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The Harbinger's Song

Chapter Text

 

 

Tall, pale tree trunks rise around him, the wide gaps between them belying their sheer size. Though he does not walk a clear path, no underbrush bars his way; he continues in a meandering line, golden brown leaves drifting to the ground around him in lazy arcs and swoops. There is a small harp in his hands, shaped in elegant, curving lines from silver metal. He does not remember learning how to play the harp, but nonetheless his fingers twist deftly across the strings, plucking at the silver to produce a haunting melody he has never heard before.

Dark blue, silver-embroidered robes he cannot remember donning swish gracefully around his legs, gently stirring the fallen leaves. Black doeskin boots he does not remember receiving leave no impression in the dirt as he walks. His long black hair, gently curled, hangs unbound past his collar bone, though he cannot remember allowing it to grow out. He does not know how long he has been walking through the pale, unchanging woods before the urge to sing overtakes him.

O Gil-galad i Edhelchír

dim linnar i thelegain :

Im Belegaer a Hithaeglir

Aran ardh vethed vain a lain.

Gariel maeg ech Gil-galad,

Thôl palan - gennen, ann-vegil;

A giliath arnoediad

Tann thann dîn be genedril.

Dan io-anann os si gwannant

A m as, ú-bedir ithronath;

An gîl dîn na-dúath di-dhant,

vi Mordor, ennas ca ed a gwath.

He does not recognize the song, or the language, or even his own voice, but somehow he understands, and as the hauntingly beautiful voice that cannot possibly belong to him weaves in and out of the harp's mournful notes, he weeps for Gil-Galad the Elvenking. It is only as the final note rings out, clear as a crystal bell, that something finally changes in the unchanging wood.

"Daro."

An ethereal, velvety woman's voice intones the word with absolute authority. Stop. He turns smoothly on his heel to face the speaker, his fingers at last stilling on the harp strings.

She stands a few lengths away, a tall and graceful figure in a sweeping, shimmering silver dress, glowing like a fallen star against the pale wood. Long silver-gold hair spills in waves over her shoulders, threaded through with silver wire and gems that seem to culminate in a circlet on her brow. Intense, unnaturally blue eyes pierce him through. A mind brushes against his own, inquisitive, and he knows without knowing that it is her mind he feels, and her mind that gave the command its ethereal double timbre.

He cants his head to the side curiously.

"Man le?" she asks, making no move to come closer. Who are you?

Silence falls over the woods as he considers the question. When he does speak, words he does not remember learning rolling smoothly from his tongue, he is quite surprised by the answer.

"Ú-iston," he whispers. I don't know.

Then the pale wood fades away, and suddenly it is Harry James Potter who is blinking up at the ceiling of the Hospital Wing, awake a scant few hours after Voldemort's defeat.

Not even a day, he thinks somewhat hysterically, sitting upright and burying his face in his hands.

Harry remembers having these dreams as far back as he can recall, though he can remember only vague impressions of places and songs he had never seen or heard of, either before or since then. Early in his childhood, he attempted to tell his Aunt Petunia about the strange, beautiful places he couldn't quite remember, but he tried only once; all it earned him was a sharp smack, a command to dispense with his "freakishness," and a day spent locked out of Privet Drive in the blistering sun. Little Harry prudently kept his odd dreams, along with all the rest of his "freakishness," to himself after that. He considered telling one of the Professors once he had come to Hogwarts, but as an insecure eleven-year-old child it had seemed just one more thing to set him apart from his already distant peers, and as he grew older that feeling had only intensified. So he simply accepted the dreams and moved on.

But this dream… he knows this dream is important. This dream is the first where a sentient being appeared, and the first that he clearly remembers.

Contrary to popular perception, Harry is not an idiot. A bit impulsive, sure, but he's actually quite an intelligent wizard, if not a particularly studious one. Call it the Gryffindor in him. The part of Harry that's tired of mystery and destiny and all that ludicrous mumbo-jumbo desperately wants to dismiss the dream as a product of the extreme trauma that just occurred, a subconscious attempt to complete his remaining mystery. But the intelligent part knows the dream for what it is, no matter how unpleasant, and this dream is clearly a portent of things to come.

If there's one thing he's familiar with, it's harbingers of doom, and this one's a doozy.

So, Harry James Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, Man-Who-Conquered, wizard-who-is-actually-quite-intelligent, and person-who-really-hates-hyphenated-titles reaches around his back, snags the pillow, buries his face in it, and screams in muffled rage.

Not even a bloody day--!


The First HS Cover:

 

    


 

Chapter Text

 

              Harry dreams of the pale woods every night for a week, though the golden-haired lady never makes a reappearance. He merely wanders with his harp and his song, returning to the waking world only once the last syllable has fallen from his lips. Though he is perfectly content in the dreams, peaceful even, in the real world he endures a near-constant feeling of apprehension. When Madam Pomfrey finally releases him from the Hospital Wing on the seventh day, he is desperate enough to seek out Hermione and ask her to find him an Occlumency teacher. Though visibly surprised, she agrees enthusiastically and promptly vanishes.

              It is with a profound sense of relief that the young wizard goes to bed that night. Surely, he thinks, I’ll be able to block the dreams once I’ve studied properly. All I have to do is wait a bit.

              So of course, par for the course in the life of Harry Potter, that is the night the dream changes.


 

              He sits comfortably on a thick limb of a tall tree he does not remember scaling. There is nothing but air and a few scattered branches between his feet—shod in soft, pale leather shoes of a style he has never seen before—and the ground far below. A polished silver flute lays lengthwise across his lap, contrasting sharply with the dark green fabric of side-lace leggings he does not remember donning. The tails of a finely-tailored robe he has never seen before, knee length with a high collar and tapered sleeves, hang off the branch beneath him and swing gently with each carefree kick of his legs. He admires the way the dark green brocade of the robe matches the flute, which is delicately engraved and accented with gold filigree and pale gems.

              The woods lay deep in shadow around him, thick with green foliage and the dark trunks of ancient trees. No wind stirs through this dark forest, leaving the air to envelop him in a miasma of pine and tree sap and unspeakably dark things. It is uncomfortable, like a chill up his spine, but not frightening; he knows without knowing that he is safe, for he is here to catalyze a change. So he wets his lips, a satisfied smile curving upward for reasons unknown, and raises the flute to his mouth.

 

             

The first note is deep and low, and he holds the trembling sound for a long time; he closes his eyes and feels, deep in his bones, as it reverberates through the whole forest, passing from tree to tree, ringing through gully and vale, stirring the leaves and agitating stagnant waters. He feels the whole of the wood slowly stop and turn its metaphorical eyes to him, the whispers of the trees quieting as he commands their attention. He stops blowing across the mouthpiece and inhales deeply, listening with satisfaction as the ethereal echoes of the note slowly die; when he is certain that all is still and quiet, he raises the flute back to his lips and begins his song.

              The melody is deep and dark, a deliberate reflection of the forest itself, though he does not know why or even how he is creating such a tune; he does not remember ever holding a flute, much less learning to play it like a master or improvise a song. But these things do not matter to him, so all he focuses on is how his head dips and bobs in time with the notes, loose black hair falling across his face as he gives in to the sheer feeling of the music.

              He keeps his eyes closed as he plays; it is only through some sense he does not understand that he knows the beasts of the forest gather around him, called, presumably, by his song. One particularly bold squirrel climbs chittering up the tree to perch on his thigh. When he is certain that all who will answer his call have arrived, and that all are intent upon him, he takes a breath, smiles, and changes the melody.

              The ponderous darkness fades away, though the notes are still deep and visceral, for it is the nature of these woods to straddle the line between wildness and evil. With quick flicks of his fingers, he introduces bursts of light and happiness, like sunlight falling through the leaves, methodically carrying the tune into joyful, lively territory. His flute sings new life into the air, fresh and vibrant. The animals chitter or squawk or bray excitedly at the change, fluttering or prancing in place as they too feel the joy of the song.

              He does not know why, but he then begins to draw the song to a close. There is life and there is light in his melody, yes, but now also a bouncing playfulness that makes even him want to run and dance and sing. The animals rush off excitedly, their calls echoing joyfully as they spread the energy of the song deeper and deeper into the dark wood. Even when all have gone from him, the bold squirrel included, he still continues to coax the song toward its end. It is only when the last note fades away, just as it was in that fateful pale wood, that someone speaks.

              “Daro!”

              This voice is not soft or feminine by any stretch of the imagination. It is much closer to a deep bark of authority, though somehow less commanding than the golden-haired lady managed to be. Another mind brushes against his own, though it is less intentional, less powerful, and much more hostile.

He opens his eyes and lowers the flute.

He was right in his assumptions. It is a male that crouches in an adjacent tree, clad in deep green and shining silver armor, twin swords strapped to his sides. His hair is long, straight, and pale as wheat where it falls free over his shoulders. The man glares with suspicious grey-blue eyes from under thick brows, and a crown—finely crafted, yet made from twigs and leaves—sits upon his head.

“Man le?” the man asks, though it is nearly a command.

He smiles at the suspicious maybe-king, for he does not have to think about his answer this time. “Ú-iston,” he murmurs with a shake of his head, smile saddening. He is afforded one look at the maybe-king’s surprised and perplexed expression before the dream fades away and he is one more Harry James Potter.

The dark-haired wizard stares up at the shadowed ceiling for a long, silent moment, speechless with disgust and apprehension; a bark of cynical laughter escapes his lips.

“So that’s going to be the way of things, eh?” he mutters to himself, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. The parallels between his meeting with the golden-haired lady and the maybe-king are obvious enough to be chilling and serve only to heighten Harry’s feeling of impending doom; he did not like the pale wood and he likes this new, dark wood even less. The young, put-upon wizard chuckles hysterically and scrubs his hands across his face.

“You better find me that Occlumens quick, ‘mione.”

Chapter Text

              Harry finds himself unable to fall asleep after waking from his dream, so when he finally bows to the inevitable and gets up in the morning he is tired and ill-tempered. However, the edge is quickly taken off his temper by a beaming Hermione, who comes bounding up to the makeshift breakfast table he is eating at with Horace Slughorn in tow.

              “Oh Harry, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it yesterday,” she says brightly, plopping down beside him, “but Professor Slughorn is both an Occlumens and a Legillimens! He’s agreed to teach you.”

              “I would be more than happy to tutor you, Harry,” Slughorn cuts in smoothly, a benevolent smile on his face. “Occlumency is quite useful, especially if you still want to become an Auror. We can start immediately if you’d prefer.”

              Harry’s tensed shoulders relax, profound relief washing over him. “Thank you very much, Professor,” he says, flashing a genuine smile at the rotund man. “I’m willing to start now if you are.”

              “Excellent, excellent!” the professor says jovially. “My office escaped the brunt of the destruction. We can start there as soon as breakfast is over.”

              “Of course. I’ll meet you there,” agrees Harry. He turns to Hermione as Slughorn walks off, wrapping her in a grateful hug. “Thanks, ‘mione.”

              The bushy-haired witch shoots him an odd look, though she smiles as well and returns the embrace. “It was no trouble, Harry,” she says, then hesitates. “And… of course, if… if anything’s wrong, you can always talk to me, you know? Or Ron.”

              The dark-haired wizard looks guiltily back down at his breakfast, wishing he’s told her in their first or second year. He wants to tell Hermione now, especially after everything they’ve been through together, but he feels it would be cruel to burden her with his worry so soon after everything. So instead he looks back up, smiles reassuringly, and says “it’s nothing, Hermione. I’m just… I just need this after everything that’s happened.” Not a lie, really.

              Hermine’s eyes brighten with realization at his words, and she pats his shoulder sympathetically. “Oh, of course, Harry. Listen, I’m going to go find wherever Ron went off to, alright?” She pats his shoulder again and stands.

              Harry waves her off. “Go find the lout,” he agrees with a nod, “I’ll save some food for you, yeah?”

              She flashes a grateful smile over her shoulder as she dashes off, leaving Harry to stew in his guilt alone, a plate of slowly congealing eggs his only company.


 

              Harry meets Slughorn twice a day every day after that, once after breakfast and once after dinner. If the professor is surprised at Harry’s newfound enthusiasm for the mind arts, he’s tactful enough not to say anything; if he’s surprised at Harry’s unsubtle questions about how one can block dreams out, well, he’s tactful enough not to say anything about that either.

              The dreams of the dark wood follow the same pattern as those of the pale wood, with one difference: with each new day, the darkness and evil of the wood lessen, until he barely has to play at all to restore the life in it.

Despite Harry’s best efforts, and despite Professor Slughorn’s exemplary tutoring, seven days is simply not enough time to learn something as complex and advanced as the complete blocking of dreams. And so, it is with trepidation that Harry goes to sleep on the seventh night.


 

              It is not a forest he is in or a tree he walks from beneath, but instead a high, arching portico fashioned from pale wood and stone. He steps barefoot onto the cool flagstones that have been laid so smoothly to form a path; the portico extends into an elegant colonnade that shelters the flagstone path, and he follows it by some instinct and familiarity he does not remember gaining. He knows this place to be a safe haven and the home of a great healer, though he does not remember how he learned this.

The hem of his long, hooded cloak --made of brown velvet and embroidered with gold-- sweeps along the ground behind him with gentle, rhythmic swishing sounds. The robes beneath are knee length and high-collared, fashioned from an intricate brocade fabric the color of raw umber, and complimented by immaculate trousers of the same brown as the cloak. He does not remember any of these garments, but that is beginning to matter less and less.

His feet carry him on a familiar path as he hums softly, meandering through the walkways that surround the grand house; he ascends a wide staircase cut into a tall outcropping of rock, following the pale lanterns on either side to an elegant stone gazebo situated at the top. He crosses a short bridge, passes through an archway, rounds the stone table that sits under the center of the dome, and mounts a few stone steps onto an East-facing platform that juts out over the river far beneath him.

The valley below is enshrouded by predawn mist, the white stone of the surrounding cliffs painted in a pale lavender color as the night sky begins to lighten. He reaches up and pulls the hood of his robe down, revealing long black hair --tied back at the nape of his neck-- and sweeping bangs that frame his eyes. A violin and bow, both very finely crafted from dark, reddish wood, rest in one hand; he takes the bow in his free hand and raises the violin, cradling it securely between his chin and shoulder. When or where he learned to arrange his fingers across the violin’s neck, and when or where he learned to draw the bow properly across the strings, he does not know, but he does it nonetheless. With his eyes on the slowly lightening horizon, he inhales deeply of the cool air and begins to play.

The sweet notes ring out through the valley, clear and bright as moonlit crystal. He smiles, love swelling in his chest, and he knows deep within himself that this song is a song of praise and adoration. As the first rays of dawn peek over the distant mountains, he begins to sing.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel

silivren penna míriel

o menel aglar elenath!

Na-chaered palan-díriel

o galadhremmin ennorath,

Fanuilos, le linnathon

nef aear, sí nef aearon!

A Elbereth Gilthoniel

o menel palan-diriel,

le nallon sí di'nguruthos!

A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

He smiles as his voice weaves in and out of the violin’s lilting notes, filled with such genuine adoration for Elbereth Starkindler that tears well in his eyes, though they do not spill over. 

He is not surprised when, after the final syllable rolls off his tongue and the final note echoes through the valley, a voice speaks from behind him.

“Daro.”

This voice is like neither of the other two. It is masculine but not deep, cautious but not hostile. In fact, it is quite soft and welcoming, the voice of one prepared to welcome a stranger if they themselves are not hostile. This is a voice that speaks of help and safety.

He lowers the violin and turns, a smile still gracing his lips.

Indeed, the speaker’s appearance harmonizes perfectly with his voice. A very tall man stands on the opposite side of the gazebo, clad in long burgundy robes of silk brocade, high-collared and long-sleeved like his own shorter robes. His skin is pale, his keen eyes the soft gray of spring storm cloud, and his long brown hair is swept back over his shoulders, held in place by an intricate silver circlet. Most curious of all, his exposed ears are pointed, though this does not seem so strange to him; he knows without knowing that this man is an elf.

“Man le?” the elf asks softly, the tension in his shoulders easing at the mutual lack of hostility.

His smile fades, though it is not with sadness that he answers, but with tiredness. “Ú-iston,” he sighs with a shake of his head, gesturing carelessly with the hand holding the bow. And as the sun finally rises above the horizon, haloing him in the light of dawn, the dream fades away.

He is once more Harry James Potter.

The young wizard, curled up on his side, stares into the shadowed corners of the room with a faintly stunned air. Pointed ears, he thinks, his brain grinding to a halt. An elf. Not a house elf, a bloody High Elf with bloody pointed ears. An elf. What--?

Harry turns his face into the pillow and proceeds to vehemently recite every curse word he ever learned from the Gryffindor Quidditch team (which is quite a lot of very naughty words, coincidentally). When he runs out of curses, he sits up and pummels his mattress for good measure, a scream of rage locked behind his gritted teeth.

What the bloody fucking hell?!?” he scream-whispers, slumping back down onto the mattress and staring incredulously up at the ceiling. “An elf? What the bloody hell is that even supposed to mean?!?

He sits up suddenly and throws his legs over the side of the bed. “No, you know what, fuck this,” he growls, standing. “I’m done. I’m not dealing with this.”

And with that, he stomps off to the burnt out shell of the Quidditch Pitch and spends the rest of the night flying, trying in vain to forget the strangeness of the dream and his own slowly increasing sense of doom.

Chapter Text

              Harry throws himself into his occlumency studies after the violin dream; whenever he’s not meditating, he searches through the damaged library for any surviving books that might offer him some insight into his curse. Professor Slughorn accepts his near-rabid intensity with equanimity, though he casts concerned glances at Harry’s back whenever he thinks the younger wizard isn’t looking. Ron and Hermione, busy with rebuilding efforts, keep their concern to quiet comments and sympathetic smiles; no one else sees enough of Harry to be truly concerned. Luna looks at him soberly, the one time she passes him in the library, and quietly informs him that “you can’t block out destiny, Harry.”

              But Harry can’t stop trying, because the dreams aren’t following the same pattern anymore. In both of the forests, he wandered the same path –alone-- after meeting one person on the first night. After the first night in the valley city, he finds himself wandering different paths and gardens while playing the violin and occasionally singing. He passes multiple tall, well-dressed elves, all of whom stop to stare in shock and amazement as he glides past; they never say anything, never make a move to follow him, but the memory of their intense stares unnerves him when he wakes up.

He never does see the first elf man again, though.


 

              Six days pass; despite Harry’s manic efforts, he’s no closer to blocking out his dreams than he was when he first started. The worn-out young wizard considers not sleeping at all on the seventh evening, but he knows that would be only a temporary solution, if he even managed to stay awake all night. So he lays down, resigned to another unknown change, and quickly falls asleep.


      He stands a sandy shore at sunset, the clouds above heavy with impending rain. The sun descends slowly toward the horizon, painting the clouds in a pale orange color that reflects across the waves and the wet sand. The sea is a dark, greyish-green color, undisturbed by large waves. He stands on the edge of the water, small swells breaking over his ankles, and looks out to the horizon.

 

 

              His loose white pants are rolled up to his knees in order to keep the hems dry; his white shirt, laced loosely over his chest, billows in the strong ocean breeze. The few strands of black hair that have broken free of his braid whip around in the wind as well, some sticking his face. A shining golden trumpet reflects the dying light from where it rests loosely in his hand. He does not immediately raise the instrument to his lips, but instead stands motionless for a long time, drinking in the beauty of the sea, feeling the cool caress of the wind across his skin, and tasting the salt in the air. It is only as the sun finally touches the horizon that he licks his lips and raises the trumpet.

              The notes ring out over the water with an unnatural richness, as if a great many musicians are playing instead of just one. The song is slow and solemn, like a grand farewell. Specter-like white ships seem to glide across the water far before him, disappearing into the West, but he cannot tell if they are real or merely some hallucination on his part. He raises the trumpet higher, watching the specters, and bids them goodbye in gentle, brassy notes.

              The sun sinks completely beyond the horizon as the last ship vanishes; the final measure of the song reverberates over the gentle ocean swells just at the first stars make their twinkling appearance in the night sky. This time, after he lowers the instrument and smiles, listening to the hiss and crash of the waves, a few moment of silence pass before someone speaks.

“Daro.”

              The voice is not particularly deep in tone, but it is smooth and solemn, and certainly a man’s voice. He thinks it a very wise voice, one that belongs to a man who has seen and knows very many things. A mind brushes against his, soft and inquisitive.

              He turns to face the speaker.

              A tall elf-man stands on the sand a few lengths away, regarding him with pale blue eyes from underneath bushy white brows. He wears an ornate tunic of pale gray; his pants, stark white, are rolled up, and his feet are also bare. His hair is long and white, swept back and tied with a simple leather thong at his neck; a long white beard, unadorned but neat, falls to his breast.

              Predictably, the elf asks his question in a voice just loud enough to be heard over the wind and waves. “Man le?”

              This time, his reply is a mere statement of fact, delivered without emotion. “Ú-iston.”

              The elf is not surprised or saddened by his words; as the dream once more fades away, he sees the elf nod solemnly.

              Then he is once more Harry James Potter.

Harry is just… tired. He throws one arm over his eyes and goes limp, too exhausted to summon up any anger or disgust or incredulity. How long will this go on? He wonders. Wherever this is going… just let it end, he begs, though he’s not sure who he’s begging. I’m so tired.

Death sounds like a pretty good deal right about now, at least in Harry’s opinion. He can go back to the train station, get on the train and move on this time, see his parents and Sirius and Mooney and everyone who died again, if he just...

He shakes his head in disgust, curling up on his side and pulling the blanket up over his head. What am I thinking? He wonders. I’m stronger than this. I’ll beat it, of course I will. Merlin, I beat the bloody Dark Lord! I can beat this.

              But then what? Something whispers in the back of his mind. You didn’t even have twenty-four hours of rest before this started. What if that’s your curse? What if every time you defeat some great evil, solve some great mystery, another begins? The thought is terrifying.

              More terrifying is the fact that it seems entirely possible.

              A kind of grim determination settles over him. He throws the covers back and sits up, grabbing his wand and glasses. I will stop these dreams, he tells himself firmly, standing and walking quickly out the door, his destination the library.

I just need more time.

Chapter Text

              Harry gets less than eight hours of sleep over the next three days. Each night, the same pattern repeats: he falls asleep, exhausted, and dreams of the sea. It soon becomes clear that the stretch of coast he walks along belongs to a port city, seen far in the distance, and with each night the distance lessens drastically; by the third, he is standing on the outskirts.

