked in a small voice.

Legolas almost smiled at her reaction, he was expecting it. 'Yes,' he confirmed with a short nod.

'But you look so young! How is that possible?'

'How old are you, Lady Hermione?' he asked, his question snapping her out of her shock.

Hermione's eyes widened at the audacity of his question, but she shook her feelings on the matter aside. 'I turned 18 in September,' Hermione answered quietly.

Legolas nodded thoughtfully, his eyes searching hers for a moment. 'Human's grow immediately in a short time. 100 years for an Elf is the equivalent of 1 year of a human's life,' he explained and she nodded, but the frown was still present on her face. 'If I were to equal my age to a human… I would be 29 years old. Do you understand?' he asked her softly, tilting his head.

'Yes, I get it now,' Hermione answered, looking up at the striking Elf. 'I feel so young,' she whispered in disbelief and shook her head. To Hermione's shock, Legolas smiled at her response. It was only a small smile, but his entire face lit up and she couldn't help smiling back at him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: A Last Moment of Calm; Bidding Farewell

Hermione walked around the gardens in Rivendell, taking it all in and committing it all to memory. She didn't know how long it would be until she would see it again. Although this stirred up thoughts of whether Hermione would ever see it again.

This brought up emotions she hadn't felt since she arrived in the past. Would everything work out? Would everyone who died in the future be alive and well if they succeeded? Would she see Ron again? Hermione shook her head, not knowing what the outcome would be. All she knew was that Voldemort would not be corrupted, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be other threats.

This was their last night in Rivendell, and in the morning the Fellowship would be departing on their excursion to destroy the One Ring. They would be leaving the safety of Lord Elrond and his Elves. The thought disheartened Hermione, but she was also excited to be getting underway and seeing the rest of Middle-Earth.

Hermione followed a path she didn't recognise until it ended at a small bridge. There was a river flowing through it to a pond covered in water lilies. Hermione leaned on the railing, smiling at her peaceful surroundings. She wondered what the time was, mindful of the celebration being held in their honour before they were to set off in the morning. She sighed, not wanting to leave the peace and quiet. The Elves were a jovial lot, and there would no doubt be singing and dancing involved which she wasn't sure she was in the mood for.

Hermione glanced down at the pale blue dress Arwen had made her put on for the celebration. It was a simple dress with flowing sleeves, a tight bodice tied with a golden ribbon and a gold belt at her waist. It was beautiful, but Hermione still felt uncomfortable wearing gowns as it was never something she considered in her time. Arwen had styled her hair, pulling the sides into neat plaits which tied in the middle and left the rest of her hair to flow down her back elegantly. Hermione almost felt regal like an Elf, just without the grace and pointed ears.

Hermione sighed, looking back into the pond only to see the reflection of Legolas next to her. Startled, she looked up and found him standing next to her. 'Oh, sorry I didn't realise you were there,' she laughed, a blush reddening her cheeks.

Legolas's eyes roamed down her figure, making her blush deepen before his eyes moved back to hers. 'I apologise for surprising you, Lady Hermione,' Legolas said, inclining his head at her.

Hermione shook her head. 'No need, it happens a lot,' she answered, looking back down into the pond. 'This place is so beautiful. I feel like I've walked into a dream,' she whispered with a sigh.

Legolas watched the array of emotions flitting across her face and came to stand at her side, looking down at her in curiosity. 'You are ill at ease, Lady Hermione. Does the Ring trouble you?' he asked, tilting his head.

Hermione looked back up at him. 'It's not just the Ring,' she whispered dejectedly, emotions she had been trying to keep down surfacing. She swallowed thickly and blinked back the tears threatening to fall.

'What is distressing you?' Legolas asked, his tone gentle.

Hermione took a deep breath, reaching up to wipe away a tear which managed to escape. 'So much happened before we came here. We lost so much because of this war,' she whispered, closing her eyes. Memories of Ron came to the forefront of her mind. 'My friend, Ron, should have been here with us,' Hermione said, shaking her head as tears blurred her vision.

Legolas nodded, looking away into the pond below. 'He is the friend you mentioned in the Council meeting?' he asked, unsure of how to comfort her.

Hermione nodded slowly. 'He died so we could escape and come here,' she told him, ignoring the tears flowing freely now.

Legolas nodded, frowning as he closed his eyes. 'I am sorry for your loss,' he whispered sincerely, making her look up at him. Legolas opened his eyes, looking down into the river. 'The past is a gaping hole. You can run from it, but the more you do, the deeper it grows behind you. Its edges yawning at your heels,' he told her, moving his eyes back to hers.

'Your only option is to turn and face it, but it is like looking down into the grave of someone you love,' Legolas told her, watching as she looked down at the ground miserably. Legolas reached out to her, placing his hand under her chin to tilt her head back up. 'Keep your memories of your friend alive and, in spirit, he will rejoice,' Legolas whispered, receiving a small smile from her. He wiped away the tears lingering on her cheeks before giving her a small smile and leaving her to her thoughts.

Hermione watched him disappear through the trees, before turning back to look down at the pond. From the shadows of the trees, Legolas watched her. His curiosity regarding Hermione lingered in his mind. He could tell she was resilient and believed she would get over the darkness plaguing her heart, but something nagged at him. Over the last few months since meeting and speaking to her, he felt like he had known her for years. It was a peculiar feeling which Legolas had never experienced before.

oOoOo

Hermione stood in the corner of the large room which had been set up with long tables. It reminded her of the Great Hall in Hogwarts because of the layout, but it was much smaller. The tables held all manner of exotic foods and drink which she had never seen before, and she wasn't sure she wanted to try any of it.

She looked over at Draco and Harry who were standing next to one of the buffet tables, both piling food onto their plates while talking enthusiastically about something. It was the same looks Harry and Ron used to have when they spoke about Quidditch. The smile dropped off Hermione's face as her memories sprung to mind and she sighed. As lovely as it was to see Harry and Draco setting aside their differences and having a civil chat, Hermione felt the scene still didn't quite fit.

Ron should have been there with them.

Irrespective of what Gandalf had told them, surely there must have been a way to save Ron and prevent his death. Hermione shook her head, it was too late now. However, she was determined to set things right and change the horrible future awaiting them. Not just for Ron, but for everyone that was lost in the war.

Hermione shook her thoughts away, not wanting to dwell on what had happened for now. Tonight was a night of festivity. Hermione forced a smile onto her face as she moved over to Draco and Harry while they waited for the rest of the Fellowship to arrive.

A smile crept onto Hermione's lips when she realised Draco and Harry were discussing Quidditch, and their debate had become a little heated at this point. 'Guys, I don't think you should be talking about Quidditch,' Hermione told them quietly, looking around at the Elves who were starting to gather. 'It will raise too many questions if someone overhears you,' she told them, crossing her arms, but her tone was amused.

Harry nodded. 'You're right, Hermione,' he said, picking at the strange-looking bread on his plate.

Draco sighed explosively. 'Way to ruin our fun, Granger,' he answered, taking a drink and shaking his head.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at Draco but chose not to comment. Instead, she looked at the goblet in his hand and the food piled on Harry's plate. 'Is the food and drink good?' she asked, moving to the table and eyeing the delicacies provided.

Harry nodded, handing her a piece of the bread which she scrutinised before popping it into her mouth. Hermione's eyes widened at the burst of fruity flavours when she chewed it. 'Oh wow, it just looks like normal bread!' she exclaimed, taking another bit from Harry.

Draco raised an eyebrow at Hermione. 'Never thought I would see a woman get so excited over bread,' he chuckled, shaking his head.

Hermione's retort was cut off as the doors opened and Lord Elrond arrived with the rest of the Fellowship in tow. Her eyes were drawn to Legolas, looking regal in dark green robes making him look every bit a Prince of Elves. Legolas bowed his head to Elrond in reverence, before making his way to the opposite side of the room with Aragorn. He glanced over, catching Hermione's eyes for a moment and gave her a small nod. Hermione blushed, smiling a little and nodded back before focusing on Elrond.

Lord Elrond looked around at the amassed Elves and the Fellowship. 'Tonight we celebrate the brave souls who depart on their perilous journey at dawn,' Elrond announced, looking around at the Fellowship. 'Danger and uncertainty will follow them on their quest until this doom has been destroyed. They will succeed, or they will perish,' he said, looking at all the serious faces staring back. 'This night, however, they will not think of such things,' Elrond added with a smile and raised his goblet. 'Worry not about the morrow, for tonight we shall feast, sing, and dance,' he proclaimed, receiving cheers from the room. After his speech, Elrond made his way over to Arwen, speaking to her in hushed tones.

'Well, that was a depressing speech,' Draco slurred before gulping down the rest of his mead.

Hermione looked at him in disapproval. 'Try not to drink too much. We set out tomorrow morning,' she said, pouring water into a goblet and taking a drink.

Draco looked at her deliberately as he leaned over the table and seized the jug of mead, pouring more into his goblet. He took a large gulp. 'You should unwind a little, Granger. You know, let your hair down and get drunk with the rest of us,' he told her, taking another drink and hiccupping. Draco's expression became serious. 'This could be our last chance,' he added, his eyes hardening as he thought of what was to come.

Every sensible and logical comeback Hermione had in her arsenal froze on the tip of her tongue as the weight of Draco's words echoed in her mind. He literally hit the nail on the head, and Hermione grasped this really could be the last time any of them had any fun. No one knew what their journey would bring, and it was possible none of them would even survive. With this thought in mind, Hermione reached for the jug and poured herself a goblet of mead. She took a large gulp, receiving a look of approval from Draco.

'Well, that I was not expecting,' Draco chuckled, gesturing to her goblet which was now half-finished.

Hermione sighed, taking another sip. 'It's a celebration,' she countered, defending her actions, but from the look Draco gave her she was conscious he knew his words had hit a nerve.

'Where's Harry?' Hermione asked, realising he was missing.

Draco looked around the room. 'He's talking to Gandalf and Aragorn,' he answered, gesturing over to him.

Hermione nodded, taking another sip from her goblet as the music began to play around the room. They watched as the Elves began dancing in the middle of the room while the Elves playing the music started to sing, their voices melodious and beautiful like wind chimes.

Hermione smiled as Aragorn moved over to Arwen, asking the Elf-Maiden to dance. She had spent a lot of time with Arwen over the months they had been in Rivendell, and Hermione had been curious to learn about Aragorn and Arwen's relationship. They were such a lovely couple.

'Can you dance, Granger?' Draco asked abruptly, taking a drink from his goblet as he cast her a sidelong glance.

'Um… not really,' Hermione answered, shaking her head.

Draco scoffed. 'What is "not really"? You either can or you cannot,' he retorted, rolling his eyes.

'Then I-' Hermione was cut off as Draco grabbed her arm and pulled her into the dancing Elves. 'What are you-?'

'Shush, Granger. Live a little, remember?' Draco told her, taking her hand and placing his other on her waist.

Hermione let Draco lead her across the dance floor, and she soon realised he was a skilled ballroom dancer. 'Where did you learn to dance?' Hermione asked him, marvelling at how gracefully he moved.

Draco shrugged. 'Lessons as a child. Just one of the many things I was compelled to do because of my status,' he muttered, looking away. 'Uh oh, your partner in crime is glaring at us,' Draco said, changing the topic as he looked across the room.

Hermione looked over her shoulder, seeing Harry gaping at them. 'No, he's not glaring. That's the expression Harry gets when he sees something he never thought he would see. Right now he'll be compiling a list of ways he can hold this against you for the rest of your life,' Hermione told Draco casually, receiving a raised eyebrow from the Slytherin.

After a moment, Draco snickered. 'Remarkable. I could swear he looks like he is frothing at the mouth,' he answered, letting go of Hermione.

Hermione giggled, looking back over at Harry. 'If you've known him as long as I have, you would notice the evil glint in his eyes,' she said, looking back at Draco.

Draco smirked, rubbing his chin contemplatively. 'I did not realise wonder boy had it in him. Who would have believed he has an evil bone in his body,' he said, chuckling at the thought.

'Well, the Sorting Hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin,' Hermione revealed, making Draco look at her in astonishment.

'Really?' Draco asked in disbelief, shaking his head. 'I think I need to have a chat with boy wonder. Why in Merlin's name would he give up the chance to be in the most incredible house Hogwarts had to offer? It defies all sense,' Draco said, moving over towards Harry.

Amused, Hermione was about to follow, but a voice stopped her. 'Lady Hermione.'

Hermione spun around to find Legolas. 'Oh, hello,' she said, nodding her head to him.

Legolas raised his eyebrows at her. 'Are you enjoying the festivities?' he asked, looking over at Draco for a moment before turning his eyes back to her.

Hermione smiled up at him. 'Yes, it's been fun so far,' she answered, suddenly feeling nervous.

'Yes, you seemed to be enjoying your dance with Master Malfoy,' Legolas said, his tone slightly clipped.

Hermione's smile faded a touch as she caught this, but shook herself mentally thinking she must be hearing things. Why would my dancing with Draco bother Legolas? Plenty of beautiful Elf-Maidens here would surely catch his eye over me, Hermione thought, looking over at Draco and Harry who were talking by one of the buffet tables. No doubt Draco was telling Harry all about the marvels of Slytherin House and chastising the Boy-Who-Lived for not taking the offer from the Sorting Hat.

'Yes, I was stunned to find he could dance so well,' Hermione replied, looking back up at Legolas.

Legolas nodded. 'You did not know?' he asked, tilting his head a little.

'No, Draco and I never really saw eye-to-eye. In fact, we had a mutual hatred for a long time before coming here. I guess the war has given us common ground, but it's still going to take some time before I can call him a friend,' Hermione answered, crossing her arms as she looked back over at Draco who was laughing with Harry. It was such an unusual sight, but she was glad they were not trying to kill each other.

Legolas looked at her in astonishment. 'I see,' he replied, looking over at the Slytherin in question, his eyes narrowed marginally in interest. 'You are close to Master Potter though, I presume?' he asked her, making her look up at him.

Hermione nodded instantly. 'Harry's been a good friend for years. Harry, Ron and I have been best friends since we were 11, and they are both like brothers to me. We've been through everything together, but Ron…' Hermione trailed off, her throat constricting.

Legolas nodded slowly. 'I apologise for bringing up the past,' he said, looking away from her uncomfortably.

Hermione shook her head. 'No, it's okay. Ron wouldn't want us to be upset,' she told him, reaching up to wipe a stray tear away.

Legolas nodded, looking around as the Elves began to sing and play again. They were still standing in the middle of the dance floor. 'Would you care to dance, Lady Hermione?' he asked, taking a small step towards her.

Hermione looked up at him in shock. 'You want to dance… with me?' She asked, glancing around the room at the other Elves. It was then she noted quite a few of the Elf-Maidens were eyeing her with envy.

Legolas raised an eyebrow at her. 'You do not wish to?' he asked, tilting his head at her.

'I'm not very good at dancing,' Hermione answered, wringing her hands timidly.

Legolas reached out and took Hermione's hands. 'It is not a formal dance,' he told her, freeing one of her hands and placing his hand on her waist before stepping so close there was almost no room between them.

Hermione's breath caught in her throat as she looked up into his eyes. The whole room seemed to fade away as Legolas led her across the floor with ease. Hermione lost track of how long they danced or how many songs had played or how many people were watching them. It felt like an eternity, but Hermione didn't care. She suddenly wished she could stay like this with Legolas forever, but she didn't know why.

Hermione didn't realise they had stopped dancing and were just gazing at each other. It wasn't until Legolas stepped away and let go of her waist that the room came back into focus. Hermione looked around for a moment, feeling self-conscious as she fathomed a lot of the Elves were watching them.

Legolas raised her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently, sending shivers down her spine and making her knees turn to jelly. 'Thank you for the dance, Lady Hermione,' he whispered, looking at her intensely for a moment before moving away and leaving her standing on the dance floor.

Hermione took a deep breath before moving over to Harry and Draco who both looked at her with raised eyebrows. She smiled at them and grabbed the nearest goblet, pouring mead into it and downing it swiftly as she tried to gather her thoughts.

oOoOo

Hermione woke the next morning with a pounding headache and a very short temper. She picked at her breakfast, scowling at her plate as Draco and Harry tiptoed around her, trying to not set her off.

It was the day the Fellowship would be leaving on their journey, and Hermione regretted her decision to listen to Draco and drink. 'What happened last night?' she asked them softly, rubbing her gritty eyes.

Harry and Draco glanced at each other, before looking at Hermione cautiously. 'In what respect? The getting drunk and giggling incessantly? Or the drunken dancing on tables? Or the-' Draco cut himself off at the glare Hermione gave him.

Harry reached across the table and took her hand gently. 'Nothing like that happened,' he told her, shooting a warning glare at Draco when the Slytherin opened his mouth. 'You downed a few glasses of mead and fell asleep at the buffet table. I carried you to your room,' he said, squeezing her hand lightly.

Hermione groaned, leaning her head on her folded arms. 'How embarrassing,' she mumbled, irritated at herself for letting the dance with Legolas get to her so much. 'How are you guys?' she asked them, looking up at them.

'Fine. I didn't really have much to drink last night,' Harry answered, drinking the remains of the tea the Elves provided. It wasn't like regular tea they had in the future. It was sweet and smelled like roses.

Draco tapped a rhythm on his own cup but stopped when Hermione scowled at him. 'I can guzzle booze like it is going out of fashion. Never bothers me,' he answered, making Harry and Hermione look at him in incredulity. 'What I mean is I never get hangovers,' he added, smirking at them smugly.

'Lucky for some,' Hermione muttered, groaning as pain shot through her head.

'Lady Hermione?' Came a voice from the steps, and Hermione turned to it but regretted the quick movement. Tears came to her eyes from the throbbing in her head.

'Hey, Sam,' Harry answered for Hermione, looking at his friend in apprehension.

Sam moved over to them and put a goblet of liquor on the table. Hermione looked at it, her face tinging green for a moment. 'Why would you give me this?' she asked, looking at Sam and frowning at the sweet-smelling fragrance of the colourless cordial.

'It's called miruvor. Strider said it should clear your head,' Sam answered, before bowing his head to them and leaving.

Hermione swallowed. 'I trust Aragorn wouldn't try to kill me,' she muttered, holding her nose and knocking back the mead.

'Did it work?' Draco asked her, looking at the empty goblet in interest.

Hermione was aware of the pain still present in her head, but it had dulled noticeably, and she felt renewed vigour and strength return to her. 'It hasn't cured it, but I feel a lot better,' she answered, looking at the goblet in surprise.

'Well, the journey should be better for you, at least,' Harry said, smiling at her. 'Come on, we should probably head down to meet the others,' he told them, getting up. Hermione and Draco followed him, making their way down to the entrance to Rivendell.

Other members of the Fellowship were already gathered there, talking amongst themselves as they approached. Hermione looked around the entrance. 'Where's Aragorn and Legolas?' she asked Harry and Draco in a whisper.

Draco looked around as well. 'There's Legolas,' he said, gesturing to the Elf descending the stairs. Legolas noticed them and made his way over.

Harry frowned. 'I have no idea where Aragorn could be,' he said with a shrug.

'Aragorn is at his mother's grave,' Legolas told them, checking Bill the pony's reigns and saddle were securely fastened. 'He will join us soon,' he added, looking back over at them, his eyes lingering on Hermione.

oOoOo

In the forest, not too far from where the Fellowship were readying themselves for leaving Rivendell, Aragorn kneeled in front of a statue of a beautiful woman. Her hands were folded before her, and she was wearing a hood.

Aragorn reached out, gently and reverently removing the foliage, weeds and debris from the engraved words at the base and form of the statue. After he was done, Aragorn stood back and gazed into the statue's sad face, before placing his hand over his heart and bowing his head.

Elrond entered the clearing, standing to one side silently for a moment as he watched Aragorn who was mumbling a prayer under his breath. Elrond approached Aragorn when the Ranger lowered his hand from his heart. 'Anirne hene beriad i chên în. Ned Imladris nauthant e le beriathar aen,' Elrond told him, bowing his own head in respect. (A/N Translation: 'She wanted to protect her child. She thought that in Rivendell you would be safe'.)

Aragorn didn't acknowledge he had heard Elrond, paying little heed to him as he caressed the face of his mother's statue. Elrond moved over, so he was standing just behind Aragorn. 'In her heart, your mother knew you would be hunted all your life. That you would never escape your fate. The skill of the Elves can reforge the Sword of Kings, but only you have the power to wield it,' Elrond told him, shaking his head forlornly.

Aragorn stared at the statue dejectedly, before turning to look at Elrond. 'I do not want that power. I have never wanted it,' he told him defiantly.

'You are the last of the bloodline. There is no other,' Elrond told him, placing his hand on the Ranger's shoulder. Aragorn ignored Elrond, standing silently and looking upon the statue sombrely.

oOoOo

Up in Frodo's room, Bilbo was helping the Hobbit pack up the rest of his things. Bilbo pulled out a shabby leather scabbard from one of his bags and turned to Frodo. He pulled the sword out, and Frodo looked at it in awe. It was a polished, well-tendered blade that glittered coldly and brightly.

'My old sword! Sting,' Bilbo told Frodo, holding the sword out to his nephew. 'Here, take it. Take it,' he said eagerly.

Frodo took the sword, and his eyes widened. 'It's so light!' he exclaimed, smiling at the older Hobbit.

'Yes, yes, made by the Elves, you know. The blade glows blue when Orcs are close… and it's times like that, my lad, when you have to be extra careful,' Bilbo warned him earnestly before smiling at Frodo again.

'So, it's like the sword Aragorn gave me, but it glows only for when Orcs are near?' Frodo asked, studying the sword.

'Exactly, my boy,' Bilbo stated, turning to his bag again and unwrapping a small shirt of close woven mail. 'Here's a pretty thing. Mithril; as light as a feather, and as hard as dragon scales. Let me see you put it on. Come on,' he said, handing the mail to Frodo.

Frodo sighed but reached up to untie the buttons on his shirt, peeling it off to expose the Ring on its chain glinting in the light. This caught Bilbo's eye. 'Oh!' the older Hobbit gasped. Frodo was just about to put the mail on, but stopped and looked at his uncle in concern. 'My old Ring…' he said, pointing to it.

Frodo frowned as Bilbo moved towards him, rubbing his hands together while he stared at the Ring. 'I should very much like… to hold it again, one last time,' Bilbo mumbled, entranced by the Ring.

Frodo, worried for his uncle, pulled his shirt back on and tied it back up which hid the Ring from Bilbo. A shadow passed over Bilbo then, and for a split second, he became a wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony, groping hands. Frodo pulled away from Bilbo, looking at him in confusion, shock, and fear.

The shadow passed, and Bilbo slumped into a chair, his head in his hands. The older Hobbit faltered, his eyes filling with tears. 'Oh!' he mumbled sadly, his voice cracking. 'I'm sorry that I brought this upon you, my boy. I'm sorry that you must carry this burden,' he whispered, tears falling from his eyes. 'I'm sorry for everything,' he said, his voice thick with tears.

Hesitantly, Frodo walked towards Bilbo slowly and placed his hand on his uncle's shoulder to comfort him. Bilbo reached up and put his hand over Frodo's as he continued to cry for his nephew and the burden placed upon him.

Lord Elrond entered the room, taking in the two Hobbits sorrowfully. 'It is time, Frodo Baggins,' the wise Elf Lord told him, and Frodo nodded. Frodo helped his uncle to his feet before grabbing his bag and Bilbo's sword. Frodo and Bilbo followed Elrond out of the room and down the stairs.

As they neared the entrance, Bilbo moved away towards the crowd of Elves who had gathered to see them off as Elrond placed a hand on Frodo's shoulder. Elrond and Frodo stood for a moment in silence before the Elf Lord turned to him. 'The time has come for the Ring to set out,' he told Frodo, receiving a nod in return.

They continued walking towards the rest of the Fellowship who were waiting at the Gate of Rivendell. 'You cannot count on your journey being aided by war or forces. You will pass into the domain of the enemy, far from aid,' Elrond warned him, before stopping and looking at him. 'Do you still hold to your word, Frodo, that you will be the Ring-bearer?' Elrond asked, looking at the Hobbit gravely.

Frodo looked over at the other members of the Fellowship before looking back at Elrond. 'I do. I must. I will go with Sam,' he answered, lowering his eyes to the ground as nerves started to grow in him.

Elrond nodded slowly, reaching out a hand and placing it on Frodo's shoulder in solace. 'Then I cannot help you much, not even with counsel,' Elrond told him, shaking his head. 'I can foresee very little of your road; and how your task is to Mountains and draws nigh even to the borders of the Greyflood; and under the Shadow, all is dark to me,' Elrond told him, closing his eyes and trying to bring forth visions of Frodo's path.

'You will meet many foes, some open, and some disguised; and you may find friends upon your way when you least look for it. I will send out messages, such as I can contrive, to those whom I know in the wide world; but so perilous have the lands now become that some may well miscarry, or come no quicker than you yourself,' Elrond explained, shaking his head. He looked back over at the Fellowship waiting patiently, and the Elves who were watching the Elf Lord and Frodo talk privately.

Elrond sighed. 'Had I a host of Elves in armour of the Elder Days, it would avail little, save to arouse the power of Mordor,' he said grimly, closing his eyes for a moment before looking back at Frodo. 'Are you confident in your companions?' he asked, glancing back at the Fellowship fleetingly before looking back at Frodo.

Frodo nodded, bowing his head. 'Yes, Lord Elrond. I must be, I'm afraid, for if I doubt them, we may never succeed,' he answered, taking a deep breath.

Elrond nodded pensively. 'And what of your Hobbit friends?' he asked, making Frodo look up at him with a frown. 'I had hoped to send them back to the Shire as messengers to warn the people of the impending danger according to the fashion of your country,' Elrond explained, tilting his head slightly as he looked over at the three Hobbits in question. 'I feel the youngest, Peregrin Took, should not go with you. My heart is against it,' Elrond advised, looking over at Pippin worriedly.

Frodo shook his head. 'His heart is set upon going. There will be no stopping him, even if you did send him home in a sack,' he answered in amusement, looking over at Pippin fondly.

Elrond nodded slowly. 'Let it be so then. The Fellowship awaits,' he told him, leading him towards the entrance.

Elrond and Frodo descended the stairs, and the Hobbit joined the Fellowship who were ready to depart. They were going on foot with only Bill the pony to carry much of their baggage.

Elrond walked over to stand with the Elves, looking at their only hope of success solemnly. 'The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On you who travel with him, no oath nor bond is laid to go further than you will,' he told them as Aragorn gazed over at Arwen, their eyes locking at these words. 'Farewell. Hold to your purpose. May the blessings of the Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you,' he said, smiling at them all in turn.

Legolas and Aragorn placed their hands over their hearts and bowed their heads. Hermione recognised the show of deference amongst Elves as she was taught it herself as a child. Aragorn would, of course, know the Elven customs having grown up in Rivendell himself.

Legolas moved over to Arwen and Hermione watched as they reached up, touching each other's cheeks and bowed their heads, their free hand over their hearts. This was their way of saying farewell, Hermione remembered as she thought back to what she had been taught in her lessons. She watched as Legolas did the same thing to Elrond, but the Elf Lord leaned down and kissed Legolas's forehead because he was royalty in the eyes of the Elves. After saying his farewells, Legolas came back over to stand with the Fellowship once more.

There was silence for a moment before Gandalf turned to Frodo. 'The Fellowship awaits the Ring-bearer,' he stated, smiling at the Hobbit.

Frodo looked around at the gathered Elves one last time before turning slowly to the Fellowship. He timidly made his way to the head of the group while the faces of those who vowed to follow him watched patiently. Taking a deep breath, Frodo walked out the Gate of Rivendell and came upon his first fork, looking around in uncertainty. For a moment he looked at both paths, not wanting to seem like he didn't know where he was going. 'Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?' Frodo whispered, knowing the old wizard was right behind him.

Gandalf smiled in amusement. 'Left,' he answered, placing his hand on Frodo's left shoulder and guiding him down the correct path.

Merry and Pippin followed behind Gandalf, whispering to themselves. Legolas followed after them, next to Hermione, Harry and Draco, while behind them was Sam who had Bill the pony by the reigns. Behind Sam was Boromir, taking up the rear for the moment.

Aragorn hung back, looking around at Rivendell to bid it a silent farewell. Finally, his eyes came to rest on Arwen's, and he nodded at her before following the Fellowship. With tears in her eyes, Arwen watched him disappear through the arch and hung her head dejectedly, a single tear escaping from her eye.

oOoOo

As the Fellowship climbed the long steep path out of the cloven vale of Rivendell, Legolas reached forward and tugged on Hermione's hand. She turned to him inquisitively when he stopped walking, and she looked at the rest of the group as they continued on until they were past them.

Legolas pulled out a package from his bag. 'I have a gift for you,' he told her, pulling away the cloth to reveal a pair of bracer gloves. 'In case you have need of your bow,' he explained, taking her hands and tying the bracer gloves on them. They were smaller, identical versions of his own bracer gloves.

'Thank you,' Hermione whispered, smiling up at him. She was carrying her bow along with her quivers on her back in case she needed them, but with the spells Gandalf had taught them she hoped her wand and magic would suffice. The Elves had also fashioned two daggers for her which were stored in her beaded bag. Legolas had taught her some tricks with the blades, mainly for defence, but Hermione decided only to have them as a back-up in case she had no choice but to defend herself in hand-to-hand combat.

Legolas wavered for a moment before baring another package. 'I also had this made for you,' he told her, opening it and showing her an emerald green cloak made from a strange material Hermione had never seen before. She frowned at the beautiful cloak before looking up at him curiously. 'It has been imbued with Elven magic to protect against the wind and the rain,' he explained, and Hermione noticed he was wearing the same type of cloak. Legolas helped her put it on, and she felt warm immediately. It was like a warming charm only she knew it wouldn't wear off.

Hermione smiled up at him. 'Thank you, Legolas. It's beautiful,' she said with a blush, looking up at him. Hermione's eyes locked with his and, without realising, they began moving closer to each other.

'OI! Get a room!' Draco shouted at them from where he was standing next to Harry who was frowning at them.

Legolas moved away from Hermione like he had been burned. He gave her a swift nod and, without another word, ran ahead to the front of the Fellowship and began speaking with Gandalf in hushed tones.

Hermione watched Legolas go, feeling mystified and slightly stunned. Am I imagining things? I could have sworn he… No, surely not. I wouldn't appeal to someone like him. He's a Prince! But I could have sworn he was about to kiss me… Hermione trailed off in her musings as she caught up to Harry and Draco, her mind swimming with questions about what had just happened.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: Forging a Way Forward; The Road Not Taken

The twelve companions trekked through Hollin, a land of deep valleys and turbulent water. The Misty Mountains rose sharply to their left. It took them quarter of the day to walk across until they reached a makeshift path in the hills. Gandalf was leading the Fellowship, followed by Legolas and Gimli. Harry and Draco were walking with the Hobbits; the Slytherin was shooting sparks out of his wand to amuse them. Behind them was Boromir, Hermione and Aragorn, talking amiably about the route they were taking to Mordor.

'We must hold to this course, west of the Misty Mountains, for forty days. If our luck holds, the Gap of Rohan will still be open to us. From there, our road turns east, to Mordor,' Gandalf explained to them as they crossed the hills.

'Forty days?' Draco groaned in frustration. 'It's been less than a day and I'm already exhausted!' he grumbled, kicking a stone in the dirt.

Hermione rolled her eyes. 'It's not like we'll be continually walking, Malfoy. There will be rest stops,' she told him, shaking her head.

Legolas ran ahead of the Fellowship after a while to scout out the area beyond and make sure they were not heading into a trap or any other kind of danger. When he returned, he fell into step next to Gandalf and Aragorn. 'There is a clearing up ahead,' he told them, receiving a nod from the Wizard.

It didn't take the Fellowship long to reach the clearing Legolas had found. Draco and Harry sat down, relieved to be off their feet for any length of time. Hermione frowned at them, pondering how they were going to cope with the rest of the journey.

Hermione picked a leaf from a nearby bush and pointed her wand at it, transfiguring it into a blanket. She spread it on the ground and sat down, crossing her legs. For a moment Hermione looked around the clearing at her comrades and a small smile flitted onto her lips. A sense of serenity washed over her and she closed her eyes, intending to meditate and build up her magic power levels like Gandalf taught her in Rivendell.

Draco looked over at Hermione, raising one of his eyebrows. 'Well, isn't that rude,' he muttered, shaking his head. 'We're left to sit on the grass while Granger lounges about in luxury,' Draco huffed, crossing his arms.

Harry gave him a side-glance, his lips curling into a grin. 'You're a wizard, aren't you? Conjure your own blanket to sit on,' he replied, getting up from the grass and stretching.

Draco looked up at him and blinked several times. 'I think you're missing the point,' he answered with a sigh.

Harry shook his head. 'No, your point has been made and it just amplifies what I already know,' he countered, twisting his back until it cracked several times.

Draco grimaced, his eye twitching at the sound. 'Must you!?' he barked, shivering and ignoring the roll of Harry's eyes. 'And anyway, yes it is rather selfish of her to only think of herself,' he answered, nodding up at Harry.

Harry snorted, making Draco look up at him in bewilderment. 'I was talking about how lazy you are,' he chuckled, earning a scowl from the blonde still sitting on the grass.

'You will regret those words, Potter,' Draco hissed, getting up and glaring down at Harry who was slightly smaller than him.

Harry grinned toothily. 'Oh?'

'I challenge you to a duel,' Draco revealed, brandishing his sword.

Harry raised his eyebrows and took out the Sword of Gryffindor. 'I accept, loser,' he replied, chuckling as Draco narrowed his eyes.

Hermione opened one of her eyes to look over at them as they jogged off to a quieter part of the clearing. Opening both of her eyes, Hermione let out a sigh and decided she better go make sure they don't actually kill each other.

Hermione waved at Sam who was busying himself with making food for everyone. He smiled and waved back at her, before handing a plate of food to Frodo. Hermione paused for a moment as Merry and Pippin ran across the clearing towards Boromir. The three of them were brushing up on their sword skills and having a friendly sword fight.

'Two, one, five. Good! Very good!' Boromir praised Pippin who blocked all of the experienced swordsman's attacks. 'Get away from the blade, Pippin…' he said as Pippin came too close. 'On your toes… good, very good,' Boromir said, smiling as he advanced, catching Pippin off-guard for a moment. 'I want you to react, not think,' he added, shaking his head.

'Should not be too hard…' Sam quipped, making Frodo spit out his water as he laughed and Sam patted his back.

Hermione stopped next to Aragorn to watch for a moment and they were joined by Frodo and Sam who had plates of food. Aragorn smiled at Hermione, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing softly before turning his attention back to the play fight, watching the Hobbits' footwork. 'Move your feet,' he called to them, gesturing to their stance.

'You look good, Pippin,' Merry told him, moving over to Sam and taking a sausage from his plate.

'Thanks!' Pippen called back, his eyes still on Boromir who was circling him like a wild animal would its prey.

Boromir advanced, swinging his sword and Pippin barely blocked it. Merry ran forward, directing Boromir's attention to him. 'Faster,' Boromir shouted, issuing out the same techniques to Merry.

Hermione smiled at them before making her way over to Gandalf who seemed to be watching Harry and Draco who were about to duel. She sat next to the old Wizard, receiving a smile from him. Gandalf turned his eyes back to the pair, blowing a smoke ring into the air from his pipe.

Hermione couldn't help the smile that spread across her lips as she listened to the two bickering. Draco was mocking Harry, but the Gryffindor was giving just as good as he was getting. The duel hadn't started yet as the pair had opted to throw insults at each other first.

'En garde, touché!' Draco cried, bringing his sword up to meet Harry's.

Harry raised an eyebrow. 'That is so cliché,' he answered in amusement.

Draco smirked. 'Now, now, Potter. Let's not spoil the fun we are about to have,' he stated, getting into a fighting stance. 'May the best bastard win,' Draco chuckled, receiving an eye roll from Hermione.

'Indeed,' Harry responded, taking the first swing at Draco.

Draco's eyes widened, but he managed to catch the Sword of Gryffindor with his own sword. 'The audacity of you,' he muttered, advancing and striking Harry's sword hard, making the Gryffindor take a step back from the force. 'Trying to catch me off guard like that,' he added, shaking his head.

The two continued to fight, the Goblin and Elven made swords clashing in a shower of sparks. Hermione tried to keep up with them, but she was stunned at how swiftly they both moved. They had picked up a lot more in Rivendell than she had initially anticipated when it came to fighting with swords.

Harry spun under a swing from Draco's sword, before bringing his own down on the Slytherin's. Draco smirked and spun out of the clash, which caught Harry a little off-guard. He quickly blocked Draco's sword, but this left him wide open and Draco used this moment of vulnerability to trip the Gryffindor up. Within moments, Harry found himself on his back in the dirt, the end of a sword and a wand pointed at him.

Harry closed his eyes. 'Shit…' he muttered, running his hand through his hair which was wet with sweat and making it stick up all over the place. 'It's not possible,' he muttered, not believing Draco actually beat him fair and square.

Draco shrugged. 'Not probable,' he answered, smirking down at the Gryffindor. He pulled back and replaced his wand into his pocket before reaching out his hand to pull Harry to his feet.

