A/N: So, I just wanted to point out here that Lady Galadriel cannot actually use Occlumency. That was just what Harry thought of when he heard someone in his mind because that was familiar to him. She is just particularly clairvoyant and can speak to people in their minds. Sorry for the confusion on that.
On that note, I'd like to point out here that I am an amateur writer who is trying to get practice in so I can better myself. There is no need for anyone to be rude. If you notice a discrepancy, or perhaps have a suggestion for me, I would be more that glad to hear it in a civil and polite review or PM. Constructive criticism is a wonderful thing, but being mean accomplishes nothing but making you look like a jerk and discouraging aspiring authors. So please be kind and remember that you wouldn't want someone cutting your own work down. If you simply cannot stand something in my story, there are plenty of other fanfics you can go out and read.
Thank you, as always, to all of the wonderful and encouraging readers!
Chapter the Seventh
Harry notched another arrow, taking aim of the target at the far end of the practice range. He took a deep breath, as Haldir had taught him, and when he released it he also loosed the arrow.
He smiled with satisfaction as it lodged itself in the bull's-eye, directly in between his last two. Gandalf had been in the dungeons questioning the Gollum creature for at least a day and a half, and he would see no one. He would not even allow the elves to bring him food or drink. Terrified screams had recently begun to rent through the air, a sound unlike anything Harry had ever heard. They were sometimes faint and sometimes clear as day. He shuddered, not envying the creature that was on the receiving end of Gandalf's wrath.
While Gandalf was otherwise occupied, Harry had begun to find himself rather bored, and thus made his way to the range. There didn't seem to be nearly as many elves in Mirkwood as there were in Lórien, and those he'd encountered were altogether less welcoming. He suspected it had something to do with the fact that they more or less lived in a hotbed of evil activity. He was sure they were constantly on their guard.
Harry sighed, walking over to the target and pulling out his arrows. He was, in truth, growing restless. While in Lórien he had spent nearly all of his time training with Haldir or Hermione, and now he found himself with hours to kill and yet no one to kill them with. He wondered idly what they did for fun in Mirkwood. Hunt orcs?
Harry packed up his arrows and slung his bow over his shoulder. He made his way slowly out of the range, taking a left towards a garden he'd seen on his way. There was a bench there, but he ignored it in favor of a particularly comfortable looking patch of grass. He propped his bow and arrows up against the bench and plopped down on the ground, laying back and pillowing his head with his arms.
He found it hard to reconcile this part of Mirkwood with the rest. He knew the legends, of course, of how the shadow of Dol Guldur had taken control of the forest, tainting it with evil. Dol Guldur was the dark lord Sauron's magic, or evil, or what have you in disguise, and he all but ruined the place with his malice and his armies of orcs. The trees were no longer peaceful, but angry and bitter. He also knew that the elves of Mirkwood, who once ruled the entire forest, were forced either out or into this little safe haven. King Thranduil led them, and they kept this little area mostly free from Sauron's taint.
Harry watched a little cottontail hop around in a patch of flowers, stopping now and then to sniff the air in suspicion. This fortress was peaceful, and he marveled at how different it was from the rest of the land. The evil still permeating the rest of Mirkwood was almost tangible. He remembered how quiet it had been when he'd ventured briefly into the trees to hunt. In the castle grounds there were birds chirping, squirrels chattering, insects humming; the place was bursting with life.
Harry let the sunlight filtering in through the canopy of trees warm his face and he closed his eyes. He was nearly asleep when he heard a soft whoosh and felt the presence of someone else sitting on his left. He cracked one eye open and saw Legolas sitting cross-legged next to him.
"Lo," said Harry, closing his eye again. Legolas chuckled.
"You seem to be lacking entertainment. Are we that tedious to you?"
Harry cracked his eye open again and saw Legolas looking down at him, a soft smile playing on his lips. The sunlight was reflecting off his face and hair, giving him an almost ethereal look.
"I'm not used to sitting around like this. Haldir, I guess you could say he's my teacher, runs a tight schedule. By this time on a normal day I'd be nearly passed out from working so hard."
"Well, I dare say you would be passed out from blood loss should you train as you usually would in your condition. Your wounds are not fully healed, and you run the risk of them tearing open again should you strain yourself too hard." Legolas looked thoughtful for a moment. "Still, I think we can find something worth our time to do."
He unfolded himself and rose with considerable grace. Harry opened both eyes then, as Legolas reached one of his hands down to him. "Come with me."