              The city really is quite beautiful, with its pale carven stone, brightly flowering gardens, and elegant elvish architecture, but Harry is terrified as it draws closer; he wakes in a cold sweat, gasping and trembling. Panic claws at the young wizard’s throat, and each night he does not—cannot—go back to sleep. He sneaks through the sleeping castle, invisibility cloak draped over his shoulders, and slips into the library to continue his desperate search. That Madam Pince, so fiercely protective of her library, doesn’t bother to kick him out for sneaking in at night is a testament to just how much leeway Harry’s defeat of the Dark Lord has earned him in the eyes of the wizarding public.

              It is on the third night that the dark-haired savior of the wizarding world is forced to face reality. In the deep hours of the night, with books and papers scattered haphazardly over a reparo’d table, a single lantern painting his hidden alcove in warm, buttery light, Harry buries his face in his hands and finally breaks down.

              There’s just no way, he thinks despairingly, huching over the table. It’s impossible. I don’t have enough bloody time to learn this! And he knows, oh he knows, that his time is running out, like sand slipping through the neck of an hourglass. The day of reckoning is drawing closer, and Harry has the terrible feeling that it will come in exactly four days’ time.

              It takes a long while to claw his way out of his despair, but claw his way out he does; Harry is an unyielding Gryffindor, and this is hardly the lowest he’s ever been.

              It takes quite a lot to beat walking willingly to your own death.

              So Harry rallies himself, and in the ashes of his hope, he reforges his resolve, a new fire building up in his chest. With hair in wild disarray and deep, dark circles under his eyes, he pushes the occlumency tomes to the side, seizes the lantern, and delves back into the depths of the library with a new question to answer: just what—or where—is he dreaming of?


 

Hermione, predictably, intervenes on the fourth morning.

              “Harry, this isn’t healthy,” she says bluntly, startling Harry from his reading as she sits down on the other side of the table.

              “W’zzat, ‘mione?” he slurs, rubbing at his crusty, bloodshot eyes. The world swims around him.

              Hermione’s disapproving frown deepens. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself.  You need to sleep, and eat, and—and go outside! Merlin, Harry, when was the last time you even showered?”

              The dark-haired wizard stares blankly at her for a long moment before his eyebrows knit together incredulously. “Hermione Granger,” he says slowly, “the queen of putting her own personal needs aside in favor of research, is telling me, Harry Potter, to stop researching and go outside?”  He sits back, eyebrows raised in astonishment. “Someone call the Daily Prophet, quick!”

              Hermione has the grace to blush. “Yes, well,” she coughs awkwardly, “you and Ron are the ones who get me to take a break, so now it’s my turn.” The bushy-haired witch nods firmly at her rationale, crossing her arms and meeting Harry’s gaze defiantly.

              “’mione…” he pinches the bridge of his nose, takes a deep breath, and sighs, his exhaustion crashing down on him all at once. “I just… ‘mione, I just can’t.” His voice cracks. “I have to solve this. I just—I have to.” Harry leans his elbows on the table and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, breathing the parchment-and-ink-scented air in slowly, calmingly.

              “Harry…” A slender hand touches his arm, but he doesn’t look up. “Harry, what’s really going on?” Hermione asks in a fretful whisper.

              His resolve shatters utterly at that single whisper, and with a dry sob the whole story comes spilling out, from start to finish. Hermione sits in stunned silence, listening intently to every word, and quickly becomes deeply thoughtful. When Harry finally trails off and dares to look up, she’s leaning on the table with one hand against her mouth, staring vacantly but intently down at the book Harry was reading earlier.

              “Another world,” she mutters after a few minutes of tense silence. “I’ve come across some theories about other dimensions and worlds, but they all seemed so…so tangential, so apocryphal, like the ramblings of madmen.” Hermione looks up, an eager sort of fire lighting up her soft brown eyes. Harry recognizes that fire. In fact, he’s intimately familiar with it, as it originally appeared in their first year and has appeared every year since.

              It’s quintessential Hermione, and Harry feels a sudden, intense rush of brotherly love for his friend of nigh-on seven years.

              “I know exactly where to start looking,” she says with obvious relish, then stops suddenly and frowns severely at him. “But,” she says sternly, “if I’m going to help you, then you have to promise me you’ll go shower, eat something, then have a lie-down, alright?”

              Harry’s eyes widen in surprise and alarm. “Hermione, I can’t…what if it--?” He trails off with a helpless shake of his head.

              “Harry, you still need sleep,” she says, the fire of fervor in her eyes dying down to warm concern. “At least try? Please, for me?”

              The dark-haired wizard looks away with a soft curse. Hermione puppy-eyes are a dangerous, dangerous weapon.

              “Alright,” he relents after a moment. “I’ll try. For you, you damn cheater.” The last part he adds as a grumbled aside.

              Hermione beams.


 

              Harry does dream, but only because his much-needed nap lasts from noon to two a.m. the next day.

This time he walks through the port city, playing a low, sweet melody on his trumpet. Just like in the valley city, the residents of the town stop and stare in shock and amazement at his passing. The stares still unnerve him in the waking world, but this time he has more to ponder about these strange elf-people. For one thing, the elves in the coastal city are dressed in less finery. In fact, where the valley-elves seem like some kind of nobility, the coastal elves seem like craftsmen and sailors, dressed in beautiful but sturdy and practical clothing.

He still wakes up in a cold sweat.

              He doesn’t try to go back to sleep, but instead heads back down to the library. He finds Hermione slumped over his table, out cold. Her cheek is squished against the table, her mouth slightly agape, and gentle breaths stir the errant tendril of curly brown hair that drapes over her nose. Smiling fondly, Harry carefully levitates her body and walks her back to the Gryffindor common room, where he lays her on a couch and covers her with a blanket. Ron is asleep in a wingback chair, having, presumably, fallen asleep while waiting for Hermione to return. Harry covers him with a blanket as well, and heads back out to continue his research.

              The dark-haired wizard works through the literature Hermione pulled while he was sleeping, not even attempting to decipher her cryptic notes. The witch herself shows up at around eight and drags Harry off to breakfast with a fond but exasperated roll of her eyes. Ron joins them, joking good-naturedly about having ‘two Hermiones now, blimey!’ They part ways at nine, Ron going off to continue rebuilding and Harry and Hermione heading back to the library.

              They find very little, only vague and mad-sounding references to a similar-seeming world, named in one account as “Arda.”

              A fierce frown crosses Hermione’s face at this revelation.

              “Arda,” she murmurs. “Arda, Arda, Arda. Where have I heard that name before?” Then her eyes widen, and before Harry can say a word she sprints out the door and disappears without so much as a muttered goodbye. The green-eyed young man stares after her in surprise, but doesn’t attempt to follow. He knows all too well that such an effort would be in vain.


 

Hermione doesn’t reappear that night.

Harry falls asleep at their table in the library, despite his best efforts, and dreams of the port city again. This time, he walks alone, and only a short way. He solemnly boards a white ship, shaped like a swan, and wakes just as the boat begins to move. It is possibly the shortest dream he’s ever had.

“Harry!”

It’s Hermione’s voice and face he wakes to, sitting upright in his chair with a gasp and a jolt.

“’mione?” he croaks, wiping the drool from the corner of his jaw and squinting at the half-illuminated figure looming over him. “What…?”

The witch in question is utterly disheveled; her hair is pulled into a messy ponytail on top of her head, wand stuck through, and her grim face is smeared with dust, as are her muggle-style clothes.

“Harry, I know exactly what you’ve been dreaming of,” she announces, setting down the thick, dust covered book in her hand. It doesn’t appear to be ancient, quite the opposite actually; it appears modern, though neglected, and on the cover reads a one-word title:

Silmarillion.

Chapter Text

              Harry stares down at the dusty book, this Silmarillion, with a blank and uncomprehending stare. He looks back up, confusion clear in his exhausted green eyes. “Hermione, what on earth are you on about? What is this?” he asks as she sits with a thump in the chair beside him.

              “Well,” the bushy-haired witch hesitates, uncertain of how best to answer her friend. “When we found that name, Arda, you remember”—she looks for confirmation from Harry, who nods— “I remembered that I heard my mother mention it once, when we were talking about Professor Tolkien’s legendarium. So, naturally, I went home to ask her about it.” The witch rolls her brown eyes in exasperation. “And as it turns out, all we needed to do to solve this mystery was ask my mother.”

              Harry stares in silent disbelief as his mind struggles to catch up to his ears.

              “So…” Harry says slowly, “what does that have to do with this book?” He slides a finger across the dusty cover, grimacing at the greyish residue that collects on his fingertip.

              “That’s just it, Harry,” says Hermione gravely, “all the answers are in this book. The Silmarillion covers the entire history of Arda.”

              Harry’s eyes widen. “What!?” he explodes, flailing his hands. “How?! All the references we found were half-mad and nearly incomprehensible! How did you just waltz home and come back with a complete history of some dream world?!”

              “Don’t you snap at me!” Hermione snaps defensively, leaning away from Harry. “It’s not like I’m the one in control of your dreams!”

              Harry growls and fists both hands in his hair. “I know, I know, I’m sorry,” he says in a lower voice, looking utterly frustrated but genuinely apologetic. “This is just… something’s going to happen tomorrow, ‘mione, and it’s eating me alive. I can feel it.” He shudders in apprehension. “Four weeks of searching, and we discover on the last day that all you had to do was ring your mum.” The table shakes slightly as Harry thumps his forehead repeatedly against its surface. “Why does it always have to be me?” He moans.

              Hermione sighs and pats his shoulder. “I know, Harry, I’m sorry,” she says sympathetically. “But at least we know now, right?”

              Harry takes a deep, steadying breath before he raises his head. “Right,” he says glumly. “So what does the… Silmarillion tell us?”

              Something seems to occur to Hermione. “You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of it before?” she asks, frowning.

              Harry frowns in return. “No? Should I have?”

              “Haven’t you ever read The Lord of the Rings? Or The Hobbit?” The bushy-haired witch looks genuinely amazed that Harry could possibly have been so deprived. Something clicks into place in Harry’s memory, and his eyebrows rise with the realization.

              “Wait, I… I remember The Hobbit,” he says, his green eyes glazing over slightly as he reaches for some long-ago memory. “I think one of my primary school teachers read it to us. Something about a dragon and some dwarves?”

              “Harry, The Hobbit takes place in Arda,” Hermione explains, still faintly amazed. “In fact, that valley city and the dark woods you visited could very well be Rivendell and Mirkwood, two of the locations described in The Hobbit.”

              Harry raises an eyebrow. “I take it you’ve read the books?”

              “Of course I have,” replies Hermione, smacking Harry’s shoulder reprimandingly. “I would be a sad bookworm indeed if I’d never read such well-known novels.”

              “Then why did you have to ask your mum?” he asks, confused again. Hermione blushes faintly.

              “In the books,” she explains, “Arda is called Middle Earth, which is why I didn’t recognize it immediately.”

              “But--” Harry stops mid-sentence and shakes his head. “Alright, maybe you should just explain what’s going on Hermione, because you’ve lost me.”

              Hermione takes a deep breath, holds it, and lets it out in a gusty sigh. “Alright,” she says determinedly. “Alright, these books were written by Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, yeah? He wrote quite a bit, but five of his books are most well-known: The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Silmarillion. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are novels, but the Silmarillion is Tolkien’s legendarium, meaning that it provides the total historic background for the novels. Mum’s actually quite a fan of Professor Tolkien: she has all of the writings she could get her hands on, and some of them are rather expensive editions, which is why she only let me take her old copy of the Silmarillion, otherwise I would have brought everything.”

She shakes her head ruefully. “But anyways, I thought it might have just been a coincidence that you’d dreamed of a similar world until I cross-referenced those words you told me with some of the Professor’s conlangs, that is, constructed languages. It turns out you were speaking in Sindarin, the language of the Sindar elves, and, well…” she trails off helplessly and shrugs her shoulders. “Here we are.”

              Harry stares hard at Hermione, an inscrutable expression on his face. “So this bloke Tolkien,” he says after a pause, “he just… happened to write the entire bloody history of a world that’s been invading my dreams? A world that apparently exists independent of ours?” He sits back with a huff, rubbing at his mouth. “Bloody hell…”

              Hermione is silent for a long moment, her troubled expression clear in the flickering light of the lantern. “I can only assume that he dreamt of Arda too, Harry,” she says, clearly unhappy with her conclusion. “He wasn’t a wizard, but maybe he had some magic in his blood. I really don’t know.”

              The two magical teenagers stare away from each other in thoughtful and troubled silence, considering the implications of their discovery. Harry is the first to speak.

              “Well, there’s only one thing for it,” he says with a resigned sigh, sitting up and reaching for the dusty book. “We’ll just have to read the whole thing before tonight.”


 

              They take turns reading aloud, with breaks for food and rest, until around two in the afternoon. Harry is more exhausted and confused than ever, but Hermione seems oddly galvanized and immediately begins making extensive lists and summaries for Merlin-knows what. Harry watches her with a vacant stare, occasionally reaching up to rub at his aching temples, and thinks deeply about the history of his dream world.

              The question, he thinks, is why I’m dreaming of Arda. It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve always dreamt of it, but why? What could possibly be allowing for this connection?

              He broods while Hermione writes and mutters and compiles, but by the time dinner rolls around he’s no closer to an answer than before--other than the vague theory that maybe his mother’s protection had something to do with it. His case, he knows, is not like the half-insane accounts of other wizards that they read earlier. For one thing, all of those wizards and witches had been actively seeking connections to alternate worlds and dimensions. For another, they had all sacrificed their magic and sanity for a single glimpse, and Harry, for whatever reckless things he’s done in his life, clearly still possesses both despite innumerable ‘visits’ to Arda.

              It just doesn’t make sense.

              But despite the irritation of the mystery, Harry would prefer to remain in the dark forever over facing whatever his dreams tonight will hold. His hands start shaking every time he thinks about it, because the day is finally here and he only has a few more hours before he must face the inevitable. Hermione is quick to catch on to his fear, and disappears right after dinner with Ron in tow, leaving Harry to go out to the Quidditch pitch and fly in a pointless attempt to calm himself. She returns two hours later, considerably more tired, followed again by Ron, who has become visibly frustrated.

              “I told him everything, Harry,” she explains in a faintly apologetic tone as Ron glares mildly at his best friend. “He was a bit, um, angry that you didn’t tell him, but he understands now.”

              Harry is puzzled by her actions. “I... that’s fine, ‘mione, but why did you…?” He trails off, too tired to question her or put up much of a fuss. Ron’s mild glare finally disappears entirely as he realizes just how much these dreams have taken out of Harry.

              “Because we’re both going to stay with you tonight, mate,” the redhead says, his expression softening. “No matter what happens, we’ll be right there with you.”

              Harry is touched. He knows they cannot follow him into the deep of his dreams, and they know it too; and yet, despite the essential uselessness of staying up to watch over him, they will make the gesture anyways.

              “Thank you, both of you,” he says, smiling wanly. “I really appreciate it.”


 

              They kip in the Gryffindor common room, Harry on the couch and Ron and Hermione in wingback chairs pulled up next to him. The dark-haired wizard lays on his side, facing the back of the couch, and listens to the steady crackle of the fire in the fireplace. Exhaustion drags him down, but anxiety gnaws at his belly, pooling like icewater in his veins; he does not want to go to sleep, not at all, even though he knows he must. A very large part of him insists he stay awake, insists he merely pretend to sleep, because maybe the dream won’t come tomorrow.

              The low murmur of his friends’ conversation washes over him in soothing waves. Without quite meaning to, his eyes drift closed and he shifts deeper into the warm blankets. He sinks slowly into the darkness, lulled by the smooth rasp of his own breath. His heart beats to a steady rhythm, a song faint in the back of his mind, quieting his anxiety, quelling his fear, drawing him deeper into the warm shadows of sleep.

Against his will, but without a fight, Harry succumbs to the siren song and sleeps.


 

              He’s on the same white swan-ship, sailing under clear, sunny blue skies and across a smooth, sapphire-colored sea. He sits atop the arching prow, balanced gracefully on the burnished-gold beak. The sun reflects off his glistening, sea-spray-dampened skin, for he wears no shirt or shoes, only a pair of baggy white trousers rolled up to his knees. There is no instrument in his hands; instead, he sings joyfully, raising his voice to the heavens in an aria of wordless exultation.

              A bright white light glows on the horizon before him, and the ship rapidly draws nearer. Rays of light stretch out, as if to greet him, and he sings delightedly in response. A warm feeling of love and welcome accompanies the brightness; he leans forward into the rays, tears of joy welling in his eyes as at last, at blessed last, they have come to--!

              The world shatters around him.


 

              Harry James Potter stands in the midst of an unearthly garden.

              He breathes slowly, steadily, tasting the impossibly pure air, with its impossibly perfect temperature and humidity, scented impossibly with the perfect mix of flowers to fill his senses without giving him a headache. The impossibly pure sunlight shines impossibly perfectly through impossibly-colored leaves, dappling the impossibly perfect, impossibly colored tree trunks. The whole garden is filled with faint music, impossibly perfect, that seems to come from everywhere at once, and yet nowhere at all.

The garden is intoxicating, perfect, and Harry never wants to leave.

The garden is utterly terrifying, and Harry wants to run away right now.

As he stands paralyzed, he feels a presence approach steadily. His breath comes in short pants, his fingers twitch, but still he cannot move. The young wizard hears soft footsteps, watches helplessly as the silhouette of a man appears, resolving itself into an impossibly beautiful, glowing being.

Harry wants to run forward and embrace the man, like a child who has not seen his father in a fortnight.

Harry wants to turn on his heel and flee as fast as he can, flee until he cannot flee anymore.

Harry does neither of these things. Instead, he stands frozen, pulse pounding in his ears, limbs twitching, breath rasping desperately through his lips.

The man comes closer and closer, never slowing down, never speeding up. He walks steadily, calmly, but with unshakable purpose. Belatedly, Harry realizes the impossible music is coming from the man’s lips. It surrounds him, caresses him like a tangible thing, whispers wait and calm and welcome

The man stops in front of Harry, who is forced to crane his head back, for the man is nearly twice as tall as he is. The man looks down with eyes like amethysts, soft and impossibly kind, then kneels so his head is level with Harry’s.

Harry has never felt so small.

Harry has never felt so safe.

The man smiles, baring impossibly perfect, pearl-colored teeth, and speaks in a voice like a gentle spring breeze.

“Hello, Harry James Potter,” he says, reaching up to cradle Harry’s face between his soft, warm hands. Harry wonders why he doesn’t tear himself free, why he doesn’t run as fast as his feet can carry him, why he leans into the touch--

(no he doesn’t, and he will deny it to his dying day)

“I have waited fourteen years to speak with you,” the man continues, stroking his thumbs across Harry’s cheeks, “and it was I who called you here, and I who know your heart, young one. For I am Irmo, master of dreams and desires,” --his smile widens—

“and I bring to you a choice.”

             

Chapter Text

              Something shatters deep in Harry’s mind, like a heretofore unseen panel of glass. A surge of terror overcomes his paralysis; he wrenches violently away from the man, stumbling back and tripping over the hem of his robe. He lands hard, falling on his elbows, but continues to scramble away, his eyes locked on the man who has just admitted to being his tormentor.

              “You—you—you—“ The words get stuck in his throat as he stutters, his voice coming out strangled and nearly inaudible.

              The man, Irmo, holds his hands up in a gesture of peace, watching Harry’s trembling retreat with concern but not making a move to stop him. “Calm, young one,” he soothes, sinking back onto his haunches. “All is well. I will not harm you.”

              Harry’s bumps up against something rough and solid, halting his backwards slide. A tree, he realizes faintly, still entirely focused on the inhuman being before him. Trembling and nearly hyperventilating, he doesn’t have the presence of mind to move around the trunk; he draws his knees up before him defensively and wraps his arms around his chest, hunching into himself. The world blurs before him, greying around the edges. Some part of his mind recognizes that this doesn’t make much sense, because how can one suffocate in a dream?

              “Shh, shh, it is alright, little one,” Irmo whispers, slowly inching toward the panicking mortal man. “I know this is very strange to you, and very frightening, but I will not hurt you. Shh, hush now…”

              Something cool and soothing brushes against Harry’s mind, telling him without words that Irmo speaks the truth.

But four weeks of stress and psychological conditioning, however unintentional, are not overcome in a moment. The young wizard cannot instantly shake the doom he has come to associate, unknowingly, with the inhuman man, and it certainly does not help that everything about Irmo and their surroundings screams of unnatural and overwhelming power.

              “Ai, but I have handled this badly,” the tall being mutters ruefully, still inching slowly forward. “I am afraid my eagerness got the better of me, and for that I apologize, young one. I had forgotten how easily mortals can be overwhelmed.”

              More intangible coolness swirls intentionally around him, and suddenly the aura—unnoticeable but suffocating—that was bearing down on him eases away. Now close enough to touch, Irmo reaches out and gently clasps Harry’s trembling shoulders. More coolness sweeps through his body, alleviating his fear and loosening the iron bands around his lungs. He sucks in a much-needed breath and drops his head to his chest, leaning over his knees as he regains his equilibrium and allows his heart rate to calm.

              “Peace, my child,” Irmo breathes, sending another cool wave through the human wizard. He lays a hand atop Harry’s head, smoothing the unruly black locks down.

              After a moment, Harry laughs humorlessly, raising his head and leaning back against the tree. “Well, that was embarrassing,” he mutters, scrubbing a hand over his face.

              “Forgive me, Harry,” says Irmo regretfully, sitting back on his heels. “We did not consider how a mortal, even one who has crossed the Veil twice, would react to the presence of a Vala.”

              The man’s statements cause a dizzying stream of questions to swell in Harry’s mind. He settles on the most important-seeming one. “We?” he asks, daring to meet Irmo’s eyes. The coolness lingers, buoying his spirit and dulling any instinctive fear, so even the sight of those amethyst irises, glowing with such unimaginable power, does not send him into a panic again.

              Irmo nods. “There are many things that must be explained, Harry, but I suppose we can start there. I am a Vala, a Lord of the Valar. We are fourteen, seven Valar and seven Valier, whom you would call Ladies.”

              This Harry knows, and he relaxes instinctively. “Yeah, I read that,” he admits with a nod, draping his forearms over his knees and shifting into a more comfortable position. “In the Silmarillion.”

