Harry Potter, Master of Death, Destroyer of Worlds, Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, was studying his reflection in a spoon. The utensil was not particularly adept at displaying an accurate picture of himself, but it amused him to see his face warped and inflated in a bug-eyed stare. Harry didn’t really care. He knew what he looked like, and didn’t need the dubious surface of a spoon to remind him.
Idly, he flipped the spoon over and stared into the reverse side, watching as his head was compressed like an hourglass. He opened his mouth and made a face at his reflection, wrinkling his nose and widening his eyes in an attempt to make himself as ridiculous as possible. A few moments later he caught himself and stopped, letting the spoon drop from his fingers where it dissolved into ash halfway to the floor.
Heaving a sigh, Harry leaned back and sat down on a chair that materialized out of smoke and shadow just in time to catch him, angling his head toward the ‘roof’ of the expanse of nothing that made up his entire world nowadays.
He was so bored.
There was nothing to do anymore. He’d outlived all of Earth, twice, taken over various civilizations in various times and places, been a Dark Lord more times than he honestly cared to count, killed Tom Riddle as an infant six separate times out of sheer spite, and even united all the squibs in the magical world in revolt against their wizard superiors—which was surprisingly successful, seeing as squibs weren’t afraid to use guns while their enemies disdained ‘muggle weapons’ as ‘nonsense.’
And the purebloods kept on believing it was nonsense up until the squib President of the United States dropped a bomb on them.
Harry sighed again, letting his arm dangle off the side of his conjured smoke-chair and brushed the ground—it felt like grass for now—with long bony fingers that hadn’t been that way before he’d made the mistake of retrieving the Resurrection Stone from the forest.
Honestly he couldn’t even really call himself ‘Harry Potter’ anymore. The only features he had in common with the old Harry were the hair—still an untamable mess, even though it was made out of shadows now and moved on its own, which only made controlling it even more difficult—and the eyes, which had always been ‘a bit creepy’ but were now literally the color of the killing curse, instead of just often compared to it in passing.
He was much taller now, thank Merlin, but he’d also lost basically all of his body mass until he resembled either a skeleton or a concentration camp survivor, whichever one was worse. His fingers were longer, as if he’d somehow gained an extra knuckle somewhere along the way, and while his famous scar was finally gone he’d ended up trading it for a massive tattoo of the Deathly Hallows spreading across his entire back.
Oh, and he’d gained the delightful ability to steal the soul of whoever touched his bare skin—no matter how accidentally—which had immediately destroyed his sex life and any sort of possibility at normality he could ever have, forever. And when he said ‘forever,’ he wasn’t just being an emotional teenager and angsting about his situation. He actually meant forever, seeing as how he was now immortal.
But he wasn’t bitter. Sure, he had spent a century or two throwing a temper tantrum that plunged the entire world into another Dark Age, but he’d gotten over it. He’d even been a bit excited once his emo stage was over, thinking about all the things he could do and learn and accomplish now that he had all the time in the world.
And it had been bearable. He’d learned to live—sort of—with the fact that he was going to watch all his friends and family die, and eventually the pain of losing them dulled to a sort of numb indifference—which really helped, actually, because being in constant emotional agony due to something he really couldn’t control sucked. He’d learned everything he could think to learn, read everything he could get his hands on, found teachers to teach him things he’d have never imagined, and did just about everything he’d ever wanted to do.
And then there was nothing left. Nothing. He had done everything possible to be done. No matter how small, how bizarre, or how dubiously moral… he’d done it.
And now he was bored.
Tossing a ball that hadn’t existed until he’d wanted it to up and down in his hand, Harry pondered.
‘Master of Death’ was a bit of a misnomer, really. Death was not a person, or a creature, or a thing that could conceivably have a ‘master.’ Death simply was. Being Master of Death did not give him control over ‘Death’ as the name might have once implied. No, being Master of Death meant that the concept of Death, of The End of All Things, of The Final Breath of the World, was personified in him. He became Death. He was ‘officially’ in charge of making sure souls got to the afterlife once they died, but that whole business was done entirely subconsciously—he wasn’t even aware that he was doing it until two thousand years in during a period of intense meditation—meaning he was free to do basically whatever he wanted in the meantime.
As Death, he (obviously) could not be killed. At all. Oh he could be injured, wounded, torn apart, atomized, liquefied, or otherwise obliterated, but he always pulled himself back together in short order. Killing Death was like trying to make water wet, or set fire to a flame. It was pointless because it was already true.
Harry was always ‘dead,’ so killing him again was useless.
He sighed again. He was getting introspective. The last time he’d gotten introspective, he wound up creating the dementors. He’d already known they existed, of course, but he’d gone back to a point where they didn’t and made them exist because he figured if he had soul-sucking skin, he may as well make soul-sucking monsters to match.
It was slightly ironic that he used to have such a strong reaction to them as a mortal, since he’d actually created them in the past after he’d transcended mortality in the future. Paradoxes. They still boggled his mind.
But none of this solved his problem. He had nothing to do. He supposed he could go back to Earth again and screw up the timeline or something, maybe blow up a village or a small town, but he’d already done that so many times it really wasn’t worth the effort. He sort of wondered if this was why Death had never been personified before. It wasn’t like there was a ‘Master of Life’ he could talk to. He sort of hoped there never would be; despite how much he’d kill for some company—his jokes had only gotten worse due to the isolation—he would never wish his existence on anyone. Especially not the personification of Life itself.
Harry was halfway through another sigh when something interesting happened.
He almost missed it at first. It was a faint sort of tugging in his chest, like someone had tied a thread around one of his ribs and was pulling on it a bit. He felt an initial flash of irritation—Who goes and ties things around people’s ribs? Honestly!—before he realized that this was different. This had never happened before, which was such a novel experience that he leapt from his chair (which dutifully dissolved unnoticed behind him) and stilled himself unnaturally so he could focus his considerable senses on this strange phenomenon.
It took him only three fractions of a second to scan his vast reservoirs of knowledge before the answer came to him.
He was being summoned!
He laughed aloud, the sound dry and rusty and rattling like the last breath of a dying man, but he barely noticed. Someone was summoning him! Him! Death! The Pale Rider himself! He paused at this revelation, furrowing his brows. No… not Death. No mortal could summon Death. But…
A smile pulled at his lips. It was a slow thing, a dead thing, cracking against the pale skin of his face like a Glasgow grin. They might not be capable of summoning Death… but they could summon Harry Potter.
He stretched out his power along the thread tied to his chest, following it curiously, only to find it led nowhere. It reached to the Edge of his formless Void, before abruptly vanishing into nothingness, as if the thread had materialized there and existed nowhere else. His mind raced with possibilities. The thread had not led him in the direction of the Earth, which meant the summoner was not on Earth. Or… at least not on this Earth.
He had toyed with the idea of alternate realities of course, but had never dared try and cross over to one, not even in the depths of boredom. He had no way of knowing if a Death already existed there, and had no desire to find out what would happen should he wind up in conflict with another personification of Death. But another reality had reached out to him. This, logically, meant his arrival there would not bring him into conflict against another entity like himself. The Death there would not have allowed it, just as he would not have allowed some other Death to piggyback on a summoning from his Earth.
The grin on his face could not possibly be equated to a human smile any longer, full of teeth that sharpened the longer he held the expression until it would not look out of place on a shark. Harry paused, only briefly, as he considered what might happen to this world if he answered the summons. He was confident that, as Death, he had the power to remain subconsciously connected to this world so as to perform his duties. After all, didn’t Death exist in all worlds and all places? It made sense that he could do likewise.
Pulling his power around him like a shroud—no, really, it was an actual black shroud; where do you think the idea for the dementor cloaks came from?—Harry took a step forward and found himself at the end of the thread, having crossed the distance between him and it without actually having had to do so. Lifting up a pale, long-fingered hand, Harry delicately grasped the faint white thread between forefinger and thumb, his other digits raised elegantly in the air, and gave it a gentle yank.
Sensations of shock/fear/surprise/hope/elation echoed across the thread from whoever was summoning him—no, summoning Harry Potter, the boy he used to be—and the tug in his chest doubled. It was still barely noticeable to one such as himself, but at least his summoners knew he was paying attention now. His smile tilted oddly at the thought; he wondered just what they would think if they knew they’d just gained the full attention of Death.
With a wide, feral grin, Harry stepped forward off the Edge, and decided to find out.
1996, #12 Grimmauld Place
Harry Potter did not like this plan. He did not like it at all. Dumbledore, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that he just ‘wasn’t cutting it’ and that they should summon a ‘hero’ (the actual term used was ‘Vanquisher of Voldemort’) from another dimension and then somehow convince this unfortunate person into helping them with their own Dark Lord problem. Harry didn’t know where Dumbledore got this ritual from, but he could feel in his bones that it was going to end very, very badly.
Harry rather doubted that any ‘vanquisher’ they summoned would be in any sort of mind to actually help them. If someone pulled him from his dimension by dubiously legal means and expected him to fight their war for them, he’d probably laugh in their faces, tell them to go to hell, and to do creative things to themselves with a nearby chair leg while they were at it. There were just so many things that could go wrong with this ritual, and Harry was slightly horrified with himself that he’d let Dumbledore talk him into actually being present for this abomination, even if he’d managed to wiggle out of actively participating.
The magic had gotten progressively thicker until it was a little hard to breathe, until it leveled out at the point where Dumbledore had told them (them being the Order of the Phoenix, of course) that the ritual was making contact with the ‘hero’ on the other side. This was necessary because, apparently, the magic was supposed to implant a compulsion in the recipient to follow the pull back to this dimension—which Harry found rather sketchy, but he’d been outvoted on the matter—and encourage them to come along without fighting the ritual, which could damage all parties involved.
What was not supposed to happen was the magic pull being pulled back. The whole room seemed to jerk in place, as if some sort of god had just gripped hold of reality and yanked on it. Everyone began talking over each other in shock and surprise, wondering what had just happened and if the ritual was working right, as the uneasy feeling in Harry grew. Almost without thought, his green eyes met black as the only other protesting party met his gaze from across the room. Incredulously, Harry realized that only he and Snape seemed to have realized that the ritual worked just fine. It was just… whatever they’d hooked on the end of their line was far, far bigger than they were.
“Guys…?” Harry ventured tentatively, going largely unheard in the chaos, but pressing on regardless. “This is a really bad idea.”
He was, of course, ignored.
Dumbledore twinkled reassuringly at them all, raising his hands benevolently as a gesture for calm. “Please, settle down everyone. The ritual is working correctly; we simply miscalculated how much power it must take to cross dimensions in such a fashion.” And as if to prove this statement, the magic in the air doubled itself as Dumbledore obviously pushed himself even further, which slightly impressed Harry, but he was far too horrified to honestly care about how much magic the old man was throwing around.
Just as Harry thought the magic in the air would drown them all, it all seemed to be sucked to the middle of the room just as the air ripped itself in half. A huge, jagged crack had just appeared in the air, showing nothing but empty, formless black on the other side. Harry’s unease tripled itself.
A pale, long-fingered hand gently curled around one edge of the tear in reality, a large silver ring set with a black stone adorning one bony finger as a booted leg stepped out of the rip and onto the wooden floor, which blackened and began to rot immediately. A man emerged from the crack as if this sort of thing happened every day, draped in black and silver that curled around him like an intangible serpent, and the tear sealed itself up behind him as if it had never been.
Harry stared. The man was tall, very tall, but there seemed to be almost no flesh on him at all; he was all bones and sharp angles and unnaturally long limbs, with a mane of black hair that writhed in place and evaporated itself like colorless, smokeless fire set over eyes that were an unforgettable shade of electric green. Avada Kedavra green. The grin on the man’s face sent a cold chill down Harry’s spine; it seemed to crack his face in half from ear to ear—it was as if the man’s flesh were made of clay, and the smile had caused tiny fissures in his skin—and his jaws were full of inhuman, nightmarish fangs unlike anything he’d seen on any sort of creature, magical or otherwise. There was a silver cloak over his black robes that seemed to move and ripple like liquid, pinned together by a strange silver symbol of three shapes that had Dumbledore choking on his own saliva.
All this Harry noticed in an instant. And then the man’s aura washed over the room.It was the bite of hoarfrost, the rattling breath of a dementor, the heartbreaking scream of a mother holding the corpse of their child, the hysterical laughter of a man staring death in the face. It was unfathomable, outside of human comprehension in every meaning of the word; a single ripple of it lanced outward from the man in a tangible shockwave of power that lasted only a single instant, and every heart in the room skipped several beats in shock as everyone fell to their knees, gasping for breath and clutching at their chests. Then the aura was visibly pulled in, locked inside this… creature and stored away like a slumbering dragon.
The creature looked around the room, Glasgow grin still filling its face, until those killing curse eyes landed on Dumbledore and sharped into something impossibly dangerous. The beast opened its fanged maw, a black tongue—too long for a human, too long toolongtoolong!—licking over its lips as it spoke.
“Albus Dumbledore…” it breathed, a rattling gasp that bypassed their ears as irrelevant, speaking directly to their very souls. Harry inhaled deep, desperate for air, and wondered just what sort of monster Dumbledore had called here. The large grin cracked impossibly wider. “You… summoned me?”
Harry closed his eyes against the horrible whisper of a voice, grating on his nerves like sandpaper, and prayed for death to take them swiftly, because he doubted this creature would make it fast or at all painless.
As if it had heard him, the creature’s electric eyes flicked towards him, its jaws clenching together in an interlocking mass of fangs and razor-sharp teeth as the smile took a more feral turn, pupils expanding like ink in water until they covered both iris and sclera, leaving only an expanse of black. Harry did not like that smile. He did not like it at all.
He liked the rasping, deep laugh that followed even less.
Many thanks to Shade_OKiller for letting me in on the secret of italics! This makes my life about 6000% easier...
Harry—he supposed he better start calling himself Death now, considering the boy currently shuddering on the ground a few yards away—was having the time of his life. Well… the time of his death, really. He could tell the moment he emerged into this reality that there had not been a Death already present. In fact, he seemed to have automatically absorbed the position into himself, and could already feel the departing souls passing through him in a river parallel to the ones he could still feel from his original world.
Excellent. Death turned back to Dumbledore—and didn’t that just make him want to crow with laughter!—and found him still staring at the pin he used to keep his Invisibility Cloak closed over his shoulders with horrified comprehension. Oh well. Dumbledore had always been a useless bastard as far as he was concerned; it just looked like he was a bit slow in this dimension as well.
Ignoring the old man—he paused and cackled aloud at the mere idea that this man was old in any meaningful way—he turned to face the body of his alternate self, grin seemingly fixed on his face at the vast amusement he was getting out of this whole situation. The whole room seemed horrified, and he hadn’t even done anything yet!
Laughing again, just because he could and because it had been so very long since he’d had anything to laugh at, he took a step towards his other self, pleased when he didn’t recoil in fear like those nearest him were doing. He always knew he was a brave one.
“Why have you summoned me here?” he asked the boy curiously, finding himself absently fascinated at the way the room seemed to be reacting to his voice. Oh. Right. He hadn’t talked to a mortal in so long that he’d forgotten what he sounded like. Oops.
Other-Harry swallowed nervously, still on one knee from where he’d collapsed after Death emerged for some reason. Maybe they were showing him deference? He couldn’t fathom why they’d all fallen to their knees otherwise. Inwardly he preened, pleased that they held him in such high esteem already. He was awesome and he knew it, but it was nice to have others acknowledge his amazingness as well.
“D-Dumbledore wanted to summon a hero,” Other-Harry explained concisely, and rather evenly considering the way his face had paled and the way he was swaying slightly. Was he ill? Death was concerned for about half a millisecond before he got over it. “From another dimension. To kill the Dark Lord.”
They wanted him to kill someone? Well, he was very good at that. But… a hero? That couldn’t be right. He hadn’t been a hero in… well, about four Earths’ worth of time. Something of his thoughts must have reflected on his face, because Other-Harry’s lips thinned in agreement. Well, they were almost like the same person. It made sense that they’d think alike. Only, he was an immortal personification of Death and the little-Harry was a teenage human wizard, but regardless.
But, he couldn’t just go around letting these people think they owned him or something. He’d have to get some sort of agreement out of the lot of them. Maybe make them promise him their firstborn children or something? He discarded the thought as soon as it formed. What use would he have for a bunch of infants?
"I may not be a hero, little wizard, but I am very, very good at killing things,” Death admitted with a renewed grin. This universe was already so very much more exciting than the last one! He kicked one leg out and lounged back in the huge black throne-like chair that formed itself out of the shadows in the room behind him, slightly bewildered at the sharp intakes of breath from all around the room at the action. It was just a chair. Why were they getting so worked up over a chair? Shrugging to himself, he kicked one leg over the arm of the chair and relaxed there, observing the mortals in the room through half-lidded eyes, smile turning lazy and content as he waited for them to gather themselves.
Dumbledore seemed to finally catch up to the situation at hand, standing and straightening his obscenely yellow robes. Death took a moment to stare at the robes, decided he didn’t like the color of them, and promptly turned them blue instead. There, that was much better. Ignoring the further intakes of breath at this—honestly, these people were so easily surprised—he stared at Dumbledore and waited for him to speak. He was patient, after all. He could wait.
“Welcome to this reality, my boy,” Dumbledore beamed, spreading his hands and twinkling madly. Death frowned at him, displeased at being called his anything, and for some reason the entire room seemed to flinch and shrink back at the expression on his face. Dumbledore paled slightly, but kept on with a noticeable dim in his twinkling eyes. “As young Harry has just informed you, the ritual used to summon you here called for someone who had already vanquished Lord Voldemort. Would I be correct in assuming that this is accurate?”
Death blinked mildly at the man. Lord who? Oh. Voldemort? Hadn’t that been that the Dark Lord that had kept trying to kill him when he was a mortal? Honestly, after the first thousand years or so he’d completely forgotten about the man. He was just a mortal, and Death had been in a bit of an anti-mortal phase for a few millennia there. Plus, the man’s name was just insulting. Flight of Death? Oh, and he made those horcruxes too. That irritated him, because mortals were supposed to leave their souls intact instead of breaking them and leaving pieces all over the place. Broken souls were so much harder to coax on to the afterlife that he usually just ate them instead. It wasn’t really worth the effort to send them to the other side since anyone who made a horcrux was basically evil anyway, and they deserved to spend eternity in his stomach. The soul of the last wizard who’d made a horcrux was still being digested, he thought; he hadn’t checked in a while and it wasn’t like he kept an eye on these things. He’d let him move on eventually. Maybe. If he remembered.
“I have taken the soul of a mortal by the name of Tom Riddle, yes. Many times,” Death admitted with a pleased smile. Revenge had been sweet, indeed. Tom’s soul had tasted like dark chocolate, and he’d had the pleasure of taking his soul seven different times. It was rather funny since the soul seemed to remember its numerous previous deaths even if the body didn’t. He idly wondered if Lord Voldemort’s soul would taste similar in this new dimension.
“’Taken the soul’?” Other-Harry asked, slightly horrified and slightly fascinated, blatantly ignoring Dumbledore’s warning glance to be silent. Death turned to Other-Harry, Tom forgotten as he refocused on his alternate, mortal shell. “What do you mean you ‘took his soul’? You mean like a dementor?”
Ah! So dementors existed over here, too? He wondered when he’d get around to going back and making them. He grinned at Other-Harry, wide and sharp and more than slightly mad, running his tongue over his teeth in remembrance. “It’s far more accurate to say that dementors take souls like me.”
Death didn’t know why these words made the mortals around him so horrified, but it made him laugh nonetheless. Oh he was going to have such fun here. He could practically taste it.
Death was honestly waiting for someone to try and touch him. They’d been sitting here in this room for a few hours now as the mortals debated amongst themselves as to ‘what to do with him,’ which was incredibly rude seeing as how he was actually still present and taking slight offense as to how these people seemed to think they could do anything to him in the first place. He kept quiet though, alternating his attention between frowning at Dumbledore and grinning at his shell-shocked alternate self. Really, these people were far too fun to tease.
Nothing was happening though, which was disappointing because the whole point of coming here was to find something to do, so Death figured he may as well go and do something productive with his time. Like rescue a kitten, or turn Dumbledore bald, or unleash Cthulhu on the unsuspecting populous of Earth.
Abruptly, Death stood. And, equally abruptly, silence fell on the gathered mortals like a ton of bricks, complete with dumbfounded, shocked faces and gaping mouths. Terribly unattractive. He stood for a moment, still in the way that only Death can be, eyes roving over the gathered humans as he weighed the possibility of leaping at one of them suddenly and seeing how they react against setting himself on fire just to see what would happen.
Instead of doing either of those potentially hilarious things, Death instead smiled at them all—which oddly did not reassure them as much as he’d sort of hoped it would—and nonchalantly put his hands in the pockets of his robe (his robe hadn’t actually had pockets until a second ago) as he strolled out of the room, ignoring the wards meant to keep him there as if they were made out of cobwebs. The magic holding them together cracked and shattered like glass as he walked through them, an amused grin on his face as he wondered when the mortals would gather their wits enough to realize he’d just walked out on them.
He actually made it all the way down the hall before voices erupted behind him, which made him laugh, long and loud, quickly silencing the room again. He cut off his laughter, frowning, and wished they would stop going so quiet when he laughed. It wasn’t funny if they were quiet, which meant he couldn’t laugh, and he very much liked to laugh.
Death wandered the house for a minute or so, enjoying the sheer novelty of actually walking somewhere for once, before he found himself in a large library. He glanced over the shelves of books, knowing that there wasn’t anything new for him to learn in here but having been drawn by the feel of magic emanating from a back corner. Silent as the grave—how very punny of him—Death glided toward the source, peering around a corner at the witch with the incredibly bushy hair and a book for a head. Oh. Wait, no, she simply had her head buried in a book; the book wasn’t actually her head. He frowned in disappointment. A witch with a book for a head would have been very interesting, and he eyed her speculatively and wondered how she would react should he actually turn her head into a book for his amusement.
As if she somehow knew he was thinking uncharitable thoughts about her person, the witch raised her head and locked eyes with him. Death’s smile grew slowly, pleased to find someone willing to make and maintain eye contact with him without going mad, and—conversely—the witch’s frown increased in proportion to his smile.
“Who are you?” the witch finally asked in a slightly bossy manner that Death decided to overlook in favor of an actual conversation with a living being.
Death drifted towards the table, observing the witch as she shifted uneasily, one hand going to where her wand was concealed up her sleeve, and reached out a pale hand to pull back one of the chairs. The wooden chair blackened and began to creak warningly as he touched it, but he ignored her wide-eyed reaction to this and settled himself at the table, frowning at how uncomfortable mortal chairs were. With a flick of thought, he rearranged the chair more to his tastes and leaned back, pleased, when it adjusted to his standards.
“I am Death, Destroyer of Worlds,” he grinned, teeth sharpening in response to his glee. The witch stiffened, hair frizzing out even further—much to his interest—as her eyes flickered slightly with rapid thoughts. It amused him that this was the first person to actually ask who he was. Not even his summoners had bothered to find out, which was a rather large oversight on their part considering who and what he was. “I have been summoned here by your peers in order to vanquish the Dark Lord Voldemort.” …Again. Honestly, how many times was he going to have to kill this guy before the universe was happy? Wasn’t eight enough? Not that it was much of a hardship; he enjoyed killing things very much, and enjoyed killing naughty, evil things even more.
“The Headmaster summoned Death to kill Voldemort?” the witch asked incredulously, seeming simultaneously impressed at the sort of magic necessary to do such a thing as well as horrified that anyone would be foolish enough to summon Death for anything at all.
“…it’s a bit overkill, actually,” a strained voice interjected from around the corner. Death’s lips turned up in a pleased smile that made the witch shudder for some reason (honestly, his smiles weren’t that bad) at the voice of Other-Harry. It was absolutely marvelous how similar they were! They even had identical senses of humor! He’d have his mortal shell cracking death jokes in no time at all.
Other-Harry staggered into a chair next to the bushy haired book-witch, looking far more exhausted than the short walk from the arrival room to the library honestly warranted. His other self was terribly out of shape. Death eyed him, wondering if he should do something about that; he couldn’t have a weak mortal shell, after all. That would reflect poorly on his power and prestige, which was unacceptable.
Other-Harry frowned slightly and stared back at Death, paling as he did so but not looking away. Death approved. “So… you’re really Death? Like… the Death?”
“As opposed to some other Death?” he replied, honestly a bit confused. Were there other people named Death here? That would be awfully complicated; he would have to go find these other Deaths and remove them from existence as to avoid any future mix-ups. He knew there were no entities of Death here, but there might be a mortal or two who had the misfortune to be named after himself. It wouldn’t be too terribly difficult to remedy the situation, and he was rather pleased with his mortal minion-shell for bringing the problem to his attention. He would have been tempted to pat the boy on the head for a job well done, except he rather doubted anyone would appreciate him accidentally ripping the boy’s soul from his body.
He could put it back, of course, he was Death, but the experience of having one’s soul reaped and absorbed into himself was beyond unpleasant from what some souls had told him. He settled for a rather approving smile, which—again—failed to actually reassure the person he was smiling at. If he’d cared what the mortals thought of him, this refusal to accept his smiles as a good thing would have hurt his feelings slightly.
As it was, it just amused him. He resolved to smile at everyone he met from that point onward.
His mortal shell and the book-witch exchanged a Look, both distinctly unsettled. Death supposed he couldn’t blame them. He was awfully magnificent, and sometimes mortals had a difficult time adjusting to the sheer glory of his presence. Death waited patiently as Other-Harry turned his attention back to him—as if there was anything in the room more interesting than him to look at anyway—and cleared his throat. Perhaps there was something stuck in it? Death again wondered if the boy was ill in some manner, but refrained from checking. If it was important, someone would bring it up eventually.
