Back to the Beginning

Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Of Not-Quite-Acromantula and New Acquaintances


It was lucky that Harry was young again in this thrice-damned dream… featuring bloody acromantula!

For the first seventeen years of his life, Harry had always been the underdog. Perpetually at a disadvantage: against a two-faced teacher (literally), a basilisk, a tournament against wizarding students far more experienced than he, a magical government intent upon vilifying him, numerous horcruxes, and finally facing the powerful dark wizard that everyone feared.

Nonetheless, he had overcome the odds every time.

After defeating Voldemort for good, Harry had thought his underdog days were over. And they were, for a good number of decades after becoming an auror. And he was nearing his retirement as Head Auror, a judgment made due to… well, boredom, mostly. He was bored of being an auror now.

Just the other day, he had met up with Ron and reminisced about their school days.

But nevermind their teenage escapades, he was in his nineties, for pity's sake! Had he been subconsciously craving the suicidal adventures of his early years that much, for him to be facing down a huge spider, alone, naked, female, and wandless!?

Barely avoiding being skewered by pincers, Harry vaguely thought he rather didn't want to know what more of his deep, dark, secret fantasies [read: madness] this dream would unearth.

Instead, Harry focused on a list of spells that he could use, had he been in possession of a wand, that is, as he leapt from tree to tree in desperate flight from the acromantula.

Incendio would fry the spider, but that would fry the forest as well…

And fiendfyre exponentially so…

Stupefy? But that wouldn't off the spider for good…

Conjure something to squash the spider… but… Harry remembered, as he slid down the bark of a tree and jumped to another branch – that they were still quite far off the ground…

Engorgio a stone to squash – wait, he'd already been over that… The ground was still some tens of meters away…

Harry automatically dismissed Avada Kedavra. He hadn't ever used that unforgivable in real life, and it would leave a very bad taste in his mouth after he woke if he so much considered using it in a dream.

Shrink it into something stompable? Did such spells work on magical creatures?

Reducto would work… He was nearing the ground now…

Diffindo would sever the legs of the monsters right off and leave them rolling around… But he'd have to do it several times… and it wouldn't destroy it…

As Harry's feet finally touched the ground once more, he thought rather desperately that he could transfigure something into a good ol' sword and finish it off like when he'd defeated the basilisk…

Suddenly, Harry felt wood in his right hand. Not from the forest trees, no. Polished wood.

Of a wand.

And Harry immediately performed the last idea that had occurred to him: catching a stray leaf in his free hand and transfiguring it into a sword. He turned around and deftly maneuvered himself under the somewhat softer underbelly of the spider and thrust the sword into it.

The acromantula thudded onto its spindly knees, impaling itself further onto the transfigured sword, as well as painfully crushing Harry under its belly before it gave a piteous squeal and died.

By now, Harry was naked, covered in oozing black spider-blood, and trapped.

The only upside to this was that he had somehow acquired a wand, and looking to his left hand, Harry acknowledged the sword as well.

Not that it made this dream any less nightmarish, covered in acromantula guts as he was.

When he lifted his wand to levitate the spider off of him, Harry stopped. During all the fighting and adrenaline, he hadn't noticed the texture of the polish, but this was not his holly-phoenix feather wand.

No.

He'd used this wand only once, and that had been to restore his holly-phoenix feather wand. Even when it had mysteriously reappeared in his hand one day when he'd dropped his own wand during a physically grueling battle, he hadn't used this wand. He'd dove for his own wand instead, and used that to stun the particularly active rogue wizard.

After the incident, Harry had asked Dumbledore's portrait about the incident, but the portrait had sighed and merely said, "It is as I feared," and wouldn't utter a single word more on the subject. Trust even Dumbledore's portrait to be cryptic.

But Harry was older and wiser than he'd been in his school years, and had an inkling as to what was going on.

His suspicions furthered upon following a particularly stressful press conference for catching a notorious criminal, he simply wanted to vanish from the world; escape all the attention and fame… and his invisibility cloak – which he could have sworn he had left at home that day – had appeared in his hands. Though that was a rather convenient thing, Harry was leery of what it entailed.

After those two incidents, he was careful to avoid anything further than wistful thoughts toward the dead. He had lost the Resurrection Stone in the Forbidden Forest. And it would stay there. He needed it to stay there. The last thing he wanted was for the stone's constant temptation to hound him.

