Chapter 6

Harry stood at the gate of the walled city. The Northmen had made slow progress from Greenwood to Eregion over long routes that would keep them close to rivers. Much of the work he had commissioned the dwarves for had already been finished. In the centre was the palace, made in a strange new design, a cylindrical construct made of white stone with an open courtyard with a garden in the middle of the cylinder, six storeys high. The palace towered above the rest of the city, which rarely went beyond two storeys. Four equidistant roads connected the palace to the various gates in the out walls, with the city generally designed in ringed-layers. Surrounding the palace was a ringed layer that would be the upper market, followed by ringed-layers of many uniform purpose-built blocks, which could be used for various guild halls, hospitals, schools or anything which required a larger number of people to gather together. Surrounding that in several layers were smaller individual houses.

Harry knew the Northmen had a very primitive society and weren't used to the organised lifestyle this new city would impose on them, but he was willing to help them out until they had settled in. Having established Fornost from scratch, Harry was certainly used to founding a new city.

Girold son of Giri approached Harry. "We have sighted the humans. They move slow and bring with them numerous cattle and many wagons."

"Food would have been a big concern for them," Harry remarked, noting that they wouldn't have the luxury of the elvish lembas bread - a tiny bite of which could provide enough energy and nutrition for a whole meal. But he had thought about it in the city planning. One of the purpose-built blocks had been converted into a large granary and Harry had stocked it with grain to last the Northmen for a couple of years, long enough for them to build farms and cultivate their own food, but from the sounds of things, they had been preparing themselves for it on their own.

"The men look hardy," said Girold. "The women are comely."

Harry was surprised. "A dwarf who appreciates beauty in a human? You are a strange one, Girold son of Giri. Do not let your kin hear you, or else you would become the laughing stock of the kingdom."

"I doubt I am the only one." Girold chuckled. "These lot aren't as unpleasantly tall as those who sailed from the west. A big redeeming feature, in my humble opinion." He looked at three men who rode ahead in horses and approached the city's gate. "These must be the three heads."

Harry nodded. "Greetings, Elgar, Brandin and Rolph, to your new city. This is Girold, kin and spokesman to King Durin of the great dwarven kingdom of Khazad-Dum, to whom you owe your gratitude for this spectacular new home."

The three chiefs walked towards the dwarves and Rolph knelt on the ground before him. "We had heard about the great skill of the dwarves in tales of old but it is a travesty that the tales don't speak more of the great hearts and kindness of your people. Pray tell us, Lord Girold, how can we poor and impoverished folk repay you for this great boon?" The other two men joined him on either side and also knelt.

"King Durin bids you welcome, our new neighbours," said Girold, who looked pleased at the men's humility and sincerity. "We desire only two things of you. First, you will protect the western border of Khazad-Dum from those who mean us ill."

"I daresay that would be to both our interests," said Rolph. "Agreed, without hesitation."

"Second, we welcome you as allies but we treasure our privacy and prefer to lead our lives in isolation. Unless you have great need of audience with us, you will not cross River Sirannon and come upon the Western Gate of Khazad-Dum."

"Agreed," said Rolph. "But I fear you only ask so little that we will forever be left in your debt."

"The debt has already been repaid by our mutual friend, Harry," said Girold. "These are merely terms of peaceful cohabitation between allies. Whatever debt you owe, it is rightfully to him and not to us."

"That is well noted," said Rolph. "May I suggest one additional thing to our terms of peaceful cohabitation? It was custom amongst our people when we lived as separate clans to hold a clasmoot once a year or more often during times of distress where the clan leaders would meet and discuss issues of mutual significance. If your king would be willing, I think the friendship between our people would only grow if we keep to that tradition and meet once a year to discuss any issues of common importance or any grievances before they are allowed to fester out of control."

While Girold looked uncertain, Harry nodded. "I like that idea," he said. "But instead of the leaders travelling out of their realms, I would suggest sending ambassadors to discuss these issues."

"Yes, that might be more practical and something my king would be willing to consider," said Girold. "I fear he himself would not step outside his halls as frequently." He then shook hands with the three men. "I must leave you to your new city now. My people long to return to our halls of shining silver and cold stone."

After the dwarves left, Rolph turned to Harry. "How can we thank you, Lord Harry?"

"I am no lord," Harry smiled at him. "And there is no need, I am happy to help." Hesitating, he added, "Also, I have previously governed a city, and if it would please you, I would be more than happy to lend you my services to ensure your transition is as smooth as possible."

"You mean you would seek to rule over us?" Brandin asked curiously, with a glint in his eyes.

Harry shook his head. "No, I apologise if I implied that. You and your people will have full control over how your city is governed. My role will be more as an adviser to whoever is your ruler."

Elgar was the next to speak. "Over our long journey south, we considered the many options before us and have decided to follow the system of our ancestors before we split into separate clans albeit with a few modifications. The people will select a council of three and it is that council which shall collectively govern the people for a period of ten years, after which a new council will be elected. No person may be part of two successive councils"

"Except for the first council, which will comprise of the three of us," said Brandin.

"Nay," said Rolph, suddenly. "I have thought much over the journey as well. I am much more advanced in age than the two of you and would enjoy what little is left of my life in peace without the stress of governing. Perhaps, our saviour should be given a place in the council in my stead."

Harry hesitated. "I am not one of your people. I hardly think they would accept me as one of your leaders."

Rolph argued. "The way we see it, this city is yours and we are merely occupying it at your pleasure. That gives you a greater right than anyone else to have a say regarding the affairs of the city."

Brandin didn't look convinced but Elgar nodded. "Yes, I agree. Moreover, we would benefit from your experience in such things." He looked at Rolph. "Your wisdom is still of great value and from what I have come to know of you, you will hate it if you had nothing to do in your free time. Would you perhaps consider being our ambassador to our new allies the dwarves ot the east and the elves to the north?"

Rolph nodded. "Yes, yes. That would please me." He looked behind. "Now, then. We should prepare for the arrival of the people."

So, once again Harry found himself in charge of governing a new city of men from scratch. To his surprise, the new council system worked quite well. The palace was transformed into a city hall where the council had its seat and governed the city, although each member of the council also had ordinary houses together with the rest of the population. While all major decisions were deliberated between the three of them, they each had areas that were their special responsibility in which they had greater discretion to do things without raising it in council. Brandin took charge of security and related matters, commissioning the construction of new weapons and the training of those who volunteered to join the military. Elgar took charge of the general administration of the city and the settling in of the people. Meanwhile, Harry focused on what he was best at, building the economy of the city.

Some of the early decisions they had to take were of a more fun nature.

"We need to name the city, a flag and a symbol that the people would relate to," said Harry. "Giving the people a new sense of identity would make them adapt to their new lives faster."

"And I suppose you have already thought of a name?" Brandin asked.

Harry shook his head, wondering what it would take for Brandin to accept him. "I have a suggestion for a symbol but it would be more appropriate if these decisions are made by the two of you."

"What symbol do you propose?" Elgar asked.

"How about a serpent with three heads and a single body. That could represent the three clans coming together as one, or the fact that the city is run by a council of three which acts as one for the entire population body."

Brandin was silent for a while before nodding. "Serpents are sacred to our people, for we use their venom in our weapons to kill orcs."

"I know," said Harry. "Rolph and I have spoken at great length about the culture of your people, as I did not wish to offend anyone by accident."

