Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. The Lord of the Rings belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien. I do not own anything. I am making no profit whatsoever in writing this story. This is an amateur attempt.
A/N: Wow! We have now past the ONE Thousandth review mark! THANK YOU to everyone who has reviewed up until this point (and by that I mean all non-flamers). This chapter is dedicated to you all.
On another note: I don't know if anyone had read my profile page a while ago, but in it I explained what was going to be happening with updates for my stories. After this chapter for The Black Wizard I will not be updating again until I finish Little Harry and the Mirkwood Adventure. Since there are only two or three chapters to go for Little Harry, it shouldn't take long before I'm updating Black Wizard again. I will then continue to update consistently until the end of the story.
On yet another note: I have started a series of "Black Wizard future excerpt" one-shots that should speak for themselves. I already have one up, My Lost Thing. The other one-shots are pretty much going to be fluctuating in regards to updates because they're not as important as the actual story.
The very last thing I have to add is an apology. I haven't updated in a while. A family member has actually died recently, so that contributed to my not updating. Uni, work, tutoring, and other stuff all combined also contributed. And I have other stories that I am also updating at the same time as The Black Wizard, so they have taken a bit of my time as well. Fortunately, as stated above, I will only have one other (novel length) story to update in addition to The Black Wizard after I finish Little Harry and the Mirkwood Adventure.
Thank you all for being so patient.
This chapter is for those who were especially patient and didn't resort to horrific threats and hurtful name-calling (I have since removed the abuse!). I hope you enjoy.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Heart of A Hobbit
Harry did not know what compelled him to walk in the rain and in the dark at four o'clock in the morning. His journey from the Burrow to Middle Earth, while brief, had been unpleasant, and for the first time Harry had awakened from his dimension hop with a rolling stomach. Several dry heaves later had dispelled him of the feeling; sleep, however, had not come to him again and he hadn't thought it likely to.
With Gandalf snoring quietly in the corner and Pippin mumbling in his sleep, Harry had slipped out of bed and into his robes, turned the knob gently, and walked out. It had not been raining then. The clouds had shone an eerie dark-grey with the hidden moon behind them. Harry had stopped to sniff at the breeze, which had smelled like rain, but this fact would not register to him until it started raining a little while later.
So, hands in pockets, Harry walked — in no particular direction, although he seemed to be sloping downward. Occasionally he would kick a puddle (it had started raining now), stand as the water soaked into his socks, and continue on. Although the Impervius charm drove away the water (as well as, it was probably safe to assume, a future cold) it did not drive away his thoughts, which were swirling like mad.
He wasn't thinking about anything particularly "bad", only sort of . . . odd. He could not remember the last time he had a chance to be just by himself with no Ron or Hermione or Gandalf or hobbit hounding his every step. It had been a while since he could be just Harry; just to walk by himself and think about his life so far. Mostly about what had just happened.
Travelling between the two dimensions of Earth and Middle-Earth had always been fairly simple: Fall asleep, dream of either place, and end up there. But ever since Harry had learned Occlumency and started preparing to become an Animagus, something had changed. Something vital. He'd had a glimpse of this change the last time he had travelled to Earth, but that was only a glimpse, nothing he should be getting alarmed over. He was some sort of winged animal, he knew that much, but now Harry thought he must be some sort of monstrous winged animal because he had actually eaten something raw. And not a small something either (which, if it had been a rat or vole of some sort Harry would easily have imagined his Animagus form to be that of an owl or eagle), but a big something.
Harry had swooped down upon a herd of grazing sheep, plucked a juicy fat one, taken it to some dark cosy cave, and eaten it. Then he had awakened.
This was not possible.
Not that he had woken up, but that he had eaten a sheep. No flying animal was big enough to eat a sheep — at least, no normal animal. There were magical animals like dragons or gryffins or hyppogriffs that were capably big enough to gorge themselves on sheep (or something bigger), but Harry was quite certain a wizard could not turn into an animal that already had magical properties in its blood. It just could not be possible . . . well, maybe it could; he would have to check that. But Harry was fairly adamant in thinking that it wasn't. So that left him back at square one.
He continued shuffling on — he was pretty sure he had reached the third level by now, but could not care enough to try and count back.
But . . . Harry thought, stomach jumping a million miles a minute as a brilliant idea occurred to him. That may not apply to Middle-Earth animals. What do I know about them anyway, except for the few that the hobbits told me about? Perhaps . . . perhaps birds in Middle-Earth grow larger than they do back home?
It wasn't a stupid idea.
It was something to think about. He would have to ask Pippin or Gandalf when he had the chance. Now, though, it was time to return back to his room. It had stopped spitting, the street and buildings gleaming like oil from the effect of rainwater and moonlight. Harry was fairly sure he was now on the second level. The streets here were much dirtier and the houses more clumped together than on the sixth level where Harry, Gandalf and Pippin had been quartered. The second level was the peasant level — but thinking that made Harry feel a little uncomfortable. Even if it's true?
Harry blinked slowly. It was an awfully stupid thing to think about in the early hours of the morning. I must be more tired than I'd first thought. He jumped when a rat hurried across his path. Yes, a lot more tired than he had first thought. It was time to head back.
Harry turned — and just about lost his wits when he spotted two shadows lurking in a nearby alley.
