The next morning, Harry moved to a room of his own in the castle.
"It is a bit small," the servant said as she unlocked the door with a heavy iron key. The door swung noiselessly open, revealing a tidy room consisting of a heavy wooden desk and wardrobe, a hearth that remained empty for the summer, and a bed bigger than the one in the hall of healing.
Harry's eyes gravitated to the light that splashed across the polished floor, which glistened like drops of oil atop a bucket of water. The light filtered through a small door on the far side of the room.
Harry crossed the room, ignoring the furnishings. He hadn't slept indoors for over a year; he did not care how the room looked, except that there was a way outside. The wooden door had a small latch, which opened soundlessly onto a balcony. It would be the perfect entrance for Eclipse if Harry could figure out his transformation troubles. His stomach clenched at the memory of his failed attempt yesterday.
"It's not much, especially for such an honored guest as yourself. Yet all the larger rooms are filled, and —"
"This is perfect," Harry said.
The servant shut the doors with a soft click, leaving Harry alone with the silence of his thoughts. He laid down on the bed with a sigh and stared at the ceiling. The stone appeared muted at first glance, but slowly colors began to sort themselves out, some pale whites mixed with flecks of darker greys and blacks. The grey was not calm at all; it was a barely constrained tempest of contrasting colors.
Harry turned his head so that his cheek pressed into the soft bedding. From his vantage point, he could see out the balcony door and to the open sky that beckoned.
He sighed and sat up. He had to try again.
Harry moved to a sitting position and closed his eyes against the outside world. Slowly, his thoughts settled until he could only hear the sound of his breathing. He let his mind wander, thinking about what it meant to be a bird. He thought about the freedom of flying and of navigating the wind like an old sailor did the sea. He thought of black feathers that could melt into shadows, and tears borne of sorrow that could cause relief and joy.
Harry began to transform.
He could feel his bones hollowing, becoming lighter with each breath. His heart rose with each breath. Then, so too did his head rise. Harry started elongating, becoming larger and wider; his skin thickened and hardened.
Harry's eyes flew open and he stared in dismay at the black scales that decorated his hands. The sight pierced him and he deflated, shrinking and condensing until he was a human once more. Harry squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the mocking blue sky and the evidence of his failed transformation.
What was he doing wrong? He knew how to be an Animagus, knew better than nearly any witch or wizard alive. He had lived as Eclipse for the better part of a year; he knew the phoenix better than he knew this pink and fleshy form he had now.
The sight of his hands, blackened with scales, flashed across his mind.
Harry shoved that memory away, wishing it would sink to the bottom of his jumbled thoughts. Animagus forms always reflected a wizard's character; though he logically knew that the basilisk was merely an animal like any other, it was hard to think well of a creature that had tried and nearly succeeded in killing him. The same creature that had carried out Tom Riddle's orders, that had brought only grief and misery to Hogwarts. Even if he were to complete the transformation, there was always a risk that Harry might open his eyes.
No, Harry decided. He would never become the basilisk again.
A knock sounded. Harry jumped and guiltily hid his hands, as though to hide any inward evidence of his thoughts.
"Come in," he called. Gimli opened the door and peered inside.
"Heard you had a room of your own now," the dwarf said with a nod of approval. "I'm just down the hall. Would you care to join me to break fast?"
"Haven't you already eaten?" Harry asked with a grin. Gimli's beard looked even wilder than normal, thanks to a collection of bits of bread and jam stuck to it.
"Haven't you heard of second breakfasts?" Gimli countered. "It's a delightful invention of hobbits. You could use a few second breakfasts yourself."
Harry laughed. He had always been scrawny and wiry, and doubted that a year of eating berries had changed that.
The two walked towards the dining hall. To Harry, everything passed with a weird sense of deja vu; before, he had only flown through these halls as Eclipse. Everything looked higher now, as if he were walking below ground and peering up at the rich tapestries and portraits that adorned the halls.
The dining room doors came into sight, but Gimli veered from them and instead led Harry into a smaller room. Harry paused, his foot hovering over the threshold when he saw the figures inside.
Gandalf, Legolas, and the king and queen sat around a table. It was clearly an informal affair; the king and queen forwent their crowns and Aragorn was in clothes much the same as Legolas.
"Harry," Legolas said with a warm smile, as he gestured to an empty seat. "Come, sit. How do you care for your room? You are right next to Gimli and I."
Harry sat, and the conversation began to ebb and flow once more, embracing him instead of excluding him like he feared.
"It's great," Harry said, then stopped. He didn't know how to give voice to the anxious thoughts crowding his brain about his Animagus form.
Legolas gave him a questioning look, which Harry responded to with a half-hearted smile that he wasn't sure the elf believed.
