Default Disclaimer: Both Harry Potter and Tolkienverse belong to people who have lived in Britain one time or another. I have never so much stepped foot on the British Isles.


Back to the Beginning


Chapter Sixteen

Of Warring Wizards


The glint in Aragorn's grey eyes did not bode well for Harry the Horse. Just barely, Harry resisted the impulse to shy away from the Ranger, as most nervous horses would have tended to do. He also refrained from rearing on his hind legs as an intimidation tactic.

It wouldn't work anyway. This was Aragorn.

As he had neared the gates in horse form with Théodred's party, Harry's eyes had flitted around, checking for Legolas; when the Elven prince had proven to be absent from this party, Harry got a sinking feeling. He had secretly been hoping to see Legolas and beg forgiveness for his deception and get it all over with. The thought that Legolas thought he was dead bothered him, but more than that, Galadriel's ominous suggestion that Legolas might fade with either grief or guilt nagged at his mind.

Nonetheless, catching Aragorn's eye again, Harry didn't think it would be very prudent to turn back into his Maia form right now.

Aragorn took another step closer to Harry but thankfully, Théodred came to the rescue, albeit unwittingly. The prince nodded at Aragorn. "I do not believe we have met before."

Turning, Aragorn nodded back and replied in a polite but frank tone, "We have not."

With a shrewd eye, Harry flicked his tail and waited to see how Aragorn, apparently still hesitant about owning his identity as the rightful King of Gondor, would introduce himself to the prince. To Harry's displeasure, Boromir saved Aragorn from the trouble. "This is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain."

With a look of surprise, Théodred exclaimed, "A Dúnedain! Truly? I thought that your kind had long disappeared. 'Tis an honour to meet you. Come, I bid you welcome, on my father's behalf."

When the group began to head in through the gates, Harry breathed a sigh of relief and finally transfigured himself back, but winced when Aragorn said without turning around, "We'll talk later, Holly."

His tone of voice made Harry swallow somewhat nervously, but he didn't have long to dwell on Aragorn's dark promises as he was besieged by two hooded hobbits. "Merry! Pippin!" Harry cried out in surprise. "What are you guys doing here?"

"We split up. They said that it would be too difficult to travel to Mordor, four hobbits in tow." Pippin said glumly.

Merry looked equally gloomy, but he reasoned with his friend, "They only did what they thought was best. They can hardly protect four hobbits all together."

Though Harry was indignant on the hobbit's behalf that they had been separated, he understood the reasoning behind the act. He comforted them the best he could as they walked through the gates.

"But you gave us such a fright!" Merry suddenly exclaimed. "Gandalf told us you'd died trying to revive him!"

"And he looked so serious while he said it too." Pippin attempted to imitate Gandalf's face when he had announced Harry's so-called 'death'.

Managing to disguise a full-out laugh into a hacking cough at the imitation, Harry made out, "That old man does tend toward the dramatics, but I don't blame him. I did lose my physical body for some time. Took me a few days to regain my body." Harry added to himself in a grouchy mutter, "And I was as naked as the day I was born when I did."

Nearly every male within hearing distance reddened. Aragorn, on the other hand, turned to give him a sideways look, his profile inscrutable.

Harry hastily changed the subject, "How were your travels? You weren't attacked by anything?"

Merry answered, "Surprisingly, no."

"No wraiths, no orcs, nothing." Pippin added.

Sataressë's goal of keeping the dúnedan safe had apparently been successful. Even though he'd done all the physical work. Harry stared two resentful holes into the back of said dúnedan's head. '…Ungrateful prat…'

Switching tracks of his thoughts, Harry was now worried about Frodo's party… but they had Gandalf, now the White Istari. They were not completely defenseless. Or so he hoped.

Before they could enter the throne room, the guards stopped them, even the prince. "You must leave your weapons here. No man may carry his weapon inside."

Realizing that the guard was addressing him as well, Théodred snarled, "I'm the prince. Would I attempt to take the life of my own father?"

Apologetically, the guard almost shuffled his feet on the ground. "King's orders, my prince. We cannot disobey them."