Harry frowned, fully expecting Draco to trick him, but took his outstretched hand anyway. To Harry's surprise, Draco pulled him to his feet and didn't drop him like he presumed he would. 'I want to go again, Malfoy,' Harry seethed, still not accepting defeat.

Draco shrugged. 'Best out of three?' he asked, smirking at Harry and wiping his sword.

'You're on,' Harry answered, getting into a fighting stance.

Hermione and Gandalf laughed at them when they decided to discard their swords and launched themselves at each other until they were rolling around on the ground, both laughing. Hermione's laugh calmed to a smile as she watched Draco grab Harry into a headlock and it reminded her of a time when Harry and Ron used to play fight like this. It was so strange to see Draco and Harry being able to mess around as if they were the best of friends, but it really pulled at Hermione's heartstrings. She couldn't believe how far they had come.

Hermione could almost see Draco as a friend now. Almost.

She knew it would still be a long time before she would class him in the same category as Harry and Ron, but she could no longer see this as an impossibility if what she was seeing was anything to go by. Hermione had a feeling Draco may feel the same way about them, but she knew he would never admit it. Well, not yet, anyway.

Hermione was diverted from her musings by Gimli who let out an explosive sigh as he looked around. 'If anyone were to ask for my opinion, which I note they have not, I would say we are taking the long way round,' he muttered, crossing his arms as Gandalf gave him a side-glance, his expression unimpressed. Gimli turned fully towards Gandalf and let out an exasperated growl. 'Gandalf, we can pass through the Mines of Moria. My cousin, Balin, would give us a royal welcome,' Gimli told him, his tone hopeful.

Gandalf sighed and shook his head, worry written on his features. 'No Gimli,' he countered instantly, and Hermione visibly watched the Dwarf deflate. 'I would not take the road through Moria unless I had no other choice,' Gandalf told him, his tone firm and leaving no room for argument.

Gandalf raised his eyebrows as Legolas sprinted past them, jumping up onto a high rock with an ease that made Hermione's eyes widen. She frowned as she watched him gaze out into the distance, his expression was stoic but his clenched hands showed he was troubled. Hermione stood, and climbed up onto the rock next to him, but he scarcely reacted when she reached out to touch his arm. 'What's wrong, Legolas?' she asked with a frown, but she received no reply.

Hermione looked out to see if she could see what was causing Legolas so much apprehension. He was fixated on a distant dark patch in the sky which dashed about like flying smoke in the wind.

In the background, Boromir hit Pippin's hand with his sword, and stopped immediately. 'Sorry!' he called, moving to check if the Hobbit was okay, but Pippin kicked him in the shin.

'Get him!' Merry shouted and the two Hobbits managed to take Boromir to the ground, play fighting with him much like Draco and Harry were doing earlier.

Draco and Harry, who were talking to one side, laughed as they watched this. Harry punched Draco in the arm. 'Hey!' he yelled, rubbing his arm. 'Dammit! Now my bruises have bruises!' he winced, glaring at Harry.

'Stop being such a baby,' Harry snickered, pulling Draco into a headlock.

Aragorn chuckled at the boys' antics, taking a puff of his pipe while Boromir laughed at the Hobbits' success at bringing him down. 'For the Shire!' Merry shouted out.

'Hold him. Hold him down, Merry!' Pippin cried as the three of them rolled around on the ground.

Aragorn, noticing something was off with Legolas, walked over to them and attempted to pick the Hobbits' up by the scruffs of their shirts to stop the fight. 'Gentlemen, that's enough,' he told them, but Merry and Pippin used their height to their advantage and quickly grabbed Aragorn's legs. They pulled and the astounded Ranger fell onto his back before getting awarded the same treatment Boromir had received.

Sam frowned in confusion, finally noticing what Legolas was looking at. 'What is that?' he asked, pointing to the sky.

This caught Draco and Harry's attention and they stopped fighting long enough to scrunch their eyes up to see what it could be. 'I think it's moving,' Draco muttered, narrowing his eyes.

Gimli glanced at Draco before looking up at the sky himself. 'Nothing… it's just a wisp of cloud,' he answered, shaking his head.

'It's moving fast…' Boromir trailed off, his eyes widening. 'Against the wind,' he added anxiously as Aragorn, Merry, and Pippin came to stand with him, looking up at the dark patch in incredulity and fear.

Hermione took a step back in concern. 'Legolas, what is that?' she asked him, looking at the Elf who didn't answer, but his eyes narrowed further.

After a moment, Legolas blinked. 'Crebain from Dunland!' he shouted to them.

Aragorn's eyes widened. 'Hide!' he cried urgently, grabbing Boromir's arm.

'Well, shit,' Draco muttered, shaking his head.

'Hurry!' Harry shouted, grabbing Merry and Pippin and helping them get into a hiding spot.

'Take cover!' Aragorn yelled to Draco who was still watching the approaching birds. Frodo and Sam slid off their rock, and they both hurriedly started packing his things away. Boromir ran over to them, helping them grab their things before picking them up and carrying them to the bush Aragorn was hiding in. They slid in next to Aragorn as Boromir ran to find another spot. He found Merry and Pippin and hid in the bush with them.

Draco took a step back before turning and sprinting towards cover himself. Something tripped him up and before he could react, Draco was being dragged into the bushes. He glared at Harry who shrugged at him and gave him a smirk. 'Geez, Potter, if I knew you felt that way…' he trailed off, wagging his eyebrows at Harry.

'Shut up, Malfoy,' Harry muttered, glaring at the blonde.

Legolas leapt off the rock, before turning and holding his arms out which allowed Hermione to jump down. Legolas caught her effortlessly and took her hand, running towards a gap between the rocks.

Legolas let her go in first before squeezing in next to her. The space was so constricted they were chest to chest. When she grasped this, Hermione blushed furiously and tried to move slightly, but Legolas moved his arm up so it effectively blocked her escape. Hermione looked up at him with a frown, but the look in his eyes made her breath catch in her throat. A screech from above them seized Legolas's attention away from Hermione and she swallowed thickly. Hermione froze when Legolas lowered his arm, but placed it around her waist instead and pulled her even closer to him if that was conceivable.

The others looked out from their hiding places, hoping the birds wouldn't see them. The regiment of large crows flew overhead at great speed, wheeling and circling above them. As their dark shadow passed over the Fellowship, a single harsh croak was heard and the crows suddenly turned away, back towards the south.

Legolas looked out at the sky and nodded towards Aragorn to let him know they were safe. He moved out from the tight space, before taking Hermione's hand and helping her out. Legolas let her hand go instantly after though, as if he had been stung, before making his way towards Aragorn. Hermione frowned at Legolas, but shrugged it off before following.

Gandalf staggered out of his hiding spot and made his way over to them. 'Spies of Saruman,' he spat, glaring at the sky where the birds disappeared. 'The passage south is being watched,' he explained bitterly, shaking his head. Gandalf walked away towards Legolas who was examining his bow, having just returned from checking if the surrounding area was safe.

Gimli leaned against a rock and Hermione sat on the ground next to it and crossed her legs. She picked grass and twirled it between her fingers as Frodo and Sam made their way over to them. 'Are you okay, Lady Hermione?' Frodo asked her, giving her a weak smile.

Hermione's eyes softened when she looked up at the Hobbit. 'I am fine, Frodo. Thank you for your concern. Are you okay?' she asked him, frowning up at him.

'Yes, I am fine,' he answered, sitting down on the grass next to her.

Hermione reached over and tussled Frodo's hair affectionately, earning her another smile from the Hobbit. Frodo was looking frightened and a little worn-out, and Hermione was feeling concerned for the small Hobbit. 'Good,' Hermione answered, picking some more grass and twirling it between her fingers.

They looked up as Gandalf walked over to them, followed by the rest of the Fellowship. He glanced at everyone in turn worriedly, his eyes pausing on Aragorn before he looked out at the horizon. 'We must take the Pass of Caradhras,' he divulged, gesturing towards a high mountain pass in the distance.

Legolas looked up at the snow-covered mountain, wondering how safe they would be while climbing. His eyes moved to Hermione expecting to see disquiet in her eyes, but there was only determination there. Legolas's lips twitched; Hermione was stronger than he gave her credit for.

oOoOo

It took the Fellowship the rest of the day to reach the foot of the pass and they looked at it disdainfully while they set up camp. Harry, Draco and Hermione placed warming charms on everyone before they went to bed to ward off the chill creeping into the air.

Early the next morning, the Fellowship found themselves clambering through the rocks and snow on the pass. Harry, Draco and Hermione had replaced the warming charms on the Fellowship before they left the camp, but it didn't stop their clothes from getting soaked by the foot of snow they were trudging through. Draco gritted his teeth as Legolas walked past them on top of the snow. 'Jammy bastard,' he muttered, glaring at the Elf.

The three wizards who were bantering among themselves stopped when Frodo slipped on some shale in the snow and rolled back down the hill somewhat. 'Frodo!' Aragorn shouted as he and Draco ran towards Frodo to help him. Aragorn reached down, helping the Hobbit to his feet. Frodo searched his neck for the Ring on his chain, but it was missing and his eyes widened. His eyes snapped up to Boromir who picked it up, staring at the dangling Ring as if he were possessed and he seemed to grow in stature, as if he were absorbing its power.

Draco moved to step forward to take it off him and give it back to Frodo, but Aragorn placed his hand on his shoulder. Draco looked up at Aragorn who gave him an imperceptible shake of his head. Draco sighed and crossed his arms, his eyes trained on Boromir in unease.

Gandalf turned to look at Boromir, his expression one of impatience. Aragorn watched Boromir cautiously, placing his free hand on Frodo's shoulder protectively. Draco glanced back at Aragorn, his eyes communicating his thoughts and the Ranger let his hand fall to his side. Draco nodded before walking over to Boromir slowly. Harry and Hermione observed this in undisguised curiosity as Draco stopped next to Boromir, but both of them took their wands out just in case they needed them.

'Boromir?' Aragorn called out to him worriedly.

Boromir continued to gaze at the Ring, a frown appearing on his brow. 'It is a fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over such a small thing,' Boromir stated in a monotone. 'Such a little thing,' he added in a whisper, reaching up to place the Ring on his finger.

'Boromir!' Aragorn shouted out, moving to walk towards them, but he stopped dead at Draco's expression.

Draco smiled at Boromir, but there was something about it which sent chills down the backs of everyone present. 'Hey! I know, right!' he agreed, reaching out and snatching the Ring from Boromir. For a moment everyone held their breaths as Boromir's eyes darkened and he looked at Draco with murderous intent in his eyes. 'And we must not take what is not ours,' Draco added, his eyes flashing dangerously.

This was enough to shake Boromir back to the present. 'I…' he trailed off, looking over at Frodo. 'I apologise, Frodo…' he whispered, looking at the ground.

Draco smirked at him. 'No harm done,' he answered, before turning and moving towards Frodo.

Aragorn took a step forward, the look in Draco's eyes before was enough to make even him recoil. His hand was on the hilt of his sword, but Draco seemed his typical self again. Draco walked over to Frodo, the Ring clutched in his hand, but Aragorn was amazed to find it didn't seem to affect him at all.

Draco knelt in front of Frodo and handed him the Ring and chain. 'Thank you,' Frodo said sincerely, while Harry and Hermione smiled at Draco's random act of kindness. However, both were troubled by the feeling they got when Draco had confronted Boromir.

Draco smiled at the Hobbit. 'You're welcome, wee man,' he answered, ruffling Frodo's hair. Draco restored the warming charm on Frodo and himself before choosing to walk next to the Hobbit to make sure he would get up the slope without too much issue.

Behind them, Gandalf winked at Aragorn who smiled at the young man and his show of concern for his comrades. With that, they continued their journey up the mountain.

oOoOo

Following the crows as they raced deeper and deeper, passing a vista of industry, hundreds of Orcs and writhing birth sacks, and flying past Saruman who was standing upon a wooden gantry. Saruman closed his eyes, listening to the crows, before roving his eyes over the caverns deep beneath Isengard.

'So, Gandalf… you try to lead them over Caradhras,' Saruman said in a monotone. 'And if that fails, where then will you go?' he asked, moving back into his tower and over to a Palantir on a pedestal in the middle of the dark room. Saruman looked into the Palantir, seeing the Fellowship toiling through the snow on Caradhras. 'If the mountain defeats you, will you risk a more dangerous road?' he asked, holding his hand over the Palantir.

oOoOo

Back with the Fellowship who were struggling through a blinding blizzard towards the pass, Legolas moved lightly across the top of the snow next to where Hermione and Harry were walking. His ears twitched and he paused as a voice swept by on the wind. Hermione looked up at him, realising he was no longer walking next to them. 'What is it?' she asked him, but he didn't respond. Instead, Legolas ran ahead of the Fellowship, taking the lead. As he passed Gimli, the Dwarf growled at him as he continued to trudge through the snow.

'I hear you,' Draco muttered from next to him, glowering at the Elf.

Legolas stopped a few metres ahead of them and looked around. He closed his eyes and listened, trying to catch the voice. 'Cuiva nwalca Carnirasse; nai yarvaxea rasselya!' came the voice through the wind. (A/N Translation: 'Wake up cruel Redhorn; may your horn be bloodstained!')

Legolas's eyes widened. 'There is a fell voice on the air,' he warned Gandalf urgently as the old Wizard came to a stop next to him.

Gandalf looked back at him in shock. 'It's Saruman!' he shouted as thunder rumbled through the air.

The Fellowship looked up as rock and shale started to fall towards them from above. Hermione trudged through the snow as fast as she could until she was standing in the middle of the group. 'Protégo Maxima!' she cried, creating a shield large enough to protect them all.

Draco and Harry pulled out their wands, pointing them to the falling rocks and shale and started blowing them up or making them smaller so they wouldn't do too much damage to Hermione's shield. Legolas looked over at Hermione and noticed the strain it was having on her just to hold the shield when it was being bombarded by so much debris.

'Hold on, Granger,' Draco said to Hermione, placing his hand on her shoulder. Hermione was staggered to feel her magic energy increasing and realised Draco was giving her some of his to help hold the shield.

After a while, Draco and Harry were beginning to struggle and the protection shield started to thin as more debris bounced off it. Aragorn noticed this apprehensively and moved the Hobbits towards the rock face. Hermione fell to her knees, sweat trickling down her temples. She breathed heavily, wondering why her magic energy was draining so rapidly. Her vision blurred at the edges and she realised it was the fell chanting in the air which was weakening them. Hermione looked to her left, seeing Draco and Harry were also on their knees breathing heavily. Her spell failed and the rocks and shale came crashing towards them.

Legolas ran forward, grabbing Hermione up into his arms while Aragorn and Boromir pulled Draco and Harry towards the rock face. The clumps of snow and rocks crashed against the ridge above them, flying over the edge and just missed them.

'He's trying to bring down the mountain! Gandalf! We must turn back!' Aragorn shouted, trying to reason with the old Wizard.

'No!' Gandalf shouted back and raised his staff. 'Losto Caradhras, sedho, hodo, nuitho í ruith,' he chanted into the wind. (A/N Translation: 'Sleep, Caradhras, be still, lie still, hold your wrath.') Gandalf continued to chant, but this didn't seem to do anything to calm the mountain.

The fell voice of Saruman grew in momentum, 'Cuiva nwalca Carnirasse; Nai yarvaxea rasselya; taltuva notto-carinnar!' he shouted, sounding like thunder. (A/N Translation: 'Wake up cruel Redhorn; May your bloodstained horn fall upon enemy heads!')

Clouds flowed from all directions, converging on the distant mountains in a stormy maelstrom. Saruman's voice strengthened, rolling past the Fellowship like thunder and a lightning crack exploded on the mountainside above them. Hermione looked up in horror as a huge avalanche of snow rumbled down towards them. Boromir pulled Gandalf to safety while Aragorn and Gimli shielded the Hobbits, Harry and Draco as snow piled around them. Legolas, who had let go of Hermione when he pulled her to safety, pushed her up against the rock face and shielded her with his body.

Within moments, the pass was blocked and the Fellowship were enveloped in snow. Legolas dug himself out, pulling Hermione up with him, before helping Boromir and Aragorn who were frantically digging for the Hobbits. Draco and Harry helped them pull the Hobbits out from the snow, shivering and fearful of what happened.

Harry, Hermione and Draco, whose strength was returning now that the fell voice was gone from the wind, cleaned the snow from the Hobbits and cast warming charms on them again before doing the same for the rest of the Fellowship and themselves.

Gimli muttered to himself, grumbling about snow while he dusted himself off, causing Legolas to roll his eyes. Draco moved towards Gandalf, clearing the snow and casting a warming charm on the old Wizard. 'We have to get off this death trap!' he shouted making Gandalf raise his eyebrows at him.

Boromir nodded in agreement. 'We can make for the Gap of Rohan and take the west road to my city!' he shouted.

'The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to Isengard!' Aragorn argued, shaking his head.

Gimli moved towards Gandalf. 'We cannot pass over a mountain. Let us go under it,' he suggested and Gandalf looked at him with a frown. 'Let us go through the Mines of Moria,' Gimli almost pleaded and Gandalf eyed the Dwarf agitatedly.

Back in the Orthanc Tower in Isengard, Saruman watched this with a malicious smile. He moved over to his desk, running his hand over an ancient text. The page showed an archway with Elven script bordering it. 'Moria. You fear to go into those mines. The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep,' Saruman said into Gandalf's mind, tracing the archway in the book. 'You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm. Shadow and flame,' he whispered, turning the page and looking at an image of a fearful creature wreathed in flame.

On the mountain, Gandalf closed his eyes and tried to block out the verity in Saruman's words before opening them again. He looked over at Frodo. 'Let the Ring-bearer decide,' he said and everyone turned to look at Frodo, awaiting his judgement.

Frodo glanced around at everyone in turn, the burden of the decision weighing heavily on him. Draco placed a hand on Frodo's shoulder, smiling down at him. Harry placed his hand on the Hobbit's other shoulder.

Hermione leaned down and gave the small Hobbit a hug, letting him know she was there for him. When she stood back up she slipped backwards into Legolas and her eyes widened. Hermione looked up at him and he placed his hands on her shoulders to steady her. She was stunned when he didn't jump back or let her go immediately like he normally does.

Frodo glanced at everyone again, his eyes finally coming to a stop on Sam who was watching him nervously. Frodo smiled at Sam who returned it. Boromir turned back to Gandalf. 'We cannot stay here!' he shouted, making everyone look at him. 'This will be the death of the Hobbits!' he seethed, shaking his head.

Gandalf nodded, looking back at Frodo. 'Frodo?' he asked, hoping Frodo wouldn't choose the mines, but he also felt there may be no other choice.

Frodo took a deep breath before looking up at Gandalf. 'We will go through the mines,' he answered, his tone determined.

'So be it,' Gandalf replied, closing his eyes and letting his shoulders slump at Frodo's response.

'At least the walk back will be easier than the walk up,' Harry muttered sarcastically, earning a chuckle from the rest of the Fellowship.

oOoOo

The Fellowship retraced their steps back down the mountain until they reached the area where the spies of Saruman flew over them. They stopped to get their bearings and Legolas jumped up onto a rock next to Gimli. The Dwarf grumbled under his breath making Legolas raise his eyebrows. 'Which way, Dwarf?' Legolas asked, with only a little spite colouring his tone.

Gimli scowled up at him. 'South-west to the entrance of the caves. Then through the mines underneath Mount Caradhras,' he answered, looking away from Legolas. 'Elf…' he added as an afterthought.

Draco took a run and jump onto the rock Legolas was standing on and the Elf turned to him in disbelief, frowning at him in interest. Legolas marvelled at how Draco was able to accomplish it when the rock was large. The Slytherin smirked at him before turning to the rest of the Fellowship. 'Should we rest before we move on?' he asked them, crossing his arms.

Aragorn shook his head. 'Resting would be too dangerous and it is not yet dark,' he answered, watching Draco's shoulders slump a little. 'We shall continue and make camp once we are in a safer area,' he told him, receiving a nod from the Slytherin. Aragorn looked around at everyone in turn. 'Get your strength up, we leave soon,' he told them and they all nodded.

The Hobbits and Harry sat down on the grass feeling drained while Draco sat down on the rock and crossed his legs. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths as if he was meditating.

Hermione sat down on the grass at the foot of the rock Draco was sitting on and picked the blades, twirling them between her fingers and she closed her eyes. Legolas watched this in curiosity as Hermione did this habitually and he first noticed it back in Rivendell. It was something he did himself, but Legolas used it to listen to the rhythms and voice of the earth, a skill all Elves possessed…

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Journey into the Mines

The morning after their ordeal on Mount Caradhras came too soon for the members of the Fellowship. Hermione sat in the grass staring at the serene mountain and marvelled at how they managed to pull through.

She sighed, leaning back on her arms and crossing her legs at her ankles. It was still too early for the majority of the Fellowship to be awake, but Hermione knew it wouldn't be long. She just wanted a moment's peace before things got moving again. Hermione looked at the horizon and smiled as the sun began to creep up.

'You are awake,' came a voice from behind Hermione and she quickly moved onto her knees, her wand at the ready.

When Hermione grasped it was Legolas she lowered her wand. 'Oh! Sorry…' she trailed off, slipping her wand back up her sleeve. 'Habit,' Hermione added with a small shrug.

Legolas nodded and came to stand next to her, looking out at the sun climbing in the distance. 'Did you have trouble sleeping?' he asked her, peering down at where she was still kneeling in the grass.

Hermione comprehended she was in a rather embarrassing position with Legolas standing so close to her and she scrambled to her feet. She flushed, looking away from him to try and dispel the images forming in her mind. 'Um… no, I just wanted to have a moment alone before we leave,' she answered, running a hand through her hair.

'I see,' Legolas replied with a frown.

Silence fell over them for a moment before Hermione let out a sigh. 'It really is beautiful here,' she whispered, her eyes glazing over.

Legolas looked over at her. 'Yes, it is,' he agreed, relaxing a little.

Hermione glanced at him feeling awkward at their strained conversation. 'Will the rest of the journey be as hard?' she asked him, fiddling with her hands as she thought of what could have happened on Mount Caradhras.

Legolas turned towards Hermione and took her hands to stop her from twisting them. 'As Lord Elrond told us, we cannot predict what will happen,' he told her, and Hermione looked up at him with wide eyes. 'There are things in this world that you cannot oppose, no matter how hard you try,' Legolas told her, his eyes darkening.

Hermione frowned at the look on Legolas's face, but she had to wonder if she imagined it as it was gone before she had time to blink. 'I'm worried,' Hermione whispered, looking away from him to the ground. 'Not for myself, but for the Hobbits. I wonder if it's already too much for them,' she said, taking her hands out of Legolas's and crossing her arms as if she was protecting herself from something.

Legolas reached forward and placed his hand under Hermione's chin and tilted her head so she was looking at him. 'Do not be ill at ease, Lady Hermione. The Hobbits have all of us to keep them safe,' he told her, and Hermione shivered when his thumb moved softly across her jaw.

Hermione smiled at Legolas timidly. 'That is true, but the fear in their eyes…' she trailed off, shaking her head which made Legolas withdraw his hand.

Legolas nodded, looking away from her. 'It is something they will learn to overcome with time,' he told her, looking out at the brightening sky.

'I hope so,' Hermione answered with a sigh, gazing up at the sky as well.

oOoOo

It wasn't long before the rest of the Fellowship were roused and there was a cacophony of sounds as they made ready to depart the area they had camped in. They followed Gimli towards the shadow of the ruins of a great aqueduct in the mist and ice of the mountains.

When they reached the entrance, the Fellowship looked at the gloomy cave with frowns. Draco tilted his head. 'Oh, that is nice,' he said with a smirk and crossed his arms.

Gimli raised his eyebrows. 'What's so nice about it?' he asked, looking at the murky, daunting cave in curiosity.

Draco shrugged. 'I was just wondering what some place sinister and foreboding would look like, and here it is!' he answered with a laugh. 'Ouch!' he cried, rubbing his arm after Hermione punched him. Draco scowled at her, receiving a smug smile back.

Gandalf rolled his eyes before smacking Draco on the back of his head. 'Enough,' he told them as Draco looked at him in surprise. 'We must press on,' Gandalf advised and Draco nodded, sulking slightly and crossing his arms.

The Fellowship made their way into the cave and followed the makeshift path next to a small stream while trying not to slip on any mud or loose stones. Gandalf walked next to Gimli, and he could be heard murmuring to the Dwarf with a bitterness in his tone. Draco, Harry and Hermione had a feeling Gandalf was not keen on the idea of going through Moria. Hermione considered her surroundings and realised she really couldn't blame him. The place seemed barren and far too quiet for comfort.

When they had started their trek through the cave Hermione had been amazed that they hadn't come across any Dwarves at all. She didn't think it was ordinary practice for them to not have at least a couple of sentinels minding the entrance for intruders. They could have been anyone, even followers of Saruman, but there was no one. It was eerily quiet in the caves and only the echoes of water dripping from the cave roof could be heard as it landed to ripple in the still stream. It was disconcerting.

Gandalf slowed his walk, allowing Legolas to take the lead as he beckoned to Frodo. 'Frodo, come and help an old man,' he requested, inclining heavily on his staff. Frodo nodded, making his way to Gandalf's side and the old Wizard put his arm around the small Hobbits shoulder, leaning on him. 'How is your shoulder?' he asked him, looking down at Frodo in concern. Harry, Hermione and Draco looked at each other in bewilderment as they questioned what Gandalf was talking about. None of them were aware Frodo had injured his shoulder at any point and worried it may have happened on the mountain without realising.

'Better than it was,' Frodo replied, touching his shoulder and frowning.

Gandalf nodded. 'And the Ring?' he probed anxiously, casting a fleeting look at him. Frodo opened his mouth to answer, but he didn't know what to say. Gandalf stopped walking, prompting Frodo to stop as well and look up at him. 'You feel its power growing, don't you?' Gandalf asked him with a sigh. 'I've felt it too. You must be careful now. Evil will be drawn to you from outside the Fellowship,' he cautioned him and Frodo's eyes widened in dread. 'And, I fear, from within,' Gandalf added as Boromir passed them. Gandalf looked at the Gondorian guardedly, whereas Frodo looked at him in concern.

Frodo turned back to Gandalf. 'Who, then, do I trust?' Frodo asked him, his tone subdued.

'The only person you can trust is yourself,' Harry put in, stopping next to them. Gandalf looked over at him, realising they had been eavesdropping and Harry glanced at him apologetically for butting in.

Gandalf smiled at him before looking back at Frodo. 'Harry is right, Frodo. Trust your own strengths,' he told him with a smile.

Frodo frowned. 'What do you mean?' he asked, looking up at Gandalf.

'There are many powers in this world for good or for evil,' Gandalf explained, placing a hand on Frodo's shoulder. 'Some are greater than I am. And against some I have not yet been tested,' he added, smiling at Frodo. 'Always remember, Frodo, he who destroys evil, controls evil,' Gandalf told him, raising his eyebrows.

Gimli stopped next to them at the top of the path and gazed at the walls in wonder. 'The Walls of Moria!' he cried in reverence, touching the stone of the wall as if it was the most exquisite thing in the world.

Gandalf frowned, looking down from the looming cliff which had been cut into a sheer formation. His eyes were not full of awe like everyone else's, Hermione observed, but dread and concern. She looked at the walls and felt a shiver run down her back. If this is a place even Gandalf fears to tread, then what is in store for us, I wonder? Hermione thought, crossing her arms and frowning.

Gandalf signalled for them to continue on carefully as the path became narrow strips of green and greasy stones making their footing treacherous. On the way, Gimli tapped the wall with his axe, listening. Gandalf raised his eyebrows, but did the same with his staff. 'Dwarf doors are invisible when closed,' Gimli clarified to the puzzled Harry, Hermione and Draco.

'Yes, Gimli, their own masters cannot find them if their secrets are forgotten,' Gandalf countered with a sarcastic smile making Harry and Draco snigger.

'Why am I not surprised?' Legolas put in softly. Hermione held back a giggle as the Dwarf glowered up at him and sniffed with disgust at the comment.

Frodo let out a yelp as he slipped, almost falling into the water. Hermione reached out to steady him. 'Be careful, Frodo,' she said, checking if he was okay and he gave her a small smile.

The Fellowship finally reached the clearing and Gandalf approached a smooth rock wall between two twisted, gnarled trees. Slowly, faint lines appeared like slender veins of luminous silver running through the stone. 'Oh wow,' Hermione gasped, looking at the wall in awe.

Gandalf smiled at Hermione. 'Ithildin,' he explained as a large moon rose over the mountains. 'It mirrors only starlight and moonlight,' he told them, watching as the lines on the wall grew broader and clearer, forming a glowing arch of interlacing ancient letters and symbols.

Draco looked up at the Elven inscription over the top of the door. 'What does it say, Gandalf?' he asked, his eyes not leaving the script. Somehow, deep down, Draco felt like he should know this but he had no idea how. It was an odd feeling, one he couldn't figure out.

'It reads, "The door of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter",' Gandalf interpreted for Draco, looking at the blonde's curious expression.

'What do you suppose it means?' Merry asked curiously, tilting his head at the inscription.

Gandalf raised his eyebrows, glancing back at Merry. 'It's simple,' he answered confidently, gripping his staff in both hands. 'If you are a friend, you speak the password and the doors will open,' he told them, smiling smugly.

Gandalf raised his staff and placed the tip onto the glowing star on the arch and closed his eyes. 'Annon Edhellen, edro hi ammen!' he incanted, and the cliff towered into the night, the wind blew cold causing everyone to shiver, but the door stood fast. (A/N Translation: 'Gate of the Elves, open now for me!') Unperturbed, Gandalf smiled and tried again. 'Fennas Nogothrim, lasto beth lammen,' he incanted, but the same thing happened and the door still remained tightly shut. (A/N Translation: 'Doorway of the Dwarf-folk, listen to the word of my tongue.')

Merry and Pippin glanced at each other, grinning in amusement. Sam was tired of standing about while Frodo watched in interest. Hermione stared at the inscription questioning what it could really mean while Draco and Harry were having a thumb war to keep themselves entertained. From next to Gandalf, Gimli rolled his eyes, doubting if Gandalf would ever figure out the password. Aragorn was eyeing the lake, apprehensive about it being so tranquil while Legolas had moved further into the clearing to check if they were safe.

After a few more tries, Pippin tilted his head. 'Nothing's happening,' he said, stating the obvious and making them turn to him with raised eyebrows.

Gandalf glanced at him in irritation, before turning back to the door and tried pushing on them forcefully, but they remained unmoving. The old Wizard looked scandalised, glowering at the door in bewilderment. 'I once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves, Men and Orcs,' he murmured, shaking his head.

'What are you going to do, then?' Pippin questioned him with innocent inquisitiveness.

Gandalf closed his eyes against the frustration building up in him. 'Knock your head against these doors, Peregrin Took!' he snapped back, shaking his head. 'And if that does not shatter them, and I am allowed a little peace from foolish questions, I will try to find the opening words,' he said, his tone softening as he finished.

Gradually, the members of the Fellowship wandered off to different parts of the clearing to try and distract themselves so they could give Gandalf the peace and space to try and open the door.

Hermione was the last to leave, gazing at the doorway in amazement as she read the inscription again. She smiled at Gandalf as he touched the door, continuing to mumble spells wearily, 'Ando Eldarina… a lasta quettanya, Fenda Casarinwa…' and with every one, the door still wouldn't budge. (A/N Translation: 'Gate of Elves… listen to my word, Threshold of Dwarves…')

Sighing, Hermione moved over to the lake which reflected the night sky on the smooth, glassy surface. She knelt at the edge, placing her hand, palm flat, on the surface and watched it ripple, distorting the mirror-like image. Hermione smiled, standing back up and looked around, noticing Legolas standing on the roots of a large tree, staring at the water.

Legolas looked so fixated on the water that Hermione debated leaving him alone, but she wanted to ask him about the doorway. She slowly made her way over to him, and stopped next to him. Hermione frowned when Legolas didn't move or acknowledge her presence at all. 'Hey, can I ask you something, Legolas?' Hermione asked, crouching down and picking some grass blades and twirling them in her fingers.

Hermione was so preoccupied by twirling the grass blades that it took her a few minutes to grasp that Legolas hadn't replied and downright blanked her. Blinking a couple of times, Hermione stood back up and looked at him with wide eyes. 'Legolas?' Hermione asked again, moving slightly to look at his eyes which were blank.

A chuckle came from behind her, and Hermione turned to find Aragorn grinning at her. 'Legolas is in an Elven sleep. He is still mindful of his surroundings, but he is asleep,' he elucidated, motioning for Hermione to come back down from the tree. 'We would never know when an Elf goes into this state because they can run, walk and even eat while in this trance. It is why they seldom tire,' Aragorn told her as she came to stand next to him.

Hermione nodded. 'I should have realised,' she whispered, glancing back up at Legolas and suddenly feeling like a fool. She had learned about Elven sleep when she was a child. It had been part of her lessons.

Aragorn gave her a knowing smile before moving over to Sam who was packing pots and pans into his bag. He looked up forlornly as Aragorn started to unsaddle Bill the pony. Sam stood, taking the reins off Bill and stroked the pony's neck sadly. Aragorn smiled at him. 'Mines are no place for a pony, even one so brave as Bill,' he whispered, gripping Sam on the shoulder gently.

Sam nodded, stroking Bill's ears and neck tenderly. 'Bye-bye, Bill,' he whispered, his eyes watering a little.

Aragorn let Sam say his goodbyes before lightly pushing Bill's neck to turn him towards the exit. 'Go on, Bill, go on,' he whispered to the pony, and slapped him on the rump softly and Bill trotted off into the darkness. Sam watched Bill disappear worriedly, his shoulders sagging. Aragorn squeezed Sam's shoulder softly. 'Do not worry, Sam, he knows the way home,' the Ranger reassured him, giving the Hobbit a small smile.

Hermione moved over to Harry and Draco who were sitting on a log. She sat next to Harry, leaning her head on his shoulder, and missed the frown that passed over Draco's face. Harry was looking at the Elf in curiosity. 'So, you're spending a lot of time with Legolas on this trip, Hermione,' Harry remarked innocently, glancing down at Hermione with a twinkle in his eye.

Hermione blushed and removed her head from his shoulder. She coughed lightly. 'He just interests me. I grew up learning about Elves, but never actually met one so…' Hermione trailed off, trying to defend herself.

'You liiiiike him!' Draco sang, snickering as Hermione punched his arm.

'Shut up, it's not like that,' Hermione snapped, her blush deepening.

'Uh-huh,' Draco replied, holding out his hands in front of his face and making kissing noises. 'Ooh Legolas!' he sighed, putting on a girly voice as Harry laughed.

'Oi! Stop it!' Hermione cried, tackling Draco and tickling him.

'I yield!' Draco laughed, breathing heavily as Hermione got off him and sat down next to Harry with a huff.

'Hermione-'

'Don't you start!' Hermione snapped, cutting Harry off and swatted the back of his head as his laughter increased.

The Slytherin and Gryffindor stopped teasing Hermione when Legolas unexpectedly jumped down from the roots and stared at the water with a frown. For a moment, his eyes moved over to the three of them, before he walked over to Gandalf. 'A swirling mist on a vast, glass lake,' he whispered cautiously, his eyes not leaving the lake as Gandalf turned to look at it interestedly. 'Something is not right about this,' he added softly as Gandalf nodded and frowned, looking back at the door. Their attention was drawn back to the lake as Merry threw a large stone into the water, watching the black rippling rings slowly fan out.

Aragorn realised from Legolas's troubled expression that something was wrong, and reached out to grab Pippin's arm to stop him from throwing another stone in the water. 'Do not disturb the water,' Aragorn told him ominously, receiving a swift nod from Pippin who dropped the stone onto the ground nervously. Aragorn went to turn away, but stopped when he detected the ripples seeming to grow. He exchanged an anxious glance with Boromir, his hand creeping towards his sword as they both studied the water with frowns.

Over by the door, Gandalf's shoulders slumped in despair and he walked over to sit next to Frodo, throwing his staff down in defeat. 'Oh, it's useless,' he muttered in frustration.

Frodo glanced up at him sympathetically before looking back at the doorway knowing Gandalf would eventually figure it out, but he wondered how long it would take. Frodo looked over at the others, frowning as he realised Aragorn, Legolas and Boromir were watching the lake worriedly. His eyes moved to Hermione who was staring at the door curiously.

Hermione's frown deepened as she walked towards the door, reading the inscription over and over in her head. Speak, friend, and enter, she repeated in her head. She was so fixated on the door, she didn't notice a pair of bright blue eyes scrutinising her interestedly and he slowly moved closer towards her, listening to her repeat the inscription under her breath.

Hermione, on the other hand, let her mind slip to the fact she wasn't going to let anyone know she could read and speak Elvish. The only people who knew this, as it stood, was Gandalf, Aragorn, Draco and Harry.

'It's a riddle,' Hermione whispered after a moment, tapping her chin with her forefinger.

Legolas watched her, his frown deepening, but his gaze was diverted back to the lake as another black ripple disturbed the surface, licking the shore by their feet. He reached for an arrow, staring vigilantly at the lake, but his ears twitched as he continued to listen to Hermione.