"Hello?" he tried.
"Who goes there?!"
Harry jumped again at the unexpected response. He had all but convinced himself the shadows were simply shadows. "Harry," answered Harry.
"Harry?" one of the shadows muttered. "Show yourself!"
Show myself? He thought he was. "Er . . . how?"
"Into the light, where we can see you."
Harry hesitated, then stepped out of the shadows and into the moonlight. Now that he was closer he could clearly see who the shadows were: two guards, holding two weapons. Pointed at him.
"You!" said the guard on the left, his sword lowering.
"Me," Harry answered, not really knowing what else to say.
"What are you doing slinking about at this hour of the night?"
"I wanted a stroll." Harry answered honestly. And he was more than a little irritated at the guards for having interrupted it.
"Stroll?" said the guard on the right.
"Are you constantly going to repeat everything I say?"
They exchanged fearful glances at this.
Harry straightened. "What?"
They jumped. The guard on the left, braver than the one on the right, stepped forward. "Seems a bit queer, is all, you wandering the streets at night. Not doing anything wizardly I hope?"
"Yes!" said Harry, now completely out of patience with their fear, especially as he hadn't done anything to warrant it. "I'm trying to figure out whom next to turn into a frog."
Harry could practically feel their armour clanking with their shivering. Now he was just confused. He could not possibly have that much of a fearsome reputation. Already. But clearly these guards thought so because they were not attempting to approach him. Their weapons had gone up again, also, and Harry got his second look at some rather sharp swords. Best not to agitate them more, then.
"Look: why don't we just forget I was here and I'll go back to my quarters? And you can go back to doing whatever it is you were doing," Harry offered, looking them up and down.
There was something very odd about them — and not just that they looked terrified out of their wits — it was something about the way they stood. Frankly they looked rather un-guardish. Weedy, almost. Gangly. Not intimidating in the least. They had no bulk to them (like the guards Harry had seen near the citadel) except the artificial one that their armour produced.
Perhaps, because they were of the peasant class, they didn't have much to eat? That excuse seemed rather weak.
"An idea we can all follow," said the guard on the left. Then flapped an imperious hand at Harry in a shooing motion. "Carry on."
Harry wanted to tell him exactly what he could do with that hand, but thought he would just cause more trouble if he did. He went.
It only occurred to him later, while he was comfortably tucked back in bed, Gandalf's familiar snoring churning through the room, that the guards had not been guards at all.
They had been teenagers.
Perhaps a few years younger than Harry.
The question that bothered him now was if they had been there on purpose or if they were actually stationed there? It was the second level after all, hardly look-out material. The most trouble that could occur there was of the domestic kind. Did Minas Tirith employ teenagers to work at night? Or were they simply pretending at being guards?
The battle had Helm's Deep suddenly pushed itself to the forefront of his brain. Hadn't kids fought there, too? Hadn't Harry himself saved a few from getting killed? Hadn't he made friends with them? Harry had thought that the only reason they'd been in the battle at all was because of the insufficient number of soldiers, but his experiences tonight said otherwise. Was it common for children to fight, to guard? It seemed so, from what Harry had seen.
Did people mature quicker here, or something?
He almost sat up at that. Of course! People in the old days died quicker, didn't they? Because of the conditions they had to live through. That meant that they had to grow up faster, too.
Imagining this happening to people he knew, to the hobbits, to Boromir . . . the thought saddened him somewhat and he stared in confusion up at his dark ceiling. Harry knew that Aragorn was not like Boromir. Aragorn would live for a long while yet because of his Elvish blood. Gimli would live for a couple of centuries because he was a dwarf. And Gandalf and Legolas were immortal. But the others . . .
Harry punched his mattress in frustration at his depressing thoughts. He had no idea why he was thinking this, now, at this time of the morning. Perhaps because the boys were around Harry's age, but wouldn't live anywhere near to the years Harry would.
Same as Boromir and the hobbits
Of course it could all just be a big joke and the two boys had only snuck out to act stupid.
Yawning, Harry tugged the sheet up to his neck and turned on his side. His thoughts felt so disjointed, his stomach warped with a cold feeling. He'd much rather sleep and forget everything. Yes, sleep. Sleep was good . . .
A minute later he was snoring.
"Could you tell me what sort of animals can be found in Middle-Earth?"
Gandalf stared at him as though Harry had a fish on his head. "Pardon?"
Harry sat beside the wizard — up-wind so that he would not be in way of the pipe smoke. "Animals. In, er, Arda. What sorts are there?" Harry asked again.
Gandalf shrugged slightly and went back to staring over the battlements and at the surrounding mountains. "All sorts. Cats, dogs, wolves, horses . . . all those you know about, I am sure." He turned back to Harry, suspicious glint in his eye. "Why do you ask?"
Harry scratched the back of his head. Well he certainly wasn't a bloody cat! "It occurred to me that my actual form — my Animagus form — could be an animal that resides in Middle-Earth." Harry explained about the dreams induced by a combination of Occlumency and dimension travelling, Gandalf nodding and looking grim at the appropriate moments. When Harry came to the part of his eating an entire sheep, Gandalf's eyebrows shot up and disappeared behind his hat.
