AN: I think I'll have to put this story on indefinite hiatus. It's really unfortunate, because I actually really wanted to see this story finished. I think I might eventually pick the story up again in, say, 5 years? But there's no guarantee...

In the meantime, if anybody would like to adopt this story (or a "clone" of it, I guess), please feel free to message me for the ideas I've thought of for the rest of the plot. This includes the explanation of Harry-Shruikan's fortune, the prophesy, his true name, and the really cool idea I have for the ending and epilogue :)

Finally, I'd just like to say that it's been really fun writing this story. It's my first fan fic, and your encouragement really meant a lot to me. Thank you so much for following the story this far. I really appreciate it.

Anyways, on with chapter 28:

"Where were you?"

"Helping Rider Eragon," Harry stared back levelly at the two identically obnoxious bald heads blocking his field of vision. He'd answered this question at least five times since setting foot in Du Vrangr Gata's headquarters this morning, though mainly in the context of "How come we had to make do with dried fish for so many days?" And then these two showed up.

"Helping the Rider how?" One of them growled.

"I'm not sure if it's my place to tell."

"We know you were not in Farthen Dur. What were you doing?"

"I apologize, but you'd need to ask Eragon, Brom or Ajihad." This conversation was growing tedious very, very quickly.

"Get back to work!"

"Yes, sirs…" Harry made a show of bowing deeply before heading for the grease-stained curtains of the kitchen. He was feeling much better now after the two corpses he'd "disposed of", healing potions, and a day of undisturbed peace at the top of Tronjheim. His magic pools were now about half full, which was acceptable as long as he didn't need to fight another battle in the immediate future.

Eragon had been elated to receive his patronus. Murtagh had said nothing, but looked a little contemplative if anything. Harry had been deliberating still what, if anything, to tell Saphira as he and Brom entered the Dragonhold, but he had a feeling that lying to her now may be viewed as a betrayal later – something he'd rather avoid if possible. But her response to his carefully weighed admission that the same ritual that gave him his human body had ensured that he could only be killed by a puncture through the heart… had been both expected and unexpected. She had make the unfortunate but somewhat anticipated connection to Shades, to which he could only answer truthfully. She'd also questioned how come he was here if all the Shades known to history were evil, and he'd explained the intricacies of spirits and Shades and his own situation as well as he could. She'd fell silent then, and he'd started to evaluate other ways he could potentially convince her not to turn on him when she'd blown away all the possibilities he'd mentally mapped out like dust.

'…You could've told me sooner! I was so worried that you would be gone forever! When we couldn't find you for three days I couldn't stop imagining you lying in a pool of blood somewhere!'

The heavy concern in her mental voice had left him at a loss of what to say. He truly hadn't expected… But he supposed that children would react more strongly to loss, maybe.

But this was not the place to ponder that convoluted line of thought. Interestingly, he was not assigned busy work like scrubbing stables today. Instead, in addition to his cooking and dishwashing duties, he was now told to help heal the injured with the other magicians, mix herbs to make poultices, and dress wounds. Ostensibly Harry had been "given" back to Trianna to command, but it was clear that he now spent most of his time within the headquarter rather than working in isolation in some remote corner of the city like before. The Twins, it seemed, were now rather keen on keeping him within the company of eyes and ears.

The battle had changed things. Since there was no way Galbatorix could remain unsuspicious by now, Harry might as well allow his façade of being completely unimportant and uninteresting to slip a little. He would now freely wander about the mountain when he had no other duties – practicing swords with Brom on the training field, visiting 'Siloam', continuing to tell stories to children (who knew exactly where to find him now) outside Du Vrangr Gata's door, and taking midnight "strolls" when he felt like it. If Galbatorix was interested in these meaningless dredges, then let the pair of spies report. Knowing his former master, it was not unlikely that Galbatorix would spend hours and hours attempting to find some pattern in his activities even if there were none.

At least he would still find privacy within one of the more spacious caverns near the top of the dragonhold. And, surprisingly, the tiny little kitchen. It had taken him over two hours this morning to become somewhat proficient in the art of evenly grinding and distributing pepper in midair by magic, and though he was right within the magicians' headquarters he'd been left completely alone.

