"It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world."

Eowyn's hand disappeared into the folds of her dress and reappeared with a dagger that glinted in the light. She lunged at Harry, eyes bright with rage, and Harry hurriedly scrambled backward. He had barely retreated three steps when his back hit the wall. Frantically, Harry glanced around the room, looking for a weapon.

Faramir shouted a warning and Harry turned back in time to see the dagger thrust towards him. He dove to the floor and rolled out of the way, coming to a stop painfully as his head hit the foot of Faramir's bed. Eowyn spun to attack him again, and Harry's hands blindly groped around the cold stone floor. As the dagger fell, his hands landed on something rough and sturdy and he held up Faramir's leather boot like a shield.

The leather sole bravely foiled the attack on his heart, but the dagger bit into Harry's arm instead. He gritted his teeth from the pain, but reached with his other hand to grasp Eowyn's wrist holding the dagger and twisted. The air collapsed in on itself to form a tunnel and both fighters disappeared with a loud crack.

Harry squinted as direct sunlight suddenly shone in his eyes, then quickly rolled away from Eowyn as her free hand sought to claw out his eyes. He quickly stood and ran behind one of the many shrubs that grew in the castle's gardens, putting a physical barrier between Eowyn and himself. While he had bought himself some space, he still desperately needed a weapon.

Eowyn took the time to calmly stand up and brush the matted grass from her dress. She wiped his blood carelessly on the hem and then stood to face him, one hand holding the dagger and the other wearing the golden ring that sparkled invitingly in the sun. Her eyes were now completely red.

"Ah, Harry," she said. "I have found myself missing you. You always do provide an entertaining challenge."

"Wish I could say the same," Harry said, holding a hand pressed against his wound. He hoped it would stem the bleeding, but he didn't think it would be particularly effective.

"I'm afraid you're right," Eowyn said in mock sympathy. "I can't have you running around this land that is so ripe for the taking. I have always abhorred Muggles, but they have their uses, don't they?"

Harry tried to tune out Voldemort's words and focus on finding a weapon. His broken wand was in his robe pocket, but it was as useless as ever. Unless he tried to shove it up Eowyn's nose, it wouldn't serve as an effective weapon. Yet he didn't have any other ideas, aside from trying to grab the knife without getting stabbed in the process. He needed to attack from afar, somehow.

Oblivious to Harry's internal dilemma, Eowyn continued. "So easy to influence - much easier than witches and wizards, who are always too stubborn for the stupidest reasons. 'It's after curfew, Tom,'" Eowyn said in a high voice, mimicking Ginny's prepubescent tones.

Harry clenched his fists at the reminder. He couldn't let Voldemort get away with this, especially in a world as defenseless to magic as Middle Earth.

An idea sparked in his mind.

Voldemort was right: Muggles were more susceptible to magic. Harry wondered if that extended to mind magic. There was only one way to find out. Harry sank into his mind, which he had painstakingly built up after losing control of his memories just weeks – was it only weeks? – ago. He lowered his defensive barriers and struck.

Eowyn's mind was in a panic. Her thoughts swirled past him at lightning speeds, buffeting him in every direction. They crashed into him, each current laced with a sense of fear and helplessness. She knew she was trapped.

Once, the emotions would have bled into Harry's own thoughts and overwhelmed him. But he had not spent the last month pouring over his own overly-charged memories without learning how to manage them. He let them wash over him, not trying to fight against the panic but not getting swept up into it either. He dove deeper. Distantly, he felt another pinprick of pain from his tenuous connection with his own body. He ignored it, continuing to chase after the memories that assailed him hardest.

In the midst of a maelstrom, where the deepest despair and rage emanated from, Harry felt a familiar presence.

The darkness uncoiled and rose to meet him, as another faint pinpoint of pain blossomed in the back of Harry's mind.

"You'd better act quickly," Voldemort whispered directly to his mind. "You've left your body defenseless."