"When you visit again, you will be given our best rooms in honor of your role at Minas Morgul," the King said. "We are short on space right given our unexpected guests, but I will make sure you have anything else you wish."
"It was nothing," Harry said, feeling his ears turn red.
"Nonsense," the king replied. "We will hold a ball to celebrate this victory, and you shall be a guest of honor."
Apparation was sounding really attractive right now, Harry thought as he tried to fumble a way out of this conversational minefield.
"You might want to wait on that," Harry said. "There is a ring, and I think it's in your castle."
Gimli took too large a sip and started coughing on his drink.
"We looked everywhere in that cavern! How could it be here?"
"I don't know, but I can feel it. It's here."
Gandalf had stilled at Harry's words. When he spoke, his voice sounded as unyielding as a mountain.
"Impossible. The ring is destroyed."
"Not that one, but it was a ring. I saw it. It was gold and lumpy."
Harry thought back to the dank room where they had fought, and that brief second at the end of their fight when Voldemort had become a wraith once more. As the shadows receded, there had been the barest reflection that shone under the pale light, like a mirror that had been covered with dirt and grime over the years. The small circular shape could only be that of a ring, yet it had seemed uneven in a way that rings usually were not.
"Lumpy? I wonder…" Gandalf said. Harry raised his eyebrows expectantly, but Gandalf said no more.
"Ring or no ring, we cannot cease all activities. Can you still sense it?"
Harry shook his head.
"It has hidden itself from me."
"Then there is not much we can do. I will tell my men to be on guard, but we must continue as usual in the meantime."
It made sense, but Harry had a sinking feeling that this would not be enough. Though this world was recovering from a similar war, they didn't know Voldemort like he did. The Dark Lord would be back, and Harry wasn't sure how he could fight him with a broken wand and no Animagus.
As the morning passed slow and leisurely, the discussion turned from serious matters to reminiscing about the past. Harry sat and listened for a few moments, nibbling on his breakfast roll, but couldn't keep the thoughts in his head from returning to the matter of the Horcrux.
He couldn't shake the feeling of dread. He had surreptitiously strengthened his Occluding, to make sure the ring itself wasn't introducing these thoughts. Yet even behind the fortress of his mind, the doubt lingered like a seed slowly spoiling.
Harry quietly snuck away.
He found the nearest staircase and started to walk up. He didn't remember the exact way, but when one staircase ended, he wandered the hallways until he found the next. Eventually, Harry found the narrow hallway that led to a familiar dusty room.
Inside, Harry quickly crossed the room and opened the cabinet. His wand lay hidden at the bottom. It still sported a wide crack down the middle of the wood, and Harry could see the hint of Fawkes' reddish-orange feather inside. He picked it up, mindful of the break, and almost felt a warm glow of recognition.
He gave it an experimental flick, but nothing happened. He tightened his grip on the wand for a long minute, then gave a sigh and turned to leave.
A hint of movement caught his eye, and Harry turned around curiously. He crouched down and looked at the small space between the old creaky cabinet and the floor. A small tuft lay there, it's blackness blending in with the shadows. It was a feather. His feather.
Harry carefully transferred both wand and feather to his pocket. He hoped the day when he could use both feathers and magic was coming soon. Yet, privately, in a thought buried in the deep recesses of his mind, Harry wondered. The door gave a definite thud as he closed it and walked back to his room.
Harry opened the door to his room as someone else walked out of it.
"I was wondering where you went," Legolas said. "I just left Lady Galadriel's gift on your nightstand. I'd been carrying it, but figured you might want it back now."
"Oh, thanks," Harry said. He had quite forgotten about the gift. He walked over to the nightstand and looked at it curiously. It was a desiccated seed, the size of a lumpy golf ball. The fibrous texture felt rough under his hands, and Harry picked it up to stare at the bulbous object.
"I forgot what this is," Harry confessed. He glanced at Legolas to see if the elf had any ideas. Legolas obligingly moved closer, so that Harry could feel the warmth radiating from his body. The elf prodded the walnut-like seed.
"I believe this is a gilith-rhiw seed." He said. "The flowers are a sign of hope and healing during the long winters."
"Should I plant it?" Harry asked. The seed looked awfully dry. Was it even alive?
"I suppose," Legolas said doubtfully. "Perhaps she meant for you to hold onto it?"
"Another thing to ask Gandalf," Harry said, and he slipped the seed into his pocket. His hand brushed his wand, which was also stored there. Harry gave the wand one more hopeful squeeze, but it remained cold and inert, feeling like nothing more than a dead stick.
Harry nodded decisively. It was time to visit Gandalf again; perhaps the wizard could help.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait! I just moved across the country to be closer to my family and underestimated how much packing and unpacking needed to be done. I'll hopefully be more frequent now.