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That One Time I Met a Hobbit

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She had been in Bree when it started raining. She was trying to sell a deer pelt from her latest hunt. The shopkeeper was trying to swindle her out of her money, but a hard glare made him back off. With her money pouch heavier by a few coins she exited the shop and stepped into the heavy rain. Finding shelter out in the woods would take her too long so she decided to stay the night in the Prancing Pony.

She got a room, but decided to stay down at the bar for now. She bought a pint of ale and sat in a dark corner away from all the people. It had still been empty when she sat down. Only a few customers were drinking, the village dunks and people staying the night like her. She barely made a dent in her drink when the room started getting more crowded. As the rain was intensifying, more and more people wanted to get warm with some ale or cheap wine, maybe even a beer if the day was good. Surprisingly enough, Strider entered the bar.

They weren’t friends, but they weren’t far from it, really. They trusted each other and in this day and age, that was enough. He knew very little of her, only that she lived in the woods, was a good tracker and had caught a few glances of her healing powers. Even her face was a mystery to him and so was her gender. In turn he told her little of himself, she knew he was a good hunter and tracker, that he was skilled with a sword and bow, and his real name - something she found out by accident.

In the past, they had gone on a few hunts together and she had helped him and the Rangers on a few occasions with their duties and healed a few wounds. She remembered their first meeting eight years ago. She had left her home only two years prior. She had been hunting some wild game when she noticed another following the same tracks. She hadn’t felt like competing so she politely asked him to leave by pointing an arrow to his face. Fortunately for him, Strider was good with words and he somehow convinced her to share the kill as he needed food and she needed a place to sleep.

But today he was tense, there was a great burden upon his shoulders. His eyes kept darting around the room checking and rechecking everyone with great suspicion. She could guess why - Black Riders. Nazgûl had been sniffing around Bree for days now, asking for a Baggins, a hobbit. She had never seen one but she knew the stories well. Nine rings given to men, to kings, and one they stole from the dwarfs. Eventually the rings corrupted them fully. Once great kings, now mere servants of Sauron. With the way things were developing she was sure she would be meeting one face to face … Well, face to hood, soon enough.

Strider’s eyes stopped on her form, half hidden in the shadows. He gave her a long searching stare before sitting beside her. He said nothing, just continued to stare at the door. She could ignore him, too. Strider must have felt her mood because with a sigh he gave in.

“Harry.” he greeted.

“Aragorn.” she greeted back. Strider tensed at the name.

“Don’t call me that, not here.” he hissed at her.

“Then don’t call me Harry.” she retorted sharply. He gave a sigh of defeat.

“Fine, Padfoot. I don’t understand why you insist on such a silly name.” he huffed before taking a long swig of his drink.

“Nostalgia.”

“That tells me nothing.”

“It tells you more than enough.” and with that they lapsed into silence. Strider kept scanning the room, his eyes often straying towards the door. “You seem tense.” she remarked. Light blue-grey eyes turned towards her. “Why?” his shoulders slacked at the question.

“I cannot tell you much.” he said.

“Then tell me what you can.”

“It has something to do with Gandalf, I cannot say what.”

She took a long sip of her drink while staring at him, her toxic green eyes searching. “It has something to do with the Black Riders, doesn’t it?” he tensed and that was answer enough.

A dark feeling fell over her. It was suffocating. It felt as if a dark hand was around her neck and was slowly squeezing. She couldn’t breathe. It felt familiar. Then there was a voice. A whisper or a hiss - she couldn’t tell. It was seductive. It promised things. It beckoned. ‘I could make you great, powerful. I could make you a queen, loved and feared by all.’ She could see it. A throne, a crown, a kingdom. She would usher in a new age. She would mark history as the greatest queen to ever rule.

A heavy hand fell on her shoulder and the spell was broken. The voice disappeared. The images shattered and she was now staring at the worried blue eyes of Strider. She immediately slammed her mental shields up. No such thing happened to her in Middle-Earth before and she got lazy. Safety was a great illusion. Were it not for Strider she would not have broken the spell so easily. Her eyes snapped towards the quartet that just entered the Prancing Pony. Four hobbits. Three blond heads and one dark brown. The dark feeling was still there, but muted, as if it was behind veil, as if it retreated. It was coming from around the brown-haired hobbit. Not really from him, though, but from something he carried.

“It has something to do with them.” she felt Strider turn his head and tense up. The hand gripped her shoulder now. “Or more precisely with the vile”, she hissed out the word, almost switching to Parseltongue in the process ,“the vile thing the brown-haired one carries.” Striders hand was painfully gripping her now.

“You cannot tell anyone.” he said, both of them followed the hobbits with their eyes as they disappeared upstairs towards one of the rooms.

“I hope you are getting rid of it.” she had no idea what it was but she knew it needed to go and it needed to go now or bad things would happen. “What is it, anyway?” she asked as the hobbits disappeared from sight, taking the foul feeling with them.

“Something that should have been destroyed a long time ago.” and with that, Strider left. She leaned back and tried to relax. The feeling of the thing Strider was after reminded her of something, but she couldn’t quite place it. She was sure she never felt such a thing in Middle-Earth before, which meant it was connected to her past life. This didn’t narrow it down any. In hundred and fifty-seven years, you experience a lot, both good and bad. Besides, the memories of her past life were still somewhat muddled. Events were clear, but faces were blurred together and feelings were dialed down, the personal connection she had with the events just wasn’t there anymore. It was as if her past life was just a book she read once upon a time.

Normally that would be good, but just this once it got in the way. So, while Strider tried to get past the owner to the hobbits and the foul thing they carried she got comfortable, closed her eyes and tried to remember. Her gut told her it was something from her early life. A lot of horrible things happened then. She had despised her old family and the way they treated her. A bug-like reporter and her lies got a rise out of her. She loathed a kind looking old man and his manipulations. A pink toad of a woman, just that image made her angry, even now. Hell, she was sure she hated her even more than the Dark Lord. Wait, the Dark Lord. Her eyes snapped open.

His horcruxes had the same feel about them as that thing. Every one of them was different, true, but only to an extent. They all had that same foul feeling about them, the one that left a bad taste in your mouth, but only after you were out of their influence. While you were under you felt powerful as it whispered things to you, wonderful things. It promised you your wildest dreams and then twisted them to fit its own purpose. And you would be too far under to notice or care. It needed to be destroyed. Her hand slipped to the hilt of her blade. Her sword was rarely used, because of the venom, but just this once it would be right. She just hopped it would be up to the task. While it had been enough last time, things in Middle-Earth were different.

Strider dropped back in his seat, he looked defeated. Her hand slipped away. “He is not letting me see them.” he said. “Doesn’t trust me.” there was a slight bitterness in his voice now, one she could understand.

“Strider,” he looked at her “I don’t know what it is you want from them, but I hope you don’t want to use it.” it would consume him, she knew that much. Strider as he was now would slowly fade and in his place, would be a horrible creature driven by power lust. She didn’t like that one bit.

“No, no.” he said quickly. “I need to get it somewhere safe…” he paused “…it and the hobbits, I, I couldn’t” he swallowed “I couldn’t handle carrying it.” he explained. She frowned.

“Such a thing wouldn’t be safe, ever. There is no place on Middle-Earth where that, that thing would be safe.” she paused so her words would sink in. “It needs to be destroyed. And it needs to be destroyed as soon as possible. Before it does any more damage.”

“Padfoot, that isn’t on me to decide.” he said slowly.

“It shouldn’t matter.” she snapped in frustration. The damn hobbits were walking back out of the room. The damn thing was trying to influence her again and was giving her a mighty headache in the process. She straightened her mental walls and took a deep breath to calm herself. “Strider,” she began slowly, calmly “that thing, it shouldn’t exist.” she struggled to put her thoughts into words. She couldn’t reveal how much she knew about horcruxes and she was sure this thing was one. Now only the similarities were in question. But if she revealed too much information it would raise questions she didn’t want to answer.

A hand landed on her shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Padfoot, I know.” said Strider. “And I agree, but as I said it isn’t on me to decide what happens to the ring.” he continued, and Harley’s eyes lit up.

“So it is a ring you are after.” she whispered with a smirk, not that Strider could see it. He groaned. The dark air that seemed to gather around them dispersed.

“Not a word.” he warned.

“Well then oh great ranger, you might want to watch your charges before they do something stupid.” she nodded towards the four hobbits as they sat down around a table and ordered. Strider nodded before leaning back, letting his hood fall over his eyes. He took out his pipe and started to smoke all the while starring at the hobbits. She had to roll her eyes at the scary dark stranger act he was putting on. Not that she should be complaining what with the dark garb she wore, only her green eyes were visible.

The hobbits were half way through their dinner and two blondes were starting to get into their cups while the third blonde kept sending their table discreet and nervous glances. “Scare the shit out of them before you even meet them, why don’t you?” she snarked at him.

“Quiet you.” he said between puffs. She rolled her eyes at him again. Why he was going for a silent intimidation act she couldn’t tell, especially since she knew the man could be a real marshmallow at times. She watched as the sober blonde hobbit leaned over and whispered something to the brown haired one. The brunet one looked up towards them. He stared at Strider before accidentally making eye contact with Harley. She saw him swallow before quickly looking back down at his plate. He stopped the owner as the man was passing by their table. Normally she wouldn’t be able to hear what they said but magic was such a wonderful thing.

“Excuse me,” the hobbit swallowed again “those two in the corner, who are they?” the both of them glanced at Strider and her.

“The one with a pipe, he’s one of them rangers. Dangerous folk. What his right name is I’ve never heard, but around here his name is Strider. The other one, no one knows much about, but he hangs around Strider a lot. Strider refers to him as Padfoot, whatever that means.” and with that the man left the hobbits to serve his other costumers.

“Looks like your little intimidation act worked.” she remarked as she watched as the old Butterbur skittered to the other end of the room.

“You helped.” he said. She threw him a glare before glancing back at the hobbits.

The brown haired one had his eyes closed, it seemed as if he were in some sort of trance. Sweat broke out on his brow. “Something’s wrong.” she whispered to Strider. It was the ring. It was influencing him or at least calling out to him. “It is the ring Strider, something is happening.” she whispered and from the corner of her eye she saw Strider tense.

“I know.” he whispered back.

“Baggins?!” a loud voice broke through both of their tension and through the hobbit. All three of them turned to the blond hobbit at the bar. “Sure I know a Baggins. He’s over there.” he said and pointed back at their table with his pint. “Frodo Baggins.” he exclaimed for the whole room to hear. “He’s my second cousin, once removed, on my mother’s side…” the blonde hobbit continued on. She watched as the newly named Frodo rushed towards his second cousin, once removed. There was some sort of tumble and Frodo slipped and fell. Something shinny and golden flew into the air. Strider sat up. The golden thing fell back down and the hobbit disappeared. She blinked. Invisibility wasn’t a common trait in Middle-Earth, was it?

“That can’t be good.” she murmured as all the other guests stared at the spot where a hobbit had once been. At once everyone started talking in loud voices.

“The Riders will sense the ring now. They will come for it.” said Strider as he got up. “Will you help me?” he asked and looked at her.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys. My apologies Strider.” she said before leaning back in her seat. Strider nodded.

“Fair enough. I cannot force you, yet I still hoped. I’m sure your skills would have been useful.” and with that he turned away from her. She watched as he grabbed the newly visible hobbit. They talked in hushed voices for a moment before Strider literally carried Frodo upstairs. With that they were out of her sight and hearing range. She took a slow sip as the other three hobbits followed only moments later. She snorted when one of them grabbed a stool while the other one went for a candlestick, one with three lit candles still on it.

“It might not be your circus, master, but you will still help them. Will you not?” a new voice spoke from Striders seat. She knew this voice very well. It was flat. Not cold, not warm, merely there. This was an old friend, someone who knew her too well. She gave a sigh of defeat.

“Yes I will. Strider might not be a friend, but he is the closest I have to one.” she glanced at the man sitting next to her and met a cold blue stare. “Besides that thing needs to be destroyed and unfortunately I am sort of an expert.” she added.

“This one isn’t quite like the ones Riddle made.” he warned.

“I suspected as much. This one feels more powerful, more vile.” she wiggled her nose in disgust.

“It is, but that isn’t the only difference, master.”

“I guessed. Well it looks like I’m going on an adventure.” she paused “To slay the dragon.” she grinned.

“There will be no dragons.”

“I know, Dean, it was a joke. Like that song, you know, we are the chosen ones … We sacrifice our blood, we kill for honor… We are the holly ones, our armor stained with blood … We kill the dragon. Nothing?” her joke, like many others, fell on deaf ears. Dean never did have much of a funny bone.

“Besides you are more likely to try and befriend it rather than kill it, and fail, might I add.” he remarked.

“That happened once.” she huffed back.

“One time too many.”

“Why are you here Dean?” she asked as she slacked back in her chair in defeat.

“I am here to give you a warning.” he stated simply, making her look at him in question. “This journey will be full of perils and trials, both for you and any who come along, especially for the ringbearer.” he continued. “If you fail, Middle-Earth will be shrouded in darkness, if you succeed the war will be short.” he finished.

“So there will be a war no matter what.” she sighed. She knew a war was brewing somewhere on the horizon. The question was only when it would get to their quiet corner, not whether it will. “Then I don’t have much choice, do I?” She said to herself.

“You always have a choice, for you are my master.” And with that final sentence he disappeared as quickly as he came. She blinked and he was no longer there. It was a cryptic answer and she wasn’t sure what it meant. Did it mean she could just choose a side? Could she just stay out of it? Or would she be allowed to just leave this world at the drop of a hat if she so desired? It was something to think about at another time, a time when Black Riders weren’t mere hours away. She looked around the inn. Most have left to either their homes or their rooms here at the inn.

“They will come when everyone is asleep. Well, I still have time till then, might as well pack.” and with that she disappeared upstairs to her room. There wasn’t much for her to pack. She had little in the way of material possessions, and what little she had, she could carry on her person at all times. Two changes of clothes and weapons took up most of the space in her magically expanded bag. There was some long-lasting food and a water sack made of skin from some animal or other. There was also medical stuff, but since this world had little in the way of magical plants, it was mostly bandages with very few salves and draughts. Both the salves and the draughts were relatively weak. To her, who was used to the magical ‘drink this and your whole bone will grow back’ type of healing, they were very weak. In Middle-Earth, however, where such things took months if they were possible in the first place, they were possibly the best potions out there.

She spent the rest of the night watching through her window and waiting. They would come, she had no doubt about that. It was Strider and the hobbits she was truly watching out for. When they left, she planned to follow. She was going to follow from the shadows and help them move along as much as she could without them noticing. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to revel herself. They barely trusted Aragorn, no surprise there, the man didn’t exactly look like the trustworthy sort. She looked even shadier. The lower half of her face was hidden behind a mask while the rest was hidden with a hood and shadows. The rest of her clothes was just as dark and hid as much of her body as possible. Her eyes were the only thing truly visible.

She was jolted out of her thoughts by a loud bang. Something or someone just slammed the inn doors open. She narrowed her eyes - the Black Riders were here. They had a feeling about them; an aura of sorts they brought with them. It was cold and filled with sorrow. It reminded her of dementors, yet not quite as harsh. Still, a well-placed Patronus should work against them just as well. A few minutes passed. A few minutes when it seemed like the whole world was holding its breath and stopped. A loud screech split the air. A cold shiver went down her spine. It was so unlike anything she had ever heard before. More screeches followed. They were screams of anger, she realized. They hadn’t found the hobbits.

She felt the cold aura leave the village. An invisible weight left her, making her shoulders sag. She sat down at the window and waited. Soon Strider and the four hobbits would leave. Strider wouldn’t dare wait any longer than necessary. He would wait for the Riders to get far enough from the village before leaving. Sure enough, not even thirty minutes later the small group left through the village gates with a pack pony trailing after them.

“And so, it begins.” With that, she left her cozy room.

Chapter Text

She trailed silently after the small company. She was naturally light on her feet, but a small Silencio* and her footsteps couldn’t be heard even by elven ears. Another charm tied to her boots changed her footprints to that of a wolf, a small nod to a big black dog she once knew. With her dark cloak, she easily blended with the dark woods, but with shouts of ‘Constant vigilance!’ ringing in her ear a Notice-Me-Not charm was put in place. She trailed after them unnoticed by neither man, hobbit nor medieval dementor.

As she followed them, she took to either erasing or hiding the trail they left behind. Strider was good and barely left anything worth following, but the hobbits were not used to walking silently. Their footsteps were heavy and left deep imprints on the soft ground. They made no effort to avoid small branches and leaves, leaving them behind for her to either vanish or repair. Still, she knew she was only buying them time. A confrontation was unavoidable at this point. Thankfully it seemed like the Riders could clearly sense the ring only when it was worn. But even this bought them only so much time. She might slip, or the hobbits might do something stupid or the Nazgûl might just track them down.

The hobbits were trailing after Strider about four paces behind - their distrust could almost be felt. This came to her as no surprise. Strider looked like a shady character. She almost laughed out loud when Strider revealed to the hobbits he could hear their whispered mistrust. She knew the man was feeling smug even if he was probably wearing his usual poker face. The genuine enthusiasm one of them showed when he found out he was going to see the elves had her hackles rising.