Harry summoned memories of Ron and Hermione, laughing in the common room; of Sirius, saying he was proud of him when Harry had never before had a parental figure praise him; of Hedwig, nibbling on his fingers. More recently, of Gimli laughing uproariously, and of Legolas tenderly cupping his face between his hands. These memories and more he gathered up, every expression of love that he knew, and he threw it towards Tom Riddle.

His feelings flew like a spear towards the roiling mass that could only be the Horcrux. But at the last second, just before the memories hit, Voldemort melted away, leaving Eowyn's mind to absorb the blow. The bundle of joyous memories had no effect, other than calming the winds slightly.

Harry reached out in all directions, trying to figure out where Voldemort had fled. Distantly, he felt another pinprick of pain in his leg, which morphed into a soft pulsing ache. He redoubled his efforts, but he could feel his thoughts slowing, his body demanding attention from his mind.

'Where is he?' Harry asked himself, straining to sense Voldemort's presence.

Something else prodded at his consciousness.

It took him a minute to realize that the chaotic nature of Eowyn's mind had shifted; her thoughts of rage and fury were now directed in a single direction that tugged at him like an insistent wind. He followed her, letting himself get pulled by the current of urgency until Voldemort's black stain appeared again. There, Eowyn's anger split and swirled like a tornado around his presence, fighting to keep him contained.

Harry didn't hesitate, his memories leaping forth at his command. Voldemort tried to twist away again, but as he retreated, Eowyn's fury increased and pushed back. The Horcrux sent out its own feelings of grief and despair, but Harry had known his share of sorrow and his will did not falter.

Voldemort screamed, a high-pitched sound that burrowed into the deep recesses of his mind. Harry planned to endure the pain, until he felt a familiar headache emanating directly from the area where his scar used to be. Eowyn's mind wasn't the only one that Voldemort could infiltrate here.

Harry slammed his Occlumency shields in place, trapping Voldemort in his mind. Voldemort tried to slither back into his old home behind Harry's scar, but Harry's Burning Day had obliterated all old remnants of his time there. Harry caught a brief feeling of surprise from the Horcrux before it turned around to attack his shields, seeking to return to Eowyn.

Harry grinned triumphantly and opened his eyes. He had lived with Voldemort, however unknowingly, all of his life. He could handle him for another few minutes.

He squinted from the sun. It had felt like hours had passed, but in reality, it had likely only been a minute or two. Harry gasped as his wounds made themselves painfully known. As he suspected, Eowyn had moved when Harry had first entered her mind, and her dagger was buried into Harry's stomach. She let go of it with a cry as Harry severed Voldemort's connection to her. He left the dagger; while excruciating, it helped to keep pressure on the wound. Instead, Harry reached over to Eowyn's limp hand and tugged at the ring. It tried to resist, but at the end of the day, it was only a ring and it reluctantly came off with a firm tug.

As soon as the ring was in Harry's hand, Eowyn gasped and knelt to the ground, head bowed and body racked with tremors. Her eyes shot open and she stared at Harry with a mixture of longing and desperation.

"Is it gone?"

"No," Harry said, tightening his grip on the ring. Already, he could hear its whispers trying to reach Voldemort.

Her eyes followed the movement and Eowyn gave an aborted twitch, as she alternatively tried to reach out and recoil from the ring.

"Please. Get it away from me. I have not the strength to resist," she rasped.

"You must," Harry said, wincing. Now that he was fully back in his own mind, his arm and stomach screamed with pain. He tried to ignore it, but it was a losing battle. "I'm not sure I can Apparate right now."

Eowyn managed to hear her eyes away from Harry's closed fist, and she gave a soft gasp as she saw the amount of blood lost. "I - I will find help," she said, turning to stand on shaky legs. She walked unevenly to the courtyard door, then halted as a familiar figure emerged from the hallway within.

Legolas peered in, looking at Harry and Eowyn with dull eyes.

"I hope I'm not interrupting," he said in a distracted tone. "But I – I wanted to say goodbye. I'm leaving tomorrow."

