Warnings and Disclaimers: Usage of narcotics, and goriness in the last scene.
Harry stared up at the saddle with a feeling of immense dread. They wanted him to ride… that? Alone? Never the tallest boy in his year, he felt even more dwarfed by the way he could only just peek over the lowest point of the horse's back; this despite the fact that his was easily the smallest horse in the company. More than once he'd seen the guardsmen look his way and smile, mouthing words to each other that he was sure contained the word 'pony' somewhere in them.
Not that the horse had really done anything to earn his anxiety. It didn't have Buckbeak's ripping claws or cruel beak, and the placid look on its long face left Harry doubtful it would ever get more than a foot off the ground even under the most extreme circumstances. It was just… there. And big. And they wanted him to ride it, when he couldn't even get up onto it without help.
For all that they were unable to speak each other's languages, Faramir reflected, the look on Harry's face needed no translating. Firmly keeping any hint of a smile from his own expression as he watched the boy stare at the horse assigned to him, the Captain leaned over to his second, Anador, and murmured a few instructions. The man saluted, fist over heart, and dismounted.
"Milord," he heard, and turned to look at the speaker. A guardsman stood beside Larsk, holding out a package wrapped in oilskin. "My lord the Steward bids you give over this letter to Gandalf the Grey once you've reached Rivendell."
Though he was surprised, Faramir didn't ask questions as he reached out to take the package. If he was meant to know, undoubtedly his old friend Gandalf would enlighten him at the end of their journey. The captain tucked it into his saddlebag and glanced back behind him as he heard a yelp, to see that Anador had indeed picked Harry up and dropped him into the saddle as ordered. It didn't appear to even have been that difficult. The child was really too small for his age; if numbers hadn't been one of the first things established, and age one of the first questions asked, Faramir would have placed him at twelve, not nearly fifteen years of age.
Harry must have seen Faramir watching him and guessed where the orders came from, since the boy sent a glower his way. Suppressing another smile, the captain turned himself about. "Company, mount!" he called out, and the few stragglers among the guardsmen leapt onto their horses.
They rode hard those first few days, while their horses could still take it- Faramir knew it was hard on the boy, who had obviously never ridden a horse before coming into their company, but it couldn't be helped. He did what he could by boiling a mixture of poppy sap and other herbs as a tonic every night when they made camp, force-feeding the unpleasant-tasting drink to Harry when necessary. The boy needed his sleep, and the tonic numbed the aches of the journey and the lingering pain of his burns enough for him to do so. Even so, Faramir only dared give it to him for a day or two more. It was only prudent to keep some back, should disaster befall the company and leave them with wounded; and besides, it wasn't safe to give any poppy-sap concoction to a man for too long. He came to crave it, and would even fall sick without it.
It was while preparing the tonic, nearly a week after leaving Minas Tirith, that Faramir finally recalled the stick that he'd found with Harry, and almost absent-mindedly packed along with his supplies. It was more than just a stick, of course, given the painstaking carving that must have gone into it, and he wouldn't be surprised if the boy wanted it back.
He carried it with him as he brought the tonic over to his young charge, who grimaced at the sight of it. "I assure you, lad, there are many worse things you could be having to drink," Faramir told him with some amusement. "Many of which Healer Ioreth enjoys giving to her patients. Be thankful she could not accompany us."
Harry's understanding of Westron was improving in fits and starts, but the captain's words were still beyond his comprehension. Nevertheless, the boy seemed to gather the gist of it, and his scowl deepened. Faramir snorted in amusement and pressed the cup into his hand anyway. While Harry was distracted by the cup, he pulled the pale stick from within his shirt, and held it out to the boy. "I believe this belongs to you."
Harry looked up and let out a cry, clumsily snatching the stick from his fingers almost before Faramir could blink. Then the boy's face crumbled in almost palpable disappointment as he studied the stick more closely. Concerned, Faramir reached out to touch his shoulder. "What's wrong?"
The boy glanced at him, then back at the stick, still looking as though he had lost his fondest companion. Then he set the cup with its noxious brew to the side, and gestured between himself and the stick. "What word?" he asked, one of his most-used questions.
The captain frowned at him, trying to figure out what he was referring to. Harry continued gesturing between himself and the stick, then changed briefly to between Faramir and the stick.
Ah. Possessives. "Mine," Faramir said, as Harry gestured to himself. The boy then pointed towards the Gondorian instead. "Yours." Harry looked around, then pointed between the stick and one of the guardsmen on watch. "His."
The boy nodded sadly. "His," he said in reply, dropping the stick into his lap.
Harry sighed as Faramir rose and went to speak to one of the guards. Of course it couldn't be that simple. No, not his wand, it had to be Voldemort's!
