Last of the Edhel, Chapter 1
By CinnamonGrrl, for Technoelfie
He squinted as he looked up at the sickle moon, though his sight was not impaired in the least; perhaps by squinting he would be able to discern its secrets, the mysteries it had hidden from him for so long. He sighed, and relaxed the muscles of his face. Still Ithil would insist on keeping her own stubborn counsel; even after doing his duty for millennia, it would appear he was not deemed worthy. Ever was such a moon a harbinger of ill tidings, even of doom. The elf was determined that it would not be his doom, and so had his bow in his hand as he walked through the trees he had called his home for thousands of years.
Once it had been known as Eryn Lasgalen (and indeed, he had named his only child after it); when evil intruded into its borders, both Men and Elves had called it Mirkwood. With the dissipation of that evil it was known as Greenwood the Great until immortal lips were no longer present in Middle-Earth to call it thus, and mortal ears tired of hearing it.
Time passed and age after age slipped by. The continent was sundered once more, sundered and shifted and twisted until little of it resembled its ancient form, and all that remained of his once-vast kingdom was this modestly-sized forest in the north. One by one his kin made for the west, and finally he alone of all Edhel remained in Arda. Greenwood shrank as Men procreated as avidly as brown rabbits, and magical creatures fled to its sanctuary as their habitat was invaded, acquired, overrun. Unicorns and centaurs, two of the newer breeds of magical animals, flocked there, as did any and every other odd being he could think of.
A castle was built nearby, a castle meant to be an institution of learning. It was no coincidence that it was so close to him and the precious treasure he guarded; was that treasure not the source of all their power? And was it not appropriate that the source should be in such proximity to those who studied how to use it? As children began to come from all around this new incarnation of Greenwood, this England/Scotland/Wales/Ireland place, their curious natures began to take them into the dark places, the dank places, the dangerous places. There were a few deaths, and the headmaster of the school renamed Greenwood a last time: the Forbidden Forest it was called, and the Forbidden Forest it became.
He gave up his dominion over it, and within a few mere centuries it was as untamed and wild as it had been before the Eldar had awoken under the stars. Unrestrained by his civilizing influence, Men became unable to traverse its paths, overgrown as they were by savage tangles of trees, vines, undergrowth. And even had they persevered, it was unlikely that they would survive much past their first smug self-congratulations for overcoming the vegetation, for there were creatures in the Forest far more savage than the trees could ever hope to be…
Many would be unnerved to live, alone, surrounded by thousands of creatures that would not blink an eye in remorse before killing him, but he found the presence of those creatures comforting and familiar—much more so than those increasingly bizarre Men who would insist on ceaselessly trying to destroy each other and themselves.
"At least these creatures merely follow their instincts," he might mutter to himself of an afternoon. "Who knows what motivations drive Men?" Certainly not he; never had he been able to comprehend his son's fondness for the other races. Hobbits had not seemed too unpleasant, he recalled of his brief sojourns with those tiny people, and even Dwarves were not an insurmountable mystery, but Men… he shook his head. If he lived as long as Manwë himself, he would never be able to fathom the Second-born.
A howl echoed in the distance: a single wolf, and from the vibration of his cadence, it would seem he'd sighted his prey for the evening. Because of the sickle moon, he knew it was not a werewolf, but an elf was proof against that beast's contagion in any case. Just a regular sort of wolf, then, on a regular sort of prowl. Why, then, did the tiny hairs on his nape prickle as they did when trouble was afoot? It must be the sickle moon, he mused, a hint of derision tinging his thoughts. Yes, the sickle moon and its hidden knowledge, the secrets it refused to share.
He had not survived a score of thousands of years by permitting mysteries to abound; not in his realm, diminished though it might be by now. Shouldering his bow, he leapt up to grasp a branch in his hands and swung himself up into the tree's crown; his footfall was light as a bird's as he moved silently from tree to tree through the forest, his path unerring as an elven arrow as he followed the cry of the wolf.
