Summary: The Fellowship are trapped in Moria, with no choice but to go on. What will befall them there, and when they finally escape, have they found safety or a place more perilous in other ways? In which Luna is troubled, Aragorn has a crisis of confidence, Draco is conniving, Harry comes to an important realisation, a mysterious creature is following them, something is bothering Boromir, and danger is never far away. And In The Darkness Bind Them By Ms. Katonic

Chapter 12

"Hey, Potter?"

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry sighed. They'd been walking for hours up and down endless identical-looking tunnels, and Harry's patience was frayed, to put it mildly.

"Can I talk to you for a second? Alone? And stop doing that, I'm not after the sodding Ring, if I'd really wanted it, I'd have tipped you off the broom and looted your corpse."

"Not exactly helping," said Harry, glaring. But he did release his grip on the Ring and fall into place next to Draco. "What is it?"

"Dreams," said Draco, lowering his voice. "I've been having nightmares about bad things happening to the Fellowship. Specifically, Luna, Ginny and Hermione all dying horrible deaths. Luna's was at the lake, and next it's Ginny's turn."

"But Luna didn't die," Harry pointed out.

"No, because I was keeping an eye on her and hexed the tentacle out of the way," said Draco. "Hence, she's still with us. Ginny was next, which is why I need your help."

"Why do you need my help?" Harry whispered.

"Because if I stand close by in order to shield her, she'll think I'm up to something or perving over her," Draco pointed out. "Whereas she actually likes you. She won't mind you forever standing next to her at all times."

"What if she thinks I'm perving over her?" Harry asked.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Potter, you unobservant twit, it's not perving if you happen to fancy the person who's doing it."

Harry promptly went bright pink. "She doesn't!" A pause. "Does she?" Draco merely raised an eyebrow. Harry looked up ahead to where Ginny was laughing at something Gimli had said. She noticed him watching, caught his eye and smiled before turning her attention back to the Dwarf. Harry smiled back weakly, suddenly acutely aware of his heartbeat thudding in his chest like a war-drum. That was... unexpected. Good... but unexpected, and frankly terrifying, and since when had his best mate's little sister got pretty? All the times she'd singled him out for conversations... that time in Rivendell when they'd accidentally ended up holding hands... huddling next to him on Caradhras... oh dear. It all made sense now. He was utterly, utterly doomed.

"What do I do?" he hissed.

"Oh, Potter, you are so hopeless," Draco sighed. "Stand near her and be ready to defend if, say, we get ambushed by Orcs in some place that might have been a library or archive or anything like that. Otherwise, act normal. After Moria, work out if you like her or not. I imagine that'll simplify matters enormously."

"You'd better be right about this, Malfoy!" said Harry. Without another word, he'd raced ahead and rejoined the others, falling in behind Ginny and trying, not entirely successfully, to look normal.

"Thank you for sorting out my love life, Draco. You're welcome, Potter," Draco muttered to himself. Still, even though Ginny and he would never exactly be close, he still didn't want to see her dead.

Somewhere in the future, Draco could almost feel his father turning in his grave. Somehow, right now he couldn't care less.

For hours that became days they walked through Moria, the endless tunnels winding deep into the mountains. Twice they slept, but it was not an easy sleep for any of them. Draco still had restless dreams of death beneath the mountains, and although he no longer cried out in his sleep, the tossing and turning frequently kept those near him awake. Harry rarely strayed far from Ginny, clutching the Ring and brooding uneasily. Even Luna's spirits were low, and Gimli, who had once been so eager to see the heart of all Dwarvendom again, had remained quiet since the doors had closed. The nights were restless, and the days wearying, enlivened only by occasionally having to leap chasms that had opened in the path, and by the odd junction, where they would have to stop while Gandalf worked out the right way to go. Hermione had almost suggested the use of a Point Me charm, but after succeeding at the Westgate where Gandalf had not, didn't like to show him up again. And while neither Legolas nor Draco nor Aragorn spoke of this to anyone else, all three could hear in the distance the very faint sounds of what could be footsteps. Finally, at the end of a particularly tiring march, when all were thinking of nothing more than where they were going to make camp that night, the walls to either side fell away and the air grew colder.

"Where are we?" Harry asked, the Lumos-light from his wand revealing very little other than that they must be an open space.

Gandalf smiled, raising his staff. "We've come the right way. We are now entering the habitable parts of Moria, and the Eastgate cannot be far now. Here, I shall risk some real light!"

Light flared from his staff, revealing a vast hall, supported by many stone pillars, reminding both Harry and Ginny of the Chamber of Secrets except in a much vaster scale. Three entrance arches loomed up on the far side of the hall, leading into blackness. Then the light went out.

"We have done well," said Gandalf. "In times past there were great windows on the mountainside, and shafts that let the light in. It is night now, but in the morning, we might see daylight yet. Come, let us rest. We have come far, but the Dimrill Dale is still some distance away."

They made camp for the night, and sleep soon came on them all, apart from Harry, who had the first watch. Two long, lonely hours passed with nothing but the cold and the dark and Ginny lying curled up asleep next to him. Harry glanced down at her with a smile. She was very pretty. He still wasn't entirely sure that Draco hadn't been making it up for his own nefarious reasons when he'd said Ginny fancied him. He hoped she did though. His dreams of late had been dark and cold, and the Ring was a constant weight on his mind... but when he looked at Ginny, it didn't seem to weigh as much.

Smiling, Harry looked up on the offchance there was anything out there... and saw two pale points of light in the distance, over near the archway they'd entered by. Harry reached for his wand.

"Expecto Patronum!" The silver stag raced off in the direction of the lights... but there was nothing there. Either whatever it was had vanished, or he'd been imagining things in the first place.

"This place is really giving me the creeps," Harry muttered, casting a Tempus Charm. Sure enough, his two hours were up. Nudging Legolas awake for his turn at the watch, Harry went to sleep.

When he woke up, it was to light, real light, faint sunlight, falling on his face, and the rest of the Fellowship up and about. Next to him, Ginny was sitting up, drinking it in with joy.

"Harry, look, there are light-shafts!" she cried, on seeing him awake. "Daylight, do you see it?"

Harry watched the light on her face and decided there and then he'd never seen anything so beautiful.

"Yeah, I see it," he said. "It's gorgeous." You're gorgeous, he wanted to say. But he didn't think it was really the time or place.

"Good morning, young Harry!" Gandalf called to him. "I was right – we are high on the east side of Moria. Before the day is out, we should be through the Great Gates and out into the Dimrill Dale."

That was good news indeed and the Company were all pleased to hear it, even Gimli.

"I have seen Moria now, and it is great but also dark and dreadful. I doubt now Balin ever came here."

Breakfast was had, and then their direction for the day was discussed.

"Shall it be the eastward arch we take, Gandalf?" Hermione asked.

"Maybe," said Gandalf. "But I do not know exactly where we are. I will need to work that out before heading on. I think we should head for the light in the north door – it may prove to be a window."

So they went that way, and the light grew stronger until it led them into a small chamber lit by a shaft, with blue sky just visible through it. Everything was covered in dust, but the light fell squarely on a single stone block in the centre. It looked like a tomb to Harry's eyes, and it was evident he wasn't the only one thinking it. Everyone gathered around it to see.

"What are the runes carved on it?" Hermione asked, peering at them.

"They are Daeron's Runes, used of old in Moria, but the language is the Westron," said Gandalf with a heavy heart. "It reads Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria."

