A Note From Sun Queen: Hey everyone! Thanks for reviewing, and thanks for waiting. We're finally getting back to Dumbledore and Fudge, who I've left rotting in the hospital wing. Cornelius Fudge fanciers, now's your chance to bail out. Don't say I didn't warn you!

On a another note, one reason updates have been so slow is that I've been collaborating on another Legolas story with two other authors. Ivory Moon and Eruial, my sister and cousin, to be exact. It's called "Brothers in Arms" by the Nightrunners, a modern-day alternate universe fic. It's on the Lord of the Rings board, and I think anyone who likes "Mirkwood Elf" will reeeeeeeeeaaaallly enjoy this story. So I beg and entreat you, loyal readers, to go check it out. Thankees!

Chapter 14:

Cornelius Fudge was in a foul mood.

Actually, foul was not the word. A short putt to a full rage was more accurate. To his credit, he was reigning his temper, if only barely. One did not rise to such an exalted position as Minister of Magic without *some* degree of self-control.

The pudgy minister was pacing the Hospital Wing like an addled cat, one innocent comment away from a full-blown temper tantrum. Various ministry wizards rolled about on the beds, many clutching limbs and moaning in theatrical agony.

Albus Dumbledore found the entire tableau absolutely hilarious.

Lounging on his hospital bed, the canny old Headmaster quickly buried his mirth. The situation had suddenly become serious. Fudge would inevitably start asking questions, (naturally, the man was not *that* great an idiot!), which could quite easily jeopardize the safety of their elven guest. After the loss of his precious Acromantula, Albus had little faith that Fudge would handle the situation with any sort of delicacy.

Legolas, the Elf prince, who had very likely saved his own life and the lives of a dozen ministry wizards. They had carried him inside, unconscious, bleeding from numerous wounds, and dripping grotesque black poison from a deep bite on his shoulder. Poppy, at her wits' end, had sent him down to the dungeons to Professor Snape. He had, after all, been studying the blood sample, which gave him some familiarity with the elf's body chemistry and a passing chance at saving his life. Hours later, there had still been no word.

Albus shook his head. A passing chance. The good Elf deserved better.

The old headmaster, during the course of his long life, had developed instincts that he had learned to trust. It usually ended up as the right course of action.

Although, there had been the case with Borilatta the Bizarre, the three-legged giraffe, and the Portugese dictionary...

...but, his instincts were *usually* correct.

Legolas was here for a reason, of that he was certain. Somehow, he'd broken through the barrier that separated their worlds. A destiny to fulfill, lives to change, an entire universe to reshape. So the Headmaster would protect him for as long as he could, out of affection to the Elf, and a somewhat perverse desire to thwart the wishes of Cornelius Fudge in any way possible.

Dumbledore smiled to himself. This was going to be fun.

Either he had reached some momentous decision, or he had simply tired of pacing, for Fudge came to an abrupt halt, facing the Headmaster, his fists planted on his hips. With his cheeks sucked in and his face flushed with anger, he looked uncommonly like an overcooked tuna. Dumbledore filed that mental note away for a good laugh later.

"Well, Albus, I think you have some explaining to do."

The old wizard decided to play innocent. "I'm not certain I understand, Minister."

Fudge waved his hands, his ire becoming more and more apparent. "I am referring, *Headmaster*, to the fact that a resident of your school killed the only live Acromantula specimen that we've ever managed to catch. And, after the havoc it caused this morning, the public will never accept the spiders as a tool in the war!"

Dumbledore decided to try reason. "Minister, after the display this morning, how can you still believe the Acromantula *could* have been harnessed as a weapon? Our most powerful spells barely slowed it!"

"Yes, but...but..." Fudge was beginning to splutter. "That's not the *point*, man! The *point* is that your little blond bloke destroyed what was technically Ministry property! Really, Albus, knives? What are you teaching your students?"

"Minister!" Dumbledore affected his best hurt tone. "I am shocked- no, *appalled* that you would believe one of the residents of this castle was responsible-" here he abruptly switched tacks, "For slaying a rampaging monster and saving over a dozen lives, including, quite possibly, your own."