"Well," said the wizard, puffing a little, "I would think that there aren't many flying animals which can eat an entire sheep. Besides the Great Eagles and Dragons and . . . Fell Beasts, I suppose." Gandalf's eyes glazed over for a moment, then he smiled and stroked his beard. "However, since Pippin told me you have Dragons in your world, and some variation of Eagles no doubt, I can only assume you wanted my advice because your kind cannot turn into magical creatures?"
"Yes," Harry said, amazed yet again at the old wizard's intuition. He had confirmed that morning, after flipping through Sirius's Animagus book, that turning into a magical creature was not possible for wizarding folk. It required too much power that the wizard or witch just could not access; power that had to be similar to the animal's in question. The text book had given a hypothetical yet rather vague example as to how it all worked —something about if a gryffon had wizarding powers and wished to change into a hippogriff it would be able to, but if it wanted to become human it wouldn't be possible for it because humans had a different form of magic altogether. Harry still had trouble getting his head around it.
But now he wanted to find out if his question could be answered. If anyone would know Gandalf would. "I guess I just wanted to know if there were any normal birds here."
"Big enough to eat a sheep?" Gandalf shook his head. "No. I am sorry, Harry. Perhaps you have overlooked some possibilities in your own world? Hmm?"
"I expect I could be a vulture," Harry said dully. I am not going to be a vulture! "I don't know if they're big enough, though." But Harry was very afraid that they just might be.
Gandalf chuckled bemusedly. "All these references to things I do not understand. It is a new, novel, but not altogether unsatisfying experience."
"You don't understand," Harry said, slumping back in his chair. "I don't know what 'Fell Beasts' are but they sound horrible." Not least because Gandalf had not thought to explain them.
"That is because they are," Gandalf said gravely. "The Nazgul use them as transport and spies. Foul wretches and Black Wings! You can call them the Black Steeds of the air, Harry. Not magical, but wicked and clever . . . let us hope you are not going to shift into one of them."
His options were just getting better and better. "Let's," Harry whispered.
Gandalf looked at him. "Are you feeling well?"
"I don't want to be a Fell Beast!"
"Nor would I," Gandalf said, not helping matters. "But if you do become one. . . why, just think: you can enter Mordor and spy for us. No one would stop you."
"Er. . ."
Gandalf smiled gently at Harry's briefly shocked look. "I was merely jesting, my lad."
"Oh." Harry said.
But Gandalf could obviously tell that Harry was not feeling better so he tried to placate him a little. "The Nazgul-birds . . . they are mere animals, Harry, taking on the traits of their masters from birth. If you or I were to train one it should be friendly, as all beasts that are trained thus."
"I admit that no one knows much about them, except that they are winged creatures," Gandalf continued, scratching the side of his hooked nose. "If they are birds, then they're greater than all other birds. Skin of dark leather envelopes their large frames. Neither quill nor feather do they bear, and their vast pinions are as webs of hide between horned fingers; and they stink quite remarkably. Creatures of an older world maybe . . ."
Harry nodded vaguely, going over what Gandalf had told him. Leathery skin, webs of hide, creatures of an older world . . . He sat up abruptly, Gandalf starting with his movement. "Do you mean dinosaurs?" he asked. That thought had never occurred to him before. "You have dinosaurs here?"
Gandalf blinked. "I . . . dyno-sores?" he tried.
"Never mind." Harry shook his head and slumped back down. He did not need Gandalf to explain to him, because it was obvious: Creatures of an older world. Fell beasts were dinosaurs. Dinosaurs! All previous depressing thoughts of turning into a vulture or large mutated chicken of some kind faded away like they had never been. Harry was now convinced he was going to be a dinosaur. There was no other option. He simply had to be a dinosaur. No other animal that was not magical was big enough.
His sudden euphoria ended quite abruptly at the thought. He would be very conspicuous, wouldn't he? His form not at all good for spying or hiding beneath shrubs. The thought was not pleasant. Nor was the possibility of being, perhaps, too stupid to spy in the first place. What if, like his dream, he started eating sheep? Or even people? Becoming a dinosaur was going to take getting used to. What if the animal's natural instincts were going to be too much for him to handle and he really became a Fell Beast?
Harry quickly reached into his robe pocket and pulled out Sirius's book. There had to be an answer in there.
"You seem restless suddenly." Gandalf's voice was gentle next to his ear. "What are you looking for?"
"I'll tell you when I find it," Harry answered, flipping to the index.
It took an extra four minutes before a passage on page 137 caught his eye.
. . . do not, as far as witches and wizards know, acquire the instincts of the animal in question. It has been theorised; however, that if the wizard or witch were to spend a sufficient amount of time in their animal form they would then develop traits from that animal that transition into their human form: nothing mental, but physical. They might, if one were to look at a hypothetical situation, develop cat's eyes if their form was that of a cat, and so on. Although, this theory has been debunked many times as there has been no evidential proof that such a thing could be possible. The question of why anyone would want to spend a great length of time in their animal form has been brought up, with no logical or conclusive answer.
Harry flipped the page, scanned down, until another interesting passage caught his eye.
Animagi are not to be confused with wizarding folk that have been transfigured via a spell by another witch or wizard. These "transfigured" folk become the animal. The animal's instincts, senses, and thoughts become those of the wizard.
Wizard A transfigures Wizard B into a toad (see below).