Harry hesitated a moment, but took the proffered hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. He grabbed his bow and arrows and strapped them to his back before following Legolas out of the gardens and towards the castle. Harry truly didn't want to go back into the castle; he was enjoying the outdoors, but he didn't want to be rude so said nothing as they got closer. He was surprised, though, when Legolas made a turn before they reached the doors. Harry followed him then to the stables. Belan was there, and he nickered and whinnied in happiness when he saw Harry.
"Hey, boy! How are you doing in here?" Harry said, walking up and kissing Belan on the nose. The horse snorted in his face and Harry laughed as the action made his hair fly back. Belan nickered again and stamped one of his feet and Harry patted his neck soothingly.
"I know you probably want to get home, but we can't go until Gandalf is done." Harry rubbed the horse's face gently, tugging slightly on one of his ears.
"He is probably restless. That's good," said Legolas and Harry turned to ask why in the world that would be a good thing but stopped short when he saw the elf carrying Belan's saddle. He held it up and Harry took it from him, perplexed.
"I thought we might go riding. My horse, Galdon, hasn't been out for pleasure in some time. Perhaps it will quell your boredom." Legolas looked hopeful and Harry relented. It would be good to get out of the castle anyway.
As he was saddling Belan a thought occurred to him. "Isn't it too dangerous to be running around outside in the forest?"
Legolas poked his head out of the stall across from Belan's and blinked. "No, not if we keep to the north of the woods. We have secured most everything north of the Mirkwood mountains." He smiled. "Why? Are you afraid of a little confrontation, Harry Potter?"
Harry felt his ears redden in embarrassment. "No! Still, I'd rather not get attacked by orcs again if it's all the same to you."
Legolas brought his head back into the stall. "Do not worry. I promise we will be safe."
"Famous last words," Harry muttered as he tightened the last strap on Belan's saddle.
"What was that, Harry? I am afraid I did not quite catch it," called Legolas. Sarcasm was, apparently, not limited to his own world then. Harry smiled slightly, and led Belan out of the stall. Legolas was waiting for him, holding the reins of a beautiful black horse with a strip of white down its face. The horse's legs were also white up about a quarter of the way.
"Ready?" Legolas asked after pulling himself up and throwing one long slender leg over the back of Galdon. Harry followed suit, if not with a tad more awkwardness.
They made their way out of the stall, trotting slowly, with Legolas in the lead. Once they left the castle grounds, however, the elf turned and gave Harry a come-and-get-me grin before urging Galdon on and taking off like a shot. Harry didn't waste a second. He kicked Belan in the flank.
"Go with the wind, Belan. Go!" he said to the horse in elvish and before he could blink Belan was running faster than Harry thought possible. They caught up with Legolas and Galdon, but seeing the other horse pull up beside him gave Galdon a sense of urgency and competitiveness. He increased his speed until they were evenly matched.
Harry looked over at Legolas, gripping his horse's mane instead of the reins and laying almost flat, his hair billowing out behind him like a golden flag. He truly looked like a prince and a warrior in that moment and Harry was in awe. He turned back to the path in front of him, shaking his head to clear it. They were on a sort of rough road through the forest and the trees created a long arch far above their heads. Every now and then they had to move out of the way of a spare branch, but for the most part their path was clear. Harry reveled in the thrill of the speed, the wind on his face reminding him with heart-wrenching clarity of flying.
After some time Legolas motioned for Harry to slow down. Harry did, and they were both breathless and had rosy cheeks. Their horses were sweating and breathing heavily, but Harry got the feeling they had thoroughly enjoyed the run.
"We are close to the river that runs through the forest," said Legolas suddenly. "There is a pool there which is as clear as a crystal glass. You can see all the way to the bottom, and the fish which live in the water do not mind swimmers. Belan and Gordon can have a drink."
The idea of swimming in a cool pond sounded heavenly to Harry. "That sounds great! Lead the way."
They rode for perhaps fifteen minutes longer before the trees cleared and they came out into a sort of clearing. It was a beautiful place, with, as Legolas promised, a crystal clear pool of water which was so transparent Harry could see the individual pebbles all the way at the bottom. There were exotic trees overhanging here and there with bright blue, pink, and purple flowers, lush green grass as tall as Harry's knees, and a raging waterfall so tall Harry had to crane his neck to see all the way to the top. The whole clearing smelled fresh and wet, like a garden after a spring shower.
"Wow," was all Harry said.