Brandin looked at him curiously. "You would honour our customs and traditions?" He was silent for a few moments. "Perhaps, I misjudged you."

"I can do more," said Harry, suddenly realising he had an opening to forge a friendship with him. "I can use my skills to breed a serpent with three heads, orange in colour with black stripes. We can make a sanctum in the inner garden within the city hall where these three-headed runespoor can live. Their venom, I assure you, is more potent than any other serpent you would have come across."

"Then, we have found ourselves a symbol to unite the people with one identity," said Brandin, looking at Harry in a new light. "Our flag shall have this as a symbol, and we shall be the folk of the three-headed serpent." He grinned at Harry in a friendly manner. "Any suggestions for a name for the city?"

Harry was surprised by the query. Brandin was as quick to friendship as he was to hostility. He had one suggestion. "Salazar," he suggested. "He was a great sorcerer who could speak to snakes and, in turn, was revered by all snakes."

So started the city of Salazar in Eregion west of Khazad-Dum, which answered to no king or master and was governed by its own council comprising of the people and elected by the people. The people slowly settled in and started taking up new trades, alien to them. Harry set up various guilds and every other day of the week, he would go to a different guild which wasn't traditionally part of their culture and train those who had signed up for that trade.

In the guild of armourers and blacksmiths, he taught them how to make better weapons and armour. Whereas previously, each person had made their own weapons and learnt how to fight from their fathers and brothers, now there were skilled craftsmen who made advanced weapons and armour, and an organised military order which trained them in wielding the weapons.

In the guild of physicians and apothecaries, he taught the basics of brewing simple potions that non-magical people could do with the ingredients that were available to them.

In the guild of scribes, he taught how to read and write Westron and also the basics of Sindarin. The guildhall was popularly called the centre of lore and learning where Harry kept a few simple books he had been writing during what little free time he had together with replicas of the map of Middle Earth with Lord Elrond.

Soon, the farms and orchards outside the city walls started producing food and the fishermen mastered the art of catching fish from rivers Glanduin and lower Bruinen.

Four years had passed... Harry was surprised how swiftly the people had adjusted to their new lives in Salazar.

Old Rolph walked into the runespoor sanctum with Harry. They had been discussing his latest visit to Khazad-Dum as an ambassador from Salazar. "Marvellous little creatures," he said, reaching inside to hold one of the runespoors.

"You want to hold the right head," said Harry. "So that it cannot bite you with it, that's the only head which has venom."

"I heard from Elgar that three serpent patrols are now ready. Each will scout up to a hundred miles up north on the Misty Mountains in successive months to see if orcs have come south. The dwarves will allow them to use some of their outer passageways so long as we give advanced notice."

Harry nodded. The serpent patrol was a swift and nimble company, which wielded long spears tipped with runespoor venom and short swords. They would be quite a formidable force if they come across an orc company in the mountains.

Rolph continued. "Before I forget, King Durin thanks you for the nifflers. They are digging and locating mithril at a faster rate than ever before. He also requested that you visit him when you get the opportunity."

Harry was curious. "Why? Would he like me to purify more mithril?"

"Many of his kin would like that," Rolph nodded. "But the king requests your presence for an entirely different reason." He sighed heavily. "His health has taken a sudden turn for the worse and he wishes to see you one more time in this current incarnation before he is reborn as Durin V."

Harry took a deep breath. "Of course, I will depart at once." He was silent for a while. "I have known him for so long that it is hard to imagine he would no longer be there."

Harry returned from Khazad-Dum in a pensive mood. Of all his visits, this had been his least favourite. Seeing the king in his frail health had affected him more than he cared to admit. Of course, he had seen people die before, but that was always in the battlefield. Nobody close to him had actually died of old age and Durin would eventually be the first. Despite the king's protests, this time Harry had left a vial of the Elixir of Life with him, even though the king was adamant not to take it.

"Leave however much you will, Gabilion, I shall not take a single drop of it," the king had sworn. "Unless my people are in great need of a healthy king, I shall embrace death at my destined hour."

Harry had ignored his words. If he couldn't use this great magic for his wife or a true friend - then what was the point of it.

Once again, he was reminded of his unique situation and long life and how he would have to get used to the experience of seeing friends and family go through exactly what Durin was going through.

"Sir Harry," the sentry at the gate recognised him. "You are needed in the city hall."

"What's happening?" he asked.

"Emissaries have come from the west," said the guard. "They are negotiating a peace treaty with Sir Elgar and Sir Brandin."

"From Arnor?" Harry was surprised and for a brief moment, his heart was lit up with hope that perhaps his son James had come. "Do you know who's leading the emissaries?"

"Yes, sir," said the guard. "It is King Eldacar himself."

Harry sighed, suddenly thinking his presence could do more ill than good. But there was no way out of it now. He walked to the city hall and into the private conference room. When he entered, everyone turned to him and there was silence.

King Eldacar stood up. "You have my terms," he said to the other two councillors. "Let me have an answer by dawn." He walked out of the room, brushing past Harry as if he wasn't even there. To Harry's surprise, Gawin was also part of the group from Arnor and he held back after the others had left.

"My lord," said Gawin, bowing his head before Harry.

"I am not your lord anymore," said Harry with an ironic chuckle. "Tell me, Gawin, what news from the west? How fares Prince James?"

"Prince James rules over Fornost with as much love and affection as his parents once did," said Gawin. "The city is beginning to get happy and the Abraxan herd is thriving once again." He had a slightly perturbed expression on his face. "Please, I beg you, do not judge him harshly."

"Who, James?"

Gawin shook his head. "The king," he said in a soft voice. "His grief over Princess Elya's loss and suffering has made him embittered in all things concerning you, but otherwise, he is a good man and he works hard to be a good king. Please keep that in mind." He then rushed out of the room after the rest of the men from Arnor.

Harry turned to Elgar and Brandin, who had very sombre looks on their faces. "What happened?"

"The king," Brandin spat in disgust, "has an army half a day's march away from Salazar."

"What?" Harry was shocked. "Surely, he doesn't mean to make war on Salazar."

Elgar was the calmer of the two. "He has offered us a peace treaty. If we reject his terms, then he will seize Salazar by force. He said he knows your power but he will sacrifice every single man who follows him to annex the city to his kingdom."

"What are his terms?" Harry asked quietly.

"First, we will recognise the paramount sovereignty of the High King of Arnor and be subject to his rule," said Arnor. "Second, he will permit us to continue governing ourselves as we currently do except that one member of the council will be appointed by him. Third, we will send to Annuminas a tenth of the grains, livestock and weapons produced each year and the king's representative will oversee this. And finally, our armed forces will recognise the Sceptre of Annuminas as its chief commander."

"We will become a puppet state," Brandin spat in disgust.

"What choice do we have?" Elgar looked despondent. "We still haven't recovered from the orc raids. Our entire population is smaller than the army he has brought against us. They have ranged-warriors who fly on winged-horses and can rain arrows on our people while we will be helpless."

"Is that what he threatened?" Harry asked coldly, as the fury of the basilisk started growing inside him again. Earlier, his guilt regarding Elya had prevented him from reacting to Eldacar's hostility. But now... how dare the magical Abraxan be used against him? "Is that what he threatened?" he repeated.