Gimli turned away, pulling his hood over his face. Everyone fell silent. Dwarves had been here... and Dwarves had died. It was an unnerving thought, especially as it now became obvious that the piles of debris hiding under dust were bones and broken weapons and shields. There had been a battle here. A further search of the room revealed yet more evidence of violence and plunder, but by the remains of a wooden chest, Gandalf found a book. It was brittle and fragile, covered in old blood and clearly abused, but much was still readable. Gandalf pored over it for some time in silence, with Hermione and Gimli reading over his shoulders. The book was written by numerous different people, in various runic scripts and sometimes the odd bit in English – Hermione guessed that must be the language glamour translating Westron written in Tengwar letters.

"It's a record of the coming of Balin's folk to Moria," Gandalf said at length. "There are pages missing from the start, but it seems to begin with their coming to the Dimrill Dale thirty years ago. It seems they drove out Orcs from the Eastgate before coming to settle in the twenty first hall of North End. According to this, Balin set up his seat in the Chamber of Mazarbul."

"The Chamber of Records," said Gimli, oblivious to both Harry and Draco going tense. "We must be standing in it now."

Draco nodded to Harry, drawing his wand and edging towards the door. Harry drew his own wand and settled himself next to Ginny, positioning himself between her and the entrance.

"There is nothing then for some time, except Balin now being Lord of Moria. Then references to finding mithril, and Oin going to seek for the upper armouries of Third Deep, and then westwards to Hollin Gate."

"Doesn't look like he ever made it," said Hermione softly. Gandalf turned over some pages too damaged to read, until he reached some referring to the colony's fifth year.

"Hey, I can read that!" said Ginny, surprised. She was standing next to Hermione now, trying to read over her shoulder.

"It is Ori's hand," said Gimli. "He could write well and often used the Elvish letters."

"Our language-glamours are clearly rendering Westron as English, and the Tengwar as our Latin letters," said Hermione. "I saw plenty of Elven texts at Rivendell, and the letters were ours, but I still understood none of it."

"I wish I couldn't though," said Ginny grimly. "Yesterday being the tenth of November, Balin Lord of Moria fell in Dimrill Dale. He went alone to look in Mirrormere, an Orc shot him from behind a stone. We slew the Orc, but many more came from the East up the Silverlode. We have barred the gates... can hold them long... I can't read the rest, it's too damaged."

Gandalf turned the pages until he reached the last one. "This is grim to read – I fear their end was cruel. We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They have taken the Bridge and second hall. Frar and Loni and Nali fell there. Then it's too smeared to read, but the last part is the pool is up to the wall at Westgate. The Watcher in the Water took Oin. We cannot get out. The end comes. Drums, drums in the deep – I wonder what that means, nothing good, I fear. The very last thing is a scrawl of Elven letters – they are coming. There's nothing else."

The room had fallen silent, dread on every face. "They must have made a last stand by both doors," Hermione whispered. "The poor things."

"But if they did not triumph over the Orc invaders," said Aragorn, troubled, "then the Orcs would never have been driven out. Moria is a prize not to be relinquished easily – I doubt much that they would simply yield it and move on. We do not know that there are not Orcish hordes still here. I like this place not, Gandalf!"

"Patience, Aragorn," said Gandalf calmly. "We have not seen any sign of Orcs since we arrived and they are not the sort to tidy up after themselves."

"That does not mean there are none here," said Boromir, from where he was standing by the door, glancing into the corridor. "It merely means we have not yet found them... or them us."

Scarcely had he spoken when they were all silenced by a single loud pounding drumbeat that rang out from below and echoed around the corridor. This was followed by another, and another, and in the distance, the sound of many running feet and coarse shouting.

"Drums in the deep," Hermione gasped.

"They are coming!" Legolas cried.

"We cannot get out," Gimli moaned, clutching at his hair in dismay.

Boromir and Draco, both standing near the door by which they'd come in, peered out into the corridor, at the same time as Harry cast a swift Shield Charm to protect himself and Hermione and Ginny. Luna had the tomb between her and the entrance, and if Draco was fool enough to stand right in the line of fire, let him, but Harry would do what he could to keep his friends safe.

It was just in time. Draco swore loudly and leapt back just as an arrow fired into the room, bouncing off Harry's shield. Boromir stepped back into the room and slammed the door shut, barring it shut as best as he was able with some of the larger bits of debris lying around.

"They have a cave-troll," he sighed, rolling his eyes at them.

"Not for much longer," said Draco, sliding the tip of his wand through a crack in the door and whispering the flame spell he'd used on Caradhras. There came the sound of screaming and the unmistakable smell of roasted Orc flesh. Draco stepped away, pale and looking as if he was about to be sick.

"I've never used that spell on people before," he said faintly.

"They are not people, they are Orcs," said Legolas, reaching for his own bow. "You did well, Uruloki."

"You did indeed, but that will not hold them off for long," said Aragorn. He indicated the small door at the back of the room. "We have no choice, we will have to flee this way. Thus far, it seems free of Orcs."

"I agree," said Gandalf, "but we should leave something to delay them yet further."

"Leave it to me," said Hermione briskly. "Draco, you know a thing or two about wards and locking spells, I imagine?"

"Including the ones that do unpleasant things to unwanted intruders?" Draco smiled thinly. "After five years of Slytherin, I should say I do."

Together, the two of them proceeded to cast hexes, jinxes and charms over the front entrance, sealing the door and setting many curses on it that would deter the Orcs for some considerable time. After a minute or two they stepped back, surveying their handiwork.

"It won't last forever," said Draco, casting a critical eye over it.

"But it'll hold long enough for us to get away," said Hermione. Gandalf nodded approvingly.

"It will," he replied. "And now let me leave a surprise of my own for when they finally do break through." He proceeded to weave magic of his own around the room, fire charms and explosion charms and magic none of them had ever seen before, all linked to the doors and intended to go off when the doors were finally breached, bringing the whole room down on the luckless intruders.

"There, now let us flee!" said Gandalf. "I know where we are now, this passage should bring us out near the Great Gates. If they are not held against us, we may be able to flee this place."

What he did not say, but what all of them thought, was that it was a very big if.

For an hour, they fled down winding stairs and narrow corridors, Lumos-lights and magelight guiding them, heading down and right as Gandalf had ordered. Hermione had Transfigured the door they'd fled through into solid stone, blocking the entrance behind them, but even so, everyone was on edge. Down through the darkness they fled, but there was no pursuit nor any sound once they'd left the Chamber of Mazarbul behind, save one large explosion and the resulting shockwaves shaking the rock around them.

"They've breached the Chamber then," said Gandalf. "Balin is buried deep now." No one really had any response to that, and while it was somewhat cheering to think that at least some of the Orcs were buried with him, no one believed that they were now safe.

On they raced, until light other than their own gleamed up ahead – but red light, not daylight.

"Gandalf, what is that?" Harry asked. "Moria's not on fire, is it?"

"Rock cannot burn," said Gandalf. "But we do not know what else may be lying in wait. Have a care and be on your guard, my friends!" He edged nearer the light, and as the corridor led out into an open space, he nodded, grasping his staff. The air hung thickly about them, hotter than they'd yet felt it.

"I know where we are now," said Gandalf, "we are in the Second Hall of Old Moria and the Gates are near. To the eastern end of the Hall, across the Bridge, up the stairs and along through the First Hall, and then out. We may still escape yet!"