“Dumbledore and the others aren’t quite sure what to do with you,” Other-Harry admitted, which made Death frown again. Honestly. These people needed to learn they couldn’t have done anything with him in the first place. “They had been expecting a hero. A… well a wizard. Not… not you.”
Well that was more than a little insulting. Death was far superior to any mortal hero they could have possibly summoned! Reining in his temper (now was not a good time to get upset), Death refocused on the shivering forms of the teenagers across from him. Was it cold in here, then? Death didn’t really feel the elements all that much, so he really had no way of knowing. But they were wizards, and they should know how to use a damn warming charm by now. He decided not to care.
“Albus Dumbledore reached across Time and Space in search of a vanquisher, a conqueror, a god. He should not be complaining when he’s been given all three.”
Death, after all, had conquered entire worlds in the eternity of his existence. A single Dark Lord and his minions was barely even worth the effort it would take to find and eradicate them like rats.
“It’s not that,” Other-Harry hurried to explain, obviously afraid he’d been offended. Which he had been, but Death knew better than to take his anger out on his mortal shell. “It’s just… well Dumbledore likes to be in control of everything, and he isn’t quite sure how to go about making sure you do what he wants you to. You know, considering your rather dramatic entrance.” Other-Harry offered a weak grin, but Death was as far from amused as he had ever been.
Firstly, what dramatic entrance? He’d just stepped out of the dimensional rift. He hadn’t even brought any necromantic constructs with him for effect!
Death narrowed his eyes, his mouth a thin line as he felt his power flex around him. Albus Dumbledore sought to control him, did he? Ancient, long buried memories flickered through his consciousness. The Dursleys, his cupboard, the prophecy (dancing to the fickle whims of Fate) Dumbledore’s manipulations, being set up to die for the Greater Good. No more. He would never be controlled again. He submitted to no one’s will but his own! He rose from the table, gathering his magic around him like a cloak, and the room seemed to darken and wilt around him. He barely noticed the two teenagers scrambling out of the chairs as the table and seating began to warp and rot beneath them.
“I am Death,” he rumbled, voice low and gravelly with hate and anger. He could almost taste the brimstone in the back of his throat as his voice rose to a roar. “And NO ONE CONTROLS ME!”
I am about to die, Harry thought frantically, pressing himself and Hermione back into the furthest corner of the library, wide eyes fixed on the maelstrom of rage and malice shrieking into existence around the previously-amiable figure of Death. He had no idea what had set the entity off, but he could guess. Dumbledore’s need to control every aspect of his life had often sent Harry into a rage himself, but nothing on this level.
“I will NEVER walk the path of that meddling old fool again!” Death barked, his voice echoing like the legion of the damned, shaking the foundations of the very world. Harry was confused though, terribly so. Death wouldn’t walk Dumbledore’s path again? When had Death ever been controlled by anyone?
Hermione, bless her curious heart, seemed to have caught on as well. And, despite his frantic tugging and nervous hand gestures, pushed her way forward and—rather foolishly, if bravely—stepped forward closer to the razor-sharp, vicious aura gouging deep marks on the walls and floor around the irate form of Death himself.
Hermione, in a fit of sheer Gryffindor stupidity, decided the most expedient way to get the attention of Death himself—did he mention how this was DEATH—was to throw a book at him. Harry was both impressed at her gall (for Hermione to throw one of her precious books was a monumental occasion indeed) and one hundred percent convinced that Death was about to smear his best friend across the library walls.
The book didn’t actually reach the man of course. Rather, it was shredded into tiny pieces by the black and silver magic burning around him, and then dissolved into ash. But it did catch his attention, and solid black abyssal eyes locked on Hermione’s slightly trembling form.
“W-when did the Headmaster try to c-control you?” she managed in a remarkably steady voice, considering who was glaring at her. The question both seemed to calm the entity down and simultaneously enrage him farther.
Death’s fiery anger turned ice-cold in a heartbeat, frosting their breath in the air and crackling around them like breaking glass. “He martyred me,” Death snarled, a vicious, feral sound that had no place coming from a human throat. “Sacrificed my humanity for the Greater Good.” Then he grinned, long, jagged fangs gleaming behind cracked lips as a black tongue ran over his teeth. “I locked him inside my cupboard and left his body to rot while I swallowed his damned soul.” Death’s smile was all teeth; vindictive pleasure all but radiated from him as his frozen magic slowed down and returned to the same heart-stopping aura from his arrival. “He was the last mortal to ever try and control me. I made sure of it
Harry’s breath was frozen in his chest. Hermione had obviously not made the connection he just had, and he honestly was in no hurry to enlighten her. His eyes darted all over Death’s face, his form, his shadow-like hair, his absinthe eyes… how did he not notice this before
Death caught his eye and that wild grin was back, the oppressive aura gone like it had never been. It was obvious from the look on Death’s face—a sort of macabre pleasure and a strange sort of possessiveness—that Death already knew exactly what Harry had just now figured out. Harry could barely hear past the blood thundering through his ears, and could only be grateful that Hermione was currently distracted trying to set the library to rights (good to know her priorities have been straightened out).
Death stepped closer, crossing the length of the room in that single step and drastically invading Harry’s personal space. He resisted the urge to flinch away, still trying to come to grips with the revelation that had just whacked him upside the head.
“You’ve realized it then, my mortal shell?” Death whispered smoothly, his already eerie voice lowering into a register just barely audible to human ears. And if he hadn’t been sure before, hearing Death call him that merely confirmed it. “Yesss… little wizard. See what your Headmaster has done to me? To us?” Death spread out his hands as if in supplication, but all it did was draw Harry’s attention to the unnatural, skeletal limbs and too-long fingers. Death’s hands made corpses look portly. “Gifted the infamous Invisibility Cloak of Ignotus, groomed for the Elder Wand of Antioch, and tricked into retrieving the Resurrection Stone of Cadmus.” Death reached out, as if to grasp his face in both hands, but they settled on the wall behind his head instead, looming over him, killing curse eyes bleeding black. “Look at me, my mortal shell. Look at what your precious Headmaster has done to me.” Death’s whisper-soft voice turned mournful, and it reminded Harry of weeping children and a mother screaming out to take her instead and spare her son. “I have not touched a living being in millions of years. Millions, my shell.” Death’s long fingers trembled where they were pressed against the wall, curling slightly as if attempting to claw through the stone. Death’s head lowered, hair like wisps of shadow and fire surrounding him like a living mane.
And then, without any sort of warning, Death was suddenly several feet away, hands clasped behind his back as if he’d always been there. That wild, unhinged grin was back on his face, shark-like teeth white against the grey paleness of his skin, and his eyes were again that unsettling shade of electric green.
Harry rather doubted his alternate self—Death—was entirely sane, and wondered why it had taken him so long to reach this conclusion. He had, however, earned an entirely new appreciation for his distrust of Dumbledore. If some alternate, future version of the Headmaster had manipulated him into turning into… this… then Harry felt perfectly justified in his dislike.
Death’s smile changed then, as if in response to his resolution, lips closing over sharp teeth and offering him a crooked half-smile that he recognized from every time he looked in the mirror. Harry simply nodded to himself, in both meanings of the term, and stepped away from the wall.
He had always been alone in his distrust of Dumbledore. Hermione worshipped authority like a wizard worshipped Merlin, and the Weasleys were so far in Dumbledore’s pocket he was surprised they were able to breathe. Remus was indebted to the man, and Sirius—Harry’s breath caught in his throat at the thought of his godfather, but he fought back the guilt and the loss—had been so damaged by Azkaban that he’d been barely more mature than he’d been as a teenager.
But now… Harry glanced at Death (broken and dead and warped in ways he could barely imagine), standing silently in the middle of a wrecked library, and smiled tentatively back. Death’s return grin was both blinding and terrifying, full of needles and fangs and darkness, but Harry didn’t really mind.
He’d never trusted anyone but himself. Not really. He supposed it made sense to trust this other version of him, then, no matter how frightening or powerful or inhuman he might be.
After all… they were almost like family, and he’d always wanted one of those.
Death did not turn around when the doors blew open and his summoners filed inside, wands drawn and pointed threateningly in all directions, searching for the threat. Of course, there no longer was a threat, as Death was no longer angry and therefore no longer scything through the ancient Black Family wards barely clinging together around the property like reeds.
Instead, he continued grinning at his newly-enlightened mortal shell, beyond pleased at the understanding they seemed to have reached. Of course, he’d had no doubt that his shell would be able to emphasize with him—they were the same, after all—but it was still a wonderful feeling for a being that hadn’t been smiled at in millennia.
Very few mortals have cause to smile at Death nowadays.
Death cocked his head and glanced at the crowded mortals in the doorway out of the corner of his eye, watching amused as they took in the destruction his momentary lapse in control had done to the highly-warded Black Library. Death doubted it would happen again. He had very few triggers left after all his eons of existence, but manipulations and beings who sought to control him were two of the most potent. Dumbledore had the misfortune to be a trigger for both.
Dumbledore, holding a very familiar wand outstretched in hand, turned still-twinkling eyes to his mortal shell. “Harry? Would you care to explain what happened here?”
Death ignored whatever his shell came up with as an excuse, keeping his eyes fixed on the mirror of his most destructive Hallow. Its presence brought up an interesting quandary: what would happen if someone in this reality gathered all three Hallows like he had done? Would they become Death like he had? Death frowned heavily, the air around him thickening with displeasure. No. He would not allow it. Another Death might attempt to assimilate him—just as he would have done to the new Death—and that was extremely unacceptable.
Death, deciding to be prudent and remove the possible threat, absently summoned Dumbledore’s wand to his hand. All heads swiveled towards him, and many wands followed as they switched targets. Death eyed them with contempt. What good would those sticks of dead wood do them? Instead, he turned his eyes to his newly confiscated Elder Wand (the II) and twirled it between his fingers.
Dumbledore’s eyes were definitely not twinkling now.
“My boy,” Dumbledore began, and Death lifted his head and looked at the man, making him visibly falter before pressing on. Death had to admit, the wizard had an incredibly low sense of self-preservation. “Now now, there’s no need for such dramatics!” the man actually chortled. “Return my wand—that’s a good lad—so we can adjorn to the meeting room and conclude our business.” Dumbledore’s expression was firm as he extended an expectant hand, as if compliance was assured.
Death curled his fingers around the weapon in his grasp, knuckles cracking at the strength of his grip. Somewhere to his left, his mortal shell winced. A smile tugged at Death’s lips, but it was not a pleasant expression. This was a baring of teeth, a primal declaration of war, and a mocking challenge to an insignificant opponent. The skin on his face cracked with the force of it, eyes bleeding black as the abyss. This was the smile he gave to the men whose souls he meant to devour.
The temperature of the room plummeted, hoarfrost coating the ground around his feet and making the mortals’ breath emerge like smoke. Death kept a vice-grip on his power, forcing it under his control, smoothing over the sharpened, malignant edges that had bristled into existence at Dumbledore’s command of him, and soothed it into a quiet murmur. His aura unfurled around him like massive wings, bringing with it the silence of a graveyard—desolate, abandoned, still. His mortal shell fell to his knees, followed by three of the others; the rest crumpled to the floor entirely, eyes roiling in their sockets as wands fell from nerveless fingers.
Dumbledore alone remained standing, hand still outstretched, flesh bleached white and pupils mere pinpricks in horrified blue irises.
“Your wand, Dumbledore?” Death asked him in a quiet murmur, black eyes trailing the length of the wand in his grasp. His shell whimpered and braced himself on his hands and knees. Abyssal eyes flicked up to meet frozen blue.
The Elder Wand dissolved into ash in his hand, the remains swirling around him before sinking through his robes and into his skin. Dumbledore’s expression froze into a mixture of fury and fear—it was utterly amusing. Death laughed.
“It never belonged to you, foolish mortal.” Death stepped closer to the frozen man, his power sweeping aside the collapsed mortals in his path before he reached them. He loomed over Dumbledore, staring down at him with the same chilling smile he’d been wearing since this impudent mortal had dared to command him. “I crafted this wand to be unbeatable, to be a thing of great power.” Death’s smile widened as comprehension slowly dawned on the man who, in his arrogance, had never questioned just what he’d dared to summon into this realm. “I crafted this wand for a man whose cunning and arrogance condemned him to an early grave. It is a weapon bathed in blood, mired in agony, baptized in suffering...” He peeled back his lips, a growl rumbling up through his throat. “But it belongs solely to its Master, and never have I met a mortal so unsuited for that title as you, Albus Dumbledore.” Death stepped back, face expressionless and eyes burning like cold fire. “Oh… and do not command me like I am one of your puppets, mortal. I have crushed greater men than you for trying.”
Harry almost pitied Dumbledore. Almost. Death had swept from the room on the heels of his rather cold announcement, and Harry had breathed a quiet sigh of relief when the feeling of smallness and the petrifying terror went with him. Pushing himself back to his feet, Harry surveyed the witches and wizards still collapsed around him, several twitching and mumbling to themselves, and others unconscious altogether.
Hermione was slumped against a bookcase nearby, completely out of it. Snape had been one of the three Order members to remain marginally upright, and also the fastest to recover aside from Harry himself. The man glanced Harry’s way, sneered on reflex, before looking around at his colleagues and grimacing at them. Harry didn’t blame him. Most of these men and women were fully trained adult witches and wizards, and yet they’d collapsed to the ground when a fifteen year old, half-trained schoolboy had weathered it mostly upright?
He shook his head and headed for the door, looking at Dumbledore’s odd expression as he passed. The man still looked like the genial Headmaster he normally portrayed, but his eyes were furious. Furious and terrified. It was not a good combination, and Harry made a note to keep a close eye on the old wizard just in case.
Harry didn’t bother looking for Death. He doubted he would have been able to track him, and even if he did there really wasn’t anything he could say. Instead, he headed for Sirius’ old room—the one place in the house that was guaranteed to be empty and stay that way—and sat on the bed.
He was not surprised when Death stepped out of the shadows to his left and stopped beside him, looming over him with hunched shoulders and a wild, fanged grin. Death’s moods were incredibly mercurial, and Harry could only be thankful that so far he did not seem actively hostile. It did, however, make him slightly uncomfortable to be sitting down while Death was standing. Ingrained instincts and courtesy had him patting the bed beside him before his mind caught up to his actions, but he couldn’t bring himself to take it back. Death’s smile faltered a bit at the action, but he did sit down—at the very edge of the mattress as far from Harry as he could conceivably get and still be on the same bed.
“So… I guess Dumbledore’s wand was something special, then?” Harry wound up asking, hating that he was still so ignorant as to wizarding things, and having a feeling that if he’d grown up as a wizard he would know what all those names and items meant.
In response, Death made a strange gesture with one hand and the wand that had previously dissolved appeared loosely grasped in his fingers. “The Elder Wand of Antioch,” Death mused, tracing a vertical line in the air with the wand and leaving a flaming mimicry behind, much like Tom Riddle had done in the Chamber back in second year. Death flexed the fingers on his wand hand and light reflected off the ring there and the black stone held within, as he traced a circle around the flaming line. “The Resurrection Stone of Cadmus.” Then Death rolled his shoulders, and the silver cloak he wore rippled as if someone had dropped a pebble into a still pond, and Death promptly vanished. Harry sat up straight in shock, watching as the now-invisible ‘Elder Wand’ traced an equilateral triangle around the circle and the line, leaving the symbol holding his cloak together floating in the air, drawn in green fire. “And the Invisibility Cloak of Ignotus,” came the disembodied, eerie voice of Death.
Harry shivered slightly, not liking that he could no longer see the entity but assuming he was still in the same place. He did, however, wonder about that invisibility cloak. Harry had one that had belonged to his father, but it had to be covering all of him in order for it to make him vanish like that. Death’s had merely been hanging over his shoulders and back like a cloak, yet it had hidden his hands and exposed face, and even his wand.
Death reappeared with the same unsettling swiftness he had previously vanished, twirling the wand between his fingers and staring at the floating symbol with a strange grin. “Together they make the Deathly Hallows, three artifacts that when united make one the Master of Death.” Death’s grin turned slightly wry then as he banished the burning symbol with a mere glance. “I’ll admit, it was not one of my brighter moments… giving those tools to the Peverell brothers. When I became Death by collecting the three Hallows, I had wondered how they had come to be when there had never been a ‘Death’ before me which could hold a physical form.” Death laughed, the same chilling cackle he’d been using since he arrived. “Turns out I made the Deathly Hallows on one of my trips through time. I was so bored then, desperate for something to do, that when the three brothers beat my riddle I made them the Hallows without actually realizing what I’d done.” At Harry’s disbelieving glance, Death spread his hands and shrugged. “It had been millennia since I’d been a wizard, since I’d read the stories about the Hallows. By then, they weren’t things I’d collected as a mortal—they merely were, in the same manner that I was. By the time I remembered, it was already too late. But, I suppose, I had always been meant to make them—just as I am likely going to create them here, as well. Dumbledore already having the Elder Wand is merely proof that I’ve yet to go and recreate the Hallows in this reality, but that I eventually will
Harry’s mind spun. Hermione had always warned him about what happened to wizards who meddled with time, but it seemed like Death’s entire existence was based around paradoxes. Shaking his head to clear it, he turned back to Death only to jerk back in shock, nearly falling off the bed at seeing Death’s wide grin inches from his face.
“Bloody hell!” Harry blurted out, alarmed, only his seeker reflexes keeping him on the bed. Death didn’t make a sound, but Harry was convinced he was being laughed at. Breathing heavily, one hand pressed over his chest, Harry took a closer look at his maybe-quite-possibly alternate self and was mildly worried to find those absinthe eyes focused on his forehead.
No, on his scar. The reasons for this were not reassuring. Anything that caught Death’s attention like this couldn’t possibly be a good thing, and he debated briefly on whether to ask or not. He hated being kept in the dark, but he knew better than most that there are some things he just really shouldn’t know.
Death’s grin widened, fangs clenched tight, as he avidly stared at Harry’s forehead as if it was the most delicious thing he’d ever seen. Understandably, this made Harry very, very nervous. “Oh dear,” Death crooned, “you’ve something on your face, my mortal shell.” Long, bony fingers lifted to hover over his head like claws, close but not touching. “Allow me to take care of that for you.”
And Death lowered one long digit and pressed it against Harry’s scar, and the world around him faded into black.
The terrified soul fragment of Tom Riddle squirmed from where it was pinched between Death's forefinger and thumb. Death glanced at the unconscious—but fortunately still ensouled—form of his mortal shell, pleased to know that his incredibly spur-of-the-moment decision to rid his alternate self from the horcrux hadn't taken along the boy's soul for the ride. He would have fixed it in no time if that had happened, but it would not have been pleasant for his shell, and Death would rather keep the mortal happy with him—he might even get smiled at again for his consideration.
Death leaned closer to the struggling horcrux, studying it through abyssal black eyes and observing the various soul-threads leading off from it into the distance. One of them actually led to somewhere else in the house, which was both delightful and incredibly disappointing; he did so enjoy a good hunt every now and then. Death curled the fingers of his free hand around the black thread leading further into the house and pulled on it in much the same manner as he'd done to the summoning ritual which had had the audacity to wrap around his rib.
The thread rapidly began reeling in his direction, the wards protecting it unable to hold up against the Call of Death, and soon the horcrux in his fingers doubled in size as its younger twin collided with it and was absorbed. Death smiled crookedly at the jagged, black soul in miniature as he tilted his head. As if it could read his intentions—really, he wasn't being very subtle about them—the fragment renewed its desperate attempts to escape. Death just chuckled, amused that the horcrux was putting up so much of a fight when full souls had given him far less trouble.
Death leaned his head back and held the now deathly-still—he was such a comedic genius—fragment above him, still grinning up at it through clenched fangs. Souls always went still like this once they realized what their fate would be. Truthfully he didn't actually devour that many souls—he wasn't a dementor, and he didn't really gain anything from them other than the satisfaction of punishing a person with eternal torment. Had this been any other soul, any other horcrux, Death probably would have just banished the thing to purgatory to await the rest of the fragments. But Death had always had a special place in his heart for Tom Riddle, having taken his soul a grand total of eight different times now.
He doubted Tom's horcrux appreciated this special consideration he was being given. Souls were so terribly rude to him, especially the naughty ones. Death smirked, ignoring how the fragment twitched at the expression, as he wondered what Tom would think of being called naughty. Because honestly, Death couldn't really call him 'evil.' Death had done things exponentially worse during his many tenures as a Dark Lord when he was in a bad mood, but he was petty enough to keep punishing the man regardless of his relative evilness.
Death heard his mortal shell stirring with a groan, and decided he should probably hurry up before the boy woke up and had a chance to panic properly. The last thing he needed was to accidentally drop the horcrux between the mattresses somewhere. Death opened his mouth and let go of the fragment, registering and ignoring the fact that the horcrux seemed to be squealing despite lacking vocal chords or any sort of physical form with which to squeal, and clamped his teeth behind it. His magic latched onto the trembling fragment in his jaws and pulled it down, and Death promptly stopped caring about its existence once it left his tongue.
Death ran his tongue over his teeth—this one had tasted like coconuts, how odd—and lowered his head as he glanced at the wide-eyed, blanched expression on his mortal shell and wondered what the boy was so freaked out about. Truthfully the whole 'swallow your soul' thing was entirely metaphorical. He didn't have to actually swallow a soul to lock it within himself, but it was so much more fun to do it physically—plus it amused him when the souls realized what he planned to do to them and tried to get away. For some reason souls (humans in particular) had this sort of deep-rooted fear about being swallowed alive, which served him just fine.
And people were odd about him going around licking their souls to see what they tasted like. Much easier to simply find out this way than deal with all those awkward questions.
Harry felt like a bludger had just lodged itself in his chest cavity, caught sight of a snitch somewhere in his skull, and fought its way out of his body via his forehead. Basically, he felt like shit. Cracking open bleary eyes, the first thing Harry noticed was his rather awkward sprawl over half of the mattress. The second thing he noticed was Death leaning back on one hand and dangling some sort of glowing cobweb-crystal-magic ball thing over his mouthful of leering fangs.
Harry stared at the thing in Death's hand, a niggling thought trying to break through the fog of his current state of being half-awake, before the thing began to struggle—could glowing magical things struggle?—and a familiar magic oozed from it as if it were trying to be intimidating.
Harry wasn't intimidated. He was horrified.
That little weird ball thing with the wispy trails had Voldemort's magical signature all over it. It didn't take a very large leap of the imagination to figure out that that thing had been in his scar, and that Death had apparently removed it by poking him in the forehead. Harry's mind was racing. Why had that thing been in his scar? What was it? How did it get there? Was that why he kept getting those headaches and visions? Did Voldemort know about it? Did Dumbledore know about it? That last thought actually bothered him the most.
There was no chance Dumbledore hadn't noticed a ball with Voldemort's magic in it inside his scar, not with how strong the man was supposed to be and how often he'd been in close contact with the old wizard. That meant that Dumbledore had knowingly left a piece of Voldemort's magic—or whatever this thing was—inside his scar for fourteen years and did nothing about it.
His already poor impression of the Headmaster soured further.
Harry was about to ask Death about it—he believed he had earned some damn answers—when Death's leering expression shifted towards ravenous, predatory intent in an instant. Harry's heart lodged itself in his throat as his eyes blew wide. That was an expression he could have happily lived his life without ever seeing. Ever.
Death's head tipped back further and his jaw lowered, baring a maw full of jagged, nightmarish fangs that were so much more horrifying when coupled with the bestial hunger scrawled across his pale face. Harry understood Death's intention milliseconds before the ball did, and it immediately began writhing in Death's grip and honest-to-Merlin shrieking. Harry didn't blame it. He felt a bit ill just watching, and he didn't even know what the ball was. He pitied it, however. He pitied it something awful.
Death dropped the ball thing into his mouth, and his jaw clicked shut after it, a maze of interlocking fangs trapping it in the last place Harry figured it wanted to be. Harry stared, unable to look away, as Death's throat worked as he swallowed and the muffled shrieking immediately cut off into an eerie silence.
Harry continued to stare, half horrified and half morbidly curious, as Death glanced his way with abyssal eyes that slowly shifted back into his normal electric green. Half a dozen questions flew through Harry's head, but he shoved them away and asked the one he felt most pertinent.
"What was that… thing?" Harry amended quickly, unsure if his originally open-ended question of What was that would earn him an unwanted description of whatever digestive system Death employed for glowing balls of magic.
Death grinned at him, seemingly amused. "That was the unintentional seventh horcrux of Tom Riddle, combined with the one stored in the locket a few rooms away," was the entirely unhelpful answer. The sad thing was that Harry was certain Death meant to be helpful, but just didn't seem to understand that Harry had no idea what a horcrux was or why an 'unintentional seventh' one was so significant, or even why there was a second one inside a locket in the house. He did, however, comprehend that he'd been right in his guess that Voldemort had left it there on accident.
"Ok," Harry replied agreeably, careful to keep his tone neutral, "and what's a horcrux?" Harry figured it was some kind of spell residue left behind when someone casts something incorrectly. If he was lucky it might have been a part of his magical core, which meant Voldemort would be down two parts of his core now—the weaker he was, the better in Harry's opinion.
Death seemed confused that Harry did not seem to instinctively know what a horcrux was, but Harry tried not to hold that against him. Death hadn't been mortal in so long it was probably impossible for him to emphasize with someone not knowing something.