'Speak, friend, and enter,' Hermione whispered, frowning as she tried to recall the Elvish word for "friend". She scrunched her eyes up, trying to think back to her lessons and her mother's voice enunciating the word and the syllables. After a moment, Hermione's eyes snapped open and she looked back at the door. 'Mellon,' she whispered, but when nothing happened, Hermione blinked.

Legolas, on the other hand, stared at Hermione with wide eyes as he heard her. After a moment, his eyes flew to the door as the rock face noiselessly divided in the middle and two great doors swung outwards, revealing a blackness deeper than night. Legolas looked back at Hermione in disbelief and his frown deepened. She knows Elvish? How can that be?

Gandalf shook his head, eyeing Hermione sternly. 'Miss Granger,' he warned softly, but firmly.

Hermione looked up at him sheepishly. 'Yeah, sorry,' she laughed, blushing a little.

Legolas watched this exchange and felt confused mystified; an emotion he was not accustomed to. Maybe Gandalf taught her some Elvish? Legolas said to himself, thinking this was the only conceivable explanation. But why would she hide it from us?

When the Fellowship joined them at the door, Gandalf looked at them in amusement. 'Ah, the last spell must have been delayed and only got through to the door now,' he laughed, making everyone snicker except Legolas who frowned at him.

Gandalf is concealing this for her? But why? Legolas asked himself, not fathoming the motives behind it. He wasn't sure why it was even bothering him. Legolas shrugged it off for the moment, clearing his mind and pushing these foreign emotions to the side for now.

Gandalf led the way into the mines and everyone sighed in relief as they were finally moving forward again. They stepped guardedly into the darkness of Moria; a dank cavern with winding steps leading deeper into the mountain.

Gimli fell into step next to Legolas, smiling up at him. 'Soon, Master Elf, you will enjoy the fabled hospitality of the Dwarves; roaring fires, malt beer, red meat off the bone!' he yelled eagerly, making Legolas roll his eyes. 'This, my friend, is the home of my cousin, Balin. Unless I miss my guess, we are in for one wild night,' he laughed, his voice reverberating off the stone walls around them. 'And they call it a mine,' he chuckled, wiping a tear from his eye.

Legolas's lips twitched in amusement. 'Are you going to be a bad influence?' he asked, looking around into the gloom.

Gimli raised his eyebrows at him. 'Of course!' he countered, stunned at being asked such a thing. Gimli laughed again. 'A mine!' he chuckled, shaking his head.

Gandalf frowned, lighting the end of his staff while Harry, Draco and Hermione lit the tips of their wands, casting light on the chamber. The Fellowship recoiled in horror at the sight before them. Many Dwarf skeletons were strewn about, evidently having died in some old battle. The rusting armour and shields were peppered with arrows and axes.

'This is no mine… it is a tomb,' Boromir stated grimly, looking around in alarm.

'Is this... some sort of mass suicide?' Draco quipped, receiving a punch in the arm from Harry. 'What?' he asked him, rubbing his arm.

'Not the time,' Harry whispered through clenched teeth and pointed to Gimli.

Gimli was kneeling in front of one of the skeletons, looking down at the bones of his kin in horror. 'No…' he cried, reaching out to touch the tarnished armour. 'No!' he bawled out in anguish.

Legolas frowned at Gimli for a moment before moving over to one of the skeletons, pulling out a crude arrow and inspecting the arrowhead. 'Goblins,' he declared, throwing the arrow away and reaching for one of his own to load into his bow.

The rest followed suit, drawing their swords or wands in Draco, Harry, and Hermione's case. Gandalf only placed his hand on the hilt of his own sword, but didn't draw it yet. 'We make for the Gap of Rohan. We should never have come here,' he told Gandalf who nodded fearfully. 'Now, get out of here. Get out!' he added with an urgent yell to the rest of the Fellowship who didn't need to be told twice.

Frodo started walking backwards, almost tripping on something which unexpectedly wrapped around his foot and pulled him to the ground. Frodo looked down, noticing a long sinuous tentacle wrapped around his ankle and he tried to grip onto something as it began to tug him towards the lake.

'Help!' Frodo cried.

This got Sam's attention and the Hobbit rushed after him followed by Merry and Pippin. 'Frodo!' they yelled in alarm.

'Help! Strider!' Sam shouted, getting Aragorn's attention as the three Hobbits tried to grab Frodo, but the beast was too strong.

'Get off him!' Sam barked furiously as Aragorn and Boromir rushed over to them. Aragorn severed the tentacle holding Frodo and freed him, pulling him to safety while Boromir hacked at another writhing limb.

Their eyes widened as twenty more tentacles rippled out of the lake and the dark water boiled as the hideous beast lashed out at the Fellowship. The tentacles knocked the Hobbits, Boromir and Aragorn away from Frodo before seizing the Hobbit again and pulled him to the lake.

Frodo screamed as he was flung into the air by the creature while the Fellowship began a battle with it. Harry, Draco and Hermione hung back next to Legolas at the doorway, firing spells at the beast. Hermione watched Legolas in admiration for a moment as he let loose an arrow which hit the tentacle gripping Frodo and before she could blink he had fired another arrow. Shaking her head, Hermione concentrated on the battle. 'Confringo!' she cried, causing flames to explode on the tentacles and the beast screeched in agony.

Frodo screeched again when the body of the creature emerged, opening its mouth like it was ready to eat him. Boromir rushed forward, cutting off one of the tentacles before running at the tentacle that was holding the Hobbit, but it batted him away from it effortlessly and he rolled onto the ground with a thud and a groan. 'Boromir!' Harry yelled, running down to the man and checking to see if he was okay.

'I'm fine,' Boromir told him, letting Harry help him to his feet.

They ducked another tentacle and Harry pointed his wand at it. 'Glacius!' he shouted, the spell hitting its target and causing the tentacle to freeze above them. Boromir ran back over towards the tentacle holding Frodo and severed it, catching the Hobbit when he fell.

'Into the mines!' Gandalf bellowed to them, and they hurriedly ran towards the entrance.

'Legolas!' Boromir cried, ducking away from one of the tentacles trying to snatch Frodo again.

Legolas nodded and reloaded his bow and shot an arrow into the creature's head, gaining a few vital seconds for Aragorn and Boromir as they raced out of the water with Frodo.

'Into the cave!' Aragorn barked, pulling Draco and Harry along with him as Legolas grabbed Hermione's hand, hastily withdrawing back into the Moria chamber. Seeing Merry, Pippin and Sam lagging behind, Legolas continued to rain arrows at the beast as it pursued them, while Hermione sent spells its way. Draco and Harry rushed towards them, picking up Merry and Pippin while Aragorn grabbed Sam and they rushed back into the mines.

Many coiling tentacles seized the large doors, attempting to pull itself into the chamber. Harry, Draco and Hermione turned their wands on the beast. 'Reducto!' they yelled in unison and the force of the three combined spells hit the top of the doors. With a shattering echo, the doors were propelled into the creature, forming a rock slide that crashed down the cliff face.

Harry dived out of the way of the falling rocks to avoid being crushed, while Draco grabbed Hermione and pulled her out of the way of a rolling boulder which was going to smash right into her. The rest of the Fellowship promptly got themselves to safety as well. The Hobbits huddled together while Legolas grabbed Aragorn's shoulders, pulling him out of the way of a rolling rock.

Within seconds, tons of rock sealed the doorway and threw the Fellowship into pitch blackness and complete silence except for their heavy breathing. 'I do not mean to alarm anyone, but I believe we have all gone blind,' Draco piped up after a few moments to break the silence.

Gandalf rolled his eyes, producing a dim light on his staff and throwing an eerie glow across his face. He turned towards the stairs, looking at them apprehensively. 'Total shambles, as per usual,' he muttered to himself in irritation, shaking his head.

Aragorn and Boromir helped the Hobbits to their feet as Legolas and Gimli moved over to Harry, Hermione and Draco and helped them stand. Legolas eyed Hermione in disapproval, eyeing her dishevelled appearance and recalling the rock which almost crashed right into her. 'Are you alright?' Legolas asked her, looking over her to make sure she wasn't injured.

Hermione glanced up at him, sensing a bitterness in his tone. 'Yes,' she answered, her voice still shaking somewhat. In all honesty, Hermione had been terrified when the rock came towards her and she froze. If Draco hadn't grabbed her, she may be… Hermione swallowed thickly, not wanting to think about it.

Legolas nodded, looking away from her. 'That rock would have killed you,' he whispered, shaking his head.

'I'm not afraid of dying,' Hermione countered quickly, but her voice wavered in the lie. She could tell from Legolas's expression when he looked back at her that he saw right through her.

Legolas stared at her critically for a moment. He knew she was shaken by this ordeal, but Hermione almost radiated with determination also. 'I do not fear death. That does not mean we should be reckless,' Legolas replied finally, placing his hand on Hermione's shoulder gently. Hermione relaxed and nodded. Legolas walked away and ascended the stairs to look at their path ahead. She sighed, letting out a shaky breath before moving over to Gandalf with the others. Draco, Harry and Hermione cast drying and warming charms on everyone, receiving smiles of appreciation from the rest of the Fellowship before doing the same to themselves.

Gandalf turned to his companions and sighed. 'We now have but one choice,' he began ominously as Legolas appeared at the top of the stairs and gave Gandalf a small nod. Draco lit the tip of his wand, prompting Hermione and Harry to do the same. 'We must face the long and dark of Moria,' Gandalf whispered, looking at the stairs cagily.

Gandalf started leading them up the stairs and stopped next to Legolas, placing a hand on his shoulder. 'Be on your guard. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world,' he informed him, receiving a nod from the Elf.

Gandalf looked down at the strewn skeletal Dwarves on the stairs and shook his head sorrowfully. 'The darkest souls are not those who choose to exist within the hell of the abyss. It is those who decide to move in silence among us,' he told them, turning back to their path and picking up his pace. 'Quiet now. It is a four-day journey to the other side. Let us hope our presence may go unnoticed,' he told them, receiving nods from the Fellowship.

As they walked, Draco reached up and scratched his head. 'Things moving silently among us…' he muttered nervously, moving his wand around in the darkness uneasily.

Legolas placed a hand on his shoulder, making Draco jump and let out a yelp. He scowled up at the Elf who raised his eyebrows at him. 'Just because you cannot see something, does not mean it cannot kill you,' Legolas clarified to the Slytherin whose eyes widened at these words.

Draco looked away from the Elf and stared into the darkness. 'Can I go home now?' he whispered timidly, tightening his grip on his wand.

oOoOo

After a while of walking, the Fellowship came across a precarious bridge suspended above deep mine workings. They crossed it, one at a time, and walked along the thin paths ahead which had no barriers to prevent them from falling to their deaths. It brought them to a chamber with old ropes and ancient ladders.

Gandalf stopped to examine the wall in wonder, touching a shining substance. 'The wealth of Moria was not in gold or jewels, but Mithril,' he told them, before holding his staff over the vast drop beside them. The rest of the Fellowship looked down into the chasm which seemed to be endless. A faint, blue glow glittered from its depths, but it looked all but abandoned.

Gandalf pulled his staff back and continued along the narrow path carefully, followed by the Fellowship. 'Bilbo had a shirt of Mithril rings that Thorin gave him,' Gandalf told them, smiling fondly as he recalled that particular exchange between Thorin and Bilbo.

Gimli raised his eyebrows. 'Oh, that was a kingly gift!' he stated, his eyes widening in amazement.

Gandalf nodded, smiling down at the Dwarf. 'Yes,' he agreed, looking back ahead of them. 'I never told him, but its worth was greater than the value of the Shire,' he disclosed to them. Draco whistled in astonishment while Frodo's eyes widened in disbelief at this revelation and he placed a hand on his chest.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: The Great Dwarven City, Dwarrowdelf

The Fellowship continued their trek through the dark, seemingly endless halls in the Mines of Moria. They were guided by Gandalf's sense of direction and Legolas's keen hearing and sharp vision. They reached a steep, brittle stair and started trying to scale it. Hermione gritted her teeth as she stretched for a higher step above her; it was like climbing up the side of a cliff.

Pippin reached for one of the steps and his eyes widened as the stone crumbled beneath his fingers. He let out a shout as he slipped and Merry reached out to catch him before he could fall to the ground and seriously injure himself. 'Pippin,' Merry muttered in frustration, pushing on Pippin's back to help him get his balance and footing again so he could keep climbing.

Legolas was the first to reach the top of the stair, and he looked around swiftly before turning to help the others up. Gandalf sighed in relief when he felt solid ground beneath him, but he grimaced when he took in what was around them.

After helping Harry up, Legolas reached down to pull Hermione up and their fingers tingled unexpectedly. Her hand slipped from his at the jolt. Hermione felt herself falling backwards, but Legolas grabbed her hand and pulled her to safety. Hermione smiled at Legolas appreciatively, and the look he gave her sent chills down her spine. She took a deep breath when he walked away from her over to Gandalf without a second glance.

Hermione sighed before looking around at her surroundings, her eyes widening in shock. She glanced at Gimli for a moment to see how the Dwarf was fairing and saw him clenching his fists, tears filling his eyes. Hermione looked away from him to the sight before her. They had arrived in a Dwarven Cemetery, but the graves were despoiled and Dwarf skeletons were scattered about. Goblin graffiti was scrawled across monuments in dried Dwarf blood.

Draco frowned, placing his hand on Gimli's shoulder in comfort, making the Dwarf snap back to reality. He glanced up at Draco and gave him a grim smile before taking the first step through the cemetery. As he passed Gandalf, the old Wizard observed him worriedly, hoping Gimli wouldn't end up doing something irrational in a moment of grief and end up getting himself killed.

The Fellowship wordlessly trailed Gimli through the cemetery, letting the Dwarf stop to pay his respects for his fallen comrades. When they reached the end they came to two spiral staircases leading up to three separate passages, each vanishing into a dark tunnel.

'I have no memory of this place,' Gandalf whispered, narrowing his eyes in puzzlement.

For a while, the Fellowship were forced to stop again as Gandalf sat on top of a huge rock and stared at the three tunnel mouths in front of him. Hermione thought Gandalf looked to be in some sort of trance, like this would provide him with the memories he needed for them to progress.

'I have a really bad feeling about this,' Harry mumbled as Draco and Hermione sat down next to him, leaning back against the wall.

Draco hummed, nodding his head as he looked around the chamber. 'Seems deserted... but they always seem deserted,' he replied, crossing his arms.

'Yeah, that's what I mean though. Where are the things that killed the Dwarves? Are they still here?' Harry asked hypothetically, looking around uneasily.

Hermione shivered, having not thought about that. 'Let's hope that if they are, they don't notice us,' she whispered, crossing her arms.

After a few moments of silence, Draco sighed. 'Don't worry, Granger, we'll protect you… or die trying,' he whispered, looking at Gandalf who was still staring fixedly at the doors.

Hermione turned to look at Draco in amazement, finding he was not joking for once but entirely serious. She smiled and shook her head, he really has changed, she thought to herself, glancing at the blonde.

'Not that you need protecting. No doubt you will end up being the one protecting everyone else,' he said as an afterthought, tapping his chin.

Hermione frowned. 'I may be the "brightest witch of my age"…' she muttered, rolling her eyes at the term she had been pegged with since her first year at Hogwarts. 'But I'm still human and even the strongest and bravest people need someone to help them sometimes. I'm not without my faults and I've made plenty of mistakes in the past,' she told them, lowering her head and wishing everyone wouldn't always put her up on a pedestal. Sometimes it was nice to have someone wanting to protect her even if she didn't need it. Hermione knew she could handle herself, but she also knew there would come a time when she would appreciate help if it was offered.

'It is true though… you would destroy Potter and me in a duel any day,' Draco chuckled, earning a glare from the witch in question.

'Well, then, I suppose you better start praying that doesn't happen,' Hermione answered, grinning evilly at Draco.

Draco swallowed before turning to look over at the doors instead and cleared his throat timidly. 'Do you think we're lost?' Draco asked his two companions, changing the subject and nodding towards Gandalf.

'No,' Aragorn answered, making Draco grab his chest at the fright he got. He turned and glared at Aragorn who grinned at him.

'I think we are,' Pippin piped up with a sigh, receiving a thump on the arm from Merry.

'I don't think we are. Shhh, Gandalf's thinking,' Merry told him, receiving a small nod from Pippin.

A moment of silence fell over them, until Pippin sighed explosively. 'Merry!' he complained, frowning and patting his stomach.

'What?' Merry asked him, looking at him in irritation.

'I'm hungry,' Pippin answered and Merry rolled his eyes, elbowing Pippin hard enough to knock the Hobbit clean off the rock they were sitting on. Merry looked down at Pippin who was rubbing his bottom and sighed, taking a long puff from his pipe.

Out of the corner of his eye, Frodo noticed something scurrying around in the darkness and frowned as he looked down into the ravine, trying to spot what it was. When Frodo caught sight of a creature attempting to hide in the shadows his heart rate picked up slightly and he moved over to Gandalf. 'There's something down there,' Frodo whispered to the old Wizard who continued to stare at the three doors.

Harry, having heard this, stood up and withdrew his wand as he kept an eye on the ravine. Draco and Hermione watched him in curiosity but remained where they were, talking softly amongst themselves.

Harry frowned before moving over to Frodo and Gandalf, catching what Gandalf answered quietly, 'It's Gollum.'

'Gollum!' Frodo exclaimed, his eyes widening.

'What's a "Gollum"?' Harry asked, his eyes not leaving the ravine.

'That is the name of the creature, Harry,' Gandalf replied with a sigh and leaned on his staff. 'He's been following us for three days,' he answered, giving them a fleeting glance. Harry frowned, tightening his grip on his wand when he caught a glimpse of the emaciated, leering creature before it disappeared back into the shadows.

'He escaped the dungeons of Barad-dûr?' Frodo asked in disbelief, raising his eyebrows in surprise.

Gandalf looked pensive. 'Escaped… or was set loose,' he answered contemplatively before looking at the Hobbit. 'And now the Ring has drawn him here,' he clarified and Frodo reached up to his neck where the Ring was dangling on its chain. 'He will never be rid of his need for it. He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself,' Gandalf explained, shaking his head forlornly.

'Why does he want the Ring so much? What happened to him?' Harry asked, leaning against the rock Gandalf was sitting upon.

'Sméagol's life is a sad story,' Gandalf answered, catching Frodo's look of amazement at these words. Gandalf raised his eyebrows. 'Yes, Sméagol he was once called… before the Ring found him. Before it drove him mad,' he told them, looking back at the three tunnels.

Harry frowned, looking back to where he last spotted the creature in question. He could just make out withered fingers clutching the cave wall and large, luminous eyes blinking with malice. Harry felt a shiver down his spine.

Frodo sighed, looking back at the ravine. 'It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance,' he whispered, shaking his head.

'Pity?' Gandalf asked, looking at Frodo in surprise. 'It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand,' he informed Frodo whose eyes widened in alarm, while Harry looked back at Gandalf in curiosity. 'Many who live deserve death, and some that die deserve life,' the old Wizard told them, turning to look at them both in turn before his eyes stopped on Frodo. 'Can you give it to them, Frodo?' he asked him and Frodo found he had no answer to that which was evident to Gandalf.

Gandalf looked away after a moment. 'Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very wise cannot see all ends,' he explained, looking back at the solemn expression on Frodo's face. 'My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many,' Gandalf told him with a small smile.

Frodo's shoulders sagged, distressed by these words. He looked down at his hands. 'I wish the Ring had never come to me… I wish none of this had happened,' he whispered, closing his eyes.

Gandalf smiled sadly. 'So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,' he counselled, a note of decisiveness in his voice.

At these words, Harry found himself looking over at Draco and Hermione who were talking to Sam, Merry and Pippin and he smiled before concentrating his attention back on Gandalf.

'There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil,' Gandalf told Frodo, turning to look at him. 'Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you also were meant to have it…' he trailed off, leaning towards Frodo slightly and grinning. 'And that is an encouraging thought,' he added making the Hobbit smile back at him, feeling a little more consoled by this.

Gandalf turned back to the doorways, his face brightening significantly. 'Ah! It's that way,' he said, his eyes twinkling as he pointed to the right-hand tunnel. Stunned, the Fellowship headed over to stand next to him and looked at Gandalf in slight incredulity.

'He's remembered,' Merry said cheerfully, his tone relieved.

'No, but the air doesn't smell so foul down here,' Gandalf informed Merry, placing a hand on his shoulder. 'If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose!' he said with a chuckle and Merry laughed.

Gandalf led the way through the tunnel followed by Hermione who helped him light the way with her wand. Harry and Draco followed at the rear of the group with their wands lit as well. They descended a steep staircase at the end of the tunnel, which was slippery and dangerous. They passed under an arched doorway at the bottom of the stairs into a black and empty space.

Gandalf paused, looking around at this huge room for a moment. 'Let me risk a little more light,' he whispered, tapping his staff and mumbling a spell to brighten the crystal at the end of his staff. For a brief moment, a light blazed like a silent flash of lightning. Great shadows sprung up and fled. The Fellowship looked around in awe of the huge hall. 'Behold! The great realm and Dwarf-city of Dwarrowdelf,' Gandalf divulged in a welcoming tone.

Hermione looked around in wonder, catching sight of a ceiling far above their heads fleetingly, which was upheld by many mighty pillars of stone and she gasped. Gandalf pointed his staff out in front of him and before them stretched a huge vacant hall with black walls, polished and smooth as glass.

'Well, there's an eye-opener and no mistake!' Sam gasped, looking around at the vast underground city.

'It is really something,' Boromir whispered, his eyes wide in surprise.

Gandalf smiled at his companions. 'We will make camp here and continue come morning,' he advised them, receiving nods from them all. 'We must be careful, for I fear there may be horrors lurking about in the quiet darkness,' Gandalf warned them, looking at them all in turn. 'Be on your guard,' he added, sharing a glance with Legolas who nodded.

Everyone was grateful for the rest, each moving off to find somewhere to set up their own space to sleep or relax. Hermione, Draco, Harry and the Hobbits moved over to the remains of what looked like a stone house where they settled on the floor. Boromir, Gimli and Gandalf followed leisurely, talking quietly amongst themselves while Aragorn and Legolas stood by the tunnel they came through, conversing in muted tones.

From their position, Draco and Harry could see them visibly and make out a few words, but they were speaking in Elvish. Hermione was closer to them and from what she could gather, they were speaking about them and the Hobbits. Draco reached up, tugging on her sleeve and she looked down at him curiously. 'What?' she asked, glancing over at Legolas and Aragorn.

'Can you tell what they are talking about?' Draco asked, nodding at the Ranger and Elf who were both wearing similar troubled expressions.

Hermione concentrated, trying to hear them, but their conversation was broken and she could only make out fractured sentences. 'I can't really tell from here. I'd have to get closer, but Aragorn knows I can understand Elvish so he may get suspicious,' she replied and nonchalantly moved out from the stone house and over to Gimli who was sharpening his axe. 'You okay, Gimli?' Hermione asked, sitting on the ground next to him and closest to where Aragorn and Legolas were standing.

Hermione caught the look Aragorn sent her way and she smiled at him, receiving raised eyebrows and a small smile in return. Hermione lowered her head, already having a feeling she was caught out, but she was relieved when they carried on their conversation.

Draco and Harry followed her over to the solitary Dwarf, figuring if they all went it wouldn't look as dubious. The boys struck up a conversation with Gimli by asking him to recount some Dwarven history while Hermione tuned out of the discussion, paying attention to Aragorn and Legolas.

'Ni trass an-i mae-nav falath Hobbits. Sen dôr ei môr ah thaur,' Aragorn whispered, looking around the vast hall. (A/N translation: 'I worry for the welfare of the Hobbits. This place is dark and foul.')

Legolas nodded broodingly. 'I perian sâ thenin hann in thia,' he answered, his eyes roving the shadows for any sign of movement. (A/N translation: 'The Halflings are stronger than they seem.')'Ni groga-i Ring's tûr ei loun Frodo en bas. Ni groga-hon thel-dŷrod,' Legolas added, his tone laced with unease as he glanced over at the Hobbit in question. (A/N translation: 'I fear the Ring's power is wearing Frodo down. I fear he will succumb.')

There was a pause between them where they both stared into the darkness contemplatively. After a short while, Aragorn broke the silence. 'Pe idhren bo neth Harry ah hob tâd mellon?' (A/N translation: 'Any thoughts on young Harry and his two friends?')

Legolas was silent for a moment. He didn't know how he felt about them if he was honest. He tilted his head, glancing in the direction of the trio, his eyes lingering on Hermione for a moment longer than necessary.

Eventually, Legolas sighed and looked at Aragorn who had been watching the Elf interestedly. 'Ni car-al-nart Herdir Harry or Herdir Draco, ni gar-ú tall na hain bo-ma. Ni trass o ennin thelion egor amman thel-mae sí,' he whispered, shaking his head slowly. (A/N translation: 'I do not know Master Harry and Master Draco, I have not spoken with them much. I worry about their intentions or even why they are here.')

Aragorn's lips twitched slightly as he observed Legolas looking over at Hermione again with a thoughtful expression. 'And Lady Hermione?' he asked, reverting back to Westron.

Legolas looked back at him. 'Lady Hermione is… different,' he answered, lowering his voice as he, too, spoke in Westron. 'I suspect she knows Sindarin,' he added, glancing back over at the girl guardedly.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows. 'What makes you think that?' he asked curiously.

'I heeded her speaking the Sindarin term for "friend",' Legolas answered, shaking his head and looking back at the Ranger. 'It may be she has ascertained a few expressions from speaking to the other Elves in Rivendell, but it is implausible. I sense there is more to it,' he told Aragorn, looking back out into the darkness.

Aragorn eyed him reflectively for a moment. 'Would it be so terrible if she did?' he asked softly, looking out into the enormous hall.

Legolas tilted his head, not moving his eyes from the boundless dark of the city. 'No… I believe it would not matter,' he answered softly after some thought.

'But it still perturbs you,' Aragorn stated rather than asked, casting a sideways glance at him. It wasn't very often something troubled Legolas.

'I am merely curious as to why she has kept it from us,' Legolas answered, deflecting the meaning in Aragorn's words. 'I wonder how she came to learn it,' he added, glancing over at Hermione again. This time, Legolas allowed Hermione to catch his eyes and he gave her a tiny smile before looking away again.

Aragorn watched this exchange, smiling to himself. 'Lady Hermione was interested in the Elves so I taught her a few words while we were in Rivendell,' he told the Elf, opting to keep Hermione's secret to himself.

Legolas looked at him for a moment, a frown on his brow. Aragorn could tell the Elf didn't quite believe him, but Legolas nodded after a moment before looking back out into the darkness.

Hermione listened for a moment longer, but they didn't say anything more. It was as she expected; Legolas and Aragorn were concerned about the Hobbits. Although Hermione had been stunned when Legolas had voiced doubts about them.

Shaking her head, Hermione tuned back into the conversation going on next to her. The Hobbits had joined them and were talking amiably to Draco and Harry. For a moment, Hermione wondered where Gimli had gone and noticed him talking to Gandalf and Boromir. She realised she had been so absorbed in Aragorn and Legolas's conversation that she completely zoned out to everything else happening around her.

A heavy sigh from Frodo caught Hermione's attention and she looked at the sombre Hobbit from where he was sitting next to her. 'I think I was mistaken in choosing to come here. Now we are trapped, and who knows what is lurking out there,' he whispered, crossing his arms and leaning them on his bent knees.

Hermione shook her head and reached over to squeeze his shoulder reassuringly. 'There are no wrong choices, Frodo. You didn't have many options except risking going into enemy territory or turn back and take a different route,' Hermione told him, giving him a smile. 'I would have done the same,' she added, receiving a small nod from the Hobbit.

'Yeah, there's no way you could have known what had happened down here. Even Gimli didn't realise his kin were dead,' Harry said supportively from where he was sitting between Merry and Pippin. 'Who knows how long it's been since anyone came down here,' he said, shaking his head.

'Except for the Goblins who have taken up residence here,' Draco put in, stretching and leaning back on his elbows.

After a while of talking about other things, Harry moved over to Hermione. 'So, did you catch what they were talking about?' he asked in a whisper, nodding towards Aragorn and Legolas who were still standing looking into the inky blackness of the hall.

Hermione nodded. 'Not now, I'll tell you later when there's no chance of being overheard,' she whispered back, glancing over at Legolas and Aragorn.

Harry leaned against the wall. 'Fair enough.'

'I'm going to set up the tent,' Hermione said, leaving the group and heading back over to the derelict stone house they were sitting in earlier. She was unaware of a bright blue pair of eyes following her.

From her beaded bag, Hermione pulled out the tent she, Harry and Ron had used when they were drifting around looking for the Horcruxes. She looked at the thick fabric in her hands, recalling the ordeals they went through. Hermione's thoughts turned to Ron and thought of how he left them in the middle of nowhere. She had been fuming at him at the time. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

Hermione subconsciously touched her arm where the carved word "Mudblood" still caused her problems. Remembering the spell Snape told them in the Forbidden Forest, Hermione pulled up her sleeve to reveal her bandaged arm, blood still oozing through it from the curse. Little by little, she was losing blood and the curse stopped any chance of replenishing it. Eventually, Hermione imagined she would lose her arm or perhaps even bleed to death… but the latter seemed extremely improbable.

Slowly, with trembling fingers, Hermione began to unwrap the bandage from her arm, revealing the unsightly carved word glistening on her arm. Tears came to her eyes as she remembered the horrific experience she went through at the Malfoy Manor. As images of what happened assaulted her thoughts, Hermione leaned against the wall and slid down onto the ground.

Ron had been a real rock after that. Hermione believed the ordeal had changed him, matured him. Losing Ron was a huge blow to her and to Harry. They had lost the third member of the Golden Trio, and she didn't think they would ever truly move on. Ron had been a constant in their lives for what felt like forever. Hermione loved him; he was like a brother to her. She had accepted he was gone, but the wounds would take time to heal. Hermione knew Ron wouldn't want her to cry, but she couldn't help it.

Composing herself, Hermione raised her wand to her arm and, blinking through her tears, she tried to recall the incantation and wand movements of the spell Snape taught them.

'Ingorio,' came a voice from Hermione's left and she watched as the word "Mudblood" knitted itself together, becoming nothing but white scars. The redness around the letters, caused by the curse, faded back to her regular skin colour.

Hermione looked up to see Draco there, putting his wand away. It had been a while since she had seen such a grave expression on his face. 'Thank you,' Hermione whispered, running her finger over the memory which would be marred into her skin forever.

Draco nodded before moving over to the tent. 'I feel… partially responsible,' he said, shaking his head.

'Why?' Hermione asked, frowning up at him.

'I was there,' Draco answered bitterly, turning to look at her with resentment glinting in his eyes. Hermione knew his anger was not focused at her, but it still caused her to recoil slightly. 'Hell, I was in the same damn room and I just stood there and watched as you were tortured!' Draco snapped, slamming the side of his hand into the wall.

Hermione stood and moved towards Draco. 'I don't blame you,' she whispered, shaking her head. 'If you had tried to help, you would have been killed on the spot. It was a difficult situation,' Hermione told him gently.

Draco closed his eyes. 'Yeah, it was hell,' he muttered, shaking his head.

Hermione sighed and picked up the tent she had discarded on the ground and tapped her wand against it. It set itself up and she crossed her arms. 'I think we just need to put the past behind us and move forward,' Hermione whispered, glancing down at her arm. She tapped her wand against the tent again, widening the inside of it enough to accommodate all the members of the Fellowship and created a private area for herself to change and wash in, seeing as she was the only female member there.

Draco nodded in agreement with her statement and disappeared into the tent without another word.

Over by a pillar, Legolas watched this exchange curiously and wondered what had happened to Hermione. He had seen the deep gashes on her arm and felt something stir inside him which felt akin to anger. Legolas shook his head, trying to comprehend these emotions he hadn't felt for hundreds of years…

oOoOo

It wasn't long before the members of the Fellowship began slowly making their way to the tent Hermione had set up for them. Soon it was just Legolas, Aragorn, Gandalf, Harry and herself who were still up.

Legolas and Aragorn were watching the perimeter of the camp while Harry was sitting with Gandalf. Hermione joined them, taking a seat on the ground next to Harry. 'Gandalf, I have a question,' Hermione whispered, gaining the old wizard's attention.

'What is it?' Gandalf asked, taking a puff from his pipe.

Hermione glanced over at Legolas and Aragorn to make sure they weren't close before looking back at Gandalf. 'When we were in the Forbidden Forest, Draco and Professor Snape mentioned something about an ancient scrying artefact Voldemort found and he was using it to find out where Harry, Ron and I were when we were on the run,' Hermione explained, crossing her arms while Harry frowned at her in bewilderment. 'Do you know anything about it?' she asked, looking up at Gandalf.

Gandalf's eyes narrowed as he took a long draw of his pipe. 'Scrying, you say?' he asked more to himself than to them. 'Did Severus give any indication to what it looked like? There are many ancient artefacts which were used for scrying,' Gandalf answered, glancing down at her with raised eyebrows.

Hermione frowned, thinking back to that conversation in the forest which felt like a lifetime ago. 'No… they never said anything about what it looked like, only what they believed it was used for,' she answered, shaking her head.

'Perhaps Mr Malfoy would know more,' Gandalf said, giving her a small smile. 'Let me know if he has more insight. Tom's plans are directly linked with Sauron's plans, so any information on what they are doing could gain us an advantage in this war,' he explained with a frown.

After a short while, Gandalf wandered off to smoke his pipe in peace and Harry bid Hermione goodnight and went to bed himself. Hermione found herself staring into the darkness, memories of the battle at Hogwarts replaying in her mind. The loss of Hagrid, Snape's sacrifice so they could get away, and then Ron's brave actions to bide them some time.

If Hermione hadn't seen the green flash encircling Ron, she might have thought he was still alive and fighting. She frowned, not realising tears were falling from her eyes.

'Are you alright, Lady Hermione?' came a voice from her left.

Hermione looked up at Aragorn, who frowned at her in alarm. She reached up and wiped the tears away before giving him a feeble smile. 'I'm fine,' she whispered, her voice trembling.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows and sat down on the ground in front of her. 'Will you tell me what has distressed you? Perhaps I can help?' Aragorn said, tilting her chin up so she was looking at him.

Hermione smiled at him as he let her chin go. Ever since she had first spoken with the Ranger, she had trusted him explicitly. Ordinarily, Hermione would not be so quick to trust anyone, but Aragorn had an aura of honour and honesty about him that she couldn't help it. He actually reminded her of Sirius, and Hermione felt she could tell him anything without any fear that he would judge her for it.

'I was just thinking of the past,' Hermione whispered, shaking her head. 'We have lost so many good people to this war,' she added, crossing her arms. A senseless war which has spanned ages, Hermione added in her mind, deciding against saying this to Aragorn. She wasn't entirely sure how long Sauron had been a threat in this time.

Aragorn nodded in appreciation. 'Yes, countless people have lost their lives in this war, but they will be never be forgotten,' he responded, giving her a cheerless smile.

'If I'm to be honest, I'm scared of this journey,' Hermione admitted, twisting her hands in her lap.

'What are you frightened of?' Aragorn asked with a frown.

'I don't know anything about this part of the world,' Hermione whispered, another white lie as Gandalf had told them not to reveal they were from the future just yet. Hermione fathomed that Gandalf didn't know how the rest of the Fellowship would react to being told Harry, Draco and herself were from centuries in the future in which this age was lost to Sauron and his followers. Shaking her thoughts away, Hermione continued, 'I feel like an outsider looking in. I want to help, but I'm very much in the dark,' she paused, looking over at where Legolas was standing gazing out into the darkness. 'I just want everyone to make it through and come out on the other side, but… there are always casualties in war,' she whispered, shaking her head.

Aragorn nodded attentively. 'I have speculated where you came from,' he said quietly, tilting his head as Hermione met his eyes. 'I did not enquire as I sense this knowledge is a well-guarded secret,' he added, raising his eyebrows.

Hermione looked down at her hands. 'It is,' she answered, shaking her head. 'At least for the moment,' she added, giving him a small smile.

'Then I will not pry,' Aragorn said, grinning at her.

'Do you think we'll make it back, Aragorn?' Hermione asked in a whisper, glancing at the tent where most of the Fellowship were sleeping.

Aragorn frowned. 'I do not know, Lady Hermione,' he answered, shaking his head. 'But, what I can tell you is you are not without help in this journey,' he added with a smile, taking her hand gently to stop her from twisting them in her lap. 'Although we have only known you a short time, there are those who are fond of you and would not see any detriment come to you or your companions,' Aragorn told her.

Hermione saw Aragorn look over at Legolas who glanced back with a frown, tilting his head in interest. The Ranger gave him a small shake of his head and the Elf turned away from them. Hermione glanced between them in puzzlement and Aragorn smiled at her. 'Legolas cares more than he lets on,' he exposed softly, and Hermione looked over at Legolas inquisitively. 'He may seem introverted and restrained, but his heart is in the right place,' he added, smiling at her and standing up, pulling her up with him.

Hermione smiled back at him, feeling a lot better. 'Thanks, Aragorn,' she whispered, letting the Ranger pull her into a hug.