"But why is it so hot down here?" Ginny asked, coughing. Ash was in the air, and the smell of smoke, and all in all it was becoming distinctly unpleasant.

"Come and see," said Gandalf, stepping into the Hall. They did so, and were amazed to see a great chasm dividing the room in two, with fire blazing out of it. All except Luna, who not only didn't seem surprised, she looked desperately unhappy.

"Had we come by the main road from the upper halls, we would have been trapped," said Gandalf, not noticing the young witch's expression. "As it is, we can hope the fire will remain between us and pursuit. Let us go, there is no time to lose."

As he spoke, drumbeats rolled out again, galvanising them into movement. As one, they raced after Gandalf, trying not to think too much about the sound of drums and running feet behind them. At least fire lay between them and the Orcs, and a swiftly cast Shield Charm from Harry kept arrows from reaching them. They raced across the Hall, only stopping when they reached the chasm at the far end, spanned only by a slender stone bridge.

"Lead the way, Gimli!" Gandalf cried. "Then the children after you."

Hermione stopped, gasping for breath and shook her head. "I've never liked heights," she said, closing her eyes. There was a loud crack and flash of light, and Hermione appeared on the far side of the chasm.

"I did it!" she cried. "I can Apparate! I've only had the one lesson, but the books were really helpful."

"So very typical," Draco murmured as Gimli dashed over the bridge, loudly accusing Hermione of cheating. "Lovegood, fancy a lift?" He unshouldered his broomstick. "Lovegood? Luna?"

For the first time, he realised just how withdrawn she'd been for the last few days, since entering Moria in fact. Right now, she looked awful, as if she was about to burst into tears, and she was staring at Gandalf.

"Luna, what is it?" Draco asked, feeling a lump forming in his throat. "What's wrong? What do you know?"

"I thought it might be different this time," Luna whispered. "But I don't think it will be, and I can't watch, Draco, I can't!" She turned and flung her arms around him, burying her face in his chest.

"Er... there, there, Luna," said Draco, really having no idea how to respond to this. "Why don't you just get on my broom and we'll get out of here, OK?"

Sniffling, Luna nodded, and mounted up behind him. Trying to ignore the looks he was getting from Hermione and Gimli, and now Harry and Ginny who had both crossed over while he was comforting Luna, he flew over the chasm and dismounted on the other side.

"Are you alright, lassie?" Gimli asked Luna. She nodded, drying her eyes.

"I will be," Luna said, still looking far from happy. "But I am so very afraid."

Gimli, like Draco, had no real idea how to respond to that, and settled for making comforting noises and staring at his feet, while Ginny stepped to Luna's other side, patting her shoulder. However, no one had a chance to say anything else as Legolas crossed the bridge, turned to face the enemy and promptly went pale, crying out in horror. Trolls had arrived, bridging the fire with stone slabs and allowing the Orcs to cross... but that was not what had frightened the Elf. The Orcs had parted, and a black shadow emerged, a figure of fire and darkness wielding a whip of fire and a flaming sword. It leapt the fire without breaking its stride and bore down on them.

"What is it?" Hermione asked, making her way to the bridge as if entranced.

"A Balrog!" Legolas cried. "A Balrog is come."

"Durin's Bane!" said Gimli, wide-eyed.

"A Balrog!" cried Gandalf. "Evil fortune indeed! Aragorn, Boromir, cross the Bridge, take the others and flee – this is a foe beyond any of you."

Aragorn and Boromir retreated over the bridge but no further, drawing their swords in a vain bid to protect their leader. Boromir unslung his horn, sounding out a mighty blast, which did give the advancing horde pause... but not for long. The Balrog bore down on them, cracking its whip against the rock floor, leaving scorch marks wherever it hit that smoked for minutes after.

"Gandalf, oh Gandalf, be careful!" Luna cried, near tears as she watched him retreat as far as the middle of the Bridge. Harry had already raced to join Aragorn and Boromir, wand outstretched, and Hermione would have joined him had Draco not grabbed her wand arm and held her back.

"Damn it, Draco, let me go!" she shouted at him.

"No, you'll just get yourself killed!" Draco shouted back. "If Gandalf says it's beyond us, it's beyond us, leave it be!"

Hermione would have protested, but at that moment, Harry chose to launch a Flame-Freezing Charm at the Balrog. It might even have worked on a lesser creature, but it struck the Balrog's arm, causing the flames on it to freeze for a second... and then the charm vanished as if it had never been. Going pale, Harry gulped before backing away to rejoin the others.

Gandalf faced the Balrog with not a glimmer of fear as it reached the Bridge and began to advance towards him.

"You shall not pass!" Gandalf challenged it. Behind it, the Orcs fell silent, but the Balrog just laughed.

"I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor!" Gandalf continued, staff raised in one hand, Glamdring drawn in the other. "You shall not pass!"

The Balrog did not reply, its fire dying down but seeming to grow in size and become darker until it towered over Gandalf, wings spanning almost the entire width of the Hall. Luna buried her face in Draco's shoulder, sobbing in terror. Draco stroked her hair, wishing he had the same option. But the only person he'd ever felt comfortable doing that around was his mother, and she wasn't here.

"The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun!" Gandalf was still shouting. "Go back to the Shadow! You shall not pass!"

The Balrog's whip hissed over Gandalf's head and its red sword of fire swung out. Gandalf's sword Glamdring rang out in response, slicing into the sword with an explosion of white fire that obliterated the Balrog's weapon. Swaying from the effort, Gandalf took a step back, raising his staff again. Enraged, the Balrog leapt forward, its whip whirling above its head as it prepared to strike. Gathering his strength for one last effort, Gandalf struck the Bridge with his staff.

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" he thundered as he did so. His staff shattered into pieces, an explosion of white fire bursting out of it and into the Bridge. At the very feet of the Balrog, the Bridge cracked and broke, crumbling into the abyss and taking the Balrog with it, the creature roaring in fury as it fell. Gandalf, exhausted, turned away, but as he did so, the flame whip sang out again, wrapping around his legs and hauling him back.

"Gandalf!" Hermione cried. Behind her, Luna howled, clinging on to Draco as if her life depended on it.

"Fly, you fools!" Gandalf cried, and then he was gone.

The fire died, plunging the hall into darkness. Four whispered Lumos-charms sprang into life, giving some light, but all it really showed was eight frightened faces, seven not bothering to hide it and only Boromir trying to look as if he alone were unafraid.

Until Aragorn stepped into the circle of light, grim but undaunted.

"Come, I will lead you now. We must obey his last command. Follow me!" Without waiting to see if they were following, he ran for the stairs at the far end. Drying her eyes, Luna broke away from Draco and cast her own Lumos before running after Aragorn. At this, the rest of the Fellowship roused themselves from their stupor and followed behind, Harry and Ginny after her, Draco and Hermione behind, then Legolas, then Gimli and finally Boromir bringing up the rear. In the distance, the drums were beating again, but more slowly this time, as if in a funeral march. They ran on, and as they ran, it began to grow lighter. They passed through another hall, this one lit by giant windows in the mountainside, and then up ahead were the Great Gates, standing open, sunlight pouring in. There were Orcs ahead, but very few of them, and after Aragorn struck down their leader without even slowing his stride, they had no further trouble. Out of Moria they ran, into the light of a beautiful winter's day. They kept running until they were out of bowshot of the Gates, and then finally they were able to rest by the waters of the Mirrormere, where they sunk to the ground and gave way to their grief.