She disliked elves on principle. The whole immortal species shtick they thought they had going on was disturbing to her. She could clearly remember all of the Dark Lords from her last life who were very obsessive when it came to immortality. She immediately associated immortality with megalomaniacs with delusions of grandeur. It seemed as a trend of sorts for them. ‘How to be a Dark Lord 101.’ It didn’t put the allegedly immortal species in her good books. But besides, even that there was her association with death. It was possible she spent too much time in Dean’s presence, but she saw anything that avoided death as something that needed a one-way ticket to a one on one meeting with the aforementioned being. Her feelings aside, she still had a job to do.

They had been walking for a few hours already and it was quite apparent how tired the hobbits were from the increased amount of complaining. Either they weren’t aware of just how much danger they were in, or they were trying to make the situation lighter in order to deal with it easier. Luckily for them, Strider was aware and kept pushing them forward the whole day while giving them minimal breaks to rest and drink some water.

She couldn’t sense the Riders but she was sure they weren’t far behind. Even with her best efforts, the group still left behind a trail and all she could do was make it harder to follow. With night slowly falling she knew the Nazgûl would get a chance to catch up. According to the few stories she had heard about them, they were more suited to the dark and didn’t need sleep or food. Strider and the hobbits, on the other hand, would have to stop for the night. It would be too dangerous and tiring to continue.

They stopped in the swamps - the environment would serve to slow down the black horses. She climbed up one of the few trees close to the small camp and got comfortable. She had a good view of the surrounding area and the small camp. Strider left the hobbits to set up camp while he hunted. Once he was back with a young deer thrown over his shoulder, she set up a few small wards. Nothing that would keep the Nazgûl out, but it should make the camp harder to spot and would alert her once someone came within them.

As soon as the hobbits were full they fell asleep. Aragorn stayed up and stared at the stars. Just as she was about to fall asleep, he started to sing. It was an elven song. His words were sad and heavy and she listened carefully to the words. Lúthien, the first elf to marry a human. It was a peculiar choice considering their current situation. She was sure there was some sort of deeper meaning behind his choice, but now was not the time to ask. Perhaps once they were safe.

“Who is she?” The question startled them both. They turned to Frodo. “This woman that you sing of.”

Aragorn turned away. A long moment of silence passed. Finally, Strider answered, his voice heavy. She was sure he was afraid he would accidentally reveal too much to the hobbit. From his answer, she could guess that the story was somehow closer to him than it might first appear. It wasn’t a song he chose merely because he liked it. It had a hidden meaning or perhaps he related to the tragic story. He told Frodo to go to sleep. Strider stayed up for a few more moments, mumbling something she couldn’t hear before he did the weirdest thing - he simply went to sleep. Strider got comfortable and fell asleep. He didn’t stay up to guard the camp. Her eyes narrowed down at the black lump that was a softly-snoring Strider. The bastard knew she was following them! She doubted Strider would risk sleeping without a guard if he wasn’t completely sure she was following them. She was tempted to throw a rock at the man, instead she settled down for a light nap with a huff.

The next morning, they continued their journey. The Hobbits didn’t complain nearly as much after a full night’s rest, especially once they were out of the swamps. The rocky terrain seemed to suit them far better, possibly because there was no danger of them falling face first into the earthy sludge that covered the bottom of the swamp lakes. The new terrain made it harder for her to blend in with the surroundings and the Notice-Me-Not charm could only help her so much. The charm worked by redirecting others’ attention away from you and to their surroundings. Which was hard in a field where you were the only upright thing for miles, you stuck out like a hippogriff in a herd of acromantulas.  She was forced to keep her distance from the company so that she could hide behind the few giant grey rocks that dotted the landscape. Since she was fairly certain Strider knew she was following them, she wasn’t sure why she was going through all the effort. Possibly to help the hobbits feel a bit more at ease with only one stranger walking with them.

They decided to rest at the watchtower of Amon Sûl. At this point, the ruins of Amon Sûl. The watchtower had been built on possibly the only hill for miles. The hill, with its 1000 feet of height would have been impressive anywhere else, but in this flat grassland it seemed like the highest point of the world. It was a magnificent sight. The view from the tower must be brilliant. She couldn’t wait to see the sunset from the top. She knew the tower had been immensely significant at some point in history, but looking at it now gave her a feeling of melancholy. She had known war in her last life. One Dark Lord after another had risen and left a path of destruction behind. What happened to this watchtower could happen to all of Middle-Earth.

This is why she felt the need to follow Strider and the hobbits. She liked Middle-Earth. Thigs were simpler here, more peaceful. The world was so vast here, so much was unexplored so many things still had to be discovered. There was so much land covered in forest and grass. While magic wasn’t quite as thick here, it was…different. She wasn’t sure how to put it into words, but the magic here seemed … More playful, more alive, yes. Perhaps it was more open to answering her call, or maybe it was just easier to command it, she wasn’t sure. At times the natural magic seemed to tug on her as if to show her something new or to show off in a way. She loved it here and she didn’t want to lose that. She would give it her all to help in the war.

She had been so lost in thought she didn’t notice how far Strider and the hobbits have gone. With a new sort of dedication and firmness in her step she hurried after the company. She would help them win this damn war even if she had to drag that despicable ring to the fiery pits of hell herself. They found shelter in a cliff cave under the tower just as the sun started to set. Unfortunately, dark clouds gathered in the meantime and Harley couldn’t enjoy the sunset. She settled among the rocks near the cave. The company was out of her sight, but thankfully she could still hear them. She settled down for a quick snack of some bread and dried meat while Strider gave each hobbit a weapon for self-defense. With a word of warning, he left them to scout the area. This convinced her even more that he was aware of her presence.

She got comfortable among the rocks while keeping an eye on the surrounding plains. Back in her first life, there had been many wars. Most had been short. After she killed Riddle, his followers scattered. It took them years to find them all. During that time, many had banded together and some tried to take over the role of the leader. They had been disorganized, and with many trying to become the next Dark Lord, they fought a lot amongst themselves. The few times they managed to band together for an attack, they had been quickly taken care of and most were killed during the battle. She supposed those weren’t actual wars, just battles, but they sure felt that way at the time.

During those years, she got tired of all the fighting and her health, both mental and physical, suffered. She remembered many people fussed over her, their faces blended together in a blur now, but the worry in their eyes had been genuine. That is when she decided to become a healer. Most of Riddle’s followers had been taken care off by then, and she felt like she could afford leaving the rest to others. Her skill in both battle and healing made her essential in the wars that followed. There had been three or four other wars in that lifetime. She couldn’t quite remember. Two had been short, she remembered that much, but it was possible two wars blended together in her memory. The longest one had lasted six years. She could only hope Middle-Earth wouldn’t suffer the same faith.

“What are you doing?!” Frodo’s voice broke through her haze of memories. Her eyes narrowed immediately. One of the other three answered something she didn’t quite catch. There was a fire crackling.

“Oh, no”, she whispered. She could hear Frodo telling them to put it out and someone stomping the wood. A horrible shriek cut through the brisk night air. Her breath caught in her throat, a shiver went down her spine and she could feel goosebumps stand up over her skin. It was too late. They found them. She looked down and there they were. Dark shapes in cloaks gliding through the low fog towards them. Shit. There was going to be a battle and Strider was gone. Strider was gone and the hobbits would be of more trouble than help. Fuck, shit.

She kept to the shadows as the hobbits scrambled towards the top of the tower. They gathered in a circle in the middle of the tower. A long moment of tense silence passed before the Nazgûl crept out of the darkness. One moment it was just her and the hobbits, the other, five cloaked figures melted from the shadows. Their steps seemed to boom in the quiet darkness. The sound of steel dragging against steel as they took out their swords sent chills down everyone’s back. The hobbits started backing away as the five moved in unison. To the hobbits, it felt as if Death himself came down to strike them. Harley felt her muscles tighten in anticipation as the five figures pointed their swords at the hobbits. She could see the hobbits strain under the pressure, fear pouring from them.

It was Sam who cracked first. His fear turned to anger and with a shout he swung at them. There was no goal behind the swing, no true intent besides urgency to do something, anything. Harley jumped into action. The Nazgûl had one goal in mind, the ring. Sam was tossed aside like a discarded rag doll. A whisper fell from her lips: “Expecto Patronum.” She wasn’t sure how effective it would be. It would be a distraction at worst. Merry and Pippin too were tossed aside just as Prongs and Padfoot sprang forth. Frodo, in his fear, dropped his sword and stumbled, falling on his back.

.

The Black Riders loomed over him and just as one of them stepped towards him, a white and blue mist was in front of him and the Nazgûl was slammed back. It let out a loud hiss of anger, but it no longer sent shivers down everyone’s spines. It was now replaced with a feeling of warmth and protection. Another figure cloaked in darkness stepped in front of him. This one stood firmly, facing the Black Riders as they moved and hissed at it. For a moment, Frodo was sure it was Strider standing protectively above him, but then the gleaming hilt caught his eye. The golden hilt with rubies gleamed almost gleefully in the small amount of moonlight they had. Frodo stared at the new fighter in awe, and no small amount of fear.

.

When Frodo fell, Padfoot and Prongs sprang into action. Prongs slammed into the advancing Nazgûl. Pushing it back with his horns, it gave a loud hiss. Padfoot was right next to him, growling, his hackles raised. She stepped from the shadows after them. Gryffindor’s sword gleamed in her hand. She doubted it would be able to permanently kill them, Basilisk venom or not, but it sure as hell would sting like a bitch. She heard Frodo gasp behind her. They all stood in a tense silence, waiting for the other side to make the first move. The only sound was that of Padfoot’s growling. He took a step forward his nails clanking against the stone, Prongs snorted and lowered his head. She tightened her hold of the golden hilt, the Nazgûl glided away from each other in hopes of circling her.

Padfoot sprang first. With a loud growl, he jumped towards the nearest one, his maw wide open. Prongs followed, he slammed another with its horns into a pillar, the thing screeching as it was pierced. One made a dash towards Frodo and she threw a Bombarda his way, throwing the damn thing backwards. With a spin, she faced the last two. It was a flurry of movement from there. She slashed at the two, dodged and defended. She ducked and rolled away from their swords. She was aware of Padfoot clamping his teeth deep in an arm before being slammed away with a loud yowl. Prongs still had his opponent against the pillar.

At some point, Strider was there with a war cry. In one hand was his sword while in the other was a flaming branch. They stood back to back now as two Black Riders circled them. By some unspoken command, they both turned and switched positions taking on the Black Rider behind them. This gave them just a moment of surprise, but it was all they needed. They had the upper hand now. More movements, more dodging followed. She felt satisfaction as her sword cut deeply. The Nazgûl backed away with a loud screech of pain. Her victory was short lived as another scream joined it, this one came from a hobbit.

The fifth Black Rider stood over Frodo, his sword was buried deep in the hobbit’s shoulder. She foolishly forgot about it and it was going to cost them. She threw another Bombarda at it, this one hit the Rider directly in the chest and threw him off the tower. Another screeched as Aragorn set it on fire. She ran towards the wounded hobbit as Aragorn threw his flaming branch at the one still pinned against a pillar. Another screech followed. Now free, Prongs slammed into the last one and pushed it off the tower before both he and Padfoot turned back into mist.

She pushed the other three hobbits out of the way and kneeled next to Frodo. She was already tearing through his clothes to get a better look at the wound when Strider dropped on the hobbit’s other side. “Can you heal him?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know.” Was the short reply. Harley’s hands glowed a soft green as they hovered above the wound. “I can heal the wound itself, but that doesn’t help with the poison. I have never encountered this one. I will need to analyze the blade to see- “ she looked up just as Strider held up the sword only to see it turn to dust. “Shit, fuck, stupid fucking-“ she cut herself off. She turned back to the wound. She tried to analyze the poison but instead stumbled upon something else. “There is a small piece of the blade still left in the wound. It is still poisoning him. I will have to extract it, it will be painful.” Her green eyes captured Frodo’s own and he gave a jerky nod.

“I will need warm water to clean the wound … Some rags too.” She tacked on when she heard the other three hobbits moving around and things clinking together. Her eyes returned to Aragorn. “There is nothing I can do for the poison, I could try and extract it, but it has something magical in it. Simply extracting it wouldn’t work.” Aragorn nodded. “I will extract the shard and heal the wound. After that I can only slow the spreading down.” Aragorn looked thoughtful for a second.

“Rivendell. The elves can help him.” He swallowed. “We are six days away. Will he make it?” She nodded. Someone handed her a bowl of warm water and a clean rag and with a nod of thanks she got to work.

“If we travel swiftly he should be able to make it with time to spare.” She tried to sound reassuring and to lighten the mood somewhat. Aragorn smiled slightly at her effort.

“Can I help somehow?”

“I need space and the others need to be calm. Keep the other three occupied.” With a nod, he was gone from her sight and she set to work. First, she cleaned the blood around the wound with the rag. Frodo kept grunting in pain, but seemed to be holding back as much as he could. A small Accio later and the shard was in her hand, and Frodo let out a loud scream of pain. She could hear Sam protesting behind her, his steps coming towards her. Strider held him back and she could hear him whisper to the hobbits in a soothing tone. She sent her magic down Frodo’s wound. With a command from her, his flesh began stitching itself together. When she removed her hands, the only thing left was a thin silver scar.

Frodo still looked pale. “Here.” She soothed him as she brought a vial to his lips. “This will ease the pain but will make you drowsy.” He gulped the potion in one go. “Sleep now.” With a grateful look, he closed his eyes and with a little push from her magic he was in deep sleep. She prepared herself to do the rest. One hand was above the new scar while the other was above the hobbit’s beating heart. Small tendrils of magic left her. She couldn’t push too much magic into him or it might damage his body further, but a small amount should be harmless. As her magic set about battling and slowing down the poison, she leaned back on her heels and gave a loud sigh of relief.

“He will be fine for now.” She said, gaining everyone’s attention. “I can keep the pain away for a day at best.” With that, she turned her toxic eyes to the others. “After that, he will only get worse. I can only keep the poison at bay for so long. We need to travel swiftly.” She explained, more for the benefit of the hobbits than Strider. He nodded in understanding nonetheless.

“I will carry him. You three pack only the bare minimum.” The three hobbits scrambled towards their packs and she stood up. Strider walked until he was standing right in front of her and she had to tilt her head back to see his face. “Tell me truthfully, my friend, will he make it?” His blue eyes were stormy as he searched hers.

She let out a long breath before answering. “I honestly do not know. I have never dealt with something like this before so I cannot say for certain.” She gave a huff of frustration. “I can only promise to do all I can for him, nothing more.”

“That is all I ask.” Then he smiled softly down at her. “Well, my friend, it would appear this is your circus after all.” He said with a small chuckle making her huff again, but this time in anger. His expression was serious again. “The stag and the wolf, what were they?” She tensed at the question. Where were those damn hobbits? This wasn’t a nut she was willing to crack open, not right now, or ever if she were honest. She could always lie. “The truth, please.” He must have seen something in her eyes. Damn, perhaps he knew her better than she thought.

“Magic.” She breathed out the word slowly, tensely. He took a sharp breath.

“Are you …” A swallow. “ … Are you like Gandalf?” A pause. “A wizard?” He tacked on quickly.

“No. No, I am not like Gandalf.”

“Then what are you?” He asked and she had to suppress a flinch. She knew he didn’t mean it in an insulting way, it just brought back some unwanted memories. Before she could even begin her explanation, a loud screech cut through the air between them. “Later, then. In Rivendell, when we are safe.” He said and she nodded in agreement. It should give her enough time to form an actual answer. Just then, the hobbits were back with them and Strider had Frodo over his shoulders.

Soon they found themselves moving through a forest. Strider and Harley kept checking their surroundings while hurrying the hobbits along. They neither heard nor saw the Black Riders, but none of them doubted they were being followed even with their best efforts to hide their tracks and lose the dark figures somewhere in the forest.

“They seem to have fallen further back,” she commented to Strider. “I doubt we have truly lost them in the forest.”

“They are patient creatures.” He explained. “Frodo was stabbed with a Morgul blade. If you hadn’t been with us, I am sure he would have been in much pain and would be very cold by now.” She looked to him as they walked, waiting for him to explain further. “Once stabbed with a Morgul blade, you start to pass into the shadow realm and if the shard is left too long the victim becomes a wraith.” Her eyes widened at that.

“Then I must have missed a shard,” she shook her head. “Or a part of it stayed in the wound. I should- “Strider cut her off.

“You have done all you could,” he reassured. “The rest of the blade turned to dust, so perhaps some of the dust stayed in the wound. There is nothing you could have done. Only elves have enough knowledge to deal with this,” he explained further. “You need to know you have done all you could and have increased Frodo’s chances of survival immensely. And as you said there is still the poison to deal with.” He gave her a meaningful look while her hands were still curled into fists.

“That doesn’t make it any less frustrating,” she said quietly.

“I know, friend. I know,” he replied. With a loud breath, she let the tension drain from her shoulders and fists. Of course Strider understood. He could be considered a healer himself and he could do even less than her.

“We’ve been traveling for more than a full day,” she said as she gazed at the hobbits stumbling in front of her. “They need a break.” She turned back to Aragorn. “We all do and I need to check on him.” Her eyes ran over Frodo’s still form. Strider nodded.

“I know a place a little further ahead.” They continued to walk through the woods. The hobbits weren’t complaining, but their exhaustion was clear. At this point, everyone was tired and a break was unavoidable.

“Strider,” she began, gaining his attention. “I have to ask. How did you know I was following you?” She asked and Strider gave her a smug grin.