There it was below him, brindle coat shaggy and silvered by moonlight. It crouched back in the familiar posture of attack, ivory fangs bared at its prey. The prey, however, did not seem to have the good sense to be afraid, because she stood there, glaring defiantly at the creature who would shortly make her its dinner. She bore no weapon, and was dressed most ridiculously in a short, flimsy frock and perfectly ridiculous little sandals. In her hand she held a slender stick of polished wood—ash, was it? Ah, for a brighter moon!—and as he watched, she pointed it at the wolf and said the words to a hex that, in other circumstances, would have rendered the beast unconscious.
He sighed inaudibly. Did not Hogwarts ever have a professor that informed its students that their magic would not work so deep in the Forest, so close to the secret he hid in its heart? It seemed that at least once a generation, there was one witch or wizard who managed to penetrate this far into his realm and get themselves injured or killed because they were woefully unprepared to do anything but shout increasingly desperate jinxes and curses as they were attacked.
This time, however, he was near, and he would prevent this foolish girl from meeting her untimely end. Just as the wolf sprang at her, he dropped from the tree to land between the beast and its prey, unsheathing his long white knife on the way down so it was bared and glinting in the moonlight by the time his feet touched the soft moss floor of the woods. The wolf skidded to a stop, snarling in displeasure.
"This meal would not sit well in your stomach," he told the wolf in Sindarin, his voice like silk as it spoke the sibilant language. "I suggest you find another."
The wolf narrowed its yellow eyes at the elf. Long it had lived in this Forest, and ever had it been aware of the magnificent life-force that protected it, of the ruler who chose not to rule. It would not balk at this request, for it knew that did it persist, the elf would have no qualms about killing it. With a movement that might have been a bow, the wolf turned and loped away into the night. Soon even the faint sound of its footfalls had faded into the velvet blackness that swathed them, and the elf straightened to his full height from the taut, ready-to-spring posture he'd assumed.
He turned to face the girl, but his head blocked the feeble light thrown by the sickle moon, and he wished to see her as clearly as possible… stepping to the side, the only sign of his surprise was the blink of his eyes as he regarded her with a single, sweeping look. She was not a child, though she had appeared as one at first glance; though short, she was bosomy, with rounded hips and a face filled with a woman's confidence. Her hair was a dark, untamed cloud around her proudly-held head, and brown eyes gleamed at him with undisguised fascination.
He was unsurprised when her first words were not ones of gratitude. "Who are you?" she asked, softening her tone so it seemed not so much a demand, but he could tell she was near to dancing from curiosity about him. Then, more quietly as she glimpsed the elegant shape of his ears and also realized that, quite independently of the moonlight, he was glowing faintly, "What are you?" She seemed quite thoroughly in awe, gazing up at him with eyes as large and dark as a doe's, and he could barely keep from smiling at her extreme youth.
He would not answer her; he never answered any of those few who met him. Invariably, they asked him his name, his race, his purpose; all were disappointed when no such information was forthcoming. He squinted up once more; the moon was now on the wane, its sharp points not so clearly defined against the slowly lightening sky. Best to return her to the edge of the forest now, or it would be full daylight when they reached the school's grounds and he was loathe to risk being seen.
He stepped close to her; her gaze, which had never wavered from his face, now flicked down to his lips and he heard the faint hitch in her breath. Interesting, he thought. She was attracted to him. Involuntarily his own gaze dropped to her chest; it had been many years since he had indulged in physical pleasure and he felt a moment's wild longing, quickly and ruthlessly suppressed.
"Yon school is not the only home of magic," he told her, and touched a fingertip to each of her eyelids. Immediately she slumped against him, unconscious. Sweeping her up into his arms and steadfastly ignoring the fact that his fingertips were brushing the side of her soft, plump breast, Thranduil Oropherion began to stride through the Forgotten Forest toward its eastern edge, toward the outmost grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
One Month Earlier
Hermione Granger had much in common with her namesake. Both she and the female lead of one of Shakespeare's lesser-loved plays were dedicated, patient, and loyal. Both were brave, with untapped stores of strength they could draw upon in times of trouble. Both were utterly committed to sacrificing themselves for those they loved.