Which suited him just fine, as his culinary techniques were rather unconventional. Now, the trick is to consider the dispersion of pepper as a whole, but not quite a whole. More like particles on an elastic membrane that can stretch and contract, creating variable particle density. A similar technique could, of course, be employed to direct a swarm of arrows…

The greasy curtains of the kitchen moved. Harry's sphere of freshly crushed pepper powder settled neatly in a little pile on the palm of his hand.

"Harry?" Out of all the faces, it was the elf's that appeared.

"At your service, Arya," Harry bowed as much as one could while holding pepper. "I have not been expecting to see you here." This was the first time he'd seen her conscious.

Arya smiled easily. "I've been meaning to thank you since I learned that it was your potions that healed me, Harry. But you were more difficult to find than I thought. You've been very elusive for the past four days."

Ah, here's another one trying to find out where I've been, Harry returned the placid smile. "Perhaps I have. I was tending to an injury."

Arya offered her condolences. When she realized that he wasn't about to elaborate, she continued. "You were helping Brom and Eragon to defeat the Shade."

"Eragon had the riskiest position – he was actually in the open. But then again, we expected that Durza would want to capture him rather than kill him. Brom and I tried to ambush Durza with spells and stay hidden. I managed that much, for the most part…" Harry shrugged, "You'll have to ask Brom and Eragon if you want to know how we won though. They were the ones who finished it."

Arya seemed to consider something for a moment. "If I may, I am curious why Brom requested your help?"

Harry arched an eyebrow at her bluntness. "Because I was a trustworthy magic user and not particularly needed within the mountain."

Arya didn't reply, but only asked again. "Why are you cooking? Surely a healer's time can be better occupied?"

"Possibly, but healers also apparently pay great attention to their stomachs, and Du Vrangr Gata has grown rather… accustomed to my culinary style." Now there was an understatement. He'd only been gone four days and they were already missing him.

Arya raised an eyebrow at the less than satisfactory answer. Harry ignored it.

"When I could not find you," Arya continued, "I asked about you. I was told that you found Rider Eragon in the mountains, that you were on the run from a former slave master. I was told by many that you are Eragon's servant, though Eragon insisted quite vehemently that you are his friend." She paused momentarily, clearly gauging Harry's reaction.

"I also heard that you tell the most captivating stories to children, that you would make flames dance for them. You train with Brom in swordfighting sometimes. Your skills are not overly impressive, they say, but above average. Your colleagues speak little of your magical prowess, oddly enough, though they do claim that your cooking is to die for."

Here she paused expectantly again. Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and instead put on a confused expression. "I suppose I should thank you for bringing this to my attention. It's not everyday someone has the opportunity to find out what people say about them when they aren't listening."

Arya seemed to consider, eventually deciding to politely retreat for now. "You're welcome," she told him quite serenely, "You seem to be a man of many talents, Harry. I dare say we shall be seeing more of each other in the future?"

"Perhaps. Good day, Arya." Harry inclined his head and, when Arya finally removed herself from the curtained room, return his attention to the pepper dust. Before someone as well informed as that elf, it would be too much work to play a convincing act as one thing or another. Arya was restricted in some ways by diplomatic traps, however, and Harry was under no obligation to submit to her interrogation at least as of yet. It was safest that way too. Word games was not his greatest strength to start with, and attempting to be overly clever with an elf would probably backfire.

By midday, Harry had a dozen platters of mushroom-stuffed fish fillets (cooked over a cool flame with a spell to trap moisture) ready to serve. Interestingly enough, he was saved the trouble of floating them to the table today by his colleagues, who were quite happy to offer help with transporting the dishes. Harry made to take a seat near Elva - if Murtagh's account of her accolades was anything to go by, she deserved congratulations – but was prevented from doing so by Trianna of all people. Now convinced that Harry was at least somewhat important to the Rider, she had actually begun to actively draw him to her side. Throughout lunch she presented Harry with not only the predictable stream of questions about Eragon and the battle, but also kind smiles and fluttering eyelashes.

It was quickly becoming apparent that his supposed mysterious role in the battle had garnered him interest... of various kinds.