“My friend,” he paused to step over a large root. “Wolves cannot climb trees.” He laughed. Harley pouted up at him. He must have sensed her mood because he laughed harder. The hobbits turned towards them now, curiosity coloring their faces. Strider hurried his steps. “Come on, you three, there is a place we shall rest at up ahead.” Invigorated by that sentence, the hobbits, too, hurried their steps.

As Strider lowered Frodo down onto the ground, she stared at the three stone faces surrounding them. Three trolls stood petrified in different positions. They seemed as if they were arguing about something. There was a story there but now was not the time to ask. A pained inhale broke her out of her thoughts. “The time is up,” she murmured to herself as she kneeled next to the hobbit.

“Is he going to die?” One of the other three asked, his voice breaking.

“No,” she reassured. “Not yet, at least. But the journey will be harder for him now. I can no longer keep him under, the wound will be giving him trouble.” She didn’t outright say it, but the hobbits seemed to understand nonetheless. Frodo will be in pain from this point onwards and none of them could do anything about it.

She heard, but didn’t see Strider crouch next to her. Screeches came from the woods all around them and Frodo’s pained choke joined them. The others looked around in worry while Harley checked on Frodo with her magic. She left just a tiny bit more to slow down the poison. “There is a plant that might help slow the poison,” Strider whispered to her. Green met worried grey. “Do you know what Athelas looks like?” She just nodded in answer. Strider turned to the hobbits just as she stood up and was walking out into the woods. “We will look for something to help Frodo, you three stay here and keep safe.” She didn’t wait to hear their answer.

As she scanned the ground, she went over a list of spells hoping to find one that will help their search. A Point-Me spell would point to the North, useless in this case. Accio was useless too. If she over-powered the spell she might get buried in dirt and weeds. On the other hand, if she under-powered the spell she could get nothing. They were stuck doing this the hard way.

.

Aragorn searched the ground as he walked. He knew Padfoot was near him even if he couldn’t hear or see him. If it weren’t for Padfoot, he knew things would have been much worse. But his arrival brought many questions with it. The mist that took the shape of a wolf and a stag, the golden sword and his healing powers. Healing powers he only caught glimpses of in the past. He knew Padfoot was a great healer, but he never saw him dealing with something as serious as this. Any other healer would have been useless, even most elven ones.

He kneeled down when one of the plants caught his eye. He checked again just to make sure. Athelas, just what they were looking for. He felt the cold kiss of steel against his neck. “What is this?” The voice was soft, musical and so very familiar. “A ranger, caught off his guard.” There was a teasing undertone to it now. He slowly turned his head to look up at his captor, but another cloaked figure caught his attention.

There was a golden gleam and Arwen was tense, fear was clear in her eyes. “What is this?” This voice was sickeningly sweet. “An elf sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.” It was mocking now “What a surprise.” Sarcasm dripped from his words. Arwen just twitched, barely an indication of her intentions. “A-a-a,” it was a tone reserved for misbehaving children “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. This blade is quite venomous; all I need is a scratch.” He took on a light tone as if speaking about the weather. “And unfortunately, I’m all out of antidote.” Arwen was frozen now. The fear in her grey eyes was masked by a forced calm.

“Padfoot, stand down,” he ordered. Captivating green eyes caught his. No one moved. “She’s a friend,” he explained. Green searched blue. Padfoot was not a trusting person.

“Some way to greet friends.” He mocked before lowering his sword. Arwen let out a loud breath. The sword was out of sight in the next moment. “Did you find it?” Green met blue again. There was something in those eyes, something that didn’t let you look away.

“Ay.” Without another word, he handed over the plant. With a nod, Padfoot turned around and walked back to the hobbits.

“Quite an interesting friend you have there.” Arwen’s sword was back in its sheath. One of her hands was rubbing at her neck. “How come I didn’t hear him coming?” She asked. There was no fear in her voice now, just curiosity.

“I do not know.” It was a truthful answer. If Padfoot didn’t want to be seen, he wasn’t. Honestly, if he didn’t know Padfoot as well as he did and if he didn’t expect him to follow, he wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong with the wolf tracks in the first place. “Come on. Let us get back to the others, I’ll explain on the way.” And so he did. He told her about finding the hobbits, the wraiths, Padfoot appearing and healing Frodo and his current condition. He left out a few details - details he still needed answers for.

When they got back, they found an all-four-bent-over Frodo. Padfoot’s hands were gliding above the hobbit’s torso as the other three waited anxiously. “He will be fine,” Padfoot’s voice was soft and reassuring. “The plant helped and the poison is slowing down.” Suddenly green eyes held his. “He still needs help.” They turned to Arwen now and then back to him. “What’s the plan?”

Arwen answered before he could, “I will take him to my father.”

.

Harley watched as Aragorn and the elf broke out into an argument in elvish. She listened carefully. They didn’t need to know she could understand them. “I do not fear them,” argued the female elf and Strider nodded his acceptance.

The five of them watched Frodo and the elf ride away until they could no longer see them. “What now?” Asked the one named Pippin.

“Now we continue for Rivendell and hope Frodo and Arwen make it safe.” Strider looked around their small camp. “We’ll stay the night and continue in the morning. Get some rest.” With that, he settled down for first watch. He was too high-strung to fall asleep, they both were.

Chapter Text

Rivendell was a breath-taking city. It was nestled between mountains in a narrow gorge of the river Bruinen. The city followed the curves of the landscape it was built upon. Wherever you looked, waterfalls dotted the land. From far away it looked like the city was built on a giant spider web of fine silk. Buildings were connected by many bridges made from both stone and wood. Anywhere there was free land, trees were clustered together. It smelled so clean here, of water and earth and wood. It was almost like entering another world. As soon as you stepped on the narrow bridge that led into the city you felt at ease. With water bubbling and gurgling all around you, with leaves joining in the soft song and birds chiming in the high notes you felt all the tension from your body simply drain down into the white waters below.

In all honesty, it made her tense. Rivendell was made to make you forget anything outside of it. She wasn’t someone who enjoyed a peaceful life. In her past life, the only peace and tranquillity she got were the ten minutes she had for coffee in the morning every other day. The ten minutes before her husband and kids woke up. The rest of her day was filled with chaos. It was how she liked it. A dragon reserve was far away from the normal suburban life her relatives tried to push onto her in her youth, which only made it seem that much better. One of the two main reasons she left her parents’ farm in this life was because it was too peaceful for her. Sure, it wasn’t a monk’s wet dream like Rivendell was, but nothing truly happened either. The most exciting thing that happened there was the one time a cow stepped on her father’s foot and he had to stay in bed for a month.

She looked to her companions. The three hobbits were in a state of awe. Their eyes were darting everywhere and the wonder was clear in their eyes. They were looking from building to building, from elf to elf. Everything was shiny and new to them here, the buildings, the people, the horses, even the simplest wood carvings. Aragorn, on the other hand, looked like he came home. A tension drained from him, a tension she didn’t even notice was present in the first place. He must have sensed her eyes on him because he looked to her, a soft smile on his face.

He frowned then, seeing her tense form. “What is wrong?” He asked quietly. A sigh left her, she could guess what his reaction would be to her words.

“It is so peaceful here.” She explained. Aragorn raised an eyebrow at her. Peace and quiet meant someone was up to something in her past life and the paranoia stayed. Another sigh. “It makes me uneasy.” He boomed with a loud throaty laugh. His laugh made her smile. It was rare to see him so relaxed anywhere else. The hobbits turned to them, but they asked no questions.

“Only you, my friend, only you.” he chuckled at her. Just then, an elf approached them. He, (she was fairly sure it was a he) like all other elves, was beautiful - otherworldly almost. Long blonde hair, pale glowing skin, mesmerising eyes … It all made her want to gag. Nothing, nothing should be that beautiful and perfect. In her life, only vampires had been that pretty, that hypnotising, and there were obvious reasons for that. Needless to say, the elves made her a bit uneasy.

“Strider.” The elf greeted the ranger. The rest of them got small nods in greeting, which they returned. “Rooms have been prepared for you, follow me.” He motioned for them to follow.

“I would prefer to check on Frodo first.” She insisted. The elf gave her a searching look.

“Your friend is well. He has been healed by Lord Elrond himself.” The elf lifted his chin and looked down at her from the top of his nose. “All your friend needs is rest.” He glanced at all of them and she saw a bit of disgust glisten in his eye. She would very much like to see how perfect his hair is after he falls face-first into swamp sludge a few times. Damn elves. “As do you. You may visit your friend later.”

“I am afraid I must insist.” She replied coldly. “I would prefer it if I checked on Frodo’s condition myself.” Her eyes narrowed, daring the elf to say no. She was sure she somehow just insulted his dearest Lord Elrond in some way.

“I assure you, Lord Elrond is one of the best healers in all of Middle-Earth. Your friend is fine.” It was a battle of will now. Only when she saw the ‘bestest’ Lord Elrond reattach a limb after extracting it from a dragon’s stomach would she admit he was a good healer. Before she could continue their poorly veiled pissing match, Aragorn had to butt in. Damn that man.

“This is Padfoot, a good friend.” Explained Strider. Being Strider’s friend carried a quite a bit of weigh among the elves, or so she guessed. “He is also a healer and was the one to help Frodo.” The elf gave him a long stare. “As a healer, he feels obliged to make sure his patient is well.” The elf gave her a short glance.

“I was ordered to take you to your rooms.” He tried as a last resort and Harley grinned in victory.

“I can take Padfoot to Frodo and then to his room.” Strider offered. The elf finally nodded his acceptance before informing the ranger which one was to be her room. As she passed the elf, she gave him a look that she hoped could portray how smug she was feeling, and by the constipated look on the nameless elf’s face, she succeeded.

She felt the need to take a final stab at the elf. “*Mad-múko.” she whispered and heard the elf choke on his own spit. It was juvenile, but she could hear a bark-like laughter ring from her past and knew she made her Godfather proud. Aragorn gave her a reprimanding look, but she could see mirth in his eyes. There were very, very few curses in elvish and all of them were too weak for her sailor mind, so she had to be a bit creative.

“I didn’t know you spoke elvish.” Aragorn gave her an amused look once they were far away from the very offended elf.

“I don’t.” She said quickly. “I can understand it just fine, but I cannot speak it. I took a chance with that one.” She continued awkwardly while scratching the back of her head. “Honestly, I have no idea if it was actually correct.” She finished with a wince. Aragorn broke out in loud laughter at that. “Oh, shut up.” She murmured while looking at the ground.

“You did combine two languages.” He said still chuckling.

“I didn’t know the Sindarin word for it, alright!” She snapped, her voice rose an octave in embarrassment. “Besides, he got the message anyway.” She huffed. Her mask hid her red face and she couldn’t be more thankful for it. Aragorn just chuckled at her. He was aware of her embarrassment, she was sure.

.

Aragorn couldn’t help but stare at Padfoot as he looked away. This was the first time he saw the man embarrassed. Somehow it made him look more human, more real. Padfoot was a friend, but a friend he rarely saw and knew little about. He knew Padfoot always kept him at arms-length, for what reason, however, he didn’t know. He remembered the first time they met eight years ago, and Padfoot didn’t leave a good impression. Greeting someone with an arrow to the face was not the best way to start a friendship, but then again Padfoot didn’t want friendship at the time. He remembered how skittish he was that first night.

He kept throwing him suspicious glances. Every time Aragorn made a sudden move Padfoot’s fingers were twitching for a weapon. It took years before the other even started to relax around him. It took Padfoot two years before he was comfortable enough to laugh and crack jokes with the ranger. Slowly, over the years, Aragorn managed to cultivate a frail friendship.

Still, there were times when Padfoot was so cold he seemed surreal. There were times when Aragorn wasn’t sure the other was truly human. Padfoot was someone who kept everything close to his chest. Someone who guarded his feelings well. He still didn’t know anything about his past. Was there a family looking for him out there? If so, why did he leave them? Or perhaps they were taken away from him? There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but he knew he wouldn’t get any answers. They would only serve as an excuse for Padfoot to pull away.

Still, it made him smile when the walking mystery stepped closer to him as they passed more and more elves. Padfoot was paranoid to a fault, but it seemed like Aragorn managed to gain his trust along the way. Despite that, the other was acting even more paranoid than usual. He knew Padfoot disliked elves, for whatever reason, but he didn’t know it was to this extent.

“What is it with you and elves?”

.

Harley looked up at the question. Oh, so many things were the problem, but she could tell him so few. How to word this? “It is just …” She gave a sigh, she knew Aragorn wouldn’t understand “… I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak.” A raised eyebrow was her answer. She scowled, “It is just that they are so perfect.” That made Aragorn stop and look at her in surprise.

“What?” His wide eyes would have been hysterical in any other situation.

“That is the problem, they are perfect, too perfect.” She insisted.

“I’m not following.” His eyebrows were drawn together now.

“Looks are deceiving.” She explained shortly. “It just makes me feel like they are hiding something.”

Aragorn shook his head, a long sigh leaving him before they started walking again. “You, my friend, are too paranoid for your own good.” He jokingly told her.

Paranoid? She remembered veela from her last life. Beautiful women who also had another form, one capable of flinging fireballs. She remembered vampires, otherworldly and just as deadly. She remembered sirens, actual sirens, who would drown sailors and eat them. No, she really was not. But, Aragorn knew none of that and perhaps it was better that way.

“Here we are.” He said and her attention snapped towards the doors in front of them. Just like everything else in this Merlin damned city, they were beautiful. Made from white wood, an intricate design carved into them - it reminded her of a rope with many knots. But it wasn’t the door what caught her attention, it was what was behind those doors. Just beyond it she could feel the smallest traces of her magic and as soon as she felt the magic it rose up to greet her, almost as a puppy would.

.

Aragorn had seen Padfoot in his healer mode before. The change was fascinating to watch. Normally the hooded man was hyperaware of everything around him. He was a person who gathered as much information as possible and looked at every possible action and outcome before acting - but that was regular Padfoot. Healer Padfoot had a one-track mind. They could be in the middle of the battle and all he could see would be the patient and the wound. The first time it happened Aragorn was stunned. Padfoot had switched so seamlessly between the two it made him stop short.

Now he watched as the other walked towards Frodo, not even noticing the other two people in the room. This was possibly the biggest change over the years. At this very moment Padfoot trusted him with his life. He trusted him to keep everyone away from him and his patient. He took another moment to watch Padfoot as he checked over Frodo with glowing hands before turning to the other two in the room.

“Lord Elrond. Gandalf.” He greeted them.

“Aragorn.” Elrond greeted him back while Gandalf simply nodded at him. Then their eyes turned to Padfoot. “And who is your companion?” The elven lord was watching Padfoot with distrust. Aragorn understood. Padfoot was an unknown. Aragorn himself never spoke to anyone outside the rangers about his friend. He noticed Gandalf observing Padfoot’s glowing hands, he could see a bit of caution there, but it was overshadowed by curiosity.

“This is Padfoot, he was the one who helped Frodo.” He turned back to his friend. Padfoot’s shoulders sagged in relief and his hands stopped glowing. He still needed an explanation for everything, but that could wait for now. “He’s also a friend.” Green eyes caught his and he was frozen for a moment. They were such a striking colour, beautiful, but unsettling in a way. At times, it felt as if they could see straight into your soul. Then Padfoot looked away and the moment was over.

.

She looked at the elven lord and the grey wizard. An elf with brown hair, fancy. She knew Elrond was suspicious of her, or at the very least cautious. She was an unknown. Gandalf on the other hand seemed curious. She could feel his magic twist excitedly just at the edges of hers. She had to consciously stop her own from hissing back. It has been a long time since she met another magic user.

“Lord Elrond.” She greeted politely. There was absolutely no need for her to insult her host within the first five minutes of meeting him. “Gandalf.” The wizard greeted her with a soft smile and a playful twinkle entered his eye. It was like looking at Dumbledore’s long lost brother, not a good thing.

“Aragorn tells me you are the one who helped Frodo here.” It was a simple statement, one that was supposed to prompt her to talk. It was an easy way to get information since most people liked to talk, especially about themselves. But she wasn’t most people. She simply followed the lord with her eyes as he slowly walked towards her, Frodo and the bed being the only thing between them. She could hear Aragorn shift towards her.

“I was.” she guessed she was expected to at least answer the man, it would be rude otherwise, something she was trying to avoid, for now.

“The wound was expertly healed, but the poison was still there, although I could sense someone’s magic battling the poison.” He paused her to study her for a moment. “I am assuming it was yours.”

“Yes.” She answered shortly.

“My apologies Lord Elrond, we are tired by our travel. Padfoot here merely wanted to check on Frodo before we rested.” Ah, Aragorn, always the diplomat.

“Of course, Aragorn, I am assuming you wish to show your friend to his chambers.” His tone was lighter now. “We will talk further after you are rested.” He dismissed them. She gave a small polite nod before turning around and following Aragorn out the door.

“You know you don’t have to insult every elf you meet.” Aragorn said with a teasing undertone.

“It isn’t as if try.” She explained and Aragorn glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. “It comes naturally to me.” Her friend let out a sigh of frustration but a small smile still graced his lips. They walked through the hallways in silence. She had to admit that the elven city truly was beautiful no matter how uncomfortable it made her. “This is your room.” Aragorn said as they stopped in front of a door. “The hobbits are in the two rooms down the hall …” He gestured to the two doors and as if on cue they heard something break, shortly followed by shouting, “… And I am at the end of the hall behind the door to the left.”

“Thank you.” She reached for the handle.