              Irmo looks very pleased by this. “Excellent. That greatly lessens what I must explain to you. In fact”—he smiles warmly—“why don’t you ask the questions that you seek the answers to? I shall fill in the gaps when you are done, if this is agreeable to you.”

              The remaining tension in Harry’s chest eases away entirely, and he returns the Vala’s smile, albeit somewhat nervously. Being the Gryffindor that he is, he dives straight into the thick of things with his first question. “Why have you been sending me these dreams?” If there’s a faint note of accusation the dark-haired wizards tone, well, he can hardly be blamed for it.

              “We have been calling you, young one, preparing you for the choice that I have come to offer you,” Irmo says easily, unbothered by Harry’s attitude.

              “But why?” Harry insists,  anger sparking in his chest. “Why me? In fact, why Professor Tolkien? Why anyone?”

              “Ah.” The Vala rubs his chin, casting his eyes upwards thoughtfully. “Well, John Tolkien was blessed by Eru, to put it simply. He was gifted with Sights of our world, and given leave to share them with yours.”

Harry nods slowly. That explains a lot, he thinks. “We read about other wizards who, um, Saw your world, but they went insane and lost their magic,” he says, his question implied.

Irmo’s response is grave.“All magic has a price, young one. To See beyond your world as they did is to bypass the will of Eru. The mages who tried suffered the consequences of such a breach.”

Harry swallows hard. “So then…why am I different?” he asks, fidgeting nervously.

“You were invited, much like John Tolkien,” the Vala explains, spreading his long-fingered hands. “But more than that, you opened the door to us yourself.”

Harry splutters. “I—I what?”

“You likely do not remember at this point,” Irmo hums, smiling faintly, “but when you were very young, you prayed to God for a family that would love you.”

As a matter of fact, Harry does remember. He was indeed very young at the time, around three years old, and had been with the Dursleys for about a year. Harry had been a canny little thing, and had realized that the Dursleys did not (and would never) love him. He heard a man preaching on the telly, talking about how all he had to do was pray and God would answer him. So, naïvely, he had gotten down on his knees in the cupboard that night, pressed his pudgy hands together, and asked for God to send him a family that would love him.

Of course, “God” had not answered him, and he never tried again after that.

Irmo regards him with inscrutable eyes, as if he knows everything that Harry is remembering. The dark-haired wizard nods slowly, swallowing down the bitter memories. “I… I do remember,” he admits softly, looking away. “But what does that have to do with anything?” He has a horrible, sinking feeling that he knows where this is going, but he asks anyways.

“You thought God did not hear your plea,” Irmo says softly, knowingly. “Perhaps you thought there was no God to hear you. But you were wrong. For Eru Illuvatar heard your plea, and knew your future. He saw the tragedy that awaited you, and saw the tragedy that yet awaits. And so, he gave us leave to prepare you for the choices that I have come to offer.”

Harry latches onto one phrase in particular. “What ‘tragedy that yet awaits?’” he asks faintly, breath catching in his throat. No more, please, no more, he begs silently.

“Ah, young one,” Irmo says sorrowfully, closing his eyes. “Yours is a hard path.” He opens his eyes and solemnly meet’s Harry’s pleading gaze. “You have four choices before you, Harry James Potter,” he whispers. “You may choose to stay on your world and put these dreams behind you, but your life would not be a happy one. Your friends would slowly drift away. Your society would ostracize you. All sentient beings would shy from your company, for returning from the dead has rendered you undead by the laws of your world. And when you died, after living an unusually long, lonely life, you would remain as an invisible, wandering shade and so fulfil your title as the Master of Death.”

Harry is frozen. He can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t even blink as he stares in horror. “M-master of death?” he chokes out in a high-pitched voice, disbelieving. “No, that—that’s just a myth, a children’s story.”

It can’t be true. It just can’t.

“…in a way, yes,” Irmo concedes gently. “But only because the myth is inaccurate. Holding the three artefacts you called Hallows did not grant you mastery over death, young one. It granted you the singular ability to cross the Veil of Death and return. But all magic has its price, and the price for returning is to give up the ability to ever cross the Veil again.” His voice lowers to a soft murmur. “I am truly sorry, my child.”

“It’s always me, isn’t it,” Harry whispers tremulously, wrapping his arms around his drawn-up legs and burying his stinging eyes in his knees. He sobs once, shudderingly. Irmo again smooths his unruly black hair down, sending a wave of cool calm through the mortal wizard, but says nothing.

“Would you like me to go on?” the Vala asks gently when Harry has been silent for some time. The Master of Death nods once into his knees.

“Very well. The second option open to you is to come to Arda and live out your days as a mortal man.” Irmo keeps his voice soft, his hand continuing to card through Harry’s dark locks. “Eru can take the Hallows from you, but you would lose your ability to wield magic. You would, however, live an extended life, longer than any other mortal, in the time and place of your choosing. When you died, you would pass on like the other mortals, and so be at peace in Eru’s hands.”

Harry dismisses the option almost immediately. He can’t just give up his magic, it’s one of the most important parts of him. “And the other two options?” he croaks, still not raising his head.

“If you chose the third option, you would, hm, transmute your status as Master of Death into the inability of elves to cross the Veil, and so become an elf. You would remain very similar to how you are now, including the ability to wield magic. You would reside here, in my Gardens, and with the help of the Valar, the damage to your soul would be repaired. You would not, however, be able to leave Aman, and you would share in the fate of all the Eldar and Ainur, lingering as long as Arda exists and bearing the sorrows of the world. But you would not be alone.”

The third option is intriguing enough to get the dark-haired wizard to raise his head, revealing tired, bloodshot green eyes. Irmo moves his hand back to his lap. “I’d become an elf?” Harry asks curiously. “Really?”

“Indeed,” the Vala confirms, nodding. “Eru Illuvatar himself will reshape your soul.”

“Alright,” Harry says, laughing softly at the image of himself as an elf. “That explains the dreams. What about the last option?”

“Hm, a variation on the third, if you will,” Irmo says with a half-smile, raising an eyebrow. “If you wished to see Middle-Earth, you would become an elf-child and find a new family in one of the elven settlements there.”

Harry gapes openly. “I—become an elf-child?” he splutters incredulously. “Why in Merlin’s name would I ever want that?”

“Harry.” The look Irmo levels at him in stern and unimpressed. “Not idly am I called the master of dreams and desires. You cannot lie to me about what your heart wants, and what your heart cries out for is a family that will love you unconditionally.”

The mortal wizard opens his mouth to object, then shuts it abruptly. “I have a family,” he insists mulishly. “Hermione and all the Weasleys, and now I have my godson Teddy too.”

“And yet,”—Irmo’s amethyst eyes soften in sorrow and sympathy—“you will not keep them, even were you to remain.”

Harry freezes again, heart stuttering in his chest. Slowly, he lowers his chin to rest on his knees, once more curling up protectively. “I…” he trails off, throat tight, then squeezes his eyes shut and takes a few moments to rally himself. “W-why can’t I go to Middle-Earth as an adult?” Because he does want to visit, if Arda is going to be his new home. The Gryffindor in him is practically begging for an adventure where he’s not the so-called ‘Chosen One.’

Irmo sighs. “Young one, your soul is gravely damaged. Here, in my domain, you would receive the help you need. But if you went to Middle-Earth and wandered alone”—here he gives Harry the eye—“as I know you would, your soul would suffer greatly. If you chose to be a mortal man, then death would be your reprieve, no matter how stubborn you were in life. But as an immortal elf?” The Vala shakes his head. “You will either mend your broken childhood by reliving it, or you will stay where soul-healers can help you.”

And damn it all if he hasn’t got Harry pegged. It reminds him of Hermione, actually. He mulls over this for a few minutes, staring vacantly off to the side, before turning his attention back to the master of dreams.

“I can’t decide now,” he admits quietly. “I have to say goodbye to Ron and Hermione, at least.” Which is, of course, a decision in itself.

The Vala’s expression is once more deeply sympathetic. “I would not expect you too, little one,” he says gently. “If you choose to accept our offer and come to Arda, all you must do is walk through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries, and you will fall right into our hands. We will then hear your decision.”

Harry’s head snaps up attentively, a sudden, wild hope flaring up in his chest. “The Veil?” he asks, breathless. “Does that mean—did Sirius…?”

“Not as such, my child,” Irmo says with a shake of his head, shattering Harry’s hope. “He has passed on to the next life like any other mortal.”

“Oh.” The sound is soft and utterly crushed. He lowers his chin back to his knees. “Right.”

“Your situation is one of a kind, I am afraid,” the Vala says regretfully. “We cannot simply bring mortal souls over. However,”—he pauses, a twinkle in his eye and a faint smile on his lips—“animal souls are much easier, and I am certain Eru would not object to reuniting you with an old friend.”

Hedwig. Harry’s eyes light up again, hope swelling in his chest. “I could have Hedwig again?” he asks eagerly, sitting up straight.

Irmo smiles warmly. “Certainly. I imagine she would live as long as you would, as well.”

The wizard’s mood skyrockets at the thought of being reunited with Hedwig, especially if she’ll share his long lifespan. But as abruptly as the good mood appears, it vanishes, and Harry remembers the impossible decision he must make.

“Right,” he says, sighing. “Can I wake up now?”

“Of course, my child.” Irmo reaches forward and cradles Harry’s face again, lifting his chin and pressing a kiss to his brow. The dream-world falls away with a starburst of light and a swirl of coolness, and just before all goes dark he hears the Vala’s parting words.

“I will see you again soon.”


 

Bonus: This is how the Author pictures Irmo [updated] 

 

 

Chapter Text

              The Veil flutters gently, hypnotically, on a breeze that doesn’t exist. Harry watches with sad, hooded green eyes, motionless in the way the Veil is not. The air is piercingly cold, penetrating even the heavy, hooded travelling cloak he wears. He shifts restlessly, hiking his knapsack further up his back. A shuddering sigh passes through his lips, echoing eerily around the sunken stone amphitheater.

              A month’s preparation has led up to this point. Harry shuts his eyes, lips pressing into a tight line as he remembers the pain, the indecision, and the long goodbyes he has endured. Ron was angry at first, though not at Harry so much as for Harry; Hermione was immensely grieved, bursting into tears the moment she realized that she was going to lose her friend forever. However, she had, being the pragmatic witch she was, bounced back quickly, diving straight in to help Harry settle his affairs. She had even talked Ron down and soothed his anger, enlisting him in her get-everything-settled-for-Harry task force.

              The dark-haired wizard smiles waveringly at the memory, his expression of grief shadowed by his drawn-up hood. They make a lovely couple, and he knows they’ll keep each other happy even when he’s gone.

              The three of them spent the month drawing up his will, splitting his estates and assets, and deciding what he needed to take with him when he crossed over. Hermione was most concerned with ensuring he could survive a long journey, just in case, which is why he wore sturdy, enchanted traveling clothes and a heavily enchanted knapsack filled with supplies. Harry, on the other hand, was only really concerned with making sure he left everyone what they needed, especially the Weasleys and Teddy. He could have walked through the Veil naked for all he cared.

              Hermione never tried to sway Harry toward one decision or the other, and had stopped Ron from doing so as well. When they weren’t handling matters together, Harry spent much of his time outside, walking or flying, as he pondered his options. He also spent much of that time grieving in private, curled up under a tree or floating high above the ground.

              He delayed for as long as possible, but the day had finally come.

              It was the little things that drove him to finally make the leap. The flinches when he would walk by or appear unexpectedly. The sidelong looks, the confused expressions and instinctive shivers whenever he was near. No animals would come near him now, save the Thestrals, and even they seemed oddly skittish. All this Harry could have endured. He had, after all, endured worse. But it was when Hermione and Ron began to have the same reactions that he couldn’t bring himself to stay. Oh, they apologized profusely, insisted it didn’t really mean anything, but he could see the deep, visceral fear hidden in their eyes.

              So he said goodbye and vanished into the night.

              And so, here he stands, the most alone he has ever been in his life.

              The dark-haired wizard pictures Sirius falling back through the veil. He pictures he mum and dad, their spirits gliding through, ruffling the tattered black veil. He sees Dumbledore, Cedric, Fred, Mooney and Tonks, Mad-Eye, and so many others, too many others, follow after.

              And now, so will he.

              He takes one slow, heavy step forward, then another and another and another, until he is sprinting across the room. He doesn’t close his eyes, doesn’t brace for impact as he charges through the archway. Fabric, as chill as ice, glides across his skin and ruffles his hair. As his first foot crosses the threshold and his face clears the curtain, he swears he can see every single one of the people he pictured earlier standing on the other side, waiting for him, smiling, reaching out with tears in their eyes—

Everything goes black.


 

              “I’ve made my decision.”

              Harry doesn’t remember waking up, but suddenly he is standing in a gray space, still fully clothed and kitted.

              “Oh?”

              He blinks, and suddenly Irmo is standing before him, smiling radiantly. The inhumanly tall man looks the same as before, still indescribably beautiful, but this time an intricate crown and veil rest atop his head. The shimmering golden material of the veil contrast beautifully with the Vala’s deeply tanned skin and rich brown hair, and seems to sparkle as if living stars are woven into its threads.

              “…yeah,” Harry says, staring distractedly at the twinkling lights. “Uh…”

              Irmo laughs merrily. “Do you need me to take my crown off, young one?” he asks teasingly.

              The dark-haired wizard scowls and shakes his head, focusing hard on the Vala’s mirthful eyes. “No,” he mutters, flushing in embarrassment, “sorry.”

              “You have decided to come to Arda,” Irmo surmises, a smile still playing about his lips.

              “Yeah,” Harry confirms with a grimace. “And I want to see Middle-Earth, but I won’t…I mean, I can’t give up my magic, so”—the grimace changes to a scowl—“I’ll pay your price and be an elf-child I guess.”

              “Oh, excellent!” The tall man claps his hands delightedly. “You will not regret your decision, young one. Have you decided where you want to live?”

              A sly smile crosses Harry’s face at the question; he looks up into amethyst eyes, a Gryffindorish gleam in his own green. If he’s going to pay their price, then they’re going to pay his first. “I want an adventure,” he declares. “I want to explore first, by myself, before anyone starts smothering me. Let me have fun.”

              For a split second, Irmo looks surprised. Then he throws his head back and laughs jovially. “Ah, Harry!” he chuckles with a shake of his head. “I perhaps should have anticipated that. Very clever of, you, little one, very clever. I suppose you have earned at least that.” His laughter subsides, and he regards the young wizard with warmth. “Very well. Since I have no doubt you are more than capable of protecting yourself even without our interference, I will allow you your adventure.” Harry grins in triumph as the Vala bows low.

“While you wander, consider the name you wish to take,” Irmo advises. “Or you may leave it up to your new family to choose. Until you cross to these shores, I will see you in your dreams, my child. Fare thee well.”

              Irmo’s smiling visage is the very last thing Harry James Potter, the mortal Master of Death, ever sees.

Chapter Text

It would be inaccurate to say he remembers the time he spent between existence and oblivion. Rather, it is as if the reshaping of his soul left distinct impressions, readable only in the abstract. If asked, he would likely say that it was like lying against the chest of his father when he was a very young child; strong arms cradled him securely, rocking gently back and forth to the rhythm of his heart, and the sense of peace and safety was all-encompassing. If pressed further, he might say that he ‘remembers’ a song so indescribably beautiful that it likely wasn’t a song at all. Eons could have passed in utter contentment, for all he truly remembers. After all, time spent in the arms of a Creator God cannot be quantified by mortal minds.

              But for all these memories and impressions of memories, to the boy who is no longer Harry James Potter it is as if he merely closes his eyes while standing before Irmo and reopens them to sand dunes and a predawn sky. He blinks blearily, reaching up and rubbing away the grit at the corners of his eyes with tiny fists. A yawn splits his face as he sits up, sand shifting around him. It takes a few sleepy seconds for him to realize that his torso is entirely too tiny, mostly because some part of him thinks that he’s exactly the size he should be. But no, as he looks down in surprise at his chest he realizes that he’s lost a good deal of height; his traveling clothes have shrunk with him, luckily.

              “Woah,” he squeaks in awe, looking down at his teeny-tiny, pudgy little hands. He can’t quite deny the fact that they look positively adorable clad in miniature dueler’s gloves. He reaches instinctively for his wand, experiencing a momentary surge of panic when he can’t find it or his forearm holster. But as he turns frantically to the side, he spies his pack on the sand next to him; the wand rests safely on top of it.

              “Irmo, I love you,” he breathes in relief, both for finding his wand and the fact that he still retains his supplies. A faint frown crosses his face at the sound of his new voice, but he is quickly distracted by the warmth of his wand in his hand. It really is quite long, he realizes with a jolt. At eleven inches, the wand has become more of a miniature staff in comparison to his tiny new body. An inane giggle bubbles from between his lips as he holds it out like a sword. I’ll have to holster it on my belt.

              He rests the wand across his lap and looks—really looks—at his surroundings for the first time. Miles of pristine white beach stretch out on either side of him, and though it looks a lot like the shore from his dream, he can somehow tell that he’s not near the port city of the elves. The barest hint of oncoming dawn is present in the form of a lightened sky, and the stars shine brightly overhead. For a moment, he thinks that the stars are actually shining brighter than they did back home, but he realizes—with no small amount of surprise—that it is he who can see better now, even without his glasses.

              “Oooh,” he coos softly, lips parted in wonder as he gazes upward at the clear silver lights; he suddenly knows just how fitting his dream-song to Elbereth Starkindler was, and understands the love of Lady Varda’s stars that the elves had in the Silmarillion. Without quite meaning to, he now shares in that love. He stares, entranced, until the sun finally crests the horizon opposite the ocean’s and banishes the stars from the sky.

              He shakes himself out of the trance after that, lowering his gaze to stare pensively out to sea. I’m a star-loving elf now, he thinks, realizing for the first time just how huge of a change that is. I can’t be Harry Potter anymore—he scowls at the thought—I don’t want to be Harry Potter anymore, but who does that make me? Who am I now? He knows that’s not really a question he can answer at the moment, or perhaps ever, but the least he can do is heed Irmo’s advice and think up a name.

              Another memory-impression fills his mind; with eyes half-lidded, he remembers the whisper of an eternal voice in his ear, so tender and adoring that he can’t help but smile.

“You are my son. You are the one who shines anew.”

“I am Calasain,” he whispers aloud, tasting the gravity of his declaration. “I am the one who shines anew.” Then he frowns, perturbed. Calasain is the name of his very essence, and he feels uncomfortable just thinking about using the name in everyday conversation, or worse, using it to introduce himself to a stranger. He clicks his tongue and lays back on the sand, staring up at the slowly lightening sky.

He speaks after a few minutes of contemplation. “I am… the son of Lily. Idrilion.” He frowns in dissatisfaction. “I am the son of James. I am…the son of the Stag. Arasion.” That sounds much better to his ears. He repeats it: “I am Arasion.” With a satisfied smile, he sits back upright, brushing the sand from his clothes.

The newly-christened Arasion stands to his full height—which utterly underwhelming—and peers down the beach, first in one direction, then the other. The ocean faces West, since the sun is rising on the opposite horizon, which means that following the shore to the left should lead him South and right, North. Probably. A grimace crosses his young face at the prospect of walking aimlessly, but what else—

“Oh Hermione, I love you!” he exclaims suddenly, lunging for one of the side pockets on his rucksack. With a shit-eating grin, he pulls out a shrunk, brand-new, top-of-the-line broomstick.


 

He has to unshrink the broom and then partially re-shrink it to fit his teeny-tiny body, but in short order Arasion is hovering thousands of feet above the beach, hidden beneath his invisibility cloak—taken due to its sheer usefulness as well as the assurance that no one else would be able to reunite the Hallows and accidentally curse themselves as he had—as he searches for any elven civilizations.

He needs to know which way not to go, of course.

It takes a while to get over just how good his eyesight is now; he marvels at the sheer distance he can see. To the North, he spies several signs of civilization: boats on the water, cottages, tracks, wide clearings in the trees, lights and such. At the very end of his visual range he thinks he can see a wide bay and what is possibly an elven city on its edge. The South, on the other hand, looks much more promising. There are a few houses and tracks, but it seems to grow slowly less the farther it gets from the bay. Behind him, to the East, is a large swathe of forest and a mountain range, but for now he wants to follow the coast.

“To the South, then,” he decides cheerfully. With a whooping laugh, he tips into a steep dive back to the ground, performing a few loops and slaloms around invisible obstructions just for the fun of it. He flips upside-down over the ocean, giggling like the child he now is and skimming one hand over the foam-tipped swells as he begins his journey South.

Arasion’s spirits remain high that day. He flies a meandering path at a very leisurely pace, the kind reserved for a flying tour of a beautiful landscape; he stops whenever and wherever he wants to, denying himself nothing. Around midday, he actually dismounts the broom and climbs a huge tree to test out his new reflexes, and is delighted to discover that this new body, despite its minuscule size, is actually more balanced and graceful than his adult body was; he takes to the tree like a fish to water, and spend an hour lazing in its branches, eating leisurely of his ample food supplies.

As Harry, he never really connected to nature. Sure, he liked flying, which, it could be argued, was a nature-connected activity. But the closest Harry had ever come to truly ‘communing’ were the hours he spent tending Aunt Petunia’s garden, and that hardly counted. As Arasion, he discovers that the trees have quite a lot of things to say, even if he can’t fully understand everything. He listens with half-closed green eyes as the tree sings of sun and rain, feeling the cool ocean breeze skim over the skin of his face and playfully ruffle his clothes.

The little elfling bids the tree goodbye after a while and continues on his way, still carefully watchful for any meddlesome elves; he definitely wouldn’t put it past Irmo to ‘arrange’ for him to run into the elves before he’s done with his adventure. Luckily he only spots a single elf—or what he assumes is an elf—who is easily avoided.

Arasion stops to look for a place to sleep as the sun begins to set over the sea, painting the sky in orange hues so vibrant and beautiful that he has to stop and watch for a while. He descends to the ground once more, dismounting the broom and shrinking it to the size of his hand before tucking it back into the side pocket from which it came. Something in the voice of the wind beckons him toward the tree line, whispering sweetly in his ears. He follows without a second thought, humming happily. The wind-song leads him to the roots of an enormous tree, stirring aside the wide leaves of some low-growing plant and revealing a mossy nook perfectly sized for his new body.

