Title: Strange Connections

Author: CrimsonSnowflake

Beta: Hazel-3017

Warning: None

Chapter 12

The pain of fire

The morning following the glorious feast found Harry sitting by the campfire with a pounding headache and a dark mood to go with it. A mug of warm chamomile tea was cradled carefully in his hands, smooth tendrils of smoke rising into the air as a testimony to its temperature. The elvish wine was very fine when consumed, but it had not agreed with Harry the day after. He was not the only one who had been defeated by the beverage, however, and all of the Fellowship, with the exception of Legolas and Aragorn seemed to have been affected by it. Suffice to say, the mood around the campfire that morning was decidedly not cheerful.

"So," Gimli suddenly said to Harry, keeping his voice low as he scooted closer to his friend, "I heard you had fun last night. Enjoying a certain elf's company, were we?"

It surprised Harry to hear the dwarf speak so lightly of it; he had expected his friend to explode when he heard whom Harry had danced with that evening. Throughout their journey, it had seemed as if Gimli's hate of elves would never end, as if they couldn't possibly ever be redeemed in his eyes. And yet here he was, asking Harry about his dance with Legolas without any anger whatsoever.

"I had a wonderful time yesterday, yes, though I wouldn't give the credit for that to a single elf. They all played an equal part in providing the party I had fun at," Harry said pointedly, throwing a meaningful look towards Gimli.

"Is that so? I had the impression that there was one particular elf's presence you enjoyed more than others." The dwarf gazed in the direction of said elf. "In fact, I have heard rumours of your time on the dance floor being quite romantically charged."

Harry scoffed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, "And whom did you hear this from? Cìldan? Have you two been gossiping like old spinsters?"

"I wouldn't use that description—I am far from old, nor can I be considered a spinster; I have had more than one tumble beneath the sheets in my day—but the elf may have had a hand in the picture, yes." Shifting slightly in his seat Gimli continued, "But really, Harry, some romance in your life would do you some good, and I could think of far worse candidates than Legolas."

"Really? I always had the impression that you thought Legolas to be the worst of his race." Looking at Legolas Harry could have sworn that the elf's ears were twitching in curiosity and for a moment he found himself pondering why Gimli had chosen to begin this conversation where he knew Legolas' hearing would pick it up.

"We've come to an agreement of sorts and, what with you being busy with your training and the others walking off to their own business, he has been the only company I've had," the dwarf admitted gruffly. "He improves on closer acquaintance, as I am sure you've experienced."

"In any case," Gimli cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as if just realising that he was praising an elf. "Should you fall to his charms, I will not stand in your way. You have my approval."

"Well then," Harry said as he stretched his legs and moved to rise from his seat, "I am sorry to disappoint you, but as wonderful and charming as Legolas may be, I have no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship with him."

Pouring out the rest of his tea, Harry placed his mug back amongst his belongings. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Lady Galadriel is waiting for me."

"You shouldn't force the subject," Legolas' melodious voice reached Gimli once Harry had disappeared from view.

"How else is he going to open his eyes and see what is right before him?" Gimli retorted, scooting over so the elf could join him.

"By giving him time and letting things run their natural course," Legolas replied easily. "We should remain patient."

"It puzzles me," Gimli mused, "why you do not simply take what you want. It is perfectly clear that you have feelings for him, any good dwarf would have approached him with the intentions of courting by now."

Legolas shook his head lightly. "It would be too sudden for him. My obvious feelings, as you put them, are far from obvious to him. I would not wish to overwhelm him," the elf explained patiently.

"I think you are underestimating him. Last night should be proof enough that he is not adverse to your attentions, despite his claims to have no interest in you," the dwarf persisted stubbornly.

"The fact that Harry danced with me last night does not mean he is ready to know of my feelings for him. He has enough to worry about without my laying this on him." Legolas held up his hand when it looked as if Gimli wanted to protest. "I will not approach him on the matter yet, Gimli, and I think it would be best if you didn't either."

"All right," Gimli relented, fishing out his precious pipe and leather pouch filled with pipe-weed, "but if he questions me on the subject I will not keep it from him. You'll see soon enough that Harry is not as vulnerable as you think him to be, Legolas. He can easily handle a little push."

"You must push yourself, Harry," Galadriel's smooth voice reached his ears, "tentative touches to your magical core is not enough. You must immerse yourself and let it embrace you. Only when you know the full extent of your powers can you truly learn to wield them."