“Padfoot, we still need to talk.” Aragorn spoke just as her hand landed on the handle.

“When?” She asked, not looking up at him. Her voice was calm, but she could see her hands shaking.

“After dinner. Go and rest a little now.” She could only nod before entering her room. She leaned against the door as she listened to Aragorn’s footsteps get quieter and quieter. She mumbled a locking spell and cast it on the door, before slowly sinking to the floor. She stared at her hands as they shook. This was going to be hard. She wasn’t planning on telling him everything, just about the whole magic thing. That was still a lot more than she has told anyone before. A harsh voice called her a freak and she flinched. Their faces were obscured to her, but their words still echoed. This could break whatever flimsy friendship he managed to cultivate with her. Even with her past still haunting her, she knew he could easily accept the magic part, but no one likes being kept in the dark.

She got up with a sigh. There was already a bath prepared for her so she started to undress. First went her cloak - without the hood, her fiery red hair spilled down her back. She ran a hand through it. It was getting a bit too long for her to manage, she would either have to braid it, something she was horrible at, or she would have to cut it. Though, the shorter her hair got the messier and more gravity defiant it became. Braiding it was. A frustrated sound escaped her after she threw her fifth knife on the bed. It seemed like she had accumulated a lot of weapons over the years without even noticing it.

She left only three things on her person, her Elder wand, which she used to pin her hair up, her necklace, a simple cord that wrapped around the Resurrection stone, and a cloth bracelet, which was actually the Invisibility cloak. Transfiguring it into a bracelet hadn’t been easy. She always kept those three on her. She signed with relief as she sank into the bath. Explaining magic - her magic, to Aragorn was going to be a pain in her arse. With a pleading look to the powers above she sank further into the bath.

.

The elven food, she found, was good. It was light, but filling, and it tasted great. Eating wasn’t as satisfying as eating fast food, but it was a new experience she enjoyed. She would still kill for a good burger right now, the one from that small restaurant she stumbled upon by accident. The hobbits seemed to agree with her. They kept praising the food they were given, but couldn’t help recalling dishes from the Shire. Aragorn on the other hand, looked like a kid that came home for Christmas and was enjoying his mother’s cooking for the first time in years. It wasn’t so much about the food as it was about the nostalgia.

She brought her cup to her lips and from the corner of her eye caught Pippin leaning over the table trying to get a good look of her face. A smirk she couldn’t stop overtook her lips. Magic truly was a wonderful thing. Aragorn caught her eye and gave her a questioning look. She fought a sigh. It was time for her to face the music. She nodded back, before they both stood up.

“Woah, where are you two going?” It was Pippin.

She and Aragorn exchanged a glance. “Me and Padfoot have something important to discuss.” He explained. Merry and Pippin shared a look that sent alarm bells blaring in her head. It was a look she remembered two sets of twins exchanging when they were up to no good. Quick distraction.

“You know,” she paused when their heads snapped to her, “I heard a hobbit named Bilbo is also staying here.” The three hobbits seemed to vibrate in their seats at that.

“Did you hear Bilbo is here?” Marry excitedly asked the other hobbits.

“I’m sure one of the elves would be delighted to show you where he is staying if you ask them.” She encouraged them. Once the three hobbits were distracted enough she pulled a confused Aragorn after her.

“What was that?” He asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Merry and Pippin were going to spy on our conversation.” She explained. “I needed to distract them somehow,” she quickly added.

“Still, sicking three excited hobbits on a poor unsuspecting elf is a bit mean, don’t you think?” He asked and she had to roll her eyes at him prompting a guffaw out of him. “How do you know Bilbo is important to them?”

“When we were with those petrified trolls Sam mentioned something about Bilbo.” Aragorn nodded.

“This way. I know a place in the garden where we will have the most privacy.” She followed after him as he led them through the beautiful elven garden. After only a few minutes Aragorn stopped and turned towards her. “Alright, explain.”

“What do you want to know?” She asked as she shifted from one leg to the other while setting up a small privacy ward.

“The wolf and the stag, what were they?”

“It is a charm, Expecto Patronum. In literal translation, it means ‘I await a protector’. It the only known spell able to protect someone against Dementors, soul sucking demons that feed on bad memories. It is made up of happy memories of the caster. It can be a simple shield, but a true Patronus will take the shape of an animal. It can also be used to send messages. When I cast it, I wasn’t sure it was going to work against the Raiders, but it would have been at least a good distraction.” she quickly explained.

“Why a stag and a wolf?” He cocked his head.

“The stag would represent my parents, and the wolf would be my Godfather.”

“Alright.” He nodded at her. “You called it a spell and you said it was magic, and yet you also said you aren’t like Gandalf,” he prompted her.

“I … I’m not sure how to explain this,” she frowned. “We are both magic users, but we use it in a different way, we shape it differently, I guess. We are both wizards, but different kinds.” She shifted again and scratched at the back of her head. “From what I’ve seen, Gandalf seems like the old wise type of wizard. More of a sage, I guess, he prefers to hand out wisdom rather than throw spells. He also uses a staff.” Another shift. “I, on the other hand, am more hands on. I use a wand, spells and brew potions.” She knew she was rambling a bit, but she was too nervous to care at the moment.

“I never saw you use a wand.”

“I can cast some spells wandlessly. It is a lot harder and it makes my spells weaker, but once mastered it is quicker than casting with a wand.”

“Potions?” He raised an eyebrow at her.

“I do have some and I can make more. They just aren’t as strong as I am used to, but seeing as I don’t have all the ingredients it is not surprising.”

“There anything I can help with?” He asked.

“Not unless you have an extra bottle of dragon blood lying around.” She chuckled.

Aragorn grimaced at her words. “Yeah, no, sorry, but I used my last one just last week.” He smirked while she chuckled.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m trying to figure out substitute ingredients.” She shook her head. Thankfully their conversation were turning lighter. “It is just that it takes time and patience.” A heavy hand landed on her shoulder and gave it a gently squeeze.

“We are alright Padfoot.” He grinned down at her and a sigh of relief left her, and she could feel herself relax.

“You aren’t mad?”

“I … I am a little hurt you didn’t trust me with this as we have known each other for a long time, but I also know how paranoid you are.” He teased her.

“Only a little.” He snorted at her words.

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Padfoot.”

“A heavily warded area.” they both chuckled, and Harley knew their friendship would survive … This secret.

Chapter Text

“Why are you making me do this?” she moaned out loud.

“You are making this sound worse than it actually is.” he sighed at her.

“You know I’m absolute rubbish at this. You know I am going to lose. You know I am no challenge. You know I’m not even trying anymore. And yet you still make me play!” she was yelling now.

“Oh, come on Harley, you are getting better…at least.” he tried to placate her.

“No, I’m not!” she yelled back “I am somehow getting worse and yet you keep talking me into playing. Just. One. More. Game!” she was pouting at him now. He sighed in defeat. “You could try asking someone else. I’m sure one of the birds would love to play a game, or you could ask H-“, the name was lost on her, just a blank space, as if it had been forcefully taken out of her sentence, “she would be more of a challenge.”

“You know M-“, another blank, “refuses to play with me.” she noticed the bushy head look up to glare at them. She rolled her eyes at the both of them.

“I am still here, you know.” the girl glared one more time before going back to her thick tome.

“There are still the birds, ask them.” she said, the pout was going to be stuck on her face at this point.

“Harley I can’t, they aren’t in our house.” he answered with a wince.

“Oh, for the love of Merlin, it is a game of chess!” she snapped. “You aren’t giving out all our secrets to them or something.” she knew he wouldn’t listen to her, it was an argument they had before. So, she just continued to silently fume, she currently had no desire to fight a pointless battle.

“Harley…” he called softly and she just glared up at him “…it’s checkmate.” a yell of frustration left her.

.

She snapped awake. Her eyes were wide and searching, her heart was fluttering in her ribcage like a caged bird. Slowly she came back to her senses. It has been a while since she had a dream of her past. They always left her in the same state of panic, even the peaceful ones.

The last one she had was back on the farm, all those years ago. She groaned as realization dawned on her. The last time she had a dream of her past was back when her life was peaceful. Back before she was in a constant state of alertness. Back before when she actually let herself fall into deep sleep instead of a half sleep. Back before she left the farm. That must also be the main reason she was so restless here. In a way, her magic was trying to warn her.

There were birds chirruping outside her window and the Sun was just starting to peek over the mountains and was now starting to flood her room with warmth and light. With a groan, she flopped back onto the cloud soft pillow, sending fiery hair spilling everywhere. What a bad start to a beautiful day.

.

Frodo stared as an upside down Merry slowly floated in front of him. “Oh, hello Frodo, nice to see you are up!” he said calmly as if there was nothing unusual about this situation. As if hobbits, could naturally float in the air. And then he floated further away and all Frodo could do was watch and blink. He rubbed his eyes. No, Merry was still floating. The hobbit was doing a slow cartwheel now. Perhaps he should seek out Lord Elrond for he was seeing things.

Sam groaned next to him. “They’ve both been at it all morning.” he grumbled lowly.

“So, I am not seeing things.” he whispered to himself.

“Me! Me next Padfoot!” he could hear Pippin shouting from the same direction from where Merry came. A deep chuckle followed Pippin’s words.

“We are the only one’s here.” a soft tenor answered the hobbit. He could hear Pippin laugh in delight before he saw him. And when he finally saw him the hobbit was swimming, in midair.

“Oh Frodo, nice to see you are awake.” he echoed Merry’s words, before swimming further away after Merry. A man shrouded in dark clothes was slowly walking behind him. He couldn’t remember much from that night, but her remembered those green eyes hovering over him before it all went dark.

“Ah Frodo, I believe we haven’t officially met.” the man stopped in front of him. “I am Padfoot.” he said before offering him a gloved hand.

“Frodo Baggins.” he answered as he grasped the offered hand. Padfoot’s hold was soft but firm.

“How are you feeling?” the man asked. Those too green eyes were searching him, looking for any signs of pain.

“Mister Padfoot was the one to help you Master Frodo.” Sam told him, there was a touch of admiration in his voice.

“You have my gratitude then.” the man looked uncomfortable there for a second.

“Don’t mention it. You are feeling fine?” the man asked again and Frodo just nodded his answer before an exclamation from Merry caught his attention.

“How are they-“ he couldn’t finish the question, it would sound even more ridiculous out loud.

“Ah, that would be because of me.” Padfoot seemed to smile down at him. “It is a magic spell you see. They aren’t really moving on their own, it just seems like it.” then he twitched his fingers and Pippin was going backwards while still swimming in the same direction. It was bizarre.

“Gandalf never did something like that.” he mumbled as he watched Pippin quicken his movements in hopes of moving forward again, it didn’t work.

“Ah yes Gandalf.” Padfoot sighed next to him. “While we are both magic users our magic and the way we use it is different.” the man explained shortly. Suddenly he looked up at one of the buildings around them. Frodo caught a glimpse of a grey hat before Gandalf left the balcony. “He seems just as curious about me as Merry and Pippin are, but he is more reserved than the two.” there was a softness to his voice as he spoke of the two hobbits.

“Someone said there were hobbits floating around.” it came from behind them, the voice was deep and filled with humor. “I didn’t believe them, but now I see I was wrong.”

.

Harley glanced at Aragorn as he stopped next to her. He raised an eyebrow at her in question. She shrugged. “They asked.” was her simple answer. He shook his head at her before looking down at Frodo.

“Ah Frodo, how are you feeling?” she only half listened to Frodo’s response as she twitched her fingers again making Merry and Pippin float in different directions.

“Padfoot.” Aragorn called softly and she hummed in question still concentrating on keeping the hobbits floating. “There is something we must discuss,” she glanced at him from the corner of her eye “alone.” he added and she nodded in understanding. With a snap of her fingers both hobbits fell to the ground. Hey, she had to get her kicks somewhere.

“Oi!” both of the hobbits yelled at her.

“Ah apologies Merry and Pippin,” she couldn’t quite hide the amusement in her voice and by the grins on both Frodo and Aragorn they noticed “but it seems like Aragorn and myself have something to discuss.” the two hobbits still glared up at her. “I’m sure Frodo would like to see who else is also visiting Rivendell.” this time they both grinned up at her.

“Oh yeah, we almost forgot. Haven’t we Pip.”

“Sure did. I think he’s this way.”

“Come on Frodo.” and with that the two hobbits dragged Frodo away with Sam silently trailing after them.

Once the four were out of sight she turned back to Aragorn. “Walk with me.” they walked in silence for only a few minutes. “There is going to be a council to decide what happens to the Ring.” straight to the point. “But I’m sure you already knew that.” he grinned down at her and she felt her cheeks heat up in embarrassment. Okay so she spied on a few conversations and read a few letters she wasn’t supposed to, so what? “Everyone should be here by nightfall, so the council will be held tomorrow morning after everyone is rested and feed.” he explained further as they walked.

“Why are you telling me this?” she raised her eyebrow at him. Aragorn let out a long sigh.

“I wish to officially invite you to the council.” he answered.

“Are you sure?” that got her an amused snort.

“You were planning on spying anyway, so might as well make you officially a part of it.” he glanced down at her. Okay, he got her there. “Besides you seem to know a lot about it.” he paused to gather his thoughts. “Back in Bree, you insisted on its destruction.” it was a request for her to explain.

A sigh left her, this was something she had to explain, no way around it. “Horcrux, that is what it is called.”

“Horcrux.” he said the word slowly, as if to test the feel of it. “That sounds…ominous.”

“It is.” she agreed. “It is basically a soul piece tied to an object. It is very dark magic, one of the darkest forms out there.” a look from Aragorn prompted her to continue. “Until a horcrux is destroyed its creator cannot be killed.” she paused in thought “It basically binds the soul to the living world so that it can eventually fully reform and the person can live again in a non-corporeal form until they manage to somehow regain a physical body. However, there are requirements for making one.”

“What are they?” he was serious now, it was in the tone of his voice and the darkening of his eyes. She swallowed.

“If one wishes to create a horcrux one must first deliberately kill another with magic.” she answered, the words felt heavy on her tongue.

“Why with magic?” he was looking down at her from the corner of his eye.

“Killing with magic has consequences. Magic in itself always has a price, greater the spell higher the price. Most spells simply require payment in energy, or in other words the user’s magic. But there are spells that require more than that. Runes, blood, hair and magical ingredients are some of the most common ones. Magic is all about balance you see.” she explained and Aragorn nodded at her words.

“And what is the price for killing someone?”

“Most would think it would be life for life, a logical conclusion, but that would be counterproductive. No, the price is smaller than that. It…it basically chips away at your soul.” she stopped walking to fully turn to Aragorn. “It simply takes some of your own life force and leaves a gap. Fortunately, this is not permanent and the soul will heal itself over time.” his eyes were searching hers. He already knew where this was going. “The spell to create a horcrux uses that gap to rip a small piece of the soul away and tie it to something else. This is also why a horcrux has some form of influence over those around it. It is in essence a dark part of someone’s soul, their greed, their lust for power, their distrust, their anger or something else equally bad. The soul normally radiates feelings but since a horcrux doesn’t have a person, a body made from flesh and bone, it laches onto those around it.” she finished slowly.

“And how do you destroy a horcrux?” he asked, his eyes still glued to hers. That was the million-dollar question, wasn’t it?

“Horcruxes are extraordinary durable and are immune to most spells. There are a few ways and all of them require for the object to be destroyed beyond repair.” she shook her head. “I know of two ways. There is Fiendfyre, a high-level fire spell. It is very hard to control and if it isn’t it will consume everything in its path. I currently do not have the necessary control over the spell. And then there is Basilisk venom. Something I have, but…”

“But?” Aragorn encouraged her to continue.

“But I doubt either of those ways will work. This one seems more powerful than the ones I encountered.” she explained.

A defeated sigh left Aragorn. “I know that both Gandalf and Lord Elrond wish to see the Ring destroyed. Elrond was there when Isildur defeated Sauron and took the Ring for himself.”

“Then they must know of a way to do so. I suspect they will share this knowledge tomorrow at the council with everyone.” she finished his thought and he nodded at her.

“Then all we can do is wait.” his tone was resigned now. His eyes searched her. “There is a story behind this knowledge, isn’t there?” he asked and her heart skipped a beat. This, this wasn’t something she was ready to share with him, not yet. With a gulp, she answered.

“There is but…but I am not ready to share it. Not yet. Apologies Aragorn.” she said and he sighed in answer.

“Promise me at least you will eventually share it.” he asked softly. All she could do was look down and give a weak nod. A warm hand on her shoulder made her look up. Warm blue eyes were looking at her own. “I wish to be your friend Padfoot, that is all.” he explained his tone soft.

She gave another nod, a firm one this time. “I know. I just need more time.” it was a plea. She wasn’t sure when Aragorn became important to her, when they developed a friendship without her noticing it but she didn’t want to lose this fragile friendship they had.

“That I can give.” he smiled down at her. His hand gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze before letting go. With a nod, he left her standing there with only her thoughts for company.

Her feet carried her away from that spot. She wasn’t sure where she was going exactly, just that she needed to move while she thought. Thoughts swirled around, she wasn’t sure on which one to concentrate first. There was the obvious one, the council. From what she gathered, spied, members of most species will be attending. Humans, elves, dwarfs and a hobbit. The humans will wish to use the Ring, according to history. What the dwarves would do was a mystery to her. There will be at least some tensions between the elven lords and the dwarven ones. And the elves would try to stay out of it. It promised to be a complete and utter disaster.