Looking agitated, Théodred cried out, "The King's orders, the King's orders! It was Wormtongue, was it not?"

Now the guard did shuffle his feet. "Orders are orders, my lord."

Théodred unbuckled his sword-belt and threw it down. Boromir and Aragorn followed suit, albeit a bit more sedately. The dúnadan, however, had the protectiveness over the blade Harry had made for him and informed the guards outside that if a single finger were to be laid upon it, he would pay dearly for it. And that went for the same for the sheath that the Elves had wrought for him.

Harry, on the other hand, made to brazenly enter without even bothering to relinquish his sword, A guard stopped him from entering, however. "Your sword, milady."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Your words were 'no man may carry his weapon inside,' I believe." He turned to the guard and smiled disarmingly. "Do I look like a man to you?"

The guard flushed. "It was a blanket statement, really, milady, I meant – "

"Then don't specify a specific gender." Harry said shortly, thrusting his sword into the hands of the flustered guard and proceeding to follow after the prince and his men.

Merry and Pippin too, unbuckled their own short swords and handed them over to the guard.

More than a few of the guards were surprised at Théodred's early return, hastily bowing and the herald practically sprinted to the throne room to announce the prince's return.

"What's the point?" Théodred muttered, "He won't recognize me anyway. He doesn't recognize any of us. He's become a puppet of Gríma Wormtongue." Sending a backwards look towards Harry, he said, "To be honest, this was why I wanted you to return with us, Lady Holly. In the small hope that you may bring my father back to his senses."

With this vague description of the possibly magical ailment, Harry ran through a list of spells that might restore the King's health. Théodred made his father's condition sound awfully like an Imperius curse, except for the fact that people were noticing it. An Imperius curse was designed to have the person under control but in a much more subtle, if not undetectable manner. This sounded like anything but.

Besides, his previous world's brand of magic didn't exist in Arda.

They arrived at the throne room and Merry and Pippin came to a sudden hush as they saw an exceedingly old man sitting on the throne. A pale man clad in black sat next to him, whispering in his ear.

Harry took in the scene, and could hardly keep from raising his eyebrows as he looked at the king. Even Gandalf didn't look that old, discounting the fact he was Istari and therefore inclined to be quite fitter than the normal old man. The King looked, for a lack of a better word, decrepit, as his watery blue eyes stared forward blankly. Finished examining the King, Harry shifted his eyes to the pale man sitting at the King's right hand.

Théodred strode forward, face expression a mixture of anger, pity, and heart wrenching sadness. "Father, the Orcs and Dunlendings have been defeated at the Fords of Isen. They took us by surprise, but we were victorious." The pale man shifted and Harry's eyes narrowed. "I've returned." When the King showed no signs of answering, the prince repeated with a thread of desperation in his voice, "Your son is home."

The pale man leant into the King's ear and whispered, "Your son thinks you frail and old, unfit for the throne. He wishes to usurp you."

Of course, among his comrades, only Harry could hear this poisonous lie. But obviously the King believed the lie.

"…You…" Théodred looked up in hope; the King was clearly struggling to speak, "You are… no son of mine…"

A stunned silence followed that statement. The pale man looked triumphant, while Théodred and his guard looked aghast; the King had exhausted his energy to speak.

The pale man stood up and walked forward. "You heard his majesty, my… prince." he sneered the last word. "You are no longer welcome here; his majesty has disowned you."

Théodred clenched his fists. "Gríma Wormtongue! Is this how you managed to exile my cousin Éomer as well?" As he made to attack the slimy looking man with his bare hands, the King's guards drew their swords. At this, the prince's forces surrounded their prince.

"Cousin!" cried out a woman's voice, and Théodred turned around to see a woman with long blonde hair rush out from the halls.

"Éowyn!"

At the woman's appearance, the tension became immediately less tangible. Which was good, as the tension was distracting.

Harry could sense no magic powers from the man apparently named Gríma Wormtongue. This Wormtongue was obviously the influence, but not the source of the now clearly magical illness the King of Rohan suffered from. Taking a step closer to the throne, Harry fixed his attention on the King once more. The magic that emanated from the King felt familiar to Harry – it was of a distant Maiar origin. Istar, to be precise.

