"Harry," Hermione protested softly at the sight of him, "this isn't healthy."
It was getting harder to think that Harry was growing still from youth into man; he had done so much in the time she had known him like this. Harry looked up at her from the glow of the hearth fire he'd been looking at unseeingly. His thoughts, she knew, were elsewhere. Unthinking in acknowledgement of her presence, he gave half a smile but his eyes were dull, unfocused on the here and now. His cheeks were scruffy and unshaved, and his hair was a wild and shaggy mane, the skin under his eyes was sleeplessly bruised.
"At least tell me what is doing this to you." This time, she did not say as she pleaded, settling down on the floor beside him. Harry gave a shake of his head, as if to deny anything was the matter, but when he spoke to reassure her, the words were disturbing.
"I keep seeing them, Hermione. They…they're dead, you see? I know that, but it hurts so much. Worse, I don't know who they are – no names, only endless faces – and every single one of them…dead. For, for so long..." Harry stopped rambling; as if he knew what he was saying didn't make sense. Tears still ran down his face. He mourned them, the nameless that he didn't know, but somehow recognized.
Hermione leaned into his legs, feeling as if she was forcing him to remember himself, she was a warm presence – more alive then Harry felt. She felt helpless, adrift in a sea of madness that was not her own, even as she closed her eyes for peace; the fire was framed red against her eyelids.
Images flickered and swayed in her vision, leaving half formed impressions.
Hermione slept, and when she woke, was alone.
The touch of death is cold, so Harry was not truly surprised when he came back to himself at the cold touch of black winged Thanatos. Eyes as black and haunted as mist settling over graves at midnight regarded him. No word was spoken between them. Harry Potter, after all, was dead.
I do not see why you persist in this. You do harm to yourself. Cold was a very good word to describe Thanatos. There seemed no passion that would ever sway him, not that Harry could imagine. He said 'harm' as a matter of fact, as if like sneaking up on people, and killing them peacefully in their sleep wasn't – somehow – harm.
What else am I supposed to do? Harry asked, stubborn and sneering, his eyes trailed back to Hermione, unseeing of either Harry or Thanatos, for all that stood in the very same room. Harry hated how vulnerable Hermione seemed, she could not see them – she was defenseless to things she did not see – that Harry could see now, could protect her from – now.
Harry's purpose, unreasonable as Thanatos deemed it to be, was to protect her, his presence enough to sway Thanatos into only focusing on Harry - or what was left of Harry Potter, at least. It was the least he could do, the last thing he had to offer, his presence as a protection.
Come with me. That answer did not change, and Harry feared it never would.
I have no interest in this girl. Thanatos argued it was already an old and reasonable – almost predictable - argument; one Harry had a vested interest in winning. The god of death, the taker of souls – this ancient winged reaper, had time on his side, but Harry had a stubbornness to test the patience of the deathless gods. Thanatos had, at least, left that impression.
I have no interest in Hell. Irony might have bitten the unspoken words, Thanatos was equally icy.
It is not Hell, it is Hades. You will come with me eventually, hero. It almost surprised Harry, for that had sounded like a taunt. Thanatos caught that hint of his interest, and if it was dignified for immortals to roll their eyes, the god of death certainly left the mental impression of exactly that.
Answer's lay within the Underworld; the names of the dead you saw in your death dream, those can be found within Hades. Harry remembered that dream, even in death – especially in death, they haunted him. He felt torn in two, wanting to know the names of the nameless faces, the ancient familiar dead; wanting to protect the living he would be leaving behind.
If I didn't like it, would I have to stay? It's a question he dreads asking, because it gives Thanatos a hold. Giving in, just a little bit, after holding onto Hermione and the living world, it feels like giving up. It isn't the fault of Thanatos, that feeling, it's in the death god's nature to take life, and it's Harry who's too stubborn for his own good – even – especially, after death.
Hades is not a prison. That is not the answer Harry is looking for, but, at least – it is an answer.
Harry, wordless aloud and within his own mind, reaches out a hand as if to shake. The barest touch of Thanatos and his cold fingers brush his own tips, like butterfly kisses. The world around him turns and twists, flickers like a dream, and then Harry is standing at the abyss. Thanatos is beside him, silent and motionless - waiting, and Harry knows with a certainty, that Thanatos has brought him this far, and this is where they part.
Out of the abyss, with sudden luminous clarity, another deathless god appears – like, and unlike, Thanatos.