“Thank you,” he murmurs—though he’s not sure who he’s thanking—and shrugs off his pack before crawling into the nook. The leaves are blown back into place, creating a warm, sheltered little den. He could, he knows, pull out the wizard tent Hermione put in his pack and sleep on a real bed. But really, that’s just so much effort. This is comfortable, he thinks sleepily, eyes drooping, surrounded by life and song…

Arasion yawns, snuggling deeper into the cushy moss. Within minutes, he is fast asleep.


 

 

“How are you enjoying your adventure, little one?”

Arasion blinks in surprise, suddenly face-to-knee with someone’s shins. His green eyes widen as he looks up…and up…and up to meet Irmo’s extremely amused eyes. The Vala is at least four times the size of his new body, possibly even five; Arasion has to crane his head so far back that he actually loses his balance and falls back onto his rear.

“Bloody hell you’re tall,” he blurts out, leaf-green eyes as wide as saucers.

The brown-haired Vala laughs as if the little elf has told a particularly funny joke, one elegant hand coming up to cover his mouth. “Ah, I believe it is you who has shrunk, little Calasain,” he chuckles, reaching down wrapping his suddenly enormous hands around the boy’s torso. He lifts Arasion to eye level, sitting him on one hand and supporting his back with the other. The former mortal squawks in alarm at the change in elevation, grabbing the Vala’s muscled forearm with both hands. “Hn,” Irmo hums, smiling widely as he gently touches his nose to Arasion’s; the elf’s face scrunches up in confusion at the action, though he seems not entirely displeased.

“You called me Calasain,” the boy realizes, frowning faintly; before Irmo can comment, he decides, “I guess that’s fine. Atar can call me Calasain too, since he named me.”

Irmo and Arasion both freeze in surprise, though for different reasons. Atar? The boy wonders. Since when do I call God Atar? But before he can really think about it, the Vala holding him spins around and laughs delightedly, peppering his little face with kisses and cuddling him close to his broad chest. “Oh, dear child!” he exclaims, completely ignoring Arasion’s indignant yelp and subsequent attempts to free himself. “You adapt so astoundingly quickly!”

“Ugh, geroff!” Arasion complains, face crimson. He shoves at the Vala, who merely laughs again and kisses the top of his head.

“I am so proud of you!” Irmo beams, looking down at Arasion with a soft, pleased expression.

“Well, he is Atar, I guess,” the elfling mumbles, eyes averted in embarrassment at the Vala’s open praise. “He did make me. Or remake me.”

Irmo hums again, and the sound rumbles pleasingly through his chest and into Arasion’s ear. He has a heartbeat, the child realizes, eyes fluttering closed as he presses closer to listen. It’s such a mundane thing that he’s surprised the sort-of-god has one, and yet not surprised at all.

“Dear child.” The words sigh softly across the top of his head, full of love and adoration. Arasion squirms uncomfortably at such naked emotion, but bites the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything. He doesn’t know how to respond—how could he?—but he thinks that perhaps it’s something he should have received when he was really a child, and thus, something that he must learn to be comfortable with once more.

After a long moment of content silence, Irmo speaks again. “I will come when you call, and sometimes when you don’t,” he says, tone light and playful. Arasion doesn’t open his eyes or look up, unsure if he wants to see the feeling in the Vala’s amethyst eyes. “But for now, deep sleep beckons and you must rest. Try to stay out of trouble, little Calasain.”

With one last brush of lips against his forehead, Arasion is allowed to drift back down into the velvet darkness of dreamless sleep, content in the subconscious understanding that at least one person in the universe truly loves him.

Chapter Text

Weak morning light filters through the cover of his nook, dappling the little elfling’s peaceful face and rousing him from deep sleep. Arasion groans softly at the unwelcome intrusion, shuffling onto his other side and curling deeper into the springy, earth-scented moss. A weight settles on his leg, familiar but disregarded in favor of sleep. One small hand flails clumsily before latching onto the blanket covering him, pulling the warm fabric up to his nose. A bird croons nearby as he begins to drift off again, and he smiles drowsily. “Good girl, Hedwig,” he mumbles, sighing. “Good girl…”

Wait, he thinks, slowly waking up. Hedwig?

Arasion shoots upright as if electrocuted, nearly smacking his forehead into the tree root above him. A large, white, very familiar snowy owl is perched on one of his curled-up legs, gazing at him with intelligent, fond yellow eyes. She croons softly in greeting.

“Hedwig!” he breathes, tearing up. The elfling leans forward, careful not to upset Hedwig’s perch, and wraps his little arms around her, burying his face in the snowy feathers on her breast. In his minuscule baby body, she’s nearly as big as he is. “Oh, Hedwig,” he whispers thickly, breathing in her unique, woodsy scent. He grips bunches of her soft feathers in his hands, grounding himself. “I missed you, girl. I missed you so much...”

              Hedwig croons again as he trails off, tugging affectionately on a lock of his unruly black hair when he sniffles into her feathers.

              Eventually, Arasion sits back, wiping embarrassedly at his eyes. “Sorry, girl,” he laughs, grinning. “I’m just really glad you’re here. We sh—“ He stops abruptly and frowns, distracted by the blanket that pools around his waist. “Wait a minute…” he mutters. “I—I never got this out of my pack? How—?” A niggling suspicion enters his mind, and he narrows his eyes at the offending item.

              Hedwig barks reproachfully at his sudden distraction and flutters from his leg, pointedly exiting the little nook. Sunlight flashes brightly as she pushes back the leafy covering; the sweet, cool scent of the nearby ocean fills his nose.

“Alright, alright, I’m coming,” he grumbles, wadding up the blanket and stuffing it back into his pack. He crawls out, dragging his pack along with him, and pushes the sheltering leaves back into place. He blinks rapidly in the weak morning light and sneezes explosively, sending Hedwig fluttering in alarm at the sudden sound. “Ugh, sorry, girl,” he apologizes, gripping the edge of his sleeve and wiping at his nose.

Hedwig fluffs up imperiously at the apology, settling back down on her high tree root. Arasion sits next to her on a lower root and digs through his pack for some food. For a while, the little elf munches peacefully on some fresh fruit, watching the play of the morning light over the leaves and listening absently to the whispering of the trees. They seem oddly happy, and certainly more animated than they were yesterday. He wonders at the change as he dusts his hands off and pulls his dueler’s gloves back on, but dismisses the query with a shrug. He makes a move to pull the broom back out of his rucksack, then pauses and stares thoughtfully down at his boots.

“You know, Hedwig,” he laughs, “I don’t think I need to wear these anymore.” The dark-haired child quickly unfastens the clasps and dragonhide laces, shucking off the boots and socks and shoving them into the pack. “That feels better,” he sighs, grinning and wiggling his toes into the dewy moss. The magic of the land actually seems stronger against his bare skin, like a deep thrumming that carries up through the soles of his feet and into his soul. Hedwig barks cheerfully, taking off in a flutter of white and circling eagerly over his head.

“Let’s get going, eh?” Arasion says, pulling his broomstick out and swinging the little rucksack over his shoulder. Hedwig wings off toward the shore and the elfling follows, laughing as he runs and leaps nimbly from patch to patch of sunlight, as if it is a game and he cannot touch the shadows. He allows the hood of his traveling cloak to fall back, reveling in the wind that caresses his exposed face with chill fingers. The trees seem delighted by his fey laughter, crooning their own slow songs in response.

He bursts out onto the sand, skidding to a stop halfway between the trees and the water. The dark-haired child pauses and switches out his traveling cloak for his invisibility cloak, which he put away the night before. Hedwig circles eagerly overhead as he unshrinks the broom and mounts it; as soon as his feet have left the ground, she swoops down and buffets his hair with a wing, curving up toward the fathomless sky with a challenging call.

Arasion laughs again, surprised by his familiar’s eager playfulness. “Did you just tag me, girl? Well you’re on!” He shoots after her, pressed low to the broom, and so begins and unexpected—but entirely welcome—game of tag.

Hedwig seems to be in a very fine mood indeed, for the game lasts over an hour past sunrise and carries them many leagues down the coastline. It is only after they cross the yawning delta of a large river and enter what appears to be a forested peninsula that the game ends abruptly; Hedwig goes silent mid-hoot, wings stalling for a split second, and Arasion immediately sees what has silenced his companion; his heart leaps into his throat.

A thin column of pale smoke rises from the trees below, dissipating quickly in the stiff ocean breeze. Still, they are close enough to smell the smoky tang off cooking food, and Arasion is suddenly quite concerned that his laughter may have been heard by elven ears.

“Come on, Hedwig,” he says, keeping his voice unnecessarily low considering their elevation. Leaf-green eyes linger warily on the smoke below. “Let’s go have a look.”

Arasion pulls the hood of his invisibility cloak back up, once more vanishing from sight, and tips into a steep dive. He alights gently on the sand and shrinks the broom back down, returning it to its pocket in order to free his hands up. Hedwig circles nervously around his head. “Alright girl,” he whispers, securing the inner ties Hermione added to his cloak to ensure it won’t blow open or trip him up. He silently thanks the Valar for shrinking it along with him, or sneaking around would be impossible. “Let’s go.”

The diminutive little elfling creeps silently into the trees, taking care to ensure that each footfall is completely silent. It proves to be surprisingly easy in his new body, much to his satisfaction; he makes nary a sound as he approaches the source of the smoke. A few dozen steps past the treeline, he catches a faint snatch of conversation and freezes, holding his breath. It’s not a language he recognizes or understands, though he has the vague notion that he would understand Sindarin if he heard it; this language is harsh and rolling, favoring consonantal sounds in a way that reminds him of Russian. A different voice answers the first, then a third, all three deep and masculine. None of them sound alarmed or suspicious; he doesn’t think the voices belong to elves.

He continues forward, more cautious than before and barely daring to breathe. Hedwig flies on ahead of him, and if the people weren’t so close he would call her back. The invisible child bites his lip and pushes down surge of worry for his familiar, creeping along at a slightly faster pace in an effort to catch up. The magic of the land pulses gently against his bare feet, as if saying it is safe. The trees don’t seem alarmed, and nothing threatening sings on the voice of the wind. The former wizard takes these for good signs; when he finally reaches the peoples’ clearing, his feelings have subsided from caution to curiosity.

Arasion carefully crouches on a protruding root, right underneath the branch upon which Hedwig is perched, and peers around the tree at the people. Three men, rough and weary-looking, sit around a modest fire. They’re are dressed in dark, travel-worn clothing, and he can see some kind of subtle, repeating insignia shared between them: on a modest wooden pendant, carved into a clasp, pressed into the edge of a leather strap, inlaid in a scabbard, and so on. They seem relaxed, with smiles and quiet but animated conversation, but Arasion can see the underlying tension in their posture. Clearly, these men are warriors, and not just because of the swords, daggers, and bows his keen eyes spot hidden within their clothing. Near-constant tension is something the reborn elf remembers from his own time as a child soldier.

              Wonder fills him at the sight of the men, and he watches for a long time, spellbound as he comes to terms with people of an entirely different world, people just like him—or, at least, how he used to be. It’s all rather dizzying, and he can’t help but compare it to the feeling of entering the Wizarding World for the first time; something pangs sharply in his heart at the memory, but he quickly pushes it away.

Suddenly, the tallest man, the one with gray eyes and a long sword at his side, frowns. His brows come together in the shadow of his hood. He says something to his companions and turns his face up, inhaling deeply. The other two men frown as well, sniffing the air in the same way. Nearly as one, they turn in the invisible little watcher’s general direction.

              With a sudden, sickening jolt, Arasion realizes that it’s him they’re smelling: he’s upwind. Holding his breath, he crouches low and slowly gets off his perch, touching his bare toes onto the forest floor with agonizing slowness in an attempt to make no noise. The gray-eyed man tilts his head to the side in confusion and shifts smoothly into a crouch, glancing once at his companions and making a subtle hand gesture. He creeps slowly toward Arasion, one hand going to the sword at his side. Leaves rustle softly as Arasion’s cloak brushes against them; he freezes. The man’s gray eyes widen slightly, and he pauses as well. His companions stand at the sound, alarmed, and draw their weapons.

              Hedwig’s ear-piercing screech cuts suddenly through the silence of the clearing, breaking the spell on her charge and startling the men. Unreasonably terrified, Arasion turns on his heel and runs away as fast as he can, relying instinctively on his elven agility. One of the humans shouts in surprise, and he feels heavy boots pound into the earth after him. It’s too late; by the time they start after him, the invisible elfling is too far away to be caught by mortal means. Within two minutes, he reaches the open shore.

              Heart in his throat, Arasion whips his broom out and unshrinks it, mounting and taking off in one smooth motion. He ascends at a speed that makes his too-wide eyes water, stopping only once he’s so far up that even his elven lungs burn for lack of oxygen. Panting and wild-eyed, he at last calms enough to regain his senses and slowly descends, making big, sweeping circles to calm his frantic heart. Hedwig finds him quickly and flutters at his side, making small, worried barking sounds.

              “’m alright, girl,” Arasion says softly, taking a deep breath of the chill air and closing his eyes. “It just… startled me, I guess.” He laughs self-depreciatingly. “I can’t believe I just sat upwind. How stupid am I?”

              The snowy owl barks again, this time in reprimand, and clips the back of Arasion’s head with a wing.

              “Ow! Alright, alright!” he says with a scowl, ducking out of Hedwig’s range. She looks entirely too pleased with herself, in his opinion. “Let’s just… keep going,” he says, locking his eyes on the horizon. His familiar croons in agreement, looping once around his broom before taking the lead.

              He doesn’t look back as they leave the peninsula—and its inhabitants—behind.

Chapter Text

Arasion and Hedwig turn inland, following a large river north for a few hours out of sheer curiosity. The elfling flies close to the river’s surface, laughing and dodging playful swells that rise up in an attempt to touch his bare toes. There’s a definite magical presence in the river, though whether it’s a Vala or some kind of native spirit, Arasion cannot tell.

Around midday, their curious foray pays off in the form of a crumbling port city on the river’s edge.

“Oooh,” he coos in delight, immediately rising high in the air to get a birds-eye view. The presence in the river below offers him a vague farewell; he returns it with an instinctive mental wave.

He circles the city’s perimeter with Hedwig, then lands to explore it on foot. The hood of his invisibility cloak stays down once he’s on the ground, half because he didn’t see anyone from the air and half because he likes feeling the wind on his ears.

Arasion finds the crumbling ruins oddly fascinating. It’s no Hogwarts, to be sure, but there’s something inherently fun about wandering through old ruins that appeals to the adventurous Gryffindor in him.

It also appeals to his newfound childish impulses, but he’s careful not to think about that too hard.

The broken-up stone path is warm under the delicate soles of his feet, smoothed by years of weathering. Thick patches of greenery and wildflowers break up the individual stones; the little elf hops over these, unwilling to squash the only colorful things in sight.

Most of the city is just boring greyish rubble, with any interesting or beautiful features worn down or long gone. But still, there are some things: a decapitated statue, a beautiful, mostly-intact arch, a moldering birdbath with bits of paint still clinging stubbornly to its sides. These he stops by, running curious fingers over them, marveling at the intricate carvings before moving on.

 A stone disc catches his eye, hidden in a shelf-like outcropping that has sheltered it from the elements. The outer edge is circled by a script he does not recognize. At the center is a carving of an eagle, wings outspread and feathers rendered with loving detail. Tiny bits of gold paint linger in some of the deeper crevasses. “What do you think, Hedwig?” he asks, crouching to retrieve it. Grinning, he holds it up for her to see. “Numenorean?”

Hedwig sends him a look that very clearly says ‘how should I know?’

 A giggle—an actual giggle—escapes Arasion’s lips. Leaf-green eyes widen comically; he slaps a hand over his mouth. “Ugh.” He grimaces, face flushed in embarrassment. “I—uh, ignore that, please.”

Hedwig barks loudly, very clearly laughing at him, and he shoots her a glare.

“Oh, like you’ve never done anything embarrassing,” he mutters, moving to replace the stone disc.

Then, a sound.

 Arasion and Hedwig both freeze in place; the disc escapes the elf’s fingers, dropping the last quarter inch to clack damningly against the stone. The sound repeats, something very like a foot against hard-packed dirt and crunching gravel.

 Arasion yanks the hood of his cloak over his head, face flush with a sudden fear. He wrestles the emotion down and climbs gracefully up onto a fallen wall next to the pillar Hedwig is perched on. Stop that, he thinks, scowling at himself. You’re invisible! You have no reason to be scared.

 But still, the fear lingers.

The elf and owl wait in tense silence as the footsteps come closer and closer. Arasion jolts suddenly, pressing a hand over his mouth, and frantically checks the direction of the wind. He relaxes; they’re downwind this time.

 A hooded figure appears in the central road they had been following, stalking out from behind a half-collapsed building. The head tilts up, the shadow of the hood draping over a female face like a mask. Arasion spies keen amber eyes and wayward tendrils of dark, curly hair. Her skin is sun-darkened, dotted with freckles and pale scars.

The tense, invisible line of his shoulders relaxes. His apprehension turns to curiosity.

This, he is sure, is no elf.

 The human woman scowls uneasily, muttering to herself in the same guttural language the other men had spoken in. Her head moves back and forth, gaze sweeping over the rubble. She stills as she spies Hedwig, a bright white spot against the otherwise gray stone. The muttering becomes suspicious. She draws a longbow from her back, mouth set in a hard line, and knocks an arrow to the string.

Arasion gasps sharply as she takes aim at Hedwig. He moves without thinking, tossing the hood back and putting himself between the woman and his familiar.

 “STOP!” he cries angrily, raising one hand. Power surges at his fingertips, though he hasn’t drawn his wand. The incident with the exploding twig is completely forgotten in favor of protecting Hedwig.

 The woman freezes, jaw dropping in shock at the little elf’s sudden appearance. The bowstring relaxes, but Arasion does not.

 “Leave my friend alone!” he yells, glaring venomously.

 “Child,” the woman breathes in Sindarin, slowly dropping to one knee.  Arasion jolts at the word, then watches suspiciously as she puts her arrow in its quiver and slings the bow around her back, never taking her eyes from him. “Child, what…?”

 “What, what?” he asks, then realizes how stupid that sounded and shuts his mouth. Hedwig barks once, worry mixed with amusement.

 “Little elf… where are your—where are your mama and papa?” She stumbles a bit over the words, as if Sindarin is a language she knows but has not practiced much. Arasion notices that her wide amber eyes are locked on the pointed tips of his ears and acknowledges that yes, maybe he shouldn’t have revealed himself quite so… spectacularly.

 “Er…” he says, lowering his hand as sheepishness overtakes his hostility. He really doesn’t have a good answer, he realizes with a grimace. “Papa”—Irmo, he mentally corrects, feeling awkward at the half-lie—“knows where I am.”

 The woman stares in disbelief, one hand pressing against her chest. “He… left you alone?”

“I am exploring,” Arasion responds firmly, puffing out his chest.

 “I see.” The woman’s disbelieving expression melts into something like knowing amusement. “Tell me, little one, what—what is your name?”

He hesitates for a moment, playing with the hem of his cloak, and decides that telling her his name won’t put him in danger. “Arasion,” he says, returning her expectant stare.

 She smiles at him, teeth gleaming white in the shadow of her hood. “I am called Belegwend. A—a star shines upon the hour of our meeting, little Arasion.”

 The little elf stays quiet, not certain how to respond to that.

Belegwend is not deterred by his silence. “Please, little one, come to my… home with me? My grandmother would be d—delighted to meet you.”

Arasion’s suspicion returns in full force. He squints silently at the human for a long moment. For all he knows, she could be a slaver or something equally horrifying. But at the same time, he senses no ill-intentions from her. The wind is calm around him, and the usual sense of foreboding he gets isn’t there.

In typical fashion, he makes an impulsive decision.

“Alright,” he agrees, leaping down from the wall. Belegwend twitches instinctively toward him as he jumps, an expression of alarm flashing briefly across her face. It smooths into amusement when he lands safely.

 “Good!” she says, grinning as she leaps to her feet. “You will love my grandmother, little one.” She sweeps toward him; Arasion moves to the side, expecting her to lead the way, but to his surprise she bends down and lifts him onto one hip.

He absolutely does not flail and squawk in alarm.

“I can walk!” he cries in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice.

 “Broken roads are… dangerous to…bare feet,” she scolds in stumbling Sindarin, hefting him a little higher as he squirms. Her grip is unyielding. Gentle, yes, but unyielding.

 Arasion slumps petulantly against her shoulder, realizing with no little dread that this is going to be his life for the next hundred years or so.

Merlin, he prays, what have I gotten myself into?             

Chapter Text

Arasion pouts grumpily, still trapped within Belegwend’s arms. The woman has utterly ignored his half-hearted escape attempts or pointed comments, instead smiling indulgently and readjusting her grip whenever he squirms. At this point, he’s impressed by the strength of her arms—they’ve been walking for at least two hours and she hasn’t shown any sign of fatigue.

He glares over Belegwend’s shoulder whenever Hedwig laughs at his predicament.

“Just a… few more, little one,” the human croons, hefting him up into a more secure position.

“And then you will put me down?” he demands, pushing back to glare up at her.

She laughs, unbothered by his irritation. “Yes, then I will put you down.”

It takes another ten minutes of brisk walking until they leave the city’s bounds and finally head into the surrounding forest. The damaged cobblestone road becomes overgrown with lush vegetation, half-concealed by dirt and grasses. Sensing a loophole, Arasion taps Belegwend’s shoulder. “Look,” he insists, pointing at the path. “The ground is soft now. Put me down!”

“Oh, alright,” she says, clicking her tongue. Finally, finally, she sets him down. He finds himself absurdly happy to feel grass and dirt beneath the bare soles of his feet. She takes his hand firmly within her own and doesn’t let go, but Arasion is pleased enough to be on the ground that he doesn’t care.

(Much)

His shorter stride forces her to a walk at a slow amble, but fortunately she doesn’t use this as an excuse to pick him back up. Arasion ignores the woman’s fond stare as he cranes his neck this way and that, following whatever catches his eye. The forest is quiet, mostly, but beneath the constant hum of life there are little snatches of wind-song that tickle his pointed ears. The trees are lush and green, rich with life. He watches as a squirrel follows them in the branches above, chittering happily. A songbird with bright blue plumage alights on a nearby stem, peering interestedly at the duo with bright eyes.

Are you a spirit? he wonders when the bird peeps at him cheerfully. The bird doesn’t reply, but he has the strangest feeling that it could, if it wanted to.