"I am trying!" Harry cried out in frustration, eyebrows furrowing in concentration as he struggled to delve deeper into himself. His magic was resisting him, continuously creating new pathways in an already existing labyrinth and deviously luring him away from his destination. He had been going at it for the better part of an hour now, and constantly encountering dead ends was beginning to take its toll.

A drop of sweat rolled down his forehead, continuing its journey downwards until it disappeared beneath the collar of Harry's shirt. He relentlessly pushed on, determined to prove the elf wrong and show that he could, in fact, master his magic. A light flashed in the corner of his eyes, drawing his attention away from the wall he had been staring at and down another pathway. It flashed again, further away this time, and Harry could feel a sort of warmth radiating from its direction. It was beckoning him, seductively calling out to him like the irresistible song of a siren.

He followed it, barely aware of his feet moving as he practically floated towards it. There was something infinitely right about the warmth before him, Harry mused, as the darkness around him seemed to lighten and a homely feeling spread in his chest. Before he knew it he had reached his destination only to be greeted by a large fire. The flames were coloured green with the occasional flash of white as it crackled with heat. The warmth that had been so pleasant from a distance turned into a blazing heat that pushed against Harry like a solid wall. With every step he took towards it, the fire seemed to grow even further in strength and size, reaching several feet up into the air.

It was a monstrous sight, and Harry found himself wondering how this enormous thing could possibly be his magic. How would he ever overpower it? How would he ever fight it? As if sensing his doubts the fire immediately flared, viscerating any lingering shadows and nearly blinding Harry with its strength. Long tendrils of flames curiously reached out towards him, brushing his clothing, singeing the fabric and leaving a slight burnt smell to linger in the air.

A sharp gasp escaped him, and he immediately took a couple of steps back to escape the flames. It had been the wrong thing to do, for as soon as he moved the flames wrapped around his arm, and a scream was wrenched out of his throat as the fire burnt into his flesh while the tendrils drew Harry towards their source. The heat turned unbearable and whatever tears that may have escaped Harry's eyes from the pain evaporated before it could roll down his cheek.

He struggled, violently trashing in the tendrils' tight grip. It was all to no use, and before he knew it his clothes and all the hairs on his body was on fire turning to ash and leaving his body bare before Harry could even process the new onslaught of pain. And just when he finally thought it would be over the tendrils drew him in even further, practically throwing him into the centre of the flames and relentlessly keeping him there. No matter how he struggled he could not break free. Black spots darted across his vision, and soon enough the pain was too much for him to take and he found himself desperately grasping at the last straws of consciousness.

"Embrace it, Harry," Galadriel's unmistakable voice sounded in the distance, barely penetrating the wall of flames that surrounded him.

Despite every instinct in his body screaming at him to do otherwise, he forced his muscles to relax and relinquished all control to the flames holding him so tightly. In return the flames gentled their hold on him, turning from a grip of steel to a gentle caress. The pressure and pain that had overwhelmed him so almost immediately disappeared, leaving him surrounded by a feeling of peace and belonging. A pleasant warmth spread through every limb in his body, chasing away any hurt he might have been experiencing, and for a moment Harry was allowed a slight reprieve from the pain of losing Gandalf.

Harry had never known peace like it.

There had never been a lack of peace and happiness in Harry's life, in fact, he had known lots of it during his time spent in Bag End with Bilbo and Frodo. But it had never been as pure as this. There had always been something clouding said happiness, a slight shadow lingering in the background, the pain of Gandalf jumping in and out of his life.

A smile spread across his face as he closed his eyes and allowed his magic to lull him into a deep sleep.

Hours must have passed, for when Harry finally awoke the sun had been replaced by the moon in the sky. A cool breeze danced through the trees, gently caressing Harry's skin, his bare skin. His green eyes widened as he shot up in a sitting position and confirmed that yes; he was indeed as naked as the day he had been born. Odd-looking scorch marks covered the expanse of his flesh and, strangely enough, they were not accompanied by any burns whatsoever.

"For a moment there I thought you would lose." A blush spread across Harry's face as he suddenly discovered Galadriel seated beside him, and he frantically reached to cover himself. "Your magic nearly consumed you."

With a gentle smile she handed him a long, flowing robe, politely waiting for him to cover himself before moving to help him to his feet. "I am sorry you had to suffer such pain, but it was a necessary evil. Your magic could never have entrusted you with itself if you did not show that you would trust it in return, despite the pain it inflicted on you."

"You talk as if my magic is a sentient being," Harry murmured, leaning against the lady's side in order to stay on his feet. His entire body was aching and his muscles trembled at the effort of standing.