"What's this, then?" Startlingly, this god apparently prefers to speak aloud. His smile is charming, though there is a mischievous quirk to it that Harry is wary of. This is the sort of god that would lead you down the paved road to Hell, but you'd forget for the fact that you were having a good time.
Hermes, Thanatos greets with a nod of his head, misty black eyes lingering on Harry, this one is special. There is a fondness in Thanatos – so obviously for Harry – which the wizard can't shake off or deny. It fills him with an uncomfortable tightness. Harry will never admit it, but he's always liked the thrill of doing dangerous, reckless, life-ending things, and maybe he's always sensed Thanatos never-knowing before setting eyes on him.
Harry woke from a nightmare to find he'd died peacefully, going in his sleep. It had been, for someone who'd led his life, gallingly improbable; an almost unthinkable end. Harry suspected that was why he was reluctant now to leave Thanatos, god of death, who'd always been circling in life.
"Right, so straight to Hades..?" Asked with quirked head, the wings upon his helmet eerily still. Thanatos says nothing that Harry can hear, aloud or not, merely steps away from the abyss, and vanishes in darkness and mist.
Hermes rolls his eyes in exasperated way – though something about his stance tells Harry that he expected no less from the other god, he still childishly he sticks out his tongue at where Thanatos had last stood.
When his attention turns then to Harry, it's the first time Hermes has really looked at him. His eyes flick to his forehead, framed by his wild bangs is the lighting-bolt mark, and those expressive quicksilver eyes widen almost comically. Harry, amused, and a little relieved, that Hermes is as alive and expressive as Thanatos is not.
Hermes stretches out his hand for Harry to take. It's a gesture that is becoming distressingly familiar. Harry doesn't waste time wondering what is going to happen, he moves as if to swat the hand away, but when the rattle of sound claps around them, Harry finds that Hermes does not let him goes until it settles and stills. Around him is a land unending, no horizon marks the end, all around is dark and moisture. It feels chill and eerie as a cave.
Hermes hovers above the ground on winged sandaled boots, adrift here, as if torn between the world above and the world below and adrift in either.
"You have to choose which one to drink from." Solemnly said, Hermes watches Harry look about himself with an intensity that would worry Harry if he were alive. Harry sees what Hermes was referring to as if it appears after it's said. One source of water is a slow running river; going on it's way untroubled and unthreatening. Its waters murmured and trickled a lullaby over the pebbly shallows, along the shore lush poppies grew.
The second source of water was less obvious, it's a bubbling spring pooling up, cradled in the earth between stone teeth, its waters are still as the ocean – an endless well from which there is no escape if you took a stumble and fell in. The safer source to drink from –he knows - if he is to drink, is the river.
Harry has never been the one to take the safer or easier route in life, why then should that change in death? It doesn't, he ambles over to the pool and squats down, aware that if he shifts his balance wrong- just a little – and he'll topple into the water and drowning might be the least of his worries, but this is still dangerous, and he's dead – so there isn't much he's felt threatened by until now. He glorifies in the risk as his cupped hands reach into the still and icy deep waters, and as he brings his hands to his lips for a sip, his eyes meets Hermes. Something like sorrow is there, and something else that Harry can't name between seeing it and flicking his tongue out to taste the water cupped in his palm.
He expects to taste water, assumes later that the insignificant detail of the water's taste was lost in the sheer strength of memory crashing down on him. Pain blindsides him first, burrowing into his mind, as if some unseen hand seeks to dig up treasure. He's aware of his life; his living years sifting though like sand in an hourglass; distant but present, judged. There's more, more to him then the surface memory of the life he's lived.
He sees that now, understands it, even as it feels as if the earth under his feet that is his identity is being torn away or crumbling beneath him, blindly he reaches out a hand, and white poplar bark seems to catch his hand, holding him steady. He shakes and shivers, and through blurry eyes looks afresh to Hermes, quicksilver blue meeting his green eyes steadily despite the shock to his system he's just taken.
"Heracles, brother…" Hermes greets softly, a gentle smile for his sibling. He can name what was in Hermes eyes before; it was longing – a longing for Heracles, and duel longing that Harry could have chosen otherwise - the river Lethe rather then the pooling deep-spring of Mnemosyne.
"Hermes." Harry says in the acknowledgement of an equal, because he's still 'Harry', but it's like with icebergs, what you see is only a small fraction to compare to what's beneath the surface. And what's more, he likes the name, Heracles was not his name, not at birth and not now – it's a name he must earn by the lips of a goddess, it's who he is – but his name? Not really – no more then Harry can be anymore.