Yet, even with the increased attention, he had a fair amount of confidence that he could still slip away with some care. Not unnoticed, but at least unfollowed. Thus, after lunch, it was a fairly simple thing to shake off the shadow that trailed after him at the pulley shaft.

Angela's eyes were wide with surprise when he arrived at her door. "To be honest, I thought you died," she told him bluntly as she stepped aside to let him in.

"Understandable, but you said my life would only end by my choice. I have not chosen to die."

Angela shrugged. "Fortune can be hard to interpret, though I do wonder how many more battles you're going to see of that magnitude… But say, to what do I owe this visit? Not that I'm not delighted to see you."

"Other than suddenly finding myself longing for a friend? I'd like to consult your expertise on where to find certain potion ingredients in this valley. I'm afraid recent events have depleted my stock quite completely," Harry sat down beside the warm black cauldron that Solembum was snuggled up against. The werecat lazily swished his tail in greeting. "And I have a proposal for you."

"O-oh?" The witch's lips split into a wide grin. It told Harry very little, however, as it seemed to be her default expression. "I'm listening."

"Well, as you know, Du Vrangr Gata is a league of ignorant fools who sit on their arses all day yet think extremely highly of themselves."

"Ha! You can say that again!" Angela gave a very unrefined snort, "And to think they wanted me to play with them."

"And yet, these people are to become the poster child of magic for the whole of the human empire once the war ends. These are the idiots people will think of when they hear the word 'witch' or 'wizard'. I find this very insulting as a fellow magic user, don't you?"

"It would make it awfully difficult for me to do business, yes… But go on. I do enjoy listening to someone insult Du Vrangr Gata. It ought to happen more often!"

"I think Du Vrangr Gata needs someone to whip them into shape," Harry leaned forward now to peer up at her over interlocked fingers. "Someone powerful, to show them what real magic looks like. Someone compassionate, who actually gives a damn. A leader who will not only represent the interest of magic users on the Varden's governing council but also rally the magicians into becoming an actual, somewhat respectable group. Oh, and this someone would render Du Vrangr Gata's current superintendents obsolete too. And Ajihad agrees with me to some extent."

"Ah! This gets better and better. And who do you think should become such a person?" She said with a laugh, and leaned forward to mirror Harry's own posture. Mischief danced in her eyes.

"Would you like to be?"

"Me? I thought you were going to ask for my help to take over Du Vrangr Gata for yourself!"

"I expect Eragon to depart for Ellesmera in the not-too-distant future, and I'd like to accompany him. Besides, didn't you say I have an abnormally short lifespan?" In truth Harry had considered this once, but decided against it as it would force him to stay with the Varden for longer than he desired. No, whatever his wyrd was, this was not it.

But he could see Angela leading Du Vrangr Gata, yes, and he'd been entertaining the idea quite early on. Ability wise she outshined the rest of the magic users by far, and he was sure they would follow her if she set her mind to leading. Meanwhile, the Council would more likely than not figure her a joke – until it would be too late, of course.

"I do like the idea of messing with the Twins and all," Angela deliberated, "but I'd have to say no to this one. Leading sounds so boring! And too much responsibility. Besides, I'm not too inclined to bind myself to one place either."

It was Harry's turn to shrug now. "Well, I tried… I suppose I'll have to convince them to put Trianna on the Council, then. I'm sure she'd be delighted."

"No! Anyone but that awful woman!"

"She can be a bit irritating when she tries to lobby for power, but her head and heart's in the right place and she'll make a decent enough leader when it actually comes down to it. And no one else has enough power to gain the magicians' respect – apart from you… but perhaps you won't mind keeping an eye on her then?"

"Fine, I might babysit her occasionally while you go off gallivanting across the country with Eragon. Hopefully the Varden gets its fair share of excitement in the years to come," Angela huffed.

Harry smiled gratefully. He remembered her issue with Trianna. He thought she'd be so reasonable. But now he'd have to consider how to break the good news to the hussy, preferably without egging her on too much...

"Just try not to get yourself killed too soon, alright? For all this boring responsibility you saddled me with you better stir up enough mayhem to make up for it."

Well, if there's one thing guaranteed in the times to come... "I dare say you can count on it."

AN: This is what Harry had planned for Angela a couple chapters back. Not a total success for him but ah well :)