"It is," Galadriel said as they slowly began making their way towards the fellowship's camp. "While it may be a part of you it is also driven by its own instinct and desires which may differ from yours, thus the importance of achieving harmony between the two of you."

Harry frowned. "Gandalf never mentioned that to me."

"He wouldn't have had the need to. As I've already told you, Gandalf was regulating your magic, and therefore you would never have had to face your magic head on like this. You would have been gradually introduced to it," Galadriel explained, tightening her grip on him when his step seemed about to falter. "I did not expect your meeting to be so violent, however."

"But it's over now, right? The worst part is over and done with?" Harry questioned, focusing his gaze onto the ground so as not to trip.

"In a manner of speaking," Galadriel replied. "There is still some work left to be done, though, and the fact that your magic has accepted you does not mean you are done with your training."

"I won't have to worry about losing control and hurting someone though, do I?" Harry asked quietly, lowering his voice the closer they came to the camp.

"No, you will not. You must always strive to improve both yourself and your magic, and you can never lighten your hold over it, but I do not believe you are in any danger of losing control again, no."

It did not take long for them to arrive at their destination and with a quiet goodbye and the assurance that he could have the next day free from training, Galadriel gracefully departed. Carefully—mindful of his trembling limbs—Harry approached the clearing, smiling at the cheerful laughter that originated from it. His companions were well into supper it seemed, their mugs filled to the brim with mead and their plates overflowing with various kinds of food. Too caught up in their lively conversation to notice him stumbling into the clearing, they all remained oblivious to his arrival, all but Legolas.

Silent as a whisper the elf slid out of his seat and made his way to Harry's side, gently taking a hold of his elbow and guiding him to the others. His eyebrows furrowed at the trembles that seemed to shake the wizard's entire body, and he tightened his grip momentarily just to be sure that Harry would not take a fall.

"You have been gone a long time," Legolas murmured, barely twitching at the sight of the young wizard's lack of clothing, "I was worried the Lady Galadriel would keep you to herself for eternity."

"We came across a slight problem in my training; it simply took some time to solve it." Harry replied, not wishing to go into detail and reveal to Legolas the ordeal he had been through.

"I'd say it took more than time; you are positively trembling, Harry, are you well?" His voice was tainted by concern.

"It's nothing too serious. My training session was simply more intense than usual. All I need is some food and rest and I will be myself again." Harry smiled, silently admitting to himself as Legolas wrapped a strong arm around his shoulder that it was, in fact, nice to be tended to once in a while.

"If you are certain," Legolas murmured, gently releasing his hold on the young wizard once they had arrived at Harry's bedding. Making sure the elf had turned his back, Harry shed the cloak quick as lightning and hurriedly dressed, praying that Legolas would not catch sight of the scorch marks that still lingered on his skin. If the elf did catch sight of it he made no comment and as soon as Harry had put on the last piece of clothing he guided him to sit on a log with the others.

The rest of the Fellowship greeted him with smiles and laughter, eagerly handing him a mug of ale and beckoning him to join in on their festivities. For a moment he forgot his exhaustion, soaking up the good mood that lingered pleasantly in the air. The Fellowship gathering like this to enjoy a good meal together in the evening had become a rather rare event ever since their arrival in Lothlorien. Harry would never say anything bad about the hospitality of the elves, but it did result in their evenings constantly being occupied by some sort of event, never leaving much room for the Fellowship to simply relax in each other's company.

"Here," Frodo said as he walked up to him, a plate filled with food clutched in his hands, "I figured you would be hungry so I saved you a plate."

"Thank you, Frodo," Harry said gratefully, accepting the offer with a smile and immediately popping a juicy grape into his mouth.

"Did something happen while you were with Galadriel?" Frodo questioned after a while, staring solemnly into Harry's eyes. "You look so very pale."

"No," Harry immediately assured the hobbit, "nothing has happened, in fact, I would say that everything is finally as it is supposed to be. The lesson simply acquired more effort than usual, is all, Frodo."

"Tell me about it," the hobbit pushed on, "I said I would help you and take care of you so tell me about it. Lay all your thoughts and emotions on me."

"I—" Harry hesitated for a moment, uncomfortable with the prospect of revealing his ordeal to Frodo in front of the entire Fellowship.

"Please, Harry," Frodo pleaded with him, his blue eyes shining brightly as they latched onto him.