Harry blinked and stared at him until his vision swam. After all they had gone through – everything they had experienced together… and Legolas didn't even notice the blood oozing out of his side.

Use me, the ring screamed at him.

With the ring on his hand, he could restore his wand. Obliviated of the gulls' call, Legolas would forget he had ever dreamt of the sea. Harry's hand unclenched and he looked down at the simple golden band.

Harry forced his hand to close with difficulty.

"Fix him," he gritted out instead. He had meant to sound commanding, but his voice came out as pleading. "Please."

Eowyn froze, looking back at Harry with an anguished face. He could tell what her answer was before she even spoke.

"I can't," she said, voice breaking. "Maybe the ring…"

Harry hesitated. Perhaps – if he just used it this one time... he could destroy it right after. Spurred by his thoughts, his hand unfurled once more and the other hand reached out towards the ring. Harry's eyes remained locked onto Legolas, who was obviously waiting for a response but seemed otherwise distracted and removed from the entire drama playing out before him.

Harry grasped the ring between his thumb and forefinger and brought it to eye level. He finally looked at the ring, his thoughts moving sluggishly as if moving through thick syrup. The ring almost slipped onto his finger. Wasn't he supposed to destroy it? His thoughts felt muddled.

The ring glinted a merry gold, inviting Harry to gaze at it longer. He likely would have, but a movement caught his eye; Legolas had already turned his back to Harry. The elf began to walk away at a sedate pace, fully ignorant to the despair left in his wake.

Reality crashed back down around Harry, and he dropped the ring. He knew Tom was a liar; what proof was there that he could fix Harry's wand? And even if he could, would it be worth the price?

Harry blinked hard, trying to keep the hot tears that sprang up in the corners of his eyes from falling. I am sorry, Legolas, he thought.

Then he shut his eyes and thought of scales as large as dinner plates; of luminous yellow eyes as large as the full moon; of a thick, coiled body as large as a tree. For a brief second as Harry was poised on the precipice of change, a familiar panic rose as he thought about what a successful transformation truly meant. Animagus forms mirrored their witch or wizard, and the basilisk was no different. Yet, this time, Harry was able to recognize that the basilisk had other traits aside from being a lethal predator.

As his body rapidly expanded and his bones hollowed, Harry felt the bottomless loyalty within the basilisk. The dagger in his stomach fell onto the ground and the pain receded, and he felt the basilisk's anger bubble to the surface: slow to rouse but implacable once awakened. Bones multiplied to fit his elongated form, and Harry merged with a cunning mind.

Finally, the transformation stabilized and stopped. A basilisk, jet-black and enormous, sat coiled where Harry had once stood. A few rose bushes were now crushed beneath his heavy tail.

As soon as the transformation stopped, Harry tried to shut his eyes. Instead, he felt a filmy substance cover his eyes, which Harry hoped would lessen his gaze. He bowed his head, trying not to look anywhere but the ground beneath him.

There, nestled in the grass, lay a small golden ring. It looked so small from his new height, and completely incapable of the evil it possessed. But Harry recognized the misleading thought for what it was; a last-ditch effort attempted by the ring to change his mind. It was much easier to sense the ring's insidious presence with an animal mind; unlike Harry the human, Harry the basilisk had a much more finely-tuned sense for predators.

Harry paused for a second and silently mourned the future that would never be. After this, Legolas would go to the sea. He didn't know if it was worth it, but he hoped, deeply and desperately, that this sacrifice would be the last asked of him. It had to be enough. He wasn't sure if he could endure more heartbreak after this.

Carefully, Harry opened his mouth and willed the venom to pool in his fangs. A drop coalesced on the yellow-tinged fang and then slowly fell to the earth.

The ring let out an inhuman screech as the venom touched it that was mirrored by Voldemort's scream in his mind. But it could only last for so long, and eventually, the sound faded as the ring hissed and sizzled and disintegrated with the venom. At least, all Harry heard was silence. He bowed his head, hoping that this time would truly mean peace. A ring of dead grass lay beneath him – and the ring was gone.