"What has happened?" Harry asks softly, patting the rough bark of the ancient white poplar in silent thanks as he moves away from the depths of Mnemosyne. Hermes drifts closer to him, careful but a presence that Harry can not deny, he spares a nod for the sleeping Mnemosyne –mother of Muses - beneath the pool, who Maia the mother of Hermes had taught him to honor while in her belly.
"Much. Pan is faded." Dead, Hermes means but can not say, though his sorrow is like a thing to be felt, going down Harry's throat with raw pain.
Harry takes a gasping breath as if he needs it, as if he isn't dead, dead is dead, but he feels still, feels it like a tide enclosing him. Harry puts his hand to his chest, wondering if he can hold it in; the pain, the sorrow he feels for Hermes, for himself, or if something is broken in him as well. Harry has died a mortal death, as is the fate of any incarnation of Heracles reborn on Earth; but in death, he lives again, a god.
Pan is faded.
That dreaded word does not mean the same for mortals as it does immortals, dead, a mortal might live again but more likely, find peace, or punishment awaited the evil mortals in the afterlife. In this, the realm of Hades, no 'dead' immortal can be found, for faded gods and goddess leave but an impression of themselves in the world of the living, a echo, a plant, a star – something that calls to their ancient lineage and natures. Rare do those immortals that fade, wake - but it is a rare chance. There is still hope, faint as it is that Pan could waken and live again.
Worse, Harry knows, Pan is the son of Hermes. Harry can say nothing. He thinks things like not Pan! I'm sorry, my brother, I mourn with you, a mortal sang about the sorrow of a parent burying a child; it's unthinkable, the pain, the loss, of immortal parent parting from immortal child. It's more then many could be so burdened with and survive intact - sane.
Hermes doesn't have a choice but to go on - he is immortal, a god, an Olympian, the son of Zeus.
Hermes leans down, acknowledging shared pain, his forehead touching Harry's, their heads bowed and hair mingling like a curtain of dark. Faces hidden away from any watchers (and in the Underworld there always are), they mourn in peace a part and apart of the silence that surrounds them – in a place of death and dreams and wrongs righted, and right rewarded.
The question is in the end, will Hermes fade.
It is an answer Harry dreads the resolve of. Hermes seems to shake himself awake first, drawing away – his hand still held forth in offering.
"Come," Hermes says, offering hand and his solemn smile, "we've much to tell you, Hades and I." Harry takes his hand, at ease, he blinks and he finds the banks of Acheron, who's raised out of the river water to greet him. Charon sits legs crossed on his skiff, waiting impatiently, and his foot tapping to an unheard beat.
"Well it's about time!" Charon exclaims with a grin as Acheron stirs to glance upward.
"Heracles," Acheron murmurs, "Ascalaphus greets you." The screech of an owl in the distance assures Harry that the river god speaks the truth. Harry nods a greeting to the grave god, there is a long understanding between them; Persephone had tasted of the pomegranate, and Ascalaphus alone had born witness against her, Demeter in fury had turned the boy into a spotted lizard and buried him beneath a rock. Heracles had freed him.
Not that it had done poor Ascalaphus much good, he'd been turned later into a screech owl, Hades' bird. Ascalaphus bore him no grudge, and Acheron was glad simply to his only son, and his favor extended to the only immortal who lived a mortal life when the people needed a hero and died to become a god; Harry.
"Come on then!" Charon says cheerfully, beckoning as if to an old friend with his gnarled hand.
"Up you go." Hermes lifts Harry onto the skiff, where Harry sees the oar, Charon grins with a gesture as if familiar to Harry's way of thinking (and perhaps he is, however many times he's died and passed into Charon's boat, he's lived again as a god) he lifts it up and dips it into the deep waters of Acheron, and without a word or motion, they are off so swiftly there isn't any need for the slack sails of the black boat. They leave Hermes quickly behind, but Harry doesn't fear, he knows he'll see Hermes on the other side.
"There you are lad, he favors you still." Charon pats him on the back roughly, but Harry keeps his seat.
"So what was the last life like?" Harry knows this to be a familiar and interested question, these stories of his lives – perhaps Charon alone remembers them all, Harry is certainly grateful to the old man who sits bent behind him with a listening and eager ear.
"I was a wizard, this time, with wands and magic and friends." Harry says his eyes on the waters of Acheron, wondering if the rippling face he sees is his own or the river gods. It does not pain him to speak, and Harry has only to close his eyes and think of Acheron to know the truth – this is the river-lake of pain, and it is Acheron who takes his pain away now.