Because he knew how much it meant for Frodo, as if it was some sort of confirmation that their relationship was still as strong as it had been in the Shire, Harry relented. He carefully placed his plate on the ground before he leaned back a little in order to stretch his feet and move into a more comfortable position.

"I confronted my magic today," Harry began, quietly clearing his throat as he became all too aware that his other companions had stopped their merrymaking in order to focus on him. "As I've already told you, Frodo, my magic has been unruly and uncontrollable and the only way of gaining a semblance of control over it was to delve within my magical core and facing it head on. It turned out to be a more violent encounter than I had expected."

"What do you mean?" Frodo questioned, concerned.

"There's no need to worry, I am perfectly fine," Harry immediately reassured the hobbit, "but in order for my magic to trust in me, I had to trust it by willingly allowing myself to be embraced by flames."

"Is that why you have those scorch marks on your neck?" a curious Pippin suddenly piped up.

Stiffening, Harry reached up to finger at the dark marks on his neck, cursing the collar of his shirt for not being higher. He would have preferred to hide the evidence of him being burnt from the others. "Yes, Pippin, that's why I have these scorch marks."

"Oh," the hobbit replied subdued, slumping slightly in his seat as he threw what he must have considered discreet glances at Harry's neck.

"What was the result?" Aragorn, ever so serious, cut right to the chase preventing Pippin from asking any more questions. "Did you accomplish what you set out to do?"

"Yes, I did," Harry replied before turning to address the last part of his sentence to Frodo, "I am no longer in any danger of losing control and killing you."

He hadn't stayed in his friends' company for long; his body was filthy and he longed for a hot bath to wash away the dirt and sweat. And so, in order to fulfil that need, he wandered off in the direction of a small lake he knew to be situated right at the borders of the city. He had gone there before, and while the lake couldn't be considered warm—it was nothing like a hot spring—it wasn't too cold either, just warm enough so Harry could wash himself and relax for a few moments without freezing to death.

His trembling muscles had, by then, recovered and ceased their uncontrollable trembling, allowing Harry to regain control over his body once again. His bare feet silently slid along the forest floor, gracefully—well, as graceful as Harry could manage—sidestepping any sticks and stones in his way as he walked along the trail. It didn't take long, no more than ten minutes could have passed, before he reached his destination.

The water was as clear as a mirror, reflecting its surroundings and bathed in moonlight. No ripples or waves disturbed the surface, and Harry sighed in content at the peaceful image. Slowly, he unbuttoned his shirt, letting the fabric slide down his shoulders and drop to the ground before moving on to unlace his trousers. Soon enough he waded into the lake, his bare body on display for all to see. The temperature was pleasant, if not a bit chillier than the last time he had been there, and he immersed his entire body in the water with a pleased groan.

Gently, he began rubbing at his skin, his fingers massaging his muscles as he cleaned himself. It was heavenly feeling the dirt and sweat washing away into the water. Drawing a deep breath, Harry closed his eyes and plunged his head beneath the surface, lingering there for a moment before shooting up. Swiftly, he reached up to push his hair out of his face before moving to rub at his eyes and ridding himself of any water that might be lingering there.

Done washing, Harry leaned backwards, relaxing his muscles and trusting the water to keep him afloat. Green eyes fluttered open and stared up at the clear sky, taking in the many stars glittering in the darkness and the moon that outshone them all. It was a comforting sight, if not slightly melancholy. Bilbo had always allowed Frodo and Harry to stay up late and watch the night sky on evenings such as this. Telling them the names of different stars and the myths connected to them. It had become a sort of tradition for them.

Reaching up with his right hand, Harry moved as if to grasp a star when a dark smudge on his skin suddenly caught his attention. A scorch mark lingered on his arm, having resisted his previous scrubbing. With an irritated frown, Harry righted himself and plunged the arm into the water before rubbing at the mark. Grimacing, he scrubbed harder, the skin turning pink from the friction. And yet it refused to disappear.

"What the hell?" Harry whispered to himself, green eyes narrowing.

Water dripped from his skin as he lifted his arm into the air in order to get a closer look at it. Another mark caught his attention, this one further up and looking near identical to the other. Alarmed, Harry moved to inspect the rest of his body and, sure enough, none of the scorch marks had disappeared. They littered his frame, standing out on his pale skin and creating an intricate pattern, almost like a tattoo. In one last attempt Harry tried rubbing at them again, going as far as scratching and clawing at his skin when they wouldn't come off.

Blood rose to the surface.

When Harry had cleared away the blood, the marks remained.

To Be Continued