"A horcrux is a fragment of a wizard's severed soul," came the slightly annoyed reply. Death's face was twisted in a moue of distaste, and in any other circumstances Harry would have found that particular look on his face hilarious.
As it was, he was too busy being in shock to appreciate it.
…fragment of a wizard's severed soul. Severed soul. Sweet merciful Merlin… Harry had a piece of Voldemort's bloody soul in his head?! Completely outside his control, Harry began to panic. Had it done anything to him? Did anyone else know about this? Oh hell, that thing was probably why he could speak parseltongue, wasn't it? His thoughts went back to his previous assumption about Dumbledore knowing about his scar, and he blanched further. Dumbledore was widely accepted as a very knowledgeable wizard. There was very little chance he had not recognized what exactly lay inside his scar.
The Headmaster had just left it there inside the head of an infant! Impossibly, Harry's disgust at the Headmaster expanded to new heights.
"Don't panic." Death's unexpected voice brought him out of his shock like a bucket of ice water to the face. Harry slowly looked up into an unhinged, inhuman grin fixed in what he was sure was meant to be a reassuring expression. It might have worked if his eyes hadn't looked like he was debating whether or not Harry was edible. "I took care of it."
Oh. Well, that was true he supp—
Wait. Death had swallowed that horcrux. Harry had heard it shrieking in fear. Death had just devoured someone's soul right in front of him.
Harry manfully held onto consciousness, refusing to let something as… spectacular… as Death's newfound diet bother him.
Morbidly, Harry wondered what a horcrux tasted like.
"Like coconuts," Death replied, and Harry realized he must have asked that out loud.
"Oh," Harry nodded from where he was still sprawled out on the bed, slowly coming down from his shock. He furrowed his brow as he idly watched Death run his long black tongue over his fangs. "…Tom Riddle tastes like coconuts?"
"Yes," Death grinned again, seeming pleased to have someone to talk about this with. Harry doubted anyone else would be taking this half as calmly, but if the man had wanted to eat Harry's soul he probably would have done so already. "I'm looking forward to sampling the remaining five pieces and seeing if they match."
Harry just began laughing helplessly.
Death stood quietly behind the irritated form of his mortal shell, standing head and shoulders above his—rather scrawny—height, eying the old wizard seated before them with an amused grin. The man couldn't see him, of course, since he was wearing his Cloak, but his shell knew he was there and that was all that really mattered.
Dumbledore had summoned his shell here for dubious purposes, and Death had no intention of letting his new—and only—friend spend any time alone with the man whatsoever.
“You wanted to see me, Headmaster?” his shell asked in a remarkably bland tone of voice. Death was rather proud of him; had it been Death addressing the man, there likely would have been screaming, decapitations, and/or maniacal laughter as he went about removing the right kidneys of everyone present.
Dumbledore stroked his beard in what was probably meant to be a wise, grandfatherly way… except for the fact that Dumbledore was neither wise nor grandfatherly, and the action only made Death’s fingers twitch with the urge to reach out and strangle the man with his own facial hair. As if his shell could sense his less-than-peaceful intentions, one hand discreetly reached back and tugged sharply on his sleeve.
Death went still immediately, eyes locked on where his mortal shell had just pulled on the sleeve of his robe. He doubted the boy knew how very close he had just come to having his soul accidentally removed, but that did very little to change the fact that someone had just willingly touched any part of him—even his clothes. Death made a mental note to record this event for posterity.
“Yes… my dear boy, Miss Granger mentioned that the two of you had an opportunity to converse with our guest before he vanished?” Dumbledore paused, waiting for his shell to nod, before twinkling at him benevolently. Death manfully resisted the urge to reach out and pluck out one of those eyes and crush it like a grape.
“If by vanished you mean how he left after you addressed him like an unruly child, then sure. Hermione and I talked to him a little,” his shell replied, just as calm as when he’d entered.
“Now Harry,” Dumbledore began, peering at them over his half-moon spectacles as if they were somehow in the wrong, “I realize you seem to have grown rather close to our summoned hero, but surely you understand that he is merely here to perform a duty—it would not do to get too close to him. Don’t misunderstand, my boy; I’m pleased that you’ve made a friend, but there is always the chance our visitor is, regretfully, Dark and may not be as inclined to aid us as we had originally hoped. If this is the case, it would be far more prudent to find a method of ensuring he does not join Lord Voldemort or betray any secrets he may have learned here.”
Death bristled at the man’s tone, noting that his shell was reacting similarly.
“And how, exactly,” his shell began in a cool tone Death recognized as the mortal version of his own speak truthfully, lest I wrest your tongue from your jaw voice, “do you suggest we go about ensuring the cooperation of Death? Sir?”
Dumbledore frowned then, only briefly, but enough that Death was sure his shell had seen the angry, frustrated expression as well. “I highly doubt the man is being truthful in his claims, Harry,” Dumbledore replied in his patented I’m-so-disappointed-even-a-first-year-would-have-known-this voice. “Whatever reason he has for being dishonest as to his identity is likely for nefarious means. I suggest you distance yourself from him until we can conclude beyond doubt that he means us no harm.”
His mortal shell stared silently at Dumbledore for a long moment. Death wondered what the boy was pondering. He was thinking about how he very much intended harm to several people in this house.
“He removed the horcrux in my scar, Headmaster,” his shell announced abruptly and with no subtlety at all. Dumbledore whitened as if he’d seen a metaphorical ghost, mouth opening and closing as if he had forgotten how to use his vocal chords properly. “He did this by touching it. I highly doubt an ordinary wizard could do such a thing.” His shell paused, apparently waiting for some kind of reply, but from what Death could see Dumbledore was too busy staving off a mild heart attack to speak. Death silently prodded at the man’s magic, attempting to incite the heart attack into being more lethal, but unfortunately the wizard recovered with few problems. “You planned on telling me about the soul fragment in my scar when, Headmaster?”
“My dear, dear boy,” Dumbledore began in a sorrowful voice that Death believed about as much as he wanted to sink to his knees and call the old wizard Your Majesty, “I had not wished to burden you with such knowledge. I hoped to give you as normal a childhood as possible, Harry, and you could not have had such with the weight of Tom’s madness resting on your shoulders.”
His precious mortal shell scoffed in derision of this excuse, back straightening with indignation. Death felt his own anger seeping into the air around them, noticeably lowering the temperature. “A normal childhood, Headmaster? What part of being forced to live in a cupboard is in any way normal? What is normal about a child who doesn’t even know his own name until his class laughs at him for introducing himself as Freak?” The boy shook his head, not even looking at the older wizard anymore. “Tell me, sir, what, exactly, is normal about being denied food, water, bloody hell even the most basic human courtesy, all as punishment for daring to breathe?”
Dumbledore, seeming to have regained his composure during his shell’s angry demands, smiled condescendingly back at him. Death was positive that if the man had been standing closer to them, he would have reached out and patted his other self on the head. “Now Harry, there’s no reason to exaggerate the situation. The Dursleys are your family, and it’s incredibly immature of you to lie about them in such a hurtful manner.” Dumbledore’s eyes had the audacity to twinkle. “I’m sure your relatives appreciate the protection your presence in their home grants them, and if you would simply make an attempt to get along with them then you’d see that there’s no reason to act out.” His mortal shell was incredibly still as he listened to Dumbledore’s little speech, and Death himself was as motionless as the grave. “I had monitors tied into the wards around your Aunt’s home, my boy; they would have alerted me if any such things had actually occurred. Maintaining your story won’t do you any good, Harry. You’ll be returning to them in a few days for the remainder of the summer regardless, and perhaps you can use this time to mend a few bridges?”
Dumbledore smiled at them again, stood, patted his mortal shell on the head as he passed and digging out a lemon drop from the pocket of his robe to pop in his mouth as he walked away, humming.
His mortal shell didn’t so much as twitch as his eyes followed the old man’s progress out of the room. Death felt the Cloak’s power drain away and stood silently beside his shell, black eyes staring down at the shorter form of his alternate self. Death wished at that moment, more so than in all the cumulative eons of his existence, that he could reach out and offer some sort of comfort to the young wizard beside him.
“…you’ll stay with me?” came the small, tentative question of his broken shell, his frame beginning to tremble. Death inhaled, scenting betrayal and pain thick in the air around his little wizard.
A pale, long fingered hand hovered over his shell’s shoulder for a moment before he flexed his fingers and withdrew it, peeling off his Cloak to drape over his shell’s shaking form instead.
“Always, little shell.”
Harry awoke. This would not normally be a strange occurrence, but he had no memory of actually falling asleep, and thus waking up at all was highly suspicious. The memories of the previous evening cracked into his waking mind with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and Harry felt his eyes and throat burn. He stubbornly forced the horrified tears back, refusing to cry over Dumbledore’s betrayal. He’d always suspected that the man knew how he’d been treated at the Dursleys, but to know that the man had monitors around that house and still claimed Harry was lying…?
It was more than obvious that Dumbledore knew exactly what went on there, and simply did not care enough to do anything about it. Harry flexed the fingers on his scarred hand, idly studying the words there. He wasn’t a liar, no matter what the wizarding world liked to think. He never really had been. The Dursleys had punished lying almost as harshly as his accidental magic, and Vernon seemed to have some sort of supernatural ability to detect when he was being lied to.
Dumbledore had to know about the neglect, about the abuse, about the cupboard and the withheld meals and the long nights sick with fever as he sweated it out alone and unwanted. He must have a reason for keeping him there. But what did Dumbledore gain from keeping him weak and beaten down? If he was supposed to vanquish Voldemort—or, at least, he had been meant to do that before Dumbledore jumped the gun and went and summoned Death to do it instead—shouldn’t he have been trained and groomed for this? Shouldn’t he have been prepared for a fight against a wizard sixty years his senior? Didn’t Dumbledore want him to actually win?
A chill spread through Harry’s veins as he thought about it. No… no, he rather doubted he’d been meant to win at all. He remembered the horcrux Death had pulled from his scar, remembered how black and twisted it had looked, remembered how sick it had made him to think he’d been living with a piece of Voldemort’s bloody soul in his head.
“…Death?” he whispered into the dark, quiet room, certain that the entity was there even if he couldn’t see him.
“Yes, my shell?” came the prompt response, eerily only inches away from his left ear. Harry resisted the urge to turn his head and remained limp on his front on the bed.
“How do you destroy a horcrux?”
Death was quiet for a moment, and Harry breathed deeply as he tried to remain calm. He felt the bed dip behind him and figured Death had just sat down and again resisted the urge to turn his head over and look at him. He wasn’t sure he could keep his emotions in check if he actually looked at him.
“The only way for a mortal to destroy a horcrux is to destroy the vessel it’s stored in. Basilisk venom and fiendfyre are the two most common methods of doing so
Harry inhaled steadily. “And if the horcrux was stored in a person?”
Death’s silence was telling.
Harry’s breath hitched, fingers clenching in the sheets beneath him. So that was it, then. Dumbledore had known about the horcrux—he had to have—and had been setting Harry up to die. Voldemort would kill him, and in the process destroy part of his own soul. It was almost poetic in a way, if he ignored the fact that the man had been raising him to be a martyr.
All this, on top of the earlier revelations, left Harry feeling incredibly cold. What else had Dumbledore had a hand in? His mind raced as he made connections he’d previously ignored or dismissed. It was awfully convenient that the Weasleys had been at the muggle entrance to King’s Cross that day, wasn’t it? Didn’t Mrs. Weasley have five children who’d already been through Hogwarts or were already enrolled there? She’d had to have been going there for years, and would not have had any reason to be yelling about Platform 9¾.
And why had Hagrid been the one who came to deliver his letter? Harry liked Hagrid, but the man couldn’t even perform magic legally and was definitely Dumbledore’s man. Shouldn’t the safe reintroduction of the Boy-Who-Lived to the magical world have been performed by a wizard actually capable of protecting him and answering his questions? Hagrid had never been a muggle; he wouldn’t have had any reason to know what sort of questions Harry had but had been too shy or afraid to ask.
Did this mean Ron had been engineered to meet him on the train? Harry didn’t doubt that the boy was his friend, but Ron’s loyalty had always been a bit iffy when things got rough. Harry firmly shoved the thought aside; he could afford to be reasonably paranoid, but actively looking for conspiracies among his own friends was a bit much for now.
“You will not be a martyr, little shell,” Death’s voice broke through his thoughts, pulling him back into the present. Harry rolled over and looked at the looming, shadowed figure of Death sitting on the edge of the bed a noticeable distance away. “Dumbledore has already damned one of us with his machinations. He will not damn another
Harry frowned in concern. Death’s shoulders were taut with tension, and although it was too dark to see his face, Harry would bet ten galleons his eyes were black. Harry wanted to reach out and comfort him, but remembered how meticulous Death was when it came to avoiding touch. He also remembered the one time he had been touched, he’d had a soul removed from his forehead. There was likely a connection there, but Harry wasn’t sure how to go about asking in a polite manner.
“Have you tried gloves?” Harry wound up asking, honestly curious. Death tilted his head and glanced at him, light glinting off mirror-black eyes. Harry didn’t elaborate, figuring the question was rather self-explanatory, and was rewarded with a strange sort of mad grin in return.
“The Touch of Death cannot be stopped by a layer of fabric or leather, little shell.” Death sounded amused instead of insulted, which Harry counted as a win. “You are correct that the effect is strongest around my hands and fingertips; should anyone have the inclination to touch me through my robe, they would feel only a sharp tug on their soul rather than have it removed outright. Trust me, my mortal self, I have experimented extensively to find a way around this… unfortunate aspect of my existence.” Death was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was soft and unmistakably wistful. “I was… not successful
“You’re sure it won’t affect me differently since we’re basically the same person?” Harry wondered, feeling rather bad that Death was handicapped like this.
He’d always craved touch after how the Dursleys treated him, but he’d been incredibly awkward about accepting it and never initiated it himself. He couldn’t imagine a life where he literally could not touch another living being without killing them. He was rather surprised Death was as sane as he was if this was the existence he’d had for the past… forever.
“My Touch does not discriminate between souls, dear shell,” came Death’s strangely pleased reply. “I doubt that your soul’s similarities to my past self would have much—if any—effect on my inability to touch the skin of another
Harry pushed himself up and leaned against the headboard, staring at the slouched figure sitting a few feet away. He studied the rather resigned grin on Death’s face now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness a little better, and felt something in him clench in sympathy. Harry had always hated seeing people hurt; Hermione called it his ‘saving people thing,’ and he knew if she had been here she would have already started yelling at him for what he was considering. He couldn’t help it though. Death was what he could have become, what his future would have been if he hadn’t been summoned here from another world. It didn’t even cross his mind not to try and help.
“How can you be sure?” Harry finally pressed, watching as Death’s eyes snapped to his, the grin fading to be replaced by an uncharacteristically serious expression. “I mean… it’s not like you’ve ever had a chance to try before.”
Death straightened, staring at Harry in a sharp, intense way that Harry hadn’t ever seen him use before. “Unacceptable,” Death’s voice was flat, unyielding, a sheer titanium wall springing up metaphorically between them as if that would somehow keep Harry at arm’s length. “The removal and return of a soul transcends mortal comprehension. It has been described to me as an agony on a level that would break the mind of anyone not already mad
Harry faltered slightly, but pushed on regardless, unwilling to give up so easily. He was a stubborn bastard, he’d admit, and he wasn’t letting go of this without a fight. “But you can return it?”
Death’s lips were set in a grim line, absinthe eyes staring through flesh and blood and bone to the soul beneath. Harry almost thought he wouldn’t answer, holding his breath as the air around them grew thick as Death released his stranglehold on his power. “Yes,” Death admitted, his voice low and deep like a slow roll of thunder. “I can
Harry felt like his heartbeat had just tripled itself. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t terrified out of his bloody mind, but being scared had never stopped him before. If anything, fear just made him more determined. Death’s expression was a strange mixture of intense displeasure, severe disapproval, and an infinitesimal flash of hope. It was the latter that firmed Harry’s resolve.
Taking in a deep breath, Harry lifted one trembling hand and held it out between them, palm up. Death stared at his hand as if he’d never seen anything quite like it: his face was a mixture of half fear of the unknown, and half burning curiosity. Harry watched, shivering, as Death stirred from the corpselike stillness he’d fallen into as soon as Harry offered his hand.
Death lifted a long-fingered, skeletal hand and let it hover over Harry’s shaking one for a moment that stretched on into eternity. Harry kept his eyes locked on that hand, clamping down on the urge to yank his hand away and hurl himself off the bed and into the far corner. He firmly reminded himself that even if this didn’t work, Death could still put him back together. He had a rather high pain threshold, and if he could handle a crucio from Voldemort, he was sure he could handle having his soul returned to his body.
He had just enough time to pray to Merlin, Morgana and Mordred before Death’s cold hand clasped his own.
Death had spent eons studying his inability to touch others. There had been a period of a few centuries where did nothing but experiment with it, repeatedly removing and replacing the souls of various creatures in an attempt to discover any variations. He’d learned the exact amount of contact needed to take the soul of an adult human versus that of a small bird. He’d learned how to make the return of a soul drive a man mad, and how to make it simply agonizing beyond what the mortal mind can conceive.
He had discovered that the removal of a soul was actually painless—souls were meant to move on eventually, and speeding it up did not cause any sort of undue pain. Returning a soul to its body, however, was entirely unnatural and was the only thing he’d found in all his many millennia of existence that was capable of actually causing pain to a soul.
Death had learned the hard way that so much as accidentally brushing against someone as he walked by was enough to leech the soul from a mortal if he made skin-on-skin contact with them. He had to be much more purposeful to do so through clothing; an accidental brush against someone’s arm through a sleeve would only jerk on the person’s soul (the equivalent of having someone wrap a chain around one’s sternum and pull on it, hard), but he could press his palm flat against a person’s chest through a robe and get the same results if he concentrated. Touching a mortal’s skin was nonnegotiable—there simply was no way to prevent his Touch from working.
This was the one aspect of his existence that he had never learned to accept. The immortality had stopped bothering him after the first few thousand years, and the unlimited power wasn’t something he could complain about. But he missed the casual touches, the comfort of a person’s hand on his shoulder, the reassurance of a motherly hug. He could hardly even remember what it felt like to be touched. Touching a mortal and removing their soul was not the same as touching a human and feeling skin beneath his fingertips. His hands were slick with his magic, his power, and even when removing a soul he was unable to feel the skin beneath his fingers.
So it was with a sort of numb surprise that Death stared at where his hand was wrapped around that of his mortal shell, and he felt skin. It was unlike anything he could ever remember feeling. Clammy and rough and calloused and trembling and the most wonderful thing he’d ever felt in the entirety of his being. Death’s eyes flicked to his mortal shell’s face, noting how he had his eyes clamped shut and how he was biting his lip, before returning his gaze to the hand he was holding.
Death exhaled, long and slow and shuddering, and tightened his grip on the limb he was grasping. Death felt as if the world was simultaneously pressing down on him and removed from his shoulders, all at once. There was a pressure behind his eyes he did not recognize, a burning in his throat, a constriction in his chest where his heart used to be. He wondered if he were the one having his soul removed, for surely this was the only explanation for why his entire being suddenly ached.
The fingers he was staring at moved then, wrapping around his hand and wrist instead of just lying there shaking. The ache in his chest suddenly increased exponentially, and Death sucked in a sharp breath in response. He had no idea what was happening, why he felt like this. It had been so very long since he’d felt anything, and not merely with his hands.
His shell was not trembling anymore. Death could feel the eyes on him, saw the other hand come to rest atop of his own shaking hand, could hear the way his mortal shell’s panicked breathing was calming back down even as his own became ragged and uneven. Had they traded roles? Had he not merely taken his shell’s soul, but replaced it with his own in turn? Death did not—could not—understand.
“Hey,” his shell whispered, leaning closer, and Death found himself frozen, utterly incapable of movement. “Are you all right?”
Death breathed. His shell had risked his soul in an effort to aid him in some way, and he was worried about Death? He wondered if this was what it was like to go into shock. He wondered if perhaps his age had finally caught up to him and he’d lost what little sanity he had left. He wondered, he wondered, he wondered… but he did not understand.
“Whoa, don’t be upset!” his shell was saying a bit frantically, obviously in response to some sort of expression he was unaware he was making. His shell patted his hand, lifting his own to grip firmly on his shoulder. “It’s ok. Just take a deep breath. Calm down.” His shell’s face twisted into a rueful smile. “Somehow I had imagine these roles being reversed.”
Death could feel that hand on his shoulder as if his entire world had narrowed to the foreign pressure of a hand on his shoulder. Comforting him.
Death reached up with his free hand and hesitated, unsure if he was willing to press his luck and terrified—him, terrified!—that if he touched his shell again he would remove his soul. He was not sure he could stand it if this turned out to be a unique occurrence. He was sure he would break, then, utterly and wholly, and the world would crack beneath the weight of his grief.
“It’s ok,” his shell repeated, smiling reassuringly as he removed the hand from his shoulder and grasped the one hovering in the air between them. Death felt lightheaded. He hadn’t even known he was capable of feeling lightheaded. His shell shifted closer until he was sitting beside him on the mattress, still holding both of his hands. The boy released his hand and leaned against his side, wrapping one arm around his waist and pulling him into an awkward hug.
Death felt his entire world shift on its axis. Slowly, carefully, Death wrapped his own arm around his mortal shell and returned the one-armed embrace, scarcely believing this was real, that this was actually happening
Death stared across the room through unseeing eyes, his mind having completely given up trying to make sense of this development. His mortal shell shook him slightly in concern, peering up at him.
“…how do you feel?”
Death blinked, and the world began turning again. A slow, lopsided grin tugged at his mouth as he tightened both his arm around his mortal shell and the hand still being held between them.
“Alive,” Death decided. “I feel alive.”
Chapter 11: Hermione Interlude
Hermione Granger liked to think she was a rather intelligent witch. She hated to think poorly of her friends, but she considered herself the ‘brains’ of the Golden Trio and was proud of this fact. Ron was… well Ron, and if it didn’t have to do with Quidditch or food he really couldn’t be bothered to care. She was constantly pestering him to do his homework and study for class and to practice his spells; she despaired of ever getting him voluntarily into a library. And Harry…
Harry just didn’t seem motivated to do well in class. She knew Harry was intelligent, and she knew he was more powerful than he let on, but he seemed to have followed Ron’s lead on how to handle homework and classes rather than her own. It was almost worse in her eyes that Harry was smart enough to pass all his classes with an A or above without actually putting forth any effort. She just knew that if he actually pushed himself he could easily be up in the top of the class with herself.
It was more than disappointing, but she’d had almost six years to become accustomed to the boys and their deplorable study habits.
Hermione was not oblivious, nor was she particularly naïve. She knew she could come off as a little bossy to others, and she was fully aware that her ‘know-it-all’ tendencies that cropped up when she was nervous had done very little to endear her to her housemates in first year. And she knew she tended to mother Harry more than was strictly necessary—or appropriate—but she couldn’t help it. He was always getting into life-threatening situations, and the worst part was that he wasn’t actually looking for them so much as he seemed to blunder into them completely by accident.
She was going to have grey hairs by the time she was thirty, she could tell.
And seeing as how Harry had absolutely no compunctions about throwing himself headfirst into various dangerous schemes with little to no regard for his own wellbeing, Hermione had taken it upon herself to be the Voice of Reason he obviously lacked. She was actually rather concerned about his strange martyr tendencies, and had often considered that he was under some sort of spell to make him exceptionally reckless. She’d discreetly looked up counter-curses to compulsions and other behavioral-modification spells and hit him with them when he was distracted, but nothing had changed that she could tell.
She was completely unrepentant that she’d hit Harry with spells without his knowledge. If he had been under a compulsion, she would have dispelled it and no one would have been the wiser. If he hadn’t been… well that was almost more worrying because that meant his behavior was completely his own. She wasn’t sure what that said about his mental state, but it made her uneasy.
All of their yearly adventures had given Hermione almost a sixth sense for when Harry was endangering himself needlessly. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when she sat bolt upright in the middle of the library when her Harry-senses suddenly went haywire.
“Oh dear…” Hermione sighed, closed the book she’d been reading (a rather fascinating tome about the art of conjuration) and stood, preparing to go find Harry and make sure he hadn’t caused some sort of irreparable harm to himself while she wasn’t there to watch him.
She hurried down the hall towards the stairs, sure that Harry would have retreated to Sirius’ old room in an effort to avoid everyone like he usually did. She met him halfway down the second floor hallway staggering out of a room under the weight of a big black robe, and smiled in relief that he didn’t seem maimed or otherwise injured. She paused mid-step when Harry turned to look at her and his strangely bulky robe turned with him.
That wasn’t a robe at all. That was Death—she was skeptical about his true identity, but lacking any evidence to the contrary she would merely accept it for now—clinging to Harry’s back like a strange, bipedal leech. Oddly enough, Death seemed to have both his (unhealthily thin) hands wrapped around each of Harry’s wrists and it was this awkward position that had made Harry stumble in the first place.
She mentally took a step back from the problem and attempted to understand what she was looking at. Harry looked fondly exasperated (not an expression she’d ever seen on his face before, but one that suited him), but not excessively bothered by the fact that a grown man was hanging off of him or standing so very far into his personal space. Harry generally hated people touching him, and kept a bubble around him that was nearly physical in intensity when around others. He flinched from her hugs and shied away from claps to the shoulder and back, and she could only remember three separate times where he initiated any sort of physical contact with someone. This made it especially odd that he was exhibiting none of the tense body language he normally did when being touched in a purposeful way. In fact, if she didn’t know any better, she’d say Harry looked positively relaxed.