Aragorn pulled away, and gently squeezed her shoulders. 'If you need someone to lend an ear, I will always be here for you,' he told her, wiping away a stray tear which escaped down her cheek.

Hermione nodded and watched him walk away towards the tent. She thought back to his words and couldn't help smiling. Her eyes found Legolas again before she moved over to the tent and sat down outside. Hermione pulled out a bottle cap from her beaded bag and transfigured it into a box, before lighting her wand and laying it down. She pulled out a book and quill from her bag before settling to writing notes before going to bed. Hermione wanted to document everything about this journey so if they survived the war and returned to the future she would have something to show for it.

Sitting against a wall to the left of where Aragorn and Hermione had been talking, Gandalf smiled to himself, having heard the exchange between them. He looked around at the parts of the Dwarven city which were illuminated by the crystal on his staff. Gandalf frowned, feeling apprehensive at the eerie silence around them. It was too serene for his liking.

The wizard stood from where he had been ruminating and dulled the light on his crystal, the halls becoming almost pitch black. Gandalf moved over to where Legolas was still staring into the darkness surrounding them. 'Do you see anything?' he asked the silent Elf, coming to a stop next to him.

Legolas's eyes flitted around the hall. 'I see nothing out of the ordinary, but I detect an intense evil within these walls,' he answered, his eyes narrowing. 'They are near, so we must be on our guard,' he added, looking behind him to where Hermione was.

Gandalf identified Legolas's concern for Hermione and smiled. 'She is stronger than you realise,' he said softly and Legolas turned to face him. 'Everything happens for a reason, Legolas,' he added with a smile, making the Elf frown at him in uncertainty. 'They say even the proudest spirit can be broken… with love,' Gandalf said, giving Legolas a knowing smile before walking away and leaving the Elf mystified.

Legolas turned back to the darkness, Gandalf's words echoing in his mind. He sighed, putting it to the back of his mind for now as he prepared himself for a long night of guarding his sleeping companions. He turned towards Hermione, watching as she put her things away in her bag. She caught his eyes just as she annulled the spell keeping her wand alight and went to bed herself.

Legolas looked back out into the darkness, and after a while of silence, he permitted himself to slip into Elven sleep. He was still completely mindful of his surroundings as he stared unblinkingly into the darkness.

oOoOo

The next morning, or what everyone assumed to be morning, the Fellowship made ready to leave the area they had set up camp. Hermione took the tent down with a flick of her wand and put it back into her beaded bag.

The Fellowship walked unhurriedly through the dark hallways of the Dwarven city with only the light from Gandalf's crystal and the lights from Draco, Harry and Hermione's wands to help them see their way.

Hermione listened as Harry recounted the events leading up to and what transpired in the battle of Hogwarts to Aragorn, being wary not to give any indication about the future away. 'It was horrible leading up to the fight. There was so much fear and tension,' Harry was saying, shaking his head miserably. 'So much destruction and loss of life on both sides. I don't think it was even worth it in the end,' he whispered despondently, kicking a stone as he walked.

'Fear is what protects you from the things you do not believe in,' Aragorn answered, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder. 'But the past is a conundrum, like a fragmented mirror. You could endeavour to piece it together, but your image shifts and you change with it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but what is done cannot be altered,' he explained and looked into the darkness distantly as if he was remembering the past and events he could not change.

Hermione thought about what Aragorn said and grasped this wasn't completely true. Although the rest of the Fellowship didn't know their origins, weren't they here for that exact reason? To change the past and create a future which Sauron couldn't control? Hindsight was a wonderful thing, but it didn't mean much to them when they were utterly in the dark about a lot of events that may need to happen for this future to become a reality.

Aragorn sighed, bringing Hermione back to the present. 'You have all seen much in your young lives. Things people your age should not have to witness. However, you can only become stronger by overcoming the hardships presented to you in life. The younger you are, the stronger you will be in the long-run,' he told them with a smile.

Harry sighed. 'It was my fault. They were after me and because of that so many people were caught in the middle,' he said, clenching his fists in anger. 'I can't run from my past. It will always catch up to me eventually,' he said, shaking his head irritably.

Aragorn nodded in understanding. 'Yes, you think to have cast them off, but that is only an illusion of the past. It can find you years later, unwearying and unrelenting. The past can bind a man as assuredly as irons,' Aragorn told him, a bitterness in his tone that made Harry believe there was something in Aragorn's past that he was running from.

Harry was about to speak when Gandalf stopped unexpectedly and held out his arm to stop the others. 'We need to be cautious,' Gandalf told them as the Fellowship looked around him to see what had gotten him on edge.

Ahead of them, a wooden door had been smashed, black arrows embedded in the timbers. Two Goblin skeletons lay in the doorway. 'Oh, no!' Gimli shouted, rushing towards the chamber.

Gandalf tried to grab him as he ran past. 'Gimli!' he barked, but the Dwarf dodged him and disappeared into the chamber. 'We have to follow! Now!' Gandalf ordered, leading the others towards the door.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: Balin 's Tomb; Their Final Resting Place

Gimli disregarded the shouts from Gandalf and his other companions as he hurried into another vast, empty chamber. It was lit with a narrow shaft of sunlight, beaming in from a small hole near the roof. Gimli looked around at the Dwarf and Goblin skeletons piled around a stone walled well in one corner.

Gimli's eyes were drawn to where the shaft of light fell directly onto a stone table in the middle of the room: a single oblong block, about four feet high, and topped with a great slab of white stone. The realisation of what he was seeing hit him hard, and Gimli fell to his knees. 'No… no… Oh, no!' he cried out, banging his fists on the ground as he wept at his loss.

The others reached the room, looking around forlornly. Hermione walked over to Gimli, resting a consoling hand on his shoulder as he let out another heart-wrenching sob. She felt tears come to her own eyes at seeing Gimli struggling through his loss.

Gandalf sighed and walked past them towards the block in the middle of the room, followed by Legolas and Aragorn. Gandalf looked at the inscription of runes carved into the white stone slab. '"Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria",' he read out softly, before turning to look at Gimli sorrowfully. 'He is dead, then,' he whispered, shaking his head. 'It's as I feared,' he added, looking meaningfully at Legolas and Aragorn.

Gimli let out another pained sob, banging his helmet off the stone in his grief as he chanted softly to himself, 'Kilmin malur ni zâram kalil ra narag. Kheled-zâram… Balin tazlifi.'

Harry wandered towards the back of stone block, noticing a skeleton holding a large book in its arms. Grimacing, he moved the skeletal hand off the book and carefully picked it up. It was rotting and falling to pieces, having been slashed and stabbed. There appeared to be dried blood covering the front. He opened it, some of the pages cracking and breaking. Unable to read it, he carried it over to the stone block and lay it on top. 'Gandalf? What's this?' he asked the wizard who came to look at the book.

Gandalf looked at the book in interest and wiped away some of the dust and grime so he could make out parts of the writings. As he studied it, with Harry and Hermione looking on curiously, Draco wandered over to a skeleton and looked at an arrow that was lodged in its chest. He cautiously pried the arrow out, but the head of the skeleton fell off. Eyes wide, Draco picked up the skull and tried to reattach it, but the entire thing fell apart. He turned, finding the rest of the Fellowship looking at him with raised eyebrows. Draco grinned innocently, before deliberately putting the skull on the stone well while everyone went back to what they were doing.

Legolas walked around the room, inspecting the weapons used to slay the Dwarves. He stopped as he reached Aragorn. 'We must move on. We cannot linger,' he whispered urgently to the Ranger.

Aragorn and Legolas both looked over at Gandalf who turned a page on the ancient book and blew away the dust. He narrowed his eyes at the words on the page. '"They have taken the Bridge and the second hall",' Gandalf began reading out loud, gaining everyone's attention.

'"We have barred the gates, but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes. Drums… drums in the deep. We cannot get out",' Gandalf paused, looking over at Gimli sadly as the Dwarf let out a sob. '"A shadow moves in the dark. Will no one save us? They are coming",' he finished, frowning at the book. Unnerved by this, Pippin backed away anxiously.

Legolas heard something in the distance. He listened for a moment before his eyes found Hermione and grasped she was looking around with a frown. Suspicious, the Elf moved over to Hermione and placed a hand on her shoulder. 'You can hear it? You heard the noises in the dark,' he whispered, frowning down at her.

Hermione looked back at him worriedly. 'I don't know what I heard,' she answered, trying to listen again. 'It sounded like banging…' she trailed off, shaking her head as she tried to comprehend why she could hear something which only Legolas could hear.

Legolas considered her perplexed expression for a moment before nodding slowly, trusting she genuinely didn't know how she could hear the noises. 'I can hear it because I was born with enhanced hearing gifted to the Elves,' Legolas explained, frowning at Hermione. 'You may have heard something close by, perhaps,' he said, not fully believing his own words.

Hermione shook her head. 'Maybe… this place is falling apart,' she whispered back and Legolas nodded, but he wasn't entirely placated by this answer. He discerned there was more to it, and he intended to find out.

It was at this point that Pippin stumbled against the well, sending a precariously balanced armoured skeleton plummeting into the well. Merry reached out, grabbing Pippin before he could fall in after it. The Fellowship froze in stunned silence as the armoured skeleton clattered down the deep well, echoing throughout the quiet mines like hundreds of gunshots. Every time the skeleton hit something, Pippin recoiled as if he was in pain, his expression set into one of dread.

When the sounds stopped, Pippin opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Boromir let out a shaky breath, and Gandalf scowled at Pippin heatedly, slamming the book shut. 'Fool of a took!' he growled at the stricken Hobbit. 'Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity!' he barked, causing Pippin to flinch at his harsh words.

'So much for being subtle,' Draco muttered, crossing his arms as everyone else nodded wordlessly.

Legolas suddenly looked around in alarm, hearing noises reverberating in the distance and he noticed Hermione was glancing around in concern. 'That isn't the skeleton,' Hermione whispered, and Legolas nodded, placing a hand on her upper arm.

Abruptly, a low rolling boom rose from the depths below, growing louder… BOOM… BOOM… as if the caverns of Moria were turned into a vast drum. A great horn blasted nearby, followed by answering horns, running feet and harsh cries. Boromir and Aragorn looked around, unable to determine which direction the sounds were coming from while Legolas's ears twitched at the noises coming from the large hall outside the tomb.

Sam caught sight of the sheath hanging from Frodo's belt which was glowing blue. 'Mr Frodo!' he said fearfully.

Frodo looked down where a cold blue glow was emanating from Sting through the scabbard. He drew the sword, staring at the glowing blade in horror.

Legolas listened, hearing screeches and looked at Gandalf. 'Orcs!' he called, pulling his bow and loading it with an arrow from his quiver.

Aragorn turned to the Hobbits. 'Get back! Stay close to Gandalf!' he told them, watching at they huddled behind the old wizard.

Draco, Harry and Hermione pulled out their wands, looking towards the door. 'So, any advice on fighting Orcs?' Harry asked, trying to think of the spells in his arsenal which could be the most effective against them.

'Survive the first thirty heartbeats, and you will have already won,' Legolas answered, coming to stand just behind Draco and Hermione.

'So we should try not to die? Helpful,' Draco answered sardonically, rolling his eyes.

Legolas's lips twitched somewhat. 'Orcs are seldom intelligent enough to alter their tactics. If you defend yourself for the first thirty heartbeats you will see the full range of their capabilities,' he clarified, glancing at Draco with raised eyebrows. 'By then, you should be able to find a weakness and exploit it,' he added, seeing the recognition hit the blonde.

'Okay, that is helpful! I will attempt to remember that!' Draco answered, trying to think of a spell he could use against multiple Orcs which wouldn't hurt the Fellowship at the same time.

Harry chuckled. 'Also, try not to die,' he said, earning a grin from the Slytherin.

They watched as Aragorn and Boromir slammed the doors shut, wedging it with the weapons strewn around the room. Through a crack in the door, Boromir caught sight of something and he turned to Aragorn in astonishment. 'They have a cave-troll!' he shouted, realising their efforts to shore up the door were undoubtedly in vain.

'Wonderful!' Draco exclaimed sarcastically, and gripped his wand tighter. 'So, Legolas, any advice on fighting cave-trolls?' he asked, looking at the Elf.

Legolas looked back at him and blinked. 'Try not to die,' he answered, looking back at the door and waiting for an opportunity to fire through the cracks.

'Well… shit,' Draco muttered, shaking his head.

Gimli growled and snatched up two rusty axes before leaping up onto Balin's stone coffin and let out a battle-cry. 'Let them come! There is one Dwarf yet in Moria who still draws breath!' he yelled, spinning the axes in his hands skilfully.

It wasn't long before the weapons the Orcs were using started splintering the wooden door. Legolas narrowed his eyes in concentration, waiting for the opportune moment to release his arrow in a pre-emptive strike. Finally seeing it, he didn't waver in letting his arrow go, striking an Orc right between its eyes. Not stopping to admire his handiwork, Legolas pulled another arrow from his quiver and shot another which had been behind it. Aragorn followed Legolas's example, shooting at the Orcs as more cracks appeared in the door.

Eventually, the door burst open in a shower of wood fragments and around twenty Orcs stormed into the tomb, followed closely by a huge cave-troll. The Fellowship moved back towards the back of the tomb as the Orcs advanced on them. Legolas fired his arrows while Harry, Draco and Hermione shot off spells. Aragorn took out two Orcs before switching to his sword as the Orcs reached them.

Boromir hurried forward, swinging his sword, and managed to kill three Orcs before hitting another that was hurtling at him with his shield, staggering it. Draco shot it with the tripping hex before it could recover which caused it to fall onto the ground and he observed it in amusement for a moment as it failed to get back up without tripping again.

'Stop fooling around!' Hermione chastised Draco, firing a stunner at an Orc darting towards Aragorn.

'But I am serious about my fooling around!' Draco shouted back, pouting at her as he shot a spell, setting an Orc on fire without looking at it.

Harry rolled his eyes at Draco's antics, before aiming his wand at the Orcs. 'Avis!' he yelled and birds shot out from his wand, harassing the oncoming Orcs. He grinned, having wanted to use that spell since he learned about it from Ginny. This thought caused him to pause as he thought about her and he didn't notice the Orc charging towards him.

'Confringo!' Hermione cried at the Orc, before grasping Harry's arm. 'You okay?' she asked, looking at him worriedly.

'Yeah, just…' Harry trailed off, stunning another Orc. 'Never mind, I'm fine!' he called back, dodging the axe of another Orc. Hermione frowned at him, but she didn't have time to question him as more Orcs arrived into the tomb. They were incessant.

Gimli avoided a blow and immediately buried his axes in two Orc helmets. Aragorn and Boromir waded into the mass of Orcs with their swords while Legolas fired deadly arrows into the Orcs throats, all frantically trying to keep them from reaching the Hobbits. Gandalf clutched his sword, Glamdring, and joined in the fray, slashing at the Orcs who got near to him and the Hobbits. The Hobbits let out a war-cry of their own and dashed at the Orcs as well, while trying to remain behind Gandalf.

Draco managed to get to the door behind the Orcs and glanced out into the hall seeing hundreds more waiting to get in. 'Shit, we are screwed,' he muttered to himself before pointing his wand through one of the cracks and aiming at the Orcs. He took a deep breath, hoping this wouldn't backfire, and cast Fiendfyre at the Orcs before ducking back into the room.

'What just happened?' Boromir yelled, hearing the pained screeches from outside the tomb.

Legolas leapt up onto the stone coffin and looked through the door, raising his eyebrows. Draco came up to the stone block and crouched beside it. 'It's a spell, should deal with them, but run if it comes this way,' he told them quickly before moving away and firing more spells. Legolas and Boromir glanced at each other nervously for a moment at these words.

Gimli, having found another rusty axe, let out another war-cry and swung it straight down, embedding it into the head of an Orc which killed it instantly. Frodo and Sam were off to the side, ganging up on one of the larger Orcs. They stabbed it from both sides, causing it to shriek in pain and fall down dead. Aragorn ran over to them, slicing at three Orcs who were going for the Hobbits before beheading another who was snarling at him.

Hermione turned around, seeing three Orcs running at her, and she pointed her wand at them. 'Bombarda!' she shouted, taking out two of them, but the other was still coming at her and she didn't have time to aim her wand at it. She grabbed one of the daggers from her bag and slashed at it, causing green blood to spurt out of it messily. 'Stupefy!' she cried, stunning it and it fell to the ground. Hermione glanced at the dagger in her hand, grateful that she elected to learn some basic hand-to-hand combat in case something like that happened.

Sam killed another Orc which raced towards him before stopping for a moment to catch his breath. He looked up at the huge cave-troll which was sweeping its club at Aragorn who stumbled backwards. The huge club descended towards Aragorn for the killing blow, but Boromir appeared at its side and, in a flash of steel, his longsword sliced into the scaly arm of the troll. It reared back, spewing green blood onto the ground.

Legolas turned and shot an arrow at the cave-troll, while Hermione ducked behind a pillar and tried to stun it, but it seemed to be resilient to magic. Legolas shot an arrow into its neck, causing it to howl in pain. It staggered forward, lifting its club, and brought it down at Sam who dived under its legs. The club smashed into the stone floor, exactly where Sam had been standing only moments before.

Draco glowered at the troll and aimed his wand. 'Crucio!' he yelled, but it didn't have the desired effect and only appeared to enrage it even more. Grimacing, he cast it on an Orc which was charging at Frodo and it fell to the ground with a screech, looking like it was having a fit. Draco lifted the spell, taking aim again. 'Sectumsempra!' he shouted, having learned that one from Snape after Harry used it on him. His eyes widened in revulsion as the Orc exploded, sending green blood and body parts flying across the room. He wiped Orc blood from his tunic in disgust as Harry looked at him, his eyes wide. 'What?' Draco asked with a shrug.

Harry rolled his eyes. 'Stupefy!' he shot at an Orc which was sprinting towards him. He unsheathed the Gryffindor Sword and stabbed the Orc, killing it.

Sam crawled along the ground, trying to get away from the cave-troll, but it turned around and tried to crush him with its giant foot. The Hobbit closed his eyes, awaiting his inevitable death. When nothing happened, Sam opened his eyes to find Aragorn, Boromir and Draco were pulling at a thick chain which was wrapped around the troll's neck, diverting its attention away from him. The troll growled furiously, swinging its club at them and they let go of the chain, ducking to avoid getting struck by it.

Gimli's eyes widened, seeing the club coming down towards him and he dove out of the way just in time to avoid being flattened. Harry dived to the ground behind the stone coffin, and aimed around it to shoot a stunner at it, but it had no effect on the troll.

Angry, the troll swung its club again, and Boromir, who wasn't as lucky this time, was thrown across the room and into a wall along with a few Orcs which had been near him, knocking him out. Harry tried to shoot a stunner at an Orc standing over Boromir ready to kill him, but he couldn't get a clear shot. Aragorn turned, noticing the Orc and threw his sword at it, embedding it in its neck.

Hermione, who was closest to Boromir, ran over to him. 'Protego!' she cried, creating a protective bubble around as she checked his wounds. 'Episkey,' she whispered, healing the minor cuts he had received. 'Rennervate,' she said, and watched as he came to, looking around in disorientation. 'Are you okay?' she asked him, standing up and helping him stand.

Boromir nodded, looking down in bewilderment at his lack of injuries. 'Thank you,' he said, grabbing his sword and looking at the troll.

Hermione nodded before dropping the protective spell and stunning some Orcs who were close to them. The two headed back into the fight as Gimli threw his axe with as much momentum as he could muster, entrenching it into the troll's chest. His eyes widened when it still managed to stampede towards him, swinging it club and trying to crush him with it. Gimli jumped off the stone coffin as the club crashed down, destroying half of the stone block, sending debris throughout the tomb and Harry ducked, covering his head to avoid being hit.

Merry, Pippin and Draco moved Frodo to a small inlet in the wall to keep him safe while Gimli managed to find another axe, proceeding to hack at the Orcs. One got decapitated, one was halved, and another lost its legs, but was still alive, which Legolas spotted. He frowned at it as it dragged itself along the ground, trailing green blood behind it and Legolas shot it in the head, nodding to the Dwarf.

Gimli threw his recently found axe at the troll. Without a weapon for the moment, Gimli ran away from some Orcs which were advancing on him while Legolas picked up another much larger axe and threw it over to the retreating Dwarf. Gimli caught it, spinning around the face the Orcs, cutting them all in half with the strength of the swing.

The Dwarf growled as he hurtled at another Orc, but it was batted away like a rag-doll by the troll's club which was aimed at Gimli. An Orc ran up behind him, and Gimli turned to kill it, but had to swiftly dive out of the way as the troll's club swung back the other way, crashing into the Orc and sending it flying across the room rapidly with a screech. Gimli hastily scrambled to his feet, picking up his axe, and killed an Orc moving in to assail him. He dodged the club again when the troll advanced on him again.

Hermione crouched behind the stone coffin before peering round and aiming her wand at the troll. 'Deprimo!' she shouted, creating a tornado of wind to encircle it. The tornado pulled in debris and weapons which flew into the troll causing it to screech in pain.

From the second floor, Legolas loaded two arrows onto his bow which he shot at the troll, and they both went into its neck. He looked down, spotting an Orc rushing at Hermione and he rapidly loaded his bow, shooting it in the head, and received an appreciative smile from her. Legolas nodded back, before loading his bow and shooting an Orc which was moving in towards Merry, Pippin and Frodo.

Gandalf ducked to avoid being hit as an Orc assailed him, and he retaliated by stabbing it in the chest. He glanced over at the Hobbits and started making his way towards them, striving to stop the Orcs which appeared to be pursuing them specifically.

Legolas watched as the Orcs scaled the debris to get to him on the second floor. When the first one reached him, Legolas tripped it up with his bow, and it fell to the first floor while he sliced the throat of a second Orc with one of his daggers. Legolas spotted the troll advancing towards him, and he dived out of the way as the troll swung his club, collapsing part of the floor where he had just been standing.

Hermione's eyes widened when she realised the troll was attacking Legolas and started shooting spells at it to distract its attention, but it didn't work. Her spells seemed to bounce off it like they didn't affect it. Legolas dived to the floor as the troll swung his club, scarcely missing him with a fatal blow. The Elf got back to his feet, jumping to his right when the club smashed down on the floor in front of him, and he covered his face from the debris.

Furiously, the troll grabbed the chain Aragorn had used to strangle it earlier and swung it at Legolas. Fortunately, it got stuck in the pillar and Legolas used the chain to climb onto the troll's shoulders where he loaded his bow and shot it in the head. Legolas leapt off its back before it could seize him, and he landed next to Hermione who stared at him with wide eyes. The Elf shrugged indifferently before loading his bow and shooting an Orc between the eyes as it got close to them.

Over near the door to the tomb, Sam was backed up against the wall with a sword in one hand, and a frying pan in the other. Draco watched in amusement as, in desperation, Sam began to swing his frying pan wildly, hitting one of them in the face and it keeled over. The Hobbit looked at it in astonishment as Draco chuckled. Sam walloped another Orc and it too, dropped.

Draco ran over to him. 'Never come between a Hobbit and his frying pan,' he quipped, earning a smile from the Hobbit.

'I think I'm getting the hang of this!' Sam called back, swinging his trusty frying pan at another Orc which dashed at him and knocked it out causing Draco to laugh.

Frodo, Merry and Pippin gave a cry of panic when the troll advanced on them and brought its club down, separating Frodo from the other two. 'Frodo!' Aragorn shouted as he noticed this, and quickly killed the Orc running at him before making his way to Frodo.

Frodo hid behind a pillar, hoping the troll wouldn't be clever enough to notice where he had disappeared to while Aragorn and Harry strove to fight their way to him. Merry and Pippin watched from their hiding place behind the pillar opposite to Frodo's, praying their friend wouldn't be discovered by the troll. Frodo's breath hitched in fear as the troll moved to one side of the pillar, so he hurriedly moved to the other side. The troll sniffed the air, not finding the Hobbit and it moved away. Thinking he was safe, Frodo took a deep breath and moved around to the back of the pillar and leaned against the wall.

The troll unexpectedly appeared on his right, seeing him and Frodo let out a cry of terror. He fell over backwards and dropped his sword in his haste to get away from the troll. Aragorn looked over towards Frodo upon hearing his shout and leapt over a large gap in the floor which was created by the troll earlier. He killed a few Orcs which were in his way and his eyes widened as he saw the troll standing over Frodo. The troll reached into the small alcove, clutching the Hobbits leg.

'Aragorn!' Frodo screamed, trying to grab onto the floor as the troll dragged him towards itself. 'Aragorn!' he yelled again, looking over at the Ranger who was fighting his way over to him.

Aragorn watched in dismay as the troll lifted Frodo high above its head before dropping him to the ground. The troll lifted its club, intending on crushing the dazed Hobbit. 'Frodo!' Aragorn cried, finally reaching the troll and Frodo. He snatched up a trident from the ground and placed himself between the troll and Frodo, stabbing the towering menace in the stomach. The troll let out a shriek of pain, grasping its stomach, as Merry and Pippin, having found their conviction, threw large stones and debris at its head. The troll swung its enormous arm around and hit Aragorn, sending the Ranger crashing against a pillar painfully.

Frodo managed to run to Aragorn's side while evading the troll's club. He knelt next to Aragorn and tried to shake him awake, but the troll was advancing on him. The troll had picked up the trident and was attempting to gore Frodo with it. The Hobbit ducked out of the way before swinging his sword hopelessly at it. He tried to run under the troll's arm, but it backed him into a corner with no escape.

Aragorn shook his head and looked over to where the troll swiftly leapt forward at Frodo, plunging the spear into the Hobbits chest. Sam screamed as Frodo was lifted off his feet by the spear tip and slammed against the wall. 'Frodo!' Aragorn cried, staring in shock at what had just happened. With renewed vigour, Aragorn leapt to his feet, snatched up his fallen sword, and dashed at the troll.

Gandalf, upon hearing Frodo's cry of agony, also ran towards the troll in rage. Merry, Pippin, and Sam stared in horror, tears filling their eyes at the thought of Frodo being dead. Merry and Pippin looked at each other and nodded before letting out a war-cry and leaping off the second floor onto the trolls back, stabbing it with their swords.

Harry and Draco fell back somewhat, watching as Sam and Gandalf waded into the Orcs trying to get to Frodo. They aimed their wands and shot the Orcs Gandalf and Sam had missed to stop them from stabbing them in the back. 'Do you think he's okay?' Harry asked Draco, firing a stunner at an Orc.

'He's a tough wee man, he'll be fine!' Draco answered, but these words sounded unbelievable even to his ears and Harry didn't look convinced.

'Frodo!' Sam cried out, hitting an Orc with his frying pan. He was close to Frodo now, with just a few Orcs in the way. 'Get out of my way!' he barked, smashing another in the face and stabbing it for good measure. 'Frodo! Don't you die on me!' Sam yelled, swinging around and hitting a third with his frying pan which cleared his path to Frodo, but the troll was still in the way and there were quite a few Orc stragglers.

Hermione cried out as an Orc managed to graze her arm with its sword. Legolas, upon hearing her shout, pulled out two arrows and jumped down from the second floor, shooting them into the Orcs head while he was still in mid-air. He landed next to it elegantly, looking down at it in revulsion before turning to Hermione. She pointed her wand at the scratch on her arm. 'Episkey,' she whispered and the gash knitted itself back together. 'I had it,' Hermione said to him, stunning an Orc which was sneaking up behind him.

Legolas turned and looked down at the fallen Orc, raising his eyebrows in slight amusement before nodding at her and running off to kill some more Orcs. Hermione watched him for a moment with a sigh in admiration of the speed, skill and graceful movements gifted to the Elf before shaking her head. 'Now is not the time,' she chastised herself before turning towards where the others were taking on the troll.

Harry twisted away from a large Orc as it slammed its sword down, just missing him. 'Malfoy!' he called to the blonde who was a few metres away from him firing off spells and looking bored. 'MALFOY!' he shouted, ducking the Orcs sword again.

Draco spun towards him curiously, aiming his wand behind him. 'Petrificus Totalus,' he muttered, hitting an Orc without looking at it. It became as stiff as a board before falling to the ground with a thump. 'WHAT IS IT, POTTER!?' he shouted back, jogging over to where the Gryffindor was trying to evade the large Orc. Draco came to a stop next to Harry. 'Ooh, you're a big boy, aren't you?' he said to the Orc, making it snarl and swing it's sword at him. 'Not very friendly though!' Draco said, eluding the attack.

'Stop provoking it!' Harry shouted in frustration.

'Who's a foul boy!?' Draco called to the Orc, snubbing Harry's growl. 'What?' he asked the Gryffindor with a shrug. The Orc hurtled at Draco and he side-stepped it just in time, raising his eyebrows. 'Whoa, down boy!' he reprimanded it, dodging its sword again. 'I think I have its attention!' he barked as the Orc swung at him violently.

'AK its ass!' Harry yelled, ducking the sword and stunning another smaller Orc running towards them.

'What the heck does that even mean!?' Draco yelled back, evading the Orcs large arm as it tried to grab him.

Harry rolled his eyes. 'The Killing Curse, you moron!' Harry called back, shaking his head.

'Ooooh,' Draco snickered, aiming his wand at the large Orc. 'Why didn't you say so,' he said, shaking his head. 'Avada Kedavra,' he whispered and a sickly green light engulfed the Orc, causing it to die promptly.

Harry and Draco took down some more Orcs as they made their way to the rest of the Fellowship who were assaulting the troll. Their hearts were heavy with worry as Frodo lay unmoving and seemingly dead on the ground behind it.

The troll managed to grasp Merry from its back and swung him around like a rag-doll. Gimli, who was armed with two axes, hacked at the troll's legs while Gandalf stabbed it in the stomach and lower back a few times. Due to the numerous attacks it had withstood, the troll released Merry. Draco, who was nearest to that side of the troll, moved closer and managed to catch the poor Hobbit before he hit the ground. Pippin looked down at Merry in relief, but his eyes widened as the troll flailed its arms around trying to seize him and he held on for dear life.

Legolas jumped up onto the remains of the stone coffin while Hermione, Draco and Harry took position in front of it. Legolas released his arrow, managing to hit the roof of its mouth. With the arrow keeping it from being able to close its mouth for the moment, Hermione, Harry and Draco aimed their wands. 'Stupefy!' they yelled in unison and the three spells hit it the roof of its mouth. The troll staggered, its eyes rolling into the back of its head. Legolas jumped off the stone coffin while Harry, Hermione and Draco ran in the opposite direction as the troll fell on top of the remnants of the stone block, throwing Pippin crudely from its back.

Draco ran over to Pippin, helping the Hobbit to his feet before heading back over to the others. Gandalf, Aragorn and Sam rushed over to Frodo apprehensively. 'Oh, no,' Aragorn whispered, pulling the Hobbit into his arms. The others looked on anxiously, dismayed at the implications that Frodo might be dead.

Unexpectedly, Frodo started coughing and took a huge breath. 'He's alive,' Sam whispered in disbelief, moving to his side wearily.

Frodo sat up, to the amazement of everyone there, holding his chest and taking slow breaths. 'I'm all right. I'm not hurt,' he said, looking around at everyone.

Aragorn looked at him in alarm. 'You should be dead,' he whispered, checking Frodo for any wounds. 'That spear would have skewered a wild boar,' he explained, shaking his head, still not fully fathoming how Frodo was alive.

Gandalf walked over and smiled down at Frodo. 'I think there's more to this Hobbit than meets the eye,' he said with raised eyebrows, looking down at Frodo with a meaningful smile.

Frodo looked back almost guiltily as he pulled his shirt open, exposing the Mithril shirt Bilbo gave him in Rivendell. The spear hadn't penetrated the Mithril, there was not even a scratch.

'Mithril!' Gimli exclaimed, looking at the mighty armour in awe. 'You are full of surprises, Master Baggins,' he said, smiling down at the Hobbit.

Their relief was short-lived as more drumming rang out in the mines, signalling the arrival of more Orcs. 'To the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm!' Gandalf shouted, gesturing for them to follow hastily. The Fellowship sprinted out of the tomb into the vast city, following Gandalf towards the exit as hundreds of Orcs took after them in pursuit.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: The Bridge of Khazad-D ûm

The Fellowship sprinted through the vast city of Dwarrowdelf, rushing towards a distant doorway, as Orcs swarmed from every corner and ceiling of the forsaken mines. They looked around in dismay at the overwhelming Orc army scurrying towards them, spilling out like ants from an anthill. It quickly became apparent to the Fellowship that they were going to be surrounded in seconds as they kept running. As they approached the doorway, the Orcs encircled them, which forced them to halt in their retreat.

Hermione looked around nervously at the hundreds of Orcs snarling at them. She clutched her wand firmly, knowing it wouldn't be much use in taking this many out. They would be slaughtered if they tried anything reckless. An Orc let loose an arrow which careered towards her and Hermione raised her wand to cast a protective spell, but another arrow shot from her right, hitting the Orc's one. Hermione looked over to see Legolas loading his bow again, aiming it at the Orcs.

Hermione raised her wand. 'Protego Totalum,' she said, forming a protective barrier around the Fellowship. Orcs fired more arrows at them, but they ricocheted off the barrier harmlessly.

'We're surrounded,' Harry muttered, turning in a circle to see there were Orcs all around them.

'Only noticed that now, did you?' Draco countered sardonically, shaking his head.

Gandalf looked around apprehensively, concerned they wouldn't be able to get out of this predicament. 'If an opportunity presents itself… take it,' he whispered to Aragorn who frowned but nodded.

'It's been an honour, guys and girl. Looks like this is the end of the Fellowship. Shame we didn't become notorious on this journey,' Draco said with a sigh, giving a fake sniff.

'It is not over yet,' Legolas countered, raising an eyebrow at him.

'Oooh, you have a plan!?' Draco replied enthusiastically, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

'No,' Legolas responded monotonously, concentrating on the Orcs.

Draco shook his head. 'Aww don't get my hopes up!' he cried, sulking at the Elf.

Without warning, the Orcs fell utterly silent, and the Fellowship looked at them in bewilderment. They started leaving in panic, almost dissolving into the darkness and the Fellowship lowered their weapons. Gandalf frowned as he took a step forward, his eyes fixated on the doorway they arrived through the day before to get into Dwarrowdelf.

The unsettling stillness was shattered by a thunderous roar which filled the air all around them, reverberating through the mines. A fiery light danced down the hallway, the pillars casting eerie shadows. Legolas trained his bow in the direction of the light, a frown on his brow.

Boromir looked at Gandalf anxiously. 'What is this new devilry?' he asked quietly, his eyes not moving from the impending light.

Gandalf grimaced, not giving an answer and Aragorn looked over at him, noticing the unease on the old wizard's face. Legolas tilted his head as he distinguished what was getting closer to them. He peered over at Gandalf, hoping he was somehow mistaken in his belief.

An enormous shadow, enveloped by flame, fell across the hall and the ground trembled as an unearthly sound rumbled. 'A Balrog,' Gandalf finally said softly, reinforcing Legolas's misgivings. 'A demon of the ancient world,' he clarified fearfully, glowering at the shadow.

Legolas took a step back, distress stark on his features. This disturbed Harry, Draco and Hermione as they had never seen the Elf show any hint that anything unsettled him so significantly. He was always so composed and unperturbed in any situation.

'This foe is beyond any of you,' Gandalf whispered, backing away steadily. 'Run!' he barked, turning around and dashing towards the doorway, followed closely by the rest of the Fellowship who didn't need to be told twice. Gandalf ushered them through the entrance to Khazad-Dûm. 'Quickly!' he bade to them urgently as they rushed through the door.

Behind them, the Balrog, a massive creature emerged from a chasm, a tremendous forty-foot man-beast with a mane of flames. In one hand it held a blade, like a stabbing tongue of fire, and in the other was a whip with many thongs. Boromir led the way down some steep stairs, stopping just in time before tumbling off the edge of a sheer drop. He watched as his torch plunged into the fires below and he almost lost balance. Draco reached forward, grasping his arms with such a force that Boromir fell backwards on top of him.

Aragorn took the lead, coming to a halt at another dizzying stairway. Gandalf followed them, leaning heavily on his staff. Aragorn moved over to Gandalf, eyeing him in concern. 'Gandalf,' he whispered, putting his hand on the old wizard's shoulder.

Gandalf propped himself against the wall wearily. 'Lead them on, Aragorn. The bridge is near,' he told the Ranger. Aragorn wavered, shaking his head, and Gandalf looked at him purposely. 'Do as I say. Swords are no more use here,' he instructed, and Aragorn nodded.

Aragorn led the Fellowship down the stairs, and Legolas leapt off onto the bottom landing below as they persisted down to a steeper, more treacherous set of stairs. They stopped when they reached a yawning chasm. Legolas jumped over to the other side. A deafening roar split the air around them, and Gandalf turned to look at the doorway anxiously.

'Gandalf!' Legolas beckoned to him, and Gandalf nodded, jumping over to the other side where the Elf caught him effortlessly.

An arrow struck the stairs in front of Boromir. They glanced around, seeing Orcs shooting at them from behind pillars and rocks over on a stone structure. Draco, Harry and Hermione took out their wands and fired spells at them. Legolas and Aragorn got their bows ready and returned fire.