The silent and slightly nervous looks on the faces of the two men gave him the answer he needed. But what choice did he have? He would have to either accept Eldacar's terms or kill men of Arnor whose only fault was they followed a king who harboured a deep grudge against Harry. This wasn't their fault and Harry wasn't going to do it.

"Prepare a counter offer," said Harry, sighing as he took a seat. "We will be renamed The Free City of Salazar but will acknowledge we lie within the boundaries of Arnor with the gracious consent of the King of Arnor until his line lasts. We will provide a twentieth of the city's tax collections as tribute to Annuminas, net of all mandatory expenses, and internal policies and military affairs will be our sole discretion. In return, Annuminas will open trade with us and allow free movement of people and goods." When the others looked shocked at his suggestion, Harry explained his rationale, "We are too small to hold up against the might of Arnor, but it need not be a bad thing… if trade opens up, then the merchants will spread word about the splendour of Salazar and more people will move here, swelling up the numbers. This is the surest way to make Salazar a stronger and more prosperous city."

Brandin didn't look happy. "What about the king appointing a representative to the council?"

"Reject it," said Harry. "But he may send an inspector to ensure that Annuminas indeed receives a twentieth of the annual tax. But you may choose to levy very little or no tax - so that is of little importance really. The internal affairs of Salazar will still be completely under your control, and also, you would have the chance to rebuild your lives with the help of Arnor."

"But what if the king doesn't accept?" Elgar asked.

"He will," sighed Harry. "I know his mind. His main purpose is to ensure Salazar falls within the territory of Arnor, either by peaceful means or war." When they looked at him with confused looks, he explained. "The day that happens is the day I will have to leave this city. I am banished from Arnor until the end of Eldacar's reign."

"Then, we will fight!" Brandin growled.

Harry shook his head. "You cannot fight," he said. "The serpent patrol is still out and the city guard is barely a few dozen men. They have an army of thousands, highly trained and veterans of war." He sighed. "The only path to victory would be if I slaughtered every single man who follows the flag of Arnor - and I refuse to do so."

"But it isn't fair," said Brandin.

Harry stood up and grinned at him. "And to think, only a few years ago you would have cast me out of the city yourself." Despite the situation, his heart felt uplifted. If he could the loyalty of a man who had been so against him, why did it matter to him if Eldacar refused to let go of his grudge? But he shook his head. "I thank you for your friendship but Salazar has no king. The lives of the people and the future of the city should not depend on just one man."

"Then, let us put it before the people," said Brandin. "I know they will all stand up and take arms for you."

Harry was touched by the sentiment. He turned to Elgar who had a conflicted look on his face. "We are the council of Salazar," Harry said firmly. "They have entrusted us to do what is best for them and their futures. I ask you gentlemen to put aside all personal feelings and consider my proposal to assess what would be best for the people of Salazar. All in favour?" He raised his hand and, a few moments later, Elgar also raised his hand. "This concludes the council meeting. Sir Elgar, will you take our proposal and revised terms to King Eldacar? I will go and pack my stuff, in the meantime."

"This isn't fair," Brandin said again, when Elgar had left.

"Life isn't fair," Harry snapped back at him - his irritation towards Eldacar getting the better of him. But then he calmed down. "But perhaps this is for the best. This banishment is not forever, you know. One day, King Eldacar's reign will end and I will be back."

"But he is one of the long-lived," said Brandin. "He may yet live for centuries."

"And I will easily outlive him," said Harry, with a smile, to Brandin's surprise.

Brandin was silent for a while but then he chuckled. "I always knew there was something unnatural about you."

"Breeding three-headed snakes didn't give it away?" Harry joked.

Brandin was silent again for a few moments. "You are wrong, you know?" he began. "Salazar might not have a king in title, but in every way that matters, you have been our king. And we will not forget that. I will ensure you will be remembered and when the day of your return dawns upon us, Salazar will embrace its once and future king with open arms."

"The sentiment more than the title means more to me than you can imagine," said Harry. "There is one more thing I need to do and then I will leave. Farewell, Brandin of Salazar, take good care of this city."

"Farewell, Harry of Salazar," said Brandin.

Waiting long enough so that Elgar would have delivered the counter offer to the king, Harry walked out of the city and transformed into a griffin. He flew west and saw where the army of Arnor was camped. Many were pointing up at him, but ignoring them, Harry roared, lacing his voice with magic. He was the king of the forests and the king of the skies. Moreover, he was their creator. The Abraxans would obey him. And soon enough, he saw the Abraxans abandon their riders as they flew towards him. He led them to a clearing not far from the army.

Soon, King Eldacar and a company of men rode towards him, ready to fight. "Seize the Abraxans," Eldacar ordered, while drawing his sword. But Harry had created a ward between him and the approaching army and they couldn't penetrate it, as if an invisible wall was stopping their progress.

"Salazar lies within Arnor, now. You are violating the terms of your banishment, Harald Gryffindor!" Eldacar shouted. "I would be within my rights to take you prisoner."

Harry looked at him with a disappointed look. "Salazar may be part of Arnor but Eregion is not," he said. "You have no claim over the land where I stand."

"Be that as it may, I didn't take you for a petty thief," said Eldacar. "Return those horses to their rightful masters. They have been bred by my people; you have no right to them."

"The Abraxan were a gift to the Kingdom of Arnor, to grow in number for a time when Arnor faced a mighty foe. They were not meant to be used to expand your territory and terrorise innocents," said Harry. "I will not suffer my gift to be abused in such manner. Your right to them, and that of Arnor's, is hereby revoked. If Arnor is weakened as a result, so be it. I would rather see you fall before your foes than become the very tyrant you sought to oppose."

"You cannot do that!" Eldacar's face had turned pale.

Harry ignored him and transformed into a griffin. "Follow me," he commanded in a voice of magic, and the cohort of winged-horses flew behind Harry. Finally, he was beginning to see the wisdom of King Durin and King Thranduil and their desire to live in isolation from the other peoples of Middle Earth to avoid their meaningless wars. But when he calmed down a bit, he flew down and sighed. Was this once again his hubris? What gave him the right to take away the Abraxans from their homes and riders?

"I apologise for forcing my will on you," he said regretfully to the Abraxans. "Truly, each of you is free to go and do as you please, even if it is to return to Arnor. However, if you do not wish to return to Arnor, then you may continue flying after me. I will take you to a safe place where you may live in peace." He knew where he had to go.

Harry was wandering in Redeemer's Woods. Seeing Eldacar again had stirred up memories and he felt a desire to visit Elya's shrine. Also, the Abraxan had taken to the woods and seemed very happy. The walk had been very pleasant. The forest had changed so much since his last visit; the dark aura was completely gone and instead there was a hallowed feeling to it as a result of it being inhabited by hundreds of Patroni-like Wood Nymphs. And on top of that, the grace of a Vala had touched it. The Wood Nymphs recognised him and welcomed him with a nature dance that led him straight to the shrine. As he approached the shrine, he raised his hand and the bog mist that would induce a person's greatest fears parted before him and he walked to the shrine and sat next to it.

"Hey, there," he said. "I felt lonely and thought I'd come and visit. I have kept my promise and stopped mourning you but I still miss you so much." He felt peace as he gazed into the green everlasting fire that was in the shrine. "That fire is a part of my spirit, not sundered as if with dark magic, but rather a small offering freely given to one who is dear to me to keep you warm and protected against all the evil in this life and the next." He hesitated. "I tried many times since, but only once again was I able to bring forth the Secret Fire. Also for someone who has become very dear to me in a very short period of time. I think you would have liked her."