For a long while they remained there, sitting or standing around, crying, weeping, or just staring at the ground. Gimli went to stare into the Mirrormere but did not speak to any of what he saw there. Harry was with Ginny, openly crying on her shoulder and Ginny for her part didn't seem to mind, just holding him as she stared back at Moria, her own tears glittering on her cheeks.

Luna was crying quietly with her head on Draco's shoulder. Draco had no earthly idea why she'd singled him out, but who was he to argue? And a short way off was Hermione on her own, looking as lost and confused as he felt.

"Granger... Hermione. You can sit with us if you like," he heard himself saying. It was a testament to how Hermione was feeling that she assented without hesitating and settled down at his side, resting her head on his other shoulder.

"How did this happen?" Hermione whispered. "How did one of us get killed... and Gandalf of all people? He was the strongest of us all! And Harry's spell just fizzled out against that thing, and if Gandalf hadn't been there to fight it..." She buried her head in Draco's robes, the words choking her.

Draco had no answer for her, other than "it'll be alright," or "we knew this was dangerous going in," or even "don't worry, I'll look after you," but somehow, not a single one seemed appropriate. He settled for a slightly awkward one-armed hug.

"And what if it was our fault?" Hermione continued. "What if we interfered somehow? What if he'd have lived if it hadn't been for us? What if we've made things worse?"

"We haven't," said Luna, her voice clear and firm despite the tears still on her face. "He died there in Moria in the original timeline too. There was nothing any of us could have done differently. Not even me, knowing what would probably happen. All I could have done was urge us to skip the Chamber of Mazarbul and go directly to the Second Hall to save time – but we still might have run into trouble, and we'd definitely have been trapped by the fire. We didn't kill him, but we couldn't save him either. Hermione, there was nothing we could have done."

"If we can't change anything, what's the bloody use of being here?" Hermione snapped. "Surely the whole point of coming was to make a bloody difference?"

"We can and we willand we are doing," said Luna, her own temper starting to fray at the edges. "But Hermione, we can't save everyone!"

"She speaks the truth," said Aragorn, sitting down across from them. He was the only one in earshot, Boromir having gone for a walk, kicking and striking with his sword a few harmless bushes as he did so, Legolas sitting in the distance under a tree, and Harry and Ginny too lost in each other to notice anyone else. "We cannot save everyone, much as we might wish otherwise. All we can do is save who we can, and let the Valar take care of everyone else." His attention shifted intently to Luna. "But you, young Isileth, it is different with you. We make what decisions we can, and sometimes we have our eyes wide open and the light of reason and knowledge to guide us. And other times, the road ahead is dark to us and we follow the promptings the Valar choose to send us. And yet other times, it matters not whether the road is clear or no, for our hearts have their own desires and will follow them blindly. But you, you have more than that. For you, not only is the road well lit, but you know where it leads. You knew that we had to go to the Chamber to avoid the fire, and yet you also knew that road would lead to Gandalf's death most likely, and that pained you greatly, this I can tell now. I too have some of the Dunedain foresight, I too feared for Gandalf if he entered Moria. But I knew not why, and you, you knew what was to come and you walked that road anyway. For that, I salute you."

"Thank you, but I really didn't have a lot of choice," said Luna sadly. "I know the original story, that's all. I can't tell you what happens though, because things might be different this time, and just telling you would change things in itself and not for the better. So I can't say what's going to happen, just as I couldn't say anything about Gandalf. It wouldn't have changed anything except for the worse!"

"But he might have taken more care on the Bridge if someone had warned him," said Hermione curtly.

"Or he might not," said Draco. "We don't know, Hermione, and I for one think the one to blame for Gandalf dying was the sodding Balrog that killed him!"

Hermione backed off, chastened. Aragorn merely nodded. "Well spoken, son of Lucius. I know you are all doing what you can. We all knew this was a dangerous road, and I think Gandalf knew when he stepped onto that bridge that he might not leave it again. We cannot dwell on the past – we can only look to the future. And that is why I wish to speak with you, young Luna."

Luna disentangled herself from Draco, sitting upright.

"I can't tell you what lies ahead or where to go, Aragorn," she said. "You must know that."

Aragorn nodded reluctantly. "I know you can tell me but little. But I find myself unexpectedly leading eight people on a journey into peril and I have no idea what my predecessor had planned or where he was leading us."

"That's alright, I don't think he knew exactly either," said Luna. "Aragorn, you will do fine."

"Strangely, I do not find myself comforted," said Aragorn with a humourless smile. "Have you no other counsel you can give?"

"Well, what would you do if I wasn't here?" Luna asked.

"I do not know," Aragorn sighed. "But we must move on, and soon, before the Orcs of Moria decide to come for the rest of us. We must find a place of safety, and the nearest one is the Golden Woods of Lothlorien, not more than a few miles hence. There we can rest and take on supplies, and seek counsel from Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn."

"Excellent idea," Draco interrupted. "Let's do that then. Lead the way, o mighty leader."

Aragorn stared at him, then burst out laughing. "I have been outmatched this day, truly. Nevertheless, I thank you. For the power of the truly wise is that of helping others realise that the answer to their troubles lay within them all along. Come, rouse your friends, it is time we were moving. We have lingered by Mirrormere enough."

It took a further twenty minutes to round everyone up and gather all their things together and move on, Aragorn explaining that they were to make for the spring of the Silverlode and then follow that river downstream into the woods there.

"Lothlorien!" cried Legolas. "Fairest of all Elven dwellings save those in the West. For there are the mallorn trees, of silver bark and golden leaf, which lose not their leaves in autumn, keeping them until spring. Then only do their leaves fall, when the mallorn boughs blossom with fair yellow flowers, and there is gold above and gold below and silver in the middle. So we say in Mirkwood. Alas that it is still winter!"

"It will be fair enough even now," Aragorn promised. "But it is still far, and we must hasten."

So they did, walking briskly with only brief halts for the next five hours. The sun crept below the mountains and night fell, but still they continued, until finally the mallorns of Lothlorien loomed up ahead.

"Lothlorien! Lothlorien!" Legolas cried. "How I have longed to lay eyes on you."

"And I too," said Aragorn, a wistful smile on his face. "We are still too close to Moria for my liking, but we cannot go much further tonight. We must trust in the virtue of the Elves to protect us until daybreak."

"If there are Elves still here," said Gimli suspiciously. Certainly if Elves did live there, they were doing their best to hide the fact. The woods were dark and there was no sign of life other than the usual forest animals.

"In Mirkwood, they say Elves live here still," said Legolas. "There is a secret power that keeps evil from the land. But maybe they live deep within the woods."

"They do indeed live deep in the woods," said Aragorn, moving forward. "We can rely on no direct aid from the Elves of Lorien tonight – we must fend for ourselves. Come, let us enter – we shall travel far enough that trees surround us, and then we shall find shelter for the night."

Aragorn led the way, and all made to follow him – all but Boromir.

"Is there no other way?" the Gondorian asked.

Aragorn sighed, and turned to face him. "Where else would we go, Boromir? Have you some fairer way in mind?"

"Any plain road, though it led through a hedge of swords," said Boromir stubbornly. "By strange paths have we travelled, and to evil fortune so far. To Moria we went against my will, and suffered loss there. And now the Golden Wood? We have tales of this place in Gondor – it is a fey place, a wild place, and few who enter ever return. Those that do are never the same. It is perilous!"