He couldn't resist touching it, though, as it rested almost innocently in his lap, and again the wizard felt the same rush that he had always associated with holding his own wand. "It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather--just one other," Harry remembered Ollivander saying. "It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother--why, its brother gave you that scar."
Brother wands. That had to be it, why touching Voldemort's wand felt so much like touching his own. It didn't seem right, that it should feel the same, having been used to hurt and kill so many- shouldn't the power feel darker, more evil? Hurt him to feel, even?
"There is no good or evil, only power…"
Harry shook his head to send away the memory. No, Voldemort was evil all right, no matter what he claimed. But his wand… Brother wands.
Maybe his wand would work for Harry?
Before he could talk himself out of it, the wizard wrapped his hand around the wand. The rush came again, though not as strong as before, and Harry looked around for ideas. He couldn't try anything flashy- he had no idea how Faramir and the others would react to magic. But at the same time it had to be obvious that it had worked…
Shifting reminded him of the bedroll he was sitting on, and woke up every morning stiff and sore on. A cushioning charm, maybe? They'd learned that just after the First Task… Harry discretely touched the tip of the wand to the bedroll and murmured the incantation.
He shifted again, and carefully pressed his hand against it. There was a twinge from the burns, but it didn't feel any softer to him… Not that he'd been any great shakes at the charm to begin with. Something else? "Accio rock," he muttered under his breath, pointing the tip of the wand towards a pebble not half a meter from him.
It didn't even twitch. "Figures…" the wizard muttered. Just once, couldn't things have gone his way? With another sigh, he tucked the wand away in with his things. A part of him wanted to snap it, just on general principles, but Voldemort was dead, and it might, maybe, still come in handy.
Harry snorted at his wishful thinking. Right, like he could be that lucky. He picked up his cup again, a sturdy little wooden piece filled with, despite the surliness he'd shown Faramir, one of the admittedly least noxious potions he'd ever had to drink. It still wasn't pleasant, but it was nothing on the order of Skelegro or Polyjuice. And it helped him sleep, something that was hard, between the pain and his memories of the Third Task.
His thoughts tried to drift yet again towards wondering what was happening back home, and the boy quickly held his nose and downed the potion.
When Faramir returned for his cup, not even ten minutes later, Harry was sound asleep.
The room wasn't a very large room, for all that it held the four living most powerful (magically or politically) wizards in England, as well as one former Azkaban inmate who could rival the weakest of them in strength when in the proper frame of mind. Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge discussed matters quietly with Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Supreme Mugwump, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and holder of the Order of Merlin, First Class, patiently tried to coax Sirius Black into halting his pacing and taking a nice cup of tea. And in the corner sat a small grey man whom most of the Ministry didn't even know existed, calmly putting his papers into order.
"Shall we start, sirs, ma'am?" he finally said, glancing up at the others. Conversation immediately ceased, with every eye in the room locking on his own.
"Please, Mr. Augur," Dumbledore said with a nod. He firmly grasped Sirius by the sleeve of his robes and pulled him down into the next seat over. Minister Fudge and Madam Bones quickly found seats of their own.
The unofficial Head of the Unspeakables (for how could a department that didn't officially exist have an official Head?) coughed into his fist and rose. "First, I'd like to thank Madam Bones for the use of the Aurors she has loaned our department." He nodded to her, and the witch gave him a curt nod in return. "Their aid has been invaluable, but will no longer be required."
Sirius tried to surge out of his seat, only for Albus to pull him back down again. "You've found him?" he demanded, only sparing the Headmaster a brief, irritated glance.
"No," Augur replied, his attention seemingly on the papers he was shuffling in his hands. "We haven't found a single trace of him anywhere on the planet."
It was a moment before that sank in, and then Sirius was up again, this time trying to lunge at the Unspeakable. "You're giving up?!"
With a great deal of effort, Albus grabbed him and pulled him back down again, this time pulling out his wand and applying a Sticking Charm to the chair. "He said nothing of the sort, Sirius," the wizard chided him. "I trust you have an explanation, Mr. Augur?"
Augur bowed his head. "Indeed. Mr. Potter is nowhere on Earth. However, the trail left by the wild magic that resulted from the interrupted ritual clearly leads somewhere, rather than ending. That means that the boy was transported either to another planet, in which case his survival is unlikely, or interdimensionally. If it's the latter case, we literally have no idea where he ended up. Either way, searching for him is now in the hands of our researchers, not in those of wizards on the ground." He gave Minister Fudge a tiny bow. "Assuming, of course, that the Minister continues to authorize our funding for this project…?"
The portly little wizard looked torn, glancing several times at the serenely smiling Dumbledore and the glowering Black next to him. "Are…" he paused to clear his throat. "Are you quite sure you'll be able to find him?"
