Note:

Quick recap: Lily ends up in Middle-earth, hides in her own mind to escape Sauron's torture, which allows Sauron to use her body and magic to create Lilith, the Witch-Queen. Years later Lily awakens on top of Dol Guldur, having taken back her body but not knowing what all happened. Killing a Nazgûl, she escapes into Mirkwood, eventually meets Radagast, and they travel to Lothlórien, which is silent and unwelcoming. They turn northward instead.

It has been roughly half a week since Lily awoke on Dol Guldur.

Laura Gwyneth is my face claim for Lily, if anyone's curious.

Thank you, Salient, for being a beta.


Chapter Four

An Augury of Fire

They rode out for about a minute before Radagast changed his mind.

"Seriously?"

"There is a friend in Fangorn that may know something," said Radagast, a bit defensively. "Either of Saruman or Gandalf, I do not know, but maybe something. You do not know how strange it is that Lothlórien is so silent and uncaring, but it hints of something evil. Mayhaps my friend Treebeard will know, if he is indeed still my friend."

"I'm just tired of all the riding," said Lily, sagging against him. "It's beginning to hurt. If this Treebeard doesn't know anything, Radagast..."

"Even if he does, he might not tell me. Our last conversation was not the friendliest, I am afraid. Treebeard is an Ent, and Ents are the Shepherds of the Trees." He shifted, as if uncomfortable. "And, well, I made the mistake of defending beavers to Treebeard. He has never forgiven me."

Lily snorted to herself, then said to him, "Why are we going there then?"

"This matter transcends petty squabbles. Treebeard would agree, I hope," said Radagast, prompting the elk onward. "And Lily, there may also be some wand wood there for you to use, or else a staff wood. Wood from Fangorn may be good for it, if given freely, as wood here will not be — not now. Though I cannot say I understand your desire for it from what magic of yours I have seen."

"It's just easier with a focus." She looked down at his staff, which rested in a holster she had made earlier to put on the elk, connected to a strap the creature had allowed to hang around the base of its neck. "You use your staff to channel your magic, don't you?"

"In a way, yes," said Radagast with some hesitance. "I do not need my staff, but if I was to light a fire I would rather do it with my staff than my own foot, you see. It is difficult to cast flame without burning myself. Hidden beneath a veil is my power, and this aged body is still an aged body."

"I just can't seem to cast certain magic wandless at all," said Lily, jabbing a finger at the ground in a failed attempt to cast a Stunner. "I mean, I never expected all kinds of spells to work wandlessly, but I also never expected to wandlessly cast the magic I already have this week. If I had a wand — a proper wand suited to me, that is — I could crush those Nazgûl, Radagast. You've no idea the power I can wield."

"Oh, I think I do," he said. "As I have said, beneath a veil is my power hidden. Unleashed, I dare say the two of us could enter Lothlórien whether Lady Galadriel wishes it or not. But we will not try. Instead, we will tread its edges only."

And so they turned west instead of north. They would make their way around the western borders of Lothlórien instead of east. Radagast deemed it a risk, planting themselves between the steep mountains and an unwelcoming forest, but it would reduce their chances of running into Nazgûl.

"Wish I had a wand," said Lily half an hour later. "My wandless Cushioning Charm doesn't work on this elk, and the stupid thing won't wear my damn saddle." She shook her head glumly. "I spent a whole night making and enchanting that thing."

"And now another rider might come across where you left it and be glad at such a treasure." Radagast hummed. "A saddle with the softness of two pillows. I shall ask for one of my own before we depart, for my horse back in Rhosgobel."

"What, two weeks northward?" said Lily, casting such a dark look at the back of his head that she was sure he felt it.

"From Fangorn, just about." Radagast reached around to pat her leg. "I know you wish for haste, my dear, but there is a chance Gandalf will not even be East of Mirkwood. And if he is, he will be there for some time. One rarely makes such a long trip to only stay for a few weeks, especially with matters like the dragon and any foul things Lilith may have cooked up in those northern parts. It seems wise to me that we see about this first, even if it shall delay us."

"It's fine," sighed Lily, shifting in her seat. "Why didn't you bring your damn horse down here with you?"

"Ah, that is a tale!" said Radagast, and he began it without waiting to see if she really cared to hear it.

By the end of the day they had reached where Lothlórien and the rising walls of the Misty Mountains came together, creating a gap they would journey into. They slept at the entrance of this gap, and at dawn they moved further in, riding along the edge of the forest.