They dismounted and removed the saddles from their horses, draping them over a low tree branch. The horses made their way immediately to the pool and began to drink, swishing their tails back and forth in contentment. Harry looked over to Legolas, only to be stopped short when he saw the elf was in the middle of pulling off his dark green shirt. Harry choked. Legolas' skin was creamy white, smooth and unmarked but for a five pointed scar on his left shoulder. His body was toned and lithe, entirely hairless except a small trail of slightly darker blond hair leading down from his belly button. Harry's heart skipped a beat and he turned away, unclasping his cloak and draping it over Belan's saddle.
He followed Legolas' example and pulled his own shirt over his head. He was significantly more scarred than Legolas, from many years of quiddich, the life of an Auror, and the many battles he'd taken part in. He was also more slender, and compared to Legolas' milky complexion he was extremely tan. He removed his boots and set them aside, opting to keep his thin trousers on.
He heard a splash behind him and the horses sputtered and stamped their feet. He turned and saw Legolas' slightly rippling form swimming deep under the water. Thankfully, he had also opted to stay in his trousers. Harry jumped in after him and the horses, tiring of being splashed, trotted off to graze on some of the tall grass. The water was cool, but not cold, against his skin and he sighed with contentment as he felt the sweat wash off of him. He closed his eyes and leaned back to float on his back.
His peace was short-lived, though, as a second later he felt a hand on his chest and he was pulled under the water. He flailed his arms uselessly and opened his eyes, panicked. Through the clear water he saw Legolas laughing at him, his hair flowing around him like wisps of silk. Harry's fear turned to embarrassment and he grabbed hold of the top of the elf's head and pushed him further into the water, propelling himself to the surface as he did so.
"Prat," he spluttered, coughing up a little water. The day was too beautiful for his mood to be sour, though, and when they elf swam to the surface Harry grinned and splashed him in the face. Legolas laughed merrily and splashed him back and Harry jumped on him to pull him under the water.
"You…should have seen…your face!" Legolas said through breathless laughter and in between being dunked under the water. Harry let Legolas go, then, laughing along with the elf.
"Well what do you expect, sneaking up on a bloke like that?" said Harry, poking Legolas in the chest.
"Can you climb?" asked Legolas without preamble. He looked up at the massive waterfall thoughtfully. Harry turned to look, too, and he felt his heartbeat in his throat.
Legolas turned to him and smiled – something he seemed to do a lot of – his blue eyes glinting with mirth. "Are you afraid, Harry Potter?"
"Aren't you?" asked Harry, but Legolas was already swimming towards the bottom of the falls where rocks rose to the top on the sides of the water. Harry groaned and followed. He wasn't afraid of heights, but he was most certainly sensible enough to be a little afraid of slipping off of a waterfall and falling to his death.
Legolas climbed out of the pool, water trailing down his body in rivulets. Harry's mouth went temporarily dry. When he'd reached the top of the first set of rocks, Legolas turned and offered Harry his hand. Harry took it and let the elf pull him up to stand next to him.
"I am afraid of many things, Harry, though this is not one of them." He peered up to the top of the falls. "I have been coming here for nearly five hundred years. It is safe, and should we fall (which I have most certainly done) the pool below is deep enough to keep us from death."
He looked back at Harry. "Come on."
Harry took a deep breath and followed the elf up the rock face, finding himself extremely glad for the upper body strength training with a bow had given him. The rocks weren't as steep as they looked, and there were plenty of small overhangs for them to rest on, but it was still rigorous; it was also thrilling, though, and Harry relished the rush of adrenaline it gave him to be so high with no support should he slip.
He did not slip, though, and after quite a long climb he pulled himself up next to Legolas and sat with his feet dangling off the side of the rocks. They both sat for a while in silence, their thighs barely brushing, overlooking the forest. Harry could see Thranduil's castle from his perch, its towers and turrets a soft yellow in the fading sun.
Harry thought again about how different the forest was from one place to the next. "Being here and in Lothlórien it is so hard to remember all of the evil and darkness that lives beyond the borders."
"There is more to come still." Legolas looked at him, the sunlight softening his features and reflecting in his eyes. "Many of my brethren have left these lands to sail to the West. More leave every day, but I cannot bring myself to go."
He turned to look out over the forest again. "Why not?" Harry asked.
"There is a calling that I feel; something pulling me and telling me that I have a role to play yet in the fate of Middle Earth." He smiled slightly. "Besides, I harbor a great love for Middle Earth. Most elves do not wish to have anything to do with the affairs of the other races, but I think that they all exist for a reason. We tend to think ourselves superior to others because we live longer, or are sharper of the mind. We could not, however, work the mines like the dwarves, nor revel in the simplicity of a famer's life as men, or even bring as much joy to people as hobbits. My people are abandoning Middle Earth because they feel evil stirring, but I cannot reconcile leaving all of the other inhabitants here to perish. We all serve a purpose."