Belegwend releases his hand suddenly, but before he can properly enjoy his freedom she’s swung him up onto her hip again. He makes a protesting sound this is absolutely not a petulant whine.

“Nearly, little one,” she says, patting his back distractedly. “But the rest of the path is… very small. Not much of a path. So I will carry you.”

Please tell me my future parents aren’t going to be like this, he thinks, squishing his cheek against the woman’s shoulder in irritation, mourning his lost freedom. Maybe I should have stayed with Irmo after all.   His nose wrinkles immediately. No, he decides. Irmo would have been worse. Much worse.

At length, the narrow trail opens into a small, sun-dappled clearing. Arasion sits up, peering interestedly at the neat little cottage at its center. It appears to be made of the same stone as the city, with mismatched little pieces added over the years as repairs. Smoke rises in pale wisps from the little chimney. A small, fenced-off plot in the front hosts a neat, verdant herb garden.

A voice, old but strong, calls from the open door in Sindarin. “Belegwend? Back so soon, child?”

Belegwend calls back in an excited string of the other language, practically dancing into the house. Arasion catches his name in the flurry of syllables.

The house is warm and smells strongly of meat and spices. An old, hunched woman sits on a stool in front of a small fireplace, her gnarled, tanned hands working patiently at a loom. She looks up as Belegwend comes in, her keen grey eyes settling immediately on Arasion. They widen in surprise before melting into something soft and welcoming.

“I can see that, granddaughter,” she comments with a rusty chuckle. “And a kingly surprise it must have been, ah?” She holds out her hands, beckoning with her fingers. “Come, let me have him.”

Arasion can't quite stop his startled squeak when he’s passed between them like a loaf of bread. The grandmother’s hand are warm and calloused, and he’s surprised by how strong they are as she sits him sideways across her lap.

“There now,” she says, settling one hand on his upper back. “Who do we have here?”

He blinks up at her and says, slowly, “Arasion.”

She laughs at that, a sound that’s rasping and warm and makes her shake with mirth. “A good answer, little one! What has brought you to my city all alone, hmm?”

“I was exploring,” he says, glancing over at the grandmother’s loom when her piercing stare becomes too uncomfortable. Then, maybe  a little defensively, he adds “Papa knows.”

She hums doubtfully. “Well, you’ll be staying with us until your Papa comes to find you, little adventurer.” When he glares up at her, she merely smiles and adds, “you may call me Brȗn.”

Arasion wrinkles his nose. Old, he thinks incredulously, why would you name yourself ‘Old?’ Surely her parents hadn’t looked at her as a baby and decided ‘let’s name our newborn Old.’ Really. Old?

Taking his puzzled silence as acquiescence, Brȗn stands, joints creaking, and sets him on her ancient hip. “Come now, let’s get you some supper. Both of you,” she adds, nodding to her granddaughter.

“I can walk , you know,” Arasion says, annoyed. Perhaps constantly carrying small people is a family trait. He hopes it’s a family trait and not simply something everyone will want to do to him.

“Grant an old woman the privilege of carrying a princeling,” she responds with a wheezing laugh. “In all my years, I never expected to find one such as you visiting my home. Certainly not in this age.”

“...I’m not a prince,” he responds, though that fact is somewhat debatable. What is he when a literal god adopted him? He certainly doesn't know.

Brȗn gives another wheezing laugh as she sets him down on the sturdy wood of the kitchen counter and begins tending to a bubbling pot. “You very much are a prince, little prince, though perhaps you don’t know it yet.” She wags a gnarled finger in his face. “Grandmothers know these things, hm?”

Arasion tosses his hands up in disgust. Hedwig, perched in the open kitchen window, barks with laughter, startling the old woman. Behind her, Belegwend smiles and begins removing her hunting gear.

“Well, now,” Brȗn says, peering interestedly at the owl. “You are welcome here, little spirit. But tell me, what is your purpose?”

“Um, that’s Hedwig, my familiar,” Arasion says with a puzzled frown. Why did Brȗn call her a spirit? Hedwig is just an owl. A magical owl, granted, but still an owl. “She’s exploring with me.”

Brȗn eyes him scrutinizingly. “I see. Well, she’s certainly welcome.” She turns her attention back to the little elf even as she resumes tending to the stewpot; he can’t help but stiffen nervously at the gleam in her eye.

“Now, little one, tell me about yourself.”


 

Arasion spends an hour dodging Brȗn’s probing questions about his home and family, all the while trying to figure out how an actual child (how old is he, anyway? Three? Five? He hasn't been around enough human children to tell, let alone elf children) would answer. Eventually, he gives up and hopes that weirdly adult responses are typical of elflings.

Belegwend dances in and out of the kitchen, bringing her grandmother meats and vegetables and fresh herbs seemingly without prompting. Each time, she gives Arasion a giddy, slightly disbelieving smile, as if she can't quite fathom how he came to be sitting on her countertop.

When the food is finally ready, Arasion gives up on dignity completely and pitches a right fit until he’s allowed to sit in his own chair instead of one of the women’s laps. He has to kneel on the hard wood to reach the table, which must look fairly ridiculous, but he ignores the amused smiles he gets in favor of enjoying this little bit of self-sufficiency.

Suck it, he thinks triumphantly, spooning a bit of warm stew into his mouth.

“A good eater,” Brȗn comments to Belegwend in an undertone. “Pray your own children are as such, my girl.”

Arasion and Belegwend flush crimson in unison, and the little elf blurts out “you're married?” He supposes it's the most childish question he's asked in all the time he's been here.

“No!” the young woman says forcefully, her eyes flashing, then backpedals when he flinches. “No, merely… um… to be wed?”

“Betrothed,” Brȗn says when Belegwend shoots her a helpless look. “Really, granddaughter, we must work on your Sindarin.”

Arasion savers another flavorful mouthful of stew before speaking again. “To who?”

A slightly uncomfortable look crosses her face. “My brother, Badhiron, arranged my match to a… noble warrior. A good man. Araval. But we will not wed until I leave this place, and I will not leave until I see my grandmother’s days through.”

There’s a lot more to those few sentence than meets the eye, but Arasion decides to let it go. The poor woman is clearly pained by her betrothal for some reason, and since he has no intention of even staying the night, he clumsily changes the topic.

“Oh. Did you ever live in the old city, Brȗn?”

The amused look on her wrinkled face immediately sobers, and suddenly he feels awful for bringing it up. Before he can apologize, she says “when I was very young, we still lived among the ruins of Lond Daer. Now, I am the last.”

“Sorry,” Arasion whispers, ducking his head.

The old woman reaches across the table to smooth his hair back. When he sits back and blinks at her, she smiles. “Do not be, little one. Belegwend and Badhiron know the stories, and they will pass them down to their children. That is what matters to me.”

Arasion’s bowl is finally empty, and his stomach feels delightfully warm and full. Belegwend stands and clears the table while Brȗn picks him up again. He still feels bad enough about his tactless comment that he doesn’t put up a fight about being coddled.

“The sun goes down, little Stag,” she says, smoothing one hand over his back. “It is time for sleep.”

Arasion allows her to tuck him into a little cot by the fire, invisibility cloak pillowed safely beneath his head, and it feels strangely reminiscent of a night spent at the Weasleys. Hedwig comes fluttering into the room and settles into his side, apparently determined to sleep close to her person for the night. Despite his initial determination to fake sleep and wait for an opportunity to sneak out, his eyes quickly begin to close, and soon he’s slumbering peacefully.

Hedwig wakes him when the moon is high in the night sky and the humans are asleep. Arasion sits up sluggishly and rubs at his eyes, frowning a bit. His dreams were vague, but he remembers drowsing in sun-warm arms, lips pressing against his forehead, and a gentle, feminine voice scolding him. For what, he doesn’t remember. Probably one of the Valar , he thinks with exasperation.

He and Hedwig sneak out of the cottage, careful not to wake its sleeping inhabitants. Beneath the cover of darkness, he pulls the cloak on and mounts his broom again.

“What do you think, girl?” he asks as they rise into the air, Hedwig hitching a ride with regal dignity. “Further inland?” She croons and taps his hand affectionately. He grins, the stiff, cold sea breeze ruffling his hair, and breathes in the sweet scent of freedom.

“Further in it is!”

Chapter Text

The sun is warm on Arasion’s face as he stretches out on a bed of riverside grasses. His eyes are contented slits, mere slivers of sunlit green visible beneath his thick black lashes. Hedwig snoozes beside him on a conjured perch, her white plumage fairly glowing in the light. With a lazy sigh, Arasion guides the straw back to his mouth and takes another sip of his enchanted, ice-cold lemonade.

It’s been three days since he left behind Brûn and Belegwend, and he’s seen nary a sight of any living person—just deer and foxes and many, many songbirds. At some point he realizes he should have packed a map, then also realizes that Hermione undoubtedly thought of that. Sure enough, there's a thick, waterproof map rolled up in one of the side pockets of his rucksack. He takes a day off to puzzle out a spell that will show his location on said map (praise be to the all-knowing Hermione and her choice of books to send with him). Surprisingly, it doesn’t explode the map. He learns that he and Hedwig had, apparently, been following the Grayflood since they left the sea-shore, and were another half-day’s travel from Tharbad and the Green Way.

Of course, nearer to the Green Way means nearer to elves and other potential sources of an end to his fun. He supposes, as he scratches languorously at his scalp, that finding a family won’t be so bad, even if they’ll probably going to be insufferable for a while. It might be nice not to be responsible for everything, to have someone reliable, someone wiser than him that he can go to if he’s overwhelmed. But he’s not quite ready to let the elves get their hands on him, not yet , and it’s that ‘yet’ that’s important.

He contemplates heading to the Shire, but of course he doesn’t know what year it is. The Shire might not even be established yet. Many of the dates and fine details he learned of Middle Earth’s history have already faded from his memory, but he thinks it was established somewhere around TA 1900. Then again, it would be a good way to establish the general time period he’s in. If there are still Kings in Fornost, then it’s before TA 2000.

He should have asked Brûn or Belegwend.

“What do you think, Hedwig?” He asks lazily, following the erratic path of a blue-winged butterfly as it flies over his head. She’s become an indispensable source of owlish wisdom in the past few days. “Shire? Or we could follow the road down to the Gap of Rohan.” Following the Gryflood any farther is a bad idea. It would take them far too close to Rivendell and the elves for his liking.

Hedwig opens one sleepy, considering eye, then barks once and goes back to sleep. Arasion interprets this as ‘Shire’ and grins. Good decision, girl, he thinks, settling in for his own nap.


The Shire is, as it would turn out, empty. Very, very empty. Arasion frowns in discontent as he and Hedwig circle over the pristine fields and forests that will eventually house Hobbiton. “So much for that idea,” he comments. “At least we know where we’re not. ” He pauses and amends, “well, when we’re not.”

The sun begins to set as they continue to circle, uncertain of where to go next. A warm little breeze tickles at Arasion’s ear and he perks up, turning at its request. He’s become strangely attuned to these little signs, and following them always results in something amusing or useful. The breeze leads him down toward the forest, Hedwig on his heels. They descend past the canopy and all the way to the forest floor where Arasion dismounts and pulls his hood back. The breeze abruptly vanishes.

“What is it?” he wonders aloud, frowning at the sudden absence. “What did you want to show me?” Around him, the forest is dim and bizarrely misty, looking nearly purple in the fading sunlight.

Then, he sees it: faint greenish lights begin to appear in the distance, moving toward him in a slow, twinkling wave. He draws in a sharp breath, eyes widening. Little bubbles, glowing green with hypnotic yellow centers, circle around him like curious fireflies. “Oh,” he breathes in awe as a multitude of little presences brushes against his mind. One bubble breaks away from the rest and hovers slightly above his face. Without thinking, he reaches up toward it, and it resolves itself into a fluid, vaguely female form with happy yellow crescents for eyes and fluttering blue wings.

“Faeries!” Arasion cries in delight at the little being alights on his upturned fingers. That, perhaps, is not the correct name for these little forest spirits, but it’s the best word he has to offer. The faerie on his finger seems to approve, if the silent giggle he senses is any indication. She takes off again, but before Arasion can feel disappointed she flies back and tugs insistently at the edge of his cloak, beckoning with one fluid little limb. He follows without question.

The glowing faeries lead him deeper into the forest, where trees rise high around him, forming a strangely perfect arch over a clear, straight path. For some reason, the elfling feels as if they are moving very far very quickly, though he’s walking at a normal pace. Magic , he supposes with a dismissive mental shrug. It’s hardly the strangest thing he’s had to deal with in recent memory. Then, quite suddenly, he steps out of the forest and onto a well-tended stone path.

Arasion blinks in surprise, for there, a dozen or so yards away, is a house. Warm golden light spills out of it and across the path, like a beacon. The faeries really had done some kind of space-bending magic; he surely would have seen this house from the air. The faeries inaudible giggling intensifies, and a half-dozen suddenly seize the hem of his cloak and urge him on, faster than before.

He laughs despite himself. “Alright, alright, I’m coming!”

They lead him all the way up to the house, but Arasion doesn’t have much time to observe it since the door swings open in front of them (without anyone visibly doing the swinging, no less!) and suddenly he’s enveloped in delicious warmth and the scent of fresh-baked bread.

A tall, beautiful lady is silhouetted against a roaring fireplace, bent slightly as she lays a dish on the table. The faeries all release him, save one, and swarm around the lady, nestling in her long golden hair or clinging to her dress. She straightens and laughs delightedly, her hand coming up to caress a few of the little spirits who hover, chirping silently before her face.

“Ah!” says she, and turns to Arasion. “I see you spoke truly, then. Hail and well met, little friend. I have prepared supper for us.”

The elfling frowns, surprised by her nonchalance at having a strange child randomly show up on her doorstep. “How’d you know…?” He glances up at the faerie that’s still perched on his hair. “Oh. Right.” Well, at least that explains why they were leading him here. He decides to roll with it. “I would love to have supper, uh, Lady.”

“You may call me Goldberry, little one.” She smiles, and just as Arasion begins to wonder where Hedwig went, the snowy swoops in and settles onto the back of a chair. The faeries seem to have taken quite a shine to her, if the way they’re clinging to her feathers is any indication.

“Your friend is welcome to supper as well,” Goldberry says with a little laugh, ushering him toward a chair.

Belatedly, Arasion remembers his manners. “Oh, I’m Arasion and that’s Hedwig.” The chair she gives him is piled high with cushions, and he’s pleased that he doesn’t have to kneel this time, even if he does have to clamber ungracefully up onto it.

Before he can so much as look at the food, he hears a deep, jovial voice singing from outside:

 

Hey! Come merry dol! Derry dol! My darling!

Light goes the weather-wing and the feathered starling.

Down along under Hill, shining in the sunlight,

Waiting on the doorstep for the cold starlight,

There my pretty lady is, River-woman’s daughter,

Slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the water!

 

The door opens to admit a short, sturdy man with a long brown beard, deep blue coat, and yellow boots. His face is round, red, and beaming, and his bright blue eyes immediately find Arasion’s. If it’s possible, his beaming expression intensifies.The elfling’s stomach swoops in apprehension, because that’s an even stronger version of the look Belegwend gave him back in Lond Daer.

“Ho there!” the man booms as he shucks off his boots. “We have a little guest, do we, my darling?”

Goldberry smiles again. “Arasion, Hedwig, this is Tom Bombadil, my husband. Tom, Arasion and Hedwig.”

“Well met, Arasion and Hedwig,” Tom Bombadil says, sweeping his hat off and offering a deep bow. “Well met indeed! I have not had one such as you in my home before, certainly!”

Arasion eyes him with apprehension. “Well met,” he says, then stops because he doesn’t know what else to add. Tom Bombadil takes no offense as he bounds over to the table, choosing a seat next to Goldberry. Thankfully, this leaves Arasion safely on the other side of the table, out of arm’s reach.

And if he starts making escape plans in case either of these two strangers attempts to pick him up and coddle him, well, he can hardly be blamed for it.

Chapter Text

Arasion and Hedwig spend a full week at Tom Bombadil’s house, and the elfling actually grows quite fond of the eccentric couple, even if they do sing constantly. An important factor in this fondness is that they sense his aversion to being carried or overly coddled and refrain from doing so. Of course, they still treat him like a child and call him “little one,” but at least they aren’t constantly manhandling him. They also treat Hedwig with immense respect and dignity; she accepts their royal treatment like it's her due, and sometimes he can't help but laugh at her for it.

But all good things must eventually come to an end, and by the close of the sixth day, Arasion feels it's time to go.

“Well!” says Tom Bombadil when the elfling makes his intention clear. “Well! Certainly, if you feel you must. But you and your winged lady are always welcome in my home!” Then he breaks into song.

Goldberry comes over and sweeps him up, which he allows her to do since he’s about to leave. She holds him close to her chest and presses a kiss to the top of his head. “Safe travels, little one. I hope you find your home soon.”


 

This time, Arasion decides he wants to see a Dwarven kingdom. He’s pretty sure Moria has already fallen at this point—though he could be wrong—but the fact that the Shire isn’t established should mean that Erebor hasn’t been taken by Smaug. The easiest way to get there is to follow the same road the Company will one day take (the East Road), but that means they’ll be flying almost directly over Rivendell.

After an afternoon spent on the edge of the Old Forest, consulting his map and Hedwig, he decides to risk it.

After all, what could the elves do even if they saw him? Shoot him off his broom?


 

They shot him off his broom!

It was an accident, granted, because he’s pretty sure the archer was aiming for something else entirely (considering he was invisible ), but what the hell! Had he been a more cynical man, he would have suspected Irmo or one of the other Valar, but he doesn’t think they’d go as far as having him shot at. Luckily he isn’t flying very high. Double luckily, Yavanna apparently blessed Hedwig with a truly freakish amount of wing strength, which he only learns when she latches onto his cloak and saves him from breaking several limbs by crashing through the forest canopy.

With an irritated grunt, he latches onto a suitably sturdy branch, allowing Hedwig to release him. His arm stings fiercely where the arrow grazed him as he pulls himself up to sit against the trunk of the tree. He has no idea where his broom landed, but he really hopes it’s unharmed. He has little to no chance of sneaking past the elves on foot.

“Dammit,” he mutters, pulling his cloak aside to examine the bloody furrow near his elbow. He glances up at Hedwig, who’s watching him in concern. “Hedwig, can you go find my broom?” She bobs her head once and flies off.

Arasion doesn’t think the elves saw him go down, so he takes the time to pull some bandages and a healing paste from his bag, carefully covering the wound and wrapping it. Normally he could just use Episkey, but with the Exploding Twig Incident still fresh in his memory he has no desire to test his unstable magic on his own flesh. The stinging fades into a dull throb as the paste begins to work. He flexes his arm and the bandage stays in place, so he packs his stuff up again and pulls out his wand. Might as well be prepared, he reasons as he settles back to wait for Hedwig.

Not five minutes later, Arasion hears rustling on the ground below. Alarmed, he yanks his hood back up, returning to the safety of invisibility, and holds his breath. No one should be able to smell or otherwise sense him up here, not if he stays still. To his horror, two hooded elves walk into view, both armed with swords and drawn bows. They’re searching for something, heads turning this way and that, and he has the sinking feeling that they’re searching for him.

Eru FUCKING dammit! he thinks, resisting the urge to bang his head into the bark. Now this has Irmo written all over it.

“Ach!” one of the elves says, his voice barely audible to Arasion. “I swore it fell over in this direction, but I see no break in the canopy.”

The other elf rolls his eyes, the hidden action evident in his tone. “We have hardly been searching long enough to dismiss the possibility, Elladan. Besides, can you not hear the trees singing? Something altogether queer has happened in this area.”

Arasion focuses on the tree-song and is both alarmed and indignant to find that the forest is indeed singing about him. Stop that, he tries to sing back, poking the tree he’s sitting on with an irritated finger. That was a mistake. The elves both stiffen, jerking in his direction, and he shrinks back against the wood. Whoops, he thinks, chagrined.

“Elrohir, did you...?” the first elf, Elladan, asks.

“I did,” Elrohir breathes in response. “But where?”

At that moment Hedwig reappears, and Arasion feels a strange mixture of disappointment and relief when he sees no broom in her talons (because that would be unbelievably suspicious). She settles near her boy, but not in the same tree, and he thanks the Valar that she’s wise enough not to give away his position.

But she does give away something.

“A white owl,” Elladan chokes out. His head is tilted up, and Arasion can see his saucer-wide eyes. “You do not think…?”

Elrohir is similarly stunned as he looks up. “But then, where is the child? How did he get so far so quickly?”

To Arasion’s infinite alarm, Elladan slings his bow onto his back and leaps gracefully into Hedwig’s tree, scaling it with inhuman fluidity. The invisible elfling shrinks back further, pressing a hand over his mouth, and tries to breathe inaudibly. Elladan perches on the balls of his feet, looking much like a bird, and pulls his hood down to reveal long brown hair braided away from his face. He cocks his head curiously.

“Hail, White Lady,” he says softly to Hedwig, who eyes him imperiously. He raises one elbow, clearly offering his vambrace as a perch.

Don’t you dare! Arasion thinks at her, scowling into his palm. He’s pretty sure that they share a proper familiar bond here in Middle Earth, so she should be able to hear him. He’s either wrong or she chooses to ignore it, because she flutters over to rest on the grown elf’s forearm.

Elladan smiles and strokes a finger along her snowy white breast feathers. “You are no common owl, are you?” he asks. She croons, lifting her head so he can stroke her chin.

Arasion fumes silently less than ten feet away, mentally shoving his feeling of betrayal at her. She continues to ignore him, and he’s hard-pressed to keep an irritated scoff from escaping his throat and giving away his position.

“Tell me, White Lady, where is your boy?” Elladan asks. “Will you take us to him? We only wish to see him safe.”

Arasion stiffens in alarm and stops breathing entirely. You wouldn’t he thinks with a bit of uncertainty as Hedwig eyes the grownup thoughtfully. She glances toward her boy once, but no more, then suddenly takes off—in the opposite direction. Arasion slumps in relief.

“Elrohir, go!” Elladan cries, descending quickly even as the other takes off in a dead sprint after the owl. The elfling they inadvertently left behind waits until he is certain they are far out of earshot before exhaling shakily.