He frowned when he felt a familiar presence and looked up. On a tree, a very familiar snowy owl was sitting and gazing at him. Harry sighed - wondering if he had been overheard. But it didn't matter, he decided, and he raised a hand and beckoned the owl towards him. The owl flew down and transformed into Arwen. "I didn't mean to overhear any of that," she said, afraid she had done something very wrong.

"Come, sit with me," said Harry. "Let us watch the dance of the trees." When Arwen joined him, he wrapped an arm around her, like they used to when they travelled, and he asked, "What brings you to Redeemer's Woods? Surely, you do not have any regret so deep that you were able to pass through my enchantments."

Arwen shook her head. She touched the Galen-Galad around her neck. "You said there was nowhere in Middle Earth you wouldn't be able to find this fire," she whispered. "It works both ways, Harry. While I touch this, I can feel your presence anywhere in Middle Earth. More than that, I can feel your heart and soul. Earlier, I felt you so close to Rivendell and then I felt your grief and loneliness." She hesitated. "And all I wanted to do then was to find you and stay with you until you stopped feeling lonely." She looked away from his intense gaze. "I didn't fully understand until just now… but you just said it – how can I be stopped by enchantments when I carry a part of your spirit?"

Harry reached forward and took the Galen-Galad in his hand. Green flames rippled inside the mithril phoenix. Once again, he was mesmerised by it and stunned by the fact that he had created something so beautiful… and from what Arwen said, he suddenly realised, something so terrible.

"I didn't realise it would be a two-way thing and what a burden it would be for you," said Harry. "Maybe, it is best if I take it away… I can give you something else that allows you to keep transforming into an owl."

"No." Arwen pushed his hand away from the Galen-Galad.

Harry looked at her patiently. "Arwen, my spirit is not something you want to have such a strong connection with," he said. "There is -"

"I know what is in there; perhaps, better than you do," she said vehemently.

Harry felt his stomach sink. Had Arwen sensed the abyss within him? Had she seen the darkness? Was that why she was fighting back right now – the addiction to the darkness? His fear made him snap at her. "It was mine to give as it is mine to take away!"

"Don't you dare!" Arwen snapped back. "It was made for me, you had said, and now it has become a part of me." Her anger faded as swiftly as it had come and she looked at him with a forlorn expression. "I know I cannot stop you from taking it away but please don't… I beg you… please… I'll do anything."

Harry took a deep breath at the lost and fearful expression on her face and he hated himself for being the cause of it. No, it wasn't dark magic addiction, for that would have made her lash out in anger not plead so innocently. And once again, he was shocked at how Arwen brought out the worst in him, the thoughtless youth who would say and act before thinking things over as someone his age ought to do.

"You are correct," said Harry, leaning back in exhaustion. "It is as much yours as it ever was mine. Perhaps even more so." He looked at her with a regretful smile. "I really don't want to fight with you."

"Then, don't," she said, as she started cheering up. "Instead, tell me about her. What was she like?"

Harry was taken aback by the sudden diversion. But then his lips started working on their own, and he told Arwen about when he first met Elya in the melee. He told her about how they built Fornost Erain from nothing into the great city it had become. He told her about how he abandoned her in his hubris to defy the order of life and death and all that she suffered but despite that, she never gave up on him.

"That's so romantic," she said dreamily. "Do you think anyone would ever love me as much as you loved her?"

Harry felt his heart wrench at those words. How could she not know? But once again, he reminded himself of what Elrond had said. Be a friend to her. He smiled at her as best he could. "You certainly deserve it," he said. "If not much more than that." He stood up. "Come on. I should take you back to Rivendell before Lord Elrond sends out search parties to all four corners of Middle Earth."

"No, he wouldn't," she said cheekily, slipping her fingers in his hand. "He knows you would find me if I get lost."

"Always," said Harry, tightening his grip around her fingers.

As they walked, he found himself telling her more stories about his life. Before he knew it, he was telling her about Hogwarts and the Philosopher's Stone and the Chamber of Secrets. And she was outraged by all the things he had done at such a young age while still treating her like a child when she was much older, elvish slow maturity notwithstanding. So, they argued and laughed and teased each other until they came upon Rivendell.

"I'm back!" Arwen shouted when she entered the house.

Lord Elrond raised his head from whatever book he was reading. "Oh, you had gone somewhere?"

"Father!" Arwen complained at his indifference.

Elrond chuckled. "I called off the search parties when I sensed you cross the Bruinen with Harry." He turned to Harry. "There's something I would like to discuss with you."

"Can I stay and listen?"

Elrond turned to his daughter. "If I say no, you would just transform into an owl and linger outside my window, would you not?"

Arwen grinned him cheekily but Harry's next words wiped her smile off. "I can use magic to ensure privacy."

Elrond shook his head. "What I have to say is not private enough to risk Arwen's displeasure. You can stay, sweet daughter."

Arwen sent a triumphant look at Harry, who sighed and snapped his fingers. The next moment, she was transformed into a piglet. Harry shrugged at Elrond. "You said she could stay," he said. "She can stay in this form as well."

"I know she can be vexing at times," said Elrond. "But I would insist you change my dear daughter back to her usual self, Harry."

Sighing, Harry snapped his fingers again and Arwen was back with a stunned expression on her face. She looked at Harry with a look of betrayal. "This alliance is over," she declared. "I am going to find the twins and... you won't know what hit you, Galen-Galad." She stormed out of Elrond's chambers.

Elrond chuckled while Harry rubbed his forehead. Harry looked at Elrond despondently. "She brings out the worst in me."

"Or the best," said Elrond. "It is, after all, a matter of perspective." He looked curiously at Harry. "After nearly six years apart, you still have feelings for her?"

"Deeper and stronger than ever before," admitted Harry. "I am scared of the intensity of my feelings."

"She is an elf," Elrond said. "We mature slowly, over many more years than humans. It took me over a hundred years after meeting Celebrian to realise the true depths of my feelings for her, and it took her much longer to reciprocate them. Arwen's soul is still far too young to be capable of understanding such deep feelings."

"Then, there is still hope we might be together when she is older."

Elrond's expression dimmed. "There is always hope. However, my hopes are that you will grow out of these feelings and not that she will grow into them." When he saw Harry's stunned expression, he continued, "I do not say so because I think you wouldn't be good to her or good enough for her. In fact, I cannot think of anyone who could be better. But understand my dilemma: someday, perhaps many thousand years from now, I hope, but a day will come when I will travel west to Aman, with the rest of my kin and my family. Save one… you… That grieves me enough as it is… but the thought that it won't just be you but both you and Arwen…" A look of pain crossed through his face. "I will not be able to tolerate such separation."

Harry's expression softened. "I understand," he said quietly. "But you have nothing to fear. Arwen has no feelings for me other than platonic affection." He changed topics. "What was it you wished to speak to me about?"

Elrond welcomed the change in subjects as well. "You," he said. "From many of your recent endeavours, it is clear to me that you take great pleasure in building something out of nothing that can be of great help to the free peoples of Middle Earth. I have a proposal for you, a great venture, that may in time become one of the strongest bastions of Middle Earth in opposition to all that is unholy and evil."