There was quite an elaborate drawing underneath the passage that depicted a wizard with scarlet robes pointing a wand at his counterpart, who was halfway between his transformation. By the time Harry had finished watching the transformation was complete and the victor wizard brushed off his robes, turned, and bowed to him. The toad, however, hopped onto a lily pad and into the murky pond water until Harry could not see him anymore.
He continued reading:
That is why becoming an Animagus is so difficult and transfiguring another into an animal is so easy — not least because the two require completely different spells. Wizards keep their minds when they transform themselves, but don't when another does it for them. The toad hopped away because he had no knowledge of who he really was. Nature decreed that he was simply a small amphibian who became frightened upon noticing the large, ugly mammal standing over him and thus hid amongst the weeds in a response to its natural instinct for survival.
This is also the reason why witches and wizards change each other — or, before Muggle/Wizard Relation Laws, muggles — into small, helpless creatures like toads, or bats, or rodents (see Muggle Medieval Myths, pg 61). These wizard turned animals would then be too small to do the caster any harm, as opposed to larger creatures such as tigers, which would rather eat a human than run away or hop into a pond. The Danish wizard, Ingvar Ingarsson, from the Epic poem "The Time I Lost My Foot To A Bear Then Grew Myself Another" (1384) found this out the hard way when . . .
Harry closed the book, grinning. "It's going to be all right I think. No matter what animal I'll change into I'll still be Harry underneath."
"That is good to know," said Gandalf a little hesitantly.
Harry wondered at that, then remembered he hadn't actually told Gandalf what he had been so worried about.
He told him now.
"I can see why you were so nervous," said the elder wizard after Harry had hastily explained. "I should not wish to eat people either, if I can help it. And might I add what a remarkable painting that is. Do you know of the one who painted it?"
"Probably the wizard who wrote the book." Harry licked his lip and placed the book carefully into his pocket. "Arnold Penworthy."
"Was it he who gave you the book?"
Upon reflecting the question Harry realised that the printing press hadn't been invented in Middle Earth yet. Though he wasn't sure wizards used printing presses either. He scratched at an itch on his knee. "Not exactly. He didn't pass it on to me if that's what you mean. This book was bought."
Gandalf's enormous brows rose. "Such a valuable thing? Sold? Just like that?"
"There's more than one copy of it."
Gandalf nodded, though it was clear to Harry that he wasn't quite sure what Harry was talking about. And Harry decided that trying to explain would be way over his head as he wasn't quite sure either. "What do you intend to do now?"
His friend's question suddenly caused Harry contrary emotions. He ought to practise his transformation, he knew that, but there were more important things happening that he should be concentrating on first. Then again, the possibility of having a fully-fledged Animagus form would be a great benefit. On the other hand there was no guarantee he would transform anytime soon. Hadn't it taken his father and Sirius years? But then, he had completed a lot of the necessary steps that the process towards the transformation required; he had even skipped some! Harry was not sure whether this was a consequence of his mastering Occlumency or of his living in an entirely different dimension for over three months now. "I'm not exactly sure, to be honest."
"No one can be," said Gandalf very wisely.
"It's just . . ." Harry raked a hand through his hair and bit his lip. "I can't help thinking that I should be concentrating on something more important."
"Your shape-changing is also important, is it not?"
"But not pressing," Harry said, glancing sideways.
"Ah," said Gandalf. "What do you wish to do instead, then?"
The question stumped Harry. "I-I don't know." Gandalf wants me to do something? All he really wanted was to practise his transformation, but circumstances being what they were may not allow him to do that. But why had Gandalf asked him for an alternative? Was he, in fact, planning something? Was this Gandalf's way of testing him for something? Was Harry just thinking too much?
The old wizard patted his shoulder. "You think on it."
"In the meantime, while you do so, I need you run several errands for me."
Pippin was in the stables patting Shadowfax when Harry arrived on the sixth level. Gandalf's explanation about why he needed Pippin so desperately all of a sudden had been vague and mysterious so Harry hadn't given it a thought, knowing he would find out later. Now that he had actually found Pippin; however, he was a little put out that the hobbit wasn't alone. Instead Pippin was talking to a stern looking man who was dressed in a black leather over-tunic and polished black boots — an almost exact replica of the uniform of the child guards Harry had met last night except somehow richer. This man was more important. His hair, dark like Aragorn's, was a little longer than Harry was used to seeing on the men of this realm, and his eyes, also like Aragorn's, were gentle as he spoke quietly to his little companion. It looked like they were in deep, yet friendly conversation. Harry would have to wait even longer than he had planned, it seemed.
The murmurs halted as two heads — one small, one large — turned towards the entrance. "Harry!" Pippin grinned and made beckoning gesture. "Come, Harry, and meet my friend Beregond."
Harry thought he may as well make with the pleasantries; the man looked interesting enough, besides. He was obviously someone important, though he seemed nothing like Denethor. What an odd comparison? Harry could not imagine why he had made it.
He shook his head a little as he walked further into the stables, the smell of straw sweet and heavy in the air as it was crushed under his trainers. "Hullo, sir," Harry greeted as he stopped before them. "Harry Potter, at your service."
"Good morning." The large man inclined his head. "Beregond son of Bergil at yours, young wizard. I trust you are enjoying your stay in our city? Is it not grand?"