Death, on the other hand, looked almost as if he was simultaneously terrified that something horrible was about to happen, and incredibly ecstatic that it wasn’t happening now. Those unnerving electric eyes were staring fixatedly at where he was holding onto Harry’s wrists, almost as if he was not entirely sure he was awake. His face for once was not stretched into a manic grin, but rather into a wistful sort of smile that looked like it belonged on the face of someone much older than he currently appeared.
“…Harry?” she ventured tentatively, hovering uncertainly a few feet away. Harry smiled reassuringly at her, and Death flicked up absinthe eyes to momentarily stare into her very soul before returning to his strange wrist-fixation.
“It’s all right, ‘Mione. He just hasn’t touched anyone in a while.”
Somehow Hermione figured that was a massive understatement. Par the course for Harry, she thought fondly. She was unable to figure out what had set off her Harry-senses though. He didn’t seem injured, and with Death glued to him like that she figured no one would have been able to slip him something without it being noticed immediately.
Fortunately Death enlightened her, seemingly without actually noticing that she was present at all. “It is fortunate our souls are similar enough that you were spared my Touch, little shell. I would have dreaded returning your soul to your body, knowing the pain it would have caused you."
Hermione felt her world narrow to a pinprick.
What. Harry had what.
Souls? Touch? Hermione’s mind was running in circles, struggling to comprehend the enormity of what Harry had somehow blundered into while she was otherwise occupied. Harry himself had paled, staring at her wide-eyed, and she knew that he was about to make excuses and promise that he had everything under control.
“’Mione, I can explain—”
Nope. Hermione would have none of it.
If he hadn’t had a man currently holding both his wrists hostage she would have latched onto his arm to ensure he couldn’t escape. Her expression must have been suitably foreboding, because Harry attempted to make an escape.
Unfortunately for Harry, his passenger did not seem to sense the danger—or care about it—and prevented him from fleeing by the simple process of being both taller and (seemingly despite all evidence to the contrary) physically stronger than Harry and was thus unmoved. Hermione smiled grimly, satisfied that her friend could not wiggle out of this conversation. And it would be a conversation. Hermione Granger could nag with the best of them, but this was a situation that required promises of avoiding future life-threatening situations that threatened the soul, and so they would both be participating, she’d make sure of it. And if she could knock some sense into the boy in the process, well…
She wouldn’t mind too terribly much.
Harry had mixed feelings about this predicament. On one hand, he was beyond relieved that his foolhardy experiment had not ended with him having his soul removed. On the other, Death apparently did not know the meaning of personal space and was practically glued to him now. He wasn’t complaining though; he couldn’t even imagine what it must feel like to be able to touch someone for the first time after countless millennia of being unable to.
And despite the fact that Death was literally just skin and bones, he was a surprisingly good hugger. You know… if you ignore the sharp, bony points and the cold, clammy skin. It was going to be interesting to try and explain why he had their ‘summoned hero’ attached to his back like this, though. He’d been attempting to get down to the kitchen to make something to eat when Mt. Hermione had intercepted them and erupted spectacularly all over his sense of self-worth.
Death, the bastard, hadn’t so much as bothered to notice that there was even anyone else in the hallway before announcing to all and sundry what the consequences to his actions could have been—he knew it had been reckless, all right? There’s no need to keep reminding him about it!—and had been entirely unhelpful when Hermione was all but biting his head off in her (rather warranted) rant.
Harry had tried to listen to what Hermione was saying (yelling), he really had. But it was somewhat difficult to concentrate when Death was distracting him by burying his face in Harry’s neck and experimenting with various positions of hugging as if trying to find the one that let him keep as much skin contact as possible despite his own voluminous robes getting in the way.
Harry sympathized, he really did, but he was pretty sure no one else in the entire house was going to take Death’s rather needy actions with any sort of rational calm. Even Hermione was noticing it, and Merlin knew the girl had tunnel vision when she was lecturing about something.
“Er, Harry?” she ventured tentatively, having paused after a rather insistent You will not risk your soul like that again, Harry James Potter! to stare oddly at the strange sight Harry was sure they made.
“Yes, ‘Mione?” he replied calmly, as if nothing interesting was going on at all. If he pretended not to have noticed what Death was doing, maybe she’d just let it go?
Hermione watched as Death untangled himself from where he was hanging off Harry’s waist to wrap one arm around his shoulders and neck instead, draping himself even further over Harry’s exasperated self like a rather intoxicated cat. Her hair seemed to be frizzing out in her distress over the situation, and if her eyes got any wider he would have worried she’d lose them.
“You…” she gestured rather helplessly, “And he…” pointed hand waving accompanied her gesturing, “Harry?”
“Are you all right, ‘Mione?” Harry asked, genuinely concerned. It wasn’t like Hermione to speak in broken sentences like that. Maybe she was tired? She did look like she’d been dragged face-first out of one of her books a few minutes ago.
Whether it was because of the subject, the awareness that someone else was standing a few feet away, or even the sound of Harry’s concern, Death finally lifted his head and stared with his usual intensity at his friend. Harry couldn’t see his expression from this angle, but it was obviously not comforting to Hermione.
“Is the book witch ill, my shell? She sounds especially disjointed this evening."
Hermione seemed a bit put out to be referred to as ‘the book witch’ rather than her name—or even a more flattering title—but concealed her grimace rather well. She had just opened her mouth to respond when suddenly Death was looming over her, peering down at her through slightly glazed absinthe eyes.
Harry paused in momentary shock. The man had just been wrapped around him like a pretzel; there was no way he could have untangled himself and moved over there that fast without Harry noticing. It was as if he’d simply crossed the intervening distance without physically having to do so.
“You are tired,” Death announced with his normal, manic grin. “Sleep."
Hermione dropped like a stone, collapsing to the ground like a puppet with her strings cut. Harry winced slightly; these halls all had hardwood floors—that drop could not have been comfortable. But really, what could he have done about it? She’d dropped too fast for him to cast a cushioning charm, and it wasn’t like Death could have caught her.
Well… he could have, but Harry was rather grateful he hadn’t.
Death stood motionless for a moment, staring down at the unconscious witch, before he straightened again and began tugging at the sleeves of his robe, as if trying to work out non-existent creases in the fabric.
Harry blinked when Death slung an arm around his shoulders, having honestly expected him to launch bodily at Harry and resume hugging him again, and began leading him towards the staircase.
“Come, my shell,” Death grinned, teeth sharpening back into fangs from where they’d been relatively normal only minutes before. “You are, regrettably, still mortal and are limited by the restrictions of your living body."
Harry stumbled slightly, trying to keep up with Death’s long strides, as he tried to mentally translate what had just been said into understandable English. He was pretty sure Death was pointing out how Harry had been heading for the kitchen earlier, and was therefore likely to be hungry. Of course, Death could have also meant anything from subtly hinting at ‘fixing’ Harry’s ‘limitations’ via some horrible necromantic ritual, to just poking fun at his ‘silly mortal body’ and all its inadequacies.
There was really no way to tell.
This did bring up an interesting question, though. Harry eyed Death speculatively as he was dragged bodily down the stairs, politely ignoring the way he was being manhandled like a life-size Harry Potter doll.
Could Death eat? Harry rather doubted he had to eat, being Death, but could he? Did he? Granted Death had only been in the house for less than a day, and there hadn’t really been any meals that they had attended in which Harry could have watched Death for an answer, but now that he was thinking about it he found himself incredibly curious.
Harry glanced up from his musing to find that he had managed to completely ignore the entire trip from the stairs to the kitchen, and that the kitchen was not quite as empty as he’d been sort of hoping it would be.
Mrs. Weasley was standing by the oven, staring at them with wide eyes, and Snape was lurking in a corner near the door like the bat he resembled. Remus was half-way out of his chair, having apparently lurched from it as soon as Harry had stepped inside, his eyes solid gold and lips peeled back in a half-completed snarl.
Harry was taken aback at this extreme reaction, stumbling backwards in surprise. He’d never seen Remus like this. He’d actually rather thought Remus was so disconnected from his wolf that he couldn’t get like this. He also rather wondered when Mrs. Weasley had arrived; she hadn’t been present at The Summoning, and he hadn’t seen any of the other Weasleys since he’d been brought here to participate in the ritual that had dragged the personification of Death into this reality.
He only realized his mistake when he’d finished stumbling back and felt the hand that had previously been resting on his shoulder clamp down like the claws of a dragon. He’d managed to momentarily forget that Death had been the one that brought him down here, and that the man… monster… other version of himself might react negatively to seeing Harry threatened in some manner.
Now that he was thinking more clearly, it was obvious that Remus wasn’t snarling at him, like he’d originally assumed, but was rather snarling at the tall, pale form of Death accompanying him. He felt a bit silly about thinking Remus had so much as noticed his presence; with someone like Death standing beside him, the odds of someone so much as looking in his direction before having their attention diverted to the Obvious Threat were minimal.
Harry barely had time to finish processing this thought before he acted, not willing to have a fight break out or have Remus’ soul ripped out of his body over a misunderstanding. He threw out an arm across Death’s chest, the barring gesture more symbolic than actually restraining, and held up his other hand in a warding-off motion towards Remus.
“Whoa! Calm down!” Harry all but shouted, having to raise his voice as Remus had transcended snarling and was outright growling now, the sound surprisingly loud for such an unassuming man. “Remus!” Harry was really tempted to yell ‘down boy!’ but resisted. “It’s ok. He’s a friend.”
Death’s grip on his shoulder loosened—which was good, because Harry had started losing feeling in that arm—at the word ‘friend,’ and Harry could feel the form beside him relax and dismiss Remus as a threat.
“He smells like death, cub,” Remus warned, voice low and gravelly but thankfully not growling anymore.
Harry glanced up at his companion in time to catch the cocked brow and fanged grin.
“How delightful,” Death purred, steering Harry further into the room via the arm around his shoulders. “Did you hear that, my shell? I smell like myself.”
Harry snorted and coughed into his hand, biting back entirely inappropriate laughter as he sat at the table at Death’s gentle shove. He looked up and found Remus still hovering half out of his chair, eyes still gold and face frowning at the two of them. “Remus, it’s all right. Really.” At Remus’ disbelieving glance, Harry decided introductions were in order. “Remus, this is—” he paused for a heartbeat as he debated how he should go about introducing their guest without inciting another panic attack in their resident werewolf, “—the hero Dumbledore summoned from another world to fight Voldemort.”
There. That was suitably tactful and not at all alarming.
“Yes. I am… quite the hero,” Death murmured, obviously amused at Harry’s attempt at subtlety. Had Death been within arm’s reach Harry would have elbowed him, but the entity was currently walking the length of the room for no discernable reason Harry could find, except perhaps to make the current inhabitants even more nervous.
Remus finally sat down, his eyes more gold than amber, and started calming down again. “So Albus went through with the ritual, then?” Remus sighed, running a tired hand over his face. His expression was written with disapproval; obviously Remus had not agreed with this course of action, which explained why he hadn’t been present. He turned his attention back to Death, who had returned to hover behind Harry’s chair. “You have my apologies. I tried talking him out of it, but everyone knows how stubborn the Headmaster gets when he sets his mind to something.”
Death grinned, making Remus flinch at the unexpectedly feral expression. “Do not apologize, lycan. This is the most exciting thing to happen to me in millennia. I’m quite enjoying myself.”
Remus blinked, both at the name he’d been given and the insinuation that the ‘hero’ Dumbledore summoned was thousands of years old. “…pardon? I believe I misheard you. Did you say ‘in millennia’? As far as I’m aware, only vampires could live that long, and while you smell like blood, you do not smell like a vampire.”
Harry just sighed, figuring he’d given it his best shot, and if Death decided to tell Remus his name it was no longer his fault if he panicked.
Death’s grin widened impossibly further. “Dear me,” Death all but breathed, “where are my manners?” He swept himself into a low bow that was simultaneously mocking and elegant. “I am Death, the Pale Rider.” Death’s grin turned teasing at the edges. He swept back upright and lifted a hand, palm up. A large, heavy black book bound in chains and trembling faintly fell into his hand out of thin air, which he proceeded to open and skim through over a set of rimless rectangular glasses that were now perched on his nose. “Hm. I wasn’t meant to meet you for another few years. I suppose I could make an exception though, just for you. I have always loved dogs."
Remus stared at him, horrified, before his eyes rolled up in his head and he fainted, hitting his head on the table as he collapsed.
Harry just sighed, resting his face in his hands as Death’s hoarse, rasping laugh filled the room. So much for being subtle.
A small noise made him glance up at Mrs. Weasley, who had been halfway to the table with a plate of sandwiches and was now staring pale-faced at the laughing form of Death. Death just continued chuckling as the book in his hand dissolved into ashes and the glasses evaporated off his face, leaning over to pluck the tray out of Mrs. Weasley’s hands. He set the tray down in front of Harry and patted him on the head.
“Eat up, my little shell.” Death chuckled again before he abruptly dissolved into shadows and vanished into the floor. Snape, who had remained quiet and tense until now, visibly relaxed and glanced at the unconscious werewolf. A smirk twitched at his lips before he whirled from the room in a sweep of billowing robes.
Mrs. Weasley was still standing where she had been previously, hands still outstretched as if she were still holding the tray of sandwitches and eyes still fixed on where Death had vanished from.
Harry glanced at Remus, then at Mrs. Weasley, then at the dark corner to his right where he could make out a flash of killing curse green and a Glasgow grin, before shrugging and taking a sandwich off the tray.
At least he hadn’t killed anyone.
Chapter 13: Lord Voldemort Interlude
Voldemort had a headache, and he was one hundred and twenty-four percent certain that it was all Potter’s fault. The Dark Lord was not in a particularly good mood, which was probably why his useless minions had all suddenly had Things To Do the moment he had hissed and clapped a hand to his forehead in the middle of Avery’s report on the progress of his current Break My Worthless Followers Out of Azkaban plan.
The fact that he’d begun handing out crucios like candy only a few moments afterward had absolutely no relevance at all, he was certain. Sharing was caring, after all (he’d learned that particular lesson in the orphanage, and if he’d interpreted it in a slightly different way than the Matron had intended, well that wasn’t his fault at all, now was it?)—if Lord Voldemort had to be in pain, then so did his servants.
Voldemort was not an idiot, despite how he might come across to the less-informed members of Dumbledore’s little Phoenix Club, and he could appreciate the irony of the fact it was Potter giving him a headache for once, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. In fact, he disliked this development so much that he’d actually killed Wormtail on accident. The fat little rodent had been sniveling the closest to his chair when his headache had struck, and had therefore borne the brunt of his Lord’s aggravation before Voldemort had gotten ahold of himself again. In Voldemort’s defense, only an extremely magically weak wizard could have had their heart explode under the Cruciatus like that, and he’d obviously severely overestimated Wormtail’s strength as a wizard (this was not very flattering to the late Pettigrew, seeing as how Voldemort had previously compared his power levels to that of the recently-defecated dung of a sickly kneazle).
Now that he was alone—spineless cowards, the lot of them—Voldemort could put his Occlumency to use and go back over the rather bizarre sensations he’d experienced in the moments before his link to Potter had been abruptly and brutally severed.
As he reviewed his memory of the event, a frown pulled at his lipless mouth. The feelings he was getting over the link felt different than the ones he’d received from the brat the previous year. Normally the emotions were muted, as if he were feeling them through a rather thick pane of frosted glass—he had surmised that this was because the feelings did not originally belong to him, and thus he was receiving them secondhand. But the ones he’d gotten before the headache… those were particularly vivid. In fact, if he didn’t know any better he’d have thought they were actually his emotions, simply broadcasted from Potter’s head for some unknown reason.
Normally the Dark Lord would simply dismiss such a preposterous possibility out of hand, but the emotions he’d received had been so very different from anything he’d ever gotten out of the brat before, and were eerily similar to how he remembered feeling in the seconds before the rebounded killing curse had connected with his chest all those years ago.
Potter had been afraid before, of course—Voldemort had felt the boy’s fear, his panic, and it was nothing like the soul-deep terror that had spiked across his consciousness moments before the link was broken. The sheer horror that had burned through Voldemort in those few seconds was almost unnatural; it simply could not be possible for a human being to feel terrified on such a deep level without there being a serious reason for it. And the brat had been perfectly fine before that, if not a little startled and wary. There had been nothing, absolutely nothing, that warranted such a spike of sharp fear.
He drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair he’d sat in as he thought, furrowing his brow. Mentally detaching himself from his emotions, Voldemort observed the memory clinically.
Observation: the emotion was unconnected to anything the Potter brat was conscious to witness, but unconscious minds do not project emotions. The emotion had been clearer and more vivid than any previous emotions passed along the link.
Hypothesis: the emotion did not belong to Potter, both because Potter had not been conscious to feel it and because it did not feel like anything received from Potter in the past.
Question: who then did the emotion belong to, since the only mind connected to his was Potter’s?
Voldemort stilled, red eyes widening a fraction. He knew, logically, that his link to Potter had something to do with his failed killing curse on the boy, and was therefore tied to that blasted scar on his head. But, perhaps somewhat foolishly, he had never really looked into why such a connection existed in the first place. He had simply discovered that he could send the boy visions through it and feel the brat’s emotions, and had promptly taken advantage of the opportunity without so much as researching why he could do those things in the first place.
The boy’s scar—on the few occasions the two had come into physical contact—had always looked red and raw, as if he’d just received it despite it having been there since the brat was an infant. Naturally such a thing should have healed by now; the fact that it hadn’t was an obvious hint that it was a Curse Scar, and someone—Dumbledore—should have noticed and investigated it. No one just leaves dark magic in the scar of a fifteen month old infant without trying to heal it first, which begged the question: why had no one removed the magic in the boy’s scar?
Of course, obviously someone just had, which was the only explanation he could think of for the severing of their link. But it had taken them fifteen years to do so? No. Something else was going on here, and Voldemort was determined to find out what.
:Master?: Nagini’s concerned voice called, and Voldemort glanced over at his familiar, feeling the reassuring presence of his horcrux stored within her. :You feel distressed, Master.:
Yes, that had been a pleasantly unexpected side-effect of turning Nagini into his horcrux. Not only did it increase her lifespan to match his own immortality, but it had given them the ability to sense each other’s emotions; this had proven especially useful when he sent her on missions, allowing him to keep an eye on her without having to be present.
Fortunately the emotions were blunted, since feeling the pure emotions of a snake would be highly distract—
Voldemort froze in his chair, eyes wide with shocked comprehension. No. No it couldn’t be. His mind raced as he connected all the clues he’d previously missed, and horror dawned as the picture finally became clear.
He’d made the boy his horcrux. That was why he could feel the brat’s emotions, and why he could influence the boy’s mind in such a significant way. It also explained why the scar had never healed, and why no one had removed the magic in it yet. The only way to remove a horcrux from a living container was to destroy it, and obviously no one was going to go and kill the Boy-Who-Lived just to remove a…
…no, that wasn’t quite accurate. Dumbledore most certainly would have killed the boy if it rid Lord Voldemort of one of his horcruxes. The old man might be rather mad, but he was also sharp enough to have recognized the horcrux in the boy for what it was. Dear Merlin, this meant Dumbledore knew about his horcruxes! He’d known about them for years!
But, surely he would have felt something if the old man had destroyed the others? He’d certainly felt something this time, when someone had obviously destroyed his unintentional horcrux inside the Potter boy.
Voldemort paused, mind clearing of its panic, as he considered this. If his horcrux had been destroyed, didn’t that mean someone had killed the brat? Briefly he felt a surge of irritation—the boy was his to kill!—before tentative triumph replaced it. Was it over, then? Was the boy prophesized to defeat him dead without him having to lift a finger? He supposed the loss of one of his horcruxes was an acceptable price for the death of Potter. He’d have to find out who’d killed the boy and reward them. After he tortured them a little first, of course; he’d made it very clear to his Death Eaters that Potter’s death belonged to him.
He had just allowed himself a small smile of success when his wards flared, announcing the arrival of his Potions Master and spy, Severus. His smile sharpened; obviously Severus had come with news about the brat—hopefully it was to tell him the boy was dead and the Order was in disarray. His good mood had been restored, and he was feeling generous enough to not crucio Severus for arriving unannounced like this.
He waited and watched as his spy swooped into the room and fell to his knees in front of his chair, prostrating himself as he waited for permission to speak. Such a good dog, his Severus. If only the rest of Voldemort’s worthless followers shared his loyalty.
“You have news, Severus?” the Dark Lord enquired, unable to completely mask his contentment. This was, after all, a good day.
Severus raised his head, fixing his black eyes on a spot somewhere over Voldemort’s left shoulder. His spy never did make eye contact with him, but he did it so obviously that Voldemort knew it was out of respect rather than fear over having his thoughts read. “Yes my Lord,” came the prompt, emotionless reply. “Dumbledore has performed the ritual I mentioned a month ago and summoned a ‘hero’ from another dimension.”
Voldemort frowned. He’d been sure the old man wouldn’t go through with it. Voldemort had researched that very ritual in his youth, and been dissatisfied with the possible results. Sure it was meant to summon a being of great power which matched a series of pre-set conditions, but there was no clause of obedience or even a binding that prevented the creature from immediately turning on its summoner. No, Voldemort would not have performed such a dangerous ritual, and he could barely comprehend that the old man had been foolish enough to do so.
Maybe he’d gotten especially lucky, and the old fool was dead as well?
“And who did he summon, Severus? Did he succeed in his venture to find a hero to vanquish me?” Voldemort could not entirely hide the humor he felt at such a concept. It amused him that Dumbledore had obviously had as much confidence in the Potter brat’s odds of success as the Dark Lord himself.
Severus hesitated, drawing Voldemort’s sharp and immediate attention. Severus Snape did not hesitate, not even when he bore bad news. “My Lord… I do not believe Dumbledore has summoned a wizard at all.”
Voldemort carefully did not react outwardly to this news. He was not foolish enough to jump to the conclusion that Severus meant that Dumbledore had summoned a muggle—as amusing as that would be. Judging by his spy’s hesitance, the Dark Lord would even go so far as to venture that Dumbledore had actually summoned something incredibly dangerous. Perhaps the old man had summoned up an Old God?
His index finger twitched imperceptibly, the only sign Voldemort allowed himself as a hint to the anxiety such a thought brought him. If the old man had just loosed an Old God on the world, Voldemort would resurrect the man’s corpse himself just so he could kill him again for his idiocy.
“What did he summon then, Severus?” Voldemort asked casually, trying to hold onto the hope that the old man had simply summoned a vampire or something, and not a demon of the ancient world.
Severus took a breath. “It claims to be Death, my Lord. And I’m inclined to believe it.”
Voldemort felt his magic spike in alarm. If Severus was inclined to believe something, odds were high that it was true. Merlin’s balls! This was so much worse than a mere Old God. The old fool had summoned Death? Voldemort’s fingers were white-knuckled where he gripped the arms of his chair. There was a reason he had named himself Flight from Death, and it wasn’t just because that was all he could get out of an anagram of his original name. Death was his single greatest fear; it was the entire reason he’d made a horcrux when he was just sixteen, despite the numerous warnings and consequences to breaking one’s soul before Magical Majority. If Death were truly walking the Earth…
“Severus, what of the Potter brat?” Voldemort asked, keeping his voice even and betraying none of his tumultuous thoughts. “Surely Dumbledore wouldn’t keep his prized weapon in the same house as Death.”
Severus seemed even more hesitant. Voldemort groaned internally. What was going to go wrong now? “Death seems to have taken an… interest in the brat, my Lord. It follows him constantly, and Potter is the only person in Headquarters which it will willingly touch.”
Voldemort was very careful to keep his expression blank. Potter had been touched by Death? Well. That would certainly explain where his horcrux had gone. Death would have noticed it clinging to Potter and likely removed it immediately. Pity. This meant the brat was not only alive and unharmed, but he was also under the implicit protection of the one being that Voldemort honestly could not simply order killed.
He could feel his headache returning, this time completely of its own accord.
“Fortunately, my Lord,” Severus began again, obviously having noticed some of Voldemort’s returning bad mood despite his attempt to hide it, “the being seems to hold Dumbledore in complete contempt. It is likely Death will make no aggressive move towards you without Potter’s input—as far as I’ve observed, Death appears entirely indifferent to humanity as a whole, with Potter as the sole exception.”
Voldemort closed his eyes and would have pinched the bridge of his nose, had he had one. Instead, he rubbed his temples as he tried to stave off the migraine he could feel building. Excellent. So the reins of Death were in the hands of the one boy in Magical Britain who hated Voldemort more than anyone else alive.
Abruptly, Voldemort stood and dismissed his servant with a negligent wave of his hand, not even bothering to crucio his spy for coming to him with such horrible news. He walked swiftly towards his office, thoughts and plans being made and discarded with record speed.
The Dark Lord was justifiably arrogant, but not even he was delusional enough to think he had any sort of chance of somehow avoiding Death himself or that his horcruxes would be worth anything at all when faced with such an adversary. The news that Death had a grudge against Dumbledore was welcome, but the fact that the Potter boy had such control over the entity was very worrying.
The simple fact was that unless he could somehow convince Potter not to send his new attack dog after him, the Dark Lord would likely not live to see Yule.
So. All he had to do was talk the boy whose parents he had murdered in cold blood and who he had personally tortured and belittled mercilessly over the years into calling a truce. Voldemort sighed as he pulled a piece of parchment towards himself and inked a quill, not liking his odds.
Maybe he could gift the boy Bellatrix? She had killed the boy’s godfather, after all.
Sighing again, Voldemort put the quill to parchment and began to write.