Augur gave the tiniest of nods. "I have the utmost confidence in my researchers. It may take some time as we exhaust all possibilities, but I'm positive we can find where Mr. Potter went. Following him there may be a different matter, however."
Fudge glanced around the room again, trying to gage how the others felt. Amelia Bones would reluctantly support him, so long as it didn't put the public in danger, and Dumbledore he might be able to argue down. But Black… Fudge suspected that if he ordered the Unspeakables to stop looking for the man's godson, Black would in short order be back on his way to Azkaban, this time for Fudge's murder. An entirely unreasonable man, Black was.
With a quiet sigh, Fudge resigned himself to having to spend quite a lot of the Ministry's money on funding this wild diricawl chase, rather than fear for his life. If nothing else, at least it would be great publicity for the magnanimity of the Ministry and perhaps win back some of the public support it had lost when Voldemort's return and death, and Potter's subsequent disappearance, had been announced. Fudge would have to make sure to drop a hint of the meeting's proceedings in the right ears.
"You have the Ministry's support, Mr. Augur," he finally said. "Find the boy."
The burned trail had run straight as an arrow ever since they left Lord Boromir's company- it ignored even streams, ridges and trees, the last dying or just beginning to die that were unfortunate enough to be in its way. After a time and especially while crossing the White Mountains, the scouts had given up on following it exactly, instead finding the quickest, easiest path in that general direction and crisscrossing the trail every hour or so. It never varied, and they seemed to be catching up to whatever was leaving the path of death and destruction; the longer and harder that they pressed on, the less advanced was the death of the foliage.
Odimer called the other scout to a halt with a raised fist as they came to a ridgeline overlooking a vast plain. From his horse, he could see the trail continue towards the forest on the far edge of the plain, only to abruptly halt not quite halfway there. The scout laid his hand on the hilt of his sword as he frantically scanned the plain for any sight of whomever or whatever they had been pursuing. Nothing… there was nothing!
"Fall back," he ordered tersely, already beginning to turn his horse. "We'll circle around-"
It was then that he was struck from below, toppling off of the horse and landing heavily on his side. The air was driven out of him, yet he still had the presence of mind to draw his sword, even as he heard Balinor yell as he was attacked in turn. Odimer struggle to his feet, trying to gasp in air and stumbled towards the other man.
He never made it. There was came a burning, tearing sensation through his middle, and the sword fell to the ground as he collapsed to his knees in agony. Odimer's breath gurgled in his lungs, and he looked down to see the leather vest that had covered his chest had been eaten away, and the flesh beneath it was deeply charred- so deeply that he thought that might be the curve of his stomach...
Black spots overwhelmed his vision for a moment, and when the scout came to, he found himself lying on the ground, his face turned towards the plains. It must have known they were following and backtracked, he realized, lying in wait just below the ridgeline until they came upon it. The plants along its new trail were already dying, so they had no warning…
Out of sight, for Odimer had no strength to turn his head, Balinor's scream faded and died, and he knew the other scout was dead. Movement in the corner of his eye caught his painful attention, and to his astonishment what seemed to be a cloud of smoke- though it seemed to him to be far fouler than smoke could ever be- drifted back to the burnt pathway, again making its way towards the forest.
The pain was fading as Odimer followed the smoke with his eyes, until he lost it in the shadows of the trees. He was dying, he knew. Dying without either of them surviving to warn Lord Boromir of the danger. It wasn't yet nightfall, but the light seemed to be fading. Odimer's last thought was that at least they had been well out of Gondorian lands, on the border of Rohan, even, before they caught up with the smoke. He could just see the enormous stone tower in the distance, poking up over the trees…
Yes, at least Isengard was well away from Gondor.
A/N: And thus ends the last setup chapter, so you know where all the players are on the board. After this the main focus will be on Harry and the Fellowship. I'm trying to lengthen my chapter length. Is this better? And I have a question for all of you- how much of the journey to Rivendell do you want to see? It takes them 112 days to get there, after all, and very little of interest will occur on the way. Would you be satisfied with only a few scenes and perhaps the occasional flashback? (Please please say yes, so I can have them get to Rivendell next chapter.) And don't count Voldemort's wand out quite yet…
I know I said I'd try and write more after school let out, but things in real life haven't allowed for it. We buried my godfather yesterday- he was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer last fall, and this past month deteriorated far too quickly. Probably part of the reason I got this done so quickly- there were only a thousand or so words of it written until four days ago- is trying to keep my mind off the hole that's suddenly there.
The Boy and the Ring has been removed from the renewed poll, and The Power of the Grave reinstated.
31 May 2008