"Lore and wisdom have waned indeed in Gondor if they speak evil now of Lothlorien," Aragorn replied. "Few indeed pass through unchanged, but that does not make this place evil. Stay or go as you please, Boromir, but there is no other way for this Company – unless you wish to skirt this forest and swim Anduin alone."

Boromir growled but raised no further objections. "Lead on then, but should peril befall us, remember I told you thus!"

They entered the forest and walked for some time, Legolas entertaining them along the way with tales of Lorien that the Mirkwood Elves told. They forded the Nimrodel stream without any trouble, and Legolas switched to songs and stories of Amroth and Nimrodel, a pair of Elven lovers, the latter of whom had given the river its name. After fording the river, Aragorn led them off the path, moving further into the trees until they found a group of them with thicker trunks than the rest.

"These will do," said Aragorn. "We'll need to sleep in the branches tonight if we want to avoid Orcs."

"Mellyrn," Legolas breathed. "I never thought I would ever see one with my own eyes. I shall climb it and see what its shape and manner of growth are, and if we may sleep comfortably in it."

"Unless it's miraculously grown into the shape of several king-size beds, the answer to that is no," Draco muttered quietly to Hermione, who nodded in response. A night spent in tree branches listening out for Orcs did not strike any of them as restful. Of course, things then proceeded to take a turn for the unexpected, when a voice rang out from the tree.

"Daro!" the speaker ordered, and Legolas, who had grabbed a lower branch and prepared to swing into the higher ones, immediately let go and dropped to his knees.

"Stay where you are, do not move or speak and definitely do not go for your weapons!" Legolas hissed. Boromir, Harry and Ginny all immediately released their grip on sword and wands. Legolas called up to the hidden speaker in Elvish and received a response in the same.

"What's he saying?" Ginny whispered to Luna.

"I'm not sure, their dialect is different to the one I know!" Luna whispered back. "But I think he's telling them not to hurt us, we're elf-friends. I'm not sure what the other one said back though, he was talking too fast to hear properly."

"Golden-haired one, I was telling the son of Thranduil that you all breathe so loudly, I could have shot you in the dark," came the response. "But have no fear, we have heard of you and your journey. We would never have suffered you to cross the Nimrodel had we not. Legolas, come up and bring with you the one who seems to know our tongue."

"M-me?" Luna felt herself going pink. This was not how she'd expected things to go. Harry, it should be Harry and maybe Ginny going up there, right? Right?

"Yes, you, golden-haired one." The Elvish voice sounded rather amused at this. Seconds later, a grey stepladder descended. Legolas indicated for her to go first.

Trying not to look as terrified as she felt, Luna began to climb.

It took longer than she anticipated – the tree was a tall one – but finally she reached the top of the ladder, where it led on to a wooden platform built into the topmost branches of the mallorn.

Three Elves all clad in grey sat on the platform, watching her intently, almost blending in with the tree. One rose to his feet as she approached, producing a small lamp and studying her intently.

"Mae dh'ovannen, dithen firiel. Man i eneth dhîn?"

Luna knew enough to know he was greeting her and asking her name.

"Le suilon," she replied. "Im Luna eston."

She still couldn't get used to thinking of herself as Isileth, although she answered to it readily enough. Easier just to introduce herself as Luna, really.

The Elf smiled and bowed to her. "Dhe nathlam hi, Luna." He noticed Legolas climbing up onto the platform, and switched to the Common Tongue.

"Son of Thranduilas, be welcome. Both of you, be seated, you have clearly come far. Few dealings have we with other folk, not even our kindred in the North, and rarely do we speak any language but our own. I am one of the few who has retained knowledge of the tongues of other lands. My name is Haldir, Marchwarden of Lorien. These are my brothers, Rumil and Orophin, but they speak little of the Western Tongue." The other two Elves just nodded politely at her.

"It's good to meet you, Haldir," said Luna. "But why did you want to talk to me out of all of us? There's far older and more powerful members of our group."

"But you were the one they turned to when I spoke," said Haldir. "So tell me, Hiril Luna, how did you learn the Sindar tongue? And is it true that you are a child with the gifts of the Istari?"

Luna nodded, producing her wand. "I learnt Sindarin from my mother – she's from a family that claims kinship with the Dunedain and Eldar, and has kept records. Of course, not all of them bothered learning the languages, in fact most of them never did, but her family libraries had plenty of books. As for the magic, that's true. Lumos!" Wandlight lit up the platform, and the three Lorien Elves gazed in wonder, before breaking out into rapid Sindarin amongst themselves, far too fast for Luna to even have a hope of following.

"We are impressed," said Haldir. "Clearly Elrond's sons spoke truly when they passed through. We did have our doubts, and would have discounted the news entirely had Lady Galadriel not also sent orders to watch for you. For that reason, you and your friends may rest easily, Luna. We do not normally welcome strangers here, but we are willing to receive you as guests. Now, we counted nine of you coming in, although it is possible to be wrong in this light and from so high up – who are the others?"

"Four other children, who are friends to Luna here," said Legolas. "Harry Potter, son of James, Lady Hermione Granger, Lady Ginevra Weasley and Draco Malfea, son of Lucius. Also two men, Boromir son of Denethor, of the line of the Stewards of Gondor, and Aragorn son of Arathorn of the Dunedain."

"The son of Arathorn is known to us," said Haldir. "He is most welcome here, as always. But you have only spoken of eight. Who is the ninth?"

For the first time since she'd met him, Legolas actually seemed nervous. "Ah. Er..."

"Thranduilion," Haldir's voice practically purred, dripping with the texture of warm honey, "what are you not telling me?"

Legolas took a deep breath, sensing there was no help for it. "His name is Gimli son of Gloin."

"Gloin?" Haldir frowned. "But that is no name of Men or Elves, that is a Dwarvish name-" Haldir stopped, realising the obvious implication. His face twisted with fury, reminding Luna uncomfortably of Lucius Malfoy. Sure enough, his next words were a stream of Sindarin directed at Legolas, of which Luna understood only a few words, one of which was Naugrim, an Elven word for Dwarves and not a terribly complimentary one. Legolas's expression changed from one of nervousness to one of anger.

"He is my friend!" Legolas snapped back in the Common Speech. Haldir abruptly stopped, and an uncomfortable silence fell as the two of them glared at each other.

Luna realised that someone would have to do something before the lecture on proper Elven pride started and it was clearly going to have to be her.

"Haldir, please!" Luna begged. "Elrond himself chose him to accompany us, and Gimli's been nothing but brave and loyal and trustworthy. He's as much a part of the Company as Legolas and I. You can't take us in and not him! Quite apart from anything else, you'd be abandoning him to Orcs and Wargs and Nargles and who knows what else, and he's done nothing to deserve that!"

Haldir sighed, clutching at his hair in frustration. "Luna, please understand, we do not take strangers in lightly at the best of times, and these times are more dangerous than most. And Dwarves... Luna, it was Dwarven greed that woke evil in the Hithaeglir and caused devastation for us all. And you ask us to welcome one as an honoured guest?"

"It is because these times are dangerous that I'm asking it!" said Luna. "Are Dwarves really more of an enemy to you than Mordor? Are we not all on the same side really? And do you really want to have to explain to Galadriel and Elrond that the Fellowship you were specifically told to watch out for and assist didn't get that assistance because they had a Dwarf with them?"