"I am listening," said Harry, sounding intrigued.

"A centre of healing," said Elrond, "where any man, elf or dwarf could come to seek healing or to learn the art of healing without fear of being turned away for lack of gold or their race."

Harry was intrigued. The idea had much merit. "I assume you have given thought to the venture already?"

Elrond nodded. "For one, it has to be located somewhere central and within easy reach of all you intend to serve. I believe the Angle where the Bruinen meets the Mitheithel is the perfect location."

"There is one problem with that," he said, telling Elrond about what had happened in Salazar. "If Eldacar does something similar again as he did with Salazar, I will have to abandon this place."

Elrond frowned thoughtfully. "The other location I had considered was one of the larger eyots in River Anduin around where it meets River Gladden. It is close to warg territory but you will also be near your friends in Greenwood and far away from the reach of Arnor's armies."

"I like this idea better," said Harry. "I can create suitable defences against wargs."

"Will your dwarf friends be willing to assist you again in constructing a suitable hospice?"

Harry shook his head. "King Durin is approaching the end of his current life. It would be most insensitive of me to approach him with a personal request. But I have another idea. Leave the construction work to me. You are right, though, we should build something of great symbolic importance. I will have to give it some thought… maybe draw some inspiration from the great wonders of my old world."

Elrond. "I wish to assist you with the centre, at least, for a period at the beginning. Others have expressed similar desire. The elves of middle-earth have become complacent - choosing to hide instead of leave a mark for the better - I wish to change that by assisting you to my best capacity with this endeavour."

"It would be an honour," said Harry. "Anyone from Rivendell would be most welcome. Just give me a couple of months' head-start to build and secure the place before you make your way to me."

Harry whistled as he placed seven stones around the boundaries of the eyot. They weren't ordinary stones, he had carved very specific runes on them using his blood. Elrond's advice had been sound. Harry had come across eyots in River Anduin even further north but they were either too small, like Carrock, or too close to goblin territory to be practical. This one was perfect. Once he had finished placing the seven stones to demarcate the territory, he walked to the middle.

"I claim this isle as my home," he said, invoking a powerful arcane magic. "Tol Avalon, I name it." He felt magic coursing up through him and then burst out of his body in numerous beams of white light towards the stones. This magic could only be performed by the mightiest of wizards - and even then only once in their lives.

Harry felt a sharp pain in his chest and wondered if he had chosen a larger area than advisable. Without the Hat, he was kind of lost when it came to such theoretical things.

"Oh well," he muttered as light kept flowing out of him, pain kept getting worse and his eyes were beginning to falter and darkness was nearly upon him. "At least, I know I shan't die."

When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw were large eyes inside oversized heads staring at him. He got up hurriedly and looked around. "Hello," he said.

"Hello," one of the new creatures around him called out. "Master?"

"None of that," said Harry. "You can call me Harry and I will call you by your names." He saw blank looks on their faces and decided to begin again. "I am a wizard and I claimed this island as my home. My magic resulted in you being created - as magical creatures belonging to a wizard's home."

The expressions on his listeners' faces suddenly cleared. "Master," they said cheerfully.

Harry rubbed his forehead and had to remind himself why he had thought summoning an army of Dobbys was a good idea. "I order you to call me Harry or Mister Harry," he said. He counted them. Seven, not bad, and no wonder he had collapsed from exhaustion. He had hoped at least three or four, given the isle he claimed as his home was much bigger than a single house. "Back in my old home, we used to call you House-Elves, and I understand you lot are very confused right now. You are born of magic, my magic, claiming this area as my home."

One of them was nodding his head vigorously. "Yes, Master Harry."

Harry sighed. "Harry or Mister Harry," he reminded them. "Your existence and magic is tied to the anchor stones around this property. Should you leave this property for long periods of time, you will find your magic beginning to recede and eventually your life force will falter until you return to the magic from whence you were summoned… unless you find another magical residence to tie yourself to. There will be no pain or torture for you should you choose to do so - only the blissfulness of oblivion."

Some of them had terrified looks on their faces.

"Please do not be afraid," said Harry kindly. "I intend to be good to you, and if you ever have any grievance, please do speak to me about it." He hesitated. "One of your kind rebelled against his master and risked losing his magic and life-force to help me. I considered him a friend and I hope in time you will consider me a friend as well."

"Friend Harry," one of the creatures suddenly said.

"Yes, that works," said Harry, cheerfully. "In fact, why not? All healers in the Shining Tower of Avalon shall henceforth have the prefix 'friend' before their names."

"Names?" one of them asked curiously. "Do we have names as well, Friend Harry?"

"Not yet," said Harry. "You were created from my magic, which is why you understand any language I understand. Do you have any preference for names?"

They all shook their heads. "Will you name us, Friend Harry?" one of them asked.

"I suppose so," sighed Harry. "All males to this side, and all females to that side. I shan't use the name which my people used for your kind, but instead I shall call you imps." Then, he proceeded to name them with a grin on his face. "You boys shall be called: Dasher, Prancer and Comet. You girls are: Dancer, Vixen, Cupid and Blitzie." They all look delighted with their new names. "Now, we need to actually start building stuff here." He took out a large mithril ore and used magic to float it to the middle of the demarcated property. "Engorgio." He kept on increasing the size of the chunk of mithril until he felt it reach the limit. Any more and it would have exploded most violently. "This will do," he muttered and then took out another chunk of mithril, which floated to just above the gigantic shining mass before him. "Engorgio." And so on he used many chunks of mithril and then used magic to bind them together and was left with a landmass made purely of mithril that was roughly 150 feet high and 200 feet in diameter, covering nearly a third of the eyot.

"Your turn to shine, guys," said Harry. He conjured a miniature pyramid-shaped structure. "I want you to do the best you can and shape the mithril into this shape. You will need to refine the ore as well and let it set and make it as shiny as you can. I think we can three main sections, with ten floors in each section. The one at the bottom will have one massive hall with a ceiling at 30 feet and no walls in between. I will work with you on the next floor to make a common hallway and a number of smaller rooms and you will replicate it for the rest. There should be stairways as well and pillars for support where needed, and leave one big pillar in the middle going all the way up to the top." He smiled at the imps. "Don't worry about messing it up. I can fix it, or if not, then there's plenty more mithril to begin anew. How long do you think you will need to do the outside and the ground floor?"

The imps conferred amongst themselves. "Two whole days, if we work without sleeping," said Dasher.

"Five days, then," said Harry. "We start at sunrise and stop at nightfall, with adequate breaks in between. But that's not all." He added more to the shape before him, creating a second upper layer on the pyramid. "After this is done, we will work on the upper layer and then a third layer and so on until we reach the top of the pyramid which will be a single chamber with the slanting walls joining each other." He had an image of a pyramid that soared up with the top chamber made of purified mithril. "By your estimate, we should finish this well within two months. Let's get started."