“That was too close,” he mutters. He puts his wand between this teeth and descends to the forest floor in six quick, controlled drops. After only a brief hesitation, he lays the wand in his palm and whispers “point me,” controlling his magic as tightly as he can and allowing only the tiniest drop of power into the spell. The wand spins sluggishly (nothing explodes, much to his relief) and finally stops, pointing at his chest. He whirls around and takes off in a sprint, trading silence for speed. His hood falls, but he doesn’t much care; if the elves are close enough to see him, they’re close enough to hear him.

Luckily, Arasion doesn’t have to run long, for there, up ahead, he catches a flash of red and silver. Relieved, he speeds up and then skids to a stop on his knees next to the broom, reaching for it with eager hands.

At the same instant, another, much larger hand enters his line of sight.

The elfling’s head snaps up to find a startled male elf with long, sun-gold hair kneeling and reaching for his broom as well. They both freeze, leaf-green eyes locked on ocean-blue. The adult opens his mouth slightly, drawing in breath to speak, and Arasion does the only thing he can think of: he yanks the broom to himself, smacks the other elf between the eyes with it, and scrambles for freedom.

That, paradoxically, seems to snap the golden-haired elf from his daze. “Child, stop!” he cries with mingled desperation and wonder, and Arasion can feel heavy feet pounding after him.

“No!” he answers with both force and petulance. He ducks behind a tree, pulls his hood up, and mounts his broom in one smooth motion. The elf, oblivious, sprints right past him, and Arasion wastes no time in rising high above the trees. He goes far beyond the reach of arrows, sight-seeing be damned, and takes off toward the Misty Mounts at full speed.

Hedwig, magnificent owl that she is, apparently senses his actions and so catches up within a few minutes of his harried flight. He slows so that she can keep pace, and yells over the winds: “We’re getting to the mountains tonight girl! I’m not staying near Rivendell a moment longer!” If she disapproves, she keeps it to herself.

Arasion’s mouth tightens into a grim line (and absolutely not a pout); he and Irmo are going to be having a long conversation tonight.

Chapter Text

“Are you trying to get me killed?” Arasion demands when he slips into the dream that night.

Irmo scoops him up without warning and tosses him into the air, his fey laughter untouched by the child’s accusation. Arasion shrieks in a mix of surprise and (reluctant) delight, flailing like a baby bird as he descends back into the Vala’s arms. “I would never!” Irmo says, throwing him again. “You wound me, dear-heart!”

“Stop that!” Arasion says, his ire tempered by the laughter he can’t stop. “I’m serious! Did you send them toward me?”

Irmo laughs, throwing him a third time. “You will not believe me, I think, but no. None of us did, though you may rightly blame Yavanna for giving her trees the gift of song.”

Arasion scowls but concedes the point as Irmo nuzzles his face. “Yeah, well… don’t,” he says, his tone wavering between pleading and demanding. “I’m not ready to deal with the elves yet.”

Irmo sobers and pulls back, repositioning the child in his arms so that they’re face-to-face. “Calasain, I must caution you from delaying too long,” he says seriously. “Your soul is wounded, and it is not healing while you linger alone.”

Arasion blinks in surprise. “What? But I feel fine.” A considering little furrow forms between his brows as he looks away from the Vala and down at his hands. “I feel… too fine, actually.”

“Yes,” Irmo agrees, smoothing Arasion’s hair away from his face. “We bolster your spirit nightly, little one, but it is only a temporary measure. Once you have chosen your family, we must withdraw our Power and allow you to heal properly.”

The elfling make a face, then turns and buries his head in Irmo’s chest. Healing his soul sounds very far from a pleasant experience. “I’ll… take that into consideration,” he says reluctantly.

Irmo hums and strokes a finger along the shell of Arasion’s ear, drawing a reluctant, ticklish giggle from the child. “That’s all I ask, little one,” he says gently.


 

Erebor is not, in fact, inhabited by a dragon.

Or so Arasion discovers when he finally makes it to the mountain. It takes longer than expected since he chooses to go around The Greenwood rather than risk another encounter with the elves (all of whom are undoubtedly on high alert at this point).

Especially if the trees themselves are going to snitch on him. He’s still sore about that.

But. Erebor, not inhabited by a murderous dragon. That’s good.

He sits cross-legged on the roof of Dale’s bell tower, invisibly observing the front gates into the Lonely Mountain, and contemplates his options. He could try to explore with just his invisibility cloak, and maybe risk casting Mufflatio on himself. Except he doesn’t know how keen dwarvish senses are. Don’t they have some kind of stone-sense? Could they feel him walking around via the stone of the mountain itself?

No, too risky.

That only other option is to disguise himself the old-fashioned way, and Arasion feels a grin creep across his face at the thought. He’s still smaller than the average dwarf, and a lot slimmer, but he’s reasonably confident in his ability to disguise himself. Hermione packed a lot of very strange supplies. He could give himself a beard!

Arasion cackles deviously and gets up, grabbing his broom again. Now to find a hidden place to make his disguise…


 

Disguised (rather convincingly, he might say) as a young dwarf, Arasion follows the flow of the crowd into the mountain. His invisibility cloak is on just in case, but opened at the front to keep him visible. Hedwig is riding on his shoulder. Many of the dwarves and men he passes do double takes when they see her. He ignores the staring, too occupied with gaping as subtly as possible at the grandeur of the dwarves.

And truly, it is magnificent. The scale of the architecture is enormous, yet every square inch is full of mind-boggling detail. The finest traits of the mountain itself are polished up and put on display, like the shimmering ore veins and the smooth, glimmering stone itself. Carvings march over the walls, gilded and inlaid with colorful stone and gems that shine from the inside in a way that reminds him of Christmas fairy lights.

As soon as he can inconspicuously break away from the crowd he does, bounding eagerly off to examine the carved murals that seem to cover every wall. Luckily he’s not the only one, as he comes across several others (mostly young dwarves) who are also following the march of carvings.

When he finally comes to a stop it is before one particularly large and grand panel, far from the main pathways in a closed, temple-like room. “Wow,” he murmurs, tracing his fingers over the central carving, which he thinks depicts Aulë creating the first dwarves. The stone is cold and mirror-smooth against the pads of his fingers. A spicy, warm herbal scent lingers, likely from the candles and sticks of incense that line the low altar behind him. “They must really love you.”

“They do. And in turn, I love them dearly.”

Arasion yelps in surprise and stumbles back as the carving speaks,  winks at him with carven-ruby eyes, and returns to inanimate stillness. He gapes and reaches up to rub his eyes several times.

The carving doesn’t move again, even when he pokes at it with a suspicious finger.

“What the fuck,” he whispers, softly but with feeling. Next time he sees Aulë he’s going to kick his shins. Do the Valar just like messing with him, he wonders as he glares at the panel, tiny fists on his hips. Is that it? Do they like startling and bewildering him?

Footsteps approach, yanking him from his internal diatribe at the Valar. He spins around, startled, and listens.

“I know we did not have time on your last visit, my eldarin friend, and that your schedule is full, but I am certain you will enjoy this!” says a cheerful, velvety dwarvish voice. Strangely, the dwarf is speaking in accented Sindarin.

Uh oh , he thinks, unable to stop and ponder the linguistic mystery of a dwarf speaking the elven-tongue instead of the common tongue. There's only one way out of the temple-room, and apparently an elf and at least one dwarf are blocking his escape. Hedwig takes off from his shoulder, disappearing toward the ceiling. Arasion’s head whips around frantically. He dives for the stone altar and scrunches up into a tight ball in the shallow indent at the front. He pulls his cloak closed, holding the edges together with his finger instead of fumbling with the ties. If he's lucky, no one will step on him.

“Certainly,” murmurs an undeniably female elven voice. “I thank you for taking the time to show me.”

“My pleasure, Barades. It is so rare for our peoples to be at peace long enough to share art, after all.” The two laugh as if sharing an oft-repeated joke and finally enter the room.

From his position facing the door, Arasion sees a tall, slim elf clad in a dark green and silver dress. The small figure beside her is also wearing a dress, he realizes, though a beard falls in a complex, jewel-strung braid down her chest. A female dwarf, he realizes, curiosity piqued. And friends with an elf to boot!

The elf, dark-haired with some of the palest grey eyes Arasion has ever seen, stops abruptly in the doorway as she catches sight of the mural. “Elbereth,” she breathes in wonder, much to the apparent satisfaction of her dwarven companion, “the workmanship… incredible.” She closes her eyes, head tilting to the side, and steps reverently closer. “Lis, it… it feels alive .”

“Does it?” asks the dwarf, Lis, in surprise. With a puzzled frown, she kneels and lays a hand on the floor. Her eyes slip shut in concentration “You are right. I can feel… humming.” Understanding dawns and she bends over to press her forehead to the floor in worshipful benediction. “Mahal,” she says, awed. “You honor us!”

For a moment, Arasion is afraid Aulë will give him away, but the carving does not move. He sighs quietly in relief.

“We must tell Lord Durin,” says Lis, her accent thickening nearly to the point of incomprehensibility in her excitement. She spins in an excited circle, her bright red hair flying out around her. The metal and gems threaded through her curls sparkle distractingly in the half-light. “This is a blessing! A sign, surely!”

Barades laughs and seizes her dwarven friend’s hands, dancing with her around the room. “A blessing! Yes!” she cries. “Friendship, wealth, and happiness! Ai, Elbereth! Come, come!” Together the unlikely duo turns and runs down the corridor, still hand in hand.

Arasion waits until he’s sure they can’t hear him before he crawls out of his hiding space. “Hedwig!” he calls in a half-hushed voice. “Let’s go, quick, before they come back!” The snowy swoops down from whatever cranny she had found up high, flying over his head as he once again gives up on subtlety and breaks into a sprint. His bare feet slap against the cold stone, echoing down the corridor.

Just when he thinks he’s safe, it happens: he runs straight into another elf . Hedwig barks in alarm, banking sharply as Arasion rebounds and falls onto his rear. The elf, a male, takes one wide-eyed look at Arasion (whose hood has fallen) and Hedwig, then opens his mouth and screeches “THE CHILD IS HERE!” at the top of his lungs.

“OH COME ON!” Arasion howls when the elf lunges for him. He dodges, diving between the elf’s legs and runs again as fast as he can go. He turns sharply into the nearest archway, nearly losing his footing, and tries to pull the same trick he pulled just a few days ago by raising his hood and quickly closing his cloak. In his haste, Arasion’s foot catches on a slight divot in the floor and he trips badly, flying toward the wall. With his hands still tangled in the ties of his cloak, he can only watch in horror as his head makes a one-way trip toward the unyielding stone.

The elf chasing him shouts in alarm. Stars explode behind his eyes. Everything goes dark.

Chapter Text

Arasion’s entire being feels distant and floaty as warm, steady hands gently and methodically stroke over his head. At each place they pause, pain flares in tiny, vague pinpricks before fading into warmth. Arasion groans and tries to squirm away as the fingertips probe at an especially sensitive spot just below his hairline.

A deep voice chuckles. “Be still, my little one. I am repairing the damage to your head.”

He’s dreaming again, but that’s not Irmo’s voice. He forces his eyes open, squinting against the pale blue light above his head. He’s lying in someone’s lap. A figure leans over him, blocking the glare, and his face comes into focus after a few more seconds of blinking.

“Námo?” the child croaks. He’s not quite sure how he recognizes the Vala. Despite the fact that he and Irmo are brothers, they look nothing alike. Where Irmo has deep brown skin and hair and bright purple eyes, Námo has pale golden skin, pale hair, and eyes that look like two discs of liquid silver. The one thing they do have in common is the bright, colorful paint that adorns their faces, though in different patterns.

Námo smiles. “Correct, Calasain,” says he, and turns his attention back to the boy’s head. “You managed to get yourself halfway to my Halls with that stunt.”

“Stunt…?” Arasion blinks as he remembers the last thing that happened before he woke up here. Immediately, his face flushes crimson with embarrassment. “Oh Merlin, I tripped? ” he squawks, hiding his face in his hands. Another flare of pain makes him flinch.

“That you did,” says Námo in a tone that poorly conceals his amusement. “Please don’t do it quite so spectacularly next time.”

“Wait, did I die? ” Arasion asks in horror, peering through his fingers to see Námo’s reaction.

Námo smooths his hand over Arasion’s head one more time, inspecting his handiwork. “No, not quite, but you came close enough to give us quite the scare.”

With the Vala’s help, Arasion sits upright so they can properly converse. “Oh. Um… sorry?” he tries.

“Perhaps now you might learn to stop running away?” Námo suggests, arching a pale eyebrow.

Arasion scrunches his nose. “Oh, ugh , the elves have me now, don’t they?”

“It was inevitable, little one. Though, I confess, I did not foresee it ending in such a way.” Then he grins the grin of an older brother who has won a bet against his younger brother. “Of course, neither did Irmo.”

The elfling squints up at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be the grim one?”

Námo laughs outright at this, and in that moment bears a striking resemblance to his brother. “According to whom, Calasain? The Noldor, to which I spoke little but Doom and suffering?”

“Oh.” Arasion considers this for a second as Námo readjusts him so that he’s lying comfortably in the curve of his arm. “Fair point, I suppose.”

He sighs and sags into Námo’s side, turning and pressing the side of his face against his soft robes. Several long, peaceful moments pass in silence as Arasion considers his predicament. Námo seems equally content as he combs his fingers through the elfling’s wild black locks.

When Arasion speaks again, his voice is small and half-muffled.“I don't want to stop adventuring yet.”

“I know, little one,” Námo says, gently cupping the side of Arasion’s head. “But it may, perhaps, be time to face your fears.”

Arasion curls farther into the Vala’s side and refuses to answer.


 

He moves seamlessly from dreams to the waking world, though his head aches considerably in the latter. Warm arms, much smaller than Irmo’s or Námo’s, cradle him securely against a soft and distinctly female chest. His holder is singing, her sweet voice low and lulling.

Lullay, lullay, my darling dreamer. Where do you go, on feet so small? What do you see with eyes so big? My dearest one, my darling child, you walk the Path of Dreams. Let my voice guide you home when the dawn draws near.”

Arasion makes a displeased noise as his holder shifts him and makes his headache spike briefly. Didn’t Námo fix this? He wonders briefly. Maybe he meant mental damage. Can’t you lose memories if you get a concussion?

“Little one?” his holder asks, breaking off from her lullaby. “Are you awake?”

“No,” Arasion grumbles, breathing through the pain.

His holder laughs, startled and amused by his answer. “Of course, of course,” she says. “Are you in pain?” Arasion makes another displeased sound as she leans down and lays him on a bed; the change in elevation makes his temples pound unpleasantly. “Shh, shh,” she soothes, brushing her fingers over his forehead.

She moves away and the elfling finally risks opening his eyes. Luckily, the light is soft and doesn’t cause him any pain, though the room spins a bit before him. His holder returns a second later, a small cup in hand, and Arasion realizes that she’s the same elf that he saw in the temple-room. Barades , he recalls.

She beams when she sees his eyes open. “Here, drink this,” she says, sliding a hand behind his back to help him sit up and gently pressing the cool rim of the cup to his lips. The liquid within smells strongly herbal, and after a second’s hesitation, he drinks. To his surprise, it tastes sweet and minty.

“Good boy,” Barades coos when he finishes, and Arasion shoots her an annoyed look.

“I’m not a dog,” he says reproachfully, moving away when she tries to pick him up again. The pounding in his head slowly begins to fade.

Barades is surprised, then concerned. She sits down on the edge of the bed and stops trying to manhandle him, which is a relief. “Oh, little one, no, I did not mean that! Forgive me.”

He squints at her for a second, mulling over all the potential questions he could ask. “Who are you?”

“My name is Barades,” she says. Then, teasingly, “who are you ?”

“Arasion. That ellon , he was looking for me. Why?” Might as well find out how they got word.

Barades’s expression becomes assessing, then pensive. “My family is independent, and we wander often. By grace, we had just passed through the Eryn Galen on our way back here. The scouts gave urgent news that you were wandering alone, with only a white owl as company, Arasion.” She smiles, though her eyes are concerned. “You gave my husband quite the scare.”

“I gave myself quite the scare,” he mumbles, rubbing gingerly at the tender spot on his temple.

“Don’t aggravate your wound, little one,” she clucks, reaching out and catching his hand. “You are fortunate Lord Durin was visiting, or the healers on hand would not have been nearly as skilled.” She smooths his hair away from his face. He allows it, since it is getting quite unruly. “Tell me, where are your ada and nana, Arasion? They must be quite worried.”

He hesitates, looking down at his fingers. One one hand, his original parent are very much dead. On the other, he’s been more-or-less adopted by the Valar, at least until he chooses a family...and maybe even after. On the other-other hand, he’s like the firstborn Firstborn and he doesn’t actually have parents, except Eru Ilúvatar. “They’re far away,” he says eventually. “Far away in the West.”

“Oh.” Barades’s coo is soft and full of sorrow. “Oh, I am so sorry, little one.”

He sighs and changes topics. “What are you going to do with me?”

“Well—” she stops, suddenly confused. “Well, I suppose we shall take you somewhere safe,” she says slowly, playing with the empty cup in her hands. “Lord Elrond is the closest we have to a true Lord… but he is so far away.” She frowns thoughtfully, as if she had yet to consider the problem.

Seems like a bit of an oversight, he thinks wryly. Then again, I suppose they were rather focused on me almost killing myself.

Barades continues speaking, though it’s clear to Arasion that she is speaking to herself and not him. “I suppose we could go to Eryn Galen and request an escort… but Thranduil would persuade us to stay, if only for status, and that would likely initiate another conflict between the realms…and going to Lothlórien first would create a similar problem.” She glances at Arasion, her eyes full of worry. “Oh, but Imladris is so far away, and the journey so perilous for such a little one!”

Arasion can't help but grin. “I got this far on my own,” he points out. She pales a bit at this, realizing for the first time exactly what kind of peril he had been in.

“And by Grace you survived,” she says fretfully, reaching out and lifting him onto her lap. He sighs deeply but doesn’t put up a fight—he’ll save that for later. The elleth wraps her arms tightly around him and settles her chin on top of his head. “Praise the Valar.”

Lady, you have no idea, he thinks.

Unexpectedly, the curtains over the doorway are drawn aside by the ellon that chased him earlier. Arasion finally gets a good look at him. His hair, unlike his wife’s, is a deep silver and his eyes are a dark greenish-blue that light up upon seeing Arasion awake.

“Little one, you are alright!” he exclaims in relief.

“I told you Arasion was a strong one, Cabedon,” Barades scolds lightly.

Cabedon’s eyes soften with amusement. “Of course, wife, how could I doubt you,” he drawls. Barades laughs, and Arasion gets the distinct feeling that he’s missing some kind of joke.

“His parents are gone to the West,” she informs him. “I was just considering where we could take him.”

“Not Eryn Galen,” Cabedon says immediately, alarm flashing briefly across his angular features. He comes over to the bed and sits down next to Barades, reaching out and absently stroking Arasion’s cheek. “Nor Lóthlorien, I deem.”

“No,” she agrees. “But the logistics…”

The conversation descends into a long back-and-forth over their supplies, then their travelling party, then politics. The elleth’s chest is warm against his back, and the weight of her arms around him is soothing. Arasion begins to drift off, his eyelids sliding closed. In his half-dozing state, the absent-minded pats he gets from the ellon even feel kinda...nice. Soothing. The last thing he hears is Cabedon suggesting they ask for a dwarven escort before he falls asleep completely.


Bonus drawing of Namo because I love him

 

 

Chapter Text

“Arasion…”

The elfling in question groans as the voice draws him from sleep, rolling over and pulling the blanket up over his head. “Go away,” he whines.

The voice laughs, coaxing him a little more toward consciousness. “Come now, little one. The sun is rising while you're still abed!” He finally recognizes the voice as Barades and rolls back over, blinking hazily at her from beneath his warm, sheltering blanket. She sits on the edge of the cot, smiling and amused. “We have much to do today, Arasion,” she continues. “But first we must get you bathed and dressed. Breakfast is waiting.”

Bathed? Arasion doesn’t like the sound of that. He shoots up, alarmed, and blurts out “I can wash myself! Alone!”

Barades looks surprised. “Ah… alright, if you so wish,” she says in a tone that clearly implies his reaction is not normal for a seventeen-year-old elf. He winces a bit at his misstep—but doesn’t take it back.

“Good,” he huffs, preemptively rolling off the bed and standing. He holds a single hand out for her to take so that she won’t be tempted to pick him up. Her confusion melts into concern, but nonetheless she stands and takes his proffered hand, leading him over to a small side room with a tub set in the stone floor.

Barades flips a lever and Arasion is both awed and delighted as hot water pours from a spigot into the bowl. Indoor plumbing! he thinks, then feels a twinge of guilt. Well, I suppose it was rather condescending of me to assume that no one here had indoor plumbing. Barades bustles about the small room, gathering little jars and setting them near the tub as it slowly fills with steaming water. Finally, she sets down a folded towel and kneels in front of Arasion.

“I am going to wait right outside, little one,” she says reluctantly, “just in case you need help.”

“I won’t,” he insists. “I’ll be quick.”

Barades’s lips quirk slightly and she pats his cheek once before standing and leaving. As soon as the curtains close he strips off his clothes as fast as possible. Less time for her to change her mind, he reasons, barely restraining himself from literally diving into the large tub. He has to stand on the shallow inner rim to wash himself—the tub runs so deep that he’d be treading water in the middle.

Arasion is squeaky clean in less than five minutes. It’s only when he hauls himself out, dripping, that he realizes he has no clean clothing. “Knew I shoulda’ learned that laundry charm sooner,” he grumbles as he briskly towels himself dry. He bites his lip, debating with himself, then sighs in defeat and trudges over to the curtained doorway, trailing the towel like an oversized cloak.

“Hey, um, Barades?” he asks. The elleth startles, eyes widening as she sees his damp, tousled hair and squeaky-clean face. Arasion continues before she can comment: “can you get my pack? My clean clothes are in there.”

“Oh, yes!” she says, looking embarrassed that she didn’t anticipate the problem. She stands from where she had been kneeling and disappears out the door, returning a moment later with his pack in one hand.

“Thanks,” he says, taking it and disappearing before she can offer to 'help.’ He rummages around for a while, looking for some of his less conspicuous outfits, and settles on a deep red tunic—a real tunic, not a shirt—and dark dragonhide pants. He puts his dueller’s gloves and boots back on as well, then fastens the Cloak and slings his pack onto his shoulder.

Barades makes an amused sound when he walks out. “Arasion, you needn't be quite so formal for breakfast.”