Haldir threw up his hands in exasperation and turned to his brothers. There were sharp words exchanged between all three, most of which Luna didn't understand, apart from Rumil asking in a puzzled voice "Man i Narglath?" and Haldir irritably replying "Ú-iston, den ú-ídhron." Surprising, one would have expected Elves to know what Nargles were. Maybe they didn't have them in Lorien.

Orophin then interrupted and suggested something, at which Rumil shrugged and nodded at Haldir, appearing to agree, saying something that included the names of Galadriel and Elrond and the words "Ú-drasta gwîn", which Luna took to mean something along the lines of 'not our problem'. Haldir seemed to consider this and then nodded, before turning to Legolas and asking him some questions. Oddly, Aragorn's name came up. Legolas smiled and replied in the affirmative to the first two, but frowned at the third, questioning Haldir in return. Haldir stood firm, however, and Legolas sighed and agreed. Haldir nodded and turned back to Luna.

"Very well, Luna, you have your wish. We do not like this, but if Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel favour him, we can but do as they desire. If Aragorn and Legolas will guard the Dwarf and answer for his actions, we shall let him through. But he must wear a blindfold through Lothlorien until Lady Galadriel or Lord Celeborn themselves allow him to remove it."

"I tried to talk him out of that one," said Legolas apologetically. "But it was that or nothing."

Luna had the feeling Gimli wasn't going to like that idea, but at least they were all being allowed in, and that was something.

"Alright," said Luna. "We'll keep an eye on him, make sure he's no trouble."

"Very good," said Haldir. "And now you must all get off the ground. We have had reports of Orcs and wolves around the edges of the woods for days. It is certainly not safe for your friends to remain on the ground. The tree next to ours has another talan with plenty of supplies – Legolas, you will need to climb up there and lower the ladder for the others. If you stay there with Aragorn, this Boromir, the boy Istari Harry and Draco, and the Dwarf, and the two hiril Istari climb up here to stay with Luna, that will be best, I think."

Legolas agreed to this and disappeared back down the ladder to carry word to the others. Shortly after, Ginny and Hermione arrived, bringing Luna's pack with them as well as their own.

"Is this it?" asked Hermione, looking disdainfully at the wooden platform, bereft of much in the way of comfort.

"I assure you, it has all the comforts you are likely to need," Haldir replied frostily. "Including the benefit of safety from Sauron's minions."

"Oh!" Hermione put her hand to her mouth, not having seen the Elves at first.

"Hermione, Ginny, this is Haldir and he can speak Westron," said Luna cheerfully. "The others are Rumil and Orophin, and they can't. But they're all perfectly friendly when you get to know them."

"Er, hello," said Hermione faintly. "I don't suppose there's any way of keeping warm up here, is there? It's just it's rather colder than on the ground and I was hoping for a bed..."

Haldir softened a little. "Of course, you are children of Men, you will feel the chill more than we do. Fear not, we have cloaks and furs to spare in plenty. Also we have food and drink which will help warm you, if you are hungry."

"We would love some, thank you," said Ginny, beaming. Sure enough, the Elven supper provided made up entirely for the Spartan nature of the talan, and not long after, the three witches had made up a king-size bed of blankets, cloaks and furs and curled up together inside it, as warm as if they were back at Hogwarts.

Meanwhile, on the other talan, the six males of the Fellowship were settling in after a much appreciated supper of Elven food supplies, and were making use of the spare furs provided for makeshift beds. Legolas had curled up next to Gimli without even a word being said, and the Dwarf had looked surprised and flattered. Aragorn and Boromir had settled down next to each other with an unspoken agreement that each would keep unwaveringly to his half, which left Harry with Draco.

Draco, for his part, had made a surprisingly comfortable nest out of assorted cloaks, blankets and furs, laced with a good array of Warming Charms, and was now huddling into it.

"Come on, Potter, are you coming to bed or what?" Draco asked.

"Just so we're clear, this is solely so we don't freeze," said Harry as he climbed in alongside the other boy.

"Believe me, Potter, you're not my type. Your virtue is quite safe with me," Draco snorted. "Although I do think it's rather romantic of you, wanting to save yourself for Weasley."

"Piss off, Malfoy," said Harry, but the words lacked their usual force. At length, he spoke up again in a whisper.

"Do you reckon the girls are all right over there?"

"I'm sure they're fine," Draco muttered. "Have we seen flashes of magic or heard screaming? No. Which means all is well and they're happily tucked up in bed. Sleeping. Oh how I envy them."

"I know, but this is the first time we've all slept apart since Rivendell. It's weird not being able to see them."

"Potter, Hermione can Apparate. In an emergency, I am sure she will grab Luna and Weasley and get out of there. They will be fine, please stop worrying and go to sleep," Draco sighed.

Harry sighed and burrowed deeper into the furs. "I wish Ginny were here," he said softly.

"Believe me, if I could swap with her right now, I would," Draco muttered. "You get your girlfriend and I get some peace. Everyone's a winner."

"She's not my girlfriend," Harry muttered. "We're just... er..." Truth be told, he was no longer entirely sure what they were now. Spending half the afternoon with his head in her lap while she stroked his hair probably took them out of the friend category, but they'd not actually discussed it as such.

"Potter, you bawled your eyes out all over her, and then held hands all the way into Lorien. Personally, I'd say you were firmly in the boyfriend category by this point." A pause. "Good lord, Potter, is that what this is about? Have you and she really not talked about it yet?"

"Since when have we had time, Draco?" Harry whispered back. "I've not had any time alone with her to ask!"

"God almighty," Draco muttered. "Potter, Lorien is probably going to be as safe and danger-free as this entire quest is going to get. For the love of the Valar, get her alone and talk to her. Tomorrow. Or the day after. Or... soon..." Draco yawned, turning over and burrowing under the blankets. Within seconds, he was fast asleep.

"Easy for you to say," Harry muttered. "You were probably trained in the art of courtship as soon as you were out of nappies." Still, there was nothing he could do tonight, and he was tired. Curling up in bed with thoughts of Ginny in on his mind, he was soon sleeping soundly.

Harry woke later that night, disturbed by noise in the distance, the sound of running feet and metal chinking. Legolas was sitting awake by the edge of the talan, staring into the distance with a frown.

"What is it?" Harry whispered.

"Orcs," came the response. "Many of them, from the sounds of it. I am glad we were not on the ground."

"What if they realise we're here?" Harry asked. "Can they climb?"

Legolas nodded. "They can. But I think they are heading in a different direction, and if that is the case, we need not fear. I think our friends in Lorien will ensure they give no further trouble." There was a cold light in Legolas's eyes as he said this, and Harry was reminded that for all the Elves were a kind and compassionate species to their allies, they were utterly merciless to those they considered their enemies.

However, he didn't have long to think of this. There was a scrabbling sound from the tree trunk beneath them. Harry hoped it was one of the Elves, but the hairs prickling on the back of his neck said otherwise. Legolas raised a finger to his lips and unslung his bow, fitting an arrow to it and carefully aiming down the trunk.

Harry drew his wand and looked down through the entry hole.

Below him, two pale eyes stared up at him. Harry remembered the eyes he'd thought he'd seen in Moria only last night (had it really been only last night?) and realised he'd not been imagining them at all.

In the next minute, the eyes were gone, a shadowy figure slipping down and away. Not long after that, an Elf came climbing through branches.

"Thranduilion!" the Elf hissed, stopping when he saw Harry. Legolas smiled and lowered his bow, laying it aside and motioning for Harry to do the same with his wand.

"Haldir," Legolas replied, choosing to use the Common Speech. "We are well; come up. This is Harry son of James, one of the boy Istari."