Harry observed the imps for a few minutes, to see they had the hang of it. They worked quite efficiently, using their magic to smoothen the surface and cut it into a slanting angle, creating doors and carving the mithril hollow. He worked with them at first to get the angles right and the thickness of the walls, but when he was confident with their ability to do things without his supervision, he started focusing on other things. With the excess mithril that the imps were carving out of the interior, Harry built four bridges on the river: north east, north west, south west and south east, in the shape of a row of submerged turtles standing front to back. The idea behind it was he could animate the turtles to move away to close access to Tar Avalon. He had thought of making the isle unplottable but what would be the point of having a centre of healing no one could find? So, he had to stick to more traditional defences. The fact that the tower was made of mithril was in itself a tremendous defensive boost, since most conventional weapons were useless against mithril once it was set. Intent-based wards, barriers to enter the island from anywhere but the bridges, mithril statues of centaurs in the grounds with bows drawn, enchanted to animate when the wards where triggered… Harry didn't stop until it was already sundown.

"That's enough for today, guys," Harry summoned the imps. "Let's have some dinner. I'll catch us some fish."

The imps observed as Harry used a spear to catch fish from the river. After half an hour or so, he had finally caught enough for them, which he brought to the group proudly.

"Friend Harry, your magic is powerful," said one imp curiously. "Why do you not simply summon the fish out of the water?"

"Where would be the fun in doing that?" asked Harry. "Magic is awesome but sometimes doing things the hard way has its own rewards. I would save my magic to do difficult things like building this tower and protecting it instead of things like fishing, which is more fun the ordinary way."

While the imps ate and relaxed, Harry walked inside the tower. He coughed when he breathed in ore-dust and started clearing up the place. The imps had done well. The inside of the ground floor was hollow, making one gigantic hall supported by pillars. There was a stairway at one end and a central pillar. Harry walked to the pillar and started carving runes, which he would repeat on each level. The idea behind this was to create the first elevator in Middle Earth. The magic required was complex in theory but it wasn't difficult to cast, nothing as complex as the summoning ritual he had done earlier that day. In any case, he wouldn't even have considered it were it not for the fact that the entire structure was made of mithril.

Mithril could act as a magical focus like phoenix feather or dragon heartstring, and so Harry could enchant the tower with considerable ease since he only had to carve runes on the walls and the mithril would power the magic. That was why he had chosen it as the base material to build the tower. Well, that and the fact it would look more majestic than anything else ever built in Middle Earth.

In less than a weeks' time, the first section was complete. Usually, such a feat would not have been possible, but the imps worked tirelessly and with skill far surpassing anything Harry could have expected. At ten storeys high, the Shining Tower was already quite an imposing construct but Harry was only getting started. The central pillar was carved with runes and on four places around it were a series of numbers representing each floor and when Harry tapped on 2, making it light up, and walked into the pillar, he was spat out of the pillar on the second floor. He tested it worked for each floor properly before going to the terrace. Standing on one edge of the terrace, he started enlarging more mithril.

Frankly, he didn't think they needed anything as big as what he was making, but Elrond had detected in Harry something very astutely. He loved building new and beautiful things and outdoing not only others but himself with each new venture. Part of him knew he would never make anything quite as beautiful as the Galen-Galad, and so, perhaps, he was compensating for that by building something that dwarfed everything else in comparison by sheer size and magnitude.

As the weeks rolled by, the imps started doing more and more of the interior work that Harry had been doing at first, giving Harry the opportunity to make further additions to the tower. The lowest section with the first ten floors would be the place where patients would be treated and the residents of the tower would have their chambers. Each section above that would be devoted to certain kinds of healing arts for those who wished to learn. As one mastered the skills in one section, they would progress to the next and so on until they reached the pinnacle of healing and only those people authorised would be able to access those floors. The very top of the tower was a single chamber with walls that met at a single point and was made of crystal clear mithril purified by the philosopher's stone. It was as if that entire chamber was made of shining glass that was stronger than any metal. Harry made that place his personal refuge, where he could conduct his experiments, write books and generally relax. He kept copies of all his notes from his time in Greenwood, when he had first started mixing new potions using ingredients found in Middle Earth under the Hat's tutelage, then during his years in Fornost and Salazar. He also kept several phials of the Elixir of Life, although the stone itself was safely kept in his enlarged pocket.

Every time he looked at the elixir, he would feel a fresh pang of loss for Elya. At first, he had considered never making the stone after losing Elya and realising he had no right to challenge the rightful order of life and death, but then he realised that the elixir should not be ignored completely. Instead, it should be used sparingly under only the most extenuating of circumstances.

"But what gives me the right to decide who gets to use it and who doesn't?" was the dilemma in his mind when he saw a long procession of figures walking along the Vales of Anduin towards the isle. They held fire-lamps and, with his enhanced vision, Harry could see tell they were elves from Rivendell though their faces were covered in hoods. He walked out of the tower and crossed the north west turtle bridge and waited for them patiently. The shining silver light from the mithril tower illuminated the entire eyot and the nearby river, so he didn't need more light.

"Welcome, lords and ladies of Rivendell," Harry began in a proud voice, "to the Shining Tower of Tor Avalon."

"Shining, it is, indeed. Even miles away, its splendour can be seen," said Elrond, as he stepped into luminous bridge and embraced Harry. "Though I had never set my eyes on it, I doubt even the ancient elven city of Gondolin had anything quite as wondrous as the Shining Tower built by Galen-Galad."

"Is it wise, though, to build something so noticeable?" asked Erestor. "You might attract unwanted attention from less savoury creatures."

"The tower is defended by magic," said Harry. "You need not worry, Master Elf. No orc or warg shall harm you while you are on Tor Avalon." He looked at the others who had arrived and was surprised. "Looks like half of Rivendell has come here."

"Many desired to see what new astonishing thing you have built, Harry," said Celebrian, as she also stepped forward to give him a hug.

"It is great to see all of you, but I wasn't expecting so many. Give me an hour and I will prepare chambers for everyone."

"We can sleep outside," said Glorfindel. "The night is pleasant and I would rather stay where I can behold the Shining Tower a bit longer."

"So shall I," said Lindir, and his voice was hoarse, as if he was talking with great effort. "Long have I waited to behold something that would inspire me to write a new song and finally… finally I see a silver tower that rises up to the stars and pierces through the veil of darkness as lightning in the dark… how can I not take this opportunity to sit by the fire and stare in yonder direction for a bit longer?"

Most were of like mind as Glorfindel and Lindir and decided to camp another night outside. Harry knew elves, like dwarves, were fascinated by mithril, and so he could see why they would like to spend time in the outside relishing the view of the majestic silver tower. In the end, only Elrond and his family went inside with him.

"Is the turtle bridge safe?" asked Elladan as he and his twin brother also joined him.

"Perfectly," said Harry. As he walked, he snapped his fingers and the mithril turtles which the twins were standing on became animated and started swimming away. He winked at Arwen and silently mouthed, one, two, three, while raising his fingers for the countdown.



"The water is cold!"

"Look at the plus side," Harry said cheerfully. "If you catch a cold, there's a tower of healing where you can get yourselves fixed."

When Elrond looked at him with disapproval, Harry looked sheepishly back and levitated the twins out of the river and dried them with magic. "I have missed you all," he said. He then turned to Arwen as they approached the tower. She had been quieter and more reserved than he had seen her before and even the Galen-Galad was very dim, as if reflecting her mood. "Is there a reason why I am being ignored?"

"Oh, sorry," Arwen walked closer and hugged him stiffly and let go almost immediately. "I had a few things on my mind."

"Let us retreat to my chambers upstairs," he said. "We will watch the dance of the stars from the top of the tower."