Death lurked in the shadows of the kitchen where the ‘Order’ had gathered—watching the mortals watch his shell. They all seemed… wary. Death grinned, wondering what his shell had done to earn such watchfulness, and how he should go about rewarding him for it. This was, after all, extremely entertaining for him. It was not often that mortals would overlook his presence to focus on a fellow mortal, after all. Death was not putting much effort into remaining hidden, having not even bothered using his Cloak, and yet only a mutilated mortal with a magical eye had seemed to take any notice of him at all.
Cackling mentally as he switched the positioning of the paranoid mortal’s silverware again and watching as the man grew more and more agitated as he failed to locate the reason for the discrepancies, Death kept the majority of his attention on his little shell. He’d positioned himself directly behind his shell’s chair near the wall, and was rather looking forward to the expressions the others would wear once they noticed him. Perhaps he should do something extremely noticeable, like transfigure himself into a purple nundu for his own amusement?
Death could tell his shell was getting irritated by all the questions and condescending reprimands being aimed at him by the Order, as if they had any sort of right to interrogate his shell at all. He frowned at this, his displeasure coating the room like hoarfrost. Conversation slowed as all eyes began glancing around warily, and Death made himself known by putting both hands on the shoulders of his shell and staring at the gathered, gossiping mortals, unimpressed.
“Are these mortals bothering you, my shell? Shall I silence them for you?” Death murmured to his shell, not really bothering to lower his voice any, and sized up the unfortunate wizards nearest to his person. He rather hoped his shell let him show these upstart mortals their place, but was aware that was rather wishful thinking on his part. His shell was simply too nice to these interfering busybodies to allow him to mutilate or otherwise traumatize them in such a fashion.
“I’m sure they’re finished with the Inquisition now,” his shell casually replied, his eyes daring the bristling, affronted Order members to disagree. “I mean, it’s not like I’ve done anything wrong, now have I?” Now his expression was blatantly challenging, and Death matched it with a wide, leering grin.
Death noticed the mortals were far more reluctant to continue their questioning with him noticeably present. He was not entirely sure why—sure they had been mostly questioning his shell about him and his intentions, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t already been in the room. They just hadn’t seen him there.
As the mortals began protesting that of course we weren’t interrogating you, Harry and that we only want what is best for you, Harry dear, Death lifted his head and stared at a small window set high up the wall where owls generally came through. Of course, there were ‘extensive’ owl wards around the property, so the window saw very little use. He said ‘extensive’ rather mockingly, seeing as how mortal wards were about as potent as cobwebs as far as he was concerned.
As he watched, an unremarkable barn owl with no distinguishing markings or patterns fluttered into the room with an unremarkable roll of parchment tied to its leg. The owl was so entirely boring and uninteresting that Death almost reached up and swatted it out the air for the sole purpose of ensuring it could no longer breed and spread its unremarkableness throughout the owl population of Magical Britain.
Death immediately suppressed his presence utterly, pulling all of his aura and magic into himself and removing any sort of innate warning the owl would have instinctively felt due to his presence. His shell jumped slightly and glanced back at him curiously, and Death made a note that his shell could apparently sense his aura to a greater degree than any other mortal in the room, as no one else had noticed.
Death stared with a raised brow and a growing grin as the owl circled the room a few times, drawing attention to itself in the process, before heading towards the tallest perch available.
That this perch happened to be his shoulder filled Death with an indescribable, vindictive glee. His grin almost reached his ears he was so eager—desperate almost for this horribly uninteresting owl to land upon him and have its soul removed.
His shell jumped to his feet and snatched the owl out of the air before it reached him, sending him a Look that said I know what you were going to do, and while I find it hilarious, my morals won’t allow me to let it happen.
Death scowled at his shell, releasing his aura again and making every mortal in the room shudder slightly. His shell was remarkably unaffected by his visible ire, which was enough to flip Death’s mood back into amusement as he imagined what the others would have done had he scowled at them.
Had heart attacks and fainted, most likely.
His shell untied the parchment from the now-terrified owl, whose wide eyes were locked onto him as it now felt and understood what it had almost landed on. Death leered at it with a wide, fanged smile and all the owl’s feathers fluffed out simultaneously in an almost audible puff of noise. His shell glanced at the extremely puffy owl and snorted aloud before he turned back to the parchment as he began to read, his expression going flat with practiced blankness almost immediately.
Curious, Death stepped forward and glanced down at the letter over the shoulder not occupied by a fluffed-up owl. There was a spell on the parchment that prevented anyone but his shell from reading it, but Death ignored it as if wasn’t even there and flicked his eyes down to the signature, wondering who was writing to his shell with such a horrible owl.
Death blinked. Twice. Then he threw back his head and howled in laughter. Several snooping Order members shrieked in alarm at the sound and threw themselves backwards, tripping over each other as they tried to flee from his apparent glee. The owl screeched, flapping rapidly as it launched itself away but seemed to forget how to use its wings properly, and simply flopped to the ground where it flailed for a moment before going still, apparently taking its chances at playing dead.
Death chortled to himself, even as his shell continued staring rather blankly at his letter. This was fantastic. He hadn’t had such a good laugh in eons! Death plucked the letter from his shell’s frozen hands, leaving his shell to stare numbly at where the parchment had just been as Death glanced down at his prize.
It has come to my attention that you have recently gained a rather powerful ally due to a certain bumbling old fool’s interference—he does so like to interfere, doesn’t he?—and I found it prudent to address the situation before any impulsive moves were made on your part.
No, don’t argue with me. I have been receiving reports on your annual school-year ‘adventures’ since the Tournament, and never have I seen such a textbook example of a foolish Gryffindor. Challenging my basilisk, Harry? With a sword and a hat? Tut tut. What do they teach at Hogwarts these days?
Regardless, the purpose of this letter is not to mock you (no matter how you deserve it), but rather to come to an agreement that both of us can find suitably satisfactory.
You do not want me to hunt down and kill your friends and family.
I do not want you to sick your new attack dog on me.
Taking into account that there is simply no feasible way that a teenager like yourself could prove to be such an annoyance without some measure of intelligence to your name, I am sure we can come to a reasonable compromise on these points.
Do not take this letter as proof of how I’m ‘changing my ways’ or ‘putting the past behind me.’ I hate you. I loathe the very reality of your existence. I dream of ways with which to dispose of you so utterly that the infamy of your death would outweigh the fame your miserable excuse for a life has brought you. Before you work up too much of a fuss over the truths I have spoken, do recall that I do not lie, Potter. I find the act itself the mark of a weakling, a coward; and I am neither weak nor cowardly.
As a… peace offering, of sorts, I am willing to negotiate the unconditional surrender of two of my Death Eaters, both of which share a personal history with you. Should you agree to draw a truce, I shall turn Bellatrix Lestrange and the remains of Peter Pettigrew over to you. I do apologize for the state of poor Peter. He was a worthless, spineless excuse for a wizard, but I am sure you’d have rather executed him yourself. Revenge is something I understand very well, Potter. Perhaps, if you ask nicely, your new friend could resurrect him for you?
And for Merlin’s sake, boy, don’t reply with that blasted white owl of yours. She’s incredibly conspicuous, and the last thing either of us needs is for some pesky busybody to follow her to one of us.
I expect your response, Potter.
Death thought the letter was, overall, rather straightforward and polite considering who had written it and to whom it was written. He would be having words with Voldemort, however, on the proper way to respect his shell. He grinned at the thought, wondering if he should go force some manners into the man before his shell had to reply to his unexpected offer.
Noticing how his shell was still in shock, Death draped an arm around his shoulders and pulled them through the Void for a brief moment until they reemerged in the room his shell had been using. Knowing their abrupt departure would have likely sent the Order into a panic, Death chuckled again, stirring his shell into life.
“Is this genuine?” his shell asked, bewildered and more than a little horrified.
Death paused, reaching a sliver of his power out across Time and probed at the emotions surrounding Voldemort at the time this was written. Fear, wariness, determination, anger, and a rather grudging respect. Nothing that suggested a plot being plotted or a scheme being woven, in the very least. Returning to the ‘present’—the concept of now is, of course, meaningless to Death—he glanced at his shell, who was staring at the letter still held in his hand.
“Yes, little shell,” Death murmured, amusement coloring his voice. “Voldemort has run from me and the mere thought of what I represent since he was six years old. Once he was made aware of my presence here, his first thought was how to ensure his own survival. He is not a fool, my shell; he knows that it would take but a single thought for me to erase him from existence, and he seeks to avoid this fate in any way that he can.”
His shell thought this over, absently taking the letter from him and reading it again, looking troubled. “But… this is Voldemort. How can he possibly think I’d agree to a… a truce with him? He killed my parents! He all but killed Cedric! And… and hundreds—thousands!—of other people! I can’t just… ignore that!”
His shell seemed to be panicking. Death wondered how he should go about fixing that. “Technically, the mortal known as Lord Voldemort has only personally killed fifty-seven people. He has been indirectly responsible for the deaths of six hundred and twenty-four,” Death offered helpfully.
His shell stared at him, and Death felt a bit chagrined that he didn’t seem to be helping quite as much as he’d like to be. He was so terribly out of practice at this. It had been, what, thirty-four thousand years since he’d last tried to calm someone down? He was usually the one causing people to panic, after all. Calming them down afterwards was incredibly counterproductive.
Apparently deciding to pretend he hadn’t heard what Death said, his shell started up again. “He’s been trying to kill me since I was a baby!”
“Because of a prophecy Dumbledore was told in a highly-public, unwarded room in a popular pub,” Death pointed out, trying to be helpful again.
“He’s trying to subjugate the entire world, Death!”
“Actually, he’s only really trying to overthrow the Magical Government of Britain. I doubt he’s made any plans at all for the rest of Earth.”
“Voldemort plans to kill all the muggleborns and the muggles. Tell me that’s not something I should be upset about.”
“His goal, if that were the case, is entirely impossible. There are almost six billion people currently in existence, 97% of whom are muggles or muggleborns. Taking into account the fact that, even should Voldemort attain True Immortality and kill a hundred muggles a day for the rest of his unnatural life, there would still be almost 350,000 others born for every hundred he killed.” Death really thought he was getting somewhere with this, now. Mortals liked to debate things that bothered them, right?
“Well he’s… he’s… he’s evil, ok? I just don’t…” his shell sighed, seemingly entirely distressed and frustrated now, but it was better than his previous panic. Death grinned at his success at having calmed his shell down. And he’d thought he’d be rusty at this…
“Is he?” Death wondered, purely for the sake of wondering. Death had, after all, done things exponentially worse than anything a mortal like Voldemort could even dream of, and he didn’t consider himself evil.
His shell threw his hands into the air, scowling. “Whose side are you on, anyway?”
Death paused, a bit confused at the sudden accusation. It must have shown on his face, because his shell just sighed and ran a hand across his eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you,” his shell apologized, looking sheepish. Death was bewildered, but accepted it regardless. He rather doubted his shell had done anything worth apologizing over recently, but since so few people apologized him to at all, he figured he’d just take it while he could. “It’s just… pretty much everyone has always told me that it’s my destiny to kill Voldemort, and now here he is: offering a truce. I’m not sure what I should do.”
“Well,” Death began, not entirely certain why this decision was apparently so difficult, “what do you want to do?” It wasn’t like it was ‘everyone’s business whether or not his shell agreed to a ceasefire. It was his shell’s life, after all, and Death rather thought the rest of the world was unimportant in comparison to that.
His shell froze, eyes wide as he stared at Death. Death froze with him, incredibly unsure what had made his shell react like that, and wondering if it was fixable. He seemed to be making more conversational blunders than usual, today. Perhaps he should practice in front of a mirror?
“What I want to do?” his shell repeated, quietly. Then he laughed, a short, bitter thing. “No one’s ever asked me what I wanted to do before.”
Ah. And Death understood. His poor little shell, so mistreated by these foolish mortals. Death wondered if his shell would protest should he suddenly grab him and bundle him inside his Cloak where he could keep him safe. Not that he couldn’t keep him safe anywhere else, but he’d always sort of wanted to wrap someone in blankets and see if that actually provided any sort of tangible protection from harm.
"It is your choice, my little shell. Agree to a truce, refuse one, make unreasonable conditions on his half of the compromise, give me the word to go and rip out what remains of his soul… decisions, decisions…”
Death grinned when his shell smiled weakly. Reaching over, he plucked the crumpled letter from his shell’s hand and skimmed it again—even though he had memorized it the first time, it was nice to look at the physical copy.
“You do have the upper hand here. If you but asked it of me, I would fetch this Bellatrix myself, removing the need to bargain with Voldemort entirely. I could also simply devour his soul and its fragments, removing the threat to begin with.”
His shell took a moment to think on that before refocusing. “…what do you think I should do, Death?” At Death’s questioning frown, he hurried on. “I’d appreciate your opinion.”
Death bared his fangs in a hungry grin. “I think you should gather up his remaining horcruxes and feed them to me so that I might ascertain if they all taste like coconuts.” He paused for a moment before his face eased out into a more serious expression. “Truthfully, my shell, you and he are Fated Opposites. You have been since the prophecy was set into motion by a conniving old bastard and a paranoid Dark Lord. Even should you agree to a truce with him, you will never agree with his practices or his policies. You would be discontented with the way things would go, with being unable to act against him when he inevitably finds loopholes in your compromise and toes the line of what could constitute a Breach of Contract. You would not be satisfied with neutrality. It would eat at you, at your conscience, at your soul, until your morality forced you to act against some perceived malevolent plot, and then you would be right back where you began, as enemies.” Death stared down at his silent, contemplative shell solemnly. “I can offer you only advice, dear shell. And my advice is not to leave an enemy at your back.”
His shell nodded slowly, taking a fortifying breath. “Thank you. I appreciate your honesty, Death,” his shell smiled, and Death grinned back, pleased. His shell’s expression shifted to amusement. “I better write him a reply, then. And if I wasn’t so sure he’d kill her out of spite, I’d send it with Hedwig just to be difficult.”
Death’s grin slowly widened as an idea spawned, making his shell eye him nervously while he hunted for parchment and a quill. “No,” Death purred, “allow me to deliver it for you, my shell. I shall make it… memorable.”
His shell snorted as he finished up his—extremely short—reply and rolled it up, handing it over to a gleeful Death. “I don’t doubt that.” He eyed Death warily. “Do I want to know?”
“No,” Death smiled. It was all teeth, fangs sharpening as his eyes bled black. “No, I rather think you do not.”
Lord Voldemort was pacing in his office, his mind tumbling over the possible courses of action he’d have to take depending on the answer from the Potter brat. He cursed the loss of their emotional link; he’d have quite happily slaughtered a small family for an insight into what the brat was thinking right now.
Would he agree? Would he refuse? Would he ignore his warning and send that blasted, highly-noticeable snowy owl of his? He’d kill the thing on principle if he had.
Voldemort was a realist. He always had been. He knew it was highly unlikely the boy would consent to a truce, no matter how he sweetened the pot with promises of revenge. He had already scoured through his library—and the libraries of his followers with manors not yet confiscated by the Ministry—for anything he could use to protect himself should the worst occur.
He’d found next to nothing. There was a brief mention of something called ‘the Deathly Hallows,’ which were supposed to make one the ‘Master of Death’ once collected, but all of them were lost to time, and it would take far too long to track them down and earn any sort of protection they offered. There were also legends in ancient scrolls of men who’d ‘dealt’ with Death—he was assuming this was in the gambling sense, and not the murdering one—selling their souls or bargaining the souls of others for their lives. He had put thought into that possibility, wondering how many souls he could get away with trading to Death in return for his own. Surely the souls of his Death Eaters would be enough in recompense for his own, tattered one? Their consent didn’t matter to him. They were branded by his magic, and were by all rights his chattel. He could sell them to the devil if he so wanted and there was nothing they could do about it.
This was, of course, all based on the theory that he would actually have a chance to interact with Death at all if it came for him. There were no limits to what the being’s powers could be; for all Voldemort knew, the entity could likely kill him from anywhere in the world, regardless of wards or distance.
He did some quick calculations in his head. He had one hundred and fourty marked Death Eaters in his service. The unmarked ones he, sadly, did not have a magical right to, but the others were fair game. If he handed over his Death Eaters in return for his life, maybe—
“How presumptuous of you, mortal,” a voice suddenly cracked through the silence of his study like the Voice of God, making Voldemort stumble back into a wall, his pale yew wand appearing instantly in his hand, “to title your followers connoisseurs of Death.”
There was no doubt in his mind who had just spoken to him. It was in the deep, hoarse, rasping timbre of its voice, in the way reality seemed to be fragmenting like glass in the air around him, and in the way every shadow in the room had just converged to the middle of the floor and was now hanging there like an oppressive, vaguely-humanoid silhouette.
The power hanging around that figure was unfathomable. It licked at the air like tongues of black flame, creeping across the ground in veins of silver hoarfrost, as it weighed down the very world until Voldemort found himself forced to his knees under the enormity of it.
“’Bow to death,’ you told him,” the voice rumbled, the sound vaguely menacing in its apparent humor. “Fitting, then, that you should bow to me in the end.”
Voldemort stared, transfixed and horrified, as the figure in the center of the room abruptly warped, skeletal limbs draped in void-black cloth twisting out of the darkness as eyes the color of death speared him with all the careless malice of a child nailing an insect to the ground with a pin. Its maw opened in a hideous parody of a grin, jaws full of long, nightmarish fangs as the hair upon its crown writhed like living shadow. Its form lengthened unnaturally until it loomed over him, long-fingered hands clasped at its back as it smiled at him in the manner a wolf smiles at the deer that doesn’t know it’s dead yet.
The being leaned closer, making Voldemort press back into the wall in an aborted effort to maintain distance, and its killing curse eyes bled black like oil spreading across the water. It inhaled deeply, making Voldemort twitch with the realization that it was smelling him.
"Can you feel it, mortal?” it asked him, fangs bared in a Glasgow grin. “Can you feel the fragment of your soul screaming for you?”
Voldemort froze. He could feel it, he realized with numb horror. A sort of frantic, desperate pull deep in his chest, leading straight to the entity leaning over him. He had assumed his horcrux had been merely destroyed when the link was severed. It seems he had been… slightly mistaken.
He recoiled slightly when suddenly one long, skeletal hand was pressed to the wall beside his head, uncomfortably close. There was a bone-deep chill radiating from that hand, almost like the concentrated presence of a pod of dementors. He did not like the implications this brought.
“Oh how it begged me, mortal,” the being—Death—crooned. “It thrashed and it struggled, and it writhes still.” Voldemort could almost hear a shrill voice screaming, but was unsure if it was in his head or not. He shivered all the same. Death leaned even closer, until he could feel the aching cold of its breath on his face. “I wonder…” Death purred, “if it would care for some company?”
Voldemort understood the intention a mere heartbeat before the entity acted. The hand not resting on the wall behind him suddenly shot forward, burying itself to the wrist in his chest as if it were entirely intangible. But Voldemort felt it. He felt that hand grip onto something deep inside him, something weak and broken and desperate, and he gasped for breath, clawing at the arm impaling him through the torso.
No! Voldemort thought, terrified. I cannot die like this! I am Lord Voldemort!
Death laughed, mocking him, its voice an amalgamation of rasping, hoarse screams that scraped across his mind like shards of broken glass. “Die?” Death queried, its grin widening impossibly as an inhuman black tongue ran over its teeth. “No, mortal. You shall not die. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not in a thousand years. But oh… oh how you’ll wish you had…”
With a grin and a hungry flash of abyssal eyes, Death jerked his hand free, and with it came pain. Agony. Voldemort felt, for the briefest moment, stretched in four separate directions before the other threads that had brought him comfort of I am not alone snapped abruptly, leaving him screaming in a voice that no longer existed as his body dissolved into ash behind him. The fingers tightened around him—he was a mass of sensation without a physical form, but those fingers were so cold they ached—and dragged him closer to the grinning, cackling form of the one entity he feared above all else.
Death slowed its laughter, still grinning, as it peered at the trembling, terrified soul of Lord Voldemort. Heaving a satisfied sigh, Death leered at its captive as it brought the soul closer to its face, ignoring how it struggled. “Little mortal,” it cooed, fangs clicking shut a hair’s breadth from his form as it grinned, “I have a message for you…” Death waved his free hand and a rolled-up parchment appeared there, seemingly written on the back of part of a Potions essay. Slowly, leisurely, Death unrolled the parchment and turned it so the shuddering soul could see what was written there.
Give my regards to Pettigrew in Hell.
Death threw back its head and cackled with laughter as the soul of Lord Voldemort struggled to free itself, just as all others had done before him. Still laughing, Voldemort felt himself lifted until he hovered over the wide, grinning maw of Death. Petrified, he could do nothing but stare as the jaws opened and bared the black Void within for him to see.
"I would say goodbye, Tom Riddle,” the whisper-voice of Death crept through his mind despite the entity not speaking aloud, instead releasing his fingers and ignoring the shrieks as Voldemort fell into the maw of Death, “but it shall be Eternity before I let you die.”
The last thing the soul of Lord Voldemort heard was chilling, rasping laughter.
“I brought you a gift.”
Harry glanced up at the familiar voice of Death, spotting him standing incredibly close to his person as if he’d always been there, rather than simply appearing out of nothingness like he usually did. His eyes flicked over Death’s figure, wondering what on earth the entity had decided to bring him, and noticed something very… odd.
“Death,” Harry began, keeping his voice carefully neutral as he fixed his eyes on the top of Death’s head. “Why are you wearing a tiara?”
Death reached up with a long-fingered hand and adjusted the… frankly girly crown he was wearing with a wide, manic grin. The piece of jewelry looked so incredibly out of place on Death’s person that Harry actually pinched himself to ensure he wasn’t dreaming. The spike of pain insisted he was not, but that was almost worse because that meant Death actually was wearing a tiara.
To be fair, it was rather pretty. It was silver, and shaped like a bird with its wings outstretched, centered with a large round sapphire. It didn’t really match anything Death was wearing except his Cloak, and the being’s hair kept coiling around the tiara like a nest of curious snakes. Harry bit his lip to stop himself from laughing, not wanting to offend Death’s choice of fashion.
Ignoring Harry’s question, Death reached out and grasped Harry’s wrist, tugging him closer and depositing a square piece of some sort of leather in his hands. Looking down, it seemed Death had just handed him a scaled wallet. Harry had never even owned a wallet before, not having ever had any money or an ID to put in one. He certainly didn’t need one now, seeing as how galleons wouldn’t fit in a wallet and that was just about the only currency he bothered carrying.
But it would be beyond rude to point this out to the being who’d just given him a gift. “Thank you. I’ve always wanted a…” Harry studied the wallet closely, thinking the scale pattern looked somewhat familiar. “…snakeskin wallet?” he trailed off questioningly, hoping he was right. What else would he have made a wallet out of? Dragonhide?
“Yes,” Death replied, seemingly pleased that Harry appreciated it. “I made it myself. The serpent who donated her flesh for its creation was truly delicious.”
Harry paused. “…delicious? You ate a snake?” Honestly, Harry didn’t know why he bothered being surprised by anything anymore. So Death ate souls and snakes, did he? There were weirder diets, he supposed. He couldn’t think of any off the top of his head, but he was sure there were somewhere.
Death gave him a bewildered sort of stare, as if Harry had just sprouted an additional four heads. “Why would I have eaten the snake, my shell? Her souls were plenty satisfying on their own.”
Harry mentally backtracked, now considering the fact that Death was apparently so hungry he was eating the souls of animals. Wait, did Death just insinuate that the snake had more than one soul? He repeated this question aloud, earning another wide, fanged grin.
“Of course she did, silly shell. I do not make it a habit to devour the soul of an animal without a reason. There’s no flavor to them at all, no intelligence, no fire… animals are bland, tasteless things.” Death’s smile tilted at the corners into something vaguely malicious. “This one happened to be doubling as a horcrux, which gave an ordinarily plain soul a hint of pineapple.”
Harry lifted a hand and ran it over his face, feeling a headache coming on. At least this made a bit more sense than Death going around randomly eating the souls of various reptiles. Another horcrux, then? Harry felt rather relieved that Death seemed perfectly capable—and willing—to track down and find these things on his own. Harry wouldn’t have the first idea where to look for one, nor did he have access to basilisk venom or fiendfyre in order to destroy it in the first place.
“Does this have anything to do with why you’re wearing a tiara?” Harry asked, not willing to let the subject drop. It was a tiara for Merlin’s sake! He could have at least worn something a bit more… impressive.
“Oh, this?” Death smiled innocently, the expression surprisingly convincing despite the sharp teeth and writhing hair. He reached up and plucked the tiara from his head, turning it around in his hands as if it fascinated him. “I found this in the castle. The late Lord Voldemort certainly liked leaving bits and pieces of himself in the strangest of places.”
Harry took a moment to process this, and then casually hid his smile behind his hand. So. Voldemort owned a girly-looking tiara, did he? And he used it as a horcrux? He’d always known the man was a bit mad, but really? What was it with Voldemort and jewelry? First the locket that Death had mentioned from Grimmauld Place, the tiara Death had walked in wearing, and Harry would bet ten galleons that new ring currently resting on Death’s right index finger was one too.
Harry looked at his new wallet. Had Death just come into the room carrying three ex-horcruxes on his person? And wait, did he say late Lord Voldemort? Harry blinked, suddenly alert.
“Death, when you delivered my response to Voldemort, did you do something to him?”
Death frowned at him, putting the tiara back on his head and balancing it carefully, despite the fact that his hair immediately wrapped around it again. “Of course I did. Were you expecting me to leave him be? Why on earth would I have done that?” Death smirked then, the expression entirely too satisfied. “You’ll be pleased to know, my shell, that Voldemort’s main soul tasted pleasantly of rum. It was intoxicating.” Death grinned at his own joke, and Harry resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose as he tried to wrap his mind around the fact that, apparently, Death had just killed Voldemort on a mere whim.
He wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about that. He was glad he wouldn’t have to kill him, now—he wasn’t sure he had it in him to be a murderer, even for someone like Voldemort—but it was so very abrupt! Only a handful of hours ago, Harry had been mentally preparing for war, and now… his destiny was over? Technically he supposed the prophecy had been fulfilled. Death was merely an alternate version of himself, so Voldemort did die at ‘the hand of the other.’
He huffed out a laugh as he wondered how he was supposed to explain to everyone what had happened to Voldemort. Oh, Voldemort? Don’t worry about him. Death went over and ate his soul, so no worries. Yes. He could see that going over splendidly.
It took a while to sink in, but once it did, Harry sat heavily on the couch behind him. Voldemort was dead. Voldemort was dead. A hysterical, relieved laugh bubbled up in his throat, but Harry bit it back, not able to hide his slightly-crazed grin. The prophecy was fulfilled. His destiny was over. He could be normal now! And there was no way people could try and push more fame onto him for this, because he hadn’t done anything.
“It’s over,” Harry said aloud, tasting the words as he spoke them. He knew it wasn’t over, per se, since there were still Death Eaters out there, but that wasn’t any of Harry’s responsibility. His only duty had been the death of Voldemort, and that was over and done with! Dear Merlin… he could have a normal school year for once! He was almost more excited about this than about the fact that Voldemort was dead.
Death sat beside him on the couch, leaning back and stretching his long arms out across the back, looking amused and entertained at Harry’s ‘revelation.’ “Technically, it’s been ‘over’ for about three hours now.”
Ignoring him, Harry collapsed back into the couch cushions in an ungraceful sprawl. The relief was making him slightly lightheaded, and he knew any minute now he was likely to do something undignified, like giggle.
Death reached up with one hand and lifted the tiara off his head, the coils of shadow masquerading as his hair uncurling from it rather reluctantly. Death sat the tiara on Harry’s head without further fanfare, making Harry pause as he automatically lifted a hand to straighten it. Debating for a moment, Harry shrugged and ignored it. So he was wearing a tiara now. So what? Voldemort was dead! If Death wanted him to wear this tiara, then he would damn well wear it and wear it with pride.
“We have to tell the others,” Harry said after a few minutes of silence, not bothering to really get up to go do as he had suggested. Death made a sort of agreeing noise, but he seemed too busy rolling his new ring between his fingers to really pay attention. “They need to know,” Harry tried again, trying to work up the motivation to get up and go confront the Order about the death of Voldemort.
“It would be funnier to not tell them,” Death pointed out blandly, betrayed by the wide grin pulling at his lips.
Harry sighed, shaking his head with a wry smile. Heaving himself to his feet, Harry mentally prepared himself to go and tell the first Order member he finds about Voldemort, then he was fully ready to retreat to his room and lock himself in. He had no intention of answering any questions; the Order had been ready to toss a sixteen-year old, half-trained wizard at the Dark Lord and cower behind him. Harry really couldn’t work up enough good feelings to care what the Order thought. He had an obligation to tell them Voldemort was dead now—or as close to dead as he figured Death would let him get; he was valiantly trying to not think too hard about it—but not one to explain how it was accomplished. He’d let them pester Death for answers if they wanted them so badly.
Determined now, Harry marched for the door as if he were walking off to battle, feeling more than seeing Death trailing at his heels. He passed Hermione carrying a stack of books from the library on his way to the kitchen, where he was more likely to find an Order member, and absently noted her startled glance up at his hair. Ignoring his friend’s off behavior and tentative question, Harry threw open the door to the kitchen hard enough that it made a satisfactory bang against the wall.
All eyes turned to him.
Harry felt his mind go momentarily blank. He seemed to have impeccable timing, seeing as how it was a full Order meeting in progress he’d just dramatically interrupted. Pressing on, Harry stepped into the room and locked eyes with Dumbledore, ensuring the old man would bear the full brunt of what he was about to say.
“Voldemort is dead,” he announced in a voice daring anyone to contradict him. This was his moment, damn it, and he wasn’t about to let anyone ruin it for him. “He has been for three hours, and he’s not coming back this time.”
Nodding, satisfied that his message had been delivered, Harry turned on his heel and marched right back out the door, feeling Death’s fleeting touch to his shoulder as he passed. He aimed a quick grin at the being before heading for Sirius’ room, already running through the series of locking spells he intended to throw at the door as he waited for the Order to get over his shock.
They would have questions, and likely not believe him. That wasn’t any of his business now. He was officially his own man, and he wasn’t going to let those people walk all over him anymore. He’d kick the first person who tried somewhere very unpleasant.
Death’s grin was seemingly fixed onto his face as he watched the reactions of the Order to his shell’s announcement and departure. The general consensus seemed to be that his shell was either lying or had gone mad. He wasn’t about to contest the latter, but Death was not about to let these mortals make disparaging remarks about his shell.
“Do you doubt my ability to remove the soul of a mere mortal?” Death asked them, frowning at the lot of them. “This is, after all, why you summoned me here.”
Honestly. You’d think these people would be more appreciative of his efforts. Not that it had been much of an ‘effort,’ but they didn’t need to know that. As far as they knew, removing a soul required a long, tedious ritual accompanied by a ceremonial bloodletting. He figured he’d keep the fact that he’d basically shoved his hand through Voldemort’s chest and ripped out his soul—very roughly at that, to cause the most discomfort—to himself… unless they annoyed him, then he’d be more than happy to demonstrate his technique.
Dumbledore shifted in place slightly, seeming torn between demanding answers, offering a lemon drop, twinkling brightly, or having another heart attack. “I don’t suppose you have any evidence to reinforce your claim, my boy?” he settled on, his eyes bloody twinkling again. Death’s fingers twitched with the need to remove them. Forcibly.
“Evidence?” Death repeated, one corner of his mouth tilting up into a grin. They wanted evidence? Did they expect him to produce a body from his pocket? Well… he absently reached down and patted his robe. He probably did have a body or two in there; you never know when you might need a corpse, after all. “The mortal’s body dissolved into ashes upon the removal of his soul. What evidence do you expect me to provide you?”
It was one of the other foolish humans that replied, in as condescending and rude a manner as Death could ever remember being spoken to. “They’re obviously lying, Headmaster,” the man, wearing an unfortunate top-hat and cursed with prominent jowls, all but sneered. “The boy’s gone round the bend, he has! He was wearing a bloody tiara, for Merlin’s sake.” The man looked around earnestly, oblivious to the fixed, predatory stare locked on him from the cloaked figure of Death. The others were not so oblivious, and were edging discreetly away from their unfortunate comrade. “We all know this man isn’t death,” he insisted, scowling at the worried, fearful expressions of those sitting nearest to him and somehow ignoring the oppressive, aggravated magic building in the room. “Just look at ‘em!” A hand waved in Death’s direction, and solid black eyes followed it as if contemplating ways to remove it from its owner. “He’s likely one of You-Know-Who’s Death Eaters, all dressed up like that. Are we really trusting this man without so much as a Vow to his name?”
The room was quiet on the heels of the man’s impassioned speech. It was not a contemplative silence. Rather, it was the still, stale silence of an ancient graveyard.
“You require evidence?” Death broke the silence, his voice cajoling and anticipatory. “You believe that I am not Death? That I would lower myself to lying to worms?” Death chuckled, a smooth, slick sound that was the opposite of his usual rasping laughter. Abyssal eyes rippled like water as he grinned, his full attention fixed on the now-nervous form of Dedalus Diggle. “So be it. You shall have your evidence, mortal.”
Death lifted a skeletal hand and slowly slid it through his own skin, his fingers going intangible as he reached into his stomach and grasped hold of the weak, near-mindless remnants of Tom Riddle. He pulled out his hand, fingers re-solidifying once they were free of his physical form, and dangling from his fingers was a haphazardly spherical ball of grey mist, black patches seeping like oil to drip upon the floor as it shuddered and whined in his grip.
The room recoiled at the sight of it, the stench of its decaying magic, and the sound of the quiet, animal-like noises of terror coming from its slightly pulsing form. Chairs were scraped back as the Order members leapt from the table with oaths and curses, wands appearing in hands as faces drained of color, their magic recoiling at the broken, damned thing currently sobbing in relief at this brief respite.
“Your evidence,” Death rumbled, the soul flinching at the sound of his voice. Death curled his fingers more securely around it, before closing his hand into a fist, dispersing the cloud into trails of smoke that sunk back into his skin and returning to its punishment. There was no reason to repeat his devouring of it in front of these mortals. He was annoyed enough as it was. He was more likely to bite the soul in half than swallow it properly, and that would be too quick an ending for such an irritating mortal.
Death stared unblinkingly at the pale face of the man who’d called him a liar. “I trust,” he drawled, “that that was satisfactory?”
Eying the gathered Order members, glance lingering on Dumbledore, Death grinned sharply, making several of them flinch. Good. They were beginning to understand. He met Dumbledore’s eyes and smirked at the weak, fluttering feeling of magic attempting to read his mind. Foolish mortal. Had Death allowed that magic to connect to him, Dumbledore’s head would have likely exploded under the effort of comprehending his existence.
It would not have been much of a loss, surely, but he had plans for this mortal. Plans he intended to keep from his delicate shell until he was sure the boy could handle the… darker aspects of his being. It was one thing to know and understand that an alternate version of yourself was the personification of Death. It was another thing entirely to accept that after countless eons of watching humanity destroy itself over and over and over again, Death had become a monster capable of cruelty on a level that the human mind cannot even fathom.
He’d give the boy some time to wrap his mind around the concept. Death was patient, after all. He could wait.
Pausing for a moment in case one of the Order worked up the nerve to ask him another question, Death turned to leave. He halted near the door, eyeing a small end-table resting innocuously to the right of the exit. He reached into his robe and pulled out a gold cup engraved with a badger, and absently created a single black rose to store in it. He set the cup-turned-vase on the end table and tilted his head at it.
Yes. Setting that there seemed appropriate.
Death grinned, and left the room humming a funeral march under his breath.
Harry was hiding.
Huddled beneath his father’s invisibility cloak, he crouched down by the front door, remaining half-hidden behind a conveniently placed potted plant for extra security. He eyed the plant suspiciously. It was a very convenient plant, to be honest, and now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. In fact, he was almost positive that the plant had not existed until he’d been looking for something to hide behind in case Moody or Dumbledore came by with their ‘all-seeing eyes’ and spotted him. Where, exactly, did this delightfully suspicious fern come from?
A fleeting touch to his shoulder from an invisible entity answered that particular question, and Harry stopped feeling paranoid about randomly-appearing plants. If Death could materialize a book and glasses, why not plants?
Despite the fact that he was silenced, disillusioned, underneath an invisibility cloak and squatting behind a plant, Harry still held his breath when Mrs. Weasley went trotting by, her face worried as she obviously searched for him. He felt a bit bad for worrying her, but honestly he was about to go mad.
The Order had been hounding him constantly ever since he’d dropped the ‘Voldemort’s dead, deal with it’ bombshell the other day, obviously unimpressed with his descriptive skills or Death’s demonstration which he had—thankfully—not been present to witness. The secondhand accounts had been creepy enough; he had no desire to see any half-digested bits of Voldemort, thank-you-very-much.
The hand on his shoulder squeezed briefly as if in response to the direction his thoughts had taken. Harry was unable to be surprised by this point. Death could do just about everything else; reading minds couldn’t be that far of a stretch for him. Harry contemplated his own reaction to this new development, wondering why he wasn’t as bothered by the idea of Death reading his mind as he would be if, say, Dumbledore were doing it instead. They were both invasions of his privacy—something he guarded religiously—and he was equally powerless to stop either of them.
But he trusted Death. He wouldn’t trust Dumbledore not to pass him cyanide if he asked for salt. Death, though…
Death had protected him, been honest with him, and seemed to genuinely care for his mental and emotional wellbeing, which was more than what most of the adults in his life could claim. Also, Death was massively powerful and perfectly willing to use and abuse this power for Harry’s benefit, which he shamelessly took advantage of whenever it suited his purposes. Case in point: Voldemort.
Harry peered around his plant and watched for any other Order members that might come across them at an unfortunate time, such as when he was preparing to open the door and get the hell out of Grimmauld Place before he went mad and started eating people’s livers with a side of fava beans. He could almost feel Death’s amusement at that particular possibility, and Harry cracked a grin in reply.
He couldn’t help but notice that he was rather steadily adapting to Death’s odd sense of humor, and even using some of it himself. Whether this was a result of something Death had done to him or simply a side-effect of actually having a close, almost-family member for the first time that he was spending an actual length of time with was uncertain, but Harry wasn’t too terribly bothered by it. Death seemed to be getting on just fine, odd humor and all, and Harry would be happy if he could grow to be a tenth of the man Death was.
Just… you know, without the being dead and immortal, part. He could do without those.
Deciding the coast was as clear as it was going to get, Harry quietly and carefully lifted one hand for the doorknob, making sure to remain concealed under his cloak. He knew he could have simply gotten Death to take him from the house, but it didn’t feel right using the entity like a transportation service. That, and he sort of missed the thrill of sneaking around.
The door opened with a god-awful squeal of rusty hinges, and Harry bolted through it, not taking any chances of the sound attracting attention, cursing himself for not thinking to silence the bloody door before he opened it. He was getting awfully rusty at this.
Mentally smacking his head against a wall at the horrible puns his internal monologue was coming up with, Harry made for the corner like he had Fluffy on his heels. By this point his cloak was pretty useless, having flown up around him as he ran like any other cloak would have, turning him into a pair of sprinting, disembodied legs for anyone who cared to look outside at that particular moment.
He rounded the corner and pressed his back against the nearest house, catching his breath and letting the cloak settle back around him again. He could almost imagine hearing the raised voices from panicking Order members, but of course no sound actually escaped the wards. Smiling with success, Harry began striding off around the corner, hoping to find a rather hidden spot to summon the Knight Bus. He planned to visit Diagon Alley—the Order never would have let him go, not even under heavy guard—and pop by Gringotts while he was at it.
He’d had plenty of time to think while the Order tried to tear down his locking charms, and he’d become convinced that Dumbledore’s repeated insistence that he return to his relatives was beyond illegal. Surely his parents had left a will behind or something? And what right did a Headmaster of a school have to go around placing orphans with muggles, anyway?
Not that he was all that worried about the Dursleys anymore. He had Death with him now, and a part of Harry sort of wanted to go back to Privet Drive just so he could watch his fat walrus of an uncle try something and have Death react. He shoved that part of him farther back, trying to ignore it. Those urges had always been there when it came to the Dursleys, but Harry wasn’t quite at the point where he could, in good conscience, go to their house with the express purpose of having them brutally murdered.
Because that was what would obviously happen should he return there. Either Death would take umbrage to the fact that his relatives treated him like a house-elf and would do something unnatural to them, or Harry would finally snap and blow the house up with accidental magic.
Harry wasn’t particularly proud of these thoughts, but that didn’t mean he felt guilty about them. These people had enslaved him since he was barely old enough to walk, and he had absolutely zero compassion for them and their eventual fate. He could feel Death’s hand still gripping his shoulder—it had magically not left even during his spastic sprint, which was both creepy and impressive—as it tightened briefly. Harry knew he had no control over Death’s actions. He also knew Death knew exactly how the Dursleys treated him (in fact, if his guess was accurate, Death had lived through the same thing, only without the presence of a Death of his own to protect him) and that the Dursleys were living on borrowed time.
Harry was certain that the moment he gave even the slightest indication that he wanted the Dursleys harmed, Death would slaughter them in a myriad of creatively macabre ways. The only question at this point was whether he’d be present to witness it or not.
“We’ve arrived, my shell.”
Harry jerked and looked up, surprised to find himself standing behind the Leaky Cauldron and in front of the entrance to the Alley. He eyed the invisible space beside him suspiciously, wondering if Death had simply transported them here while he was lost in thought, or if he’d just legitimately traveled via Knight Bus and through a busy pub without registering any of it.
Death’s hand never left his shoulder even as his other bled into visibility just long enough for the Elder Wand to tap out the opening pattern on the wall. The wand dissolved once the wall opened, and Death returned to the utter invisibility that put Harry’s own cloak to shame.
Sucking in a fortifying breath, Harry strode out into the Alley, careful to weave around the people walking up and down the storefronts as he kept his cloak wrapped tightly around him. He had no intention of drawing attention to himself—his face and scar were practically the wizarding equivalent of neon strobe lights—but knocking into someone while invisible would do the same thing just as quickly.
Harry paused at the steps of Gringotts, knowing that he really shouldn’t walk into a bank covered in an invisibility cloak. He was sure they had wards to detect that kind of thing, and didn’t want to be mistaken for a thief. He was equally reluctant to take off the cloak though, knowing he’d attract all sorts of attention the moment he did so. If Death were visible, he’d easily hold all the attention—which Harry preferred—but he’d also cause a mass panic the moment someone saw his teeth or his hair or even felt his magic.
“Don’t fret, my shell,” a completely unfamiliar voice said in a very familiar tone, the hand on his shoulder suddenly solid in a way it had never been. Harry whirled around, utterly surprised, and the cloak was neatly pulled off with the motion as the tall, black-haired man standing beside him plucked it off via the hand on his shoulder. “I do know the meaning of discretion.”
The grin was all teeth, and unnervingly familiar on such a human face. There were no fangs or shadows or absinthe eyes, but the bloodthirsty, rather mad expression was something he’d only ever seen on the face of one person in his life. Harry gaped dumbly at the human form of who could only be Death, earning an amused smirk in reply.
He greatly resembled the picture Harry had seen once of James Potter, only taller and with Lily’s eyes. In fact, Harry would go so far as to say Death currently looked like a thirty-year old Harry Potter without the scar. It was blatantly obvious they were the same person, and Harry could only stare as his mind whirled chaotically. Was this what Death would look like if he were more than simply flesh and bones? Is this what Harry would look like when he was older?
“We look identical,” Harry finally choked out, getting unnerved by the mirror-image effect going on in front of him. Death cocked a brow in response, the gesture eerily familiar. The features of human-Death and immortal-Death weren’t terribly different. This Death had actual flesh and muscles and was still unfairly tall, and his skin was tanned rather than the sickly sort of grey it had been before, but Harry could see bits and pieces of Death in this human before him. “People will notice,” he finished lamely, wondering why no one had started pointing and whispering at them yet.
Death frowned, looking himself over briefly. “We are identical, my shell,” came the rather bemused reply. “Did you expect me to look like someone else?”
Harry supposed not. It was easy to forget that Death was actually Harry Potter, only from another dimension and from uncountable millennia into the future. But he rather thought Death was missing the point.
“You can’t look like me. I’m me. People will notice if my older clone is walking around Diagon Alley.”
Death stared at him rather blankly, as if the concept of people noticing an older version of the Boy-Who-Lived was utterly incomprehensible. Then, as Harry watched, Death’s hair bled white from root to tip like paint dripping in reverse and his eyes turned a pale shade of blue that was almost translucent. His facial features didn’t change, but with his new hair and eyes Death no longer looked like a clone of Harry.
Harry sighed in relief. Honestly. Sometimes reasoning with the entity was like pulling teeth from a Cerberus. “Thank you,” Harry muttered, accepting the cloak when the grinning being offered it to him. As Harry headed for the bank, pointedly not looking at the guards in case they’d been watching and saw the whole thing, he glanced over at the nonchalant form of Death strolling along beside him, hands in his pockets. “You sound normal now,” Harry observed.
The voice was actually what bothered him the most about this transformation. Harry much preferred his deep, rasping voice to this new tenor one.
Death made a face, as if he’d just tasted something unpleasant. “I know,” he protested, sounding more like a whining child than an ageless immortal being of ultimate power. “Talking like this makes my throat ache. It’s surprising the amount of effort it takes to craft a fully functional set of mortal vocal chords without them rotting immediately.”
Harry smirked at the sulking entity slumping along beside him, glancing up only to stop mid-stride. Every goblin in the bank was staring at them. Silent as the grave and completely motionless, each teller and guard had wide eyes locked on the two of them. Harry started feeling distinctly uncomfortable. The goblins rather resembled small animals that had just caught scent of a massive predator, and had gone utterly still in an effort to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
He glanced at Death out of the corner of his eye. The entity was grinning again, eyeing the goblins like one would eye a particularly delicious piece of chocolate, and Harry decided he should probably do something to prevent whatever it was Death was contemplating. Straightening his shoulders, Harry took a breath and headed for the nearest teller, Death strolling along at his heels.
He couldn’t help but notice the goblin he was approaching growing tenser and tenser as they neared, spindly fingers twitching as if reaching for a weapon before jerking and resting flat on the counter. Harry stopped in front of the counter, feeling more than seeing Death looming over his shoulder, human face doing nothing to hide the malevolent glee lurking behind the façade, and looked down at the gold nameplate resting innocuously in front of him.
“Redaxe,” Harry spoke, making the goblin and the four others closest to them recoil slightly. Harry paused briefly, frowning at the twitchy goblin teller, and it abruptly stilled into motionlessness again. “Redaxe,” he repeated, continuing and ignoring the way the goblins had subtly closed the bank doors and were now guarding them with polearms and large battle-axes, “I’d like to talk to someone about the Potter accounts.”
There. That was polite and to the point, Harry thought. The goblin, Redaxe, didn’t so much as breathe. Growing irritated now, Harry grasped for his patience with both metaphorical hands. He had sort of half expected something like this to happen after he’d seen how Remus and the owl reacted to Death, but the entity wasn’t even wearing his creepy form at the moment! He looked perfectly human, and wasn’t even doing anything remotely threatening. Harry couldn’t quite understand where this irrational fear was coming from. He’d never felt any sort of utter terror from Death, even before they’d become better acquainted.
“Oh honestly,” Harry grumbled, turning on his heel and pressing his palm flat against the looming Death’s chest, pushing firmly. “Back up. Maybe if you’re not so damn close to him he’ll remember how to function properly.”
Death leered at him, grinning wide, and obligingly took a few steps back. The goblins had all gone rigid the moment he’d touched Death, flinched backwards when he ordered Death to back up, and their jaws actually dropped when Death obeyed.
Suddenly, every goblin in the room was looking at Harry as if he were Merlin reincarnate. Redaxe apparently regrew his spine and addressed Harry with the sort of deference one would expect to be reserved for the Queen, or perhaps the Emperor of Earth.
“My most sincere apologies, Mr. Potter,” said the goblin, all but oozing charm. Harry stared at the goblin as if it had just burst into song. “Allow me to show you to Livercrusher’s office; he is currently acting as the Potter Account Manager since the Chief Mugwump’s guardianship was lifted.”
Harry watched as the goblin, who had apparently had a personality transplant at some point in the past two minutes, stood and politely bowed, gesturing for Harry to follow him as he headed towards a side hallway.
Death slid up beside him, his human form flickering along the edges like a poorly-done illusion, and patted him on the shoulder with a look of mock commiseration on his features. “There, there,” Death cooed, voice momentarily lowering into the deep, hoarse register it normally occupied as his eyes flickered absinthe green. Clearing his throat with a Cheshire cat sort of smile, Death all but beamed at the exasperated wizard. “I’m sure they aren’t planning on treating you differently from any other wizard.” The entity nodded gravely, betrayed by the wide grin plastered on his face.
Harry stared at the face of the grinning immortal, and kicked him in the shin.
Harry watched with a sort of exasperated patience as Death dramatically limped along behind him, a conjured crutch made out of some sort of twisted black wood supporting his 'injured' side as he groaned and made frighteningly-realistic sounds of agony and discontent. Redaxe and the goblin guard accompanying them down the hallway seemed entirely uncertain how to react to this, sending horrified stares at the 'wounded' Death and awe-filled ones at Harry in equal measure.
Harry was rather worried at this point that the goblins would declare him a master warrior of some kind and erect a golden statue in his honor due to his 'defeating' of Death. By kicking him in the shin.
He just wished the entity would quit grasping spasmodically onto his arm for 'balance' every third step or so, his rasping voice rising in 'pain' until it eerily resembled the screams of a young woman being eviscerated. Harry's left eye hadn't stopped twitching since they'd left the main hall, and it didn't look like it was likely to stop anytime soon.
The armed guard following them flinched every time Death wailed, and once it had even made an aborted motion to shove its pike in Death's general direction before Redaxe had barked something at him in Gobbledegook that had the guard paling to an unattractive, milky green and resuming his walk stiffly and emotionlessly.
Harry would have pitied the goblins a bit more if he wasn't finding this so very hilarious.
Redaxe eventually stopped before a large ornate door (large, considering this was the office of a goblin who couldn't be more than three feet tall and yet the door was over ten) with a simple gold plate declaring LIVERCRUSHER in neat, professional font. Redaxe knocked twice before pushing the door open without waiting for any sort of audible response, and then he paused. He seemed rather conflicted over whether to insist Harry (and his leech-like guest) walk in first--as was courteous and proper--and risk Death brushing so very close to him, or walk in first--impolitely--and have Death at his back.
The goblin settled on a strange sort of hover, where he had one hand pressed to the door, but stepped inside the room and held the heavy door open with the tips of his long, spindly fingers. Harry doubted he'd be able to keep the door open like that for long, and quickly hurried inside, dragging Death along with him as the entity was now bracing most of his weight on Harry's shoulder as he moaned in his apparent 'agony.'