Haldir nodded to Harry as he climbed onto the talan. "Well met, son of James. I am Haldir, Marchwarden of Lorien."

"It's good to meet you," said Harry. "There was something trying to climb the tree before you came up – did you see what it was? Was it an Orc?"

"It was no Orc," said Haldir, his face darkening. "I know not what it was. I would have shot it, but I could not risk noise. There were many Orcs in Lorien this night – we could not risk open battle with them, but we were able to lead them astray, deeper into the forest."

"But if they go deeper into Lorien, won't they find where your people live?" Harry asked.

Haldir just smiled coldly. "I sent Orophin ahead to warn them. The Orcs will not see daylight again, and by tomorrow night, there will be countless Elves on this border. Fear not, Harry, we are well-defended. But you must not remain here. I will remain here to keep watch, in case the creature returns, and when it is fully light, you will need to go south with us."

Day broke, and as the sun rose, the Fellowship regrouped on the ground. Haldir, Legolas and Aragorn were gathered in a group, having an animated discussion in Sindarin about the day's plans, with Rumil sitting quietly off to one side.

Harry looked up as the three witches climbed down from their tree, feeling his throat dry up as Ginny caught his eye and smiled.

Draco's right, I need to talk to her about this, need to find out what's actually happening between us...

Ginny saved him the bother by sitting next to him, still smiling. "Hello," she said, slightly out of breath from the climb down the tree, and reached out to place her hand over his.

"Er, hi," Harry managed to say, feeling himself blushing. "How was it, did the Elves give you any trouble?"

"None whatsoever, they were perfectly lovely," said Ginny. She was still studying him intently, shifting a little closer to him. "And you? How was it for you?"

"Apart from having to doss down next to Malfoy, you mean?" laughed Harry, trying not to sound nervous and failing. "I've had worse nights, all told." A pause. Ginny was looking expectantly at him, and Harry could feel his insides churning with terror. Apparently he was capable of planning and leading a raid on the Ministry and fighting Death Eaters with no qualms whatsoever, but having a conversation with a girl he liked was terrifying the life out of him. This is ridiculous, he told himself. Am I a Gryffindor or not? He decided to take the plunge.

"Would have been better with you there though," he said, praying quietly that this would not prove to be a horrible mistake, and casually placing an arm around her shoulders. "I missed you."

Ginny's eyes widened, and for a horrible moment Harry thought she might actually start to cry, and then she wrapped her arms around him and snuggled in close to him.

"I missed you too," she said softly, and Harry could only hug her back and fight down the urge to shout for joy and do a victory lap around the clearing. There was only one thing at the back of his mind pricking at his conscience.

"Erm, weren't you dating Michael Corner before we left Hogwarts? And, er, is he going to mind us doing this?"

Ginny sighed. "I was," she admitted. "But the afternoon before we left, we had a massive row. Apparently he reckoned I was 'showing him up' by having the nerve to be better on a broom than he was, and making the Gryffindor team while he got turned down by Ravenclaw's side, and that if I was a proper girlfriend, I'd resign off the team and stop reminding him about Quidditch the whole time."

Harry couldn't even begin to fathom the logic, or lack of, behind those thought processes. "That's... really really stupid. I'm sorry Ginny, but Michael Corner is an idiot."

"Don't apologise," said Ginny cheerfully. "I called him much, much worse when I dumped the bastard. That's why Luna was in Gryffindor Tower that night, by the way, I wanted someone to bitch to about the whole thing and invited her over. She said she'd always thought he was suffering from Wrackspurt possession, and that just proved it."

"So basically, Michael Corner is to blame for us all ending up in the Library together and getting sent here," said Harry. "He really is a tosser then."

Ginny nodded fervently. "He is. Never used to like me swearing either, always said it was unladylike."

"Well," said Harry, all nervousness gone and feeling like he could run to Mordor and back that afternoon if he wanted, "you can swear around me as often as you like. And I don't care if you are better on a broom than I am."

Ginny beamed at him. "I'm totally keeping you. You're going to be an awesome boyfriend."

Harry hugged her back, unable to keep from grinning. While he would never have chosen to come to Middle Earth, if it meant he got a girlfriend out of it, he wasn't going to complain.

On the other side of the clearing, Boromir scowled as he sharpened his sword with more vehemence than was strictly necessary.

"So we are to be treated to displays of this nature all the way to Mordor, are we?" he muttered, shooting venomous glances at the young couple.

"Boromir!" said Hermione. "She's liked him for years, it's about time they got together. I think it's sweet."

"Sweet indeed to know that they owe it all to me," said Draco, grinning. "I told Potter that she liked him back in Moria. Nice to know he's not as slow on the uptake as I thought."

"Why am I not surprised that you are to blame, wizard boy?" Boromir growled, his whetstone slicing down his sword blade with unnecessary force. "Truly, do you take delight in nothing more than causing vexation and torment to the rest of us?"

"Everyone needs a hobby," said Draco calmly, leaning back in the sun with his arms behind his head.

"Don't pay any mind to him, Draco," said Luna peacefully as she made herself a daisy chain necklace. "He's just angry because he doesn't have anyone."

Boromir made no answer other than a grunt, but his scowl deepened. Support came from a surprising quarter.

"Among Dwarves, such displays of wanton caressing would be considered unspeakably unseemly," said Gimli.

"Gimli, they're just cuddling," said Hermione. "What's unseemly about that?"

"Everything!" Gimli cried. "Dwarves don't touch each other like that if they can help it! Why, the most happily married couples among us barely even speak to each other unless they have to."

"But how do they get married in the first place then?" Hermione couldn't help but wonder.

"Well, after both sets of parents have opened negotiations and given their permission, the groom builds a suitable home for them to live in and then makes her some bride-gifts of jewellery. Then he presents her with them, and if she's impressed, they get married. Perfectly simple. None of this public kissing nonsense."

"You mean to say whether a marriage happens or not is all down to whether the husband can make his wife pretty jewellery, not love or companionship or anything like that?" Hermione asked, amazed.

Gimli sighed, looking at her as if she was a little bit simple. "Lassie, we're Dwarves. Why on Arda would a Dwarf-maid look twice at someone who couldn't even provide the most basic of treasures for his bride?"

"Some would say love itself is the greatest treasure," said Luna softly, watching Harry and Ginny with a wistful look in her own eyes. Gimli just grunted.

"Elven nonsense," he said dismissively. Hermione looked like she was about to argue, but the conversation between Aragorn and the Elves had broken up, and it looked like they were about to move on.

The journey into Lorien proved to be the most pleasant part of the journey so far. The sun was bright, if cold, there was birdsong in the air, and the ground was soft underfoot. They followed the Silverlode at first, until the trees parted a little and Haldir went to the bank itself, whistling like a bird. On the far side of the river, another Elf stepped out of the shadows, clad in the same grey colours that Haldir wore.

Haldir produced a rope from his backpack, and knotted one end securely around the base of a tree, before hurling the other end across the river. The other Elf caught it and secured it around a tree at his end.

"In these days of trouble, we do not build bridges, it is too dangerous," Haldir explained. "Yet the Silverlode is cold and deep, and we do not set foot in it this far north."

"So how do you cross?" Ginny asked. Haldir just smiled.

"Watch," he replied. He stepped on to the rope and ran across it without either looking down or losing his balance, reached the other side and then ran back.

Eight faces had all gone a little pale.