Then there was the Ring itself. She would push for its destruction, but there will be opposition no doubt. At least Aragorn agreed, and apparently so did Gandalf and Elrond and their words carried a lot more weight than hers. Here she was a complete unknown, her existence was insignificant to everyone. This was something she liked. Going from the wizarding Messiah to no one was one of the best points of her second life. Except in situations like these. A frustrated noise left her. Her word would carry about as much weight as a dog’s bark, that is to say none at all.

 Then there were her personal problems. The attachment she developed for Aragorn was one of them. The wars in her past life made her wary of people. Back then her circle of friends consisted of people she knew since early school years. Statistically speaking this new attachment was bound to hurt her in some way, especially with a war looming on the horizon. And yet she couldn’t bring herself to just cut her losses and hightail it out of the whole situation like there was a heard of hungry acromantulas on her tail.

She looked at the scenery in front of her. It truly was breathtaking. While she was in deep thought, her feet carried her to one of the railings overlooking the Bruinen. Frosty foam rose on the waves as water crashed over mossy rocks. The way pearly white foam, deep malachite green moss and crystal clear water mixed and swirled together was hypnotizing. Despite all her wariness she felt herself relax as she watched the whirling waters.

From the corner of her eye she noticed a figure step up to the railing next to her. “I thought you would have learned your lesson on sneaking up on people last time.” she said as she turned to the dark-haired elf. Arwen had a peaceful look about her as she gazed at the rolling waves.

“You seemed in deep thought, I didn’t wish to disturb you.” she said, her voice sounded like a bird’s song, soft and enchanting. There was a serene smile on her delicate coral lips. She truly was a thing of beauty. An angel that came down to bring them all light. Her hair spilled over her shoulder and down her back like ink, creating an eye-catching contrast against the light breezy gown she wore.

“And yet you still approached me, there must be something important you need of me.” she said, trying to get straight to the point. Sparkling blue eyes, not unlike the churning waters bellow, met her own venomous green. Arwen quickly averted her eyes, returning her gaze to the scenery in front of them. She noticed a tension to her, now that she looked. It was hidden, under many years of proper etiquette and posture teachings. She made the elf uneasy, how flattering.

“I noticed you are tense.” she started slowly, her voice rolled down Harley’s skin like velvet. “It is very unusual.” blue eyes turned back to her. But she noticed the elf was looking ever so slightly above her eyes. There was a silent question there, a prompt for her to talk. Another thing she noticed about the elves. They never out right asked what they wanted to know. A long moment of silence passed between them. “I asked Aragorn what the matter was but he refused to answer.” there was a tinge of sadness and curiosity in her voice now.

No wonder Aragorn didn’t answer her, she herself had a hard time putting it all into words. “Rivendell is a peaceful city.” she began. Arwen’s head tilted ever so slightly in her curiosity. “It is not something I am used to, or even comfortable with.” she offered.

“I am afraid I do not understand.” a soft frown pulled at her brow. It was an endearing expression. Of course, Arwen wouldn’t understand, she spent her whole life in elven city’s.

“I am a person of action. I need something to do, something active. I do not enjoy singing and dancing and drinking tea from sunrise to sunset. I’m in my element when I am moving, fighting, hunting, practicing with weapons. Peace is not something that agrees with me.” green eyes were boring into her. Arwen’s stance stiffened as she straightened, a sharp edge came to her eyes.

“So, you wish for war.” gone was the softness from her voice, it was cutting now.

“No.” she shook her head. “I should have worded it better. I once heard a saying ‘An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.’ I need something to occupy my mind with, something to distract myself. This peaceful city is bringing memories I wish to forget.” she explained further. Arwen relaxed again.

“I see.” she said softly her mind far away.

“Oh, do you now?” her tone was slightly mocking.

The elf let out a soft sigh, “No, not fully. I understand your need to do something, but I still do not understand your dislike of Rivendell, of how peaceful it is here.” a barking laughter left her startling Arwen.

“You of all should understand. After all, you are the one who fell for a man in order to escape.” she answered. A glare was directed at her.

“What are you trying to say?” the sharp tone was back now. Harley took a step towards her.

“I am trying to say that somewhere, deep down you also dislike this, just like me. Except I can admit it.” the calm was crumbling around them.

“I wish you a good day, Padfoot.” her words cut the air like a knife. She watched her glide away. As elegant as ever, but there was a sharpness to her movements now, an anger.

“Great, I offended another one.”

.

Her conversation with Arwen replay over and over again. She knew she was ruder than was necessary, than she should have been. But, unfortunately, her unease and dislike of elves influenced her words far more than she should have ever allowed. The Ring’s constant grating presence pushed her even further.  It was too late to take it back. Thankfully the council would be held tomorrow so she would be gone from this place in no time.

“Padfoot do pay attention.” her eyes snapped to Aragorn. Frustration pulled at his brows, not a good sign.

“I am.” she wasn’t.

A snort left him. “Okay then repeat what I just read….in elven.”

Somehow as night fell they ended up on one of the many terraces in Rivendell. A soft breeze caressed the top of her cheek. For some reason Aragorn decided she needed to learn how to read elvish, because she already understood it so why not take it a step further. So here they were. Aragorn was sitting on an intricate wooden chair, leaning against the railing and holding a book so they could both see. While she stood behind him and leaned over his shoulder to get a better look at the squiggles known as elven script, standing close enough to feel heat coming from him but far enough not to touch.

“Ceri- im gar- na? (Do I have to?)” he was a good teacher, she would give him that much. He huffed and looked up as if praying for patience.

“Lá. Manen vára nar cin glenn- gelia- ha? (Yes. How else are you going to learn it?” he raised an eyebrow at her.

“Bui rod plural rodyn -o… (By power of…)” she struggled again. The complete lack of elven cuss words was proving to be a bigger problem than she thought. “…mundo múko? (bull dung?)” a snort left him at that and she grinned.

“Far sonda -o i peth, im tíra-. (Quite fond of that word, I see.)” he sighed, before tapping the page again. “Et-henta. (Read aloud.)” he ordered and she frowned at him.

“Thlib- coron. (Suck ball.)” she answered. A loud groan left him.

“On second thought teaching you to speak and read elvish might not be the best idea.”

“Cin nov-? (You think?)” she teased and got a glare for her effort. Before he could answer they heard footsteps coming towards them. They both watched as a tall man slowly walked along the terrace while admiring the stone carvings and frescos. In her humble opinion, he was handsome. Light brown hair feel just under a sharp jawline. A neatly trimmed goatee framed his lips adding to his rugged look. His brows seemed to be set in a permanent frown. Yes, very handsome.

He stared at the fresco depicting Isildur’s victory over Sauron before he noticed he wasn’t alone. His head slowly turned towards them. A moment passed in which he scanned the both of them in one quick swoop, before one of the most profound sentences left his mouth. “You are no elves.”

“Your observational skills astound me.” honestly, he might as well have said that the sky was blue. Aragorn was cultivating quite the scruff while she was barely tall enough to qualify as a man. Such similarities they held with the elves. Aragorn’s shoulders slacked in defeat while the stranger bristled.

“Padfoot.” he warned and all she could do was shrug down at him. He turned back to the stranger. “Men of the south are welcome here.” he explained. The other man took it for what it was, an answer but also a distraction.

“Who are you?”

“I am friend to Gandalf the Grey.” she frowned at the answer. It was a none answer. It told absolutely nothing about Aragorn himself. But the stranger seemed satisfied with it.

He nodded. “Then we are here on common purpose…friend.” she sincerely doubted that. This man was here for the council most likely. While Aragorn would also attend, she doubted their goals would overlap. Then those grey eyes turned to her. “And you are?”

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other in a more relaxed stance. “Padfoot.” she answered and already there was a question on his lips. “Just Padfoot.” she continued and he swallowed the question. He gave a slight nod, but she could see he wasn’t satisfied with her answer. Not like she could also claim to be Gandalf’s friend. A long awkward moment of staring passed between them. No one wanted to say anything but there was something still left in the air, something that needed addressing.

Then something caught the stranger’s attention, a soft glimmer to his left. “Shards of Narsil.” he breathed out. Awe was clear on his face and in his voice as he picked up the handle. “The blade that cut the Ring off Sauron’s hand.” he said as he slowly ran his fingers over the broken blade. Then he flinched and Harley could smell the metallic tang of blood. “Still sharp.” he whispered. He then remembered he was not alone. His eyes snapped to Aragorn’s and she could see the turmoil brew in his eyes, he swallowed. “But nothing more than a broken heirloom.” he said, the words as sharp as the blade. Quickly he set the handle back down, before hastily walking away. He didn’t even make it two steps before the handle hit the floor with a loud clang. Everything seemed to stop in that short moment. The stranger hesitated for a moment before leaving without turning around.

She watched Aragorn slowly stand up. He firmly picked up the blade before setting it down gently. His shoulders were tense. Fear, she saw fear in his whole stance. Fear, not of the blade, but of what it represents, perhaps. “What are you afraid of?” the words escaped her. They were soft, and yet they seemed to cut through the air like a hot knife through butter. He turned to her sharply, as if he forgot she was there in the first place. What she saw in his eyes made her stop short. She never saw Aragorn this distressed, pure fear and sadness. She swallowed and straightened before slowly walking towards him, because her friend needed her. And she would rather die than leave him to his own devices. “What are you afraid of?” she repeated again, firmly this time.

.

“What are you afraid of?” it felt as if the question echoed all around them. He stared at those enchanting eyes. Such a deep green. They seemed to glow in the moonlight. It felt as if he was frozen in place unable to look away as they came closer and closer. They were beautiful and disturbing in equal measure.

“The Ring.” the words left without him noticing. Padfoot tilted his head ever so slightly in question. “I’m afraid of the Ring and the power it has, the power it could have over me.” admitting it came easier than he thought it would. The eyes softened. It felt as if a dam had been broken. “I can feel it, whenever I’m near Frodo. It is like a constant grating presence.” he shook his head before looking down. “It keeps whispering to me and I’m afraid there will be a time I won’t be able to resist.” he felt lighter after saying it out lout, but was left with a deep sense of shame now.

A light hand fell on his shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze. He looked back up, at those captivating eyes. “I understand.” it was said so softly he almost missed it. “I can hear it too. Even now.” his eyes took on a glassy look. “It keeps whispering things, such wonderful things. So many promises.” his voice was soft and his mind was far away. Aragorn felt his throat constrict.

“How do you resist it?” he squeezed out just barely. Padfoot seemed to come back to the present, eyes now sharp. Aragorn swore he saw them flash for a second.

“Experience.” he started. “I keep reminding myself that whatever it promises isn’t true, so I try not to listen.”

“I…” he swallowed. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that.” he admitted. Someone once told him history liked to repeat itself. That was his biggest fear.

“Hey, if it comes down to that I’ll just break your nose.” a startled laughter left him at that and by the crinkled skin around his eyes, he knew Padfoot was smiling. “But only if you promise to do the same for me.” he couldn’t stop a large smile from taking over his face.

“Agreed.” he laughed.

“Remember Aragorn, you aren’t alone in this.” he could only nod at that. Something caught Padfoot’s attention and he looked away. Aragorn followed his gaze and saw Arwen standing there, looking at them. “I’ll leave you two alone.” the hand slipped from his shoulder and Aragorn watched him leave.

Chapter Text

The council was being held outside, under one of the largest trees in Rivendell. As anywhere else in Rivendell the view around them was breathtaking, but everyone’s attention was on the council. They were sat in a half-circle facing Lord Elrond and another elf in grey robes. There were eight elves, including Elrond and the unnamed elf next to him, four dwarfs, seven men, a hobbit, a wizard and a witch. Since she wasn’t officially invited by the Lord of Rivendell she didn’t get a fancy looking chair to sit on. Instead she stood behind Aragorn. She was aware of the two curious hobbits hiding behind two pillars and had thrown a weak Notice-Me-Not charm their way. It wasn’t her problem the elves couldn’t stop two hobbits from sneaking into a secret council meeting.

“Strangers from distant lands, friends of old…” Elrond begun the meeting and everyone’s attention was directed at him “…you’ve been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor.” he had an authority to him, in both voice and stance, that commanded your respect and undiluted attention. “Middle-Earth stands on brink of destruction. None can escape it. You will unite or you will fall.” as far as opening lines went, she had to admit, he knew exactly how to get the sense of urgency and seriousness across. “Each race is bound to this faith, to this one doom.”

“You always have a choice, for you are my master.” she remembered those words, the way they were said in an almost whisper. Now it seemed like they were said such a long time ago. And yet she still wasn’t sure on their meaning.

“Bring forth the Ring, Frodo.” it was said in a soft tone, but it was none the less a command, a command that was not to be disobeyed. Elrond gestured to the pedestal in front of them all and the hobbit stood up slowly and walked on shaky legs to it. He slowly set the Ring down. There were gasps and murmurs as Frodo removed his hand and the Ring glinted ominously in the sun. Everyone continued to whisper as Frodo sat back down. The hobbit slacked in his chair and sighed as if a great burden just left him.

She was sure the Ring was already sinking its influence into everyone. Not enough to do anything, not enough for them to notice, but little by little, it would have complete control over them. She heard someone inhale sharply. The stranger from last night, who she learned was named Boromir, stood up.

“In a dream,” he began slowly as everyone’s attention turned from the Ring “I saw the eastern sky grow dark.” he swallowed. “But, in the west a pale light lingered.” it sounded like a prophetic dream, and she hated those. Bad experience. “A voice was crying: ‘The doom is near at hand. Isildur’s bane is found.’” they watched him slowly walk closer and closer to the Ring. She noticed Elrond and Gandalf exchange a glance as he got within arm’s reach of the Ring. “Isildur’s bane.” she heard him whisper as he reached for the Ring. The Ring worked faster then she anticipated. Her fingers twitched, ready to throw a spell his way.

It happened quickly. Elrond stood up and tried to yell out something, but the words were lost as Gandalf started chanting. It was a booming language, one that went straight into your bones and sent a cold touch down your spine. As the old wizard slowly stood up the skies grew dark. It felt as if the shadows themselves were whispering things at them in a language no one could understand. Everyone was looking around in panic and fear. Boromir walked backwards, fear and confusion clear on his face, as the chanting grew louder. She saw elves close their eyes to ground themselves and calm. Her heart was beating fast and she felt Aragorn tense next to her.

 “One ring to rule them all…

…One ring to find them…

…One ring to bring them all…

…and in the darkness bind them.”

A bodiless voice whispered in her ear. It was a voice she knew very well. Immediately a sense of calm overcame her. “It is called the Black speech, master.” the voice continued. “It is the language of Mordor, a language that the shadows themselves give power.” it finished in something akin to a purr and Harley gave a small, barely noticeable nod in thanks. It seemed that just speaking the language gained Dean’s attention. How curious.

As soon as Gandalf finished the sky lightened and everyone took a deep breath. It had felt as if your lungs were being squeezed slowly. People started panting as Gandalf quieted down. Elrond looked angry, as angry as an elf would let themselves be. “Never before has any voice uttered the words of that tongue here in Imladris.” he said harshly, before slowly sitting back down.

“I do not ask your pardon Master Elrond,” Gandalf huffed out. He looked physically exhausted just from speaking a few words. “for the Black speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the west.” he said. “The Ring is altogether evil.” he told them sharply before slowly walking back to his chair, but before he made it Boromir spoke again.

“Nay, it is a gift.” the man hissed out, but everyone heard him clearly. Gandalf turned back around to look at the man in disbelief. “A gift to the foes of Mordor.” he took a deep breath as if he needed to prepare himself for his next sentence. Green eyes narrowed as they watched him walk. “Why not use this ring?” he asked. A few human lords seemed to watch in curiosity, their heads tilted ever so slightly. They were wondering the same thing. “Long has my father, the steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at bay.” she saw passion build in his eyes. “By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe.” a small crack appeared in his voice. It was one she recognized well, one of emotion. This wasn’t some random lord that sat in his big chair all day and ordered people around. No, this was a man who experienced firsthand the horrors of war. This was a man who had blood on his hands. Blood of his enemies, who he slayed. Blood of friends, who he failed to save. She noticed Aragorn shift in his chair.

“Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him.” he said. A few human lords seemed to nod in agreement at the words. Agreeing on using the Ring, but not giving it to Gondor. She saw Aragorn move as if to speak, but there was something she had to say.

“I’m afraid that is not possible.” her soft voice cut through the air, everyone stopped. She saw Boromir’s back stiffen. “It is a noble cause, but unfortunately and impossible one.” Boromir slowly turned to her, blue eyes flashing in anger before they connected to her own. “The Ring will give you hope. It will whisper such sweet promises to you, to everyone around you. But in the end, it will betray you, because it is a piece of Sauron and is loyal only to him.” she finished. Everyone was staring at her, but she looked only at Boromir. A sneer was already on his face.

“And how would you know such a thing?” he spat the words out.

A sharp retort was already on her lips when Aragorn stepped in. “Padfoot is right, the Ring answers only to Sauron. It knows no other master.” already she could see the difference, his words carried more weight than hers, at least with the elves.

Stormy blue eyes switched to Aragorn. “And what would a ranger know of this matter?” he growled out, mad that not one but two people were so openly against his idea. One of the elves behind Boromir jumped to his feet.