The goblin behind the desk was identical to just about every other goblin Harry had ever seen (he tried to be polite and remember names and faces, but he was pretty sure the goblins were all secretly clones of each other and laughed at wizards trying to tell them apart behind their backs), except for a very small, neatly-trimmed triangular beard on his chin that was at odds with the rest of his surly face.
Harry stared at that beard for lack of anything else to do, wondering if the goblin spent time actually trimming it into that perfect of a triangle, or if goblin beards were naturally predisposed to geometric shapes. Death made a sort of rasping chuckle-cough noise at that thought, and Harry elbowed him without looking.
Death wheezed and collapsed to the ground, clutching his middle in exaggerated misery. Harry was tempted to kick the entity while he was down, but he'd already almost given the three goblins heart attacks just by elbowing him. Who knew how they'd react should he actually assault the aggravating immortal.
"Shush," Harry shushed him, giving Death a look. "Could you at least try and act your age?"
Death stopped rolling around on the floor and glanced up through one void-black eye, promptly dissolving into bone-colored dust on the floor. Harry's palm met his face with a satisfying thwack, and the muffled sound of the goblin guard by the door fainting echoed him.
"That is not what I meant..." Harry grumbled, running his hand through his hair and turning his attention back to Livercrusher, pointedly ignoring the pile of dust on the ground by his feet. "Well then," he began briskly, not even blinking when he felt an arm sling itself around his shoulders and the immortal form of Death appeared beside him. He flicked a glance down and saw that, yes, the dust pile was still there, but ignored it. "Redaxe mentioned that you were the Potter Account Manager?"
Livercrusher opened his mouth to reply, but all that emerged was a distinctly mouse-like squeak. Motion paused. All eyes turned to the goblin behind the desk, including the slightly reproving and mortified gaze of Redaxe, as Livercrusher's green skin tinted purple. The goblin cleared his throat a few times meaningfully before he tried again. "Yes, Mr. Potter. The previous Potter Account Manager, Boneclub, was found to have been implicit in several accounts of thievery from your main vault. He was summarily executed and fed to the dragons guarding the Lower Vaults."
"Pity," Death mused, the two conscious goblins stiffening at his voice--the first time they'd heard it without it being disguised by a human throat. "I would have enjoyed showing the thief why stealing from my shell is a monumentally foolish idea." Death heaved a sigh, face stretched into a shark-like grin. "I suppose I shall simply be content to pull his festering soul out of the Beyond to show him such once our business has been concluded."
Harry, with the ease of practice, pretended he had heard nothing, visibly disturbing the goblins in the process. "Thievery?" he prodded, a suspicion forming in his mind as to the culprit, but he'd rather have solid evidence before he worked himself up about it.
Livercrusher recovered admirably, shuffling some papers (actual papers, at that, and not parchments; seemed the goblins kept more up-to-date than the rest of the wizarding world) on his desk as he spoke. "Yes. Supreme Mugwump Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore made ten unauthorized transactions from the years 1981 to 1991: a lump sum of fifteen thousand galleons to be withdrawn once per year on seemingly random days. He also removed an artifact from the Potter Vault--one Cloak of Invisibility--" Harry noticed Death's full-body twitch and reminded himself to ask the entity about that later, "along with a small strongbox put there by the late Lord Potter that was to be given to you upon your eleventh birthday." Livercrusher paused as the room briefly grew uncomfortably warm as Harry's anger manifested itself. When the wizard had a hold of himself, the goblin continued. "Further attempts to withdraw the usual fifteen thousand galleons were denied, as the Confirmation of Heirship documents which were sent to you upon your acceptance into Hogwarts were never filled out correctly. They were returned signed, but the magical signature included did not hold up to the standard Consent tests performed on such documents. It was determined that the documents were either forged or signed under the presence of a compulsion charm, which invalidated the document and put your vaults on lockdown. It was, ironically, this lockdown that allowed us to audit your account and find the theft in the first place."
Here the goblin grinned toothily, as if inviting Harry to share in their amusement of the irony. Harry did not reply, too busy trying to hold in his magic from doing something destructive as his anger warred with his common sense. He'd suspected something like this as soon as the goblin mentioned thievery, but having it confirmed aloud made it more real somehow. He was torn between the desire to start breaking things, march straight to Headquarters to punch Dumbledore in the nose, or generally just rage about the injustice of it all. The indecision locked him in place, which likely saved the goblin's office from being forcibly redecorated.
"You will, of course, be returning to my shell the funds which were so appallingly stolen from him," Death said into the silence, voice flat and unusually serious considering how amused he normally sounded.
This was not a question, or even a suggestion, but rather a statement of fact. The goblins would be returning the money, or Death would do so for them in the most destructive and lethal manner he could think of. That this manner would likely include the genocidal eradication of the entire goblin nation went unsaid, but implicitly understood.
"Y-yes, of course," Livercrusher stammered, shuffling his papers again, this time nervously. "We shall take the funds directly from the Supreme Mugwump's vault in recompense."
"With interest, I assume?"
"Oh, oh y-yes," Livercrusher nodded so fast his neck popped, reminding Harry dimly of Dobby. "I-Interest. Of course."
Death's fingers tightened on Harry's shoulder, a sliver of his icy magic reaching out and smothering the fire-anger of Harry's own like a particularly cold blanket. The effect was not unlike having a bucket of ice water dumped over one's head, and Harry shivered as his breath frosted the air in front of him for several heartbeats afterwards. He did feel a great deal calmer now, though; he felt more in control of his magic, rather than it being the other way around.
"And what of the strongbox?" Harry asked once his teeth stopped chattering. He wanted everything that had been stolen back, and he wanted it back immediately. There was no way he was leaving anything that belonged to his father in Dumbledore's greedy hands.
"Ah, that, unfortunately, is something we are unable to recall physically. It seems to be behind a particularly impressive set of Ancient Wards. We suspect the Supreme Mugwump has it stored within Hogwarts, as the castle is notorious for being impervious to traditional curse-breaking." Livercrusher grimaced, seeming genuinely apologetic either despite or because of the looming figure of Death with its arm still around Harry's shoulders.
Death scoffed, his gaunt face entirely unimpressed. "Foolish mortal. There is no ward that has ever existed or that shall ever exist capable of stopping Death."
He reached out his free hand and the air around it abruptly bucked, the space above Death's outstretched palm warping and convulsing in an eye-bending example of how the laws of space and time meant nothing to Death. Within moments a gold box about fifteen inches long landed in his hand, the edges smoking and blurring as it tried to reconfigure itself into something capable of existing in this plane of reality after having just been forcibly pulled across the intervening distance through nothing but will alone.
Once the box stopped shuddering and seemed mostly solid, Death turned and dropped it into Harry's hands with a satisfied grin. Harry, ignoring the dumbfounded and terrified goblins, clutched the box to his chest with both arms, hunching over it protectively. This box had belonged to his father. This box had been meant for him; it was an actual gift from his parents, the only one he'd ever gotten that wasn't secondhand. Sure, his cloak had also belonged to his dad, but that had been something Dumbledore had purloined and given to him in the guise of a Christmas present. This was something that his father had explicitly stated was to go to Harry, and that hadn't already been pawed over or looked at by anyone else. He wasn't letting go of this box even if the world were to suddenly erupt into Armageddon.
Death's hand squeezed his shoulder again, before the entity turned sharp, Unforgiveable eyes on the frightened goblin behind the desk. "My shell requires privacy in which to view the contents of his father's strongbox."
"Oh! Oh, y-yes of course; if you'll just follow m--"
" No. This room will suffice. You will vacate the premises and not return until I fetch you."
Livercrusher dithered, torn between arguing that his was his office and therefore he had every right to remain in it, or immediately capitulating since this was Death and Livercrusher very much did not want to die. A bit of his goblin pride pushed through the overwhelming, animal-like terror that had gripped him since the being had first stepped foot in the bank. "My apologies, but this is my office. There are other private rooms I can arrange--"
Livercrusher bolted, tripping over his own feet as he barreled into the petrified form of Redaxe still in the doorway. The two goblins clawed at the ground and at each other as they alternatively dragged and shoved each other out of the room, one of them reaching in with a clawed hand and pulling the unconscious guard out after them by the foot before the door slammed shut and locked itself.
Harry found it in himself to laugh under his breath at how the goblins reacted to his friend, not finding it at all odd that Death had just kicked a goblin out of his own office just so he could look through the contents of a box. He found himself surprisingly eager to see what his father had left for him as he set the strongbox on Livercrusher's desk, searching for a lock or a latch with which to open it. He was startled to find the box was one seamless block of metal, with no apparent way to open it. With a furrowed brow, Harry lifted the box and shook it next to his ear, hearing the unmistakable sound of things rattling around.
So it was definitely hollow, then. Harry recalled the Marauder's Map and wondered if this box functioned similarly, reaching into his pocket for his wand. He pressed the tip of his wand to what he figured was the top of the box (due to the large crest of a stag with lilies in its antlers) and repeated the phrase he'd heard that the Marauders used when they were in Hogwarts.
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
The box clicked open incongruously, the seam appearing as if it had always been there despite evidence to the contrary. Eagerly, Harry opened the box and stared. Inside were two folded letters, one written on wizarding parchment and one on lined muggle paper. There were also a dozen or so vials with a strange silvery substance in them, along with a few envelopes that presumably had letters in them--each envelope had a name on them, so Harry figured he had been meant to receive and deliver those back when he was in his first year.
He lifted out one of the vials and stared at it. It didn't look like a potion. It looked more like a piece of silver, liquefied cloth as it twirled around itself endlessly. He wondered what it was, and why there were so many of them.
"Those are memories, my shell," Death murmured in his ear. "They require the use of a pensieve to view properly."
Harry's fingers went numb as he gingerly set the vial--his parents' memory!--back into the box as if it would break should he breathe on it too hard. This was... this was beyond anything he had been expecting. The contents of this box were priceless. He could have had memories of his parents since he was eleven, and yet... and yet Dumbledore had taken this from his vault and never even let on that it existed.
The air grew steadily warmer as his magic reflected his rising ire, and this time Death did not bother extinguishing his anger. Instead, the being stoked it.
"Perhaps the fate I had envisioned for your Headmaster was far too kind," Death spoke beguilingly into the silence; his voice was low and smooth, lacking the traditional rasp. "Tsk. Where does the mortal's deceit end?" The question was obviously rhetorical, for Death had taken to circling Harry's still form, close enough that his robes brushed Harry's arms occasionally. "Would you like me to exact revenge for you, my shell?" Death whispered, voice urgent and gleeful now. "Would you like me to rip out his soul? His magic? I can do that, you know. I can tear his magic from him, piece by piece, and play his screams for you like a serenade. I can rip from him his pride, his arrogance, his foolish greed, and leave him a quivering wreck of blood and flesh." Death came to rest in between Harry and the desk where the open box lay, setting both hands on Harry's shoulders, absinthe eyes wide and eager as a manic, fanged grin cracked his face in half. "Just say the word, my shell. Say the word and I shall show this mortal worm that there shall be no mercy for him in death."
Harry stood quietly, staring into the expectant eyes of Death, and realized something quietly terrifying. This ancient entity, this all-powerful creature, was waiting for orders. Orders from him, Harry Potter, a sixteen-year old wizard. That kind of power could be intoxicating, Harry knew, and he would grow addicted to it if he wasn't careful. Taking a careful breath, Harry tried to shelve his anger and think this through rationally. He bit back the instinctive yes, go teach the bastard a lesson and attempted to puzzle through the consequences of such an action.
He wouldn't feel regret were he to sick Death on Dumbledore, certainly. He might even feel rather good about it. The man had all but made his life a living hell since he was practically an infant, and Harry had a grudge the size of Russia about the whole Dursley situation. Dumbledore was a powerful person politically, but Death didn't care for politics and if Harry brought it up the entity would likely just laugh at the mere idea that 'mortal politics' meant anything at all to him. At this point it was mostly just his morals holding him back.
If he let Death at Dumbledore (hah, let... as if he had the power to stop him), would that make him evil? It would be justice, wouldn't it? Righteous vengeance? Would he leave it at that, though, or turn against others who had wronged him? Would he ever stop? Would he want to? Would he be able to stop, or would he eventually become something worse than Voldemort?
Death wouldn't care either way. Harry could ask him to enslave the Earth and Harry figured Death would do so without batting an eyelash. Death didn't care for anyone else in the world other than Harry. In fact, Harry was rather sure Death held the entire human population in complete disdain.
Somehow, the idea that Death wouldn't ever leave him no matter his choices was vastly comforting. With Ron and Hermione, there was always this underlying understanding that if he ever 'went Dark' they would likely not stand with him. Their views were so radically black and white that they would never be able to really understand if he did something they didn't see as 'Light.' He just knew that neither of them would understand his need for revenge against Dumbledore or the Dursleys.
Hermione knew the basics about his life at Privet Drive, but even then she always simply suggested he go to Dumbledore or tell some other adult about it and let them handle it. Harry didn't really trust adults, and thus trusted this advice even less. Ron knew more about the Dursleys than Hermione, having seen the bars on his window in his second year, but as a sixth son with a loving family he couldn't really grasp the concept of abuse with any sort of accuracy.
Harry desperately wanted to remain friends with Ron and Hermione, but he also desperately wanted Dumbledore to pay out the nose for what he'd done to him over the years. Maybe these didn't have to be mutually exclusive? Maybe he could get his revenge, and just not let his friends know about it? Surely, surely Death could do something discreet enough that no one would trace it back to Harry himself? Harry would know the truth, and he'd be sure Dumbledore knew it before he died, but did anyone else really have to be aware?
"Death," Harry spoke before he lost his nerve, feeling the sharpening of the entity's attention as it sensed/heard/felt his decision, "how good are you at being subtle?"
"I am Death, my shell. I am intangible, invisible, inevitable. I am the biting chill of The Final Winter, the Shadow you thought you saw, and the End of All Things. I am the very definition of subtlety."
Harry smiled, grimly satisfied. "Then maybe it's time that someone showed Dumbledore that he is not entitled to play God."
Death's grin cracked a few centimeters wider.
So for some strange reason, copy and pasting this chapter to AO3 was a huge bother. Every apostrophe became â€™. Every quotation mark became either â€œ or â€���. And let's not even talk about ellipses points or dashes. I had to manually go back and replace all of them, which was way more time consuming than I'd been expecting. I hope they fix whatever was causing that, because if I have to do this for every chapter I'm going to go bonkers.
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Death loomed over the slumbering form of Albus Dumbledore, standing motionless as absinthe eyes contemplated the old mortal currently oblivious to his presence. His fingers twitched with the need to attackmaimdestroy, but he held himself back with the sort of iron will that had seen him through countless eons of existence. His shell had requested he do something discreet to the human, and despite how manic and spontaneous he generally appeared, he could be subtle when he wanted to.
It wasn’t as if he could have led the squibs into revolution that one time when he was bored if he’d done it through showy examples of sheer power. He’d fixed everything afterwards, of course—leaving the Origin timeline so skewed would have been Very Bad Indeed. Knowing his luck, he could have accidentally written himself out of existence by preventing himself from being born or from gathering his Hallows.
Messing with the past had been fun for a while, but he always made sure that events leading up to his Ascension to Death were returned to Origin standards to avoid mistakes. Anything afterwards was free game, though. He couldn’t care less what happened to the ‘future,’ and had amused himself for millennia by experimenting with what he could get away with before the world devolved into a dystopia of epic proportions.
No, if there was one thing Death knew how to do, it was clean up after himself.
Regardless, there were many things he wanted to do to this upstart mortal before him, but very few of them could be accurately described as ‘subtle.’ Death pondered his options for a nanosecond, ideas and plans being formed and discarded at beyond the speed of thought as he weighed the potential of several schemes against one another, searching for the one that would please his shell and simultaneously offer the most agony to this… this wizard.
Death glanced back at the mortal, idly pressing a miniscule fraction of his magic onto the man to keep him asleep, and slipped through his feeble mental barriers while he was at it. He shuffled through the human’s memories, his dreams, his deepest fears, his every regret, and Death felt the hollow void that passed as his soul stirring with dawning glee.
This, Death knew, would be delicious.
He would have to handle this delicately; preying on this particular mortal’s fears required the sort of masterful subtlety that he hadn’t personally bothered exercising in over ten thousand years. He couldn’t simply crush the mortal under his heel and grind him into dust. He had to utterly destroy him, and the only way to do that was to tear down everything he believed in, everything he had fought and bled for, and expose him to the world for what he really was.
A coward. A weak, desperate shell of a man so warped from his sister’s death that he’d become someone the Albus Dumbledore of his childhood would have been disgusted by. Death grinned, running his tongue over his teeth as he reached out a pale hand and hovered it over the mortal’s head, gathering insidious magic at his fingertips.
He had learned this spell in Ancient Egypt from the Avatar of Ma’at, and had rarely had a reason to put it to good use. What good was forcing his enemies to tell the truth when he could simply rip the knowledge from their very souls? But now, it would serve him perfectly.
The spell sank into the mortal’s magical core, wrapping around it like the parasite it was, locking away the ability to lie, even to oneself. Death’s grin widened. An Albus Dumbledore incapable of telling anything but the whole, unadulterated truth… Death bit back the urge to laugh hysterically. The best part as far as Death was concerned was the compulsion in the spell to ignore the fact that he was telling the truth in the first place. It would be no fun at all if his victim realized what was happening and simply stopped speaking aloud, after all.
He calmed himself quickly, stepping away from the bed as he turned his attention to the room around him, eyes peering past wards and masking magic as if they weren’t even there, searching for anything incriminating. It wasn’t enough to simply force him to tell the truth, after all; Death had much more to do before he could return to his shell and claim that vengeance had been met to his satisfaction.
His eyes alighted on a pensieve ‘hidden’ behind a false wall, and his grin returned. He stepped towards it, only to pause as a ball of fire materialized between him and his target, screeching in anger. Death did not react to the sound, despite knowing how agonizing anyone else would find it. The song of a phoenix—be it uplifting or terrifying—targets souls, and Death had no soul to target. He reached out lightning-quick and snatched the phoenix out of the air, listening as it squawked and burst into flames as soon as his fingers closed around its neck.
The pile of ashes in his hand lifted to reveal a tiny, bald head, before the baby phoenix cried out as it ignited again, being forced into another burning day seconds after it had been reborn. Death watched with a crooked smile as the phoenix was forced into rebirth over and over and over again, its cries growing more broken and jagged after each rebirth.
He remembered the first time he’d discovered what his Touch did to phoenixes. As True Immortals, phoenixes had enough of a grasp on the living plane to not have their souls removed through simple touch. Death could remove the soul of a phoenix, but he had to actively want to. Otherwise, the death magic in his fingers was enough to repeatedly force the phoenix through simultaneous burning days. The one he’d experimented with had lasted approximately forty burnings before its mind had broken under the pain, and it had not risen from the ashes afterwards.
At burning number twenty-four, Death tipped his hand forward and let the phoenix and its ashes fall to the ground, stepping over it as it whimpered and cried beneath him. That would teach the bird to not interfere with him again.
Death pulled the pensieve free of its cabinet and scanned the vials of memories lining the shelves. He ran his magic through them and studied their contents, pleased to find Dumbledore had stored a great deal of his more ‘traumatic’ memories here in an effort to blunt their effect on his conscious mind. This was the risk to using pensieves: you could store your memories in them to numb the emotions and sensations associated with them, but if you left them out of your mind long enough you eventually forgot them altogether. Judging by the stale magic surrounding a few of them, Death figured the mortal hadn’t bothered replacing these memories in decades. Whether this was because he’d genuinely forgotten—he cackled at his own wit—about that little aspect of pensieves, or because the mortal thought himself above such mundane side effects, Death didn’t care. There were a great deal of his interactions with Grindelwald, along with a few of the more ‘shady’ actions he’d taken along the road to his Greater Good.
Death could only grin at the thought of Dumbledore forgetting all of this. His holier-than-thou attitude would make much more sense if he legitimately didn’t know about everything shifty he’d done in the name of the ‘Light.’ Not that Death pitied him. Or cared. Or was particularly compassionate about the mistake. It was the mortal’s own fault, and Death had no tolerance for idiots.
With a flick of thought, Death banished all the vials and the pensieve to the Void where he could collect them later. His shell had needed a pensieve after all, and it wasn’t as if Dumbledore needed this one now that he’d taken all the memories stored with it. In fact, Death was doing the mortal a favor by taking it with him. It wasn’t healthy to use a pensieve like this, after all. The mortal should be thanking him, in all honesty. Maybe he could get the human to thank him publicly? It wouldn’t be difficult to override the man’s conscious mind and magic and simply take over for a while—he could make a grand spectacle out of it for his own entertainment.
That was what mortals were useful for: being entertaining. When they stopped entertaining him, he tended to lose interest. And when he lost interest in a mortal, he generally silenced them in some sort of permanent manner so that they didn’t go around blabbing about how “He possessed me!” or “He made me slaughter an entire town using only my teeth!” Tattletales annoyed him. Things that annoyed him didn’t tend to live very long lives.
A small, shivering trill drew his attention down to the little bald bird sitting in a pile of ashes. Death’s face slowly stretched into a wide, fanged smile. He’d almost forgotten about the little chick that had foolishly tried to stand in his way. It wasn’t as if the bird didn’t know who—what—he was. Death was doing nothing to hide his magic or his presence; the bird would have had to be extremely ignorant to have not known what it was getting into. The phoenix on the ground choked out a sound somewhere between a protest and a plea, and Death crouched before it, grinning wide as he clucked his tongue at the shivering bird.
“Silly little bird,” Death cooed, leaning closer and watching as the phoenix fell backwards with an alarmed squeak as he drew near. The bird was nervous, but not terrified. It seemed the chick had been so secure in its own invincibility that it had utterly ignored what its magic was telling it. How adorable. “Your vaunted immortality is nothing in the face of Death.” He watched as the bird grew very still, tiny eyes widening as it realized what it had attacked in defense of its master. He reached out one long finger and prodded the bird on the head, watching as it burst into pained flames again and was reborn. “Your master has made an enemy of me, little firebird. Will you stand betwixt us and sacrifice your soul for such a meaningless insect?”
The little phoenix trembled as it stared at him, obviously weighing its options, before it lowered its head and closed its eyes in defeat. Death bared his teeth in a grin, straightening from his crouch and dusting his hands against each other to rid himself of the leftover ashes. He’d thought not. Phoenixes were very attached to their immortality, and he’d yet to meet one that was willing to accept True Death in defense of another. For such noble, Light creatures, phoenixes were just as inherently selfish as everything else in the face of death.
“I thought not…” Death murmured, eying the depressed little bird with a smirk. The chick was fortunate that Death had things to do and places to be, else he might have stuck around and played with it for a while longer. He was positive he could take the bird to rebirth forty-one before it broke, and it would have been interesting to see if he could somehow mutate the phoenix’s magic away from its Light alignment—doing so would have set the bird’s Dark magic and Light soul into conflict, which was always amusing to watch. The bird would have torn itself apart trying to fix itself, and watching a creature ignite its own magical core against its will provided a spectacular lightshow that would have entertained him for some time.
Making a mental note to come back for the phoenix at a later time—I wonder if my shell would be interested in my experiments?—Death took a step forward in the Headmaster’s quarters at Hogwarts, and emerged inside his shell’s room at Grimmauld Place with the sleeping form of his alternate self. Death smiled almost fondly at the boy, before grinning as he retrieved the pensieve he’d appropriated and set it against the wall. He’d be sure and draw his shell’s attention to it when the boy woke; his shell had never used a pensieve before, and Death would be sure and explain all the upsides and downsides to using one. No point in letting his precious shell turn into an idiot.
Death turned on his heel and fell back into the ornate black chair that materialized in time to catch him, propping one ankle up on his opposite knee as he watched his shell sleep. He wasn’t surprised that his shell was so tired; he had been given quite a shock at the bank earlier, and mortals didn’t handle surprises very well. Death would admit to being rather curious about the memories his shell’s father had left him—not his father, never his—and wondered if such a thing had existed in his own reality.
He supposed it didn’t matter. He didn’t really care either way, but it would have been interesting to know. If it had, that meant his Dumbledore had been successful in keeping it from him, which was irritating but not enough to really make him upset. It had been countless, countless eons since he’d last cared or thought about his human parents. But his shell was still young and was likely to care a great deal more about the whole ordeal than Death would have. He would have sent his magic through the memories like he had those of Dumbledore’s, but Death rather thought he’d like to be surprised for once. He’d view them alongside his shell of course, and it would be more interesting to watch them for the first time then. It would be intriguing to not already know something ahead of time.
As he studied the unconscious form of his shell, Death ran the bare bones—he would get the mortals to appreciate his jokes eventually—of his plan through his mind. He supposed he could do everything all at once, expose all the secrets and all the lies simultaneously and maybe get a stroke or a heart attack out of it, but it would be more satisfying to spread it out. Plus, people would accept everything easier if it were spaced out in a believable fashion. Death had become old hand at manipulating the minds of weak little mortals, and he wasn’t above nudging a few people into the right mindset if they weren’t conforming to his desires. The die-hard Dumbledore fans, for one, were likely to take everything with a grain of salt.
This was unacceptable.
Death wanted the mortal universally loathed. He would not rest until every man woman and child equated the name Albus Dumbledore with the scum of the earth. Death wanted Dumbledore spat upon in the streets, kicked out of every storefront, snarled at by every dog, and hissed at by every cat. Death would hound the man until he either tried to take back his power by force, or he tried to kill himself out of sheer grief.
He wouldn’t let him succeed in either of those, of course, but it would be amusing to watch him try.