"Very," Harry agreed, all the time wondering why almost everyone that he had ever met in Middle-Earth persisted in calling him either 'young wizard' or 'my lord'.
"Beregond — he is an important guard, you know — has been very kind, Harry," said Pippin. "He has been taking me around. Minas Tirith is even larger than I had thought but we still have quite aways to go and quite a lot to see. We were about to head off to the buttery, in fact."
"So you've been on a tour?" Harry asked politely.
"Yes, indeed. It's been a very enlightening one, also," said Pippin happily, smiling up at Beregond. "Did you know that there are seven levels in Minas Tirith?"
"Er," said Harry.
"Oh," said Pippin, who had by now learned to interpret Harry's 'Ers' and had correctly read the 'yes' in Harry's voice. "I had to try and impress you for once. I could not have impressed Gandalf with that —"
Harry could not let that opportunity pass by. "Gandalf's actually looking for you, Pippin. He asked me to come get you."
Immediately the hobbit's demeanour, which had been so bright and cheery before, faded away, leaving only a sort of guilty perplexity on the little face. Pippin, who had done nothing as of yet, was expecting some sort of reprimand for whatever it was he hadn't done. Or his expression could have just been a reflex reaction, Harry pondered suddenly, brought about by Pippin's always getting into trouble with Gandalf and immediately expecting a scolding no matter if he had done anything wrong or not. Harry could smell hobbit guilt; he had been able to smell it ever since the Palantir incident. Pippin had not yet forgiven himself and thought Gandalf hadn't done so either.
"You wish to leave now?" Pippin asked hesitantly.
Harry shrugged apologetically. "Gandalf did say right away."
"I am sorry, then, for having to leave, Mister Beregond. I hope to see you soon."
"Without a doubt, Master Peregrin!" said Beregond. "If I may, it is early yet. We shall meet up later in the day right in this very spot, and then we shall walk to lunch and trade stories. I am most curious to hear about your Shire."
"And I am most curious about Gondor, friend."
"It is settled then. I will see you later." He bowed to Pippin then bowed to Harry. "No doubt I will see you later also, Master Wizard."
"No doubt," Harry agreed. The man was oddly fascinating in a very stern way. Perhaps that was where the comparison to Denethor had come from.
"Fair-the-well." Beregond patted Shadowfax on the shoulder and left, arms crossed behind his back and his feet never seeming to pick up straw as Harry's had done.
Harry turned back to Pippin. "Shall we go?"
The morose little head nodded.
"Don't be like that." Harry playfully punched Pippin's shoulder as he walked past. "You aren't in any trouble."
"How do you know?"
Harry stopped at that, blinking. He honestly didn't. "Just because."
"But how?" Pippin asked again.
"Gandalf didn't look angry," Harry speculated.
Pippin looked considerably happier. Both he and Harry then patted Shadowfax twice on the head before leaving the stall. "Farewell, Shadowfax! Have patience. Battle is coming," said Pippin.
Shadowfax stamped his hooves and neighed so loudly that the stable shook and they had to cover their ears.
"Merlin!" Harry yelled over the echoes. His estimation of the magical horse had just gone up.
Before they left completely Harry walked into another stall to greet his own horse, which he had become quite fond of on their journey to the white city. "Keep Shadowfax company, won't you boy? I think he's getting lonely."
Hammrod snuffled into Harry's hand, searching for a treat. Harry laughed and reached into his pocket. At the sight of the orange stick (Harry had nicked it from the Weasley garden last night) the horse stamped his foot until Harry stuck it in his mouth.
Hammrod butted his shoulder happily as Harry walked out.
"If you don't mind," said Harry a short while later as hobbit and boy trekked through a mob of morning market people, "but I have to get something for Gandalf from here. Do you know of a place that sells weed?"
"Oh my, yes. I was there just this morning. Not as good as the Old Toby, of course, and not as sweet, but it should do for Gandalf."
Pippin nodded seriously. "Even if it is bitter. People in Gondor don't smoke a lot, I have noticed, and they can hardly help it if they grow leaf that is not very good."
"Why is that?" Harry asked, curious. It seemed to him everyone but Elves did. "Don't smoke a lot, that is."
The hobbit shrugged. "I don't know. It is a hobbit custom and we stole the habit from the Númenóreans long ago, as Gandalf tells me, but we now grow the leaves ourselves and ours are the best in all of Middle-Earth. Rangers smoke them. Even wizards. Saruman had a whole stockroom full of Longbottom Leaf. We divided it among ourselves. I cannot imagine how Gandalf could have gone through his share in so short a time."
"Of course," Pippin leaned in conspiratorially, "it could be because Merry and I kept most of it ourselves."
Harry laughed out loud.
"Though, I shouldn't talk," Pippin continued, pausing for a moment to avoid getting trod on by a large man who'd pushed past them. "I used my only bundle last night. Merry always says I smoke too much."
There was a solemn tone in Pippin's voice as he spoke of his cousin and Harry hastily changed the subject.
It took them a short time to arrive at the shop, which was small and tucked out of the way at the end of a narrow street. A bell jangled lightly as Harry stepped through after Pippin, noting the blackened walls. The smell wouldn't hit him until later.
"Good morning again, little one! Back so soon? Who is your friend?"