…But this was a dream. Couldn't he spare to be Master of Death in a dream, at least? After all, the appearance of the Elder Wand seemed to indicate that he desired not only the title, but the power as well.

…But then that also suggested that Harry had finally gone off the deep end and wanted to become a woman.

…And that he felt a desperate need to off an acromantula in the most gruesome manner.

Discounting the dead acromantula, Harry didn't know what was worse about this dream-that-started-out-less-than-customizable: being female, or being Master of Death.

Well, as long as this dream didn't stretch to have Death come aseeking…

With a sigh of long-suffering, Harry raised the Elder Wand and levitated the spider to free himself.

After a moment of thought, Harry pulled out the sword as well, wincing at the squelching sound it made as it exited the spider's body.

He was a seasoned auror of over half a century and he wasn't remotely squeamish, but Harry had found it rather unnerving when fellow aurors didn't so much as bat an eye at the scenes they were sent to; they were desensitized to most anything. But then again, Harry himself could also handle most things just fine, maggots, a puddle of blood, blood-sucking leeches… he'd seen worse back in his school days.

But he still found some situations absolutely disgusting… and being bathed in acromantula guts was one of them.

Cleaning the sword with a silent tergeo, Harry kept the sword on hand, just in case.

And just as he was about to conjure some clothes, 'just in case' came.

Harry inevitably found himself surrounded by what seemed like a colony of acromantula, he resigned himself to fighting it out. He figured apparating (though it would be quite a lot easier) would be a cop out, and he could possibly wake up from this nightmare if he was 'killed' by one of the beasts. Besides, who was he to deny the adrenaline pumping through his veins once more? As Head Auror in relatively peaceful times, he had been stuck doing paperwork for the lion's share of the past three decades and hadn't had a good fight in ages.

Getting creative, Harry conjured iron cages and slammed them down over the acromantula that were on the ground. It was unfortunate that it still left over half of the acromantula in the foliage above him, pincers clicking menacingly. And the encaged ones were slowly forcing their way out. Harry watched for a moment, open-mouthed before one nearly caught him off guard and snapped his attention back to the battle. What would he have to conjure to keep them imprisoned, titanium?

But armed with the Elder Wand, fight won over flight instincts and Harry gripped his sword tightly in his left hand. It was clumsier than wielding it with his right arm, for sure, but this was a dream; if he could see without his glasses and perform superhuman feats, he could do most things, right?

After messily stabbing three spiders, the sword was forcefully pulled out of his hand with webbing. Okay, perhaps he should have switched hands, but too late.

With spiders coming in from all directions, Harry was tempted to use fiendfyre, but he'd never been able to control it all that well… maybe he'd be able to in a dream? But time and again, this dream had proven him wrong, and there was the whispering forest to consider as well…

At the last thought, Harry wanted to rip out his now long and unwieldy hair. Why did he have to take things so seriously!? Why did the whispering trees seem so bloody important!?

He injured several spiders with some well-aimed sectumsempras and diffindos, and was able to stun one before he was almost caught from behind by another. Swearing violently as he cast the severing charm to get the webbing off him, Harry blasted the spider away with a banishing spell, and then reduced one to dust with a reducto over his shoulder. He shrank several more to normal sized spiders that he stomped on, but the colony seemed endless, and angry.

Finally, Harry had enough. There were only so many physically sticky attacks a bloke-turned-bird in a dream could handle. Wizards were more long-range fighters, but this was a viscous to the point of being almost gluey, close-range, fight.

"Accio sword!" He switched the elder wand to his left hand and caught the sword with his right and started blindly slashing and stabbing at any spider that came too close. He used it to hack away any webbing that caught him or his limbs as well.

But after fighting close to fifty spiders or so, Harry began to tire; his adrenaline rush had long since run out. Were these even acromantula? Those creatures knew how to cut their losses and just quit. But these creatures… These creatures were simply relentless.

Figuring that if he died in the dream, he would finally wake up from this nightmare and be able to dish out the nasty hexes his sons had coming to them, Harry dropped his sword and the Elder wand and flopped down on the ground, letting the spiders advance, pincers clicking. He closed his eyes…

…but he never felt their pincers. Instead, he heard a swooshing sound and something distinctly hitting something. He opened his eyes. The not-quite-acromantula closest to him had an arrow sprouting from an eye. Several more arrows rained down, all with deadly accuracy. The other spiders clicked angrily and seemed to forget Harry as they fled.