Arwen suddenly pulled back. "Mother, I think I shall join the others outside. I will see you in the morning."

Harry watched Arwen leave with disappointment. He certainly hadn't expected her to arrive with Elrond and seeing her had been very pleasant. But he couldn't understand her sudden coolness towards him. He turned to Celebrian. "What's wrong with her?"

"It is my fault," Elrond spoke first. "Arwen and I had a slight disagreement and some heated words were exchanged during the journey. She is not well pleased with me at the moment."

Harry led them to the top. They marvelled at the breathtaking sights that they could see from 300 feet above the Great River Anduin in all directions.

"It is a grand place you have built," said Celebrian. "But will you ever use even half the space?"

"I do not know and I hadn't thought of that," Harry admitted. A faraway look came on his face. "When Lord Elrond first suggested this to me, an image came to my mind and I devoted myself completely into bringing it to reality. Utility and practicality became less important than…"

"Than, what?" asked Elladan curiously.

"My hubris," Harry whispered quietly. His face had paled when he realised he hadn't even once considered what was actually needed for a centre of healing. Once again, he had become ensnared by pride in his own abilities. He had imagined a pyramid that would be counted amongst the most majestic sites in Middle Earth, one of the great wonders of this world, and used his magic to bring it about. The determination with which he had set about building the Shining Tower was not unlike what he had felt when had first embarked on the philosopher's quest. Was the abyss within him evolving - drawing him inside in new ways that were not as easily discernible?

Elrond looked at him with a reflective expression. "Regardless of your motivation, you have built a symbol of hope and courage that will serve as a reminder to the people of Middle Earth that there is still strength in those who stand in the light."

But Harry's mind wasn't completely at ease and when everyone went to sleep, he walked out of the tower and crossed the bridge. He walked among the elves of Rivendell who had all gone to sleep as well. So many of them had arrived to support him, to join his cause, and suddenly he felt very unworthy of them.

Walking away from the elves in order not to disturb them, he went deeper into the vale. At some stage, he realised he was being followed and was somewhat surprised it took him so long to realise it. "How do you manage to reduce the radiance of the Galen-Galad?"

"As we spoke last," said Arwen, joining him. "This is part of me now, more than it is of you. The Secret Fire you poured into it now listens to my wishes and does more than what you said it could do. When I wish to be unseen, it keeps my presence hidden as if by magic. When I wish to be seen, it shines so bright that only the sun can outshine it." She walked closer to him. "You are troubled."

"Nothing that will not pass away by dawn," Harry smiled weakly, unwilling to burden the young elf with his self-absorbed thoughts and feelings. "What about you? I heard you had an argument with Lord Elrond."

"Let us not waste time speaking about unhappy things," said Arwen. "I have missed you." She leaned closer and rested her head against him.

"And I have missed you," said Harry, wrapping his arms around her and kissing the side of her head just above her pointed ears.

"You lie," said Arwen, parting from him suddenly. "If you missed us, you would spend more time in Rivendell instead of always going away to faraway places after only spending a few days with us."

Harry felt a sudden rise of fire within him. He was about to lash out at her and tell her it was her fault he didn't stay in Rivendell too long, that it pained him terribly to have her so close to him and yet out of reach. But before the words could leave his lips, he managed to push them back and far into the recesses of his mind. To his dismay, however, Arwen had sensed something in his eyes, or in his face, or perhaps through the connection they shared from the Galen-Galad. Her face was in a complete shock and she took a step back.

"Arwen," Harry began hesitatingly.

"No, don't," she stopped him. Her eyes widened as if she suddenly realised something. "I understand now. I understand why father insists I return with Erestor to Rivendell and not stay with you."

Harry's eyes widened. "You should not be denied this because of me," he told her calmly. "I can restrain my feelings. I will speak to Lord Elrond and make him see reason."

"How can I stay with the knowledge that my very presence makes you so miserable?" she whispered in a forlorn voice.

Harry grabbed her hands and looked at her intently. "Don't you say that," he told her in a stern voice. When her lips quivered, he softened his expression. "When I look at your face, I see the brilliant light of the cosmos. Nothing could be brighter. Ten thousand suns couldn't be brighter."

Arwen gasped at the intensity of his feelings and tore herself away from him again.

"I understand you do not have similar feelings for me," said Harry. "This is something I must deal with. You are blameless, Arwen, absolutely blameless."

Arwen was staring at the floor for several moments. She raised her head to show her eyes were filled with tears. "I need to be alone."

Harry watched her run away from him in silence and as she left her presence became hidden from him. Why did it have to be so difficult? Part of him yearned for the carefree days when he was younger, but even as he thought that, he knew he wouldn't trade the little time he had spent first with Elya and now Arwen for anything. Despite all the heartache that followed each encounter with this she-elf.

"I am losing it," muttered Harry as he sensed a new presence. "If two elves manage to sneak up on me the same night."

Glorfindel of Rivendell emerged from the shadows. "I heard Lady Arwen wake up and followed her only to ensure her safety. Whatever kept her hidden from your must have also kept me hidden." He sat down next to Harry. "I had no idea, my friend, none of us did."

Harry looked away. "Nothing will happen anyway," he said bitterly. "Lord Elrond would not permit it. You all will sail west one day; I have no right to hope she would stay behind for me."

"Perhaps it is not my place to say this," said Glorfindel, "but a wise man once told me when I was facing the dilemma of leaving the shores of Middle Earth that I should do what is right for me. Lady Arwen should have the same right. Neither you nor Lord Elrond should dictate what is right for her." He took a deep breath. "Middle Earth is once again becoming a place we elves are falling in love with. You have made it so, you still are making it so. Perhaps, when the day comes for the final ship to sail west, Lady Arwen would bid it farewell and choose to stay behind in Middle Earth. Perhaps, others will do so with her."

"You heard her just now," Harry argued. "She has no desire for me, no love other than platonic affection… and even that may now be lost." His heart wrenched in pain again as he said those words.

"I do not know what she feels for you but elves mature slower than humans," said Glorfindel. "She cares deeply for you, of that how can you have any doubt?"

Harry raised his hand to silence him.

"No, my friend," began Glorfindel but Harry cut him.

"Shh," said Harry. "Do you hear that?" His heightened senses were picking up screams in the distance. "Voices… many voices… coming from the south."

"The south?" Glorfindel was surprised. "There is nothing in the south for a hundred miles… until…"

"The east gate of Khazad-Dum but the noise is coming from much closer than that," said Harry. "Something has happened. Something terrible."

"Then, let us investigate," said Glorfindel.

"On my back," said Harry, transforming into a griffin. Glorfindel hesitated for a few moments before climbing on the massive lion. Harry flew southwards, riding the wind currents to gain ever increasing speed. Eventually, many miles south, they came within sight of the disturbance Harry had heard. Dwarves were running north in chagrin and chaos, with fear in their eyes that Harry had never seen before. Many looked injured and their armour was charred, and they were being pursued by wargs, but clearly they weren't afraid of the wargs as they would stop from time to time to kill a few of the beasts before continuing on their way.

Harry roared before landing in front of them. He transformed back when Glorfindel climbed down. Many of the wargs whimpered in fear and retreated back to the mountains while the dwarves stopped and gathered around him.

"Gabilion!" one dwarf shouted. "It's Gabilion."