He glances down at himself. “Why not? Aren't I going to meet more people?” Because that is what he assumed, that Barades and Cabedon would use the lure of food to introduce him to more strangers. It seems like exactly the thing an adult would do to get a skittish child to stay in one place.

He has taken Barades by surprise a little too often, it seems; her expression twitches toward shock for only a moment before turning to a kind of deadpan. “You are very smart, Arasion,” is what she says, though he hears you are entirely too smart for your own good.

He hides a grin beneath his shaggy black hair.

“You will not need your pack, at least,” she says, taking it from his shoulder and setting it on the cot. Then, with a sigh, she sweeps him up onto her hip.

He decides to protest this time. “I can walk!” he says, kicking slightly. “See? I even have boots on!”

“I will carry you for now,” she says implacably as they leave the room. “You are still recovering, and—” she glances down, eyes sparkling with mischief “—the floors here can sometimes be hazardous.”

Arasion gapes. A tiny, shit-eating grin tugs at the corner of Barades’s mouth, and he can’t help it: he laughs. His startled chuckles quickly turn to full-on howls when she laughs with him. “Oh, that’s—that’s not fair!” he gasps out.

“What’s unfair, little one?” asks Cabedon, appearing from nowhere to playfully steal him from Barades’s arms. He lifts the elfling high above his head, grinning when Arasion makes a surprised noise (that is absolutely not a squeak, thank you very much).

“She’s being mean!” he answers with a mock pout. “Make her stop!”

Cabedon tucks Arasion into his side, turning and offering Barades a stern look that’s utterly ruined by the sparkle in his eyes. “Dear wife, are you bullying the little one?”

The elleth sighs dramatically, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead in a mock swoon. “Oh, woe! My sins are revealed!” She sweeps forward and drops dramatically to a knee, taking one of Arasion’s little hands in her own, and looks soulfully upwards. “My dearest, forgive my trespasses against you!” she begs, as if the elfling isn't currently giggling madly into his other hand.

“Nay,” he manages to get out between laughs. “I cannot forgive such grievous sins!” Barades collapsed backward dramatically, wailing, and Cabedon also dissolves into helpless laughter.

At that moment, the dwarf lady from before—Lis, Arasion remembers—rounds the corner, catching his attention. Her eyebrows rise as she looks at Barades, still sprawled dramatically on the floor, and Cabedon, clutching his side and Arasion as he laughs. “I seem to have missed the excitement,” she says dryly.

“Oh, Lis!” Barades says, quickly scrambling upright. Her face flushes bright pink. “We were just...ah…”

“Playing?” Lis suggests with an indulgent smile. “You're missing breakfast.”

“Naturally. Ahem, my apologies.” Barades’s blush deepens as she smooths her hair back into order. “Lead the way.”

But Lis’s smile widens and she turns her gaze to Arasion. “Are you not going to introduce us, my friend?” she asks, meeting his eyes.

Cabedon cuts in, saving his wife as her cheeks darken further, nearly tomato-red at this point. “Arasion,” he says, looking down, “this is Lis, governor of Erebor. Lis, this is Arasion, the mischievous little adventurer we told you of.”

Lis bows deeply, the metal and gems threaded in her hair glimmering distractingly. “Well met, little one,” she says, and means it.

He forces himself to look away from the shiny things, bowing as best he can from Cabedon’s arms. “Well met,” he parrots. “I like your beard.”

Lis’s expression is serious, but he can see an almost Weasley-esque glimmer of mischief in her eyes. “I am honored by your words, little one,” she says with another bow. “To compliment a Dwarf’s beard is to bestow the highest honor...or, occasionally, to propose marriage.” She looks up, her expression still dead serious, but now he can see a truly uncanny resemblance to the Weasley twins as she presses a regretful hand to her chest. “I’m afraid you are much too young for me, Arasion, and I must decline.”

“No! I didn’t—” he dissolves into laughter again, delighted by her playacting, and a moment later she joins him.

“Oh, come now, that’s enough. Food awaits, and you must be hungry, eh?” Lis says, wiping at her eyes. The humor and playfulness has put Arasion in such a good mood that he forgets to protest when Cabedon carries him all the way to the dining room. They pass several dwarven guards, all of whom bow or offer salutes. He can feel their curious stares burn into his back as they walk on, but even this bit of familiar discomfort is not enough to dispel his good mood.

The dining room is small (relatively speaking) and cozy, with plenty of light and a roaring fireplace on either side of the long table. There are already several people seated, and Arasion takes them in quickly: three elves, two with Cabedon’s silver hair and one with a brown so deep it’s nearly black, two dwarves with Lis’s reddish hair, two younger dwarves with a kind of golden-brown, and one with true black hair streaked through with silver sitting at the head of the table. Their eyes turn unerringly to him the moment the small group enters and he shrinks into Cabedon’s side (just a bit!), taken aback by their intensity.

Cabedon, despite their relatively short acquaintanceship, feels his reaction and turns subtly to shield him. “It is impolite to stare,” he says calmly, looking pointedly to the elves who must be related to him. They flush and look away.

But the dwarf at the head of the table doesn’t look away as they sit next to the elves, Arasion in Cabedon’s lap rather than his own chair. When he glares at Barades for this she subtly shakes her head. Puzzled, he lets it go and settles down peaceably (if unhappily). When Lis sits at the head dwarf’s right hand, he speaks. “So, this is the little renegade,” says he. “What is your name, elfling?”

Arasion blinks. “Arasion,” he says, then cocks his head to the side. “Who are you?”

“Who are you, my Lord ,” Barades corrects, an edge of nervousness to her tone. “This is our host, my dear.”

But the dwarf laughs, waving off the unintended slight. “I have found that children seldom care for such frivolous things at titles, my eldarin friend.” He smiles at the mystified elfling. “To answer your question, little adventurer, I am Durin IV, Lord of Khazad-dûm, or Hadhodrond as you would call it.”

It takes a few seconds for him to place the name. He nearly blurts out “Moria?” but the little Hermione-sounding voice in the back of his head quickly points out that Moria means ‘black pit’ and it would be rather rude to say that to its current Lord’s face when it has yet to become a black pit. He nods silently.

Lord Durin turns his attention to the grown elves as dwarven servants come forward and begin to serve breakfast. “Have you come to an agreement on where you are taking him? Lis informed me of your hesitance.” Arasion feels Cabedon’s subtly tensed chest muscles relax as Barades takes the lead, outlining her proposal for a dwarven escort to Rivendell.

The elfling himself is immediately distracted by the food, which smells absolutely heavenly . Wizarding food is great, honestly, but there’s something about fresh-cooked dishes that just can’t be replicated, not even by magical means. The dwarven food is also an enticing mix of familiar dishes—eggs and bacon and something that looks like French toast—and unfamiliar ones—stuffed mushrooms, a strange orangish-soup, and some other things he can’t even guess at. He watches, wide-eyed, as Cabedon prepares a plate for him.

“Go on then, but remember your manners,” the ellon whispers in his ear, handing him a finely-crafted silver fork a small child’s fork, with rounded tines when he finishes. Arasion completely forgets about listening to the adults’ conversation as he eagerly but quietly digs in, shoveling food into his mouth like a starving man.

“I take it you enjoyed the food?” Lord Durin asks, amused, when Arasion has completely cleared his sizeable plate. The elfling looks up, remembering his audience, and flushes.

“Er, yes, Lord Durin,” he says sheepishly.

“Now, don’t be embarrassed, little lad!” Lis says with a laugh. “Children should enjoy their meals, and Mahal knows we dwarrow have the best food around.” She winks, prompting a laugh from Arasion. A moment later he realizes what he missed and looks over to Barades.

“What’d you decide to do with me?” he asks, squirming away with a scowl when the elleth attempts to wipe his (completely clean, he’s not a messy eater!) face with a napkin.

Do with you?” Durin says with a roar of laughter. “You make it sound so ominous! But I’ll tell you, lad. I’m sending a contingent a group, rather of my guard with you to Rivendell. What happens there is up to your people.”

“We leave tomorrow, at dawn,” Cabedon adds, fussing with the elfling’s hair for no reason he can discern.

“Oh.” Arasion nods. “Alright then.”


 

The second and final (if lengthy) order of business for the day is becoming acquainted with all of Barades’s and Cabedon’s family. They move to some kind of sitting room as soon as breakfast ends, the dwarrow going off to do drwarrow-y things. This time, Barades is the one holding Arasion as Cabedon does the introductions.

“My mother, Erenil,” he says, gesturing to the tall silver-haired woman with a kind, soft face and a regal bearing. “My little sister”—the smaller silver-haired elleth, all fierce angles and suppressed energy, shoots him a fond glare—“Cariel. And finally, my father, Caron.” The dark-haired ellon smiles serenely at Arasion, inclining his head as he’s introduced.

“Well met, little adventurer,” Erenil coos, clasping her hands together. “May I hold you?

“May I hold myself for once?” he mutters under his breath. After a moment’s hesitation, he heaves a sigh and nods. The elleth takes him from her daughter-in-law with reverence, holding him as if he’s the most valuable thing in the world. “I’m not going to vanish, you know,” he comments, feeling weirdly mollified by her behavior.

She laughs, swaying gently on her feet and running a hand through his unruly hair. “Are you not? The stories we’ve heard thus far seem to say otherwise.”

“Fine, I’m not going to disappear now ,” he says, rolling his eyes. “You caught me, you won, blah blah blah.”

Caron, sitting on a low couch and holding his daughter’s hand as they watch the scene, laughs suddenly. “What a strange manner of speaking you have, Arasion,” he marvels. “Did your ada and nana teach you?”

“You could say that,” he says dryly. The Valar are the ones who gave him the ability to speak Sindarin—or was that Eru? Well, either way.

Cabedon speaks up suddenly, saying something in an elven language Arasion can’t understand. Whatever it was, it prompts a long, indecipherable conversation between the adults. He scowls a bit, narrowing his eyes suspiciously, but lets it go. Instead, he closes his eyes and attempts to summon Hedwig with his mind. He hasn’t seen his familiar since he knocked himself out, though he can sense she’s fine.

He grins when her sudden appearance prompts startled exclamations from the elves, wicked glee bubbling in his chest. Oh, this trip is going to be fun.

Chapter Text

Cabedon wakes him before dawn the next day, and for once Arasion appreciates the elves’ relentless babying. All the unpleasant morning tasks are done for him as he sits sleepily on his cot, including wrangling him back into clothing. The elfling even feels pleased when Cabedon bundles him up in a blanket and carries him out like an oversized burrito—it gives him a while longer to snooze against a warm shoulder.

He doesn’t wake fully until someone sticks him in a saddle and swings up behind. The sun has just begun to rise, painting the cloudy sky before Erebor in a gorgeous array of warm hues. The air is nippy, but luckily the blanket around him is thick and warm. He peeks out, blinking and rubbing grit from his eyes, and yawns widely.

“Finally awake, are we?” asks Barades in amusement from her perch nearby on a gray mare. Hedwig circles impatiently over her head. He makes a vague sound of agreement and tilts his head back to confirm that yes, he is riding in front of Cabedon. The rest of the elves are also on horseback, and when he looks around for their dwarven guard, he finds them on sturdy ponies and—

Arasion stops and blinks, rubbing his eyes again in disbelief. “Is that a—a ram?” he asks out loud.

One of the dwarrows laughs at his mystified tone. “Aye lad, the best steed a dwarf could ask for!” He reaches down and fondly pats the neck of his ram, an overlarge beast with a dark coat and curled horns that have been polished to a mirror shine. “Magnificent creatures of stone they are, eh?”

Arasion nods, thinking of a ram’s uncanny ability to scale sheer cliff faces, and supposes that animals with such skills really should be considered creatures of stone. “Oh. Cool. So, how long is it going to take for us to get back?”

“A few weeks, dear one,” says Barades with a smile. At the head of the procession, Caron and the dwarf captain spur their mounts forward into the misty morning. “But fret not; we will keep you entertained in the meantime.”


 

‘Keep entertained’ turns out to be code for ‘interrogate’ and ‘torture.’

Ok, maybe torture is a bit hyperbolic, but elven history is so boring. It’s not quite as bad as History of Magic, because they’re more engaging storytellers than Binns, but it’s close . They try to teach him ‘fundamental knowledge’ once they realize (with no small amount of horror) exactly how little he remembers about their people (his people, now).

They’re definitely interrogating him, though, but with his adult understanding he sees right through their attempts at subtlety. They don’t get much out of him other than “my parents are in the West,” “I’ve been on an adventure all this time,” and “Hedwig is my best friend.” He’s quite proud of himself when they finally give up around the sixth day of travel.

“Are you certain you do not remember your ada’s name?” Caron wheedles one last time as they follow the river Celduin south toward the road that bisects the Greenwood.

Arasion wonders what child his age would remember either of their parents’ names. “Ada was ada ,” he says, exasperated, and the ancient elf finally lets it go.

They reach the Forest Road near lunchtime on the sixth day, pausing in the sunny, grassy meadows around the well-kept entrance to eat before continuing on. Arasion plays tag with Hedwig and Cariel for a bit while the others discuss something, but soon enough Cabedon is swinging him back onto the horse.

“Forgive me for this,” Cabedon says, “but I am going to conceal you with my cloak, alright?”

“Why?” Arasion asks. At the same time he realizes that their horse is now in the middle of the group, surrounded on all sides by guards.

“A precaution only,” says the ellon vaguely, sweeping his cloak forward so that Arasion is concealed but can still see the path ahead.

Arasion settles back with a vaguely puzzled frown. ‘A precaution’ he said, but against what? To reassure himself, the elfling brushes his fingers against the butt of his wand, which is still safely sheathed on his belt. Whatever it is, he’ll be ready to help his new friends—even if he gives himself away (and potentially makes something explode) in the process.


 

The answer comes nearly three days later, when they’re deep into the Greenwood.

It’s mid-afternoon, the forest lit a soft green by the sunlight filtered through the canopy. Arasion dozes against Cabedon’s chest, full and sleepy from the lunch they just finished. A melody suddenly springs up around them, sung by a chorus of playful elven voices, and it takes an embarrassing amount of time for the elfling to realize it’s not his elves that are singing. He jolts into awareness at the realization.

“Hail and well met, Caron!” calls a laughing male voice when the silly song (something about a squirrel that buried his food and forgot how to find it) finishes. “I confess, we did not expect to see you again so soon. And accompanied by a dwarven guard no less! My, what strange friends you make.”

Arasion can hear Caron’s smile in his reply. “Legolas,” he says, and oh shit Arasion recognizes that name. He shifts subtly to try and see through the gap in Cabedon’s cloak. “It is good to see you again. I admit, we did not expect to return so soon either, but we are journeying back to Eriador. But tell me, what are you doing out so far, dressed neither as hunters nor as guardsmen, and with only three in your company?”

Even Arasion can hear the sliver of paternal disapproval in his tone.

“Ah, well,” Legolas laughs sheepishly. “The palace is in something of a furor at this time, and we—”

“—caused it?” Caron finishes dryly. Arasion can practically feel Legolas searching for a distraction.

Unfortunately, that distraction turns out to be him.

“Ah, Cabedon!” he calls. “What is that you have before you, my friend?” The elfling flinches and shifts deeper into the shadows.

“Oh... this? ” says Cabedon, in possibly the worst nonchalant voice Arasion has ever heard. The ellon wraps his free arm around Arasion beneath the cloak. “It’s...nothing….important.” An awkward, disbelieving silence hangs between the group, broken only by a cough from one of the dwarven guards.

Arasion sighs loudly when it becomes apparent that none of the adults are going to speak. He shimmies out of Cabedon’s grasp and scoots forward on the horse, drawing the cloak back and popping out into the muted light. “Hi,” he says with a little wave at the gaping elven prince.

Legolas’s eyes dart from Arasion to Caron and back. Slowly, the stunned look fades into something calculating. “You found the little one,” he says, “and you don’t want my father to know. Perhaps we can come to a… mutually beneficial arrangement?”

Erenil rolls her eyes and answers before Caron can. “Little prince, we will let you go on your way uncontested if you allow us the same. It is in everyone’s best interest that Arasion is reintroduced at Imladris.”

Legolas nods slowly. “Agreed.” He whistles sharply and his companions fade into the surrounding forest. He flashes Arasion a quicksilver grin, bowing teasingly. “Well met, little one. I look forward to seeing you again and meeting you properly.” With that, he disappears after his friends.

Cabedon exhales sharply, pinching the bridge of his nose.“Alright, back under, little one,” he fusses, pulling Arasion once more into the shelter of his cloak. “On we go, quickly.”


 

Three days later, they emerge from the Greenwood (with Thranduil none the wiser) and continue uncontested toward Rivendell. Emerald hills roll alongside them as they follow the curving road, coming closer and closer to the Misty Mountains with each passing day. The adults are a little bit less paranoid now, which is good because Arasion was going absolutely stir-crazy doing nothing but sitting on a horse getting lectured all day. Now whenever he starts to get antsy Cariel takes him from Cabedon and they walk alongside the horses for a bit. Sometimes she sticks him on her shoulders and just runs while he holds onto her silver hair and shrieks with laughter.

Cariel quickly becomes one of his favorites.

He learns a lot about the elves in the four days they take to reach the mountain pass. For one thing, the games they play with their children are very different from the games humans play. With all the carrying, he assumed they were worried he would hurt himself (again); when they start tossing him around like a football, he finally realizes they were just worried he might run off.

The first incident takes him completely by surprise. His eyes have glazed over completely from Barades’s lecture on Ost-in-Edhil. She picks him up suddenly, one hand under his back and the other under his thighs. “Cabedon!” she calls as Arasion flails and yelps in surprise. “Catch!” His yelp changes to a scream of surprise when she lobs him toward her husband.

Strong hands catch him easily, and Cabedon laughs at the elfling’s deer-in-the-headlights expression. “I hope you aren’t bored now, little one!” he says, then tosses him without warning to Caron, who grins down at him for a moment before tossing him to Erenil. By the time he reaches the elleth, he’s laughing and whooping with excitement. Is this the elven equivalent of throwing a baby up into the air? He wonders as the game continues. Erenil throws him like a javelin as he yells enthusiastically, stretching his arms out and pretending he can fly unaided. The dwarrow look on in amusement, guffawing and cheering the elfing on.

They only stop when Arasion is breathless and red-faced, cradled securely in the arms of a grinning Barades. “Naptime, darling,” she croons, reclining him against her chest as he begins to settle down. His eyes drift shut just as they start up the first switchback into the mountains and over the High Pass.

He dreams of flying, Hedwig at his side as he crests a mountain peak, grabbing a handful of pristine white snow and stuffing it into his mouth. It tastes sweet, like cold, minty sugar. He reaches for another. Suddenly, the stone beneath rumbles ominously. Hedwig hoots in alarm and Arasion recoils as the snow turns to molten lava. The air becomes hot and stifling, filled with screams and Hedwig’s panicked barking.

Wake up!

Arasion jolts, gasping, but finds the waking world not much different from his dream. Sparks flurry through the smoky air, bright points against a dull red glow that paints the dark night. Angry bellows and high screams fill his ears. In a flash of insight, he realizes that he’s in the midst of a fraught battle, set in the center of a protective circle. He glances up, adrenaline surging through his veins, to find a terrified-looking Cariel holding him in one arm, the other clutching a long silver-blue dagger. He turns toward the battle, fumbling for his wand, and nearly recoils into Cariel as he finally sees their attackers. Hideous, dark faces snarl, yellowed teeth glinting orange in the firelight.

Orcs!

Chapter Text

Arasion’s finely-honed battle instincts—the instincts of a child soldier—kick in. Arasion, Calasain, the little elfling that’s mischievous and loved, falls away like a mask. In that empty space Harry James Potter rises like an inferus, bringing with him a raging hatred for the enemies that would dare to threaten those he loves. Orcs or Death Eaters, it makes no difference. They will fall by his hand before he lets them take another friend.

Cariel is whispering in his ear, though her words are lost to his anger. “ Shh. Still and quiet, still and quiet, Arasion, we mustn’t draw attention to you. Shh, shh, I will protect you, but you must be quiet!

He draws his wand. Things are going to explode, no doubt. Hopefully his fury will give him better control. Still, he’ll have to be very, very careful not to hit the elves. “Protego totalum,” he spits, remembering with deep bitterness the spell Hermione had taught him on the run during their seventh year. The orcs yowl in shock as they begin to bounce off his unstable shield. The elves and dwarrows stumble back uncertainly, tightening the circle.

Arasion! ” Cariel gasps, but the elfling has more important things to worry about. He wiggles from her arms and runs, ducking between the legs of an elf he can’t take the time to identify. The crowd of orcs outnumbers them by quite a bit; they might be in trouble if he can’t do something. One of the orcs, a bulky thing with an underbite like a mastiff, spies him immediately. A wicked grin crosses its face, baring rows of yellowed, broken teeth. “‘Ey’ve got a runt!” it bellows in delight.

Incendio, ” Arasion intones coldly, his anger and magic surging together through his wand like a riptide. The orc’s jeering turns to agonized screams as it bursts into white flames. It panics and runs, disappearing through the crowd of frozen, gobsmacked orcs, and explodes a second later. Blackish gore rains down in a fine mist.

In the frozen silence, Arasion begins firing off spells as fast as he can: incendio, stupefy, sectumsempra, even a few wingaridum leviosas . The elves and dwarrows recover quickly, rushing the terrified orcs and cutting them down as easily as grass. They wisely leave a wide berth between themselves and where Arasion’s semi-explosive spells are falling. The tide turns within a few minutes as the orcs retreat, unwilling to face the elfling’s furious arcane barrage.

Arasion stops, chest heaving with exertion. A bizarre numbness spreads through him as he watches the orcs flee. His wand trembles in his hand, still half-extended. The wood is hot beneath his fingers. He blinks and suddenly Cariel is crouching in front of him, her eyes as wide as saucers and gleaming with intense concern. He blinks again and she blurs dramatically.

“Arasion?” she asks. Cool fingers close over his wand hand; she twists it slightly, angling the tip away from both of them before gently wresting it from his grasp. She touches his cheek tentatively. Not as if she is afraid of him, he realizes, but as if she is afraid for him.

Something old, something deep inside of him cracks. Hot, fat tears begin to spill over, slow at first but quickly escalating. Later he’ll regret his weakness, but in the moment his control slips, childish impulses rising to the surface. Someone tried to take his friends from him again . Are peace and safety really too much to ask for? He suddenly realizes that he really doesn’t want to keep adventuring, not now at least.