"No wife this time, I hope?" Charon prods with a wily grin; Harry shakes his head in the negative.
"Good, good, Hebe will be glad." His goddess wife, how could Harry forget her? He feels like a fool.
"A child perhaps..?" Charon asks with raised brow, his eyes on the distance. The shore approaches, and two tall figures wait.
"No, no to both…" Harry says softly, and the old man puts a hand to Harry's heart, wrapping him in a hug.
"I'm sorry to see you so soon, what a lonely life you lived this time. May the next be kinder; take care, my old friend." The words are spoken in a whisper at his ear, then Charon lets him go, flashing two obolus tucked between his fingers with a grin.
Harry steps off the skiff, and almost falls onto his face if not for someone steadying him. Harry looks up into a face that is solemn, that can be severe and kind in turn, but smiles now for him.
"Brother." Persephone greets him with a kiss on his cheek.
"Queen Persephone." Harry teases with a grin, his sister huffs and her eyes roll skyward at the title. It feels familiar and ritual; Hades laughs and reaches out to half hug Harry to his side.
"Ah, come nephew, Cerberus waits to see you." Family, Harry thinks, and relaxes against Hades side. It was at Persephone's request that Heracles had spared Menoitios who had tired to avenge the blood of cattle spilled to feed the dead, for that Hades had granted Cerberus in his care if he could do so without weapons. Theseus, he had saved, and Pirithous left to suffer at his sister's wrath at being thought some maiden to kidnap unwillingly.
For the life of Queen Alcestis, who had agreed to die in place of her husband Admetos, Heracles had fought against Thanatos, until Persephone had bidden him to give her back. Only once had Hades stood against Heracles, and that had been at Pylos, Hades still bore the wound on his shoulder, it hung free of cloth, as if a trophy reminder. Only strange Hades would think such a thing.
Cerberus' three heads barked in welcome at his approach, with lion's claws and waging serpent's tail, a mane of fifty snakes reared up at his approach. The hound bowed downward, humbled again at the sight of him, something in him hurt at the sight of this – he raised his hands, palms peacefully displayed, and Cerberus caught sight of the gesture and winked with three eyes.
Harry had never been sure if behind those fierce eyes was a mind to match his own, but it was clear that there were no hard feelings to be had between them only a respect that would linger evermore.
Past the gates, Hermes waited with Hecate torch in hand. At his approach, a shy head peeks from behind Hecate's skirts, and Harry would be dead indeed not to recognize his own daughter.
"Macaria." The girl grinned wide enough to split her face and raced to hug him about the middle; her dark hair fell like a shadow about her shoulders.
"Father, come to the Isle of the Blest at last?" Harry kissed the crown of her head, and knew this a familiar ritual. He held her close so long as he could.
"You know the Fates are not as kind as that." Persephone touched the girl's shoulder, sorrow lingering in her deep eyes. This daughter of his was the duel daughter of his sister's heart, sacrificed to her by oracles demand so Eurystheus would fall.
"She is in good hands, son of Zeus. They love her as if she is their own daughter, for she gave up her life for them." Hecate's words echoed the thoughts that raced within his own mind, and Harry nodded gratefully to her for confirming it again; as she always would if he needed to hear those words.
"I'm so sorry, Macaria." Harry whispered in her ear what was in his heart; Deianeira's daughter shook her head bravely, defiantly.
"Do not be. I am happy." Macaria regretted nothing, for like Heracles once she made up her mind her choice was a fixed thing that would not be swayed.
"Hades, you know my father's mind better then I, so answer me truthfully, why did Thanatos take me as he did?" Harry asked of his uncle, Macaria tensed in his arms but Hades only sighed as if he'd been expecting this question all along.
"Only when you are dead do you know who you are, with the death of Pan the Olympians have never needed you more, hero of the people, the boy who lived. You have to go back above, and know who you are, but Zeus has declared that you will not walk above as the living or god. You will be dead, for the dead do not age. Your mortal age was perilously close to sixteen." Hades sounds regretful enough, but his body language gives nothing away.
"A prophesy?" Harry asks his eyes go cold.
"Yes, would you like to know it?" Hecate asks softly, the flames of her torch flicker in the depths of the Underworld as if inviting shadows and doubt.
"No." Harry hisses, and Macaria flinches, laying a calming hand on his shoulder.
"Hermes, do give our father my regards –tell Hebe…" Harry falters, and he closes his eyes and breathes before he makes a mistake he knows he'll regret. Hermes has done nothing to earn his ire.