Most importantly, both were willing to commit a significant deception, deception to the point of treason, to do what they believed was right.
Seven years ago, fresh out of Hogwarts, Hermione had been offered a choice position within the Ministry. Assured, however, by Arthur Weasley that it would have been exactly the wrong sort of thing for her as it involved things like diplomacy (another word for lying, to her way of thinking) and daily board meetings (death by prolonged Tarantallegra would be preferable), she'd refused and instead applied for a job in the Department of Transfiguration Research. Three years into her tenure there, she'd made headlines by figuring out a way to modify a spell, even one in mid-air, into something entirely different.
Mere weeks later she'd made more headlines when, during the Battle of Hogsmeade, she herself transformed the Crucio aimed at Harry by Draco Malfoy into Rictusempra. Instead of seeing his opponent writhe at his feet in agony, the younger Malfoy was greatly consternated to find The Boy Who Lived giggling up at him from the ground, tears of mirth flowing from behind round glasses to pool in the unruly hair. So distracted was he by this turn of events that Draco completely forgot that the other two-thirds of the so-called Dream Team flanked him, and Ron easily nailed him with a Petrificus Totalis before forcing a Disapparation on the other man, straight to the Ministry of Magic's special incarceration area.
Then it was Ron's turn to be distracted—he turned to Harry, face filled with exultation, to perform Finite Incatatem and thus end his friend's enforced tickling fit. Enraged at the sight of his son being whisked away to justice, Lucius Malfoy attacked. Hermione scarcely had the time to intercept his Avada Kedavra with her own fledgling spell. "Transformatio Maleficarum!" she'd screamed, and the sickly green light that arced toward Ron had wavered and turned an equally sickly shade of yellow. When it struck Ron, he slumped at once to the ground and was still.
Hermione then ended the spell on Harry; serious once more, he hiccupped from laughing so much and leapt to his feet. Harry launched himself bodily at Lucius, all magic forgotten as he proceeded to pummel the man with fists and feet in revenge for his friend. Lucius was a fair hand at wizardly dueling but in a physical contest, he was no match for the young, strong Quidditch player and soon just clung to consciousness, both eyes blackened, lips split, nose broken, and ribs cracked as Hermione dragged Harry away.
"Let me go," Harry demanded, eyes wild as he strained against her. "He's killed Ron!"
"He hasn't!" she protested, trying to make him look. "Ron's still alive." And so he was. Alive, but not aware. Never again aware.
Hermione's spell had lessened the force of Malfoy's Avada, but significant damage had still been caused. Five years later, Ron Weasley reposed in the St. Mungo's ward for permanent disabilities, catatonic and without any moments of lucidity whatsoever. And five years later, Hermione Granger was no closer to finding a way to bring him back than she had been that first horrible day she'd spent by her friend's bedside, watching his family stare with wide, shocked eyes at Ron's slack face and unseeing gaze. That day, she'd vowed to find a way to restore his mind.
A year ago, after a particularly devastating raid by Death Eaters on Godric's Hollow in Wales, a top-secret committee had begun to explore the possibility of somehow harnessing the force of magic itself, called the Source. Some Ministry officials wanted to isolate magic from those who would use it for evil; others desired to employ it to enhance the abilities of those on the side of good. There was a great deal of dissent in the ranks, but all agreed that it would be beneficial to have the Source under their control, preferably before Voldemort and his followers got the same idea and tried to beat the Ministry to the punch, as it were. But first the Source had to be located.
As The Boy Who Lived, Harry was automatically made privy to even this most secret of secrets, which he promptly shared with Hermione. It wasn't long before she thought of using the Source to help Ron; for years she'd tried to find a way to duplicate Lily Potter's success at channeling her love into a force of protection and healing for her son, and so cure Ron's infirmity, but without success—even all the devotion of the Weasley clan and that of Ron's best friends did not seem to be enough to bring him back.