Harry blinked at the sight.
The man who'd spoken was short and squat with not much hair and not much voice, having lost that ages ago to pipe-weed. About him lingered a cloud of black, puffed out occasionally from the end of the pipe in his mouth. It smelled vile and Harry quashed the immediate urge to remove his hat and cover his nose with it.
"This is Harry, the Bla — er, my friend, and we have come to collect some more pipe-weed, if you please," said Pippin.
No, no we haven't, Harry thought desperately, if this smell is what I have to put up with around Gandalf!
But the man's beard almost fell off in his excitement. Despite Pippin's attempt at subtlety he had recognised Harry. He even dropped his pipe in a crate of dry leaves on the countertop and didn't notice when the small fire started. Harry had to use his wand to put it out, almost making the man faint at the casual display.
"The pipe-weed!" Harry bit out after moments of staring. "It's not going to get itself, is it?"
"Of course not, my lord —" Harry almost rolled his eyes "— which do you prefer?"
Certainly not yours. "The leaf you're smoking is a little too strong for Gandalf's tastes." And mine. "Have you anything milder, sir?"
"Of course, yes, of course. Young Master Peregrin purchased some just this morning. Not as strong as mine, nor yet as sweet as that Long-buttocks Leaf."
"Longbottom," Pippin corrected.
"That'll do, then. If you could wrap it up?" Harry said encouragingly. He wanted to get out of the shop as quickly as possible; the smoke was starting to make his eyes water.
"I shall!" said the man, already bustling. As his large backside bent over to retrieve the leaf from the bottom shelves Harry's gaze caught on something interesting right above it.
"Can you get that for me, too, please?"
The man straightened and looked to where Harry was pointing. "Whatever will you need that for?"
"It's a present."
The man smiled slyly. "For a young maid, perhaps?"
Harry fought the urge to laugh; his brain had suddenly jumped to a ridiculous image of Ron dressed in a skirt and batting his eyelashes. "Not exactly," he managed to choke out. Then it occurred to him . . . "What do you mean? Do men not buy those?"
"They can if they wish."
"Then why . . . .?" Why had the man immediately jumped to the assumption that Harry was buying it for a girl? "Doesn't matter. Just wrap it up, or put it in a pack, or whatever you do."
"Pack? Do you not have your own?"
Harry just stared.
"Imagine? Me? Packing it for you? I've never heard of such a thing."
"I have a pack," said Pippin helpfully. Harry could not help but notice that he had been following the exchange very closely up until that point and had only now started out of his daze.
"I have a pack," Harry gritted out between clenched teeth. "I just thought . . . never mind." He was never going to be able to explain the different subtleties between their two cultures and how he hadn't yet managed to identify them all, especially not to some man he'd only just not even met properly yet.
Of course they don't pack it for you, idiot!
After paying with the money Gandalf had given him, Harry left the shop as quickly as was polite with Pippin in the lead. They chatted innocuously as they made their way back to Gandalf. Pippin eventually led them through an out of the way street that he had sniffed out earlier on — Harry assumed the reason was because it led to the small stall that sold a variety of foods, as the Hobbit actually stopped to buy some for Second Breakfast, and, after smelling the deliciously roasted chicken, so did Harry. A minute later they stepped out of the street, Harry looking bemusedly at the item in his hand (he had had to sacrifice a galleon for their chicken, getting lots of little brass coins in return, including a small bronze urn. The merchant had not been able to resist giving it to him; had in fact pushed it at him with such urgent hands and a wide grin that Harry had had to accept it. Evidently, gold wasn't that common among the 'ordinary folk' in Gondor). The shortcut also took ten minutes off their walk and was good for avoiding the large market crowd that neither of them was particularly inclined to want to shove through. Both of them, they realised at the same time, got stared at and pointed to (in Pippin's case accidentally trod on) quite a lot by the people of Minas Tirith; Harry, because of his reputation, and Pippin because of his being a hobbit.
They munched on their chicken legs as they slumped down the paved incline of the sixth level. There were still a couple of lonesome stores scattered between the streets and Harry and Pippin stopped occasionally to have a poke at the expensive looking trinkets (the sixth level housing more nobility than the others) but they never purchased anything, even though Harry would have liked to buy something for Hermione. Although, he did not think she would appreciate beaded glass necklaces or musky perfumed scents (the bejewelled hairclips he had actually pondered over before dismissing them on the grounds that they were too showy for someone of Hermione's bookwork-like ilk). She would be more thrilled, instead, with a library book about the history of Middle-Earth. If Harry could somehow get his hands on one, translate it to English — the idea had definite possibilities.
They had just walked past the last of the market stragglers when a movement caught the corner of Harry's blind spot.
A woman had banged out of her front door, in one hand clutching a large brown pack (what Harry thought an ancient suitcase might look like), in the other a small child, who ducked behind his mother's skirts as he spotted Harry. The woman was clearly agitated and had also clearly packed for a very far away trip. She dumped her pack haphazardly amongst the others in a small cart that was attached to a pony. She then bundled up the boy and dumped him, too, on the luggage — albeit, in a less haphazard way — before grabbing the pony's reigns and urging him along the path. The boy continued to stare at Harry as the cart trundled down, his grey eyes dark and too full of something that Harry could not identify at present, only knowing that the look caused an uncomfortable feeling to settle in his throat.