A person that Harry could only describe as a pretty boy with abnormally pointy ears, complete with the long platinum blonde hair, hovered over him, looking concerned. Taking off the top layer of his medieval-styled clothes and disentangling it from his bow, the boy held it out to Harry, asking something in a strange, yet beautiful language.

"Man harthannil nad carrol na er neledha vi eryn?"

Even if he did say it in a rather demanding tone.

It took a good few moments for Harry's brain to process that the boy had asked something equivalent to, "What did you hope to accomplish by venturing alone into a forest?" Harry sat up and took the tunic, realizing the unspoken question tacked on at the back, 'unclad as you are?'

Before realizing what he was saying, Harry's mouth formed the words, "Lá istan quet' i lam nîn…" As the meaning of what he had said caught up with him, Harry promptly shut his mouth, feeling extremely stupid. He had just said 'I don't speak your language.' In said language. This was like Parseltongue all over again. The boy looked at Harry like he thought he was a bit mad.

"…Goheno…?" Harry tested out the apology on his tongue. It was strange, consciously speaking a different language that you definitely didn't know in real life. "I am a bit of a… mess, you see."

And as if he needed reminding, the clean tunic brushed against Harry's skin; Harry grimaced as strings of spider blood clung to it. He looked at the boy for confirmation, and when the archer nodded, Harry eagerly jammed it on. Though he enjoyed his physical youth in the dream, his other… physical properties… not so much. For what seemed like the umpteenth time, Harry wondered how the bloody hell could he wake up from this dream.

"Follow me. You are injured."

The words were so abrupt and commanding that Harry briefly hesitated; he wasn't used to taking orders from someone significantly younger than him. But the guy had saved him and given him some amount of modesty. He had little reason to be suspicious. And after all that action, he wouldn't mind a little safety. A bit of rest. Or being clean.

"May I pick up my weapon?" Harry asked. He didn't really need it, as he could easily transfigure something else, but he figured asking wouldn't do any harm. The boy nodded. Harry surreptitiously picked up the Elder Wand along with the sword, hoping the boy wouldn't notice, before stifling a snort of incredulous laughter. Was he being sneaky, even in a dream? This dream potion business was hard work. Though it did remind him of way back in his school days.

Leading the way, the boy – or rather, young man, now that Harry had a clearer perspective of just how tall he was (Ron had been an outlier) – nimbly leapt up a tree. And though banged up, Harry be damned if he was to be outdone in his own dream, so he quickly followed suit. And it became a bit of a competition; the youth would use harder and harder maneuvers and Harry would copy every one of them.

Finally, the bloke cheated (at least, that's how Harry saw it) and used his different (male) build to his advantage to jump from one tree vine and use another tree trunk to land on a tree that had to be at least forty meters away.

Smirking a bit, the kid called to Harry, "There are many different ways to reach this tree, and you are wounded. Do not feel the need to take the same path as I."

Okay, that settled it. Harry knew he wasn't being very mature considering how his mental age was over ninety, but he would imitate that move if it were the last thing he did.

Adjusting his hold on his sword, Harry climbed onto the vine and swung experimentally a few times. The young man's eyes widened and Harry fancied he sounded a bit nervous. "Wait, your wounds – "

'Should have thought of that before you practically challenged me head on, mate...' Harry thought before he took in a deep breath.

"Wait!" There was real fear in the young man's voice now but it was too late, as Harry had already launched off the tree trunk and let go of the vine at the farthest swing possible. This was different from all the stunts Harry had done before; Harry felt a moment of breathlessness while he felt almost weightless. Then he regained his senses and his right foot propelled off another tree and finally, his hand shot out to catch onto the same branch the young man stood on.

It was centimeters too far. His reach just wasn't long enough, and Harry cursed his stubbornness. It was always his Gryffindor pride that got him in trouble.

At the last second he spotted a branch below that he could land on with a crouch. He could settle for that. The young man's shoulders, slightly tensed with worry, loosened with relief.

Harry smirked up at him. "What was that you wanted me to wait for?"

The blond had a hint of a smile when he retorted, "Only for me to climb down to the branch you landed on."

Harry grumbled to himself under his breath about stupid dreams. But it seemed the blond had unnaturally keen hearing and called him out on it. "Dream? Mayhap 'twas a vision? Are you in possession of powers like Lady Galadriel?"