"You can't possibly expect us to do that," said Hermione faintly.

"It's alright for you, you could Apparate," said Ginny. Hermione shook her head.

"I can't, I don't have co-ordinates, and there's not a clear space to land. It's too easy to splinch myself."

"Which is why we have more than one rope," said Haldir, producing another one. He tied it to the tree at shoulder-height and crossed the river again, securing the end. "You should be able to cross now!" he called.

And so the Fellowship made the attempt, Legolas crossing without even touching the second rope, and everyone else managing with various levels of speed and caution. Finally, they had all made it over, and Haldir unfastened the ropes, throwing them across the river back to Rumil, who gathered them in, waved goodbye and disappeared.

"And now," said Haldir, "be welcome to the Naith of Lorien, that lies between the rivers Celebrant and Anduin. Few who are not of the Eldar are permitted to even set foot here, and we tolerate no spies. Now, as was agreed, I shall blindfold the eyes of Gimli the Dwarf. You others may walk freely for a while, at least until we come near our dwellings in the Egladil, or Angle, between the two rivers."

"Blindfold?" cried Gimli. "I agreed to no such thing! I will not be led in blind like some prisoner! Nor am I a spy. I am a Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain, and we have no dealings with the Enemy, nor have we ever brought harm to Elves. I am a loyal member of this Company and insist on being treated as such! If the others are not to be blindfolded, then I will not!"

"I knew this would happen. A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!" Legolas muttered to himself.

"Dwarf," Haldir growled. "I have done much in letting you even this far. I cannot set aside the laws of Lorien on my own!"

"Then I will seek my own land," Gimli growled in response, meeting Haldir's gaze without flinching. "At least there I am known to be a Dwarf of my word, even if I perish alone in the wild!"

"You would perish rather sooner than that," Haldir replied, amused. "There are sentries all along that path we took, although you did not see them. You would not make it out of Lorien. No, you must come with us to be seen by the Lord and Lady, and they shall decide on your fate."

Gimli reached for his axe. Haldir and the other Lorien Elf reached for their bows, and things might have turned nasty had not Aragorn intervened.

"Come, this will not do. One disagreement and we are all squabbling like children and going for our blades? If Gimli must be blindfolded, then so will we all. It is the only fair way."

This time it was Legolas's turn to be angry. "I am a Wood Elf and kin to the Elves here!" he cried. "I will not be blindfolded among my own people!"

"And now shall we cry: A plague on the stiff necks of Elves!" said Aragorn pointedly. "Are we all one Fellowship or not?"

"Legolas, you said he was your friend," said Luna, the reproof clear on her face. Slowly the anger faded from Legolas's face.

"I did," Legolas sighed. "Very well, I shall wear one. Alas for the folly of these days!"

"Aye, and I wish too that it were otherwise," Haldir sighed, seemingly genuinely dismayed at needing to do this. "But we dare not endanger our own land through misplaced trust. We are an island amidst much peril, and our hands are more often on the bowstring than the harp."

So saying, he blindfolded them all, and they travelled through the woods. The going was slow, but the ground was smooth and the weather fine, and it was not as unpleasant as it could have been. Still, they travelled all day, and even when they rested for the night, they were unable to take off the blindfolds.

It was not until noon the next day when they passed into an open area with the Sun beating down, that many voices were suddenly heard and Haldir bid them all be seated while he spoke with the newcomers.

It transpired that they were an Elven troop on its way to reinforce the northern borders of Lorien, and they brought news. The Orcs that had ventured in after the Fellowship were all either dead or being pursued westwards. The strange creature that had tried to climb into Harry's talan had been sighted, and had fled south along the Silverlode. Best of all however was a message from Galadriel and Celeborn themselves.

"You are all to walk free, even Gimli. The Lady knows of you and your purpose and bids you welcome here." Haldir removed the bandage personally from Gimli's eyes, and as the others lifted the bandages from their own eyes, they were amazed to see Haldir kneeling before the Dwarf in penitence.

"My sincere apology, son of Gloin. Be welcome here, drink in the sight and be glad, for you are the first of your people to see the Naith of Lorien since Durin's Day!"

Gimli, blinking, looked around in amazement, taking in the silver-gold mallorns, and the open grassy meadow studded with small yellow flowers and slightly larger white and green ones. On their left was a grassy mound, and the trees on the top of it towered over the rest of the forest for miles around. High in the branches of the central tree was a white wooden treehouse, or flet as the Elves called it.

"This place is beautiful," Gimli whispered. "Friend Haldir, for bringing me here, I will forgive you every slight."

Haldir got to his feet, bowing. "Friend Gimli, I thank you. This place is Cerin Amroth, heart of the ancient realm of Lorien as it was, and once where the house of Amroth could be found among the golden elanor and pale niphredil. We will rest here for now, my friends. When the sun sets, I will bring you on to Caras Galadhon, our fair city."

Theywere only too glad to take him up on this, and soon all of them were lying on the grass, while Luna went so far as to kick off her shoes and start making a crown of yellow elanor flowers for herself, and a second crown of white niphredil for Draco. It was a mark of how relaxed Draco was feeling that he didn't turn it down or mock her for it.

"Do you want one as well, Boromir?" Luna asked. Boromir shook his head.

"I am no king or prince," he replied. "I need no crown, fair though it may be. Leave your flowers for me in the ground, Lady Luna."

Luna reached out and plucked an elanor flower, tucking it into Boromir's cloak pin.

"Here," she whispered. "A crown you'll never wear, but Elbereth shall send you a flower fairer than this one, and then you won't be lonely any more."

"Who said I am lonely, Luna?" Boromir snorted. "I have your prattle to amuse me and wizard boy to make his non-stop witty remarks at all our expenses. With companions such as these, why, I lack for nothing."

"He has been like this since we entered Lorien," said Draco. "Some say it is because he is worried about his homeland. Others that he is remembering Gondorian nursery tales of the Lady of the Golden Wood stealing away naughty children. Me, I say it is because Lord Boromir has not had a lady friend in some considerable time and now has to watch Potter and Weasley holding hands and making cow eyes at each other all the way to Mordor."

Boromir muttered something about 'fool wizards who did not know when to keep their mouths shut' and 'should have pushed you in the Silverlode when I had the chance', and pointedly turned his back on them all. However, he fingered the flower Luna had given him thoughtfully, and her words stayed in his mind long after the flower itself had withered.

Notes: It says much about me that Moria was a chore to write, but Lorien is practically singing from my keyboard. With any luck the next chapters will be easier to write! Also I'm going to see if the action can't switch back to Hogwarts for a while at some point soon too. It's also going to be Harry/Ginny. Sorry about that, but you try saying no to Ginny when she wants something. At least there's no chest-monsters?

Notes on the Elvish:

Daro = halt
Mellyrn = plural of mallorn
Mae dh'ovannen = well met (in the Doriath dialect used in Lorien)
dithen firiel = young (human) maiden
Man i eneth dhîn? = what is your name?
Le suilon = a formal greeting in the Rivendell dialect that Luna knows
Im Luna eston = I'm called Luna
Dhe nathlam hi = we welcome you here
Hiril = lady
Thranduilion = son of Thranduilas
Naugrim = literally 'stunted ones'
Man i Narglath? = what are Nargles?
Ú-iston, den ú-ídhron = I don't know, I don't want to (lit. I don't have knowledge, I don't want it.)
Ú-drasta gwîn = no trouble of ours, or no concern of ours