Dumbledore nearly laughed aloud at the expression on Fudge's face. The Minister of Magic couldn't dispute his claims, not without admitting he and his entourage had run, leaving the group of Ministry wizards to be slaughtered.

"Fine," growled Fudge. "Bring this little hero out so we can properly *thank* him."

Opportunities to antagonize Fudge so completely didn't come along every day, so Dumbledore cherished them when they arose. He was quite certain that the Minister would rather kiss Snape than have to thank the rescuer.

"Unfortunately, that's a rather large problem." Dumbledore replied, not masking the real concern in his voice. "Your rescuer sustained some serious injuries, including an Acromantula bite. Madam Pomfrey was, as of several hours ago, uncertain if he'd survive."

Legolas had claimed to be immortal, had even demonstrated how a wound on his arm quickly healed, but the Headmaster had no idea if that so-called 'immortality' would save him from the Acromantula venom, one of the deadliest poisons known to wizardkind.

Fudge was, in the meantime, scanning the room, looking more flustered by the second. "Well, where is your wounded hero? Why isn't your Matron tending him?"

"Madam Pomfrey was not equipped to deal with him at the time. So I sent him down to the dungeons with Professor Snape."

Fudge nearly lost it then. "You *what*?"

"As I said," Dumbledore repeated patiently, "Due to various medical complications-" non-human stature among them, he added silently, "Professor Snape was more suited to provide the necessary treatment."

"Listen here, Dumbledore-"

Fudge's comment, which would have undoubtably been very rude indeed, was abruptly cut off as the door to the Hospital Wing flew open to admit a harried-looking Snape. He was followed by three nervous students, who remained a step or two behind as though afraid to approach the irate Potions Master.

"Speak of the devil," said Dumbledore, turning to greet the new arrivals. "Why, Severus! What a pleasant surprise. And Mister Potter, Mister Weasley, and Miss Granger too! To what do I owe this visit?"

Snape inclined his head to Dumbledore; then, almost as an afterthought, acknowledged Fudge. Turning back to the old wizard, he spoke. "Headmaster, I must speak with you about a very urgent matter."

Dumbledore nodded, taking it in stride. Turning to Fudge, he smiled. "Minister, would you excuse us for a moment?"

Fudge stared for a moment before realizing he was being asked to leave. Dumbledore rather expected him to make a fuss, but he merely hissed in exasperation before turning on his heel and stalking away. He began a low conversation with one of the Ministry wizards further down the room.

Snape drew the old wizard aside. Luckily, Dumbledore's bed was in a secluded corner of the room, granting them some measure of privacy. "Now, Professor, tell me what's wrong."

The Potions Master flicked a glance towards Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who were standing by the end of the bed, whispering intensely amongst themselves. Turning back to Dumbledore, he began to speak in a low voice.

"Professor, something strange is happening to the house-elves, or rather, two of them. They appear to be...evolving."

Whatever Dumbledore had been expecting, this wasn't it. He blinked once, but merely said, "Continue."

"Legolas somehow removed the poison from his blood, using a herb he called 'athelas', and some sort of Elven battlefield healing technique." Snape winced, an extremely strong reaction from the normally dour teacher. "It appeared to require briefly stopping his own heart. It is not something I'd care to see repeated."

Dumbledore nodded, quite relieved that the Elf had recovered.

"Then, we were interrupted by an unfamiliar dark-haired man-" here Snape sighed, "-with pointed ears. He seemed most disoriented, but conversed with the Prince in what appeared to be the Elven tongue. Potter and Weasley then identified him as Dobby, one of the house-elves."

"While they were speaking, Miss Granger arrived, with the news that another of the house-elves, Winky, had apparently endured the same transformation." Snape sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose with one hand. "It would appear that the two have evolved into beings similar to our Elven visitor. I can't explain it."

From the foot of the bed, Hermione's voice suddenly rung out, louder than she'd intended. "Of course! That's *it*! How could I have been so *stupid*?"