Harry's heart thudded in his chest. This elf was a good soul, and his compassion moved Harry like nothing else. He felt, suddenly, the place where their skin was touching as if it were on fire and his breath hitched. He looked up to see Legolas observing him thoughtfully. Harry thought he would stop breathing altogether when the elf in question reached up and moved a stray strand of hair behind his ear. It was such a cliché, and made Harry feel slightly girly, but he had to admit to himself that it made his pulse race when Legolas' fingers accidentally brushed his skin.
"Your ears are slightly pointed, almost like an elf's. Did you know?" Legolas said, then, and the spell was broken. Harry blushed deeply and took a quiet deep breath. He reached up and touched his ear and noticed that it did feel slightly more pointed than he was used to. When did that happen?
"I didn't know that. They've never been pointed before…"
Legolas was looking at him strangely then. "What are you, Harry Potter?"
Harry tried to laugh it off. "Well, right now I am a very hungry wizard! Should we head back?"
Legolas was undoubtedly aware that Harry was changing the subject, but he was a patient elf and so let it slide for the time being. He would get answers eventually, for he was equally as persuasive as he was patient. He nodded his agreement and started lowering himself down. Harry followed suit.
They had made it about halfway down and were stopping for a rest on one of the ledges when Legolas heard Harry's stomach growl. He laughed, and the awkward mood which had settled upon them lifted like a veil.
"I know of a quicker way down," said Legolas, smiling mischievously.
"Really? Why haven't we been taking it then?" Harry asked.
Without another word the elf stood and stepped back a few paces and, before Harry could even think about stopping him, launched himself forward off of the ledge. Harry gasped and gripped the edge, heart pounding. He heard a splash and peered over the edge to see Legolas swimming, unharmed, to the surface. He broke out of the water and brushed his wet hair out of his eyes, waving merrily at Harry.
"Come on, jump! It is not as far as it seems!" he called, and Harry gulped. Not one to be outdone, he stood (somewhat shakily, though he would never admit it) and pulled back. He took a deep breath, two quick steps forward, and propelled himself off the side. The fall didn't seem very long, and Harry was sure that his heart didn't beat until he hit the water with a resounding splash! He'd entirely forgotten to plug his nose, so he had the altogether uncomfortable sensation of water launching up his nostrils; still, as he broke the surface and came face-to-face with a laughing Legolas, he couldn't find it in himself to be upset.
They were greeted when they arrived back at the castle, just after full sunset, by an elf Harry did not recognize. He was surrounded by five royal guards, so Harry figured it was safe to assume that it was King Thranduil. He had Legolas' high cheekbones and lush blond hair. He held a metal helm in his left arm, his right hand on the hilt of his impressive sword.
"Father," Legolas said, bowing his head and confirming Harry's suspicions.
"Your majesty," said Harry, bowing at the waist in a perfectly gentlemanly manner. It was diminished, somewhat, by the fact that neither he nor Legolas had bothered to don their shirts for the ride back to the castle. It didn't matter what Harry looked like, as it turned out, because King Thranduil had eyes only for his son.
"Your attire is entirely inappropriate for a prince, my son, as always."
Legolas didn't say a word, but Harry could feel the tension coming off of him in waves. This was a common discussion, then. Harry suddenly felt extremely awkward, standing in front of a king half naked with his son. They hadn't done anything wrong, but the same piercing grey eyes which Legolas possessed with such warmth were looking at them with such coldness from his father that Harry felt more or less naked.
"My party and I came across a battlefield just south of here. There were at least a hundred slain orcs, many of them with your arrows in their skulls." Thranduil looked at his nails, eyebrows raised. "I was wondering why no messenger was sent to me, as you had clearly spotted and taken out one of the groups we'd been hunting."
"I am sorry, father, but we had wounded to attend to and I knew you would be headed back in a few days," said Legolas, bowing deeper this time.
"Wounded? There was no sign of wounded elves."
"It was not one of my soldiers. In your absence the ranger, Aragorn, asked me to hold a prisoner here for Gandalf the Grey so that he may come to question him on a most grievous matter. Gandalf was on his way with his pupil, who stands before you now, when they were attacked by the orcs. They had slain many before we arrived, though they would soon have been overwhelmed had we not found them."
Harry didn't know if he should speak or not. He came close several times, but Thranduil was a severe elf, and he made Harry want nothing more than to be silent.