"Curumo." Harry murmured. It was a name of a Maiar he once knew, a Maia under Aulë. Curumo had been prone to jealousy, jealousy Sataressë herself had borne the brunt of when Curumo thought that Aulë favored Sataressë over him. Which was preposterous; Aulë was generous with his knowledge and taught anyone with the desire to learn. It was not too much of a stretch to think that Curumo had been sent to Arda as an Istari and was using his powers to possess the current King of Rohan. And that greasy looking git beside the King was taking advantage of the situation. He was probably a spy, given the discomfort he had shown at the pronouncement of Rohan's victory at the Fords of Isen.

Harry started to sing what few stanzas he knew of the Song of Healing, but he hadn't even finished the first stanza when the King of Rohan – or rather, the Istari possessing him – began to laugh. "You – you're the one who's been migrating like a flighty bird and killing my Uruk-Hai, aren't you? You think you can sing me out of this body?" He gave another cackle.

Harry narrowed his eyes. He had suspected, but now he was sure: Curumo was Saruman.

Harry and Sataressë thought the same thing and one of them – Harry wasn't sure which – voiced it. "Aulë would be disappointed, Curumo."

The King possessed by Saruman flinched and his eyes widened in horror. "Nurundil?"

The corners of Harry's mouth tightened, but both he and Sataressë acknowledged the title. "Yes, and as the Judge of the Dead's sole Satar, I know his songs." He continued to approach. "Many of the songs would expel you from the body of the King."

The King – Saruman – leaned forward precariously, "Ah, yes, but if I leave, Théoden dies."

"Not if I can help it." Harry said grimly. "I can see his fëa, and it's a fair bit younger than the shell you have him trapped in." 'Plus, a human's hröa is a lot easier to knit than an Istar's hröa.' Harry added to himself.

Gripping the arms of the throne he sat on, Saruman snarled, "Rohan is mine."

"It is not, nor will it ever be. I had thought envy your only vice, but it seems I was wrong, for I now see you are blinded with greed as well. You have fallen far, Curumo," was the calm reply, before Harry sang the Song of Death and Binding that he had used on the Balrog, carefully targeting only Saruman's fëa, now that he remembered how.

Perhaps Saruman had heard the song before and knew what it was, or he had maintained the wisdom he was once renown for, for he fled from the body of Théoden.


Aragorn


Everybody in the throne room watched with baited breath as Théoden became younger, healthier, and stronger. Théodred, along with the maiden who had called him cousin, sprinted over to Théoden. As they had their reunion, Aragorn looked at Holly, who watched the partial family reunion with… was that envy?

A Maia who craved a family. Another anomaly, though there was Melian and Thingol. But Holly didn't seem the least bit romantically inclined, and Aragorn winced for Legolas.

Which brought him back to the present questions he needed to ask Holly. How had she survived?

His thoughts were interrupted when Théoden slowly stood up from the throne. "Dark have been my dreams of late. But now things do not seem so bleak. Do I remember correctly when I hear you say that you prevailed against the orcs and Dunlendings?" When Théodred nodded, Théoden sighed in both relief and regret, it seemed, for he said, "Would that I were strong and on the battlefield once more. I am proud of you, son."

Théodred reminded his father, "Your fingers would remember their strength better if they were to grasp your sword hilt." He motioned for the commander, who had held back from the encounter between Holly and whatever it was that possessed Théoden, to bring forth Théoden's sword.

Théoden flexed his fingers before drawing his sword. In a surprisingly quick movement, he had the sword tip pointed at Gríma Wormtongue. "Give me one legitimate reason I should not kill you here and now." Théoden's voice trembled with rage.

Wormtongue's voice, however, trembled with fear. "I – I have done nothing but serve you, give you counsel – "

"Yes, you gave me quite fine counsel." Théoden's words were dangerously quiet, then cracked like a whip, "You sent my son to war when there was no need; you exiled my nephew; you reduced me to an old man withering away: you would have had me crawling on all fours like a beast!"