While they distracted the Orcs, Gandalf turned back to the others. 'Merry! Pippin!' he yelled, gaining the attention of the two troublesome Hobbits. Boromir quickly grabbed them about their waists, one under each arm, and leapt across the gap. Part of the stairs he was standing on crumpled making the chasm they had to get across much broader.

'Draco, get Sam!' Aragorn shouted to the Slytherin. Draco nodded, grabbing Sam under his arm, and took a running jump across the gap. Boromir reached out and caught them, making the brawny man stagger back.

Aragorn turned to Gimli, intending on giving him a boost over, but the Dwarf held up his hand to stop him. 'Nobody tosses a Dwarf,' he growled, causing Aragorn to look at him in scepticism. He stepped out of the way as Gimli jumped the gap, landing right on the edge, almost losing his balance and plummeting into depths below. Legolas reached out promptly and grabbed him by the beard. 'Not the beard!' Gimli howled in pain as Legolas clutched his arm, pulling him to safety.

The Balrog crashed through the wall behind them, spreading out its considerable wings. The stairs behind Frodo, Aragorn, Harry, and Hermione collapsed with the brunt of the falling debris. Aragorn grabbed Harry and tossed the Gryffindor across to Boromir, who caught him effortlessly.

Aragorn waved Hermione over, meaning to do the same. He moved to pick her up when the stairs buckled and collapsed, and she plunged with them. 'Hermione!' Harry and Draco cried, watching as Aragorn reached down and pulled her up off the edge.

Aragorn wrapped his arm around her waist and picked her up, tossing her over to the others. Legolas caught Hermione, embracing her before quickly pushing her behind him where Harry and Draco assailed her with hugs. Hermione was too shaken to be stunned at the hugs from Draco.

The Ranger looked at the gap in trepidation as even more stairs crumpled, and he held out his arm to prevent Frodo from falling over the edge. The gap was much broader, leaving them standing on a narrow pillar. 'Steady,' Aragorn said, shifting his weight on the teetering pillar. 'Hold on!' he bellowed as the stairs moved forward in the direction of the others.

The Balrog abruptly lunged down past the Fellowship, melting into the flaming pit below, and sent the stairs Aragorn and Frodo were balancing on colliding onto the ones the rest of the Fellowship were standing on. Legolas caught Aragorn as Boromir grabbed Frodo.

Without another glance, the Fellowship tore away from the stairs, which collapsed and fell into the fiery chasm below. Gandalf led the way from there into a second hall where the floor was split with fissures that spat flames. 'Over the bridge! Fly!' he yelled to them, and they all passed him, racing towards the slender bridge of stone.

The Fellowship hurried over the dizzying bridge frantically, but Gandalf, who was at the rear, paused in the middle of the span. Gandalf turned, and the enormous demonic creature leapt up from behind the bridge. The old wizard glared at the Balrog, his staff in one hand, and Glamdring gleaming menacingly in his other.

On the other side of the bridge, the companions looked back in dismay as Gandalf stood face-to-face with the creature. Harry, Hermione and Draco drew their wands, intending on giving Gandalf some covering fire. They shouted all manner of hexes, jinxes and curses at it as rapidly as they came to mind.

'Avada Kedavra!' Draco shouted, hitting the creature in the head, but it did not have the expected impact. The Slytherin gaped at his wand and then at the Balrog in disbelief. 'So much for the killing curse being able to kill anything,' he muttered irritably, switching tactics.

Gandalf scowled at the advancing Balrog defiantly. 'You cannot pass!' he bellowed in a commanding tone.

'Gandalf!' Frodo yelled in fear.

'I am a servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor!' Gandalf yelled, slamming his staff into the ground. 'The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn!' The Balrog set one foot on the bridge before drawing up to its full height, its wings spreading from wall-to-wall. In comparison, Gandalf was a tiny figure balanced precariously on a narrow bridge.

'Go back to the Shadow!' Gandalf barked as the Balrog slashed at Gandalf with its sword of flame. Gandalf blocked the strike with Glamdring, and a ringing clash echoed throughout the hall as the Balrog's sword shattered into molten fragments. 'YOU SHALL NOT PASS!' Gandalf roared as the Balrog placed his foot onto the bridge again.

Aragorn and Boromir gave each other a meaningful look. 'He cannot stand alone! Elendil! I am with you, Gandalf!' the Ranger shouted, drawing his sword and running back towards the bridge.

Boromir was close behind him. 'For Gondor!' he hailed, raising his sword.

Draco, Harry and Hermione ran up the stairs to where the exit was, still firing spells at the demon. Hermione knelt on the ground, concentrating as she focused her magic into a ball of energy in her hands like Gandalf taught her. It was an Elvish spell for banishing evil.

Gandalf let out a shout as he summoned the last reserves of his strength and thumped the bridge with his staff. When Hermione opened her eyes, they were pitch black, and she sent the ball of energy towards the Balrog. Legolas watched this with wide eyes, knowing the spell himself, before rushing over to the stairs as Hermione fell forward off them in exertion. He caught her, looking down at her with renewed suspicion. Legolas turned his attention to the Balrog. He had heard many tales about the demon and knew it was the reason why Moria was now known to the Elves as the "Black Chasm".

A blinding sheet of white flame erupted from the depths below the bridge, colliding with the ball of energy Hermione summoned. Gandalf's staff shattered, and the bridge cracked, crumbling away below the Balrog's feet. The bridge dropped away into the gulf and, for a moment, the great beast remained poised in the air before it plunged down.

Relief flooded the faces of the Fellowship as Gandalf remained by the lip of the broken bridge, trembling. He turned towards the others, just as the thongs from the whip appeared, lashing and curling around Gandalf's knees and dragged him over the brink. Gandalf gripped onto the edge with his fingertips.

'Gandalf!' Frodo screamed in horror.

Gandalf looked at his companions with wide eyes. 'Fly, you fools!' he cried fiercely before letting go and falling into the boundless abyss along with the Balrog.

Frodo cried out, trying to run towards the edge, but Boromir scooped him up and carried him away. 'No!' Frodo screamed out, fighting against the grip Boromir had on him.

'Gandalf,' Aragorn whispered, tears coming to his eyes.

'Gandalf! No!' Harry shouted, running towards the bridge. Aragorn grabbed hold of Harry, but the Gryffindor broke free and looked over the edge where Gandalf disappeared. 'GANDALF!' Harry screamed, collapsing to his knees in tears.

Boromir picked up Sam under his other arm and carried him and Frodo towards the archway. 'Aragorn!' he called to the Ranger who nodded and ran forward, grabbing the distraught Gryffindor and leading him from the mines along with Draco who was clenching his fists in rage.

Hermione, who had come to, was crying as she tried to fight against the grip Legolas had on her. 'No, he's not dead! He can't leave us again! It's not fair!' she screamed as Legolas managed to get her outside.

When they reached the grassy hills outside the mines, Sam, Merry and Pippin dissolved into tears while Boromir grabbed onto Gimli to stop him from storming back into the mines to wreak havoc. Legolas, who was still holding Hermione, fell to his knees and pulled her firmly against him. She clutched onto his tunic and buried her face in his neck as she cried. Draco had wandered away from the group, throwing stones furiously against a wall while Harry was sitting on a rock, staring at nothing. Tears were ceaselessly falling from his eyes.

Aragorn wiped his sword with a rag to remove the Orc blood as he looked around at them. 'Legolas, get them up,' he said to the Elf urgently.

Legolas frowned at the Ranger, but got to his feet and set Hermione on the ground. As he tried to let go of her, she clung on to him. Legolas gently wrested Hermione's hands from his tunic and wiped her tears before moving away from her. He walked over to Pippin who was curled up on the ground next to Merry who was rubbing his back in comfort.

Boromir looked at Aragorn and Legolas heatedly. 'Give them a moment!' he yelled, shaking his head. 'For pity's sake,' he added under his breath.

Aragorn spun on him indignantly. 'By nightfall, these hills will be swarming with Orcs!' he countered, shaking his head. 'We must reach the woods of Lothlórien,' he explained in a softer tone as he sheathed his sword. 'Come, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, get them up,' he reiterated, moving over to Sam and gently picking the Hobbit up off the ground. 'On your feet, Sam,' he said softly, patting him on the head consolingly.

Aragorn turned back to the others to see Legolas glaring at him as he helped Merry and Pippin to their feet. 'Legolas?' he asked with a sigh.

Legolas glanced over at Hermione and then to Draco and Harry before looking back at Aragorn. 'Making them move now is cruel. They need time to grieve,' he whispered irritably, shaking his head and moving over to Draco. He placed his hand on the Slytherin's arm to stop him from throwing more stones.

Aragorn closed his eyes, looking at the ground dejectedly. 'I understand, but we must leave this place, or there will be more to lament,' he answered, shaking his head.

Legolas nodded slowly before moving back over to Hermione, who was sitting cross-legged on the ground, her head in her hands. He knelt down and took her hands before lifting her to her feet. Aragorn watched as the Elf whispered something to Hermione and she nodded in response, following him over to the others.

Boromir came to stand next to Aragorn before looking around the area in confusion. His eyes found Frodo, and he looked at Aragorn uneasily. Frodo was walking away from them as if he was in a daze. 'Frodo?' Aragorn said, walking towards him slowly. 'Frodo!' he called louder, and the Hobbit slowly turned back to them, a look of numb shock on his devastated face.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: The Show Must Go On

The remaining members of the Fellowship followed Aragorn down the rocky hillside of Dimrill Dale towards the stream of Nimrodel which lay on the border of Lothlórien. The eleven companions moved languidly; their hearts heavy with the loss of Gandalf. During their fight and escape in Moria, they had all received wounds except for Legolas.

Aragorn scouted ahead, smiling when he saw the clear mirror-like stream of Nimrodel. His companions caught up to him after a few minutes, and he turned to them. 'We will rest here to check and clean our wounds, but then we must move on,' he told them, receiving nods from them. 'Lothlórien is just beyond this stream,' he clarified, pointing towards some trees in the distance. The Fellowship moved away to various areas of the small clearing, grateful to be able to rest even for a moment.

Aragorn wet a cloth in the stream and wrung it out before moving over to Harry to assess a sizeable gash which cut across his left eyebrow, just missing his eye. Harry shrugged, shaking his head as Aragorn moved in to clean it. 'I'm alright, I didn't even notice it,' he murmured, nodding to Hermione.

Hermione moved over to him. 'Episkey,' she uttered, pointing her wand at the cut which closed.

'Ah, the marvels of magic,' Aragorn stated with a grin, noting that the cut now looked like a faded scar. He walked over to Frodo to see if he was all right before moving onto the others.

Boromir stood from where he was sitting with Merry, Pippin and Sam cleaning their wounds and walked over to Draco who was glaring at the stream. He watched as the young man picked up a stone and hurled it into the stream angrily. He let out a growl as he furiously wiped tears from his eyes.

Frowning, Boromir came to a stop next to Draco and placed a consoling hand on his shoulder. Draco didn't react, but some of the tension emanating off him lightened somewhat. He sighed, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes, before glancing at Boromir, appreciating the gesture.

Eventually, Draco broke the silence. 'That's the second time I've had to watch that man die,' he whispered, shaking his head.

Boromir frowned at Draco in misunderstanding. 'Second time?' he asked softly.

Draco inwardly cursed at his slip-up but realised it was too late now to fix it and nodded. 'The funny thing is, the first time he died, I was expected to kill him,' he disclosed, clenching his fists. 'I freaked out and lost it. I couldn't kill him. The damn man was smiling! How can you kill someone who is smiling?' he cried, indignantly throwing another stone in the stream.

Boromir stared at him, horrified by his admission. 'You were meant to kill Gandalf,' he questioned in a monotone and Draco nodded miserably. 'But why?' he demanded, trying to process this news.

Draco sighed. 'I was on the wrong side, and our leader wanted Gandalf gone. Where we come from, he was known as Dumbledore,' he replied, and Boromir nodded knowingly, already aware that Gandalf had numerous aliases and not many people really knew exactly who he was. Draco shook his head. 'I was so grateful to find he was still alive. I despised knowing I was partially responsible for his death,' he told him, shutting his eyes and speculating on why he was even talking about this.

'You are so young,' Boromir hissed, shaking his head. 'To have such a burden thrust upon you…' he trailed off in disbelief that anyone would expect a child to become a murderer.

Draco snorted mirthlessly. 'Well, that's what malevolent Dark Lords expect,' he countered, lowering his head dejectedly.

'Dark Lord? You mean Sauron?' Boromir asked him in astonishment.

Draco shook his head. 'No, but he is a puppet of his. He calls himself a "Dark Lord" but, in reality, he is just a cheap imitation of the real thing,' he answered, folding his arms. 'I don't think we've seen the last of V-Voldemort,' Draco whispered timidly, wanting to be mistaken but knowing deep down that was a slim hope.

And hope is always the first step on the road to disappointment.

oOoOo

Somewhere Far in the Future

'Remarkable,' came a soft hiss from a sizeable throne-like chair made from the bones of people who had perished by his hand.

'My Lord?' another, more conceited, voice asked.

'It appears Harry Potter might not have died after all,' the Dark Lord, Voldemort, revealed as he sat back in his chair. In front of him was the artefact Lucius and Bellatrix had vigorously sought after for their Lord.

Lucius nodded from where he was sitting on a straight-backed chair at a long table. 'If you do not mind my asking, my Lord, but what do you suppose happened to Potter?' he asked, hoping he was not overstepping his boundaries.

Voldemort was silent for a long time as he gazed down at the Ring on his pale, bony hand. 'As you know, the connection between our minds permitted me to know where Potter was at all times. Of course, this was severed when Nagini…' he paused in his reflections, clenching the bones of his chair in fury.

Lucius observed Voldemort wordlessly, afraid that the Dark Lord would turn on him if he so much as breathed wrong. Losing Nagini had been a considerable blow to Voldemort, and no one wanted to be on the receiving end of his grief.

After a few moments, Voldemort seemed to collect himself. 'This relic became even more crucial once our link was severed as it is my only method of finding that wretch,' the Dark Lord fumed, tilting forward and touching the smooth water in the curved top of the artefact.

Lucius frowned as he struggled to piece together what transpired that night. 'My Lord, did he somehow Apparate out of the clearing through the wards which were set up?' he queried, eyeing Voldemort who glanced over at him with an upturned eyebrow. 'If he is merely in hiding, I can order the Death Eaters to hunt for him,' he told him, starting to stand up, but he ceased when Voldemort lifted his hand.

Voldemort shook his head. 'If you recall, Miss Hermione Granger also vanished through a portal in the Ministry of Magic,' he said, steeping his fingers together. 'Furthermore, it seems your son did not die in the forest that night,' he divulged, and Lucius stared at him in misunderstanding as the Dark Lord rose from his throne and stepped over to the fireplace. 'It seems he disappeared through the very same portal as Miss Granger,' he provided, turning to regard the startled expression on Lucius's face.

Lucius stood from his chair, almost forgetting whose presence he was in. 'Where is he? I will see to it he dies by my hand,' Lucius snarled, clutching his wand.

Voldemort peered at Lucius in surprise. 'Now, Lucius, you will have your due, but first, we must locate them. That is what this artefact is for,' he told him, going back to the relic and running his hand across the glassy surface. 'I imagine that wherever Potter disappeared to, Miss Granger and young Malfoy managed to follow,' he said, gazing into the pool of water.

Lucius walked over to stand next to Voldemort and examined the mirror-like water. 'My Lord, what is this artefact?' he inquired, frowning at it. It reminded him of a Pensieve.

'It is many things, Lucius,' Voldemort answered, gazing at it almost lovingly. 'Evidence I have gained for it suggests this relic was used in ancient times for scrying and glimpsing the past and future. Nevertheless, it is intended to focus on the desires of the one using it,' he explained, tapping his finger on the surface.

'Does it still work, my Lord?' Lucius asked, glancing at Voldemort and fighting back a grimace at the smirk on his snake-like face.

'It does. I have seen a few glimpses of Potter, Granger and your son, but I cannot discern where they are. I believe the one it formerly belonged to was the only one who knew how to reap the benefits of its use to see more. I must gather more information on her,' he said, scowling at the artefact.

'"Her", my Lord?' Lucius asked, taking a step away from the artefact.

'Yes, the one called Alatáriel who this mirror belonged to,' Voldemort disclosed distractedly, glaring at the surface.

oOoOo

Harry and Draco sat on a rock near the stream while Hermione sat at their feet, weaving stems of grass between her fingers subconsciously. The two boys were watching Legolas wade through the water of Nimrodel with curiosity. Harry peered down at Hermione who appeared to be lost in her thoughts, but he couldn't quite tell if she was gazing into nothing or if her eyes were glued to the Elf.

It was glaringly evident to Harry that Hermione was attracted to Legolas, but he was uneasy about how this would affect her in the long run if she pursued it. Harry did not think that this was one-sided either. He had noticed the glances between the two of them and wholly believed Legolas felt something towards Hermione as well.

Harry crossed his arms as he glanced down at Hermione. What would happen when they returned to the future? Would Hermione want to go back if she fell in love with Legolas? Harry wasn't sure if he was prepared to confront those questions. He wasn't even sure if Elves felt emotions the same way humans did. Could Elves even fall in love with someone who wasn't one of them? Harry assumed they could, not really believing they were that different from humans. He just thought about it because Legolas seemed almost emotionless at times, even to his own kin.

The Gryffindor shook his head, trying to rid himself of these thoughts. If Hermione fell in love with Legolas and vice versa, there was nothing he could do except be there for her if the time came. Hermione was his best friend, and he intended to support her no matter what decision she made. Even so, Harry had to wonder about the age difference between the two. Legolas was apparently way too old for Hermione even if she was eighteen… he was around three thousand years old or close to it according to her.

Harry tilted his head with a sigh, earning an upturned eyebrow from Draco. 'Something on your mind, Potter?' the blonde asked, looking back down at the book Hermione had given him to read because he was bored. It was an aged, frayed copy of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard".

The raven-haired Gryffindor shook his head. 'Nah, just have a lot on my mind,' he answered quietly, crossing his arms.

Draco nodded, his eyes not rising from the book. 'Yeah, it has been rough,' he grumbled, shaking his head.

On the ground, Hermione listened to the two boys, hearing the tension in their voices. Harry, in particular, was taking Gandalf's passing hard. He had literally been present when Gandalf died twice now, and Hermione realised he must be feeling lost. Tears filled her eyes, falling down her cheeks as she thought of their lost mentor.

Legolas, who was wading through the water, glanced over at the three companions for a moment. He could sense their turmoil and noticed the tears on Hermione's cheeks. Legolas also knew Harry was questioning his intentions when it came to Hermione. This bothered him little as he knew Harry felt no ill will towards him, it was just mere interest.

Even so, Legolas had no concealed motives or agenda towards the wizard's friend. He was curious about Hermione, nothing more. Legolas frowned, knowing this was not entirely true. His disposition was deceiving his own beliefs, but he had no intention of pursuing any romantic interest in anyone. Not that Legolas considered he had feelings for Hermione. He wanted to protect her and keep her safe from harm, but it was apparent that she didn't need it. Well, that is what he kept telling himself.

Legolas gazed down into the shallow mirror-like stream and closed his eyes. A ballad his mother used to sing to his father came to his mind. He started to hum it gently under his breath, before vocalising it, which earned him the fascination of all the Fellowship. They listened in admiration of his beautiful voice, feeling their tensions lessen.

'Ennas's baw anand an ammen; ennas's baw near an ammen. Man na-hi nad i car-s mín oltha-r, nas tat awaui o ammen?' he sang sweetly. Although Hermione and Aragorn could appreciate the words, the rest of the Fellowship did not need to know Elvish to hear the passion in Legolas's voice.

'Man renit na guin an-en? Man renit na guin an-en? Ir mel boe bel…' Legolas trailed off and stared down into the clear water, his brows lowered in a frown.

Hermione gaped at Legolas in bewilderment, the song reminding her of memories she had long forgotten. It was the song her mother sang to her father on their wedding day. She used to sing it to her father all the time, even after Hermione was born. It was a song full of love, but sorrow as well. 'What is that song?' Hermione asked softly, swallowing thickly as she thought of her parents in Australia and prayed they were still safe.

Legolas turned to look at Hermione. 'It is a Sindarin Serenade. Regrettably, few Elves know it now,' he explained, and Hermione frowned at this. 'Lord Elrond is one who still remembers the old songs. He has passed them on to Lady Arwen and the twin Lords,' Legolas told her, glancing back at the still water.

'My parents also recall the old songs and passed them on to myself,' Legolas added, wading through the water again leisurely. 'I am certain many of my kin know the serenade, but it would be the Sindarin Elves of whom I speak,' he told Hermione, turning back to look at her.

Hermione nodded, but she was genuinely puzzled by his response. If all the old songs are almost forgotten amongst the Elves… were there even any records of them? She asked herself, twisting more grass in her fingers. How did my mother and father know it if it was becoming abandoned knowledge? My mother wasn't even an Elf… so how is that possible? She questioned, her frown deepening.

Legolas watched the array of emotions flitting across Hermione's face, and he unexpectedly felt the yearning to know what was going on in her mind. He didn't know why, but this feeling drew him to walk over to her. Hermione looked up in surprise as Legolas sat on the grass opposite of her. Subconsciously, he picked some grass and weaved it between his fingers in the same way Hermione was wont to do which amazed her further.

There was silence between them for a moment before Legolas started singing once more. 'Ennas's baw linnad an ammen. Ha's pân girmon an ammen,' he sang, closing his eyes. 'Hi ambar lac onlui er lend adarth seidia an ammen,' Legolas whispered the last verse, opening his eyes and gazing at Hermione. 'Man renit na guin an-enMan bertha-na mel foreverIr mel boe bel,' he continued, tilting his head.

Hermione smiled at Legolas and closed her eyes, listening to his voice wash over her. 'Dan dormb mui nîdplada cín hirs. Dormb mui ambar plada cín emig-tîh, a mín tur-gar an-en. A mín tur-mel an-en. An-en na-mín todaui…' Legolas finished singing, staring at Hermione suspiciously. At some point during the last verse, Hermione had subconsciously started humming it under her breath…

oOoOo

It wasn't long before Aragorn had the Fellowship on the move again. The Ranger scouted ahead of the group while they moved sluggishly through the shallow water of the stream. They stumbled on in the fading light towards the shimmer of the vast forest in the distance.

When they caught up to Aragorn, he was waiting on the edge of an open grassy field. They scanned around for Orcs and other enemies before sprinting across to the safety of the beautiful forest.

Harry, Draco and Hermione looked around in awe of the shimmering forest. The floor was strewn with yellow flowers, and above them was a roof of golden leaves. For a moment, Hermione thought the roof was being held up by silver pillars, but her eyes widened when she grasped they were actually the trunks of large grey, trees.

Legolas watched their impressed expressions, his lips twitching faintly in amusement. He fell into step next to the three companions and gazed around, taking in the forest as if he was returning home. 'Ah, Lothlórien,' Legolas mused, and they looked up at him. 'The fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of this land, for in Autumn the leaves fall not, but turn to gold,' he told them, glancing at their attentive expressions.

Legolas continued, looking around at the trees, 'Not till the Spring comes, and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers.' He bent down to touch the petals on the flowers all over the ground. 'The floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees are smooth and grey,' Legolas told them, his eyes sparkling in the glow of the trees around them. 'So still our songs in Mirkwood say,' he added with a small smile.

Hermione smiled up at Legolas, almost seeing a different side to him in Lothlórien. Even as an Elf, she could tell Legolas was in reverence of this forest. She assumed he felt a lot more comforted by his surroundings when it was home to his kin. Although, Hermione recalled Legolas wasn't like this when they were in Rivendell and wondered if it was because of the situation that had been thrust upon them.

In contrast to Legolas's respect of the forest, Gimli peered around timidly and fell into step next to Frodo. 'Stay close, young Hobbits…' he said quietly, taking a firm, but gentle, hold of Frodo's arm. Frodo looked up at him in confusion as they paused, allowing the others to go ahead. 'They say a great Sorceress lives in these woods. An Elf-witch of terrible power,' Gimli told him uneasily, looking around quickly before looking back at the wide-eyed Frodo. 'All who look upon her fall under her spell…' he said, his tone low as if he was telling a ghost story.

Ahead of them, Legolas rolled his eyes before glancing back at Gimli and Frodo with a raised eyebrow. 'Such concocted fables by the Dwarves,' he whispered, causing Hermione to smile and the boys to snicker.

Frodo, who hadn't heard Legolas, faltered in pushing forward as he looked around the wood. Frodo a strange voice hissed into his mind. He looked around in alarm, quickly comprehending that no one else appeared to have heard the voice.

'And are never seen again!' Gimli declared, hastening through the wood followed by Sam, Merry and Pippin who were dangling on his every word.

Frodo frowned tensely. Your coming to us is as the footsteps of doom, the voice said. The small Hobbit glanced down where the Ring was hanging on its chain. Unexpectedly, a flicker of beautiful blue eyes obscured his vision, looking dangerous. You bring great evil here, Ring-bearer the voice trailed off, leaving a strong feeling of doubt in Frodo's heart.

'Mr Frodo?' came Sam's voice, pulling Frodo out of his troubled thoughts.

Frodo jogged to catch up with them, tuning back into Gimli's ramblings. 'Well, here's one Dwarf she won't ensnare so easily,' he said proudly, grinning at the Hobbits. 'I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox!' Gimli chuckled, sauntering ahead of the Hobbits.

The Fellowship were abruptly encircled by armed Elves with deadly arrows targeted at their heads. Legolas was aiming his own loaded bow back at the Elves, but two were pointing at him. Legolas stared at the arrows nestled in the bow, awaiting to be released, knowing they would kill him if he released his arrow.

The leader of the small contingent of Elves stepped forward and raised an eyebrow as he peered down at Gimli. 'The Dwarf breathes so loud we could have shot him in the dark,' he said, before looking back up towards Legolas who lowered his bow and nodded. 'Follow me,' the Elf leader said, moving towards some wooden paths which took them up to concealed platforms in the trees.

The eleven companions stood side-by-side as the Elf leader scrutinised them with narrowed eyes. 'I am Haldir, of Lórien,' he introduced himself, bowing his head curtly.

Haldir wandered up the line they had formed to the end and stopped to face Legolas. 'Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion,' he hailed, placing his hand over his heart and bowing his head. (A/N translation: 'Welcome Legolas, son of Thranduil.') Harry and Draco peeked at Hermione who started interpreting whenever the Elves conversed in their own tongue.

Legolas returned Haldir's gesture. 'Govannas vîn gwennen le, Haldir o Lórien,' he greeted back, but Hermione thought he seemed a bit restless. (A/N translation: 'Our Fellowship stands in your debt, Haldir of Lórien.')

Haldir moved to Aragorn next, eyeing him almost disdainfully. 'A, Aragorn in Dúnedain istannen le ammen,' he welcomed, giving the same Elvish gesture of salutation to the Ranger, but he drew out his hand in a small wave after placing it over his heart. (A/N translation: 'Oh, Aragorn of the Dúnedain, you are known to us.')

'That's the Elvish greeting, right?' Draco murmured, nodding towards Haldir and Aragorn. 'Why was it different for Aragorn?' he asked, tilting his head in confusion.

'Because Aragorn was raised by the Elves, he is respected and acknowledged by them. However, he is not one of them so he would not be afforded the same greeting as they would give their own kin,' Hermione replied softly, gaining the interest of some of the Elves around her who stared at her in slight surprise that she would know the Elvish salutations and what they represent. Legolas also overheard this and glanced over at her with a frown.

'Haldir,' Aragorn replied, returning the same gesture.

Gimli, who was standing next to Aragorn, growled in impatience. 'So much for the legendary courtesy of the Elves! Speak words we can all understand!' he barked, glaring at Haldir.

Haldir looked down at him, his face impassive. 'We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days,' he said, his tone betraying his resentment. Harry, Draco and Hermione could tell there was a mutual hatred there and the tension in the air was thick enough to cut.

Gimli raised his chin insolently. 'And you know what this Dwarf says to that?' he asked, and Haldir tilted his head curiously. 'Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul!' he gritted out, spitting at Haldir's feet. (A/N translation: 'I spit on your grave!') Hermione frowned, unable to understand the Dwarven language, but she could tell whatever Gimli said deeply offended the Elves and Aragorn was also scowling down at the Dwarf.

Aragorn grabbed Gimli by the arm. 'That was not so courteous,' he bit out, shaking his head.

Haldir glared at Gimli before moving on down the line, his face becoming impartial again. He halted when he reached Harry and Hermione. 'Master Harry and Lady Hermione, you are known to us also,' he welcomed, nodding his head to them. 'You are granted safe passage through Lothlórien, courtesy of the Lady of the Wood and the Lord of Lothlórien,' Haldir informed them, giving them the same bow and Elven gesture he had offered Aragorn.

Legolas looked at them with a frown. Why would the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien grant such hospitality and protection to Menfolk of whom they have not met? He questioned, unable to fathom such a reception.

Harry and Hermione greeted Haldir, but they were just as baffled as everyone else at this special welcome. Hermione, in particular, very much wanted to know how they were even known to them.

Haldir stopped abruptly next to Draco, and he frowned as he gaped at him. 'Something on my face,' Draco stammered in discomfort as he touched his face self-consciously.

Haldir tilted his head, his frown intensifying before his eyes widened. He glanced at Legolas fleetingly before looking back at Draco. 'Master Draco,' he said, his tenor sounding almost reverent which had the Fellowship staring at Draco in bewilderment, while the rest of the Elves bowed their heads, placing their hands over their hearts. 'You are most welcome here, of course,' Haldir added, bowing his head at the perplexed Slytherin.

When Haldir moved on, Draco looked at Harry and Hermione who were gaping at him with raised eyebrows. Behind them, he could see the startled faces of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. 'What? They obviously worship me because of my stunning good looks,' Draco quipped, rolling his eyes, but deep down, he was genuinely mystified by the response of the Elves to him.

Haldir paused in front of the Hobbits who looked back at him nervously. His eyes darted to Frodo, and he scowled at him. 'You bring great evil with you,' he said, his eyes narrowing. Haldir turned away and stalked back to Aragorn, looking at him furiously. 'You can go no further,' he told him, turning away and moving to speak to another Elf quickly. No doubt to ask him to keep watch over them.

Sam, Merry and Pippin glanced at Frodo with frowns, while the poor Hobbit watched Haldir leave the area, suddenly uncomfortable with his surroundings. Aragorn sighed, shutting his eyes resignedly. He had been expecting this reaction.

oOoOo

While the Fellowship sat in various places on the platform, Aragorn was arguing their case with Haldir. However, it appeared the Elf leader was not ready to give in to the Ranger anytime soon. 'Boe ammen varied lîn. Andelu i ven!' Aragorn implored, looking at Haldir in exasperation. (A/N translation: 'We need your protection. The road is fell!')

Haldir shook his head and mouthed something none of them could hear, but Aragorn rubbed his forehead despairingly. 'Merin le telim,' Aragorn stated, placing a hand over his heart. (A/N translation: 'I wish we may come with you.')

Haldir raised his eyebrows and spoke quietly again so only Aragorn could hear his words. Whatever the Elf said caused Aragorn to growl heatedly. 'Henio, aníron boe ammen i dulu lîn!' he practically screamed at the Elf who remained stoic. (A/N translation: 'Please, understand, we need your support!')

During this time, Hermione had moved over to sit between Draco and Harry as they watched Aragorn and Haldir. 'So, care to explain?' Draco requested, waving to them with a groan.

Legolas turned to them swiftly, having overheard Draco's question and frowned. Deliberately, he sidled closer to the three companions but was cautious not to make it obvious that he was listening to their discussion. Legolas stopped by one of Haldir's brothers, Rumil, hailing and conversing with him as he tuned in to Hermione's response.

The girl in question sighed in frustration and shook her head. 'Well, thousands of years ago there was a war between the Elves and the Dwarves. The Elves and Dwarves have a mutual hatred towards each other, so Haldir doesn't want to allow Gimli to walk freely in Lothlórien,' she clarified softly, glancing over at the Dwarf who was tilting on his axe and glaring at Haldir.

Hermione continued, 'Also, the Elves are all on edge because of the Ring. Word reached them from Rivendell that it was heading in their direction, but they weren't sure who was taking it. Needless to say, they don't want to have it in their city because it's evil.' Hermione shook her head before glancing around. She spied Legolas speaking to another Elf and hoped he hadn't heard her.

Decreasing her voice further, Hermione peered over at Aragorn and Haldir. 'Aragorn is trying to persuade Haldir to give us passage and protection through Lothlórien. I couldn't hear any of Haldir's responses to this, but it is obvious he is not going to give in anytime soon,' she told them with a shrug.

Frodo sat by himself, looking at the floor of the platform despondently. As he glanced around at the remainder of the Fellowship, he noticed as they met his eyes, they looked away as if he was a scourge to them. Frodo baulked as Aragorn's voice became shriller as he persisted in his dispute with Haldir. Sighing, the Hobbit looked at his friends again, seeing blame which did not truly exist anywhere but in his mind. Frodo suddenly felt very isolated.

Draco, observing the looks the Fellowship were giving Frodo, felt sorry for the small Hobbit. None of what was happening was his fault. He hadn't asked for the burden of taking the Ring to Mordor. Frodo had, in fact, been the courageous one to offer to carry it.

Draco, Harry and Hermione looked up as Aragorn's voice carried over to them again. The Ranger had his hand on Haldir's arm. 'Andelu i ven,' he contended, looking at Haldir in disappointment. (A/N translation: 'The road is very dangerous.')

The Slytherin glanced back at Frodo to see Boromir approaching him and sitting down, placing a reassuring hand on the Hobbits shoulder. 'Gandalf's death was not in vain, nor would he have you give up hope,' the Gondorian told him, looking at Frodo sorrowfully. 'You carry a heavy burden, Frodo. Do not carry the weight of the dead,' Boromir said, squeezing his shoulder before leaving the Hobbit to his thoughts. Draco watched Boromir walk away, thankful that someone had the morality to try and support the small Hobbit.

Everyone watched as Haldir unexpectedly strolled away from Aragorn and over to Frodo. The Hobbit squinted up as a shadow fell over him and into the eyes of the visibly irritated Elf leader. 'Very well. Here we will stay awhile and come to the city of Galadhrim on the morrow,' he said, glancing at Aragorn again indignantly before stalking off. Aragorn, on the other hand, raised his eyebrows at the retreating Elf before beaming at Frodo.

oOoOo

Frodo and Sam sat on one of the many platforms in the trees at Cerin Amroth, gazing out into the beautiful forest. Suddenly, Sam looked up and around with a bewildered expression and rubbed his tired eyes.

Frodo frowned at him. 'What is it?' he asked, glancing around as well.

Sam tilted his head. 'It's an odd thing, Mr Frodo. It's sunlight and a bright day, right enough,' he said, shaking his head. 'I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars, but this is more Elvish than anything I ever heard tell of,' Sam described, turning to Frodo who raised his eyebrows. 'I feel as if I was inside a song if you take my meaning,' he explained, looking around at the forest again.

Frodo was about to reply, but a voice from behind them made him turn to the newcomer. It was Haldir. 'You feel the power of the Lady of Galadhrim,' he clarified, smiling at them. 'Would it please you to climb with me up Cerin Amroth?' he invited, beckoning them to follow him.

Frodo and Sam stood, following Haldir up a long series of platforms until they reached the pinnacle of the trees. They approached the edge of a high platform and stared out in amazement. Middle Earth stretched out for miles and miles to the North.

Draco, Harry and Hermione had found their way up to Cerin Amroth by following them up, and they looked out in awe of the beautiful world around them.

Far to the North, a shadow lingered over the forest of Mirkwood. Haldir pointed to the dark cloud, drawing their gaze to it and they grimaced. 'There lies the fastness of Southern Mirkwood. It is clad in a forest of dark fir, where the trees strive one against another and their branches rot and whither,' Haldir told them, tilting his head.

Haldir glanced at Draco, Harry and Hermione, who were looking out in admiration, before turning his attention back to the two Hobbits. 'In the midst upon a stony height stands Dol Guldur, where long the hidden Enemy had his dwelling. We fear now it is inhabited again, and with power sevenfold. A black cloud lies often over it of late,' he explained miserably, shaking his head.

Hermione frowned at this news. Didn't Legolas say his home was in Mirkwood? Does that mean his kin may be in danger? She wondered, eyeing the dark forest. Hermione made a mental note to ask Legolas about it later.

The Elf leader then pointed out Orthanc to the West and then across to the magnificent view of Mordor and Barad-Dûr in the East. 'In this high place you may see two powers that are oppose one to another; and ever they strive now in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered,' he told them, glancing down at Frodo. 'Not yet,' Haldir added, earning a frown from the Hobbit.

Haldir nodded to them before leaving Cerin Amroth, heading back down the path. Frodo and Sam remained, staring out at the horizon for a few more moments before going after him.

Harry, Draco and Hermione stayed up on the platform for a while gazing out at the vast lands. Eventually, Draco rose, bid his farewells, and left the platform, passing Legolas who was making his way up to Cerin Amroth. The two exchanged nods before continuing on their way.