"His pupil? I was not aware that there were any Istari other than the five of the council in Middle Earth." Thranduil looked at Harry finally, though Harry wished he wouldn't have almost immediately. He felt like a specimen under a microscope, so scrutinizing was Thranduil's gaze. "He does not look like much. A scrawny son of man, perhaps, but nothing so special as in Istari."
"I am not an Istari. I am simply a wizard, your grace." Harry barely managed to tack on the pleasantry at the end of his sentence, though he did and his tone gentled.
"I do not believe that you are being truthful, my son." Thranduil looked back to his son with unblinking eyes.
Annoyed, Harry didn't give Legolas half a chance to answer. He stepped in front of the king and hoped with all he had that the wandless spell he and Hermione had been practicing would work for him this time. Harry held two fingers in front of his mouth, as if there were in invisible match between them. This was the easy part. The little flame lit between his fingers, shining brightly in his emerald eyes. The next part was trickier, and he'd only managed to do it once. Taking a deep breath, acutely aware of all the eyes trained on him, he blew gently into his fingers. To his delight, his spell worked!
Harry resisted the urge to grin and concentrated on the rest of the spellwork. A form began to take shape out of the flame, growing larger and larger until it was almost as tall as Harry himself. His hair blew back in the sudden wind, and before everyone's eyes a phoenix took shape out of the flame and sung an eerie song which crackled like fire. The spell was meant to create a phoenix which would fly about his enemies and set them or the ground around them aflame. Harry wasn't sure how effective it would be in battle, but it could by him some time to get away should he be entirely overwhelmed. He wouldn't have dared risk it in battle unless he'd perfected it first. This was momentous for him.
The bird flapped its great wings and circled around Thranduil once, nearly catching his hair on fire, before flying high up in the air and disappearing. Everyone was silent, including Harry who couldn't believe he'd pulled it off, never mind how bold he'd been in trying it in the first place.
At length, Thranduil spoke. "Well, it appears you spoke the truth, Legolas." He turned to Harry. "I am Thranduil, King of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood. I am honored to make your acquaintance."
Harry resisted the urge to snort. Right, so now he was important enough to warrant a proper introduction. He swallowed his pride, however, and bowed once more. "I am Haren son of Jamison of Godric's Hollow," he said, opting to use the name and title Hermione had thought of for him and hoping Legolas wouldn't call him out on it.
"The weapon strapped to your horse is of elven make. Such a gift is rare. Where did you come across it?"
Was he alluding to the fact that he thought Harry stole the bow? Harry tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. "Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien gave it to me, sir, as a gift."
"We found a few of your black arrows in the dead orcs as well. Not a single one was anywhere short of a blow which would kill immediately. You are well trained, though I wonder who trained you. Certainly no man could teach one to shoot a bow so perfectly."
"That would be the Lady's doing as well. She had Haldir of Lórien train me in combat."
The king looked thoughtful. "Elves do not simply take in humans and have their best warriors train them, nor gift them with such exquisite weaponry. I wonder why the Lady has chosen to do so. Could you enlighten me, perhaps?"
"I am afraid not, your majesty. I know nothing of the inner workings of Lady Galadriel's mind, though doubtlessly she knows much of mine." Harry smiled wryly, thinking of how simple it was for the Lady in question to get past his mental barriers.
"Doubtlessly…" The king paused for a moment, looking at Harry shrewdly, clearly thinking deeply of something, though Harry couldn't begin to guess what. "You will stay here, Haren son of Jamison, after Gandalf makes his departure. You would be a fine warrior to have on my staff."
Harry choked, and was about to answer when he felt slender fingers wrap around his wrist and squeeze. He looked up at Legolas and the elf gave the very slightest shake of his head before stepping forward and letting go of Harry.
"Ada," he began. "Haren has not yet completed his training. Surely you would want him to be fully capable before having him join the ranks?"
"He will complete his training here. You can finish with him, son."
"But Ada, he has not yet finished his training with the Istari either. I cannot do that for him, surely."
Harry realized that this was something common between the father and son. Legolas was an old hat at convincing his father to see reason, and Harry resisted the urge to smile when he saw another thoughtful look cross Thranduil's face.
"Well then, I suppose Gandalf the Grey will simply have to stay here as well," the king said at last, sounding more than a little final about the matter. All thoughts of grinning left Harry's mind.
"Ada…" Legolas began, trailing off in frustration. It was going to be a long night.
A/N: "Ada" means "father" I do believe. I am terribly sorry for the long wait! Family was visiting and you probably know how that goes. No free time whatsoever! Anyway, review please!