"All's well that ends better." - The Lord of the Rings
Sunlight danced across Harry's eyelids. He groaned and tried to shut his eyes, but found they were already squeezed shut. Maybe he could go back to sleep if he burrowed into the pillow? But his lingering dreams were startled away.
"Harry! You have finally awoken."
Harry reluctantly cracked one eye open to see Legolas sitting within arms' distance on a nearby chair. The elf looked as if he had seen better days, though the average observer might not have noticed. To Harry, however, the slightly out-of-place hair and gently wrinkled tunic looked radically different than before. It was an unusual sight that prompted Harry to ask, "How long was I asleep?"
"Three days. I was worried you wouldn't –" Legolas looked down at his hands. "I pieced the story together from Arwen and Faramir, I think. You'll be pleased to know that Lady Eowyn is recovering as well. She is physically well, even if she is still distraught in mind."
"Good, good" Harry said absentmindedly. Then he realized what three days meant: three days of Legolas not going to the sea. "If you're still here, does that mean…?"
Legolas nodded and shared a soft smile.
"My heart still longs to cross the sea – someday. But I would rather spend many more moons and suns here with you, if you'll have me."
Harry let out a shaky breath he didn't remember holding. He swallowed and tried to tame the sudden surge of hope that bloomed in his chest. "I never thought I would find a home in this unfamiliar world," he said thickly. "But I can't imagine any man – or elf – I'd like to explore it more than with you."
Much as Harry wished to, he couldn't spend the entire day with Legolas. Instead, a steady stream of visitors appeared in the doorway and the elf excused himself when Faramir and Eowyn first appeared. The latter looked pale and wan, and as Legolas slid gracefully past her, she reached out with a frail hand.
"Wait. Please. I would like to say this to both of you."
Legolas gently took hold of her hand and removed it. He raised it to his lips and placed a soft kiss on the back of her hand.
"We have already spoken of this, my Lady; truly, there is nothing for me to forgive for I am already cured of my affliction. Please, do not burden yourself on my account; your healing is more worthy than any apology."
Having said his piece, Legolas slipped out of the doorway before Eowyn could respond.
"I suppose you'll say the same then?"
Her eyes looked tired and dim, and Faramir's arm curled protectively around her as she awaited Harry's answer. Instead of answering directly, Harry gestured for her to come sit next to the bed. She approached slowly, walking as if one misstep could shatter her. Faramir's hold never loosened until she had sat softly into the chair. Up close, she looked even worse: her skin was pale and washed out, like a faded photograph that had been left too long in the sun.
"When I was fifteen, I tried to kill my friend's dad," Harry said quietly. He could still remember the sensation of sliding along the cold, sterile floors of the Department of Mysteries.
"I dreamed I was a snake when I encountered him. His heart was pumping so loudly that I could feel the vibrations thudding against my skin. When I tasted coppery blood... at that moment, I shared the snake's desire to bite and kill. In the brief moment as I woke up, before I started screaming for help, I was pleased about the successful strike."
Shame had coiled in his belly then, and slowly choked him the remainder of that dark night. It had only eased, partially, when Harry had learned that Mr. Weasley would pull through.
" That was Voldemort, Eowyn. He's the one who took over your mind. He's taken over mine, too."
Harry reached out to squeeze her hand, and she squeezed back like it was her lifeline.
"When did you stop feeling the guilt?" She asked, her voice raw with suppressed tears.
"Time has helped me come to terms with it but some days, I still wake up with a heavy feeling of shame. Eventually, though, the good days will outnumber the bad. "
She gave him a tight nod and took a deep, if tremulous, breath. "Thank you, Harry." Eowyn then rose to leave, and Faramir, ever by her side, assisted her. Her steps seemed surer than before, and as they left the room, Faramir threw a grateful look his way.
Gimli barreled through the door next, giving Harry hardly any time to process his sudden appearance before the dwarf started talking.
"Bring me the next time you fight a giant snake. My ax has never tasted the blood of a serpent!"
"Why would you want to fight it?" Harry asked, unease pooling in his stomach. He should have expected that someone had seen his basilisk form. He wondered if it was too late to come clean; would guards already be on patrols for a giant snake?
"For glory, of course! Yet I know it is already too late. You already slew the serpent that hypnotized Lady Eowyn and have rightly earned that glory." Gimli looked as if Harry had hit his head, while Harry stared back in equal befuddlement.
"Gimli," Harry said delicately. "Who was telling you this?"
"I had intended to ask the Lady, but she looked as pale as the summer moon. On my way back, I might have overheard a conversation or two by the kitchens. I expect you and she will tell the full, most valiant tale when the memories are less fresh."
"Gimli… I was the snake."
There was a long pause, as Gimli digested this new information.
"Perhaps it is best you did not bring me along then. Is there anything you cannot turn into? A gemstone, perhaps?"
Harry barked out a laugh and winced as it caused his ribs to flare briefly with pain.
"That's it, I promise."
He must not have kept the hesitation entirely out of his voice, for Gimli gave him a piercing look, then said seriously, "Harry, you sound afraid."
"I just realized some uncomfortable truths, that's all." Harry looked down at his hands, grateful that they were now pink and fleshy instead of dark scales. The basilisk that bit him had survived over a thousand years in the Chamber of Secrets; that, coupled with his Burning Days, forced Harry to confront the very real possibility that he might not have a limited number of days on Middle Earth. How could he face his friends as they passed away, one by one? He did not know if he would have the strength to stand it.
"How old are you anyway?" Harry asked, not caring if his question sounded abrupt. "And Gandalf?"
"My kind lives for a while yet," Gimli said, peering at Harry with concern. "And Gandalf has been around for a while longer. I would not presume to ask his age!"
Gimli leaned over to pat Harry's shoulder; the force of it knocked the breath out of his battered lungs. "We are not going anywhere, Harry."
Yet even as they spent the rest of the mid-morning in idle chatter, Harry couldn't shake a lingering melancholy as he pictured Gimli, Gandalf, and Legolas leaving one by one. Harry might have saved Legolas from the sea, but the elf would eventually fade all the same, as all mortal beings were wont to.
He wasn't able to brood for too long, though; soon after Gimli left, Gandalf appeared. Harry could smell the wizard's well before he appeared; the wizard's long pipe sent smoke spiraling out into lazy clouds that clogged up the room. This, Harry vowed, would be remedied before he left the healing wing.
Gandalf's eyes crinkled as he looked at Harry from the doorway. A slow smile grew across his face, leaving a constellation of wrinkles as it spread.
Harry started to smile back but faltered as he remembered their parting meeting.
"Gandalf, I'm… I'm sorry I lost my temper. You were right."
"A wizard is always right," Gandalf agreed. He moved to sit down heavily in the chair next to Harry. Lowering his voice, he said confidentially, "That is why we wizards do not work together often."
Gandalf leaned back and took another deep breath from his pipe and blew. The smoke twisted this way and that, before unfurling lazily into a snake that slithered to the ceiling and disappeared upon impact. He peered down his crooked nose and smiled at Harry.
"You have managed the impossible, my friend. Sometimes the simplest of actions is greater than the most powerful magic. I expect you'll manage even greater miracles with him by your side. I shall watch your progress with pleasure. I expect great things of you – beautiful, and great."