“This is no mere ranger, he is Aragorn son of Arathorn.” both she and Aragorn stiffened. She from surprise, but Aragorn from fear, the same fear from last night. She saw many members of the council exchange surprised looks. “You owe him your allegiance.” the elf finished. Aragorn’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. Boromir’s head slowly turned to him. The surprise and disbelief were clear in his expression. Aragorn seemed to tense even more. Boromir opened his mouth but the words escaped him.

“Aragorn.” he whispered finally. She stepped forward her hand brushing against Aragorn ever so slightly in silent support. He spared her only a glance before tension left him and he drew himself up. She recognized it for what it was. He would face whatever came head-on, he was done with running. “This…is Isildur’s heir.” the tone was mocking but Aragorn didn’t back down.

“An heir to the throne of Gondor.” the elf continued, not realizing he was making the matter worse.

“Hamu- dad, Legolas. (Sit down, Legolas.)” the tone was a lot more pleading than it should have been, considering the setting.

Boromir turned back to Legolas and she got a clear look at the tense muscles in his jaw. “Gondor has no king.” he growled out at the elf. Then he turned back to Aragorn, resentment flashing in blue, “Gondor, needs no king.” he squeezed the words from between his teeth before sitting back down. He slacked down in his chair before throwing one final glare Aragorn’s way. Aragorn looked down avoiding it, so Boromir decided to forward it to her. Stormy blue met toxic green and the man stiffened in his chair. Her eyes narrowed at him, there was only a flash of discomfort before it was pushed down and the man glared right back.

“Aragorn and Padfoot are right, we cannot use it.” said Gandalf gaining everyone’s attention. But the stare down between her and Boromir continued.

“You have only one choice…” she heard Elrond say “…the Ring must be destroyed.” he said making both of them look away from each other and to the elven lord. Both she and Boromir let out a sigh, but for completely different reasons.

“Then what are we waiting for?” one of the dwarfs grumbled out as he stared at the glittering golden trinket. Within seconds he was on his feet, a heavy axe in his hand. He swung it forward with both hands putting his full strength behind the swing. She tensed in preparation. There was only one way this was going to end. As soon as the axe hit the Ring it shattered into smithereens. Everyone jumped up. The dwarf was blown back by the force and was now on his back. She saw Frodo flinch and clutch at his head. It seemed to her as if the Ring itself was whispering words in that dark tongue, but it looked like she was the only one who noticed.

“The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli son of Glóin, by any craft that we here possess.” the elven lord spared them all a glance as he talked. “The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade.” there were whispers coming from the Ring as Elrond talked. She couldn’t hear anything concrete, just a bunch of different voices jumbled together mixing with Elrond’s words. “It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.” the elf continued. She could hear no more whispers, but she saw Frodo flinch and stare at the Ring in fear. Could he also be hearing them? The whispers? “One of you must do this.” the elf finished.

It was almost comical how quiet the whole council got after those words. She saw a few shift uneasily in their chairs. “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” Boromir said and he held everyone’s attention once again. “Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The great eye is ever watchful.” she heard Frodo gasp at his words. “It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.” she noticed Frodo getting tenser and tenser as he continued. “Not with ten thousand men could you do this, it is folly.” he finished. She could practically see memories flash before his eyes as he talked.

Legolas sprang back up. “Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said?” the tone was accusatory. He seemed like a young elf, one ready to prove himself. “The Ring must be destroyed.” he shouted at them as if it would change the situation.

“And I suppose you think you are the one to do it!” Gimli’s voice boomed.

Now Boromir was back on his feet. “And what if we fail what then?! What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?!” he demanded of the council.

Gimli jumped back to his feet and Aragorn shifted uneasily in his seat. “I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an elf!” his gravelly voice boomed. It was as if a dam was broken. Everyone jumped to their feet and started shouting things. No one, listened, but everyone demanded, accused and insulted. Old wounds were reopened. Even Gandalf stood up and started shouting things trying to get his point across. And all the while, among the chaos, the Ring gleamed almost gleefully.

She felt pure hatred burn in her stomach for the Ring, for what it was and for what it represented. Her hand gripped a golden hilt and she felt magic surge forward. The sword’s magic seemed excited as she took the first step towards the Ring. “Padfoot.” she heard Aragorn whisper in alarm and question as she got closer to the pedestal, but she paid him no mind. Frodo’s crystal blue eyes snapped to her, but she ignored him as well. Her eyes were stuck on the single piece of gold in front of her. She ignored the fighting and the shouting around her as she drew her sword. The only sound she could hear was that of the blade running against the scabbard and the whispers that grew louder the closer she got.

She was right next to the pedestal when Elrond noticed her and jumped to his feet. She felt Aragorn pull at her clothes, but they were both too late. She swung her sword down, the hilt vibrated in excitement…and it cut, deep. She watched the silver blade cut halfway into the golden band before stopping, it was then deflected back up. Everything changed in an instant. The sky grew dark again, the shadows whispered and hissed at her again, they seemed to dance around her feet. And the Ring, the Ring screeched at her in that dark tongue of its maker. “Death comes.” she hissed back at it in Parseltongue. She watched in fascination as the cut healed itself back together leaving behind only as small line. It was barely noticeable, just a slight discoloration on the surface, you would miss it if you didn’t know it was there.

As soon as the cut healed fully the darkness left, the whispers stopped and all was quiet. You would’ve heard a pin drop and it would have sound like cannon fire. Slowly she sheathed her sword and looked up at the council her eyes piercing. Many shifted uneasily under her gaze. “If you are quite done acting like children, may we continue with the council.” it wasn’t a question, her tone was too sharp for it. “Or would you rather stay under the Ring’s influence?” many startled at that.

Boromir swallowed his unease. “How…” he chocked out the word, but couldn’t finish the sentence. Her eyes turned to him.

“How did I cut it?” she finished for him, he just nodded. “Basilisk venom.” was the simple answer. “But as you can see, it wasn’t enough to fully destroy it.” she added with a glance to the Ring. She suspected there was another protection spell on it, something no one else did before. With how hard it was to destroy a regular horcrux no one even thought to put more protections on one. Sauron was one paranoid bastard, reluctantly she had to admit to herself she was impressed. “Now, there is a very important matter that needs resolving.” she turned back to the council meeting their suspicious stares. “Who is taking the Ring to Mordor?”

“I’ll do it.” a small voice made itself known, grief overtook Gandalf’s face. They all slowly turned to the small hobbit. “I will take the Ring to Mordor.” he said firmly while looking at all of them. There was clear resolve in his stance. Then he seemed to falter. “Though, I do not know the way.” his voice quieted down to almost a whisper, but all heard him clearly.

It was Gandalf who spoke first. “I will help you bear this burden Frodo Baggins. So long as it is yours to bear.” he said. He squeezed Frodo’s shoulder in support, before standing behind the hobbit. It was a silent challenge to those who might oppose.

“If by my life or death I can protect you, I will.” Aragorn said from beside her before covering the distance between them in two long strides. He knelt down in front of Frodo and held his hand. “You have my sword.” she caught the wink Gandalf threw Elrond before she stepped next to Aragorn.

“Someone has to make sure it is by life, not death.” she teased the dark-haired man before turning to Frodo. “You have my sword as well.” he smiled at her words.

“And you have my bow.” added Legolas.

Not to be out done by an elf Gimli raised his axe, his now broken axe. “And my axe.” he said before joining the rest of them next to Frodo. Green eyes turned to Boromir as the man slowly walked towards them.

“You carry the faith of us all, little one.” he said in a surprisingly soft voice. “If this is indeed the will of the council then Gondor will see it done.” he nodded down at Frodo, who gave a small nod in return.

A loud yell came from behind them, startling them all. A hobbit pushed his way between her and Aragorn to stand next to Frodo. “Mister Frodo isn’t going anywhere without me.” Sam said in a firm tone while crossing his arms and giving them all a defiant look.

“No, indeed, it is hardly possible to separate you when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.” despite his words Elrond looked highly amused by the little hobbit.

“Oi! We are coming too!” a shout came from behind Elrond and his head snapped towards the two running hobbits. She felt the charm melt away as the two hobbits made themselves known. A chuckle she couldn’t stop left her. She had to cover her laughter with a cough when she caught sight of Elrond’s face. Merry said something to Frodo she couldn’t quite catch, while Pippin started talking to Elrond. “Anyway, you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission…quest…” the hobbit stumbled over his words “…thing.” he added finally.

“Well that rules you out then, Pip.” Merry snapped at the other hobbit. A large grin overtook her face when she saw Aragorn holding back laughter.

Lord Elrond looked at them all, stood side by side. “Ten companions.” he said to himself, he looked deep in thought. “So be it. You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring.”

“Great. Where are we going?” asked Pippin getting disbelieving looks from everyone. With a chuckle, she nudged the hobbit.

“Come on, we should go and pack.” Pippin looked up at her before nodding. Very quickly the council dispersed. The fellowship went to pack what little they had. She overheard Elrond mumble something about provisions and a pony. Dissatisfaction was clear on quite a few faces. Boromir hid it well, but many of the other human lords chose to show it clearly. She was walking on a thin curved path between tall trees when she heard it.

“Padfoot.” it was a soft female voice, so quiet she barely caught it. She stopped and caught sight of inky hair and sparkling blue eyes. Arwen stood tall, her back straight, but there was a sadness to her face and Harley wondered if the elf already heard about what happened at the council. She opened her mouth to say something but quickly swallowed it back down. Shifting from one foot to the other ever so slightly to gather strength she finally spoke. “May we speak, Padfoot? That is if you have time.”

Just by looking at the elf she knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation for either of them. She glanced around them at all the elves wondering around, even the odd human and dwarf. “Not here, somewhere a bit more private.” she must have noticed the glances.

“Lead the way.” she stated simply. With a nod, Arwen turned around and started walking without looking to see if she followed. She stopped in a gazebo like structure. It was made more of some type of ivy than wood. It was an interesting structure that, while mostly made of plants, still fit in well with the rest of Rivendell. Arwen turned to her, her plumb lower lip between pearly teeth.

She quickly mumbled a “Muffliato.” to make sure no one would listen in. Blue eyes caught hers, a silent question. “No one will be able to listen in on our conversation.” she explained and got a small nod in return.

Harley waited patiently for the elf to gather her strength and start this conversation. “I…” she tried but blue met green and she looked quickly away. “I have been thinking, about what you said.” Harley tilted her head at that. She need to say it out loud. “About, about me wishing to leave Rivendell. About me dislikeing all this peace.” her voice got steadier as she talked. “I have been thinking the whole night.” now that she was looking for it she noticed how disheveled the elf looked. Strands of hair were out of place, there was a slight darkening under her eyes and a few strings were hanging from her sleeves because she had pulled at them. “It should have meant nothing, just words from some man, I should have been able to let them go, but…” her voice wobbled slightly at the end.

“But?” she prompted. Blue eyes snapped to hers and this time Arwen held her gaze.

“But I couldn’t.” she stated firmly. “Then I had to ask myself why. Why can’t I let your words go? Why are they affecting me so much? Why?” she noticed tears gathering at the edges of her eyes.

“And? What is the answer?” she asked calmly, softly.

“Because they are true.” she hickuped the answer, not quite crying but close.

“So then why do you stay? There is a whole world out there, a whole world to explore. And yet you chose to stay here, in Rivendell, and play a pretty little figurine.” there was anger in her voice, not at Arwen herself, but at the possibility of what she herself could have become. If she hadn’t left.

A sad chuckle left her, startling them both. There was a lot of hate there, for herself. “I asked myself that same question last night. Why do I stay? Why do I pretend to be something I am not?” she took a deep breath to center herself, her gaze on the ground between them. “Because of my father.” the words were whispered, so quiet a breeze would have blown them away.

“Why would you-“ she was cut off.

“Because he needs me. Because of what happened to my mother. And also, because I am afraid.” a few tears escaped her and fell down marble cheeks. “Afraid of the world outside, of what could happen if I left.”

“There is a story there, isn’t there.”

“There is.” she agreed softly.

Harley shifted from one foot to the other. Overly emotional situations had never been her strong suit. Give her a nesting mother dragon over a crying woman any day. “It might make it easier for you if you talked to someone.” she said. This was in no way an encouragement to share this knowledge with her, Merlin forbid. Arwen gave her a searching look. She crossed her arms in front of her self, and gripped her upper arms.

“My mother was on her way to Lothlórien, to visit my grandparents, when orcs attacked her and her guards. I don’t know much on what happened, my brothers do not like talking about it and my father even less so. Her guards were killed on the spot and she was tortured and poisoned before my brothers and father saved her.” she was shivering slightly now, her fingers gripping so hard she was sure the fabric under them would rip. But the elf continued on with a firm voice. “My father was able to heal her wounds, but he wasn’t able to take away her memories. Her mind and spirit were hurt beyond what any of us could heal. She refused to talk to any of us about what happened.” she pulled at her lip again before continuing.

“Both me and my brothers knew she wasn’t alright. We knew she cried when she thought none of us would noticed. I remember her flinching every time I touched her, or someone made a sudden move, or there was a loud noise. And then one day she-“ a sob broke her sentence. “One day she just left. She left Middle-Earth. She left Rivendell. She left her family. She left her husband. She left her sons.” anger overtook her voice now. Angry tears were flowing down pale cheeks, off her chin and onto her light dress. A loud sob tore from her throat. “And she left me.” it was said in such a quiet, broken, tone that Harley’s heart broke a little. Yet another part of her boiled in anger, in pure hatred of a woman she would never meet. Once upon a time she had been a mother, a mother to five wonderful little imps. Even now she couldn’t even begin to consider leaving her children, now when her feelings were muted, now when her attachment was diluted down, now when she couldn’t even remember their faces and names.

Before she even realized what she had done she had Arwen in her arms. The elf seemed shocked for just a second before breaking down and sobbing in her shoulder. Slender fingers gripped dark fabric in a death grip. Harley felt her hate grow, her magic burned and twisted under her skin in response. She forced it down and took a deep breath to calm herself. One of her hands made soft circles on Arwen’s back, while the other found itself buried in inky hair. She caught herself humming a tune from long ago. “I know father was hurt by her, more than the rest of us, even if he refuses to talk about it.” was sobbed into her shoulder.

“I couldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t leave him too. So, I stayed. I stayed and danced, and sang and drank tea from sunrise to sunset and smiled all the while.” her words were thrown back at her and she had to suppress a flinch. They had been intended to hurt, to dig deep, but apparently, they dug further and hurt more than she anticipated. “I pretended like I enjoyed it, like I was happy. But I wanted to go out and see the world outside. I wanted to learn how to wield a sword, how to shoot a bow, but I wasn’t allowed.” firm hands pushed at her shoulders and red eyes looked at her. “Do you see now why I can’t just leave?” she asked.

“Arwen.” she said her name firmly to get the elf’s full attention. “How long do you think you can do this?” she asked softly. “You can’t waste your life away being some pretty little ornament, something to just be looked at.” she said firmly, her eyes searching. “You have been doing this, just simply existing for someone else, for how long? Hundreds of years.”

“Thousands.” Arwen whispered brokenly.

“Merlin’s balls.” she cursed before she could stop herself. “For thousands of years you’ve been merely existing. For thousands of years you’ve been something you are not just because your father couldn’t deal with his wife leaving him. When does it end Arwen? Your father is an adult and if he hasn’t been able to come to terms with what happened by now he never will. When will be the time for you to be selfish? For you to go outside and see the world?” she asked. There was anger in her voice now, because there was something so very familiar in Arwen. Something that a little girl inside her recognized and sympathized with. Except Arwen was pretending just for her father, she had been pretending for the whole wizarding world for so long. If it hadn’t been for her friends and family she would have simply wasted away.

Arwen was in tears again. “You don’t understand!” she shouted back. “I am not like you! I am not a man! Women can’t simply go out and do what they wish! We cannot fight! We should stay at home and just twiddle our thumbs in worry!” and there lay the true problem.

“Morgana’s dirty knickers.” she murmured to herself. She wanted to help her because she knew what it was like. But she saw only one way to do so and she wasn’t sure if she was ready to do that, to reveal herself like that. This could come right back aroun and bite her in the ass. A small ward to discourage anyone from coming near the gazebo was set up, something that told them they had somewhere else to be. “Arwen.” she got her attention again. “There is something I have to show you, but you have to swear to me you will tell this to no one. Swear it.” her eyes were searching her bloodshot ones.

A small chuckle left her. “I do believe we are beyond that point, but yes I do swear not to reveal your secret to anyone.” as soon as she finished her sentence Harley’s magic jumped to comply. A thin golden band warped itself around her wrist. It was made up of many small thinner lines that swirled and curled around each other. Arwen stared at her wrist in surprise, a pale finger ran over golden lines.

“Do not worry, it will just stop you from revealing my secret on accident.” she explained quickly, her nervousness leaking into her voice. She slowly reached for her hood, her hand shaking. She took a deep breath to steady herself before pulling it down. Red hair spilled over her shoulders like liquid fire. She caught Arwen’s eyes as she reached for the cloth covering her lower face. Blue eyes followed her hand as she gripped the thin fabric. There was a gasp as she pulled it down. She cleared her throat before speaking.

“I suppose I should introduce myself now.” she gave a soft smile. Her voice was so much softer and higher now that the enchantment she put on the facemask was no longer changing it. “My full name is Harley Peverell.” she extended her hand to the still shocked elf and waited.

.