Dumbledore leaned forward, catching her attention. "Perhaps you'd like to share your theory with the rest of us, Miss Granger?"

Hermione, caught off guard, jumped a little. Recovering herself quickly, she said, "Of course, Professor." Lowering her voice so she wouldn't be overheard, she leaned towards the two teachers. Harry and Ron crowded next to her to listen.

"When I found Winky in the hall, it took a few minutes to realize who she was. Naturally, when I realized, I tried to bring her to one of the Professors. I was trying to bring her to Professor McGonagall's office when she ran away. I didn't know what to do then, but I passed Dean, and he said Harry and Ron had gone down to the dungeons. So I went to find them, but first, I stopped in the kitchens to check on the other house-elves. Do you know what I found?"

She paused, and the others leaned forward, anxious for her to finish.

"Nothing. Nothing was wrong." She shook her head. "They were scuttling around, wearing their togas, making lunch. Everything was normal. So, I thought it was just Winky, that maybe it was a spell or a charm. But when I got down to the dungeon, I realized the same thing had happened to Dobby, and that threw me for a bit. Then, just now, I realized exactly what Dobby and Winky have in common." She leaned forward, eyes bright. "They're both *free*."

Dumbledore inhaled sharply. An Elf appears from another world, and within two days of his arrival, two house-elves evolve into what seems to be the same race? A coincidence?

Doubtful.

Was this only the beginning? Was their mysterious elven visitor responsible for the change in Dobby and Winky? In time, would the other house-elves evolve into a tall, shining race of people? Most mind-boggling of all, was this enchantment limited to Hogwarts? England? Europe?

Too many questions, and few answers. Dumbledore stood up, straightening the front of his wrinkled robe. Poppy would raise holy hell with him later, but matters were urgent. The stakes had suddenly become much higher. Assuming his "commanding" mantle, the old wizard began to issue orders.

"Severus, please go placate the Minister and escort him to my office. I will join you there presently. Mister Potter, Mister Weasley, fetch some of the Professors and ask them to begin a search for our missing lady-elf . When she is found, see if she can be calmed and have her brought to my office. Miss Granger, run down to the dungeon and fetch our guest and his new friend."

As Hermione turned to go, Snape tossed her a silver key. He shrugged at Dumbledore, almost apologetically. "I locked them in."

"Cautious, if not overly polite, Severus." The Headmaster sighed, watching the three Gryffindors disappearing through the door. "I had hoped to keep the Ministry away from our elvish guest, at least for the time being, but I don't think we have a choice. If this situation is to be handled with *any* delicacy whatsoever, we shall have to placate Fudge while the matter is still in our hands. If the ministry takes Legolas Greenleaf away from Hogwarts, I greatly fear what they may do to him."

"As do I." agreed Snape, staring coldly across the room at Cornelius Fudge. "As do I."

Hermione walked sedately away from any curious bystanders, turned the corner, and broke into a run. Her mind was whirling with possibilities and facts, finally settling into an acceptable conclusion. Legolas wasn't human, but rather something different, something terribly exotic.

An Elf.

Well, why not? If hippogriffs and unicorns were real, why not Elves? And not the kind that made shoes in the night, but a real, powerful, full-blooded race of people! And the house-elves! If they became like Legolas, no one would be able to hold them in slavery! They'd be free!

Taking the last flight of stairs two at a time, running down the hall, around the corner to the room where they usually had Potions class, where Snape had locked Legolas and Dobby inside...

What she saw made Hermione Granger, normally so unflappable, burst into tears. Leaning against the wall, she could already picture having to run all the way back upstairs to tell Dumbledore.

The door was ajar, and the elves were nowhere in sight.

To be continued...where are Legolas and Dobby? Where is Winky? Why is Fudge an idiot? What will our heroes *do*? *duh duh duh* It's a cliffhanger, folks! Tune in, in the not-so-distant, possibly foreseeable, less-than-two-months-future for the exciting adventures of A Mirkwood Elf in Dumbledore's Court!

PS. By the way, I was serious about "Brothers in Arms", by the Nightrunners. GO READ IT! Pleeeeaaase?