In their time Radagast continued to teach her what he knew of Middle-earth, and also a little of the language of the elves who dwelt here. It was a pleasant language, musical and soft. That night they came to rest under the shadow of one of the three Mountains of Moria, Fanuidhol; it was called Cloudyhead by the Common Speech, and Bundushathûr in Khuzdul, the Dwarvish language.

"Further in there lies the Dimrill Dale," said Radagast, hopping down from the elk and gesturing toward some unseen land around the corner of a cliffside of the mountain. "The Dwarves call it Azanulbizar and the Elves Nanduhirion. It is a deep-shadowed valley that many have travelled through."

"Why?" said Lily, yawning as she laid down two pillows she had slowly Transfigured from a cloak. "What's so important there? And what's with the names?"

"Ah, well, you see, the three Mountains of Moria overshadow it — there is cruel Caradhras, also called the Redhorn in the Common Speech and Barazinbar by the Dwarves. And then below him is Celebdil, Silvertine in the Common, and Zirakzigil —"

"By the Dwarves?" Lily laughed. "Merlin."

"Nay, Merlin is not one of their names, I think," said Radagast, brow furrowed as though he had to wonder about it. "But the names are long and many indeed. But it may do you some good to know them should elf or dwarf speak of them. For the Dimrill Dale is the source of the Silverlode, also called Celebrant, a river which is near to us now. More specifically it comes from the icy springs of the lake Mirrormere, where in the reflection you may see the stars of the night, even though it may be day."

"What, no Dwarvish name?" said Lily as she kicked off her boots and lay down on their makeshift bed, which after several nights of a sore back she had learned to make as soft as five layers of silk laid over a field of flowers.

"There is, but alas, I have forgotten it. I know only all the names of the mountains, for it is under them that the once-great Dwarvish city of Khazad-dûm thrived before it fell to ruin."

"What happened to it?" asked Lily, curious and undaunted by the seemingly endless history of Middle-earth. The thought of a mysterious Dwarvish city excited her, as these things often did (much to Hermione's exasperation).

"That is a tale too dark for tonight," said Radagast, quieter than before. "I do not like the thought of telling it while so near. I admit it makes me uneasy."

"That bad?"

"Worse." Radagast grew solemn for a moment, then shook his head and came to lay down beside her. "Let us move on. I have told you of the Mirrormere, which the Dwarves consider sacred. Past the lake there is the Redhorn Gate, a pass through the Misty Mountains to the other side. Remember that, and remember also that it is a treacherous, narrow path. The Redhorn is called Caradhras the Cruel for a reason. Such mountains were risen long ago by a great evil to halt the Valar, and the mountain's contempt for all things living remains to this day."

"Uh-huh." Lily put her hands behind her head and observed the stars above. "Why did the Dwarves consider the lake sacred?" she asked, for the tales of Elves and Dwarves fascinated her far more than those of Men, and the tales of gods and wrathful mountains seemed too fantastical to her.

"Long ago one of the seven first Dwarves, Durin the Deathless, looked upon that lake," said Radagast, and he waved his hand over the night sky. "And he saw in its reflection a crown above his head, which were in fact the stars of a night unseen. It is wondered if he truly saw himself in the water, for all those who look into it do not see their reflections, but the old tales hint that Durin had indeed. And now there are suggestions told that looking into the Mirrormere may tell one their purpose in Arda, for it is he who founded Khazad-dûm and became king. Rise early and visit the lake if you wish. But be swift and cast no magic. It may once again awaken ancient things..."

Lily frowned and turned her head to him. "I assume ancient things were what ruined Khazad-dûm."

"Quite," he said softly. "I would rather it not wake again. In truth, your magic has been strange to me. It is not difficult for one wizard to detect another's spell from afar, yet even near you I have some trouble with it. But again: be swift and cast no magic if you wish to visit the Mirrormere."

"We had something like that back in my home," said Lily, putting his warning into the back of her mind. "It was called the Mirror of Erised — the Mirror of Desire. It'd show you what you desired most, even if you don't know yourself, whether it's possible or not."

"Hmm." Radagast stroked his beard, his eyes thoughtful. "Such a thing does not sit well with me... But! I think I have talked you to death enough for one night."

"Indeed," laughed Lily. "Good night, then."