Harry opened his mouth to ask who this Galadriel was, but the manner with which the young man spoke of her made it sound like a household name. Harry had a feeling that it would be akin to asking who the previous Queen of England was. So he simply shook his head and kept his mouth shut. For a while, Harry's guide silently led them down to the ground. Alas, peaceful silence was too good last.

"You never answered my first question about what you were doing alone in a forest."

Panicking – thus far, the dream was so realistic that he wouldn't be surprised if he were imprisoned in an asylum were he to tell the truth – Harry redirected the question. "And I have yet to know the identity of my guide."

Abruptly, Harry's guide suddenly straightened, turned to face him directly, and nodded elegantly, hand over heart. "Nányë Legolas."

Again, Harry spoke before he knew what he going to say. "Of the House of the Tree? Were you not the scout of Galdor? Why did you return from Tol Eressëa?"

Even as the words left his mouth, Harry was internally groaning; what was he saying? What was this weird backstory his dream was creating? Was this dream even remotely customizable anymore, if he couldn't even control what he was saying in which language?

His rising ire toward whichever of his sons that had pranked him with this expired dream potion took a sharp nose dive when Harry caught the somewhat affronted look on this Legolas' face.

The 'Ron Syndrome,' as he and Hermione had taken to calling it, had finally caught on over the decades at what seemed like the most inopportune moment… Apparently he had just opened his mouth, only to insert his foot. But he didn't even understand what he'd said! House of Tree? Was that some clan like the 'Most Ancient and Noble House of Black' or something? Or was it simply what it sounded like, a treehouse? And who or what was Galdor? And the Tol -what- see?

But judging from the blond's reaction, it was safe to assume that he wasn't the same Legolas as the one in the ridiculous backstory his subconscious had provided him with. This Legolas, who had seemed to have cooled down and taken things in stride, was saying amusedly, "I know not where you hail from, Stranger, but it is fortunate that you did not mistake me for a Ñoldor in front of an audience. The rest of my Silvan kind are not so forgiving. And had you confused me for a Ñoldor before my father the King, consequences would have been less than pleasant." They resumed walking.

Harry organized his thoughts as he picked his way through huge ferns.

He'd just met a prince. Who was *Silvan. Whatever they were. And Silvans, had something against *Ñoldors. Whatever they were.

[*Silvan Elves: mostly the wood elf kindred in Mirkwood and Lothlorien]
[*Ñoldor Elves: the elves that started a mess after the Silmarils were stolen. Read The Silmarillion for more details]

Harry knew he was oversimplifying, but he genuinely thought that was the only way he could keep track of things. He didn't even know what things his dream-self knew.

But that was normal for a dream, right?

"I have introduced myself. It would be courteous for you to do the same."

Interrupted from his thoughts, Harry flushed at the slight admonishment. It wasn't everyday someone younger than you gave you a lesson on manners. Pretending to concentrate on where he was walking, Harry racked his brain for a proper sounding name. 'Harry' would hardly do for a female. And he didn't want to pervert his mother's and daughter's name by choosing theirs. And he really didn't want to feminize his name as 'Harriet'. But his no-longer-controllable dream-self would save the moment, it seemed, as he answered easily, "I am known by many names…" true enough… "But you may call me Seron." Legolas gave him a strange look, though neither Harry nor his dream-self had an inkling as to why. 'Seron' only meant 'friend'. Maybe because they weren't friends yet? "Or…" Harry had to pause and think when his dream-self retreated. Big fat help that it was, abandoning him in a time of need. Not Indil, it meant Lily. But another flower might work. Petunia was definitely out… Rose was his niece's name… Tulip was… ugh. Wasn't there any other flower!? Snowdrop! Okay. Snowdrop sounded good. "Niphredil… if you prefer."

Legolas hesitated a fraction before speaking, "…Niphredil, a flower that braves the winter… and heralds spring." He seemed to judge Harry's character as he gazed into Harry's eyes. "It suits you."

Harry looked down at his griminess, now covered mostly by the tunic, but he felt he had to disagree with Legolas' last statement. Snowdrops were white. He had never felt less snowdrop-py in his life.

Then again, he had never had to compare himself with flowers before. Sodding dream.