But the Source would be. Hermione knew this, as certainly as she knew that the sun would rise the next morning, and she also knew that she had to find it first. If the Ministry got their hands on it, she'd never get access to the Source, would never be able to bring Ron back. And so, with the single-minded (Harry called it 'simple-minded') determination that was her hallmark, Hermione applied herself to the quest for the Source of all magic in the world.
A year later, Hermione still wasn't having much success. She made no secret of her commitment to helping Ron, and so swiftly became a common fixture in the Ministry's archives (access granted because of her association to Harry, of course). The greater part of her free time was spent wandering the stacks; sometimes she'd plow methodically through the books, beginning with the first book on the first shelf in the first row; other times she'd take the random approach and simply grab whatever was closest. It was the latter she employed this day; she reached out and took hold of the first dusty, leather-bound spine with which her hand came in contact, then sat right down on the floor and began to read.
This book was no help at all, that one simply listed all the ingredients one would have had in a well-stocked potions cupboard in the year 1643. She pushed back a frizzy hank of hair—sodding humidity, I've no patience at all—and reached for what she was sure would be yet another useless book. Her wand's feeble light was barely enough to see by, and she had to squint quite hard to make out the nearly illegible Fraktur script of which the Germans were so fond. Distracted by how her bottom half was slowly becoming numb from sitting on the hard stone floor, she translated it absently, not really expecting it to make much sense nor be of any help to her.
After another stultifying hour, she stood with a groan and placed her hands in the small of her back to stretch backwards. Her wand chose that moment to drop the Lumos spell she'd placed on it, and the archive fell into utter darkness. You'd think the Ministry would have some sort of lighting system down here, she thought sourly, and bent over to retrieve her wand. Unfortunately, she bumped her backside into the steep tower of books behind her, sending it toppling over with a crash. The binding of one book fell apart, scattering pages into drifts around Hermione's feet. With a sigh, she recast Lumos and pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming on, before plopping back on the floor to try and throw the book into some sort of order.
An hour later, all discomfort forgotten, Hermione held her wand clenched between her teeth as she read and reread a single passage. The pages of the book had not been numbered, and reassembling it was slow going in the extreme. She'd taken to scanning the pages to see which followed which, and somewhere around the six hundredth page had found something that made her breath catch in her throat.
"Though many shall seek, none shall find, for the Keeper shall use the magic of his kin to protect the Source," the passage began, and continued with a lengthy incantation in a language Hermione had never seen (but which was conveniently translated into phonetic Hochdeutsch) for a method of tracing the magic inherent within each wizard and witch back to the Source itself.
Hermione sat very still, staring numbly at the pages for a full minute before snapping back to alertness. She had to get this book out of the archive, out of the Ministry. "Reducio," she whispered, suddenly very unnerved by the enormity of what she'd discovered, then slipped the now-tiny volume into her pocket. With a last glance at where she'd crouched in the near-darkness for hours, and satisfied that nothing looked amiss, she left the archive.
The archives were on level eight of the Ministry's complex, on of the lesser-used floors, and she felt sweat break out anew on her brow and prickle between her shoulder blades as she made her way down the deserted corridors toward the lift. She'd never liked breaking rules, and usually went out of her way to follow them. However, there had always been notable exceptions, and they'd always been for her friends. This was no different; in fact, it was far more worthy, this rebellion of hers, than any of the smaller regulations she'd flaunted whilst in school.
For Ron, she thought over and over, fixing in her mind the memory of his face the day they'd graduated. He'd been so proud, happy and laughingly swatting away his mother's excited fussing. He can be that way again; I can do this for him. Hermione curled her fingers around the shrunken book, gripping tightly, feeling its little corners poke into the tender skin of her palm, and when the lift doors opened to reveal a half-dozen people staring expectantly at her to get on, she lifted her chin and met their gazes without hesitation. For Ron.