Arwen couldn’t help but stare. The first time they had met, in the woods at sword point, Padfoot had seemed so dangerous. The next time they saw each other he came off as cold and distant. Someone who didn’t care about those around him. Someone who kept everything close to their chest. And yet he had read her so easily. Saw right through her within seconds. Made her realize things about herself she denied for so long. He didn’t care about her feelings and told her how things stood to her face. She had felt anger in the pit of her stomach for the man. For the man that saw everything and laid it at her feet. For the man that came and shattered her world, her mask, in just a few words.

‘I am trying to say that somewhere, deep down you also dislike this, just like me.’ she had replayed that one sentence in her head so many times last night. It kept haunting her. Before she even realized it, morning came and she hadn’t slept a wink.

She wasn’t sure what she had hoped to achieve by seeking the man out once more. Perhaps one last attempt at rebuilding her mask. Perhaps to yell at him. Perhaps to convince them both he was wrong. But then she wasn’t sure how to start and when those disturbing, enchanting eyes connected to hers everything just came pouring out. And then he was there, hugging her, calming her, humming an unfamiliar tune to her. It had just made her cry more.

She wasn’t sure what she felt for the man. There was still anger and hate brewing deep down, because he came and complicated things. There was fear, for what he could do with the information she had so freely given. There was also gratitude, because he had made her see. There was also bitterness, because there was no way for her to change things. And then there was no man.

Instead there stood a woman in his place. A small slip of a woman instead of the scary man. A woman with pale skin, fiery hair and the most captivating and disturbing set of eyes she ever saw. Her hair fell over her shoulders in a mess, yet because of the unique color it tricked the eye into thinking it was seeing flames. It looked beautiful even if it was clearly unkempt. Her features were a lot more delicate then Arwen expected. A slim nose with a slight upturn to it at the end. Bowlike light pink lips that looked a bit dry and chewed up as if she pulled at them often. Her cheeks were slightly sunken in, possibly form all the years she spent in the wild taking care of herself. And there was a thin scar, barley even a silver line. It went from her hair line to her brow in a broken line before splitting into many directions. Her whole eyelid was covered in an intricate lacework of scar lines. It was such an expressive and open face she found herself speechless. Her smile, even as soft as it was, lighted up her whole face.

She grabbed the offered hand. “Arwen daughter of Elrond.” she mumbled, still shocked. There was a flash of white teeth as her smile grew. “You are a woman.” the words were out before she could stop them. Harley’s cheeks heated up slightly and she shifted in embarrassment.

“Uhm, yeah.” she shifted again her hand scratching at the back of her head. “But this is why I wanted to show you. Being a woman shouldn’t stop you from doing things you wish.” she explained in a soft tone. And yes, Arwen understood her reasoning. Here was a woman that went out into the world and did what she wished. But, just because she succeeded it didn’t mean Arwen herself would. She knew she wasn’t strong enough to just leave. While her father played the biggest part in her stay, her own fears played a part too. She remembered what happened to her mother when she left and she knew there was a possibility that the same thing would happen to her.

“I can see your point, but I am afraid I am not like yourself Harley. I am not strong enough to just leave Rivendell.” she explained to the woman.

“I understand. The world can be a scary place and there is no guarantee you will be safe, especially on your own. Look I can’t promise you that you will be safe, that nothing bad will happen, but I can promise you that it is all worth it. So, can you at least promise me you will think about it?” she looked at the redhead. Worry was clear in each line of her face, there was also something else there, something Arwen couldn’t put her finger on.

She thought about the request. She doubted she would be able to go back to how things were, not fully at least. But she was sure she didn’t want for things to continue as they had for so long. But was she ready for something completely different? Was she ready to simply leave Rivendell, leave her home, leave the safety, for something uncertain and dangerous, something risky. No, she wasn’t, truth be told, but perhaps someday she will be. So she smiled and nodded. “I can promise that much.” Her smile was returned.

“I have to go pack now. Have a good day, Arwen.” with that the hood and mask were back up and the man was back. “But remember, there is a lot more to life than simply existing.” her voice back to that calm tenor. It was a very convincing mask. And so, Arwen watched Padfoot leave for his room. Many thoughts swirled around in her head, there was a lot she had to decide on.

Chapter Text

She stared down towards the city gates. A lot of elves were waiting nearby to see them off. Most of the Fellowship was already there waiting. Gandalf was sitting on a large stone next to the gates. The old Istari appeared to be carrying nothing but the clothes on his back and his staff, but she knew that with wizards that didn’t mean much. He was puffing on his pipe and seemed to be deep in thought. She could only hope he was considering the best path for them to take instead of a new pair of socks, like certain other old wizards she had known.

Samwise was petting their pack pony, when she looked a bit better she noticed he was whispering something to it. He seemed like a reliable fellow. Merry and Pippin had their heads together above one of their packs. They seemed to be whispering about something or other. A smile took over her lips. She was glad those two were coming with them. From personal experience, she knew they would need someone to lighten the mood on such a perilous journey otherwise tension would grow until the Fellowship broke. Legolas was standing as far away from Gimli as possible, while still being a part of the group. He was looking over his bow and arrows so he could easily ignore Gimli’s not so subtile glares. Aragorn, Frodo and Boromir were still missing.

“Padfoot,” a very familiar call came from behind her. She turned around and tilted her head in question. Arwen smiled softly down at her. “I wish to give you something,” the elf explained. “For good luck on your travels.” She added softly. One of Arwen’s hands lifted hers. Harley caught a flash of silver and green as something was lowered to her palm. It was a necklace with a pendant. A sliver ivy leaf was warped around a small emerald green stone. The pendant hung from a very thin silver chain.

“Arwen, I can’t-“ she was quickly cut off.

“Yes, you can.” Arwen said as she closed Harley’s fingers over the pendant. “It is for good luck.” She repeated. “Besides it reminded me of your eyes,” their eyes met, a clash of pure blue and venomous green. When she saw the stubbornness in Arwen’s eyes a long, heavy sigh left her.

“Do you make it a habit to give away jewelry?” She asked jokingly. A soft smile was her answer. She looked down at the necklace again. It was beautiful and worth more than all of her possessions combined, she was sure. Then a thought occurred to her. “Wait, Aragorn isn’t going to try to drown me in a puddle if he sees this, is he?” She was only half joking. Aragorn still knew her as a man and she had no desire to find out how he would react to this little gift and its possible implications. What could only be the elven equivalent of a snort left Arwen, it was honestly adorable.

“No, he will not.” Arwen seemed highly amused by the mental image. With a small grimace, she nodded and clasped the necklace in place. She pushed it under her shirt and felt it settle under the Resurrection stone. When she looked back up at Arwen the elf was looking down towards the gate. She caught sight of Aragorn speaking to Legolas and understood. “Can I ask something of you…” Arwen turned back to her then “…Harley?” She whispered her name. Immediately she knew this would be serious. Arwen didn’t want to ask this of Padfoot, a mask, but of Harley, the person.

“That depends on what you will ask.” She answered seriously. She was done with blindly agreeing to anything.

“Fasta-, cheb- hon moina…mellon nin, (Please, keep him safe…my friend,)” the word friend caught her off guard. She only just came to terms with Aragorn’s friendship, for Merlin’s sake. She nodded nonetheless.

“Nin nidh-. (I will.)” Arwen smiled softly, her shoulders sagging in relief at her answer.

“Hanta- cin. (Thank you.)” She nodded back at the elf.

“I should go and join them now.” She said faintly, her gaze falling down to the fellowship. Boromir too was making his way to the gates. He still seemed unhappy about the way the council turned out.

“You sound reluctant.” Arwen observed and she couldn’t help but snort.

“What gave it away?” She glanced at the elf over her shoulder. “It is just,” a sigh left her. “It is just going to be a long and dangerous journey and I am afraid that this Fellowship might just fall apart before we even set off.” She admitted. There was no doubt in her mind that everyone in the fellowship was good on their own, but together, by Merlin. “Some of us clash as much as Dumbledore’s wardrobe.” She whispered.

“People like to surprise you at the weirdest of times.” Arwen told her quietly. “Have some faith in them.”

“Is that some of that legendary elven wisdom I’ve heard so much about?” She asked, her tone joking.

“No.” Her blue eyes were full of mirth. “Just a recent observation.” Harley snorted at the jab.

“Fair enough.” She grinned at the elf under her mask. She caught sight of Frodo at that moment. He was deep in thought, his steeps heavy with something. This journey just begun.

.

“The ringbearer is setting out on a quest to Mount Doom.” Elrond spoke slowly, his face serious and his voice heavy. He kept slowly looking from one member of the fellowship to another, meeting each gaze with determination. “And you, who travel with him, no bond and no oath is laid to go further than you will.” She saw some straighten at his words. She wasn’t sure what the purpose of his words was. Her first guess was that it was some form of elven ritual for good luck, but she detected no magic. Perhaps it was supposed to give them hope or strength, or perhaps make those who doubted reconsider.

Harley looked to Arwen for just a moment. She was the only elf showing emotion. All other faces were set on the same expression of seriousness. In contrast Arwen’s nervous stance and sad eyes filled with unshed tears seamed out of place. The elf seemed small in comparison. As Arwen’s gaze met hers, her hand went to her chest, over the ivy pendant. The silver felt cold against her skin. She gave a small bow with her head, she wanted to show the elf she would honor her promise. Arwen took a deep breath and drew herself up to her full height. Harley’s hand fell away, her message received.

“Farewell. Hold to your purpose.” Her attention turned back to Elrond as the elf continued. “May the blessings of elves and men and all free folk go with you,” his face seemed to soften as he said his last words of farewell and gazed at them all. From the corner of her eye she caught sight of Gandalf, Aragorn and Legolas putting their hands over their hearts and bowing their heads. It seemed like this was some form of elven ritual or tradition for long journeys after all. She also saw Boromir look to Legolas in confusion and disbelief before he turned his confused eyes to her. She just shrugged back at him. He shook his head. The hobbits remained oblivious.

“The fellowship awaits the ringbearer.” Gandalf said, his voice serious. It sounded to her as if the line was rehearsed before. Definitely some form of elven tradition.

Frodo slowly turned back towards them. His posture was firm. He slowly looked to each one of them as he passed, they all followed. “Mordor, Gandalf, is it left, or right?” she heard the hobbit whisper and could barely contain her laughter. Someone bumped into her and she looked up to see amusement fill Aragorn’s eyes. “Left.” Gandalf’s voice was serious, yet there was still a hint of laughter. This was bound to be an interesting journey.

She almost followed after the fellowship, but she felt Aragorn stop and turn back around. She, too, stopped and waited. She saw him look to Arwen and for a long moment she thought he might just stay. Arwen seemed to think so too as hope filled her gaze. But then Aragorn gave a small, slow nod and turned away. His face was somber as he passed her. She glanced back to Arwen only to see the elf sink back into herself as more tears gathered in her eyes. And with that their journey began.

.

Harley ended up walking next to Gimli, the two of them falling back towards the end of the Fellowship. Only Aragorn was behind them, but she noticed he wished to be alone, so she had hurried her step until she reached the dwarf. She glanced back to Aragorn. His eyes were downcast, it was as if he was grieving a great loss, as if that was the last time he would see Arwen. With a low sigh, she turned back. Gimli kept glancing up at her.

“Yes, master dwarf?” she asked him finally, having endured enough suspicious glances.

“Why you walking with me lad?” his gruff voice asked.

She tilted her head. ‘My friend is a brooding mess right now,’ didn’t seem like an acceptable answer here. She caught sight of light blonde hair moving in the breeze and grinned. “You seem like a good elf repellant.” She answered startling a rough laugh out of the dwarf.

“Oh, and why would you want something like that? Why do you dislike them?” inquired the dwarf.

“Paranoia.” Was her simple answer. “You?”

The dwarf huffed at her. “Too much blood between our races.” She nodded at that. She noticed he liked to drag and roll his r’s. His voice was also rough and booming, like stone hitting stone.

“That friend of yours, he seems to like them.” She glanced back to Aragorn at that.

“Aragorn? I suppose so.” she answered slowly. “He was raised by the elves, hard not to like them then I suppose.” she continued. Gimli snorted at her answer.

“Ha! And I thought he was normal.” The dwarf declared, startling a laugh out of her.

“He has been a ranger most of his life.” she said in defense of Aragorn’s normality. Gimli snorted at her.

“What’s wrong with him now?”

“Not on me to say, master dwarf.” She deflected the question easily. “You will have to ask him and if he wishes to share his troubles, he will tell you,” she explained further. “What about you master dwarf? What brought you to Rivendell?” She offered, Gimli seemed like someone easy to get along with, so she wished to continue their conversation.

The dwarf looked at her, his gaze penetrating. He was looking for something, she supposed, but what she didn’t know. He came to his decision and with a nod started his tale. “A messenger” he spat out the word, “of Sauron’s came to the Lonely Mountain. He offered us friendship,” he snarled at the word “if we told him any news of a hobbit bearing a Ring. Now the King under the Mountain ain’t dumb lad, he knew of such a hobbit, but he was a friend. So, he sent the messenger away, said he would think ‘bout it, but he also sent us, me and my father, you see. We were to go to Rivendell, warn Bilbo and talk to the elf ‘bout the whole thing. We don’t like the elves, but when it comes to the likes of Sauron and Mordor, well, let us just agree that the elves have more experience.” The dwarf explained.

“What about you lad? What brought you to Rivendell?” requested Gimli. A story for a story she supposed.

“I helped escort Frodo to Rivendell.” she began. “We met them in Bree, Black Riders were closing in on them. Fortunately, we managed to evade them. Sadly, not for long. They caught up with us at the watchtower of Amon Sûl. Aragorn and I fought them but we were outnumbered. One of them slipped past us and got to Frodo. I tried to help him but I had no experience in dealing with a Morgul blade. He could have become a wraith if Arwen hadn’t found us and taken him ahead. And from there the five of us made our way to Rivendell. The Nazgûl hadn’t cared about us, only the Ring.” She finished her tale. Her eyes caught Gimli’s and the dwarf seemed to freeze for just a moment, before shaking it off with a grumble.

“You had a more interesting journey than us it seems.” He gruffly remarked.

“Ay. I suppose we did,” she agreed with a small laugh.

“Really, we didn’t even encounter bandits. Oh, if I had been with you I would have bashed a Nazgûl’s skull in with me axe.” He told her as he gripped his axe tighter.

“I am sure you would have,” she looked towards the front of the fellowship. “You might just get your chance to do so, master dwarf.”

“Ah, it’s Gimli lad.”

“Padfoot then.”

.

She dropped her five stone slabs to the ground and sat down cross legged. They had just stopped for the night. The camp was already set up and Legolas had been sent out to hunt for fresh meat. She threw a quick look around the camp. Boromir was sharpening his sword. Merry and Pippin were bothering Sam as the hobbit tried to find something in his large pack. Gandalf was puffing on his pipe as both he and Frodo stared at the fire. Her gaze stopped on Frodo. The little hobbit had the hardest task of them all. She might be able to do something to ease his burden, but it had to wait for now. She couldn’t see Aragorn, as the man had murmured something about scouting the area and then disappeared into the woods. And Gimli was over in the bushes…taking care of business.

With a shake of her head she got back to work. She twitched her finger and a small chip of wood was floating near her head. Two whispered words later and the chip was engulfed in Bluebell flames. She needed better light than what the camp fire provided for her work. Bluebell flames would also burn on their own and levitating a small piece of wood was less work than keeping a Lumos going at the tip of her wand or fingertip.

She had only started drawing the first rune in chalk when she felt two someones loom over her. “Yes? Merry? Pippin?” She asked the two with a sigh, dropping her work for now.

“What is that Padfoot?” Asked Merry, nodding to the Bluebell flame next to her. She saw Pippin’s fingers twitch towards the flame and smiled. The two had a childlike curiosity about them that was endearing.

“That, my dear hobbit, is a Bluebell flame. It is a magical flame, waterproof and completely harmless to anything not plant based.” To demonstrate her point, she removed her glove and ran her hand slowly through the flame. All she felt was soft warmth. “So yes, Pippin, you can touch it.” She smiled at the hobbit as he ran his finger through the flames, very slowly, before laughing.

“Look Merry!” He said his voice filled with excitement as his fingers passed through the flame once again.

And as Merry also ran his hand through the flame and laughed, she realized she wouldn’t be able to get back to her work with the two hovering over her. With that thought she grabbed her expanded bag and summoned a jar from within. A murmur and a twitch of her fingers later and the jar was filled with soft blue flames.

“Here you go, you two.” She said as she handed the jar to Pippin. “Now leave me to my work.” With a nod at her the two shuffled back over to Sam to show off. She smiled softly as she watched the two talk to Sam. Her eyes turned to the third hindrance to her work. “I assume you want your own jar?” She asked The Grey Wizard.

He let out a puff from his pipe that turned into a bird and flew off before answering her. “I am more interested in what you are doing with this,” he tapped at the stone slab on her lap with the end of his pipe. She glanced down at the first line she drew. At this rate, she wouldn’t get any work done.

“I am making a simple ward. It will be tied to these stones and if I do it just right it should be portable and take less than half an hour to set up and dismantle.” She explained.

“And what shall this ward of yours do?” The wizard was back to puffing on his pipe but she had his full attention.

“It won’t be able to keep anyone out, if that is what you’re thinking. For something like that I would need a better base stone than just regular river stone, more time and a permanent residence, I’m afraid. This will be better than me setting up the wards without the stones, more solid, I suppose, and durable. This will simply tell anyone that doesn’t know about the camp that they really don’t need to be going this way. They will be able to resist the impulse if they really try to, mind you. It will also warn us about anyone coming within it. Well, it will definitely alert me. I should be able to key you into it and I might be able to key Legolas and Aragorn into it as well.” She explained to the wizard.