Harry stood and stretched before realising Legolas was standing near the exit to Cerin Amroth. 'I'm gonna head back,' he grumbled with a yawn. Hermione made to stand up, but Harry held out his hand to stop her. 'Stay, Hermione. I can tell you want to take in as much of this as you can,' he said, smiling at her.

Hermione blushed, knowing Harry was right. 'You know me,' she answered with a smile.

'See you later,' Harry said with a wave and strolled away across the platform. When he got to Legolas, he paused and frowned at the Elf.

Legolas looked back at Harry, his face impassive. 'Do you wish something of me, Master Harry?' the Elf asked, tilting his head.

Harry glanced back at Hermione. 'Look, I see the way you watch over her,' he said, looking back at Legolas who raised his eyebrows. 'Hermione's my friend, and I don't want her to get hurt,' Harry told him with a shrug.

Legolas had so many responses which he knew he should have countered with to quell the Gryffindor's concerns, but all that came out was an indecisive, 'I see.'

Harry narrowed his eyes at Legolas. 'Is that it?' he demanded, turning fully towards the Elf.

Legolas looked over at Hermione. 'You have my word, Master Harry,' he said, his tone soft, but firm. 'I will do nothing to harm, Lady Hermione,' Legolas vowed, glancing back at Harry.

Harry nodded and peered back at his best friend, who was utterly oblivious to her surroundings as she wrote in her book. He looked back at Legolas for a moment before hiking away back down to the camp with a small smile pulling at his lips.

Somehow, Harry knew deep down that the Elf would never hurt Hermione, at least not deliberately, but what kind of friend would he be if he didn't make sure? Plus, Harry believed his brief chat with Legolas was rather illuminating.

Back up on Cerin Amroth, Legolas was somewhat mystified by Harry's confrontation. He didn't quite comprehend his own feelings concerning Hermione, but the young wizard had detected things Legolas hadn't dared question himself. He gazed over at Hermione, seeing a small smile tugging at her lips as she wrote in her book, and Legolas felt something stir in him. Such a simple expression, yet it evoked emotions in him that he had never felt.

Legolas sighed softly and turned to leave Cerin Amroth. He initially had intentions of speaking to Hermione about how she could understand Elvish, but it could wait. It wasn't of critical importance. For now, Legolas would let her have some peace before they moved on.

oOoOo

Back at the camp, which the Elves had set up for them on the platform where they met, Harry sat next to Aragorn who was admiring one of the beautiful yellow flowers which grew in abundance in the forest. Aragorn smiled to himself. 'Arwen vanimelda, namárië,' he whispered, hearing footsteps behind them.

The Ranger sighed softly as he and Harry turned to see Frodo eyeing them curiously. Aragorn smiled up at him. 'Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth, and here my heart dwells ever,' he said, gazing back down at the flower before standing up. Aragorn rested his hand on Frodo's shoulder. 'Unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I,' Aragorn explained with a frown.

Frodo nodded slowly. 'Do you believe we may yet succeed in our quest?' he asked quietly, his tone anxious.

Aragorn took a few steps away and stared into the distance, his eyes determined. 'We shall endure to the last,' he said resolutely.

Harry plucked one of the flowers and moved his thumb over the silky petals broodingly. He hoped they would succeed or all life as they knew it would cease to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: A Sojourn in Lothlórien; An Unexpected Encounter

Haldir led the Fellowship through Lothlórien for most of the day, and they were still very jaded and dirty from their trials in Moria. They were relieved when Haldir stopped on a large hilltop, and they gazed out with wonderment at the vista spread before them.

Several miles towards the South, a large hill rose out of the woods. Upon the hill rose many might mallorn trees, taller than any others. Nestled high in the crown of the mallorns was a beautiful city. It glittered in the low rays of the late afternoon; green, gold and silver. To the East of the city, the woods of Lórien ran down the pale gleam of the great river, Anduin.

Beyond the river, the land appeared flat and barren, formless and vague, until far away, it rose again like a dark dreary wall. The sun that shone on Lothlórien did not have the power to enlighten the shadows that lay beyond.

Haldir smiled radiantly as he looked at the city. 'Caras Galadhon. The heart of Elvendom on Earth,' he said, his eyes twinkling, and he glanced back at them. 'This is the city of Galadhrim where dwell the Lord Celeborn and of Galadriel, Lady of Light,' Haldir explained proudly.

Haldir led the way to Caras Galadhon, picking up the pace, but it still took them a good hour to reach the base of the city. The Fellowship stepped onto a wide fleet filled with a soft light. The walls were green and silver, the roof gold and in its midst was the trunk of the mighty mallorn tree, now tapering towards its crown.

As they climbed the handcrafted paths that spanned the trunk of the tree, Hermione sighed in awe of the beauty around her. The wait is over, a voice unexpectedly spoke into her mind and Hermione jolted in alarm.

Who was that? Hermione asked herself with a frown. Realising she was falling behind the others, she jogged to catch up with them. Harry gave her a side-ways glance and tilted his head curiously, but she just smiled and shrugged. I guess I'll find out, Hermione thought, shaking her head.

By the time they reached the top of the trunk, darkness had fallen, and the city glinted and shone as brilliantly as the moon. Everyone looked around in amazement at their charming surroundings as Haldir stopped and turned to them. 'You will wait here,' he told them before walking away to the only building at the top of the trunk.

The Fellowship huddled together while they waited patiently to be received. After some time, a dazzling light shone from the entrance of the white Elven house and they covered their eyes against the glare. As the light dimmed, Harry, Draco and Hermione could make out two striking figures walking down the stairs, holding hands.

Haldir gazed at them in reverence. 'The Lord Celeborn and Galadriel, Lady of Light,' he announced, bowing his head at them which they returned. The two Elves moved slowly and gracefully towards them.

Celeborn's hair was long and silver, his face grave and beautiful, with no sign of age upon it. Galadriel's hair was of deep gold and timeless unsurpassed beauty. The pictures Hermione had seen of her in Hogwarts: A History did her no justice. She couldn't believe she was seeing Helga Hufflepuff in the flesh. Hermione had so many questions, but she knew they would have to wait.

Celeborn's eyes were hard as he focused on Aragorn. 'The enemy knows you have entered here. What hope you had in secrecy is now gone,' he said cynically, his deep tone almost monotonous.

Celeborn raised his chin arrogantly as he glanced around at them all. 'Eleven there are here, yet twelve there were set out from Rivendell…' he trailed off with a frown, his eyes moving to Legolas. 'Tell me, where is Gandalf? For I much desire to speak with him. I can no longer see him from afar,' Celeborn demanded, making Hermione shiver uneasily at the intensity with which he looked upon them.

Galadriel, who was standing silently beside Celeborn, frowned at Legolas, her eyes troubled. 'Gandalf the Grey did not pass the borders of this land. He has fallen into Shadow,' she said forlornly and gestured for Legolas to tell her what transpired as Celeborn turned to her in astonishment.

Legolas frowned, looking down dejectedly for a moment before meeting Galadriel's gaze. 'He was taken by both Shadow and flame,' he answered softly, his tone morose. 'A Balrog of Morgoth. For we went needlessly into the net of Moria,' Legolas divulged, his eyes pained. The Fellowship bowed their heads in sorrow at the memory of Gandalf's last stand against the Balrog while Celeborn glanced at them all in surprise at this news.

'Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life. We do not yet know his full purpose,' Galadriel told Legolas gently, receiving a nod from the forlorn Elf.

Galadriel scanned the faces of the rest of the Fellowship, her eyes resting on Gimli who shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. 'Do not let the great emptiness of Khazad-Dûm fill your heart Gimli, son of Glóin,' Galadriel told him softly, making the Dwarf look up at her. 'For the world has grown full of peril, and in all lands, love is now mingled with grief,' she said with a small smile and Gimli's lips twitched a little at her words.

Galadriel's eyes wandered over the Fellowship once more before her gaze met with Boromir's. The Gondorian stared back at her, suddenly frightened and tense as her penetrating eyes bore into him. After a moment, Boromir could stand it no longer and looked away from her.

The Lady of Light continued to stare at Boromir for a moment, before turning her attention to Celeborn. 'What now becomes of this Fellowship?' the Elf Lord asked, frowning at them. 'Without Gandalf, hope is lost,' Celeborn told them, his eyes focusing on Aragorn who looked at the ground and closed his eyes.

Galadriel looked at Aragorn, her eyes softening. 'The quest stands upon the edge of a knife,' she told him, and Aragorn raised his eyes to meet hers. 'Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all…' Galadriel trailed off as her gaze fell on Boromir again. 'Yet hope remains while the company is true,' she said, turning her gaze to Harry, Draco and Hermione.

After a moment, Galadriel's eyes fell on Sam and she smiled slightly. 'Do not let your hearts be troubled,' she said, looking back at the Fellowship as a whole. 'Go now and rest, for you are weary with sorrow and much toil,' she told them, watching them all slowly turn to leave.

Frodo found his gaze caught in Galadriel's. 'Tonight, you will sleep…' she said to the Fellowship, but her voice waned, reverberating in his mind. Welcome, Frodo of the Shire, Galadriel whispered, her blue eyes piercing his own. Frodo blinked and unexpectedly he could see Galadriel as she is on the other side. Powerful, divine, and no longer of this world. A piercing white light surrounded her. Her black eyes held him frozen in fear. One who has seen the Eye!

oOoOo

The Elves of Lothlórien had set up a pavilion among the trees near the fountain for the Fellowship. They lay on soft couches while the Elves left food and wine for them. Hermione sat on a stone bench by the fountain, watching the ripples on the surface. She looked up as mournful singing drifted down to them from the trees above.

As she listened, tears filled Hermione's eyes and she reached up to wipe them away. Legolas frowned as he gazed up at the trees, before reaching into the fountain's waters and gliding his fingertips across the surface. Hermione glanced up at him as he closed his eyes sadly. 'A lament for Gandalf…' he said, trailing off as he listened to the sombre chanting.

Aragorn stopped sharpening his sword and looked over at him, before raising his eyes up to the trees. He set his whetstone aside before taking an old ragged cloth to his sword, polishing it.

Merry, who was sitting on one of the couches nearest the fountain, looked over at Legolas. 'What do they say about him?' he asked quietly.

Legolas shook his head slowly. 'I have not the heart to tell you,' he whispered, closing his eyes. 'For me, the grief is still too near,' he added, glancing at Hermione who was letting the tears fall silently.

Harry frowned, looking at the ground miserably, wishing there was more he could have done to help Gandalf. He was a wizard, yet when Gandalf was pulled into the depths, he just watched it happen. Harry slammed his fist into the soft couch heatedly and closed his eyes.

Draco, on the other hand, was standing next to a stream which circled the area where they were staying. His fists were clenched furiously and, for reasons unknown to him, the song seemed to echo inside him like a monster eating away at him. Draco looked up, his eyes rimmed red from unshed tears and he cursed whatever fates were messing with his life. Why can I understand them? Why are they treating me like someone to be worshipped? I don't deserve any of it… he trailed off in his musings and closed his eyes.

On the other side of the pavilion, Frodo lay on his bed listening to the singing and observed the others while Sam and Pippin worked on their own swords on the ground next to the bed which had been set up for Gimli. 'I bet they don't mention his fireworks,' Sam pondered, looking up at the trees. 'There should be a verse about them,' he said, shaking his head.

Sam stood up and climbed onto the nearest table. 'The finest rockets ever seen, they burst in stars of blue and green,' he called, making the Fellowship look over at him.

Pippin frowned glumly, staring at the ground. Aragorn stopped cleaning his sword and growled when Gimli, who was snoring noisily behind him, started giving him a headache. He reached behind him and punched the Dwarf on the arm to stir him.

'Or after thunder, silver showers come falling like a rain of flowers!' Sam finished, closing his eyes. 'Oh, that doesn't do them justice by a long road,' he grumbled, sitting down again next to Pippin, exasperated and upset with himself.

'You did your best,' Pippin said, rubbing Sam's back consolingly.

Aragorn sighed as Gimli's snores ceased and the Dwarf sat up, glaring at him drowsily. The Ranger shrugged, his eyes catching sight of Boromir who was sitting on the trunk of a tree alone some distance away from the pavilion. Aragorn stood and made his way over to him. 'Take some rest. These borders are well-protected,' he whispered to him, gazing out at the vast forest enchanted by the moon-like glow of the city.

'It is a dream; a frightful dream… life is…' Boromir trailed off, and Aragorn looked back over at him, catching the trace of tears on the Gondorian's face in the moonlight. Aragorn frowned, kneeling next to him. 'I will find no rest here,' Boromir said finally, shaking his head.

Boromir took a shuddering breath as Aragorn looked at him curiously. 'I heard her voice inside my head,' he whispered, his voice quivering as he looked down at his hands. 'She spoke of my father and the fall of Gondor,' Boromir disclosed, raising his fearful eyes to Aragorn's. 'She said to me, "even now there is hope left",' he said, breathing heavily as the thought of Gondor falling caused him to tremble. 'But I cannot see it. It is long since we had any hope,' he told the Ranger, tears filling his eyes again.

Aragorn took a deep breath and looked at the ground for a moment. When he finally glanced back at Boromir, the Gondorian had obscured his eyes with one of his hands and the Ranger looked at him worriedly. Aragorn stood and took a seat next to him on the trunk.

After a few moments of silence, Boromir composed himself and turned to look at Aragorn. 'My father is a noble man, but his rule is failing, and our…' he trailed off, swallowing thickly before continuing, '…our people lose faith. He looks to me to make things right…' Boromir paused again, reaching up furiously to wipe his eyes. 'And I would do it. I would see the glory of Gondor restored,' he said, letting out a bitter laugh. Aragorn nodded gloomily and gazed at the trees, his eyes unseeing as he thought about Gondor.

There was silence for a few moments again until Boromir turned to him. 'Have you seen it, Aragorn?' he asked, gazing up at the stars through a gap in the trees with bright eyes. 'The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver. Its banners caught high in the morning breeze…' he trailed off, closing his eyes. 'Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?' Boromir asked in a whisper, a small smile twitching onto his lips.

Aragorn nodded slowly. 'I have seen the White City…' he whispered, looking at the ground sadly. 'Long ago,' he added, his tone making Boromir look at him as he felt the Ranger's love for Minas Tirith and took heart.

'One day, our paths will lead us there and the tower guard will take up the call: "the Lords of Gondor have returned",' Boromir said with a smile at the sullen Ranger.

Aragorn nodded, returning Boromir's smile, but betrayed his disquiet melancholy only when the Gondorian looked away.

oOoOo

Back in the pavilion, Gimli scowled at Aragorn from one of the soft couches having been rudely awoken by him. He sighed as he gazed up at the trees where the mournful chanting was still echoing down to them.

'Gandalf…' Harry whispered, trailing off as he looked down at his wand in shame.

Gimli observed him for a moment before patting him on the shoulder. 'There was nothing that could be done, lad,' he said sadly, making Harry look up at him. 'Hindsight will always hack you in the back when you think of "what ifs", but there will come a time when you will have to let it go and stop blaming yourself,' Gimli told him, and Harry looked away back up to the glowing trees.

Frodo, who was listening to Gimli, sighed as he lay down on his bed. 'Doesn't stop it from hurting though,' he whispered with a frown as he looked up at the twinkling stars through the clearing in the trees.

Aragorn looked over at Frodo from where he was sitting on a chair drinking a goblet of miruvor. 'Death is unavoidable,' he said, making everyone turn to look at him. He sighed and took another sip of his mead. 'Our fear of it makes us play safe, blocks out emotion,' Aragorn said, glancing up at the stars. After a moment, he took his whetstone out from his pocket before picking up his sword from the ground to continue sharpening it.

Draco frowned at the Hobbits who were staring into nothing, sorrow lingering in their eyes. 'Grief is just another wall that prevents you from moving on. I know it's tough to get past it, but you got to break through,' he muttered, making them look at him. Draco recoiled at his own words, realising he sounded like a total hypocrite. He had been moping around since Gandalf's death probably worse than they were.

Hermione glanced over at Draco, seeing the flash of his blue eyes which held more agony than he was inclined to reveal. She wiped the last of her stray tears away and gazed up at the beautiful city, scarcely believing it was real.

'You have been frowning for days,' Draco said, coming over to sit next to her on the stone bench next to the fountain. 'Your face is going to get stuck that way,' he said, staring at her.

Hermione closed her eyes for a moment before turning to glare at him. 'My face is the least of my worries right now,' she whispered, shaking her head.

Draco leaned closer to Hermione, making her pull back in uncertainty. 'That's because… you don't have to look at it,' he retorted, moving back swiftly to avoid the punch she threw at his arm.

'Can't you just sit quietly for a second? Why bother me when you can look at the beauty around you?' Hermione asked in exasperation, shaking her head.

Draco looked around, arching an eyebrow. 'Sure, it's… pretty, I guess,' he said with a shrug, reaching up to scratch the back of his head.

Hermione smiled. 'I think it's rather romantic,' she whispered with a sigh as she subconsciously gazed over at where Legolas was standing at the edge of the area, looking into the trees.

Draco scoffed and rolled his eyes. 'I think you're a hopeless romantic who just discovered romance is hopeless,' he muttered, crossing his arms.

Hermione shot Draco a glare. 'Why do you… ugh! What is with you?' she asked him, and he shrugged, smirking at her. 'You're so irritating,' she groaned, shaking her head and standing up to walk away.

Draco followed, snickering. 'No, I'm multi-talented,' he said, making her stop and look at him with a frown. 'I can talk and piss you off at the same time,' he laughed, and Hermione smacked him gently across the back of the head, letting out a chuckle herself.

oOoOo

Hermione lay in her bed, gazing up at the stars while counting down from one hundred in her mind in an attempt to fall asleep. It was silent in the pavilion, except for the soft snoring of Sam in the bed behind hers.

Hermione sighed, turning over in her own bed, but she couldn't get comfortable. Grumbling, she sat up and snatched up her notebook from her beaded bag and a quill so she could begin documenting their time in Lothlórien. She moved over to the small table where the jugs of mead left by the Elves for them earlier had been discarded. She moved them out of the way, creating a space for herself to write before sitting down and dipping her quill in her inkwell.

As she thought about how to start, Hermione glanced around the pavilion, seeing Gimli standing over by the tree Boromir was sitting on earlier. Legolas was standing by the fountain, staring into its depths absorbedly and she speculated if he was in an Elven sleep.

'Legolas,' came a soft silky voice from near the fountain and Hermione glanced up in interest, grasping she shouldn't have been able to hear them so clearly from her position.

It was an Elf-Maiden of exceptional beauty. She had long inky black hair and the brightest, most magnificent green eyes Hermione had ever seen. They made Harry's eyes seem dull in comparison. She was wearing a dress which was similar to the one Hermione wore on their last evening in Rivendell, except it was a dark green.

Legolas turned towards her, his back now to where Hermione was sitting struggling not to observe them or eavesdrop on their discussion. He bowed to the Elf-Maiden and kissed her hand. 'Lady Oriesk,' Legolas welcomed in surprise, letting go of her hand.

Lady Oriesk tutted, moving closer to Legolas. 'Mín gar-mín were hîn, Legolas. Cin na nin formallui? Im iest cin nall-nin Valaria,' she said curtly, a frown settling on her brow. (A/N Translation: 'We have known each other since we were children, Legolas. Must you always refer to me so formally? I wish you would call me Valaria.')

Legolas bowed his head. 'Naun Gohena nin, mui dî, formallui ier haime amin im na,' he countered, looking away to the fountain. (A/N Translation: 'My apologies, my Lady, formalities are a habit I am yet to break.')

Hermione tried to disregard the niggling in the pit of her stomach as Valaria lifted her hand, resting it on Legolas' cheek affectionately. 'Amin hîtu lle,' she whispered, tilting her head as she gazed at him lovingly. (A/N Translation: 'I missed you.')

'A amin, lle,' Legolas replied, reaching up and gently taking her hand from his cheek. (A/N Translation: 'And I, you.')

Hermione looked back at her notebook, her quill clutched rigidly in her hand. She must be Legolas' wife or something, she assumed, unsure why this knowledge bothered her so much.

'Amman ier lle sinome?' Legolas asked her, letting go of her hand and turning to look back into the fountain. (A/N Translation: 'Why are you here?')

Valaria placed her hand on her hip and glanced past Legolas, catching sight of Hermione who was glaring at her notebook. Legolas looked up at Valaria when she didn't respond and turned to find out what she had noticed. Legolas's eyes fell on Hermione and he could tell she wasn't writing. If anything, she appeared irritated and he questioned what could be troubling her.

Legolas glanced back at Valaria to find her staring at him and something flickered in her eyes. 'Valaria?' he asked her, bringing her attention back to him.

Valaria shook her head slowly, her eyes moving back to Hermione and narrowing somewhat before she turned her attention back to Legolas, smiling at him. 'Your father was… curious about this Fellowship you are part of,' she answered finally, raising her voice a little and speaking in Westron which made Legolas frown. Valaria leaned against the fountain. 'And so am I,' she added, looking at the ground.

Legolas narrowed his eyes at her before turning away from the fountain. He glanced over at Hermione for a moment and realised Valaria must have reverted to Westron so she could understand them… but why?

He tilted his head for a moment as he wondered what to make of Valaria being in Lothlórien. He didn't believe for a second that his father sent her; he was the reason Legolas went to Rivendell in the first place. Why is she here? Legolas bristled, is she following me? He thought, casting Valaria a side-glance.

'Who is she?' Valaria asked nonchalantly, nodding to where Hermione was sitting.

Legolas sighed. He should have predicted the topic of conversation would shift to Hermione. 'She is a member of this Fellowship,' he replied, glancing at Valaria to see she was stunned by this information.

'A woman?' Valaria asked in incredulity, before turning back to look at Hermione in disapproval. 'Certainly, Lord Elrond would not elect a mortal woman to journey with men,' she said, her tone almost outraged which made Legolas's frown deepen.

Legolas shook his head. 'She is a formidable Istari, mentored by Gandalf,' he told her, detecting something flash in her eyes again.

Valaria nodded distractedly. 'I see,' she answered before looking back at Legolas. 'In any event, the Fellowship was not my only motivation for coming to Lothlórien, Legolas,' she divulged, directing a scowl at Hermione before gazing down at her hand.

From where she was sitting and failing to disregard the discussion, Hermione sought to keep her interest in check, but she couldn't help stealing a glance at them and noticed the ring adorning Valaria's finger. So, they are married… or engaged? She thought, the niggling in her stomach increasing. She unexpectedly felt an emptiness she had never felt before.

Legolas peered down at Valaria's hand as well and sighed before shaking his head. 'Valaria…' he trailed off.

'I have not seen you in so long, I did not know if you still wished to be with me,' Valaria stated, twisting the ring on her finger.

Legolas shook his head. 'How many times have we been through this?' he asked her, his tone betraying his irritation.

'As long as it takes!' Valaria snapped back, tears forming in her eyes.

Legolas sighed. 'You know it would be dishonest,' he said softly, calming himself and turning to walk away.

Valaria frowned. 'It would not. Many Elves resolve for marriage without love. Why would this be any different?' she asked him.

Legolas turned back to her. 'I do not wish to hurt you,' he whispered, reaching down into the fountain to touch the water before turning to walk away again.

'When are you going to cease denying your father's wishes for you to marry?' Valaria said to him heatedly, causing him to stop in his tracks.

Legolas turned back to her, his eyes flashing. 'My father's wishes?' he asked softly, taking a step towards her. 'My father knows my sentiments on the matter. He knows I will marry once my search ends for the one my heart belongs to and who I will spend eternity with in Valinor,' Legolas told her irritably.

Hermione's heart skipped a beat as she glanced over at them. She had never seen Legolas look even remotely angry in the whole time she had known him. Indifferent and detached, yes, but never enraged. Hermione had never believed the Elves could get angry; they always seemed too serene, kind-hearted and jovial to know what anger was. Hermione suddenly felt like an intruder to a conversation she shouldn't be hearing and leisurely began to put her things away as casually as possible so as not to alert them to her.

Legolas took another step towards Valaria. 'You know the curse of our people as well as I,' he whispered, his voice low and almost dangerous.

Curse? Hermione wondered, unable to stop herself from staring at Legolas in bewilderment.

Valaria sighed. 'Even so, it is the wish of your father,' she countered, not backing down.

Legolas shook his head. 'I am mindful, considering you persist in enlightening me every time we are reunited. I am 2931 years old and well beyond the point of searching for my soul-mate. I do not comprehend why you continue to harass me with a futile proposal we made as children before we truly comprehended the curse,' he countered resignedly.

Valaria looked away from him, scorned by his words. 'I…' she trailed off, unable to answer.

'What does my mother think?' Legolas asked Valaria softly, after a moment of unpleasant silence.

Valaria looked up at Legolas, a pale glimmer of hope in her eyes. 'I am sure your mother would be overjoyed to unite us in marriage. She has always been fond of our friendship,' she answered, and Hermione could tell she was clutching at straws with Legolas.

Hermione could tell the Elven Prince was not impressed. 'A mere observation, and highly inaccurate,' Legolas answered, raising an eyebrow at her and Valaria stared back in uncertainty. 'My mother knows I will not marry unless, by some miracle, I find my soul-mate. She knew this a long time ago,' he explained, looking away from her to where Hermione was still trying to pack up her things.

However, Valaria noticed this and she didn't overlook the coldness dissipating from Legolas's eyes to be replaced by a gentleness she had never seen before as he gazed at the mortal girl. The Elf-Maiden began laughing making Legolas look at her in confusion. 'I see now. You have fallen, but you wish to spare my feelings, correct?' she asked him, a tinge of resentment colouring her tone.

Legolas frowned, how did Valaria come to that assumption? He wondered before looking at the Elf-Maiden. 'It is not your concern, Valaria,' he replied, shifting from one foot to the other.

'I am no fool, Legolas,' Valaria whispered, her tone bordering on anger. 'It is rare for you to get nervous. I can see in your eyes you have fallen, whether you have realised it or not,' she said, stepping towards him slowly. 'Only Elves are privy to this curse and it is remarkable for them to fall for another who does not love them back,' Valaria whispered, eyeing the ground morosely for a moment before turning her attention back to Legolas. 'If I am correct, you have fallen for a mortal-'

'I have not found her yet,' Legolas cut her off testily, but his eyes shifted back over to Hermione subconsciously and watched her walk over to her bed.

Valaria observed this and glared at Hermione's back before walking right up to Legolas and prodding him in the chest. 'You know our conduct, Legolas. Your mother and father would never permit such a union. Especially after…' she trailed off, gazing into Legolas's eyes and he swiftly felt a strange pull on his heart; it felt like fear.

'If you would let me, I could win your affection,' Valaria whispered, peeking over to where Hermione was now watching them as she sat on her bed. The Elf-Maiden smiled before reaching up and pulling Legolas into a kiss.

Witnessing this exchange, Hermione felt like she had been plunged into an ocean full of icy water. She looked away as she struggled to make sense of why she felt this way. The only explanation for this feeling was that she was jealous, but why? Hermione knew she found Legolas attractive, but for a mere kiss to warrant such intense emotions she didn't understand was beyond her.

Hermione stood with a sigh, deciding to go for a walk to clear her head and sort out her feelings so she missed Legolas pushing the Elf-Maiden away furiously. He glanced over to Hermione's bed to find her gone before cursing under his breath and marching away from a self-satisfied Valaria.

Draco stepped out from behind the pavilion and crossed his arms. He had seen and heard the exchange between Legolas and the Elf-Maiden. Draco's eyes fell on Hermione's back as she stood some ways away at the edge of the stream, her head bent in thought. He casually kicked the bed Harry was in, knowing the Gryffindor was, no doubt, awake.

'Did you hear that?' Draco asked him softly, watching the smug Elf-Maiden walk away, satisfied with whatever damage she believed she had caused.

Harry sat up and nodded. 'She's going to be trouble. I don't like the looks she gave Hermione,' he answered reflectively, crossing his arms.

'Legolas looked fairly peeved at her,' Draco mumbled, digging his toe into the dirt.

Harry hummed in agreement as he looked into the trees to where Hermione was now sitting on the grass, holding her knees. 'I don't think Hermione's realised yet,' he muttered sadly, frowning at his best friend.

Draco looked up from where he was concentrating on the hole he was creating in the dirt with his foot. 'Realised what?' he asked distractedly, looking over at Hermione.

Harry raised his eyebrows at Draco in disbelief. 'Haven't you noticed the way they act around each other?' he asked the contemplative Slytherin.

Draco tilted his head and scowled at the ground. 'Sure, I have noticed,' he mumbled, crossing his arms. 'Anyway, we need to figure out what to do about that Elf chick,' Draco said, guiding the discussion back to what he wanted to talk about with Harry.

Harry frowned at Draco wondering what his interest in this was. Sure, he had become a bit closer to Harry and Hermione, but he wasn't sure what to make of his hostility towards the Elf-Maiden. 'I'm sure she was just being possessive or something. I mean Hermione is spending a lot of time with Legolas who Valaria obviously wants to be with. She probably just wishes she was in Hermione's shoes or wanted to stake her claim to prevent Hermione from pursuing Legolas as more than a friend,' Harry answered with a shrug, wiping some dirt from his bed.

Draco opened his mouth to answer, but snapped it shut. He peered back into the trees at Hermione and wondered why he even cared. Harry was right. It was almost certainly just a ridiculous act of jealousy and would blow over. Moreover, Legolas would deal with it. Valaria was his predicament, not theirs. And Legolas was Hermione's problem to deal with. If she fell in love with him, then that was her prerogative.

'Yes, you're right,' Draco answered eventually, shaking his head.

Harry looked up at Draco, studying him for a moment before shaking his own head. 'We'll keep an eye on things. If it turns out to be something worse and Valaria tries to hurt Hermione, then we'll get involved. For now, it's none of our business,' he told him, receiving a nod from the sulking Slytherin.

oOoOo

Legolas was seething but he wasn't entirely sure why. He leaned against a tree and closed his eyes, breathing deeply as he tried to sort out his scattered thoughts. Valaria… why is she doing this? How many times must I tell her we will only ever be friends? Legolas opened his eyes, a frown appearing on his brow. Do I want such a friend? Did I do this to her? He questioned to himself, feeling dismayed at the thought.

When they were children, Legolas fully believed Valaria would be the one to hold his heart. However, his affection for her never increased beyond that of friendship whereas she fell in love with him. Such a rare ordeal. For an Elf to love another of their kin, but be rejected. The thought made Legolas feel guilty even though it wasn't his fault.

Legolas glanced over as Gimli picked up his axe and walked towards him. They agreed to patrol the left-hand perimeter of Lothlórien earlier in the night while Haldir and his brothers patrolled the right-hand side. Gimli stopped by the quiet Elf and shouldered his axe. 'Shall we?' the Dwarf asked, gesturing to the path through the trees.

Legolas nodded, falling into step next to Gimli. After a while of silence, the Dwarf grumbled to himself before turning to look at Legolas. 'How long are we staying here?' he asked, eyeing the beautiful forest uneasily. Gimli had been on edge since before they even arrived in Lothlórien. It was the territory of enemies in his eyes. He felt like an unwelcome and unsought guest in their wood.

Legolas tilted his head and stopped walking. 'I do not know,' he answered, before leaping into a nearby tree and crouching on a branch. He looked out through the trees with trained, but hardened eyes.

Gimli raised an eyebrow at Legolas, knowing something was troubling the Elf. He was uncharacteristically broody, and it was unsettling. Gimli's eyebrows almost disappeared into his hairline when Legolas let out a low snarl. He blinked, nervous about Legolas's odd behaviour and he wasn't sure he was at ease with being around an enraged Elf. 'What is wrong with you?' Gimli asked, leaning forward on the hilt of his axe.

Legolas glanced down at Gimli before jumping out of the tree and landing less elegantly beside him than was typical. 'I am fine, Dwarf. A few trivial grievances I am working through,' he answered, continuing to walk along the path.

Gimli nodded, but he was not entirely convinced as he fell into step with Legolas. 'So, you seemed cosy with your girlfriend earlier,' he snickered, missing the flash of fury which crossed Legolas's eyes.

In the blink of an eye, Legolas pulled out an arrow, docked it to his bow, and shot it over Gimli's head. Gimli froze in alarm, gawking at Legolas with wide eyes as the Elf eased his stance and glared at the Dwarf. 'What?' Gimli muttered, looking from Legolas's bow to the arrow in confusion and incredulity.

'I was venting,' Legolas answered plainly, replacing his bow on his back and continuing to walk.

Gimli reached up and rubbed a hand over his face. 'Note to self: do not mention the Elf's love life,' he muttered to himself, shaking his head and following Legolas a bit more cautiously.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: The Mirror of Galadriel; Lúthien's Lament

When Hermione finally made her way back to the pavilion, she knew it was fairly late in the night. She instantly noticed that there were five empty beds and looked around the area. She knew Legolas and Gimli were patrolling, but she was curious as to where Draco, Harry and Frodo were. Sitting on her own bed, she let out a sigh. She knew there was nothing to fret about. Lothlórien was secure and they were all old enough to be out exploring if they wished.

Hermione gazed up at the glittering stars peeking through the trees overhead and thought back to the events of earlier. After taking some time away to think, she determined that she was just astonished to find out Legolas had a partner. He had always come across as a lone wolf and she assumed he wasn't the romantic or relationship type. She sulked, picking the corner of her nail in frustration. She knew she was attracted to him, but then he was a beautiful creature of the wood and a Prince as well. It was just a ridiculous romantic notion and infatuation that would pass.

Moreover, the Fellowship had much greater things to worry about than romance.

Hermione crossed her arms and shook her head. It was just a fleeting fancy, nothing more. A small crush on an otherworldly figure who just happened to be the kind of person she would go for. Her thoughts shifted to Draco and her lips twitched marginally. If Harry knew she had crushed on Draco in the past, he would disown her. It was bizarre though, because she hadn't thought about her crush on Draco since meeting Legolas. It was as if Legolas took the mantle.

Hermione shook her head again. No, I'll not think on it. I don't even know why I had a crush on Draco. He was such an ass to us in the past, she thought with a frown. And Legolas hasn't exactly been kind. Sometimes he can be downright rude. Most of the time I feel like he despises me, she thought with a sigh.

A noise on her right startled Hermione from her thoughts and she frowned when she noticed Draco and Harry sneaking away from camp. She watched them for a moment, wondering what they were up to until she saw Frodo ahead of them peering down some stairs at the entrance to the clearing set up for them.

Curious, Hermione followed them but noticed Draco kept on walking past the stairs while Harry went down them after Frodo. What are they up to? She questioned as she watched Draco disappear into the trees. She stopped at the top of a spiral staircase leading down into another clearing which looked almost like a sacred place. The floor was formed of a mosaic depicting a woman pouring water into a sloping pedestal.

When Hermione went down the stairs and stood on the mosaic, she grasped that some of them had runes carved into them. Her eyes widened as she knelt to touch one of the runes which gave off a warm glow beneath her fingertips. She looked up, noticing Frodo was eyeing a beautiful marble pedestal in the centre of the mosaic and beside him was Harry. They were talking in hushed whispers while pointing at the top of the pedestal. She made her way over to them, discerning the pedestal had a branching tree engraved into the side of it and on the ends of the branches were more runes.

'What are you doing?' Hermione whispered, placing a hand on her hip.

Frodo and Harry spun around in fright and eyed her sheepishly. 'We were just exploring,' Harry replied, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.

Hermione raised her eyebrows but glanced past them at the pedestal with curiosity. She investigated the surface which held a shallow silver basin. In the middle of the basin was another carved rune.

Hermione gazed around at the rest of the clearing, noting a fountain crafted into a wall, besieged by ivy. Next to the fountain was a beautiful silver jug with the same rune etched into it that was in the centre of the silver basin. I wonder what they are used for, Hermione thought, looking back at the rune and musing on its significance.

'What are all these runes?' Harry asked curiously, moving over to inspect the silver jug.

Hermione frowned, leaning closer to the rune and touching it like she did with the one on the ground. This time it flashed green and sent a jolt through her fingertip. 'Ouch!' she yelped, shaking her hand. Harry came over to her while Frodo looked on worriedly. 'I'm fine. Damn thing just shocked me,' she muttered, glaring at the rune.

Hermione scrutinised the rune again. 'I assume these are Elvish runes,' she said to them and placed her hand on her hip pensively. 'But they are not like the ones I studied in Ancient Runes,' she added, crossing her arms.

Harry nodded reflectively. 'Did Gandalf ever show them to you when you were learning about the Elves?' he questioned her, kneeling to look at the runes on the side of the pedestal.

Hermione shook her head. 'No, he never told me about them. I recognise some of them so I must have seen them in a book when I was young. My parents never taught me about Elven runes because they didn't know much about them except from stories they had heard,' she countered with a sigh.

Frodo and Harry eventually gave up on attempting to figure out what the runes meant, but Hermione was determined to try and piece together what it could symbolise and what this clearing was used for. As she gazed at the rune in the centre of the silver basin, she found herself drawn by a compelling urge to know what it was.

'Curiosity is not a sin, but there are times when you should implement caution,' a voice said from above Hermione and she jumped back from the pedestal in alarm. There, standing before the pedestal, was Galadriel, her white dress gleaming in the moonlight cast above them.

'I'm sorry,' Hermione whispered, stepping away from the pedestal as Harry and Frodo came to her side.