"Your faithful servant was only trying to help – "

"And for that, I reward my faithful servant with imprisonment for the rest of his days. Death is too sweet for vile whisperers who poisoned my ears with ill-intent." Théoden's eyes glittered coldly as he sheathed his sword. "Guards, take him away!"

As the guards dragged Wormtongue away, Théoden turned to his guests, Holly in particular. "I believe I have yet to know the identity of my savior. From whence did you learn such powerful sorcery?"

Before either Théodred or Holly herself could say anything, Aragorn stepped in. "You speak to a Maia of old, my Lord. She assisted in creating this world."

All present, save the remnant of the Fellowship that already knew this, showed astonishment.

"But I would not pin you older than my sister-daughter Éowyn here!" Théoden motioned toward his mentioned golden-haired niece, dressed in white.

"'Tis in the nature of Maiar flesh not to age." Aragorn replied. "Long ago, she was once renown amongst elves and men." Aragorn predicted that Holly would be scowling at him, so he looked at her directly, daring her to deny his claim. To his surprise, a raised eyebrow was the only indication of her displeasure as Holly stared impassively back. "Now she prefers to be called Holly," Aragorn finished.

"Well, Lady Holly, 'twas very good fortune that brought you to us, in both battle and to Edoras." Théodred said. "I had hoped that you would heal my father, and you have done so! But pray, tell us, what was his ailment?"

Holly had called the not quite-in-his-right-mind-Théoden, 'Curumo' several times, so Aragorn suspected that Théoden had been possessed. Aragorn's suspicions were confirmed by Holly's reply, "Lord Théoden was possessed by Curumo – better known as Saruman." Holly's paused, probably having predicted everyone's shock, but then continued, addressing Théoden, "But if Saruman is half as wise as everyone believed him to be, he will not dare attempt to invade your mind again."

There was a relieved silence, before Théodred asked, "And you said you had business in Edoras?"

Aragorn saw Holly chance a glance at him. "Yes. I believed I would be able to find my companions here."

Aragorn narrowed his eyes. All Holly should have known was that the Fellowship was headed to Mordor. How could she have known that they would stop at Edoras?

Later, when all was finished and they had been furnished with rooms, Théoden and his son being instrumental in convincing the half of the Fellowship to rest, assuring them that they would provide aid, and even Boromir, who was intent on returning to Gondor, reluctantly gave in.

Which gave Aragorn a chance to confront Holly.

"Holly, a word?"


Gandalf


The wizard had been far grumpier than usual this past month and he knew it was troubling his companions… but he couldn't well help it.

The main reason for his ill temper?

Holly.

She had tricked him into thinking she was dead! It was only when she'd – what did she call it… apparated, that was the term – that he'd realized that the immature Maia was still alive and kicking. Or rather, hyperactively jumping from location to location.

Yes, he realized that they'd discussed the possibility of her separating from the rest of the Fellowship and drawing the Enemy's eye, which she'd done admirably, at least, for a few weeks until the unfortunate chance encounter in the Dead Marshes, but to think that she'd tricked him as well! If his staff wasn't his main power source, he'd have broken it in two when he'd first realized that she was still alive.

On the other hand, he was relieved. Not just because she had bought them some time, but because she hadn't died or left Arda like he'd initially thought.

He'd been worried for her, without even realizing it. That added to his grumpiness.

Another factor to his extra grumpiness: what would he tell the Fellowship? He couldn't imagine how Legolas would react after having agonized over Holly's supposed demise. He saw how often the Elven prince's hand twitched to the pouch he had tucked the elfstone into.

As Gandalf ruminated over Holly, the said Elven prince approached him with his own worries.

"Mithrandir, Gollum seems to be planning something."

Gandalf looked up in surprise. "Did you hear something?"

Legolas replied, "I heard him talking to himself."

Gandalf met the statement with bewilderment. Talking to himself?