"Good night," said Radagast, "and let our next words to each other be good morning!" And with that he turned over and fell asleep with ease. Lily couldn't help but smile at him, though he was turned away. She turned to her side too, rearranging her pillow to give herself enough comfort to let sleep wash away her thoughts. Like the nights before, the gravity of her situation would crash down upon her and she would get a sense of vertigo if she looked into the night sky. But sleep didn't take her.

To deal with her insomnia she got up and decided to finally open the small, black satchel bag she had been carrying all these days under her cloak, its long strap over her shoulder and extending across her chest to the satchel resting behind her hip. She hadn't even realized its presence on her person at first with it being so light, and then later she had refused to open it out of fear of finding a human hand or some other twisted thing of Lilith's.

She regretted it, for the bag was small yet full of space inside, being enchanted with an Undetectable Extension Charm. Not a very big one, but enough for her arm to disappear in it to near the shoulder. And inside were many things, which clanged and thudded around now that the flap of the satchel was open; a Silencing Charm had been placed on it as well it seemed. She spilled all of it to the grass, hoping none of the items were fragile and explosive.

Enough came out that there must've been some feather-light charm on the bag as well. Most of the contents were vials. Empty vials. Some were filled, though, and labelled. Picking up one with what looked like ash inside, she read on it: Orodruin. There were several vials of blood too, all but one labelled: Elf Blood.

The lone exception sent a chill up her spine.

Maia Blood.

"What the fuck..." whispered Lily, holding it with shaking hands.

What had Lilith done? And how? She wasn't under the impression that she could easily kill Radagast in a fair fight, not without a wand; but it seemed unlikely Lilith would have done anything fairly. Still, the question of Lilith's power unnerved her. Did she, Lily, hold the same power — to bleed Maiar, to conjure winters over whole lands? She thought not: Lilith must've been made stronger through the power of Sauron or something.

And there on the ground, too large to be missed in the darkened grass, were feathers the size of her arm. She thought of her dreams of the cries of eagles and of balls of flame coming down from the sky, and then of Radagast's words regarding the disappearance of the Great Eagles. Had she done this? Had that twisted part of herself brought down those birds said to be thousands of years old?

She swept the contents back into the bag and put a Locking Spell on it, just in case. This would have to be kept from Radagast... perhaps all of Middle-earth. Who knew the true severity of the damage Lilith had done? Letting people know she had once been that dark witch, willing or no, might destroy any trust anyone could otherwise put in her.

No, if anything, she would let people believe she had killed Lilith in Dol Guldur. It might even buy her some favor with those who've been tormented by her. But would she ever need that favor? Part of her wished to help those that Lilith had wronged, and even those who she hadn't but were suffering all the same, but another part of her wished to go back home as soon as she could, to leave Middle-earth to its perils.

The worst of it, she thought, was not knowing if reaching home was even possible. And if it was, the path was not known to her. Radagast's earlier words came to mind, then.

There are suggestions told that looking into the Mirrormere may tell one their purpose...

Her heart thumped in her chest. What if this place was her final stop? Arda, a new home to protect and raise from its knees, for it seemed to be on its knees from the way Radagast described it: a once strong continent, beat down by endless wars and widespread plagues and harsh winters.

Or else this might be one stop in a series of dimensions she was destined to travel into... Hermione had once mentioned theories of the sort, of wanderers of worlds.

Lily slowly and quietly got up. On Radagast's temple she placed two fingers, and used Legilimency to whisper words into his mind he would know when he woke. Mirrormere beckoned. It seemed the sort of vague thing he'd appreciate.

Around the corner of the cliffside they had settled under, there was a valley sloping upward into the mountains. It was Dimrill Dale. She glanced back at Radagast's sleeping form in the distance, and then at the woods behind her. There, by chance, she saw a silver-grey branch on the ground that could serve as a walking stick, and perhaps more if she put some magic into it; it came from a mallorn-tree, after all.

The walk leading up through the valley took her a few hours, and along the way she collected any flowers and herbs that were ingredients in any potion she knew, and even some of the foreign ones. Radagast would probably know their significance. She also worked on the mallorn-branch, using magic to get it strong, straightened, and stylized. It was a proper staff before she was halfway up the valley, silver-grey and perhaps nicer than Radagast's.

Dawn broke over the green and golden leaves of Lothlórien behind her, clearing the dark sky and brightening the peaks of the three Mountains of Moria, though the valley she climbed remained shadowed by them. As she neared its top, the Silverlode drifted nearer, thinning as its sources from other mountain-streams became less and less so high.