'No detriment has been done. This place is sacred to the Elves, but entry is not forbidden,' Galadriel told them, a small smile on her lips.

Hermione gazed at her in admiration. The hundreds of questions she wanted to ask Galadriel when she first saw her completely vanished from her mind. 'I sense you have questions regarding my past,' Galadriel said tenderly, glancing down into the silver basin. 'I was once known as Helga Hufflepuff as Gandalf disclosed to you in Rivendell. I disavowed that pseudonym and returned to my true kin,' she told them with a radiant smile.

'Is that because of what happened with Slytherin?' Harry asked, receiving a shove in the side from Hermione who frowned at his lack of tact.

Galadriel tilted her head. 'In part. Hogwarts was torn apart due to our futile dispute,' she replied sorrowfully, moving around the side of the pedestal and gazing at a mural on one of the walls. To Harry and Hermione's amazement, it altered to depict Hogwarts as it must have looked when it was originally constructed. Galadriel lay her hand on the mural. 'After Salazar disappeared, we made sure Hogwarts would continue to flourish. Our dream would live on,' she whispered, placing a hand over her heart.

Harry crossed his arms, unable to look away from the mural which rendered a place which retained so many wonderful and unpleasant memories for him. He had so many questions, but he was conscious of the bewildered Frodo standing with them. Gandalf had asked them not to divulge that they were from the future just yet.

'We can speak of this another time,' Galadriel said as if she knew what Harry was thinking and moved back over to the pedestal.

Harry and Hermione nodded, both gazing at the mural and remembering their days at Hogwarts. Sorrow clouded their eyes as Ron came to mind. 'Do you think our actions here will alter what happened?' Hermione whispered, tears gathering in her eyes.

Harry sighed. 'I don't know,' he muttered, turning away from the mural and placing a consoling hand on Hermione's shoulder.

Galadriel beckoned them to come over to her and the three companions stood before the pedestal curiously. 'Gandalf bade for you to come to me for there are many things I know,' she said, glancing between Harry and Hermione who nodded. 'For now, I must speak with Frodo about the current matter. Our discussion will come after,' she told them, before turning to look at Frodo who was frowning at her.

Galadriel walked over to the fountain, filling the jug with water. 'Will you look into the mirror?' she asked Frodo, turning back to him.

Frodo stared at her cagily. 'What will I see?' he asked her, shying away from the pedestal in trepidation as Harry and Hermione watched in interest, both wondering what mirror Galadriel was referring to.

Galadriel smiled at the Hobbit, not at all affected by his suspicion. 'Even the wisest cannot tell,' she answered, walking back over to the pedestal with the silver jug in hand. 'For the mirror shows many things,' she whispered, pouring the clear water into the silver basin before looking back up at Frodo. 'Things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass,' she told him, gazing down at the silver basin where a green glow rose from the water as the rune came to life.

Frodo, out of curiosity more than anything else, slowly stepped up to the pedestal and peered into the glossy surface. He frowned, seeing only himself and the night sky reflecting back at him. He glanced up at Galadriel in uncertainty. 'I don't see anything,' he said, but received no answer as she looked down into the water. He shook his head and gazed down into the water again.

This time, the water churned around in the basin and a figure took form. It was the bowed figure of an old man, clad in white robes strolling down a long road. Frodo leaned closer to the mirror's surface as the figure raised his head and stared directly into his eyes. He gasped, his face lighting up with hope. 'Gandalf!' he cried joyously, catching Harry and Hermione's attention as they attempted to glimpse what was being shown to Frodo in the mirror, but all they could see was the glowing green rune at the bottom. In the image, Gandalf maintained his gaze at Frodo with a fierce intensity as he stretched out his hand towards the surface of the mirror.

Abruptly the image flared, burning out to white and Frodo sulked. The vision shifted and revealed recent visions of them waiting in Cerin Amroth while Aragorn disputed with Haldir. Frodo saw the glances the Fellowship were giving him when they believed he was at fault for this and realised it hadn't been his imagination. The first was of Legolas turning to look at him with a peculiar expression he could not place. The image switched to Merry and Pippin eyeing him before speaking softly. Then it shifted to Sam who frowned at him before looking away to the ground. Frodo swallowed a lump forming in his throat.

The vision flickered and shifted to white again before changing to display Bag End, his home in the Shire. It revealed the Hobbits going about their daily lives and the Green Dragon Inn where he spent many nights with his friends drinking.

The image swiftly altered again, and Frodo gasped in horror at what he was witnessing. The Shire was in ruins. He reeled back as the mirror seemed to expand, the nightmarish vision sweeping past his head, engulfing him entirely. Buildings were burning; bodies were strewn about the ground; dark silhouettes of Orcs were ransacking and destroying Hobbiton; Bag End was billowing in flames; the Party Tree was hacked down.

Frodo's eyes widened in dismay as the image shifted again, but Hobbiton was now an industrial wasteland. The fields and trees were destroyed, replaced with brick factories belching smoke. Orcs brutally shepherded manacled Hobbits into the factories. Sam, Merry and Rosie Cotton were among them, soot-stained and sobbing as they disappeared into the factory hellhole.

Frodo choked back a scream as the vision unexpectedly shifted to black and out of the dark abyss a single eye grew. Frodo froze, unable to move or cry out as the Ring dangled from his neck, inches above the water, now shimmering with curls of steam as fire erupted around the eye.

With a yell, Frodo pushed himself away from the pedestal and crumpled to the ground. The gleaming light immediately faded from the mirror as he came to his senses, in disbelief of what he saw.

Harry and Hermione ran to Frodo's side, helping the stricken Hobbit to his feet as he stared at Galadriel questioningly. Harry and Hermione looked at her as well where she stood still as a statue, unmoved and untouched by the horror that Frodo witnessed.

'I know what it is you saw…' Galadriel whispered, trailing off and narrowing her eyes at Frodo. 'For it is also in my mind,' she divulged as Harry and Hermione looked on in bewilderment.

Galadriel stared at Frodo intensely as the two Gryffindor's waited for her to continue, but she didn't say anything else to them. Her voice resonated in Frodo's mind. The Fellowship is breaking. It is already begun. He will try to take the Ring. You know of whom I speak. One by one, it will destroy them all. Frodo tensed beside them and looked down, his hand clutching the Ring before gazing back up at Galadriel.

Harry and Hermione watched this in confusion, wondering if Galadriel was communicating directly into Frodo's mind. To their surprise, he unclasped the Ring from around his neck and held it out to Galadriel. If you ask it of me, I will give you the One Ring, he spoke back to her in his mind.

Galadriel glanced between Frodo and the Ring in wonder, her eyes widening. 'You offer it to me freely…' she trailed off in a hiss as she strode towards him, her hand stretching out to take the Ring. 'I do not deny my heart has greatly desired this,' she said greedily.

Harry and Hermione drew their wands, unsure of Galadriel's intentions. If she attempted to hurt Frodo, they would stop her, even if she was Helga Hufflepuff. Her eyes darkened, shifting to them and she raised her hand. Harry and Hermione found they could not move their bodies. They could not speak and could only observe what was happening in front of them.

Galadriel appeared to rise in stature, her body glowing, and her arms spread out like she was about to take flight. Her eyes became black, like a malevolent spirit had possessed her. When she spoke, it sounded like an eerie echoing voice corrupted by evil. 'In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a Queen, not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Dawn. Treacherous as the Sea! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me and despair!' she disclosed as Frodo took a step away from her in dread.

Galadriel let out a laugh, becoming a slender Elf-Maiden once more, clad in simple white. 'I pass the test,' she whispered gently, her voice soft and woeful. She waved her hand and Harry and Hermione realised they could move again. She laughed bitterly. 'I will diminish and go into the West, and remain Galadriel,' she said, lowering her head despondently.

Frodo glanced down at the Ring lying on the palm of his hand, his confidence draining away. 'I cannot do this alone,' he said to Galadriel quietly and Harry placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Galadriel gazed back up at him. 'You are a Ring-bearer, Frodo. To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone,' she counselled, lifting her hand and baring to them a beautiful white ring adorned with a flower. 'This is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant. And I am its keeper,' Galadriel revealed, looking down at Nenya scornfully before concealing it once more. She smiled at Frodo. 'This task was appointed to you. And if you do not find a way, no one will,' she clarified, looking at Frodo in sympathy.

Frodo nodded, grasping what Galadriel was trying to tell him. 'Then I know what I must do. It's just… I'm afraid to do it,' he countered cryptically, looking back down at the Ring. Harry and Hermione glanced at each other uneasily, wondering what he meant by that.

Galadriel's eyes softened as she knelt to Frodo's height and gazed at him keenly. 'Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,' she said with a smile as he glanced down at the Ring and closed his fingers around it. Her smile widened as she stood back up. 'Now, you need to rest, Frodo. I must speak with Harry and Hermione,' she advised him with a nod before walking back over to the mirror.

Frodo nodded and turned to Harry and Hermione. 'Goodnight,' he whispered, receiving a pat on the shoulder from Harry and a quick hug from Hermione. The Hobbit ambled away, giving them a small wave before disappearing back up the spiral steps.

Harry and Hermione glanced at each other before stepping up to the mirror where Galadriel was waiting for them. She smiled at them tenderly. 'Do you know what it is I am about to expose?' she invited glancing between them as they both shook their heads in the negative. 'You carry two pieces of jewellery of great significance. The energy contained within them, though they differ greatly from each other, are said to be more powerful than Sauron's Ring combined,' she described, and their eyes widened in disbelief.

'So, you have never seen them?' Hermione questioned, grasping what Galadriel said.

'No, I do not know what they are or what they look like. Even the mirror has shrouded this from me,' Galadriel replied, glancing down at the pedestal with a frown. After a moment, she looked back up at them. 'Will you reveal them to me?' she requested, and they nodded.

Harry and Hermione reached into their pockets where they kept them hidden and held them out to Galadriel. Her eyes widened as she stared at them, taking Harry's first and examining it carefully. 'I was not anticipating this,' she murmured, turning the ring over in her hand.

'What is it?' Harry asked timidly as he watched her.

Galadriel glanced up at him from the ring, her eyes wide in amazement. 'This is the Ring of Barahir. It is an heirloom passed down to the first sons of all the Kings who have ruled Gondor,' she disclosed to a dumbfounded Harry.

Harry stared at the ring with a grimace. 'So why do I have it?' he demanded, not sure he wanted to know.

Galadriel tilted her head reflectively. 'In your era, Gondor is but an ancient legend imparted to children of both non-magical and magical backgrounds, though the tale differs. The line of Gondor was never broken which must make you the last living descendant of Isildur,' she enlightened him.

Harry blinked as he struggled to process this knowledge. Hermione watched him carefully, startled by this news. 'So… that implies…' Harry trailed off, closing his eyes tightly, a pained expression settling on his face.

Galadriel stared at him sympathetically. 'Aragorn is Isildur's Heir in this age making him Heir to the throne of Gondor. If he persists in his rejection to take the crown, the privilege, by default, will pass to you as being the only living next of kin to him in this era. Nevertheless-' she was cut off by Harry as he laughed cynically.

'So, what? Now I'm some Prince on top of everything else?' Harry demanded in incredulity, his tone a little harsher than he intended. He sat down, leaning his head in his hands. Harry never wanted this. He just wanted a peaceful life where he was an ordinary young man living a normal life. He never chose to be the hero of the Wizarding World, let alone the responsibility of a King in this time.

Trouble seemed to come to Harry, in big dark swarms. It had been like that since he was a child. He was not part of this time period; he was not one of them. He was no Hero or King. After the Battle of Hogwarts, this just seemed like another cliché forced upon him. Then again, he occasionally felt like he was the same as any other brooding underdog avenger against an empire of evil, out to right a grave injustice. Only this time, he had been so determined in his pursuit for vengeance having realised the real culprit all along had been Sauron. But it shouldn't have had anything to do with him. Everything was subjective. This was just another private apocalypse he had to deal with.

Hermione watched Harry having his internal struggle dejectedly before turning to Galadriel. 'Harry doesn't need this. He only ever wanted to have a quiet life, but because of a Prophecy he must kill the man who murdered his parents. He's not a King and he shouldn't be obliged to be one in a Kingdom he knows nothing about. Not to mention we don't even belong in this time,' Hermione said, shaking her head. 'We hoped by coming here we could get support with this mission…' she trailed off, laying her hand on Harry's shoulder soothingly.

Galadriel observed them for a moment, her eyes slightly narrowed. 'Hope is comforting. It permits us to accept fate, no matter how tragic it might be,' she said, glancing down at Nenya again broodingly as Hermione glanced back at her in slight frustration. 'Harry will not be compelled to take the throne of Gondor. Like Aragorn, he may deny it if he wishes,' Galadriel divulged, frowning at them.

Harry looked up at her, feeling a load off his shoulders at the knowledge that he wouldn't have to take the throne. He stood and sighed. 'Is there anything else I need to know? What about the ring? What do we need to do to activate them?' he asked, crossing his arms.

Galadriel closed her eyes before opening them and gazing at Harry intensely. What you pursue will be yours… but you will lose something dear, she said into his mind.

Harry tensed, frowning uneasily. 'What do you mean?' he questioned her in concern, wondering what else he could possibly lose. He glanced at Hermione, appreciating she was all he had left out of everyone he genuinely cared about in his time and wondered if Galadriel meant her.

Galadriel clasped her hands together in front of her. 'Beware, the answer you seek may forever alter your life for the worse,' she told him, glancing at the mirror for a moment before looking back at him. 'For I know what it is you desire to ask, but fear to ask also. As you continue your journey, the answer to your questions will become apparent to you,' she countered cryptically and Harry nodded, somehow comprehending what she implied by that.

Hermione glanced between them in misunderstanding, wondering what they were talking about. Harry smiled at her and gave her a "I'll tell you later" look and she nodded.

Galadriel smiled at Harry. 'Even after discovering you have the Ring of Barahir in your possession has not afforded me any insight as to the power it possesses. The mirror remains silent,' she whispered, her tone somewhat frustrated. 'Perhaps Aragorn can aid you in ascertaining a way to unlock the powers within, for only he has the wisdom passed down from his father,' Galadriel clarified, giving the ring back to him.

Harry nodded, but frowned. 'That means I'll have to tell him we're from the future,' he whispered, eyeing the ring pensively.

Galadriel's smile widened at this. 'I believe it is time they knew the truth. I am certain Gandalf intended for them to know soon,' she answered, and Harry took this as consent that he could at least tell Aragorn the truth. 'It is entirely your choice if you wish to expose this to the Fellowship as a whole or keep it to specific members,' she replied, reinforcing his own opinions on the matter.

'Thank you,' Harry said, turning to Hermione and giving her a hug which she returned in surprise.

'You're going?' Hermione asked, staring at Harry nervously at the thought of being alone to deal with whatever Galadriel had to tell her.

Harry nodded. 'Yeah, I'm quite tired now and I need to think. Tell me everything tomorrow,' he said, strolling away and giving her a wave as he went up the stairs.

Hermione watched Harry go with a frown, almost forgetting Galadriel was still in the clearing with her. 'Show me your heirloom,' she whispered, making Hermione jump and turn back to her.

'Oh, sure,' Hermione muttered, walking back over to the pedestal and handing the necklace to Galadriel.

Hermione frowned as Galadriel's reaction to her pendant appeared more stunned than she was to learn about Harry's, and she braced herself for whatever information the Elf-Maiden was going to reveal. Galadriel stared at the pendant with wide eyes. 'Gandalf did not disclose this to me. I did not know what to expect, but this was not it,' she uttered, her eyes not shifting from the gleaming pendant.

Hermione blinked, questioning what it could be that made Galadriel seem so astonished and gazed at her pendant in interest. 'What is it?' she asked, crossing her arms timidly.

Galadriel finally wrenched her eyes away from the pendant to Hermione. 'It is called Evenstar. It was passed to my granddaughter, Arwen, when she was born,' she told her, glancing back at the pendant.

Hermione tensed, dubious of what to make of this information. 'So, what does that suggest exactly?' she asked with a frown.

Galadriel glanced back at Hermione, bewilderment clear in her face. 'I would like to disclose to you an anecdote of my kin. Come with me,' she summoned, and Hermione trailed her to the edge of the clearing where there was an opening into an underground chamber.

Hermione looked around in awe of the room. The ceiling was black, but tiny lights like billions of stars floated just below it, generating an eerie glow within the room. The chamber was long with other sections positioned in various areas. 'Welcome to my study,' Galadriel said with a smile, eyeing Hermione who ambled around in awe. 'The clearing and this chamber are the only places in Lothlórien where I use magic to protect the histories of my kin intact. It is also where I control the crystal which creates a barrier around this beautiful forest to keep it from being razed and lost,' she divulged, gesturing to a colossal crystal in the middle of the room, levitating above the ground.

Hermione gazed at it, completely fixated. She couldn't believe this was under Lothlórien. 'This is…' she trailed off, unable to convey how incredible it was.

Galadriel smiled at her. 'To begin identifying the reason you possess the Evenstar, we must first look back to its origins,' she said, waving her hand and a large mural appeared on the wall.

Hermione gazed at the mural which depicted a man lying on the ground, a wolf standing over him. To the left of the mural was a woman in a great hall, weeping into her hands. She frowned, questioning what it could entail and why Galadriel wanted to show this to her.

'It is a rare occurrence for an Elf and a Mortal to marry. It is, predominantly, frowned upon by our kin, but there have been some exceptions,' Galadriel clarified, staring at the mural and Hermione could see a sorrow in her eyes which was so deep-rooted, and she wondered what transpired.

'This mural represents one such occurrence: the tale of Beren and Lúthien. They are a paradigm of this rarity,' Galadriel illuminated, turning to glance at Hermione. 'Our disinclination for such a union is not because we resent Mortals, quite the contrary, but we have inside of us a powerful need to protect our kin from the anguish which haunts them once the Mortal perishes,' she revealed, gazing back at the mural.

Hermione frowned. 'What has this got to do with me?' she asked nervously.

Galadriel didn't reply, but instead she waved her hand and the mural shifted and altered to reveal the woman again, kneeling in front of a great statue, her arms out as if in desperation for it to hear her. A beautiful voice echoed throughout the hall then, the words heart-breaking:

"Oh, great Mandos, high among Valar. I come to you in sorrow and with a broken heart. Long has been my journey, that led me to these halls. But now I kneel before thee, as grief my spirit calls. I seek a man named Beren, whom I bid await me here. I pledged that I would find him, before he leaves this sphere.

"This man of whom I speak, he gave his life for me. But thence my soul grew weak and at last it too broke free. So borne upon an urgent breeze, I travelled to this place. Where only one thing could appease the torment I now face.

"Oh, tell me I am not too late to see my love once more. For that would be too cruel a fate, I beg him be restored. That we may take a little time to bid our last farewell. And remember all we shared erstwhile, such joy no one could quell. For never was a greater love than that within our hearts. Once born, forever binding us, e'en though through death we part…"

The haunting voice trailed off, leaving Hermione feeling void of anything but a great sadness which resonated in her. She remembered now. The tale of Beren and Lúthien had been told to her by her parents when she was very young, though she failed to recall the details as such.

Hermione gazed back at the mural as it shifted, displaying who she now knew to be Beren and Lúthien. They were smiling and Lúthien was holding a gleaming pendant outstretched in her hand towards Beren.

Galadriel smiled forlornly at the illustration. 'This pendant was not always named Evenstar, its name has been lost, even to us, but it belonged to Lúthien formerly. She offered it to Beren as a symbol of her love for him and he still bore it when they returned as mortals. It was passed to the Elves of Rivendell when Lúthien died and was given to Arwen when she was born. Arwen, if I am not misguided, has now passed it to Aragorn as a symbol of her willingness to forsake the immortality of the Eldar to be with him,' Galadriel revealed and Hermione frowned, having never seen Aragorn with the pendant while they travelled.

'This pendant has been passed down to the eldest daughter in Beren and Lúthien's line ever since,' Galadriel concluded, looking back down at the pendant contemplatively.

Hermione shook her head, still unable to comprehend what this insinuated or why it had anything to do with her. 'I don't understand,' she whispered, exasperated at her lack of knowledge. If she had recalled the tale, perhaps it wouldn't be so difficult for her to process or maybe she didn't want to know the answer.

Galadriel shook her head. 'It is a conundrum of which I do not have the answer you seek. It is difficult for me to ascertain your heritage,' she replied, turning to gaze at Hermione intensely. 'Perhaps, the mirror can uncover the information we require,' Galadriel added, guiding Hermione from the chamber and back into the clearing. 'Hermione, look into the mirror,' she said, watching as the young girl did as she was bid.

At first, Hermione could see naught but her own apprehensive reflection staring back. She concentrated and images began to shift and swirl into focus within the mirror. A small smile emerged on her lips as she witnessed her mother and father teaching her about the Elves.

Hermione frowned when it switched to more recent images of when Aragorn caught her reading and writing in Elvish in Rivendell. It changed to the door of Moria and a shudder took her when she recalled what occurred there. She saw herself speaking the Elvish word for friend and she saw the look she got from Legolas. Then Balin's tomb, where Legolas seemed suspicious of her. It shifted to the stream of Nimrodel and the peculiar looks Legolas gave her for twirling the grass and humming along to the song he was singing.

Hermione blinked and the image changed again, showing her in Cerin Amroth. It was odd seeing this from an outside perspective, like she was looking at someone else entirely. She could see Legolas behind Draco, Harry and her as she described why Haldir was disinclined to let them into Lothlórien. It was evident to her now that Legolas ought to know she can at least comprehend Elvish if his expression was anything to go by.

The mirror churned once more and altered to images of Caras Galadhon and she could hear the lament for Gandalf again so clearly. She remembered the words and tears welled in her eyes, but she didn't let them fall. The next image changed to Legolas and Valaria talking by the fountain and Hermione wondered what this had to do with anything. She shook her head and withdrew from the mirror, more bewildered now than she had been before she began.

Hermione glanced up at Galadriel who appeared to be astounded. 'Why did the mirror show these events?' she asked her softly.

Galadriel gazed at her, something sparkled in her eyes and it appeared almost like recognition, but it frightened Hermione. 'I bid the mirror to focus on information leading to your heritage. It is apparent to me now,' she answered, shaking her head as if she was having trouble believing the evidence herself.

Hermione swallowed thickly; not sure she was prepared for the answer if it caused Galadriel such a surprise. 'What… does it mean?' Hermione forced herself to ask, hesitant to know.

Galadriel smiled radiantly at her which gave Hermione pause. 'You are of Elven descent, Hermione,' she divulged, and Hermione gaped at her as if she had grown another head. It took a moment for the news to tick over in her brain and, when the words registered, she suddenly felt nauseous. She took a step back and fell to her knees as she struggled to fathom how that could be feasible.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One: A Past Revealed; The Curse

'But…' Hermione trailed off as her brain worked strenuously to try and piece the puzzle that she had just been presented with together. She stared up at Galadriel in misunderstanding, questioning if the Lady of Light was jesting, but the solemn eyes gazing back at her held no deception, only curiosity.

Galadriel tilted her head. 'I can see this news has made you ill at ease,' she said gently.

Hermione shook her head. 'There must be some mistake. I can't be a descendant of the Elves,' she countered timidly, her voice quivering slightly. She glanced at the pendant still clasped in Galadriel's hand. 'Maybe this necklace was given to my family… as a gift or something,' she theorised, knowing this had to be the solution.

Galadriel peered down at the gleaming jewel. 'Perhaps,' she whispered, lifting it up to inspect. 'Nevertheless, it would not explain you being capable of unleashing the power sealed within it,' she answered, looking back at Hermione and frowning.

Hermione crossed her arms, a grimace appearing on her own face. 'Maybe I was never meant to…' she trailed off, wondering if Gandalf had somehow been misguided.

'Gandalf was wiser than most and he would have known,' Galadriel said as if she just read Hermione's contemplations.

Hermione stared at Galadriel. 'He may have been wise, but he still made mistakes. I saw them first-hand in the future,' she replied, getting to her feet.

Galadriel smiled meaningfully. 'Ah, but were they mistakes or did Gandalf anticipate for them to occur?' she queried, her eyes twinkling, and Hermione frowned knowing that was entirely plausible.

'But it doesn't make sense. By having this necklace, that doesn't imply it should have been mine. It can't be. When I was learning about the Elves, my parents never mentioned anything about us having Elven lineage. Besides, they were Muggles and Elves were magical folk. I imagine if anyone alive in my time were descended from Elves they would be from Pureblood ancestry,' Hermione determined, believing she had come to a logical assumption, but this still didn't justify why she had the pendant.

Galadriel frowned as she gazed at the pendant. 'Indeed, you are accurate,' she replied gently, her tone somewhat perplexed. 'Perhaps the mirror can enlighten us now that we have the pendant,' Galadriel alluded, turning back to the pedestal with Hermione in tow.

Hermione watched as Galadriel placed the pendant into the water and the rune began to glow. 'I require something of you,' she whispered, pulling out a small ceremonial blade from her sleeve. Hermione's eyes widened, her hand jerking for her wand, but Galadriel made no hostile advances towards her. 'If your blood is blended into the water alongside the necklace, the mirror will reveal to us how it came to be in your possession. It will also tell us if you are, indeed, of Elven descent,' Galadriel clarified, holding out the knife to her, hilt first.

Hermione stared at the knife and drew in a deep breath before laying the edge to her finger. It was so sharp she didn't need force and she winced as her blood came to the surface. She held her hand over silver basin, letting the drops of her blood mingle with the water. Galadriel took the knife and offered her a silk handkerchief which Hermione swathed around her finger.

'Now, look into the mirror,' Galadriel instructed, and Hermione nodded, taking another deep breath before gazing into the clear water.

The water swirled and shifted to produce an image of a moses basket. Inside was a baby wrapped in a green blanket held together with a silver clasp in the form of a leaf. Hermione recalled that clasp immediately as it had lay on her parents' mantelpiece for as long as she could remember. 'It is time,' came a man's voice and Hermione frowned, unable to recognise the voice. Abruptly, the image seemed to leave the pedestal, sweeping over her head and enveloping her in the scene as if she was there. It reminded her of a Pensieve.

A woman was standing next to the moses basket, gazing down on the baby with dread and a deep-rooted sorrow which tugged at Hermione's heart. She didn't recognise either of the people in the room. 'Must it be so,' the woman whispered, tears falling from her eyes.

The image shifted again, showing the man and woman dressed in dark cloaks as they ran along a silent street at night. In the man's hand was the moses basket with the baby. Bewildered, Hermione observed them as they paused at a graveyard which she recognised immediately. It was the one in Hampstead, London, where she had lived with her parents. Her frown deepened as they halted at the gate, lowering their hoods and peering around.

Hermione was unsure about what this had to do with her. Who were these people? Who was the baby in the moses basket?

The man and woman came to a stop at a specific grave. The woman reached into her pocket and pulled out a wand, producing a beautiful bouquet of flowers which she placed into the holder provided for the grave. 'Give us the strength to do what we must,' the woman whispered, kneeling by the grave.

The man watched solemnly for a moment until a small cry from the moses basket diverted his attention to the baby. 'They will be here soon,' he murmured, the sound of creaking attracted their attention towards the gate they had entered.

Hermione had a clear view now of the man and woman. The man was strikingly handsome with black hair, but his features were hard and his eyes dark. The woman was beautiful, her expression etched in sadness. Her long blonde hair appeared to glow in the moonlight.

The image changed again to a small living room which Hermione recognised. She was viewing her home and tears welled in her eyes. Nostalgia became superseded by puzzlement as Hermione saw the man from before pacing in front of the fire, his hands clasped tightly behind his back where he also held a wand.

On a chair near the fire was the blonde woman holding the baby in her arms and cooing tenderly. Hermione's breath caught in her throat as she suddenly recognised the Sindarin Serenade being hummed by the woman. The very same song sung by her parents and heard very recently being sung by Legolas at the stream of Nimrodel. Hermione's frown intensified when the image moved, displaying her parents sitting on the couch uneasily.

'We are ready,' Hermione's father murmured, standing and walking over to the man and clutching his hand on his shoulder.

The man stopped pacing and glanced at Hermione's father. 'We will owe you a debt we can never repay,' he said, his voice cracking slightly.

Hermione's mother stood and moved towards the blonde woman and the baby. 'You have done so much for us. It's the least we can do,' she said, receiving a forlorn smile from the woman.

The woman gazed down at the baby in her arms before standing and offering her to Hermione's mother. 'If the worst should occur, please do not burden her with that which cannot be undone. I ask only that she know our customs,' the woman whispered, tears falling from her eyes as she took a necklace from around her neck and fastened it around the neck of the baby. When she pulled away, Hermione realised with a jolt that it was the Evenstar pendant.

'It will be done,' Hermione's mother and father whispered at the same time.

The water churned again, releasing Hermione from the images it revealed. She grimaced and shook her head as she clenched her hands into fists. 'What… did I… just see?' she choked out, hoping the conclusions being drawn in her head were wrong.

Galadriel gazed at Hermione woefully. 'The mirror displayed to you a past which was never disclosed to you,' she answered, glancing down at the necklace in the water. 'It is evident to me now,' Galadriel whispered, closing her eyes.

Hermione found her eyes drawn to the pedestal again. 'Those people…' she trailed off, swallowing thickly.

'You witnessed the two who nurtured you and taught you our ways, but they were not your biological parents,' Galadriel said contritely, frowning at the young woman who appeared so vulnerable now. 'I can only presume they were prepared to educate you and must have learned what they knew from your birth parents,' she said, reaching out and placing a consoling hand on Hermione's shoulder.

Hermione felt her shoulders sag. 'Do you know who they were?' she asked, staring up at the Lady of Light curiously.

Galadriel tilted her head and reached into the water where she laid her hand on the rune. It glowed for a moment and she withdrew her hand. 'Your father was a descendant of a man named Faramir who is brother to Boromir. Your mother was a descendant of Elrond which is why you have Elven ancestry,' Galadriel divulged, turning to gaze at Hermione. 'The mirror revealed your mother to be Mortal throughout the time we were shown, but this was not always so,' she said, taking the Evenstar pendant from the water.

'Gandalf was investigating your origins. It is regrettable he is no longer with us,' Galadriel whispered, staring back at the mirror. 'Perhaps he discovered more about your past than the mirror can uncover,' she said, tilting her head and taking Hermione's hand where she placed the pendant and closed the girl's fingers around it. 'I sense the life of the Eldar within you as if you ought to be the same as us, but it is akin to a bird confined within a cage,' Galadriel whispered, shaking her head slightly.

The Lady of Light laid a gentle hand on Hermione's head. 'You are what we would call a child of two worlds; of Men and the Elves. You are not truly Mortal, yet you do not have the long life of the Eldar. It is a unique paradox, but not entirely inconceivable. It does present you with a difficult choice, for I have seen the consequence of both,' Galadriel said cryptically, making Hermione frown up at her.

'Choice?' Hermione questioned, eyeing the necklace gleaming in her palm.

Galadriel smiled sorrowfully at this. 'In the eyes of the Eldar you were intended to be born with their gift. Thus, they have accorded you the capability of determining your providence. A child of two worlds can choose to remain Mortal or they can accept the gift of the Eldar when it is presented to them,' Galadriel told her, and Hermione nodded slowly.

'Are there any consequences to which option I select? If I decided to accept their gift, can I still return to the future if that is my wish?' Hermione questioned, but she had a feeling she already knew the answer.

Galadriel nodded, but her eyes were clouded with melancholy. 'To become like us would mean you must journey to Valinor once the time comes. You could travel back to your time, but the outcome would remain the same. It is an inevitability of all Elves who walk this earth,' she replied.

'There is another… problematic issue which will arise if you return to the future. One which will haunt you now, but not when you return,' Galadriel whispered, clasping her hands in front of her.

Hermione stared up at her. 'What will happen?' she asked nervously, almost dreading the answer.

'You will not remember your time here,' Galadriel answered, frowning as Hermione stared back in disbelief at this information. 'You will sleep and wake up without any recollection of being in this era. If you have accepted the gift of the Eldar, it will be as if this was always so. The Valar will call you home and you will find your way to Valinor. If you decide to remain Mortal, your life will resume as it was with the past being eternally altered by what you accomplish here,' Galadriel told her, and Hermione felt tears come to her eyes.

'But why? Why would we forget?' Hermione demanded, striving to keep her voice from trembling. It was an unfair outcome. Returning to the future would mean she would forget everything that occurred in their journey with the Fellowship. All the locations they visited, all the people they encountered, and all the trials they had to overcome. Wait… what about my notebook? I've been writing everything down! Hermione thought, realising she may not remember, but her notebook would have everything documented. 'I've been writing everything down… would I still have that?' Hermione asked Galadriel who had been watching her raptly.

Galadriel shook her head. 'I do not know. It would do you no detriment to continue chronicling your time here as it may remain the same,' she replied, and Hermione frowned. It was an ambiguous answer, but it gave her a small amount of hope.

Another thought occurred to her then. 'If I decided to stay, what would happen to Harry and Draco if they opted to go back?' Hermione asked, fearing the answer would be no different.

Galadriel seemed hesitant for a moment and Hermione felt dread slither into her heart. 'They would forget you. You would be written out of their timeline as if you never existed,' she answered sadly, watching Hermione's eyes fill with tears again.

'I expected as much…' Hermione trailed off, wiping the tears away and took a deep breath. 'I guess the same would happen for me as well if they stayed here,' she whispered and received a nod from Galadriel. 'When will this happen?' Hermione asked, hoping she had more time to document the events so she could look through her notebook to read through what transpired even if she didn't remember.

'Time is fickle; it will not wait. However, there is no limit to the time you spend here. The choice will present itself once you are prepared. Think of it as a trial. The Eldar will permit you time to deliberate and once your heart has truly acknowledged what it is you want, they will know and it will be,' Galadriel answered, stroking Hermione's hair consolingly. 'With regards to returning to your time, I cannot advise on when or how this will happen. I can only presume it will be when your task here is completed. Trust in Gandalf; he would have left something to guide you,' Galadriel told her with a small smile.

Hermione nodded and sighed as she thought about everything she had been told. About her past, her real parents, and what was to come. 'Is there anything else you can tell me about my real parents?' Hermione inquired, a yearning to know what happened to them and why.

'I cannot, but the mirror can,' Galadriel replied, gesturing to the pedestal.

'Can I?' Hermione requested, receiving a nod from Galadriel.

Hermione braced her nerves and gazed into the mirror once more as Galadriel whispered a chant under her breath. She assumed this was a spell of some sort which would command the mirror to concentrate on specific events regarding Hermione's past.

The water churned, exposing a dark living room with a fire smouldering in the fireplace. Seated on the couch were the man and woman Hermione had learned to be her birth parents and on another seat was Gandalf. 'We are no longer safe. He searches for the keys and soon he will locate them,' the woman whispered, touching the Evenstar which was fastened around her neck.

Gandalf frowned. 'Are you certain?' he asked worriedly, getting up and pacing in front of the fireplace.

The man nodded. 'We are. Once our daughter is born, there will be no place to hide,' he said, taking the woman's hand. 'He hunts for the mirror also, believing it will help him retrieve the keys,' the man disclosed, turning to glance at the woman and his eyes softened. 'We have undertaken precautions for our daughter to be looked after should he take us from her,' he whispered, his tone sombre.

Gandalf closed his eyes and leaned his hands on the mantelpiece. 'I am sorry. There is no more protection I can extend which I have not previously provided. While you are a member of the Order, we will do what we can, but you knew the consequences,' he said, shaking his head and turning to look at them.

The woman nodded. 'Yes, we were aware of the risks,' she countered, resting her hand over her abdomen anxiously. 'We wanted to help. This war has gone on for too long,' she added, shaking her head.

The image shifted to another, showing a dreary stairwell leading down into a stone room. There were two large cells, bars down the centre which separated the two. There was a person in each cell and Hermione's eyes widened when she grasped it was her real parents. They had been separated. There was fear in their eyes as footsteps reverberated from the stairs. They crawled to the bars which kept them apart, clutching onto each other as best they could.

A figure emerged from the stairs and Hermione gasped when she recognised Voldemort. 'I will offer you one final opportunity to bow to my will. Join me or you will both perish,' he told them, clasping his hands behind his back.

'Never,' the man spat, scowling at Voldemort.

Voldemort let out a high-pitched laugh and aimed his wand at the woman. She was hurled away from the man and collided into the wall where she remained suspended in mid-air. 'Join me or watch your beloved wife suffer,' Voldemort hissed, his eyes flashing in impatience.

The man reached through the bars towards the woman even though he knew he would not reach her. He stiffened as she gazed at him. 'Do not fret, for we will be together again. I love you,' she whispered, tears falling from her eyes, but she smiled through the pain.

Hermione's breath caught in her throat as shrieks penetrated the silence of the dungeon, echoing off the walls. She watched in horror as a green flash filled her vision, mirroring in the man's eyes which were so like her own. The man cried out, clawing at the bars and ground as the woman's body fell to the ground with a sickening thud. His cries died in his throat as the same green light consumed him.

'Burn the bodies,' Voldemort ordered before turning and heading back up the stairs. The Death Eaters nodded and pointed their wands at the bodies, setting them ablaze.