"You speak in a dialect I have never heard before." Legolas easily ran along a long log, perfectly balanced, and Harry followed. "Would you prefer to answer my first question as to what you were doing alone in our woods by the King's interrogation, or would you answer me now and have me vouch for you?"

Internally, Harry swore to cook his own food and keep both eyes on it from stove to table for the rest of his life; this dream was so stressful. Externally, he spoke, "I cannot bear to tell this tale twice, and much of it I do not remember. I will speak with your father, Prince Legolas." Legolas didn't look too thrilled, but he nodded.

Brilliant, he'd bought some extra time to think up a backstory. Now if only Legolas would go at a slower pace…

But all too soon, it seemed Harry had arrived in a large groove of trees, with a center ideal for stargazing, had it been the right time of day. And Harry still had no plausible tale. What could he say? 'Hi, My name's actually Harry. I'm a ninety-four-year old-man! And you guys are all figments of my imagination, out of a dream resulting from a prank from my sons!' Harry withheld a shudder as he imagined being dragged off to an asylum. In his own dream, no less. He hoped his dream-self would provide a fitting story.

Swiftly, Legolas led Harry over weaving bridges of stone and stairs, ending at a circle guarded by what he supposed were Silvans, all of whom had ears that tapered to points. Sitting in a throne in the center was a figure – it didn't take much to deduce he was the king – in shadow. Harry squinted, but even his dream-enhanced eyes could not see the figure's face. Legolas walked calmly past the guards, but when Harry made to follow Legolas into the circle, the guards acted immediately; two swords blocked his way.

And Harry belatedly knew why. Making the Elder Wand invisible, he surrendered his sword. Then, and only then, did the guards withdraw their swords, one confiscating Harry's as well.

By the time Harry had gotten closer to the throne (but maintaining a respectable distance from it), Legolas had knelt and was addressing the still shadowed figure. "Father, I found this young maiden, Niphredil, wounded and battling many spiders alone in the woods, and came to her aid. She seemed in need of healing, so I guided her back here."

Harry quashed the part him itching to inform Legolas that he was actually a man in his nineties.

A voice very much reminiscent of the late Lucius Malfoy's came from the shadow. "And I would have several questions of you, Legolas: how came you across this… Niphredil… in the first place?"

Harry promptly decided not to like this king.

But Legolas did not so much as bat an eyelash and merely stood from his kneeling position. Harry had to hand it to him, as the question strongly suggested that Legolas had done – or been doing – something he shouldn't have. Had it been Ron or Neville being addressed by their respective guardians at Legolas' age, they both would have flinched and started edging away. Or in Ron's case, ran for his life. Neighbors had 'sniggered at that bugger Howler for months,' Ron had complained, after a visit back to the Burrow had gone somewhat awry.

Legolas, however, was more steadfast. "We can discuss this later, Father. Right now Niphredil is in need of medical aid."

"Actually, these are just scratches." Harry hastily interjected. It didn't seem like these two had the best father-son relationship, and Merlin knew that he didn't want to be a reason for added strain. He also didn't want to be further indebted to the prince who had essentially saved his life. Even though it was only a dream.

Turning to him rather incredulously, Legolas pointedly looked at the drying spider blood and what it seemed he suspected were wounds beneath it.

At that look, Harry sheepishly added, "Though a bath would not go unappreciated." Remembering Legolas' tunic, Harry tacked on, "Nor would a set of clothes."

Not that he really needed it, Harry thought as he twirled his invisible wand with his fingers. With it, Harry could very well conjure up clothes for himself, but he didn't think it would be very prudent to perform magic at the moment.

And though he couldn't see it, the king's manner toward the supposed 'Niphredil' seemed to be very dismissive. Like he only thought of 'her' as a shadow, a bother. This further cemented Harry's bad impression of the king as not only an oppressive father, but also a chauvinist. Being friends with Hermione and married to Ginny had taught Harry not to underestimate women, and him physically being one himself at the moment… well, whatever.

Right now, Harry felt a burning urge to get the king's ire off of Legolas and where it really belonged. The trespasser. Him.

Maybe his dream self would help in this situation. It seemed to be more eloquent, after all. So Harry boldly stepped forward and let his dream-self take control. "My King. I cannot see your face."

As soon as the words left his lips, Harry regretted his decision. Maybe that hadn't been such a good idea after all.

His dream-self was beginning to earn a track record for not being very helpful.

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