“Oh, darling,” Cariel croons, gathering him up. “Shh, shh, all is well. You are unharmed.” Arasion doesn’t bother with manly posturing, not when he’s shaking with the force of his sobs. An intense longing for Irmo’s comforting presence suddenly overtakes him.

His heart aches as Cariel continues with her ineffective soothing. The fear and pain and loss he feels all come crashing down at once, until he’s drowning in them. This is what the Valar were holding back for me? He wonders a bit wildly as his wailing turns to choked coughing. Is there more? What more could there be! He cries until every last drop of fear and grief have wrung themselves out of him. Finally, he slips into a fitful sleep.

Irmo is there immediately, a seamless transition between reality and dreams. “You’re safe, Calasain,” the Vala murmurs, holding him tightly as the dreamscape begins to cohere. The grief becomes less pressing, buoyed somehow. With a low, pained whine, Arasion wraps his arms around Irmo’s neck and burrows into the junction of his shoulder.

“I take it back,” he says after a while, his words muffled. “I wanna come live in Valinor.”

Irmo laughs softly, cupping the back of Arasion’s head with one hand. “You would find that no less painful, I’m afraid,” he says. “This hurt is inside of you, my little one, but you have never been taught to let it out.”

Arasion makes a sound of protest, rubbing his forehead fretfully against Irmo’s silky robe. “I was just fine when—back then!”

“You were not,” Irmo says, his grip tightening. “You denied your hurt constantly. That is not the same as being fine.”

“What do I have to do?” the elfling asks desperately, raising his tear-streaked face and imploring the Vala with his eyes. “I don’t—I can’t—I liked ignoring it better!”

Irmo’s expression is deeply sympathetic. “You must face it, Calasain. These things are a part of you. You must face them willingly to overcome them.”

“I can’t ,” he says, slumping back down. “I can’t. It’s… I feel like I’m drowning, not like I’m facing anything.”

“I didn’t say all at once, dearest,” the Vala replies. “Piece-by-piece, little-by-little, but they must all be dealt with eventually.”

Calasain whines, muffling the pathetic sound by pressing his face deeper into Irmo’s shoulder. “Why can’t I just be happy?

“Life isn’t fair, I’m afraid,” Irmo says. “But even we ainur must work to overcome the effects of evil on our souls.” He leans down, kissing the top of the elfling’s head. “I have every confidence you can do this, little one.”

The last of Calasain’s grief and fear fade away. He sighs shudderingly, raising one hand to wipe at his face. “I know,” he says numbly. “I just don’t want to.”


 

The smell of slow-cooking porridge is the first thing Arasion registers as he crawls reluctantly back into consciousness. The second is a slow, throbbing pain behind his eyes. He whines shamelessly, curling up into a ball and bracing his head in his hands. The low hum of conversation stops abruptly.

“Arasion.” A hand gently moves him onto his back. “Drink.” He downs an herbal, honey-sweetened concoction, keeping his eyes tightly shut until it kicks in. Then, reluctantly, move his hands away and opens his eyes, blinking a few times to clear the blurry film over them away. He pauses to yawn.

Barades hovers over him, her expression strange and unreadable. “Do you… feel alright, little one?” she asks, reaching out and almost immediately pulling back.

“Yeah, thanks,” he says, rubbing at his eyes. Then, remembering, he shoots up straight and gasps out “the others! The dwarrows! A-are they all…?” Okay? Did I fail again?

Whatever strangeness was in Barades melts away at his question, replaced by something deep and tender. “Oh, Arasion…” she says, sounding almost grieved as she lifts him into the circle of her arms. His heart drops into his stomach, but then she says “yes, everyone is safe and unharmed.”

He exhales gustily, slumping forward as relief floods him. “I’m glad.” A moment later he frowns and shifts backwards to look at Barades’ face. “Why did you sound so sad then?”

She offers a smile, but he can see the barely-there tremors at the edge of her lips. “You should not have to be so worried about us,” is what she says. He hears you should not have to protect us.

And he understands, in an abstract sort of way, but he was also raised to protect the Wizarding World, to throw himself into harm’s way starting at the tender age of eleven. So he smiles back and pats her cheek gently. “It’s alright,” he says earnestly. “I’m used to it.”

The moment the words leave him he realizes it was exactly the wrong thing to say. Barades looks a little weepy and when he glances around for support the other elves are sporting similar expressions. Even the dwarrow are giving him horrified or pitying looks. Rather than make it worse he shuts up, cringing into Barades’ chest and staring down at his hands.

This is immediately misinterpreted. “Ai, no, no, it’s alright, Arasion, you have done nothing wrong,” she croons, holding him a little tighter. “We are simply… you will understand when you are grown.”

He mumbles something like ‘okay’ but stays where he is as breakfast is distributed—porridge and berries, sprinkled with a little dark-colored sugar. It’s only when he finishes the entire bowl that they spring the inevitable interrogation.

“Arasion,” Cabedon says tentatively as Cariel collects his bowl. “Your parents… were either of them… different?”

The little wizard stares wordlessly, brows furrowed. What did that mean? Did he mean a spirit? Like Luthien’s mom? Technically, his parents were kinda spirit-like. Except that his technical, biological parent is Eru Iluvatar, which possibly means that he is like the first elves—except not because he has his magic? Is he a half-elf? No, probably not, but should he just say yes? Or no?

The tiny Slytherin voice in the back of his head chimes in, for once helpfully. They’d probably stop asking if you cried. Arasion is just desperate enough to try that. He summons up his latent feelings of grief, clumsy with inexperience, but to his surprise tears immediately well in his eyes. He gives Cabedon his best, shiniest puppy-eyes, takes a deep breath, and bursts into tears for the second time in as many days.

It works.

Chapter Text

Two days out from Rivendell, Arasion goes silent. No amount of coaxing from Barades can convince him to emerge from the nervous, self-occupied shell he has retreated into. It’s honestly ridiculous, and he feels ridiculous, but he also feels entitled to act a little irrationally considering everything that’s happened recently. So he fidgets and scowls and pulls at the hem of his cloak and, for once, lets himself do it without guilt.

The elves remain intensely worried, both from the orc attack and from Arasion’s semi-deceptive response to it. They won’t give him back his wand (no matter how much he badgers Caron about it), repeating things like “not until Rivendell” ad nauseum. He tries to argue that he needs it if they get attacked again, because how else is he going to protect them? That argument makes Barades and Cariel weepy and over-affectionate so he only tries it once.

The dwarrows are also worried, in their own gruff, slightly awkward way. They pat his head and offer him food. The most effective strategy comes from the youngest dwarrow, who arranges a mock fight using wooden sticks until Barades puts a stop to it. Mostly their efforts exasperate him, because they can’t seem to figure out that elflings and dwarflings (dwarrowlings?) aren’t actually all that different. Still, it’s nice in an overbearing way. He’s going to miss them once they get to Rivendell.

They stop early the day before reaching the city instead of pushing on, much to everyone’s relief: the elves because they’re not looking forward to sharing Arasion, the dwarves because they’re reluctant to leave him, and Arasion himself because he’s worried about what will happen. He’s not in any danger, of course, but what will they do with him? Will they give him a say at all, or will they decide for him? That won’t end well at all. It makes him jittery enough that he can’t sleep no matter how hard he tries. Cabedon eventually picks him up and simply walks around the camp, singing lullabies in a low voice until the gentle rocking motion finally lulls Arasion into a doze.

Irmo is no help at all. “You have nothing to fear, little one,” he says with barely concealed laughter, patting the elfling’s back when he climbs into the front of the Vala’s robes to hide against the blazing warmth of his chest. “Elrond is perfectly reasonable about these kinds of things. They will treat you as a person, not a commodity, I promise.” Arasion grumbles wordlessly in response and stays right where he is, silent until the waking world beckons once more.

Barades is extra touchy-feely that morning, and she insists on bathing him with cloths and heated water before they mount up again. This results in a lengthy argument that culminates with Arasion up a tree, clinging to the very highest branches and adamantly refusing to come down until she yields and lets him bathe himself in privacy. They eventually compromise, with Arasion and the other men bathing in a nearby stream that’s ‘not too cold’ for his ‘delicate skin.’

As if. Arasion manages a wandless warming charm after a few tries and quite enjoys his bath, thank you very much.

Determined to make a good impression, he pulls out his best outfit: dark dragonhide trousers with a matching vest, a crimson and gold tunic, and a tailored black robe with matching red and gold lining. The elves and dwarrows eye him, askance, but he merely shakes his head when they ask who made it for him. He considers demanding his wand again as Barades mounts up and takes him from Cabedon, but ultimately decides that the Rivendell elves would probably ask questions if he came in with it on his hip. If he’s clever he can probably steal it back once they get settled.

The sun is high by the time they crest the last hill and Rivendell finally comes into sight. It looks just like how he remembers from his dream, lifetimes ago, all curving lines and gentle swells.  Arasion will admit it’s a breathtaking view, though he quite firmly places Hogwarts in first place.

Barades pulls the hood of his traveling cloak up and smiles when he shoots her an inquisitive look. “It would be wise to avoid as much excitement as possible until Lord Elrond can make an official announcement,” she says, and Arasion nods vigorously in agreement, pulling the edges of his cloak closed to maximum concealment.

A contingent of mounted guardsmen meets them halfway down the main road. Their armor is absurdly shiny, and they’re all wearing matching maroon livery. They eye the dwarrows with barely concealed disdain. Arasion dislikes them instantly.

Caron speaks before anyone says anything they might regret. “Hail and well met, kinsmen,” he says evenly, addressing the captain of the group. “We have come from Erebor with precious cargo. These fine soldiers—” he gestures to the dwarrows “—have accompanied us at the behest of Lord Durin. It was their valor that ensured we— all of us —arrived unharmed.”

The captain, who had kept a carefully neutral expression through Caron’s declaration, smiles. “Then I welcome you, honored guests, to the halls of Lord Elrond Peredhel,” he says in a surprisingly deep voice.

Until this point the dwarrows had reacted to the elves’ disdain with defensive impassivity, but the captain’s friendly overtures are cautiously returned. The dwarrows’ own captain, the one Arasion had asked about his ram on the first day of their journey,  steps forward and speaks. “We thank you for the offer, but we had planned to push further on today. Our Lord commanded us to return to Khazad-dum posthaste. Please, offer our apologies to Lord Elrond.”

The captain inclines his head in acknowledgment and the dwarrows depart without much fanfare. Arasion, having already said his goodbyes earlier, sadly watches them go. The youngest dwarf in the group turns and offers the elfling a wink and a cheeky salute before he disappears back over the hill. Arasion giggles, instantly drawing the attention of every elf in the group.

“Caron,” the captain says softly as Arasion squirms uncomfortably under their scrutiny, “is this…?”

Barades butts in before her father-in-law can answer. “Yes,” she says frostily, wrapping the elfing in the protective circle of her arms, “and he doesn’t much appreciate being stared at.”

Deja vu Arasion thinks as the guards flush and quickly look away. Is this particular pattern going to repeat every time he meets a new group of elves? Merlin that’s going to get annoying real quick.

“I deem it wise that we avoid unnecessary… furor,” Caron says dryly. “We had best go directly to Lord Elrond, if he is available.”

The captain nods in agreement, spurring his mount back around toward Rivendell. “Of course.”

They trot down the path at a good clip, ringed ‘round by guards. Arasion’s nervousness spikes again, but he does his best to swallow it. Barades, sensing this, leans down and kisses the top of his head. “You have nothing to fear from us, dearest one,” she says in a whisper low enough that none by he can hear it. “All is well.” He’s not exactly reassured, but it does make him feel a little bit better.

The denizens of Rivendell stare curiously at their company as they move to the stables. Arasion’s elves are very careful to keep him concealed from view.  He’s handed off to Caron and tucked beneath the ellon’s large cloak as Barades dismounts and passes her horse’s reins to the stable attendants. The captain ushers them quickly into a large central building, though Arasion catches only brief glimpses of the outside from the shelter of Caron’s cloak.

His skin tingles strangely as they pass over the threshold, the hairs on his arm standing straight up. Magic, he thinks, shivering. But it’s not like any magic he’s ever felt before. It’s… electric. Alive. He grimaces and puts his occlumency barriers up. It’s not unpleasant, exactly, but it’s certainly unnerving.

Caron doesn’t bring him out until they are all safely behind closed doors and away from the general populace. “Thank you for your patience, Arasion,” he says sincerely, passing the elfling back to Barades.

“Welcome,” Arasion replies, looking around curiously. The elves they pass in the hall stop dead in their tracks as they see him, but they’re so few that it’s easy to ignore. “Can I walk now?”

“Later, I promise,” Barades says. “For now it is best if we move quickly.”

Arasion frowns but concedes the point. He blinks, remembering Hedwig, but before he can ask he spies her sitting contentedly on Cariel’s shoulder. That’s surprising. The elleth has at some point acquired a leather shoulder guard for the owl to safely perch on. How had he missed that?

He doesn’t have much time to contemplate, because they’re suddenly in front of a set of intricately carved wooden doors and the captain is knocking politely but decisively. “Enter,” a distracted male voice says. Arasion swallows nervously, every bit of anxiety he's suppressed for the past few days rising at once. Barades offers a smile and a quick peck on the side of his head. “It’s alright, darling,” she reminds him, shifting him so that he’s pressed more securely against her side. “I’m right here.”

Yeah, he thinks as they enter Lord Elrond’s office. Here we go.

Chapter Text

The office is really more of a study lined by bookshelves and cabinets, with a sitting area around a fireplace to one side. Arasion’s gaze goes to the large desk in the center, where a very familiar-looking elf is sitting and writing. Oh bloody hell, Arasion thinks as it suddenly occurs to him that his dreams might have gone both ways. Will Elrond recognize him even though he’s a child instead of an adult? He ducks into Barades’s side a little bit, worrying his lower lip with his teeth.

Elrond looks up before anyone can speak and Arasion is struck by how keen his eyes are as they sweep quickly over the group. To his surprise, they don’t stop on him.

“Caron,” Elrond says warmly, passing whatever he was working on to an elf standing at his side. He rises and rounds the desk to embrace the other ellon. “I had not expected to see you so soon.”

Caron laughs as he returns the embrace. “Neither had I expected to return so soon,” he replies wryly. “There were extenuating circumstances.”

Elrond’s eyes dart only briefly to Arasion. “Indeed? Well, I am glad to see you nonetheless.”

“And I as well. Please, my Lord, come meet my newest charge.”

Arasion reflexively hunches a little as both turn to him, but he allows Caron to take him from Barades without a fuss. He latches on to the adult’s shoulders and peers up at Elrond from beneath his hood. “Arasion,” Caron says in a tone reserved for soothing skittish horses, “this is Lord Elrond. My Lord, Arasion.”

A strange expression crosses Elrond’s face as he looks at Arasion. “Well met, little one,” he says after a brief pause. “I have been looking forward to meeting you for quite some time.”

“Well met,” he parrots, trying very hard not to grin at the mild exasperation in the last half of Elrond’s statement. They must have had quite the experience trying to chase him down. He doesn’t regret it one bit. He wonders what happened to the twins and the sun-haired elf who almost found him, but wisely doesn’t bring it up.

This brief exchange seems to be the extent of his interrogation for the moment, because Elrond turns to the elf who had been standing behind him earlier and says “Erestor, if you could show them to their rooms and arrange for private meals until further notice?”

“Of course, my Lord,” Erestor says, bowing slightly.

Elrond offers one last smile to Arasion before addressing Caron again. “We will speak at length later, my friend, but for now I have preparations to make. Thank you for bringing the little one here safely.”

Caron smiles and offers his own shallow bow. “It was our pleasure, my Lord. I look forward to a more lengthy discussion of our arrangements.”

If Arasion had actually been his physical age, he never would have noticed the intense subtext of their brief exchange, but it’s no challenge for an adult. Clearly they need to discuss him but they don’t want him there when they do. He purses his lips, thinking about ways to listen in, but sets the problem aside when they exit the study after Erestor.

“Now can I walk?” he asks—demands—looking over to Barades.

“We did promise,” she says, and Caron sets him down with only a little reluctance. She firmly takes his hand in her own and they continue on. His bare feet stick slightly to the cold stone, making little slap-slap sounds with each stride. The adults start talking in that language he can’t understand, much to his displeasure, so he occupies himself looking at the art and architecture.

Arasion only realizes how sleepy he is when Barades ushers him into a bedroom, Cabedon close on her heels, and says “naptime, little one.”

He grunts, glancing back at the door to see Cariel, Caron, and Erenil pass by just before Cabedon closes it. They must be in the rooms next to this one. The elfling only gets more sleepy as the anxiety-induced adrenaline rush wears off, so much so that he doesn’t fuss when Barades helps him strip down to his trousers and crawl into the overlarge bed. Cabedon says something, stroking his hair back from his eyes, but he’s too far gone to hear it. Within moments, he’s soundly asleep.


 

Arasion wakes about an hour later to the aroma of fresh food and the sound of Barades and Cabedon conversing in low tones. He snuffles, rubbing at his eyes, then rolls over and presses his face into his pillow. The bed linens smell strongly of flowers and cold air. After a few minutes he gives up on continuing his nap and sits up.

“Hello, Arasion,” Cabedon says, and the elfling looks over to find him and Barades sitting at a small table beneath a window, sharing lunch. Hedwig is perched on the back of his chair, apparently taking a nap of her own. Her snowy feathers fairly glow in the afternoon light. “Come, eat.”

Food does sound pretty good, so he rolls over to the side of the bed and clambers down, drowsily cursing his tiny body when he has to slide over the edge on his stomach to reach the floor. Barades makes a sound that’s probably stifled laughter as he stumbles over. He has to pause in the middle of his trek to yawn.

“Did you sleep well, Arasion?” she asks, reaching down and pulling him up onto her lap.

“Uh-huh,” he says, entirely forgetting to protest the coddling and demand his own chair. Plus she’s warm and soft and comfortable, and when he leans back against her chest she hands him some kind of flatbread stuffed with vegetables. Alertness returns a little bit with each bite. He hums contentedly when the whole thing is gone, licking sauce from his fingertips. Cabedon smiles and moves a bowl of cut-up fruit toward him.

“So what are we doing today?” he asks when they’ve all finished eating and Barades is stacking their dishes on a wooden tray.

“Resting,” she says. Cabedon takes the tray and stands, putting it on the floor outside of the door to their room. “Why, do you want to do something specific?”

I wanna know what the hell you're going to do with me, he thinks, but instead he says “can we go play outside?” Traipsing around the halls should be enlightening, and it might even give him a chance to figure out how he’s going to spy on Caron and Elrond’s conversation. He really, really needs to know what they think of his magic. Which reminds him, he needs to steal back his wand.

He nearly misses the glance Barades and Cabedon exchange. It’s cautious and thoughtful, a shared nonverbal ‘I don’t know…

“Perhaps, in a little while,” Barades says diplomatically. “Cabedon needs to speak with his father first.”

Cabedon needs to know where we’re allowed to go, Arasion reasons. So he nods and doesn’t throw a fit. Cabedon kisses Barades quickly, then takes him by surprise with a kiss on the top of the head. He swoops down and out the door before Arasion even realizes.

“Eew,” he complains, more out of reflex than anything else, wiping at the top of his head. Apparently this is hilarious, because Barades laughs.

“Oh Arasion, you are terribly precious,” she says, standing and carrying him back over to the bed. She hands him his pack without being prompted. He’s relieved to see that they didn’t try to unpack while he was asleep, since he has no idea how they’d react to a bottomless pack. The thought makes him pause in the middle of pulling a shirt on. Actually…

“Barades?” he says, looking up.

She turns from where she’d been fiddling with her own pack, blinking curiously. “Yes, little one?”

Arasion only hesitates for a moment before plowing ahead. “You know I’m…” a freak “...different.”

Her expression turns cautious. “I… suppose so.”

“Well, since you know, you should also know that my pack is enchanted.”

“Oh?”

“Uh-huh. Look.” He opens the flap and begins pulling things out. The elleth’s expression remains mildly confused as he pulls out his dirty, wadded-up clothing, then the clean and neatly folded outfits Hermione packed. It’s only when he starts extracting entire stacks of books that confusion turns to disbelief.

Which is to say, her jaw literally drops.

“...h-how are you doing that?” she stutters when he pulls out the twentieth volume of the Encyclopedia Magica (which, geez Hermione, overkill much?)

“It’s enchanted,” he repeats patiently. Satisfied that the point is made, he reflexively reaches for his wand to re-pack everything. Of course, it’s still not on his hip and his hand closes around air. He pauses, then decides asking can’t hurt. “Can I have my wand back now?”

It takes a few seconds for the grown-up’s brain to kick back into gear. “I—I. Yes, I—” She’s still staring at his pack, but she reaches around and pulls his wand from where it had been tucked into the back of her trousers.

“Perfect, thank you,” Arasion says, repacking everything he dug out with a quick spell.

“Who—” Barades’s face is white as a sheet. He feels a twinge of impatience with her reaction because honestly , this is one of the mildest ways to introduce her to his abilities. She didn’t react so badly to him making orcs explode. Well, to be fair that was probably because she had him to worry about immediately after. “Who gave you this, Arasion?”

“My friend Hermione made it,” he replies, and it startled by the intense stab of grief he feels saying her name aloud. His eyes water, just a little , but that’s enough to snap Barades from her horrified trance.

“Shh, it’s alright,” she says, her pale grey eyes full of compassion as she sits down next to him on the bed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you hurt.”

“S’okay.” Arasion swipes an arm quickly across his face, forcing the hurt down. Now isn’t the time. Then, to forestall any questions she might ask later: “She...died. I miss her.”

Barades sighs a sad ‘oh’ and lifts him into her lap, but doesn’t say anything. They stay like that, silent, until Cabedon returns.

“I bring good news,” he says cheerfully, though his smile falters for a moment when he sees their expressions. Barades must make some kind of face at him because he rallies himself and continues. “We have permission to play in one of Lady Celebrian’s private gardens until supper time. That is, if you would still like to, Arasion.”

Arasion perks up. Aha! Time for reconnaissance. “Yes! Let’s go now. But I’m walking there, ok?”

Barades chuffs in amusement at his stern tone, helping him down from her lap and once more taking his hand. “Alright, Arasion, you can walk to the gardens, but no running off. I will carry you all day if you do, am I clear?”

He rolls his eyes where she can’t see, pulling her insistently toward the door. “Yes, nana.