Hermione ripped herself away from the mirror with a strangled cry and dropped to her knees. Her parents defied Voldemort until the end but, as proud as she was to know she followed in their footsteps without even realising it, their fate was callous. Hermione couldn't get it out of her head; their cries, their screams, their blank, lifeless eyes…

Hermione could feel the tears falling to the mosaic below her, but she couldn't find the will to move. She felt responsible, like this was her fault. From what she grasped; Voldemort was after her because of the "key" which she understood to be the Evenstar pendant. They died to protect her from being discovered.

Galadriel, who had also seen the images within the mirror, went to Hermione's side and placed her arm around the shaking girl. 'I am sorry,' the Lady of Light whispered gravely, eyeing Hermione worriedly.

Hermione couldn't even react. She felt immobile, the images replaying in her mind like a broken record. It was disturbing, making her feel sad and enraged at the same time. She may have never known them, but she suddenly wanted vengeance for the life that was stolen away from her. Voldemort took her parents from her…

oOoOo

Gimli grumbled as he trailed Legolas back to the pavilion earlier than anticipated. Legolas had sensed something was amiss and wanted to go back. 'These woods are supposed to be secure. What could have happened?' Gimli grilled him, but Legolas remained tight-lipped the whole way back.

When they reached the pavilion, Legolas gazed around and noticed two beds were vacant apart from his and Gimli's. Hermione and Draco were absent from their beds. He listened for a moment and suddenly heard a yell from the edge of the clearing. Legolas sprinted off towards the sound followed by Gimli, realising Draco was standing at the top of the spiral staircase gaping down it in horror.

Legolas almost reached him when the Slytherin unexpectedly sprinted down the stairs and the two chased him down. Draco lifted his wand towards the pedestal. 'Bomba-' he was cut off as Gimli managed to wrestle him to the ground. 'Get off me! I have to destroy it! It's evil!' Draco barked, trying to get away from the Dwarf, but Gimli was much stronger than him.

Galadriel stood from where she was comforting the silent Hermione and stared at the boy in alarm. This action revealed Hermione who was still kneeling on the ground and Legolas frowned anxiously. Galadriel cast a glance and nod to the Elf who walked over towards Hermione.

Galadriel sauntered to the steps, pausing in front of Draco and Gimli, who was striving to keep his hold on him. Galadriel placed a gentle hand on Gimli's arm, and he let go of Draco who made to step past the Lady of Light, but she shifted in front of him. 'Master Draco, be still and tell me what frightens you so,' Galadriel coaxed gently, moving again so she obscured Draco's view of the pedestal.

Draco glanced up at Galadriel with wide eyes and a little fear as if he was seeing her for the first time. 'I have to destroy it,' he gritted through his teeth, trying to look past Galadriel.

'Destroy what?' Galadriel invited, tilting her head curiously.

Draco clenched his hands irritably. 'The mirror…' he countered, his shoulders slumping as he began to calm down a little. 'My father told me about it. He called it the Mirror of Alatáriel,' he described, crossing his arms.

Gimli glanced between Galadriel and Draco anxiously for a moment, but he relaxed upon receiving a small nod from the Lady of Light. 'You speak the truth, Master Draco, for none but few of my kin know the name Alatáriel. It is a name Celeborn bequeathed upon me,' she disclosed, stepping out of the way so the pedestal was in view once more.

Draco scrutinised it timidly. 'I was not told of V-Voldemort's plans to use it, but if they discovered it then it will be something terrible. He could find a way to come here if he knows we are here,' he told her, shaking his head. 'That's why I wanted to destroy it. If it is destroyed here, then it won't work when he gets it,' he clarified, rubbing a hand over his face in exasperation.

Galadriel nodded, gazing over at the pedestal pensively. 'I would like to know more, Master Draco. Come to me when the sun is high so we may speak of this,' she told him, and Draco nodded. He turned away to head back up the stairs. 'Go with him, Gimli. Make sure he is settled,' she requested of the Dwarf who grunted a little but trailed the Slytherin back up the stairs.

Legolas knelt next to Hermione. 'Lady Hermione?' he whispered, placing an arm around her shoulders.

Galadriel turned back to them then and was stunned when Hermione unexpectedly jerked away from Legolas as if he had burned her. Hermione stared at Legolas and shook her head. 'I have to go,' she whispered before rushing across the mosaic past Galadriel and up the stairs.

Legolas watched Hermione go and sighed as Galadriel gave him a probing look. 'What happened?' he demanded, his tone more than a little annoyed. He fathomed her reaction may have had something to do with the kiss Valaria imposed on him earlier in the night.

Galadriel raised her eyebrows at him. 'She is in possession of memories from the past. They have distressed her, and bitterness has darkened her heart. It is understandable, but will pass,' she answered, shaking her head.

Legolas nodded, still not any closer to understanding what it was Hermione discovered, but he knew that was not for Galadriel to tell him. 'She will not come to me,' he said with a frown.

'Then you should go to her,' Galadriel countered as if this was the simplest thing in the world.

Legolas shook his head. 'I do not believe she will have need of my presence. It may prove to be more a hindrance than a solace,' he replied, proceeding past Galadriel towards the stairs.

Galadriel smiled faintly. 'Do not let the events of this evening haze your reasoning,' she said which made Legolas halt in his tracks.

Legolas closed his eyes in exasperation. It was occasionally the greatest burden to know Galadriel could see events which would or could happen. He knew she had undoubtedly observed what had transpired earlier with Valaria. Legolas turned back to stare at Galadriel. 'I imagine one of her companions would be able to comfort her better than I,' he answered, shaking his head.

Galadriel lifted an eyebrow. 'Do you genuinely believe this?' she invited, giving him a knowing look.

Legolas frowned. 'What can I do?' he asked softly.

'Lend her your ear and your shoulder to lean on,' Galadriel answered gently before turning back to the pedestal.

Legolas nodded and made his way back up the spiral staircase. One glance at the pavilion told him that Hermione was not there. He let out a sigh, wondering where she could have disappeared to. He made his way further into the clearing, finding his eyes drifting to her empty bed. Should I remain here for her return? He questioned himself, gazing up at the sky as if it held the solution he sought.

'She went to the stream,' came a voice from behind him and he noticed Draco sitting with his back against the fountain.

Legolas nodded and made his way to her bed where he picked up her blanket. He walked into the trees behind the pavilion and towards the stream where Hermione was sitting gazing into its depths. He hesitated as he watched her unobtrusively, suddenly sceptical about whether he should even approach her. The look she gave him earlier in the clearing expressed volumes. It was like she wanted nothing to do with him. This triggered a twinge of fear in him and he didn't know why.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder at Legolas and he felt rage well in him at the look on her face. Despair, anger and a sorrow so intense it made him want to pull her into his arms and wrestle her demons for her. It was a feeling which also made him want to turn tail and flee. It was foreign and terrifying.

Hermione turned away from Legolas again, wrapping her arms more snugly around her legs. 'What did they do wrong?' she whispered heatedly, shaking her head.

Legolas dispelled the peculiar feelings developing within him and walked over to her. 'I do not know what it is you speak of, Lady Hermione,' he replied softly, laying the blanket around her shoulders, being cautious not to make contact with her in case she ran from him again.

'Thank you,' Hermione whispered, pulling the blanket more tightly around her as if it would shield her from what was vexing her.

'May I?' Legolas bade, gesturing to the grass next to her. Hermione nodded timidly and he sat cross-legged on the ground next to her, but far enough away as to not scare her. She gave him a questioning look. 'What is it?' he invited, tilting his head.

'I just assumed your partner won't be too thrilled if she finds us here alone,' Hermione countered, looking away from Legolas to the stream.

Legolas pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. The statement was harmless enough, but for some reason it incensed him. 'You speak of Valaria,' he replied, trying to keep the irritation he felt from his tone.

Hermione nodded, glancing over at Legolas. 'Yeah, I saw you both earlier and gathered you were together. It's nice,' she answered softly, pulling the blanket even tighter around herself.

'We are not,' Legolas told her, his tone clipped which caused Hermione to look at him with a frown. 'Once, when we were very young, there was a time when I wished it were so. But it was not to be,' he revealed, gazing into the stream.

Hermione glanced away to the stream and stretched out to pluck some grass which she twisted between her fingers. Legolas watched her curiously for a moment before gazing up at the night sky through a gap in the trees. 'Look, a shooting star,' she said, pointing to the sky.

Legolas followed its progression across the sky. 'N-aw a dew anann min. Id emel olth benar nin, iire amin nonen neth, ta en ar Edhel ya ais tov-seere e' gurtha,' he told her, purposefully slipping into Elvish to see if he was accurate in his suspicions. He glanced over at her to see her reaction. (A/N Translation: 'It is a long one. My emel once told me, when I was young, it is an Elf who has found peace in death.')

Hermione smiled faintly. 'That's a lovely way to look at it. Aren't you meant to wish on shooting stars?' she asked him, no longer caring if he knew she understood or spoke Elvish. She didn't even know what the point was of hiding it in the first place.

Legolas raised an eyebrow, his lips twitching. 'Why? What would you wish for, Lady Hermione?' he asked her, gazing at her with such an intensity that Hermione felt her breath catch in her throat.

Hermione swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. 'Libnaid amin pul-ava gar,' she whispered, slipping into Elvish as she gazed back at Legolas and her heart melted when he smiled gently. (A/N Translation: 'Something I cannot have.')

'I knew you could speak and understand Sindarin,' Legolas murmured, his eyes searching Hermione's for a moment. 'Why did you not tell us?' he asked, frowning at her.

Hermione shrugged lightly. 'Gandalf told me to keep it to myself,' she answered, looking away from Legolas to the stream. 'And it didn't seem all that important,' she added, and he nodded before glancing into the stream as well.

Hermione shifted on the grass, so she was facing Legolas and he glanced over at her in surprise. 'Lady Galadriel told me something tonight about Beren and Lúthien. She didn't go into detail about the story itself, but she said it's something all your kin know,' she said, looking at the grass she still had between her fingers for a moment.

Legolas nodded, his expression becoming saddened. 'The tale of Beren and Lúthien…' he trailed off, gazing at the sky. 'Theirs is a heart-breaking tale,' he whispered, shaking his head.

Hermione nodded. 'It seemed pretty sad,' she answered, glancing back up at him. 'Will you tell me the tale?' she asked softly, watching Legolas turn his clear blue eyes back to hers.

Legolas sighed, but he nodded. Hermione was stunned when he shifted his sitting position as well, so he was facing her. 'Beren was a Mortal man and son of Barahir. After the defeat of his companions after the Battle of Sudden Flame, he fled to the Elvish realm, Doriath.

'There, Beren laid eyes on the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, Lúthien. She was the only daughter of King Thingol and Melian the Maia. It is said she was singing and dancing in the glade, and Beren fell in love with her instantly, for she was the fairest of all Elves,' Legolas said with a small smile and shook his head.

'Is that accurate? It sounds very much like any other fairy tale to me,' Hermione invited with a frown.

Legolas gazed at Hermione. 'It is. In those times it was rare for Mortals and Elves to fall in love. Thingol did not deem Beren was worthy of his Lúthien and so he set him an impossible task which he was unable to complete. Nevertheless, Thingol was moved by the lengths Beren went to in order to complete his mission and accepted marriage between him and Lúthien. Once married, Beren participated in the hunt for Carcharoth, who in his lunacy, had come to Doriath and caused destruction there. Carcharoth was slain, but Beren also perished from his wounds,' he told her, glancing at the stream for a moment, lost in thought.

Hermione reached out and touched Legolas's hand which sent a jolt through him and he stared at her in wonder. 'Are you okay?' she inquired, seeing the sorrow etched in his eyes grow as he told the story.

Legolas stared down at Hermione's hand on his and nodded. To her surprise, he laced his fingers through hers and gazed into her eyes as he resumed the tale. 'Lúthien, in her grief, lay down and died as well. She found her way to the halls of Mandos where she sang of her ill fate. The Lord of the Dead, Mandos, was so moved by her song that he took pity on her. He sought the guidance of Manwë, the King of Arda, but he could not alter the fate of Man, so he presented her with two choices. She could be welcomed to Valinor where she would forget her woe or she and Beren could be returned to Middle-Earth to live out their days as Mortals,' he told her, ghosting his thumb over the back of her hand which caused her to shiver slightly.

'What did she decide?' Hermione asked Legolas, utterly captivated in the tale. As he told it, she began to remember what her parents told her about it. This thought reminded her of what she learned, and she looked down miserably.

Legolas frowned at Hermione's pained expression for a moment but didn't pry. 'Lúthien opted to be with Beren, but there was a consequence to this,' he whispered, closing his eyes.

Hermione frowned at the indignant expression on Legolas's face. 'What happened?' she questioned anxiously and wondered if the answer was the reason why this was such a harrowing story for the Elves.

Legolas shook his head, his tone darkening somewhat as he continued. 'Lúthien was told the penalty would be dire if she chose to return to Middle-Earth. A curse would be placed on her kin,' he clarified, gazing up at Hermione who was watching him curiously.

'What is this curse?' Hermione asked, wondering if it was something only the Elves knew of.

Legolas sighed. 'Our curse…' he trailed off softly, glancing up at the stars for a moment before looking back at Hermione. 'We are constrained by a curse permitting us to love only once for as long as we live, which is eternally lest we are killed. This, more often than not, is something we do not fret over as it is rare for an Elf to fall in love with a Mortal,' Legolas described sullenly with a frown.

Hermione tilted her head and stared at Legolas curiously. 'Would that be a terrible thing? Falling in love with a Mortal, I mean,' she asked softly.

Legolas nodded slowly. 'The curse does not extend to Mortals meaning it could end up being a one-sided love,' he illuminated despondently, lowering his eyes to their hands which were still intertwined, and his frown increased. 'If I was to fall in love with one of my kin, it is likely the Elf-Maiden would return it. The curse does not come into force until we are of age. This is the reason I considered Valaria to be the one for me,' he told Hermione, letting go of her hand with a sigh.

Hermione suddenly felt a loss when Legolas took his hand away, but she didn't show it. 'So, what does that mean?' she asked, wrapping her hands around her legs.

'In my circumstance, for example, this is rare. When Valaria and I came of age, I did not fall for her as I anticipated I would. Nonetheless, she fell for me,' Legolas clarified, his eyes clouding over in sorrow. 'This is exceptionally rare and is nothing but heartache for the one who has fallen,' he added quietly. He closed his eyes, no wonder Valaria seeks me out no matter how bitter I am to her. Her heart yearns for me, but I cannot return the feeling, he thought to himself regrettably.

Hermione nodded, feeling sorry for Valaria. 'What happens if an Elf falls for a Mortal?' she asked softly.

Legolas gazed at Hermione, his eyes softening. 'If an Elf falls for a Mortal, there is no guarantee they would return it. We cannot choose who we fall for. Only our hearts have that luxury, but it is not always the best outcome. If we do not fall for an Elf when we come of age, we can end up spending eternity searching for the one our hearts yearn for. If an Elf falls for Mortal and their love is not returned, they would rather lay down and die than live without them,' he told her, his eyes harbouring a great sadness which Hermione couldn't fathom. Had he already loved and lost? Or did someone he know go through this experience?

Hermione nodded and frowned. 'That's horrible,' she whispered, unsure of what else to say to that.

Legolas nodded in agreement. 'Yes, it is. It does get graver though,' he whispered, and Hermione stared at him in disbelief, wondering how it could get any worse than what he told her. 'If an Elf fell for a Mortal who returned their affection, they would likely forsake their immortality to be with them. However, we still have long lives and while the Mortal grew old and died we would remain the same until our broken hearts turned dark and we faded away. It is the most unbearable outcome,' he described, and her eyes widened.

'That's dreadful!' Hermione cried, wanting to reach out to Legolas to show him some kind of comfort, but not having the nerve to do so.

Legolas nodded and got to his feet before gazing into the stream. 'Yes, but this is something we must live with,' he whispered, shaking his head.

'All because Lúthien chose Beren…' Hermione trailed off miserably, appalled that a mere choice could have such consequences. She was reminded painfully of her own options and felt tears come to her eyes.

Legolas glanced down at Hermione and wondered what was going through her mind. He reached out his hand to her and she gazed up at him before placing her hand in his and allowing him to pull her to her feet. He sighed, gazing into her eyes. 'You are unsettled and have had a challenging night, Lady Hermione,' he whispered, turning fully towards her.

Hermione nodded, not wanting to be reminded for now. She just wanted to stay in this serene clearing next to the stream and forget about her grief. 'Yeah, I learned a lot. I'm still trying to process it all,' she whispered, letting a tear escape from her eye.

Legolas reached up his free hand and brushed the tear away. 'You need to rest,' he whispered, leaning down and kissing her forehead tenderly. He took a step away as Hermione reached up her hand to her forehead in disbelief for a moment and touched the area where he kissed her. 'Goodnight, Hermione,' he whispered, turning to walk away.

Hermione watched Legolas go in bewilderment for a moment as she struggled to grasp what just transpired. She shook her head, a small smile playing on her lips and she went back to the pavilion. She got into her bed, wrapping the blanket around her. She eventually fell into a restless sleep which was not pleasant as her mind was haunted by the ghosts of the past.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two: Of Revenge and Regret

To the south of Lórien, where the Fellowship were preparing to leave for the next leg of their journey, was Isengard. Orthanc Tower was once one of the greatest marvels of Middle-Earth. Trees bordered Isengard and its gardens once held unique flowers which grew nowhere else in the world. Four convolutedly sculpted fountains stood at the four corners, portraying the gods of old and white stone paths were arranged perfectly to permit one to walk through the gardens and appreciate the beauty around them.

However, when the White Wizard, Saruman, fell to the darkness and assurances of power offered by the Dark Lord, Isengard became a hollow shell. It was nothing more than a fiery black maze of caverns which twisted and turned beneath the Orthanc Tower. A smoking cavern full of factories and mysterious contraptions which Orcs worked day and night to craft armour and weapons for the crossbred army being produced for Sauron.

Up in the tallest chamber in Orthanc Tower, Saruman the Wise sat upon his chair as he eyed one of the newest Orc-Goblin breeds which had been born. Saruman had christened these vile creations with the name "Uruk-Hai" and he smirked at the naked, deformed monstrosity standing before him.

Saruman stood from his chair and moved towards it. 'Do you know how the Orcs first came into being?' he questioned it as he circled it like a predator would circle its prey. 'They were Elves once. Taken by the Dark Powers, tortured and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life,' Saruman divulged, halting and staring at the Uruk-Hai with pride. 'And now perfected. My fighting Uruk-Hai, whom do you serve?' he questioned it.

The Uruk-Hai let out a guttural rasp. 'Saruman,' it said, a malevolent gleam in its eyes.

Saruman smirked before nodding to one of the Orc slaves. 'Take Lurtz below and make him ready,' he ordered before turning away from them.

The Orc nodded and took Lurtz to the caverns below where he was swiftly outfitted with armour; a breastplate, leg guards, and a helmet. A sword was thrust into his hands before he was shoved into a crowd of Uruk-Hai who were smearing themselves in white paint during a sinister ritualistic ceremony. The White Hand of Isengard appeared smeared on bodies, faces and armour.

Saruman observed this from his chamber in Orthanc Tower before addressing the crowd of around two hundred fully armed Uruk-Hai. 'Hunt them down. Do not stop until they are found. You do not know pain. You do not know fear. You will taste man-flesh,' he said, basking in the cheers from the underlings below.

The White Wizard grinned as Lurtz was brought back into the chamber, fully equipped and armed for what Saruman had planned. 'One of the Halflings carries something of great value. Bring them to me alive and unspoiled,' he commanded indifferently and Lurtz growled eagerly. Saruman turned away before glancing back over his shoulder. 'Kill the others,' he added as an afterthought.

Lurtz smiled a smile so contorted and appalling to behold at these words that it would have sent a chill down the spines of even the bravest and fiercest of men. Lurtz headed to the front of the army, leading the mass of Orcs out of Isengard as they made their way to complete the mission Saruman bestowed upon them. They proceeded rapidly across the lands, their powerful legs bearing them at great speed.

oOoOo

Somewhere far in the future...

A black fortress stood on a secluded island off the coast of England, concealed by those who did not already know where it was. Millions of people in the world could not even fathom the horrors of what lay within the fortress or of the twisted hulk of a man who sat upon his throne made of the bones of people he had killed in his life.

The Dark Lord, Voldemort, tapped his skeletal fingers against the arms of his chair, a scowl etched upon his snakelike face. He blew out an infuriated breath through the slits he had for a nose as he waited impatiently for Wormtail to return with Lucius.

In front of him was a stone pedestal, the branches of a tree carved into the side with runes appearing at the ends. In the curved surface of the pedestal was another rune which glowed dimly in the clear water. Voldemort knew he was missing something for the pedestal only revealed to him snippets and fractured views of what he needed to see.

Voldemort had assumed an ancient magic was at work with the pedestal, but he had recently discovered who it had belonged to. Imagine his astonishment when he found the owner to be none other than Helga Hufflepuff, but she had done well to withhold most of the knowledge pertaining to its function. He had no influence over what he could and could not see, which was not only frustrating but served to infuriate him beyond belief.

Voldemort, in his travels, had learned much about runes, symbols, languages of old and relics of myth and legend, but this pedestal was beyond anything he had come across. He had his followers bring him ancient books, scriptures and scrolls which may give an inkling to its true function, but he had come up empty-handed save for a single book. The runes were also a mystery to him, having never seen them before in his long life.

Even combining the Water of Alatáriel with the pedestal yielded few results and he deduced something was missing from the pedestal itself. He knew it had something to do with the water and the rune which glowed faintly, as if mocking him, but he had yet to find the solution.

'We have found a curious object, my Lord,' Lucius declared as he entered the room with a cowering Wormtail in tow.

Voldemort did not even grace them with a scowl or response, but merely raised his hand to provide them the permission they required to approach him. Lucius bowed his head and offered a silver bowl to Voldemort who took it interestedly. He examined it, turning it over in his white hands until he detected the silver bottom under the rune in the pedestal. There was no bottom to the silver bowl, just a hole where something may sit. Curious, he raised his wand, returning the water back to the glass bottle. He positioned the silver bowl into the curved surface of the pedestal, only a little surprised to find it was a perfect fit. He shielded his eyes as the rune shone brilliantly before settling.

Fascinated, Voldemort poured the water into the basin and this time it was much clearer than before. He smirked and ordered everyone out of the room except for Lucius and Bellatrix. He reached for a book which had been the diary of Helga Hufflepuff. It was the only book he had uncovered which alluded to any knowledge on the pedestal. There were several depictions of the runes set in specific orders and he had presumed that they would do something if he touched them, but he could not be sure. The diary was penned in a dialect he had never seen before and translating it was taking longer than he liked.

Regardless, Voldemort sensed he was closer to determining what the pedestal could be utilised for other than just a scrying tool.

oOoOo

Draco inclined against a tree next to the river, his arms crossed. The sun was already high in the sky and he still hadn't found Galadriel. He had talked to some of the Elves, trying to discern where she was, but had received no specific answers. Only one Elf told him to wait by the river.

Sighing, Draco pushed his hair out of his eyes before staring back at the calm waters. The mists of morning lay heavily along the river, obscuring it and making it nearly impossible to see anything in the distance. Bare-branched trees arched through the fog and stray beams of light fell on the cold, blue water.

Draco shook his head, about to give up on finding Galadriel at the moment, but when he glanced once more to the river, he detected something appearing out of the mist. He raised an eyebrow when he realised it was an elegant boat, carved in the likeness of a swan. Galadriel was on the boat and it approached the bank gradually as if it had a mind of its own. She stepped out of it gracefully and almost floated over to Draco who blinked at her.

'Master Draco,' Galadriel greeted, inclining her head to him. 'I am delighted you were able to meet me on this fair morning,' she said, smiling at him.

Draco blinked again. 'Clear cut instructions on where might have been nice,' he countered through gritted teeth.

Galadriel laughed, a sound like tinkling chimes. She did not seem affronted in the least by Draco's brazen tone. 'Shall we?' she invited, moving through the trees towards the clearing.

Draco pushed off the tree and trailed after her, finding himself walking down the spiral stairs to the clearing he stomped down into the night before. In the morning light, he took a moment to assess his surroundings and found his eyes drawn to the mosaic on the ground which he didn't notice the previous night due to his one-track mind.

Galadriel walked over to the pedestal and ran her hand across the lip of the bowl before glancing at Draco. 'Join me, Master Draco,' she summoned, waving him over to the pedestal.

Draco swallowed thickly before moving towards the pedestal cautiously, ogling it as if it would attack him at any minute or Voldemort would emerge from it. Upon closer scrutiny, he found it was not as daunting as he thought. 'I cannot decide if it is impressive or disconcerting,' he muttered, frowning and crossing his arms.

Galadriel tilted her head and narrowed her eyes slightly. 'You appeared fearful of my mirror, Master Draco,' she coaxed, gazing at him with intense blue eyes.

'My father was hunting for your mirror in our time. The Dark Lord had need of it,' Draco replied pensively, rubbing the back of his neck uneasily.

'Do you know what his intentions were for it?' Galadriel asked gently, glancing down at the mirror with a frown.

Draco was thoughtful for a moment, but then shook his head. 'No. My father never told me anything about it. I… overheard him discussing it with my aunt Bellatrix. Something about it being vital to the Dark Lord and that they had to find it quickly before he lost his patience,' he answered guiltily, grasping how foolish it was for him to dash down here and attempt to destroy it without even understanding the facts.

'I see,' Galadriel replied, clasping her hands together in front of her. 'The mirror permits one to see visions of the past, the present and the future. Past concepts are set in stone, but the present and future are ever-shifting from each instant to the next,' she described, running her fingers over the green rune which glowed for a moment.

Draco frowned. 'Is that it?' he inquired, crossing his arms.

Galadriel's lips twitched. 'Not exclusively,' she replied, leaning down and touching the runes on the pedestal which began to glow, and Draco took a step back nervously. 'These runes have several functions, some of which I do not know myself. I am still in the process of discovering them myself. Nevertheless, if Tom Riddle has unearthed any writings on it then he may yet know its potential,' she told him, standing back up and eyeing him worriedly.

'So… there is a possibility that one of the functions will allow him to come here?' Draco asked apprehensively, eager to take out his wand and obliterate the damn thing before it doomed them all.

Galadriel raised her eyebrows. 'I cannot discount the prospect, but what will be, will be, Master Draco. Particular events are already ordained and cannot be altered. Tom Riddle's life and timeline is already a certainty. Every deed he makes has been predetermined in the tapestry of fate,' she responded with a small smile, but Draco was not overly thrilled with this answer.

Draco crossed his arms. 'But… if I was to destroy this mirror… surely he can't use it in the future?' he questioned with a frown.

Galadriel tilted her head. 'Can actions such as destruction make the possible unfeasible? It may hinder him, certainly, but it would not impede him from what he aspires, Master Draco,' she countered, shaking her head deliberately.

'So, regardless of my actions, it's not necessarily a fact that things will change?' Draco inquired, quickly comprehending that this also extended to the actions they would make in the past.

Galadriel nodded. 'Only specific feats will trigger a chain effect to ripple down the timeline and alter the outcomes of history. Destroying my mirror would have an ambiguous effect because it can be restored,' she replied and Draco sighed as he understood the implication of what she was informing him.

'Right,' Draco murmured with a sigh and ran a hand over his face resignedly.

'Do not let this trouble you, Master Draco. There is no assurance of Tom Riddle finding himself in this age. Until it transpires, naught can be accomplished to counteract it,' she answered, shaking her head.

Draco frowned broodingly and gazed at Galadriel. 'Have you seen him in the mirror?' he requested curiously, wondering if she had some insight into what Voldemort was after.

Galadriel shook her head. 'Nothing of note. I have always known he encountered the Ring in your future, yet the particulars of what came after became shrouded,' she answered kindly, frowning down at the mirror.

Draco nodded before reaching up to move his hair out of his face as it fell into his eyes. 'There was one other thing I wanted to discuss with you,' he said timidly as he stared down at his hands.

'What is it you wish to know?' Galadriel invited, her eyes glittering as if she already knew.

Draco glanced up at Galadriel with a frown. 'I need to know who I am. When I arrived in Lothlórien, it was like the Elves knew who I was. They bow to me, they treat me like someone to be worshipped…' he trailed off, shaking his head and closed his eyes. 'I was able to understand the lament they sang for Gandalf, but I have never comprehended Elvish before… so why?' he choked out, his voice shaking and he clenched his fists firmly as he opened his eyes and stared into her blue ones.

Galadriel tilted her head, a radiant smile spreading across her lips as she opened her mouth to answer…

oOoOo

'Nín mellon, mani presta-lle?' a voice solicited, pulling Legolas from his thoughts and he looked up to find Haldir eyeing him curiously. (A/N Translation: 'My friend, what troubles you?')

'Haldir,' Legolas hailed, nodding his head in acknowledgment.

Haldir returned the gesture before frowning. 'Lle thia úga ha itha, Legolas,' he said, tilting his head inquisitively. (A/N Translation: 'You seem ill at ease, Legolas.')

Legolas looked away from Haldir to the stream where he and Hermione had spoken the previous night. After she had left the small clearing, he had found his way back to it and had spent the night reflecting on their conversation. It was plaguing him, dredging up questions he never imagined he would have and memories he would rather forget.

Legolas shook his head before glancing back at Haldir who was watching him silently. 'Ân ae kai en gorremad. O lyt lach alahûrod sin tella n'nir ar amin trass ten mani i esta en sina lema thel gonalas,' he replied pensively, although he knew it was only a half-truth. (A/N Translation: 'It is nothing of consequence. A lot has transpired these last few days and I worry for what the rest of this journey will entail.')

'Av-il adla vanwa mani ae ben tol ar ten mani lle gar-ava ach,' Haldir advised, glancing at Legolas who frowned at him. (A/N Translation: 'Do not fret over what is to come and for what you cannot change.')

Legolas's lips twitched after a moment. 'Fael ago, nín mellon,' he uttered as his eyes subconsciously located Hermione who was sitting next to a small pond at the other end of the pavilion, her head laying on her knees. (A/N Translation: 'Fair words, my friend.')

Haldir noticed this and a smile blossomed onto his face. 'The heart is delicate,' he whispered, bringing Legolas's focus back to him. 'Av-il ûl i nadh faun lleû baudh go mani thel gar, Legolas,' he said and tilted his head. (A/N Translation: 'Do not let the past cloud your judgement of what will be, Legolas.') 'Aena hûn dringa tariluged a tog ammen bas imrad ar nan oltha ar harch aphada. Dani'iad, aphada ân ar boe,' he said before turning and walking away towards the pavilion. (A/N Translation: 'Every heart beats differently and leads us down paths we never dreamed we would follow. Nevertheless, follow it we must.')

Legolas watched Haldir go for a moment before staring down at his hands, a sorrow clouding his eyes. He turned towards the stream, gazing up at the clear blue sky. 'Ane lle antaehad lleû hûn, nín mell Hélène?' he asked in a whisper and closed his eyes. (A/N Translation: 'Did you question your heart, my dear Hélène?')

oOoOo

Caras Galadhon was beautiful in the morning sunlight streaming through the trees, rays of light cast on the pond water glistening with every ripple on the surface. Under ordinary circumstances, Hermione would have been captivated by the radiance of the forest, but this morning found her staring into the clear depths of the pond dejectedly.

Images replayed themselves in Hermione's mind like a broken record and Galadriel's words from the night before haunted her, tearing at her mind like nails across a chalkboard. Her heart was aching, and she felt a deep-rooted guilt eating her up. She still couldn't process the notion of what her birth parents went through to ensure that she would remain protected from Voldemort. Such altruism should not warrant a death sentence. Her childhood had been nothing but happy, for which she was grateful for, but that happiness should have been reserved for her birth parents.

Why didn't they tell me? Hermione questioned heatedly, thumping her fist into the grass. She would be eternally appreciative to her parents for keeping her safe from Voldemort and making sure the wisdom of the Elves was passed onto her, but she couldn't help but feel slightly deceived. I was living a lie, she believed, tears falling from her eyes and she wiped them away irritably. She took a deep breath and shook her head. No, I need to believe they did what they had to, she told herself as she wrapped her arms tighter around her legs.

Hermione gazed up at the sky, a frown forming on her brow as the other reason for her melancholy came to the forefront of her mind. Her future was now entirely undecided, and she found herself balancing on a tightrope. No matter which way she plummeted there would be consequences.

Becoming an Elf and returning to the future meant she would lose everything as she would have to leave everyone behind to journey to Valinor. The past would hold the same outcome, but at least she would be with other Elves she had encountered and grown to care about in this age. At this thought, she glanced behind her to where Legolas was standing by the fountain talking to Aragorn. As if sensing eyes on him, he glanced over at her and tilted his head. She blinked and looked away, but still felt his curious gaze burning into her back.

Opting to be Mortal would make little difference to Hermione. She had assumed she was Mortal her entire life and imagined it would continue as it always has. This was the preferable choice because, although she would forget this time, she would still have everyone in the future. She also believed Harry and Draco would return to the future rather than stay in the past. On the other hand, should she remain in the past she would have people here, but the Elves would return to Valinor… including Legolas.

Hermione closed her eyes, unsure why this thought disappointed her more than it should. She took a deep breath, trying to soothe her worries. The image of her birth mother holding her and crooning a familiar lullaby entered her mind and she found herself singing it, in the hopes it would calm her racing mind like it did when she was a child.

'Ilia ndu nît dol ar enn glîr lle o melana,' Hermione began, not realising that a pair of blue eyes had shifted promptly to gaze at her. 'Ad a i idhrinn en loo-li lai-lay. A enn glîr lle a kaima ar enn glîr lle abarad. Galu lle yassen mela ten i malle tanya lle ia. Lotesse lle mista hae a i hae parth en haren yassen faenfîth ar aithva ls ie lleû dol ar lleû gosn. A lotesse lle baur amrad a warlen athgalu. Lotesse lle hir mîl e ilya tanya lle govad. Lotesse eller ilyamenie na glîras a tir vanwa lle. Pol gûde lle ilye vano en i lend. Pol tiria lle ar gartha lle varna tuulo ilya útha. Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay…' she trailed off, tears coming to her eyes and she buried her face in her knees.

Hermione felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, and she jumped, wrenched from her reflections back to reality. She peered over her shoulder to find Legolas bent down just behind her, his pale blue eyes soft but probing. She bit her lip and looked away back into the pond as more tears welled in her eyes. She didn't want him to see her like this and she felt feeble under his gaze.

Abruptly, Hermione wanted to be away from Legolas. The influx of feelings and emotions she was struggling to identify where he was concerned were too much. She staggered to her feet and took a step away from him. 'I'm fine,' she whispered, crossing her arms.

Legolas straightened and arched an eyebrow at Hermione. 'Evidently,' he replied quietly, tilting his head slightly and she could tell he didn't believe her for a second.

Hermione stared back at Legolas with a frown. She knew it was meaningless to lie to him, but she wasn't sure he was the best person to speak to about how she was feeling. Would he even try to understand? Would he even care? She questioned herself, but it seems her feet made the judgment for her as she turned to walk away.

Not knowing what unexpectedly possessed him, Legolas reached out and grabbed Hermione's arm gently, pulling her back towards him. He felt her tense as he wrapped his arms around her. 'It is easy to accuse ourselves when we lose a dear one, Hermione, but it is not your fault,' he whispered tenderly, closing his eyes as he tightened his hold on her.

Hermione closed her eyes, relaxing into Legolas but her arms remained at her side, too afraid to wrap her arms around him for fear of him coming to his senses and fleeing. She leaned into him, burying her face in his tunic and breathing him in like he would disappear at any moment.

Legolas, on the other hand, was completely terrified of the raw emotion that took over him when he identified the heartache etched so unmistakably into her face. He needed to embrace her and shield her from the world that would seek to harm her. He knew she was more than capable of looking out for herself physically, but he sought to fight the demons plaguing her mind. Even though he knew she would probably never let him.

Hermione sniffed and brought Legolas out of his deliberations. He swallowed thickly and withdrew away from her, keeping her at arm's length. She gazed up at him, smiling sadly before stepping away from him before he could have an opportunity to do so himself. She turned back to the pond and sighed. 'Thank you,' she whispered, crossing her arms.

Legolas frowned, wondering what he did to make Hermione feel like she needed to thank him, but he nodded slowly. 'Hermione…' he trailed off as she turned back to glance at him inquisitively. 'No matter how dark the night, morning always comes,' he whispered, his eyes searching hers for a moment. 'This journey is far from over. Are you prepared for what may come?' he asked, tilting his head as he gazed at her.

Hermione nodded. 'Yes, I'll be fine. It was just some unexpected news…' she trailed off, looking away from Legolas and frowning at the pond.

Legolas nodded, taking a step towards Hermione and laying his hand on her shoulder tenderly. 'Do not carry these burdens alone, Hermione. Remember you have Master's Harry and Draco with you. Should the necessity arise, it may be prudent to speak with them to alleviate anything that is disturbing you,' he whispered, stepping back again with a frown. Part of him longed to tell her that she could speak to him as well, but he wasn't sure if that was sensible.

Hermione gazed at Legolas, something he couldn't be certain of flickering in her eyes before it was gone. She nodded sluggishly before moving past him towards the pavilion without another backwards glance.