The entire scene made Harry confused and wary, and he could not help but think of the cold weight along the base of his stomach that had been there since he'd first stepped into Minas Tirith, but he shook it from his thoughts, content to listen to Pippin instead.
The hobbit babbled on inanely as they walked, Harry not quite paying as much attention as he ought to have done. He kept noticing little things around him: hands sharpening weapons, worn eyes glaring, a child crying, another staring. People, whose eyes had looked blank only the day before, now looked frightened. Expectant.
He saw many people with packs.
"They know Denethor's being an idiot," he whispered.
". . . and I said to him, I did — what was that, Harry?"
"Who's being an idiot?"
"Oh." Harry blushed. "Erm, nobody."
Pippin stared for a while, then seemed to nod subconsciously. "Everybody is preparing," he said solemnly. "In their own way."
Harry looked down in shock, not acquainting with this much more maudlin Pippin. "For what?"
"Dying, I expect."
It hit Harry suddenly like an unexpected thunderbolt, and he actually stopped in his place without meaning to. All he'd recently scene — the sad boy with the old eyes, and the tense atmosphere — flashed through the forefront of his brain like a fast-forwarded film.
Why hadn't he thought of it before?!
His grin, when it came, was as wide as the feeling in his stomach. It seemed quite obvious to him now, what he had to do, even if he might take him a while to do it — it was just going to have to be a risk he'd have to take. And he would have to ask for Gandalf's help . . . yes, it would work.
"Why are you smiling like that?" asked Pippin curiously.
"I've just had a really brilliant idea," said Harry.
"Good. We could all do with one of those," Pippin said. "What is it?"
Harry started laughing and clapped Pippin on the shoulder. "I'll have to speak to Gandalf first, and once we've worked it all — and we will work it out — I'll tell you."
"Tell me what?"
But Harry had already begun walking.
Pippin began hurrumphing to himself. "If that is the way you want it, I suppose I can wait . . ." Then began another monologue on the differences between Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith, Harry nodding at the appropriate moments distractedly. Pippin spoke of the history of Gondor (what he had gleaned from what little time he'd spent with Beregond), how Minas Tirith was before called Minas Arnor, how it had a sister city near Mordor under the Mountains of Shadow (Minas Ithil) that had been a sort of watch tower but that the Ring-Wraiths had taken over and renamed Minas Morgul before anybody could really watch for anything. Of course, there was much more to Gondor than Pippin could, at present, bring into the conversation, having been promised a long talk and tour by Beregond later that afternoon, whereupon he would learn more and then pass it along to Harry.
Pippin could (and did); however, talk more about the things he had already seen. Harry tuned him out after he started speaking about the founding of Gondor — the hobbit sounded remarkably like Binns suddenly — but was quickly brought back out of his daze when Pippin asked him how he was going with his transformation. At first Harry was stunned, wondering how on Earth Pippin had found out, but he got over his shock quickly enough and started explaining.
Harry admitted to Pippin that he was half way through the process already and was going to try to continue but didn't know if he should as there were far more important things going on at the moment.
"Don't think like that!" Pippin scolded him exuberantly, his little face shining with pleasure. "Why, you are the greatest wizard in Middle Earth — do not tell Gandalf I said that, please thank you — and you can do anything. You cannot give up now." Ever since Pippin had heard of Harry's defeat at Helm's Deep he had become surprisingly (if not obsessively) optimistic that Harry could do just about anything and still come out with both feet intact and smelling of victory. It cheered Harry up that someone could have so much faith in him, and also strove to feed his ego somewhat, to the point where he had actually started thinking the hobbit may be right. And it was not as though Pippin was obsessed with Harry, like, say, Colin Creevey. The hobbit was genuinely offering him advice. And if his eyes shone a little too happily while doing so who was Harry to try and dismiss it?
"All right. I'll do it. I'll find the time to practise. Maybe just before I fall asleep, like when I was trying with my Occlumency," Harry mused.
Pippin patted his shoulder.
After walking for another five minutes they finally made it to Gandalf, who had been waiting for them impatiently in their quarters. Harry tried not to look to eager or stupid as he pondered over his previous revelation and how to go about telling the other wizard.
"What took you so long?" he demanded as Harry handed over the pipe-weed.
Harry was taken aback. "I had to go and find Pippin first."
"Ah yes, Pippin Took, I have work for you to do. Follow me. You as well, Harry."
Pippin and Harry looked at each other, but followed the wizard out the door.
A short while later Harry and Gandalf watched Pippin from their nook behind an archway as the hobbit climbed the rock surface to light the beacon at the top.
"Not to criticise you, Gandalf, but why didn't you just ask me to do it?" Harry said, eyes not leaving the climbing hobbit. "It would have been far less trouble. I can fly there with my broom and I can become invisible."
Beside him Gandalf sighed, not unkindly. "This has nothing to do with you, young Harry," he said. "This is Pippin's chance to redeem himself; in my eyes and, most importantly, in his own for having looked into the Palantir." He stared thoughtfully up at the little climbing figure, his long beard swaying a little in the wind. "Do not deny him this feeling of self-worth. Sturdier and nobler hobbits there were than Pippin, but none so stubborn or foolhardy. He needs this."