But then Gandalf recalled memories from some half a century's years back. Yes. Sméagol and Gollum, dual personalities. Comprehension must have dawned on Gandalf's face, for Legolas continued, "I do not know the details, but he it seems he plans on drawing Frodo away while we are distracted by something else."

"But by what…" Gandalf muttered to himself.

Legolas looked impatient. "Had we not better circumvent the threat to avoid the situation entirely?"

Gandalf realized yet again how much the blond elf had changed after Holly's 'death'. He had just basically suggested that they kill Gollum before he got in the way. And having once been the pupil of the Vala, Nienna the Compassionate, he was not sure he liked who this Legolas was becoming. Yet another dilemma incurred by Holly's vanishing act. What a quandary Holly had put him into!

Carefully, Gandalf worded, "This disturbs me greatly, but I believe Gollum has yet more of a role to play."

Seemingly resigned to Gandalf's cryptic tendencies, Legolas altered the subject slightly. "And is going through the Black Gate truly the only way?"

Gandalf himself had worried about that part of the plan. "That is another reason why I think Gollum still has a role to play. I believe he has escaped from Mordor once."

"So you think to spare the creature, in the hopes he knows a safer path?" Legolas asked incredulously.

Gandalf had to admit that it sounded a bit far-fetched. "Let us wait and see. For now, let us keep closer watch on Frodo."

Legolas gave Gandalf a disapproving look. "You are not going to tell him of the grave danger he is in?"

"He's already in grave danger." Gandalf said shortly, effectively ending the conversation.


Harry


Preparing himself, Harry followed Aragorn into his room. The dúnadan turned and crossed his arms, surveying Harry with steely grey eyes.

"Gandalf told us you had disappeared from Middle-Earth like you had before. Yet you stand here, before me."

Harry had long learned how to not look sheepish, but it was difficult when someone older than you was looking at you with an air of disapproval. He had to make a decision on what to tell the Ranger; the truth (or at least most of it) or the conveniently abbreviated version he'd told the hobbits.

"Spare me the lie-by-omission story you told the hobbits."

O…kay. So the decision had been apparently been made for him. Harry hated when people did that. Sighing, he leaned against the wall and said, "Where do you want me to start?"

Aragorn's grey, almost silver eyes bore into Harry. "Preferably from the beginning."

"When I followed Gandalf and the Balrog down, then?"

When the only answer was silence, Harry supposed he could interpret that as a 'yes'.

"Well, we fought the Balrog for a while, but you know my swordsmanship prowess well enough to know that I wouldn't do well against something so flexible as a whip." Harry paused, briefly reliving a terrible moment before stating it, "Gandalf took a blow meant for me. He bled out." Aragorn shifted. "Needless to say, I wanted to end the battle as quickly as possible so I could heal Gandalf, so I drudged up the song of death. As a matter of fact, the song I performed for Saruman back in the throne room was exactly that. But by then, it was too late, so I had to take both souls to Halls of Mandos."

At this statement, Aragorn started. "Wait, you sailed to Valinor?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "I was a Maia under Mandos, I don't need to sail." It seemed this was the third time he had to say this. "Besides, I wouldn't know where to sail. I was gone when they removed Valinor from Arda. While it may seem as if I'm capable of anything, I'm no mariner."

Aragorn snorted. "That begs the question, how did you get to the Undying Lands, then?"

"I apparated." Harry said dryly. "The 'efficient but unpleasant traveling method,' I think you described it?"

Frowning, Aragorn began, "But did Gandalf not say – "

"Sauron does not dare turn his eye to Valinor." Harry said in clipped tones. "Now will you let me tell what happened or are you going to continue interrupting me?" There was a moment of disgruntled silence that signified agreement to let Harry talk uninterrupted. "I deposited the Balrog's fëa and was informed that Gandalf would return as the White Istari, by Mandos himself. But that I would have to weave the hröa myself, so I returned to Arda to do so. His hröa was so badly damaged that my flesh temporarily disappeared. Which resulted in Gandalf's misunderstanding." It was Harry's turn to look disgruntled as he muttered his thoughts, "as well as the matter of that emerald."

Aragorn's eyes narrowed at this, but he did not interrupt.