“And why is that? Why just the four of us and not everyone in the fellowship?” He had stopped smoking at some point during her explanation and was now giving her his full attention.

“Magic,” she said with a shrug. “The ward is magical and so it needs something magical to latch onto, dormant or otherwise.”

Gandalf hummed in thought. “I can understand myself and Legolas, as I am a wizard and all elves have dormant magic. But Aragorn?” He asked and she nodded at his observation.

“I have seen Aragorn heal a few rangers over the years. Don’t get me wrong he uses the traditional means, but his patient always heal faster than if anyone else would have healed them. I have sensed a touch of magic every time he heals. I suspect he does so subconsciously, but it is still there and still answers his call.” She told the wizard. “So yes, I might also be able to key him into the ward.” The wizard just nodded at her answer and then went back to his pipe, his gaze far away in thought.

She went back to her work. She was able to finish only the first symbol in chalk when she was distracted again. “What does that symbol mean?” Gandalf asked making her sigh in frustration.

“Look, I would feel a lot better if I could set these up as soon as possible. But runes require full concentration, otherwise I might screw something up and the stone will blow up in my face. I don’t fancy losing an eye to stone shrapnel so can you please let me do my work.” She snapped up at the wizard. As the wizard’s face fell, she could honestly say she felt bad for snapping at him. “Alright,” she gave in and Gandalf’s face brightened immediately. Manipulative old coot. “How about you let me finish the ward and I will explain everything after I’m done.” Before the wizard could interject she added. “And yes, I’ll answer any questions you have.”

After a moment of thought he asked. “And how long do you think you’ll need to finish?”

“Two or three days. Depends on how much time I’ll have.” She gave the wizard a pointed glare that made him chuckle.

“That sounds like an acceptable deal.” He answered and went back to his pipe, but he didn’t move away from her. Harley gave him a suspicious look.

“You still want your own jar of flames, don’t you?”

“That would be most appreciated, yes.”

.

They had stopped for lunch this time. Just a short rest before they move on. She doubted she would have gotten much work done on the ward stones so she decided to take care of her knifes instead. She found the action calming, unfortunately she noticed she was almost out of oil. “Here.” Someone said as a bottle was offered to her. She looked up and met eyes with Boromir’s light blue ones.

“Thank you,” she said while slowly taking the bottle form his hand. “How did you-“ She began to ask but was cut off.

“You were glaring at your bottle.” Answered Boromir as the man sat down. She huffed at his answer. Boromir took one of her knifes and started inspecting it. “Throwing knives?” He asked and she shrugged up at him.

“I used to have a bow and arrows, but I find these easier to carry and conceal.” She explained. Boromir nodded and then joined her in cleaning her knives. She raised an eyebrow at his behavior, but said nothing. The two of them lapsed into a comfortable silence. She noticed that one of her older and less used knives had rusted a bit at the dull edge.

Just as she started to remove the rust a large hand grabbed her wrist. “No, no you are doing it wrong.” Said Boromir gaining a glare from her.

“And how am I, pray tell, doing it wrong?” She asked harshly.

“You are using too much pressure,” he explained. “Here, let me show you.” And with that the knife was out of her hand and in Boromir’s. She watched the man gently work. The rust seemed to slowly melt away and all that was left behind was shiny metal. “Here,” he returned the knife to her. She turned it over a few times. “Weren’t you taught proper weapon maintenance?” He asked as he watched her.

She felt her cheeks heat up. “Erm, no,” she squeaked out. Boromir raised an eyebrow at her. “I mean, no. No, I wasn’t. I’m self-taught.” She answered.

Boromir scoffed down at her as he glanced at her sword, which lay down on the ground in its sheath next to her. “And is your sword wielding also self-taught?” He demanded of her. She snorted at him.

“No. I was taught.”

“I find that doubtful. A proper teacher would have taught you sword maintenance too.” His tone was mocking.

“There was no need for it.” She remarked. “The knives came after and the sword doesn’t require maintenance like this.” She explained. Honestly even if she had wished to learn actual sword maintenance she had been better off asking the house elf. She doubted that a pureblooded wizard such as her teacher would have known such a thing.

Boromir snorted at her answer. “What kind of sword doesn’t need to be maintained?” He demanded of her.

“A magical one,” she glared up at him.

“Is that your answer to everything? Magic?” He demanded again.

She snorted back. “No, of course not. Magic cannot solve all your problems, but it helps in most cases.”

Blue eyes searched hers for a long moment before Boromir nodded at her answer. “So…how do you take care of your sword?” He asked her, she could see the curiosity in his eyes.

“I make sacrifices to it.” She answered, her tone serious. Boromir stiffened at her answer and pulled a face that made her burst out in laughter. “Not like that,” she said between breaths, Boromir relaxed and glared at her. “By Merlin, that was my reaction too.” That seemed to do the trick as a small smile pulled at his lips, it was barely noticeable but still there. “What I mean is that I sacrifice my magic to it, otherwise it would draw on the magic around it and that isn’t recommended. Can be risky in some cases.” She explained.

“Here, look.” She said as she lifted the sword into her lap and pulled it out slightly so that the blade was visible. She feed it a tiny bit of her magic and the sword seemed to hum in satisfaction, the blade gave of a small glow in appreciation.

“It is beautiful.” Said the man next to her as his hand went towards the blade. She quickly snapped it back into it sheath.

“Better not, the blade has venom in it. So, we better not risk it,” she explained at his look. “You did cut yourself on the shards of Narsil,” she teased making the man huff at her.

“And why does it have venom in it? Doesn’t seem very honorable.”

“Wasn’t my decision,” she explained and got a raised eyebrow for her efforts. “Let’s just say that I killed something very venomous and the sword decided that it wanted some of that.” She could see he wasn’t satisfied with her answer but he nodded none the less. That is when Sam called them to lunch.

.

She let out a slow sigh and relaxed her body fully. The ward stones were finally finished. And she had just enough time to set it all up before they went to sleep. Well, set it up, key Gandalf into the ward and explain it all to the old wizard. She lifted her head and looked for the wizard. He was sitting by the fire, puffing on his pipe as per usual.

“Gandalf,” she called gaining the wizard’s attention. “I have finished.” She explained as she lifted one of the stone slabs. “Do you want me to explain now or some other time?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Now would be fine, if you agree,” the wizard said and she nodded. He got up and then sat next to her.

“Alright. Uhm, where to start?” She asked herself.

“At the beginning would be preferable,” she glared at the wizard as he gave her a teasing smile.

“At the beginning, then. This is the center stone,” she began as she lifted the first stone. “We know it is the center stone because the runes on it branch out in all directions. This big symbol in the middle represents balance.” She said as she tapped her finger next to the symbol. “Do you see how these runes crate a chain of sorts?” She asked. Gandalf nodded and she continued. “Those four chains will connect to the other four stones. North, South, East and West respectively.” She pointed out each line as she mentioned them. “This is also why those symbols are slightly bigger than the rest. They are what is keeping the ward together so they need to be a little stronger than the rest. Now the rest of these symbols, represent what you want the ward to do. That is also why they are smaller and spaced further apart,” she put down the center stone and took the second one.

“Now this is the north stone. You can recognize it by this big symbol here, which basically means north. And we know it is one of the outer stones by two things. One, the runes spread only in thee directions. And two, by these two thin tight chains of runes to the left and the right of the north rune,” she explained as she ran her finger along each rune chain. “These two chains represent the outer edge of the ward, basically the outside ring of it. I wrote them this small and tightly packed because that is how you want the magic of ward to be. As tightly packed as you can make it so it is harder to break. And of course, you again have this chain which connects the north stone and the center stone. And you also have these smaller runes which give the ward its purpose. All the outer stones are made in a similar way.” And with that she finished her explanation.

She looked at Gandalf. He was slowly puffing on his pipe, but his eyes were running along the stone in her lap. “Any questions?” She asked.

Gandalf hummed. “How would you make the ward stronger?”

“There are multiple ways of doing so. The easiest one is getting a better base stone. The harder the material the better. Diamond would be the best choice, but it is hard to find one big enough, much less multiple. You can also tie the ward to a plot of land,” she said. “You can also change the number of outer stones. Some also try to draw on the magic of numbers, but that is a double-edged sword. Numbers have a tendency to strengthen some things and weaken others. It is always a case of what you want more. And then there is the way that sets apart the masters and the average ward makers, layering and connecting your rune chains,” she answered.

“How would you go about layering chains?” Asked Gandalf, his bushy eyebrows coming together in a frown.

“You don’t actually put layers of chains on top of each other,” she said with a chuckle. “That is just the best way to explain it. It is all one chain, but you make it so it can be read in multiple ways. Left to right, right to left, upside down and so on. And if you have a see-through base, like diamond, you can engrave the runes inside the stone. This way you add another dimension to your ward stone and a whole other level of complication.” She explained. “This is why even the most experienced masters prefer to connect their chains than layer them. With connecting you just begin one chain in a different one and you are done. Chains can also cross, but that is still a lot easier than layering.” She fished her explanation.

Gandalf hummed in thought and puffed on his pipe. She stretched and heard her back give a bunch of satisfying pops. “That is all I can teach you right now.” Gandalf’s eyes were on her now, a question clear in his eyes. “I could teach you the meaning of each rune and how to connect them, but right now we don’t have the time.” She explained and got a nod in return.

“Understandable, once everything is over perhaps?” He smiled at her.

“Perhaps,” she agreed. “I’m going to set the ward up and then I can try to key you in. I’ll do Legolas and Aragorn tomorrow.” She said as she got up, the stone slabs in her hands.

Gandalf chuckled at her. “As you wish.” The wizard took another puff before suddenly looking up at her. “Ah, Padfoot. You wouldn’t mind telling me where you learned all of this?” The wizard asked.

She stiffened at his words. “I…I would rather not talk about that.”

Gandalf gave a slow nod. “I understand. We feel some things are better left in the past,” he told her. “I still hope you will tell me one-day Padfoot.” And with that he turned back to the fire and their conversation was over.

.

She woke up with a start. There was no reason for it. No bad dream, no one disturbing the ward. One moment she was in deep sleep and the other she was awake. She sat up slowly, stretching her body this and that way and hearing her joints crack. This was the second night of the ward being up and the first night she got a decent sleep since they left Rivendell. She rubbed at her eyes as she stumbled to her feet. Toilet, she needed a toilet now.

Keying Gandalf into the ward had been easy, the man was a wizard after all. Now keying Legolas and Aragorn had been a nightmare. First, she had to explain the whole thing to them. Aragorn accepted the whole thing, no problem there, now Legolas needed a bit of extra convincing. In the end, she had to key in Aragorn first and only when Legolas saw that he didn’t spontaneously combust did he agree. Not to mention she had to draw the magic from their blood herself because neither one of them could use it consciously.

She stumbled back to the camp. “What in Arda, is that thing on your head?” Legolas’s melodic voice greeted her. She opened her eyes to look at the elf. His expression was filled with disgust as he looked at the top of her head.

Her hand immediately went to her head…only to glare at the elf. “It is my hair.” Her hood must have slipped off sometime during the night.

“That isn’t hair. It resembles a bird’s nest more.” Legolas told her in disbelief.

“Well I don’t exactly have the time to keep it all nice and tidy.” Her hair was stubborn and keeping it all nice and straight took time, time she didn’t have. Not to mention it also needed a special potion. The elf’s eyes met hers and she snapped. “Okay, that is it I’m cutting it off.” She said as she stomped towards her pack.

“Wait, don’t.” Legolas said before he could stop himself.

“And why not? You were glaring at it a minute ago,” she demanded, but no answer came. “This is an elf thing, isn’t it?” She asked.

“Perhaps you could braid it.” Was the answer she got.

She rolled her eyes. “I tried that once. My fingers got tangled in it and I had to cut it off anyway.” Legolas frowned at her before looking back to her hair.

“Are you sure you are not a dwarf?” The elf remarked and she bristled.

“Now listen here-“ she started but was cut off.

“Ay. It does look a lot like dwarven hair.” Both of them looked towards Gimli. “Come here lad, I’ll see what I can do. Would be a shame to cut it all off.” The dwarf said gruffly. She and Legolas exchanged a look. She slowly sat down in front of the dwarf, still very unsure of what was happening. She felt Gimli’s fingers comb through her hair a few times as the dwarf muttered to himself. “Do ya have a comb lad?” He asked and she slowly nodded still very unsure of what was happening.

She summoned her bag and pulled out a comb. “Here.”

“Hmm, it will have to do,” the dwarf nodded to himself. She felt both Gimli’s fingers and the comb slowly untangle her mess of a hair.

“I…erm…can you put it all into one braid?” She asked slowly.

“Sure can, if ya want it that way,” the dwarf answered before getting back to work.

She met eyes with Boromir, he looked as confused as she felt. “I wish I could say this is one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me, but it isn’t even in the top ten.” That got her a snort in return and she grinned.

The rest of the fellowship started to slowly wake up. They all gave the two of them curious and confused glances, but none commented. Sam had started on breakfast when the dwarf handed her back her comb. “Here lad. Looks better now.” She immediately summoned a piece of wood and transfigured it into a mirror.

Her hair didn’t look better. “It actually looks good,” she said in surprise as she looked over the braid. “Thank you, Gimli.” She said to the dwarf while still gazing at her reflection in astonishment.

“It was nothing. I’ve seen worse on little dwarflings.” The dwarf chuckled at her.

She shook her head to get back on track. “I better go and dismantle the ward.” She transfigured the mirror back into wood before getting up. She needed to remove the outer stones first so she headed for the north one, only to bump into Aragorn on the way. “Ah pardon me,” she said still a bit dazed. Aragorn smiled down at her. He witnessed the whole thing and knew how confused she was, she was sure of it. She glared up at him.

His smile suddenly fell. One of his fingers went to her brow. She frowned in confusion. Then he traced a familiar pattern on her forehead and down to her brow and she froze. “What happened here?” He asked, voice low.

Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him. “Something bad,” she swallowed before pulling away from his touch. “I don’t…I can’t…” She tried to explain, but no words came to her, so she just brushed past him. That memory was still a very painful one, she had been through too much because of that damn scar.

.

Aragorn watched Padfoot walk away from him. His hood was back up and his back was stiff. That was the first time he saw what was under that hood. He still hadn’t seen most of his face, but he now knew Padfoot’s hair color. Red, like fire. He was merely looking over what he could see of Padfoot, this new piece of the puzzle, when he saw it. A thin silvery scar that started on his forehead and covered most of his brow and eyelid. Normally you couldn’t see it, but with light shining so clearly onto it, it was hard to miss.

Once he had asked why there was no scar left behind when Padfoot healed a wound. The man had said that magic took care of that, but that some wounds still left a scar. Deep wounds, ones that would lead to death if not treated immediately and wounds done by dark magic. That was why Frodo had a thin scar now. And what ever happened to Padfoot looked bad and he worried for his friend.

.

They had stopped for lunch among some large rocks. A small cooking fire was set up and Sam was bent over it. She sat on one of the higher flat rocks. She had a good view of Boromir and Aragorn training Merry and Pippin in sword fighting. She was currently working on a way that could help Frodo resist the Ring, but it was slow going. She smiled as she watched the two hobbits train. She could hear Gimli complaining to Gandalf. She listened with half an ear to their conversation.

“Sorry!” Boromir’s voice caught her attention. She turned back towards the four only to see Boromir get tackled to the ground by the two hobbits. She joined into their laughter as she watched Merry and Pippin push at the man.

“Pippin and Merry, that is enough.” She watched Aragorn walk over to try and stop the mock fight. He tried to pull the two hobbits away only for them to pull his legs right from under him. She almost fell of her rock from laughter. Aragorn groaned as he slowly got up.

“So, you think this is funny?” The man asked her as he straightened up. Behind him Boromir fought the hobbits to get up.

“Hysterical.” She answered back between large gulps of air.

“Let’s see how you like it.” Aragorn grinned at her.

“What? Wait, no, no, no, Arago-“ She tried to get away, but was too slow. The large brute actually tackled her off her rock. She groaned. What was that idiot thinking, she was tiny in comparison. She could have been crushed. And the ground was very hard. She heard traitorous laughter come from behind them. “Auch…” She said slowly as Aragorn pulled his weight off her.

“What is that?” She heard Sam ask as Aragorn stood up and offered her a hand.

“Nothing, it is just a wisp of cloud.” Gimli’s gruff voice answered. She was easily pulled to her feet. Both of them looked towards this so-called cloud.

“It is moving fast…against the wind.” She heard Boromir say. This didn’t look good. Not good at all.

“Crebain from Dunland!” Yelled Legolas.

“Hide!” Yelled Aragorn. Everyone exploded into action. She heard someone douse the fire. Everyone grabbed their packs and other loose objects and ducked under bushes or rocks. She herself grabbed her bag and ducked under the nearest bush. Within seconds everyone was hidden and the crebain were flying above them. The crebain looked like regular crows to her, except they made this awful noise. This sort of squawking and croaking noise that grated against your very nerves. And just as quickly as they came, the crebain moved on away from them.

“Spies of Saruman.” Said Gandalf as everyone got out of their hiding place. “The passage south is being watched.” The wizard continued as everyone gathered around him. “We must take The Pass of Caradhras.” He said as he turned towards a tall mountain behind them. A very tall and very much covered in snow mountain. Oh, he had to be kidding.