Harry understood. He had thought the same himself.
Pippin's climb seemed to take an age, possibly because both Harry and Gandalf were anxiously awaiting the outcome. Harry shifted a little from foot to foot as Pippin's first attempt to light the beacon failed. His second was a complete success, though, and both wizards visibly relaxed as the hobbit began the long climb back down the rock surface.
"You're absolutely sure war is going to come to Gondor?" Harry asked, knowing what the answer was going to be.
Gandalf threw him a slightly puzzled look. "Did you not see it yourself when you looked into the Palantir?"
"No," said Harry.
"My mistake," said Gandalf, visibly disconcerted. "But did not Pippin see it? Why do you ask at all?"
"It's just — I've been thinking about some things, things that could improve the city's defences."
"Oh?" Gandalf turned to him, leaned on his staff. "What things?"
Harry drew a deep breath, memory briefly flashing to the lost little face he'd spotted hidden behind his mother's skirt, which had given him the idea to begin with. "We were ill-prepared in Helm's Deep. We almost came too late to help and it all happened so suddenly. Dumbledore's wards held for a while, but even then . . ."
"You wish to place wards?"
Harry shook his head. "No, no wards, I wouldn't have the first clue how to cast them anyway — and I can't take the chance that something magical would be there to neutralise them like last time." At Gandalf's puzzled look Harry raked a hand through his hair. He wished he could explain better but he'd never been very good with words. Especially words using the Middle-Earth dialect. "I mean other things. Things that might help. I have somewhat of an idea as to what I can do, but I'll have to go away for a bit."
"What are you planning?"
Harry smiled at the wizard's demandingly inquisitive tone. "I need you to tell me if there are any safe places here. Or anywhere in Middle Earth."
"Elf havens, perhaps, would be the safest."
"Please tell me you don't mean Lothlorien?" Harry tried to keep the grimace off his face, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling that he'd just betrayed Galadriel and Celeborn, whom he was quite fond of.
"No," said Gandalf, bemused. "Rivendell is a house for the homely. Lord Elrond is used to welcoming Men into his Halls. Lothlorien will not welcome so many Men as would Rivendell. If at all, I am sorry to say."
"Figures," Harry muttered.
"However," Gandalf said, raising his voice slightly, "these are suspicious times and if you go there and bring Men there — as I suspect you wish to do, though I cannot imagine how you would go about doing it — you will have to explain yourself and their presence. A difficult task even for someone of your far-reaching reputation — which I am not sure has even reached so far as Rivendell yet."
"You could write them a letter," Harry argued, almost tentatively.
"I could." Gandalf sighed and clucked his tongue. "In fact I probably should."
"You will?" Gandalf nodded, and Harry grinned. "I'll get you parchment. But first I have to stop a mother and son from leaving."
"I shouldn't worry," said Gandalf.
Harry, who had turned with the attention of going, froze. "What d'you mean?"
Gandalf reached into his pocket and removed his pipe, sticking the end into his mouth. "They will not be able to get through the main gates," he explained. "The guards won't allow it."
"Because they'll be safer inside the city?" Harry guessed.
"Hmmm," said Gandalf.
"Then why bother trying to go out in the first place?"
"They are simple people, Harry. They are — forgive the term — unlearned." Gandalf gestured to Harry with his pipe, staring pointedly at the tip. Harry grinned and tapped it with his finger, lighting it. Gandalf could have done it himself, of course, now that he was head of his Order and far more powerful, but it was easier for Harry whose magic never got exhausted. "Mothers with young children are known to be the most foolish of people or the most courageous when faced with a demanding situation."
Harry nodded. "I see."
"Yes, rather like hobbits in that respect."
"You mean . . .?" he trailed off. You mean Pippin? Harry thought the words but didn't say them. "You mean just one hobbit, don't you?" Or possibly two, he amended, thinking of Merry.
"Not precisely, as they are all very untroubled and cheerful as a race. For centuries they have gone unnoticed by the world while tucked in their little nook, living almost apart from Middle-Earth. This has given them a very carefree nature, unknowing about what horrors the world can and does disgorge. But Pippin is young still, for a hobbit." That long white beard seemed to sigh as its owner did. "I really do love hobbits, you know," Gandalf said earnestly.
Harry sputtered in a kind of half snort half cough of severed laughter at the unexpectedness of that statement. "So do I. I've noticed they're a very . . . happy people, too." he said. "At least from what I've seen in Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin. It's good. We should all be that way."
"Not all the time, I think," warned Gandalf, a little sternly. "For if there is only happiness there is no room to grow as a person or as a people. We become slaves to our bliss and thus uncaring of the world outside our own emotions. And so, our happiness becomes our enemy, betraying us most foully in the end."
Harry blinked. "Wow," he said. "But hobbits aren't like that."
"Their hearts seem too big for their bodies sometimes. They often mean well, although . . ."
Gandalf didn't need to finish. Harry understood.
"Now!" boomed Gandalf suddenly, and Harry jumped. "Have you given any thought to your transformation?"
Pippin actually helped me. "I'm going to continue studying."
"As long as you gave it a lot of thought."
A/N: When Gandalf explains to Harry about the 'creatures of old', I have quoted (not completely directly) from chapter six, book five of The Lord of the Rings.