Soon she found the source of the stream, a deep well of water, clear as crystal and icy cold. Up ahead the ground rose to form a steep hill, with a path built into it sideways. Over the hill there was Mirrormere, the fabled lake of divination.

She came upon it slowly, wondering if it would be special at all, and if so, what it would show her. Before she made it down to its bare rim, she could see that the reflection of the mountains in the still waters was perfect, as if it were a portal to some world upside down. And as she neared, the reflected sky was revealed, dark and full of stars though the real sky above her was a deep blue streaked with the pink of a rising sun.

Her breath was taken from her as she bent over the lake. Where in life it was black, in the water her hair was red and vibrant, framing a face that was hers yet more self-assured and, dare she say it, authoritative. The woman in the water was not uncertain or anxious, as Lily felt now, but rather she appeared as though she belonged here in Middle-earth. And she knew it.

Lily put down her staff and leaned closer, pulling her hair away to take a better look. On her brow rested a silver diadem, very simple in design yet full of grace, with a small green gem in the center.

Her robes were different too, more fitted, stylish, and green. They looked like something Narcissa Malfoy might've worn, elegant and comfortable, with large bell sleeves and golden lines embroidered throughout.

In the reflection she looked lovely and grand, like a phoenix illuminated by moonlight, a hope in the dark. And then she saw long, wavy, pale-blonde hair swaying slightly behind her, and pale hands reaching around her waist in a caring caress. She could not see who it was, or even if it was a man or woman, but there seemed to be love in those fingers comforting her reflected-self.

And for the first time, water-Lily moved of her own accord; first she frowned, then looked up, somewhere to Lily's left, and so Lily herself looked up.

She didn't know how she missed it before, but there were great gates laid into the mountain, Celebdil, tall and grand, clearly crafted by the hands of skilled workers. Leading up to them were stone stairs as well. The gates were flung open, and though they were shadowed, the black emptiness from within Moria was still distinct.

Lily grabbed her staff and stood. Feeling drawn to the abandoned city of the Dwarves, she climbed to the carved stone. The stairway was long but the steps were short, made for Dwarven kind.

If Radagast knew she was here, so close to the entrance of the mountain... and yet... she could not leave without taking a glance inside. A wild curiosity seemed to overtake her, the same that had sent her chasing after a mysterious Flamel when she was eleven, and an evil voice in the walls of Hogwarts when she was twelve, and Sirius Black when she was thirteen.

There was something evil within, she knew, though she wasn't sure what the evil was or how she knew; it was as though the age-worn stones themselves were frozen in fear being so close to something so unholy.

Curiosity is not a sin, Dumbledore had said. But we should exercise caution with our curiosity. Well, she would be cautious this time.

A step inside was all it took to pause her breath. Outside it had been dawn, a golden pink glow passing through the valley. Within, there was only some pale light, coming from dirtied windows high above her. Yet that pale light illuminated little. The darkness remained vast, her steps echoed far, and the air reminded her of Mirkwood, still and stuffy.

It was a desolate place, abandoned due to an unnamed thing Radagast refused to speak of.

She doubted it was some disease or economic collapse. Perhaps Sauron had something to do with it. Or maybe she shouldn't even be frightened. It was likely the danger was long gone anyway. Radagast had told her she could visit the Mirrormere if she wanted. Perhaps it was some wizard like her who had ruined things here.

Dwarves seemed an archaic kind, with their axes and shields, and she didn't think they would ever overcome her kind of witchcraft and wizardry. Given a wand, she could make a city of dwarves leave their beloved home.

In some window of her mind, a distant thought wandered over the fields of reason, telling her that she shouldn't want to meet something like herself down here in the dark. But she edged slowly inside anyway. She didn't plan to travel hours in... only a look around, appreciate dwarven architecture, and then be back before Radagast woke. He always slept like the dead; and as she fully entered the first hall, she knew this place was dead itself.

Bones littered the ground, and a thick dust sprang to the air around her ankles with every step. Here and there were weapons too, some finely made and some crudely, likely by Orcs. Was that it? Was it simply Orcs that had sent the Dwarves away? It didn't matter, really. The city was a graveyard now.

She felt a sudden urge to leave, to shut the great gates and put a locking spell on it — maybe collapse the ceiling too for good measure. It would be wise. But not following a basilisk's voice in the walls would've been wise too... and yet...

But she remained in the center of the grand hall, illuminated only through the high windows, with a curiosity that burned hot against the shadows.