"Heracles," Hermes steps forward, hand outstretched pleadingly, "my son, Luke – Kronos possesses him…" Hermes couldn't finish, and Harry didn't blame him, Pan was one loss – but to loose two sons in so short a span of time? Immortals remembered very keenly, and felt more deeply then mortals gave them credit for.
"Save him, if you may." Hermes finished bitterly, flinching away before Harry could say a word, gone in the time it took to blink.
"He'll be back, maybe." Hades reassured absently, patting Harry's shoulder.
"In the meantime, you'll meet my son." Harry caught the distant look on Persephone's face, but it wasn't at Hades words, for Harry recognized the look as something similar to his silent conversations with Thanatos. Someone was speaking to her, and Harry had a good idea who.
"Mother is coming." Persephone confirmed, and Hades turned his attention to her, his look dismayed.
"Where?" Hades asked, already looking hassled.
"The throne room, come with me, brother?" Persephone held out her hand for Harry to take, and with a sigh Macaria stepped away as Harry took it. They faded from sight, leaving Hecate and Macaria in their wake, Hecate wrapped an arm about the slender girl with a smile.
"Come along, there is work to be done." Macaria's eyes flashed black, and she smiled back.
"I think my father will side with us, Lady Titan." Hecate tilted her head in silent agreement.
Persephone sat on a throne of silver, and Hades upon one of bones. Demeter between them broke the silent conversation to speak, and that was when Harry noticed the Furies watching carefully two boys. One was slim and had something of a dolphin's swimmer shape, the black hair and sea blue eyes marked him as a son of Poseidon. There was a betrayed look to him.
Kneeling to Hades was a younger boy, slim and ill kept; who Harry felt was his uncle's son. Hades had never been an attentive father, but Harry did not expect this. Of the pair of them, Persephone was the more nurturing sort, but it was clear she cared not a bit for Nico di Angelo, son of Hades.
Persephone leaves with Demeter, and when the children are gone – Percy to a cell and Nico to his room, Harry can't hold back his questions.
"What is the meaning of this?" Hades settles back in his throne with a sigh.
"That boy, Percy, he seeks the Styx." Hades cradles his head in his hand and watches Harry carefully for a reaction.
"You're going to let him get there." Harry accuses, green eyes a flash of fading lighting.
"Yes." Hades answers with a nod, when Harry turns away from him in disgust, his lips tilt in a wicked smile.
"You're walking the wrong way." Tisiphone hissed, the Fury getting in Harry's way. Harry had been in the Underworld often enough to know the way to the river Styx. Harry though of looking aside from her, ignoring her, but that would be a foolish thing indeed to do in the Underworld, where Harry was at the mercy of Hades, her master. In a way, Harry owed Tisiphone, for with Cereberus once taken, it had been she who'd guarded the gates.
"What do you know?" Harry snapped, guessing that if she bothered with speaking to him there would be something worth listening to.
"Think hero, if the Underworld is so changed; what the world above must be?" Megaera murmured, leaning against her sister; wings spread as if to prevent his escape or offering him to carry him aloft to show him.
"Gaea stirs." Alecto purred, reminding him of whose daughter she was - Harry stood very still, the blood pounding in his ears the only sound he could name.
"Phaethon…" The rest of Harry's words caught in his throat. It was as if he feared speaking that name, here, would wake something, and that was exactly true.
"That son of Helios hurt Gaea with the Sun Chariot, this is true, and she sleeps still to heal what damage he dealt her. She is waking, there is no Phaethon to force her asleep again." Megaera taunted, it was clear where her loyalties lay.
"The question is, Heracles son of Zeus – with whom do you stand?" Tisiphone murmured with a hiss in his ear. Then she was gone with her sisters, and Harry stood alone.
Harry closed his eyes and breathed, considering where he was at – the Underworld, realm of Hades, firstborn son of Kronos and Rhea, children themselves of Gaea herself. Demeter had stood beside Zeus and Poseidon simply for her children by them, but Persephone was a nature goddess like Demeter – they knew the pain of Gaea, felt it as keenly as Pan had – and Pan had died from the earth's wilderness being used up by people.
With it the way things Harry knew – and Hercules had known – were lost. By serving to protect the people, he was not blind to his own hand in the work that mortal's had done. When nothing was left to tell the lore of magic and gods, what then would be left of earth?
What would be worth living for, if all old lore were lies and only fact, cold and calculating, remained?
Would it be a world worth inheriting?
"I must save something." Gaea speaks, and Harry by his silence agrees.