Harry decided it wise to skip describing how he'd followed Gandalf to Lothlórien. "Afterwards, I regained my body, and I used apparation countless times to draw Sauron's attention away from the Fellowship. Eventually, I revealed my appearance to Sauron. His spies are relentless, I tell you. Oh, and I felled four Nazgûl from their winged lizards. I was keeping track of you guys, though, so when I noticed that my wand didn't point in the same direction for you as it did for Frodo, I came to help you guys."

Harry waited for Aragorn's verdict. Sure enough, it came.

"There are several gaps in your explanation, Holly."

Damn. He'd noticed. Harry played the innocence/ignorance card. "What gaps?" He tilted his head, so as to give off the impression that was trying to remember something he might have missed.

"First, I find your mention of a certain elfstone entirely too coincidental to believe."

Harry didn't need to fake his confusion this time. "Elfstone…?" He held back a grimace as he realized he'd actually spoken his thoughts out loud before. Quickly, he said, "Oh yes, when my flesh disappeared, the emerald hairpin dropped with the rest of my clothes, and – "

"Yet you have your sword."

Aragorn's voice was accusing, and Harry knew he would have started sweating if he were still a human. "That's because I summoned it. And it only worked since Gandalf didn't take it with him after he was resurrected – "

"Ah, yet another gap in your story." Harry could have sworn Aragorn sounded grimly triumphant. "The time it took to regain your body. Truly, did you just do nothing while you were waiting for your body to return? While Gandalf was making his way to the Golden Woods?"

"No. I was going over Elven history while I had lost my body." Harry flatly answered; besides, it was true in part.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows. "Then how did you know that the Fellowship would split?"

"Boromir was headed towards Gondor from the beginning, remember?" Harry defended. "It was inevitable!"

"How did you know we would stop at Rohan?"

"Rohan is well known for its horse breeding, and I knew you didn't have horses, you were traveling on boats, for Arda's sake!" Harry burst out, and realized too late what he had let slip.

"And how, exactly, did you know we had set off on boats?" Aragorn's eyes were chilling.

Harry refused to look away and fidget like a child caught in a wrongdoing. "I may have met with Galadriel."

"And just how long did you intend on deceiving us?" Aragorn's voice rarely rose above conversational level, but this was one of those rare occasions when he was close to shouting.

"Here I am, aren't I? I took no joy in deceiving you." Harry argued back. "I did it for the Fellowship. I did it so Frodo would have a better chance to destroy the Ring. I did it so you could take your rightful place as the King of Gondor! Why don't you trust me?"

"Trust is earned, Holly, and faking your death is not a way to earn it!" Aragorn's voice was filled with scorn.

Harry was at the end of his patience. "That was an accident! How was I supposed to know that my body would disappear after I finished resurrecting Gandalf?"

"But why didn't you come to us once your body had been restored? Do you have any idea how much pain Legolas was in over your farce of a death? Did you know he wept over the niphredil in Lothlórien?"

Enraged, Harry shouted, "Enough! I feel guilty enough about Legolas as it is without you and Galadriel on my case, so just stop! If you weren't Elros' descendant, I would have cursed you into oblivion!"

Harry stormed out of the room, effectively ending the conversation.


Aragorn


Holly's reaction to his admittedly somewhat harsh confrontation proved two things about her: she had everyone's best interests at heart (except perhaps Legolas', but that likely wasn't intentional), and that she was definitely not the Sataressë spoken of in legends.

For one, she'd admitted that she hadn't known the consequences of knitting hröa, even though Sataressë had been infamous for her skill in knitting hröa. Yes, there were similarities in personality qualities from what he'd heard from Ada, in terms of sheer determination and hard-working, but she seemed too young, too… human. Her mannerisms, references to time and age, and even way of speaking, spoke volumes about her past.

It wasn't to say that Holly wasn't entirely Sataressë, as he'd glimpsed the ageless Maia a few times. It was as if Holly were a younger, immature version of Sataressë.

He'd watch and see.


A/N: I'm sorry my updates are so unpredictable lately!