Harry focused his attention of that dwarf. "What happened? What are you running from?"

"Aii," another dwarf screamed. "Evil, evil beyond any mortal's ability to resist or defy."

Harry looked around. "Hemel son of Jamel, I know you. Tell me what has happened."

"We dug deeper and deeper without rest," said the dwarf. "We broke our promise to you and bred the nifflers until there were over a thousand of them, and despite your warnings, we made half of them work all day and the rest all night. But no matter how much mithril we uncovered, there was always more to find and we wouldn't rest… we couldn't rest… until we dug so deep… we reached the pits of hell."

Harry exchanged a glance with Glorfindel.

"We came across the beast two nights ago. It was still in slumber. At first, we thought we could fight it," said the dwarf. "But when our warriors awakened it from its sleep, it shattered through our ranks and destroyed the glorious halls of our forefathers. We sought to fight it but it could not be killed with any of our weapons. Then, earlier today the wargs and orcs answered its summons and filled our halls through passages beneath the mountain."

"And suddenly, King Durin emerged from his chambers, with his youth and vigour restored, as if by the grace of the One. He himself locked the western gate, to keep our allies in Salazar safe and ordered us to abandon our homes and flee east to our outpost in Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. Then, he wore the Ravenclaw and challenged the beast, leading it deep into the mines, buying us precious time to escape."

"What beast was it?" Harry asked.

"Fire and shadow," the dwarf said in a terrified whisper. "Fire and shadow."

Harry took a deep breath as his face turned pale. He recalled a memory from his past. The mirror of Galadriel. A hideous beast that had terrified even the basilisk within him. "Balrog," Harry whispered and Glorfindel's grim expression suggested he too thought the same.

Another dwarf wailed suddenly. "Our first father's body lies in the mines, broken and defiled, without the proper rituals. Alas, Durin shall never reincarnate again."

Harry felt angry suddenly. "Why was he alone? Why did he not have his people by his side?" he snarled at the thought of his old friend the King of the Dwarves facing the demon alone. "I never thought I would see the day when the dwarves of Khazad-Dum would run like cowards before a foe."

The dwarf took no offence. Instead, he had a resigned look on his face. "It was no foe that we faced," he said. "We faced hell itself. Our king chose sacrifice so we may live."

Harry took a deep breath to focus his thought. "If I bring back Durin's body, will he reincarnate again?"

"It was foretold our first father would reincarnate until the end of time if his body is burnt in a forge made of mithril, before he returns forever at Aule's side," said the dwarf. "Thrice has that happened thus far, but I fear… I fear the shadow shall claim his corpse and he shall never manifest in Middle Earth again."

"Not if I can help it," said Harry.

Glorfindel turned to him sharply. "Are you certain? This is no ordinary foe. It is of the Ainur, master of fire, shadow and magic. Even Sauron the Terrible would not have fared with ease against one. Let the balrog lie in the shadows."

"Would you have me abandon my friend?" Harry snapped at Glorfindel, which silenced him. He turned to the dwarf. "Follow the Great River, lead your people north. Many miles ahead, you will come upon the Shining Tower of Avalon. Find Lord Elrond - tell him that he is its master in my absence; seek refuge in the name of Harry of Rivendell. There, your people will find healing and sanctuary."

Hemel pulled his arm. "Do not go down there, Gabilion," he whispered in terror. "I beg you. You will not come back alive."

"I am not easy to kill," said Harry, trying to summon what courage he could. The vision he had seen in the mirror of Galadriel once again came to mind. His confidence wavered.

"But not impossible," Glorfindel reminded him. "You do not possess the hallowed weapons of old which could hurt a balrog."

"Perhaps, not," said Harry, once again ruing the loss of the Sorting Hat and the Sword of Gryffindor. "But you know what, my friend, I have a wizard's magic and I also have an elf's pride and a dwarf's stubbornness." He laughed. The decision was easy. "I shall not abandon Durin." He clasped Glorfindel's arm in farewell. "Will you lead the dwarves to Avalon?"

Glorfindel's face turned serious. "Nay, they need no assistance in locating the shining tower. I will come with you."

Harry's face turned pale. "No," he snapped. "I forbid it."

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. "Would you have me abandon my friend?" He threw Harry's words back at him.

Harry looked at him desperately. But then he tried a different approach. He snarled, "You will only be a hindrance to me, elf. I cannot fight the beast and keep you safe at the same time. Go where you can actually do something useful."

"Galen-Galad!" Glorfindel raged, his voice turned deeper and angrier than Harry had ever heard before. "I have faced darkness the likes of which you couldn't even imagine. I have fought the hosts of Angband and Thangorodrim. I have faced dragons and wraiths to hold back the onslaught of the Dark Lord Morgoth. How dare you question my courage and valour?"

Harry looked at him regretfully. "I did not mean to insult you, O Lord of the Noldor. I only wish you wouldn't throw away your life away when there is no need to."

Glorfindel's eyes softened. "Then, why do you throw away your life?"

Harry turned aside. He wanted to say he was doing it to save Durin's body, but he knew that would only be a half-truth. Was it hubris again? The need to fight against a mighty balrog and come out victorious. No, it wasn't that. It was something completely different.

"I am tired," said Harry.

"You don't mean that," said Glorfindel in shock. "You, more than anyone else I know, are so full of life and dreams."

Harry looked at him bitterly. "Everything I touch gets cursed, everything I do is doomed to fail. I am cursed to live an unhappy life."

Glorfindel frowned. "Do not forget the great things of beauty that your hands have wrought: the Gates of Union, hippogriffs, abraxan, Fornost, Redeemer's Woods, Salazar, the Shining Tower, and most of all, the Galen-Galad." When Harry's eyes dimmed at the mention of the final item, Glorfindel realised. "Your eyes sing the lament of a broken heart and a doomed love. You think life has little meaning without the love of the one who has your heart and so you throw yourself at the darkness."

"I am a fool, is that not what you truly think?" Harry muttered.

"A fool, aye, but also a friend, and I suppose, in the end, that is all that matters," sighed Glorfindel. "Well, then, I am to be Felagund to your Beren. If this is to be our end, then let us make it worthy of song." He took out his sword and raised it towards the running dwarves. He shouted: "Dwarves! When you reach Avalon, seek one called Lindir of Rivendell and tell him of Galen-Galad and Glorfindel, a man and an elf, who went to fight the beast from hell and bring the king of dwarves back to life." He turned to Harry. "If this doesn't inspire Lindir to write a new song, then nothing will."

"To death, then," Harry said, grimly.

"To death and friendship," replied Glorfindel.

Author's notes:

Thanks to everyone who's reviewed. I love reading them - every review (positive or negative) makes it more likely that I will continue on to my next project after this one.

To those who like my story, thank you so much. I am highly flattered and think you guys are brilliant.

To those who have picked big errors in my story - thank you (Joe Lawyer / jfcwtfusernames for the Sword of Gryffindor being used to draw blood in the duel in Chapter 3 - now fixed such that Harry can control the basilisk venom in the sword!)

To those who didn't like my story because the plot wasn't going the way they wanted - many of you have great ideas! Honestly! But when I write (usually over a glass/bottle of wine), I just like to get lost in the universe and let the story take its own direction. My original story plot was completely different to where we are now. But I quite like the changes - because of the journey I went through to get there.