The truth spell had been the first step. Death would not allow Dumbledore to die a martyr, not this time. He would use Magical Britain’s fickle-mindedness to its fullest potential, turning Dumbledore’s greatest strength into his biggest weakness. For a man who relied on the adoration and loyalty of the sheep of Britain, the sudden scorn and disgust would be crippling.
But Death did not aim to merely cripple the man. No, Death would not stop until the mortal’s mind broke beneath the weight of his own deceptions. And once the man was helpless, defeated, isolated from everything and everyone… Death would stop being subtle.
Death stood from his chair and stepped up to his shell’s bedside, absently running a hand through the boy’s hair, unable to deny himself the urge to be in almost constant contact with the one human he could actually touch. He was still rather in awe of the fact that his shell allowed him to touch him in the first place. Death knew he was unnatural, knew he was frightening to look at and to be around, but his shell still permitted him this contact without judging him for it.
His shell doubted his ability to be discreet. Death knew and understood this. Running his tongue over his teeth, Death smiled; he couldn’t wait to prove the boy wrong.
Chapter 19: Albus Dumbledore Interlude
Albus Dumbledore was having a very good day.
He’d had another vaguely blurry dream about himself as a lad and some other boy with blond hair whose name he couldn’t entirely recall, and the emotions accompanying it had been agreeably joyous and pleasant. He planned to start his day with a nice cup of tea before he tracked down little Harry and convinced him that it would be in his best interest to remain in Grimmauld Place where it was safe, rather than go gallivanting off to Gringotts—he’d bribed one of the goblins there to keep track of the poor boy’s visits, and to ensure that the lad never found out about his Lordships and the bothersome things his parents had left to him in their will (which he’d sealed, as was his right as Chief Warlock)—where anyone could have simply snatched him off the street. He only had a fifth-year Hogwarts education, after all, and wouldn’t last very long in any sort of legitimate battle with Death Eaters.
Albus did not believe that his summoned hero had actually managed to kill Tom; at least not permanently. He knew that Tom had made at least six horcruxes, and there was truly no way for his summoned hero to have known about those if he truly had tracked down the Dark Lord and defeated him (he preferred to use words like defeated and vanquished to promote the idea that Voldemort was not really human, and thus words like killed and murdered were inappropriate). Albus also did not believe that his summoned hero was actually Death, despite how the man had chosen to introduce himself. Why, he’d known a wizard back in the ‘20s who’d gone by War, but his real name had actually been Steven. ‘Death’ was likely a title he’d given himself due to his experiences in his old dimension, rather than a job description.
He wasn’t worried about his new hero, though. The ritual he’d used had been very specific in its description, and he knew he wouldn’t have summoned anything that would pose any sort of real threat to him. One of his conditions had been that whomever he summoned could not be unforgivably evil—he had not specified that his hero be Light, however, as he knew better than most that the best way to fight fire was with fire, despite the impression he tended to give his Order members—and as Albus considered himself a paragon of goodness, his hero couldn’t conceivably bring harm to him without being deemed ‘evil’ by the parameters of the ritual. It was all rather clever of him, he thought; he’d had this theory proven several times over the past few days when his hero had passed up several opportunities to harm him in favor of following dear Harry around instead.
Albus was not entirely sure what to think about the odd bond growing between his two chosen heroes. It was most definitely a good thing that the man he’d summoned had formed an attachment to one of them—he would be less likely to betray them or go against Albus’ wishes if he’d formed a positive rapport with someone in the Order—but he was worried that the hero whom he’d called (who was, unfortunately, quite Dark in both manner and bearing) would corrupt little Harry. If Harry were to ever grow out of the conditioning Albus had carefully put the lad through over the years, he might stumble upon some things that Albus would much rather keep hidden.
The boy had to willingly sacrifice himself, after all, and he would not be quite so eager to do that if he realized he didn’t actually have to live with his relatives and had a considerable sum of gold waiting for him in Gringotts. Harry had to believe that his life was worth less than that of everyone else’s, else Albus’s entire plan would be worthless. The boy had already proven to be immune to the Imperius, and Albus had theorized that the basilisk venom and phoenix tears in the boy’s blood would render him remarkably resistant to any sort of mind-altering potions. There was also no guarantee that should anyone other than Tom actually kill the boy that the horcrux would be truly destroyed. Knowing the Potter Luck as he did, it was equally as likely that the boy’s soul would be the one destroyed, leaving the horcrux in charge of its own magically-gifted body for the first time.
That was the absolute last thing Albus needed: a second Tom Riddle running around wearing the face of the Boy-Who-Lived.
Albus was certain that the horcrux still existed in the boy, despite his claims otherwise. The lad hadn’t really tried to give a convincing argument in the first place; honestly, having a horcrux removed from a living vessel via touch? No. Albus was sure the horcrux was still intact, and the lad had merely convinced himself that it was gone to prevent unnecessary trauma.
Albus heaved himself out of bed and studied the golden cup that his hero had left in the Order’s meeting room (which doubled as the kitchen) the other day. It looked remarkably familiar, but more and more things had started becoming rather blurry in his memories recently. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew he was getting on in years. Memory loss was not entirely unprecedented for a man of his age, wizard or no, and he was sure that whatever thought was connected to this innocuous little cup was not that important. If it had been, he would have stored it in his pensieve for safe-keeping, and according to his research storing memories in a pensieve locked them in place, preventing one from forgetting them in the first place. It was why he put so many of his more important recollections there, such as the time he… the time he…
Well, it wasn’t important. It was far too early to be trying to recall such heavy thoughts, anyway. Smiling good-naturedly to himself, Albus stepped away from the bed and stumbled as a fretful squawk sounded by his feet. He looked down and saw Fawkes resting in a scattered pile of ashes a few yards from his bed, looking the worst Albus had ever seen him. Albus tutted as he reached for his original wand—which was not nearly as powerful as the Elder Wand which he still needed to get back from his hero—and levitated the phoenix and its ashes back to its perch. He was an old man, now. He couldn’t be bending down every time his familiar decided to be reborn somewhere inconvenient.
Albus would have thought by now the phoenix would be able to tell when its burning days were, and would know to land somewhere appropriate in time for it to happen. He supposed he wasn’t the only one who was forgetting things nowadays, Albus chortled to himself, ignoring the odd looks Fawkes was sending him.
By the time Albus had made it to his office—he’d spent ten minutes picking out his robes for the day; the brighter the color, the more people tended to underestimate him and think him utterly barmy, which was ideal for his image—a rather irate Minerva McGonagall was waiting for him.
Ah, Minerva. Albus still remembered when she was a student; she had been one of his favorites, a true Transfiguration prodigy. It was a shame that he could never bring himself to tell her that her old schoolgirl crush Tom Riddle had gone on to become the Dark Lord that would kill her parents and eventually kill her husband. It wasn’t all that important, he figured; it was best to let such ugly truths remain secret from those who did not truly need to know.
“Finally, Albus!” Minerva snapped. Oh dear, Albus thought amusedly. She’s already growling at me and it’s not even noon! “I need those reports on the school budget I sent you. Do you have them ready? I really need to get them to the Governors before they start poking their overlarge noses into Hogwarts business.”
“Of course not, Minerva,” Albus replied with a twinkle, ignoring the odd look on his Deputy’s face. She was likely still cranky from being made to wait. “I have far more important things to do than worry about the school budget. If it gets tight I’ll simply dip into the Founders’ vaults again to cover it like I usually do.”
Minerva had the strangest look on her face. Albus wondered if she were well; it would not do for his Deputy to become ill, especially not now that he was so busy with the war and couldn’t handle his regular duties. Minerva was such a dear to pick up the slack now and then.
“Albus, what are you talking about?” Minerva asked him, looking oddly concerned.
He simply smiled at her and pushed more magic into the spell he used to make his eyes twinkle—such a useful spell, that: it helped disguise the signs of passive legilimency, not that he could use it against Minerva since she was an accomplished Occlumens and would likely notice.
“Fear not, Minerva,” he soothed her, “I’ll attend to the budget as soon as I convince dear Harry to stay at Headquarters where I can keep a close eye on him.”
Another of those odd looks was aimed his way as Minerva slowly nodded. “…very well, Albus. I’ll be… in my office if you need anything.”
He nodded with a benevolent smile as Minerva slowly backed out of the room, still eyeing him strangely. He would have to floo Poppy and convince her to pay Minerva a visit—she was clearly unwell.
With that out of the way, Albus hummed cheerfully to himself as he headed for the fireplace. The passive wards he’d woven around Headquarters had informed him that Harry had returned last night, and now would be an ideal time to confront the lad about his outing. He was positive he could guilt the boy into staying in the house from now on, and if he timed it right he might even be able to do so without his newest pawn being present. It would not do for his new chosen hero to overhear anything that might make him suspicious of Albus’ motives.
As he emerged from the fireplace into Grimmauld Place, Albus twirled his old wand and silently banished the ash clinging to his clothing. It was always good to keep in practice with silent casting, especially if there was a chance someone could catch you doing it and be impressed. He sent a silent pulse through the wards to locate the boy he was here to confront, and found him still in his room.
Tsking at the propensity to oversleep inherent in teenagers these days, Albus headed for the stairs. Why, when he was a lad he was up with the dawn every morning. He could hardly fathom why the boy needed so much sleep, especially since school was not even in session. If this was a sign of laziness, Albus would have to find a way to fix that. The Chosen One—even if Albus did not intend for the boy to live long enough to revel in his fame—could not be lazy, after all.
There were locking and silencing wards on Harry’s door, but Albus ignored those and dismantled them. The boy had probably just put those up to keep out the other children—young Ronald was arriving today and bringing his delightful little sister with him; Albus knew that Harry was uncomfortable around the youngest Weasley, and it made him chuckle every time he saw them together. It was like James and Lily in reverse!
Albus had just put his hand on the door when it was pulled open from the other side, and he found himself staring into the wide, fanged grin of the hero he had summoned. An unsettling chill ran down his spine, and Albus inwardly frowned at this odd reaction. He would have to cast a few warming charms around the place if it were cold enough to make him shiver like this with the slightest draft.
He had been hoping to avoid confronting this man until he’d dealt with Harry’s little rebellion, but perhaps this was an ideal time to get his wand back. The deathstick’s power made up a great deal of the magic behind most of his spells—he wasn’t getting any younger—and he truly could not leave it in the hands of someone who was so obviously Dark.
“Ah, my boy—” Albus faltered as something in the man’s face subtly shifted, and the wide grin was suddenly neither friendly nor particularly reassuring, “I had hoped that I might speak with young Harry about his unapproved outing the other day, but since you’re here I’m afraid I must insist that you return my wand to me immediately. It is simply too powerful to be left in the hands of someone who does not follow or obey me.”
The man’s impossible grin widened further. Albus wondered what sort of glamour the man was using to achieve this effect, as Albus was quite capable of seeing through most illusions and yet couldn’t quite pierce this one. Perhaps he had cast it using the Elder Wand? That would certainly account for its seeming solidity.
“The wand does not belong to you, mortal,” the man told him in that horribly hoarse voice of his. “I will not be returning it.” The man paused, and his lips closed over his teeth in a strangely polite, accomplished sort of smile that Albus had yet to see from the man. “I do so appreciate your honesty in this matter, Dumbledore. I am pleased to know just where I stand in regards to yourself.”
Albus smiled back genially, a bit confused but eventually figuring that the man had realized that he had been summoned by Albus, and thus should follow his orders like he was meant to, rather than this odd sort of bizarre independence he had previously exercised. “Of course, dear boy,” Albus studiously ignored the way the man’s sharp-fanged snarl made his magic shudder and recoil into his core, “I shall simply demand the return of my wand at a later time. I have too many things to do to spend much of it arguing the matter, you understand.” He twinkled reassuringly at the man, earning a strange sort of vaguely threatening grin in return, before the door was closed—rather abruptly—in his face.
Well, that could have gone better, but at least the man was coming around to Albus’ way of thinking. Humming to himself and reaching into his pocket for a lemon drop, Albus headed back down the stairs so he could floo back to his office and deal with the budget poor Minerva had been so worked up over. He dearly hoped she was not coming down with anything; that would be most unfortunate considering how he had planned to push much of his paperwork onto her in the coming days while he dealt with tracking down Tom’s horcruxes.
Sometimes it just didn’t pay to get up in the mornings.
Chapter 20: James' Memories
“James, are you ready to go?”
James whirled around, a panicked look on his face as he—rather belatedly—recalled that he was supposed to be taking Lily-flower out for dinner tonight. It was some sort of anniversary for something—their first date? Their first kiss? James honestly couldn’t recall, nor did he understand how his wife expected him to keep all these things straight when he could barely remember where he left his wand in the morning—and when Lily had suggested (read: ordered) him to take her someplace nice, he’d absently agreed.
He’d been in the middle of a staring contest with Padfoot! Of course he’d not been paying attention.
Merlin, James thought, horrified, as he began tearing through the closet to find something ‘publically appropriate’ to wear. This meant he couldn’t wear his favorite Gryffindor-themed robes, since apparently bright red and gold were not ‘colors suited for the real world, James.’ I sure hope Moony knows the countercurse to the castration charm.
He winced remembering that particularly creative threat. And, knowing Lily, if a castration charm didn’t already exist, it likely would by the time she needed it. He crossed his legs reflexively as he pulled out a set of sedate blue robes that he was pretty sure Lily had approved of on a previous outing. He was also pretty sure he hadn’t worn them in a while, so she probably wouldn’t call him out on his ‘lack of creativity.’
Honestly! Him! Uncreative! He was a Marauder! Creativity was in his blood, damn it!
“James Charlus Potter, get down here this instant!”
Uh-oh. She’d upgraded to his full name. That was never a good sign, no matter what female was using it. He could hear her marching up the stairs, and briefly his mind blanked with terror as he imagined having to explain to the love of his life that he’d forgotten whatever anniversary he was meant to be celebrating today.
“Oh, honestly James. I know you love looking at yourself, but we’re going to be late!”
James blinked back into reality, finding himself standing in front of the mirror inside his closet, dressed in his robes and with everything in place. A cocky grin fixed itself on his face as he performed an internal victory dance. Ha! His subconscious was so awesome that it managed to dress him entirely on its own!
Hm. Maybe he should worry about that, but he was far more interested in how lovely Lily looked in that dress. Those muggleborns who thought robes looked like dresses had obviously never seen a real woman wearing a dress, as far as James was concerned. Those stuck-up purebloods didn’t know what they were missing. Wizarding dress robes had nothing on muggle dresses.
“You look gorgeous, Lily-flower,” James grinned, raking fingers through his hair.
Lily smirked slightly back at him, obviously unimpressed with his stalling. “I know. That’s why you asked me to marry you, James.”
James frowned sternly at her. He had actually married her because she was brilliant and funny and amazing and the single most generous soul he’d ever met. Anyone who could put up with Snivellus for that many years without throwing up had to be a saint. “Don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t marry you for your looks!” Grinning wide, James leered at her as he made measuring motions around his chest. “I married you for your great—”
Lily interrupted him by whacking him upside the head with her muggle handbag, pursing her lips as she tried not to laugh. “Oh James. What am I ever going to do with you…?”
“JAMES CHARLUS POTTER, IF YOU EVER TOUCH ME AGAIN I’LL GELD YOU LIKE A HORSE!”
James flinched, ignoring Padfoot howling with laughter beside him. The utter bastard. Sirius wasn’t the one who’d had his wedding tackle threatened, so of course the man was able to laugh. James couldn’t remember what laughter even felt like anymore, not since Lily had been screaming and cursing his name.
Was it supposed to take this long? He didn’t know if he could take the stress if he had to listen to this for much longer. Would Lily be offended if he asked the mediwitch to put up a silencing ward?
From the look of disapproval on Moony’s face, he figured the answer was probably yes.
“She’ll be fine, James,” Moony soothed. Good ‘ol Moony. At least James had one supportive friend here today. “This is perfectly normal, and once she’s feeling better she’ll stop threatening to castrate you.”
“Did she ever make that charm, Prongs?” Padfoot grinned, still sniggering.
James winced. “Yes. She demonstrated it on a target dummy. I’ve never felt so bad for a piece of wood before.”
Padfoot abruptly stopped laughing. “Wait, you’re serious?”
“No, you’re Sirius,” James replied automatically. They’d been friends for so long he barely even acknowledged that joke anymore, even when he was the one making it. “There was definitely a hole in that target that hadn’t been there before. And it was in a very unfortunate place.”
Padfoot shifted in place and folded his legs, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “Oh.”
James smirked. “Yes, oh. Why do you think I’m taking Lily-flower’s threats so seriously?”
“Siriusly?” Padfoot half-joked, still looking rather spooked with the knowledge that the wife of his best mate knew a curse to castrate someone. There definitely hadn’t been anything like that in the Hogwarts library. Hell, the Black library didn’t even have anything like that in it, at least not in the books Sirius had read.
“Where’s Peter?” James asked an amused Moony in a blatant attempt to change the subject. “I haven’t seen him around lately, but I was sure he’d be here at least.”
Moony frowned. “His grandmother is sick again, I think. He mentioned something about it at the last Order meeting. You know, the one you spent hexing Sirius under the table instead of paying attention?”
James opened his mouth to deny such horrendous accusations laid upon him by his dear werewolf friend, when another scream sounded from the hospital room he’d been kicked out of about half an hour ago after Lily broke his hand.
The scream was followed by a beat of silence, and then the wailing of a newborn drowned out everything else. James could not have stayed out of that room if Voldemort himself had cursed him there. He barely even noticed the wards set to keep him out—his own magic simply tore through them as he burst through the door and caught a glimpse of the pale, sweaty face of his wife.
She was holding a little pink thing swathed in blankets against her chest, and she had never been so beautiful.
“Is that…?” James asked, almost breathless. Was this his son? His child? His little Prongslett?
“Come and meet your son, James,” Lily smiled tiredly at him, looking radiant and perfect despite the exhaustion permeating her very being.
James staggered over to the chair he’d been using before being unceremoniously tossed out on his ear, collapsing into it as if it had been him giving birth minutes ago and not Lily. He reached over with trembling hands and brought the bundle to his chest, looking down into a screwed-up little face as it wiggled unhappily in his arms.
The little baby—his son! His child! His!—opened up its eyes and newborn-blue met astonished hazel. Immediately and irrevocably, James fell in love. This was beyond the love he felt for Lily, for his parents, for magic itself.
“Hello Harry,” James whispered, smiling as the baby stopped fussing and stared at him in fuzzy fascination. “I’m your daddy.”
I’m his daddy, James thought dizzily. He was a father. He could hardly believe he wasn’t dreaming.
“Don’t hog him all to yourself, Prongs!” Padfoot’s voice broke through, and James only heard him as if from a great distance. He did notice when Padfoot attempted to take Harry from him, only for James to clutch him tighter as if afraid the baby would vanish into thin air should he leave his hold. “Prongs?”
James blushed slightly, smiling apologetically as he let Sirius take hold of his godson for the first time. Moony was hovering in the doorway, smiling at them but not getting too close. James was disappointed, but he understood. He was always afraid to hold fragile things because he still underestimated his own strength sometimes, even after all these years. James would have trusted the werewolf to hold his son, but Moony wouldn’t have trusted himself to do likewise.
“You made a handsome kid, Prongs,” Padfoot grinned, offering the baby back to an exasperated Lily who had been looking a bit put-out that her son was being passed around without her input.
James leaned over and wrapped an arm around his tired wife, looking down at their son in her arms. “Yeah,” he smiled, pressing a kiss to Lily’s hair even as Padfoot and Moony snuck out of the room. “We sure did.”
“Your son is floating, James,” Lily’s idle voice commented from beside him on the sofa.
James looked up to see that, indeed, his son was floating. Right out of his crib, in fact. Leaping to his feet, James snatched the giggling boy out of the air and sat back down with him clutched to his chest. He glanced over to see Lily smirking into the book she’d been reading.
“Why is he always my son whenever his accidental magic kicks in?” James whined.
It was rather impressive, actually. Most children didn’t display any magic until they were at least two or three, and little Harry had been animating his toys since he was nine months old. James had wanted to brag to everyone he knew that his son was such a little prodigy, but Lily had put her foot down. The last thing they wanted was to bring attention to Harry’s powerful magic, especially in the middle of a war. James had been ashamed of himself once reason had kicked in, but Lily had assured him that that was what wives were for. That she’d said this with a smirk had had James sulking for a full week.
Lily had indulgently allowed James to tell Sirius about Harry’s accidental magic, but only after he swore an oath of secrecy about it. Lily took the protection of her son very seriously, and James almost pitied the first person who tried anything while she was around. He wanted to tell Moony and Peter, but Wormtail had been absent so often that he never really had the chance, and the Order kept insisting that Moony was likely a spy for Voldemort due to his status as a dark creature. James thought this was absolutely ridiculous. Moony was the last person likely to be a spy, right behind Sirius and James himself. Not only did he hate his werewolf side with a vengeance, but he was a naturally gentle and caring person who wouldn’t have hurt a fly if it landed in his tea.
James grinned at little Harry who smiled back, waving around his little hands and blinking those huge green eyes up at him. James was glad that Harry had gotten Lily’s eyes, even if the rest of him was pretty much himself in miniature. He hoped he inherited her eyesight as well; James had hated his glasses as a child, and didn’t want his own son to suffer wearing them.
James frowned when Harry’s face shifted to a rather intense one that he didn’t recognize, and had just started getting worried when Harry sneezed in James’ face.
James paused, even as Lily snorted and clapped a hand to her face to stifle the sudden, inexplicable laughter. He turned and pouted at her, which only made her double over as she laughed into the book pressed to her face. Harry, hearing his mum laughing, started giggling along.
It would take James an hour to realize he now sported an impressive pair of antlers and the ears to go with them.
“What’s this about Albus?” James asked impatiently, wanting to return home to Lily and Harry and cuddle a bit. He felt like his manliness went down every time he admitted to himself that he liked cuddling his son, but it was so worth it. He wondered what Frank was doing there, though; he had a son of his own about Harry’s age, and there was no way Dumbledore had called them here for a mission if they both had babies at home.
Albus’ face was grave. “It is time, James.”
James paled, and saw Frank reacting similarly to his left. Albus had told them about the prophecy surrounding their boys, and insisted that they go under the Fidelius in case Voldemort hunted them. James had protested, insisting that the wards on Potter Manor were more than sufficient to keep out a Dark Lord and his followers. Longbottom Manor was likewise warded, and neither Frank nor James had felt inclined to take the old man up on his ‘offer.’
But if Albus was bringing it up again, that meant Voldemort was either getting far too close to their location for comfort, or something else horrible had happened that the man wasn’t likely to tell them about until ‘the time was right.’ James trusted Albus, sure, but the Headmaster was terribly annoying when he withheld information from them.
“There have been Death Eaters sighed in the area near the Manor, James. It is time to move.”
“Can’t we just put the Fidelius up on Potter Manor?” James asked desperately. He didn’t want to abandon the Manor he’d grown up in. He had hoped his son could grow up there like all the Potters had done before him, but if the look on Albus’ face was any indication, that wasn’t about to happen.
“There is not enough space on the wardstone to hold such a powerful ward in addition to the others, James,” Albus insisted kindly. “It would best if you moved to a different property and allowed me to put it under Fidelius as soon as possible.” He turned to Frank briefly. “There have yet to be sightings near Longbottom Manor, but I thought I should offer the same just in case.”
Some color returned to Frank’s face, and he frowned briefly as he shook his head. “No thank you Albus. Alice and I will trust in the wards on the manor to keep us safe.”
“Very well,” Albus conceded easily enough. James thought that was odd, but was quickly distracted as the old man went on. “James, I’d like to suggest the property in Godric’s Hollow. Those who know of the wealth of Potter Manor would not expect you to relocate to such a humble building.”
James grimaced. Well that was certainly true. James had become rather accustomed to the wealth and comfort of the manor, and downgrading to the little house on Godric’s Hollow would certainly be an effective diversion tactic, if nothing else. “All right. I’ll talk to Lily about getting ready to move.”
“Have you chosen who should act as Secret Keeper? It would be best to keep them informed as well,” Albus reminded him.
“Yeah,” James grinned, proud of his plan. “We’ll be using Peter, but Sirius is going to act as decoy since he’s the one everyone will expect us to use.”
Albus’ eyes began to twinkle. “Very clever, my boy. I shall prepare the ritual to ward the property once you’re ready.”
“Thanks Albus,” James said, relieved. He would feel much better once his family was under such an unbreakable ward. And he trusted Peter with his life. Now that both Albus and Frank were in on the plan, even if—Merlin forbid—Peter were captured and tortured into giving up the location, Sirius wouldn’t have any heat fall on him in retribution.
“Of course, dear boy. I’m always happy to be of assistance.”
James glanced over his shoulder, double-checking that Lily was still asleep and prodding at the ward around Harry’s crib that would alert him should his son wake up. He quietly closed the door to the washroom and silenced the room, turning to stare into the mirror and took a steadying breath.
He’d been collecting memories to put in Harry’s trust vault for a while now, wanting to be sure that his son could grow up knowing him even if the worst should happen. He was not a naïve little boy anymore. James was an auror, and he knew perfectly well that causalities were inevitable in war, whether he was on active duty or not.
Hopefully, Harry would never need to watch any of these because he would live to a ripe old age and could impart his manly wisdom on his son firsthand. Tonight he’d be making the last memory to go in The Box, which he’d willed to Harry, of course. Lily had her own memories that she’d decided to put into The Box, none of which she’d allowed James to watch. In a bit of sulking retribution, he’d made sure not to show her his memories either, and was even making this one specifically on his own without her knowing.
He couldn’t let Lily corrupt his precious son against him! Knowing her, all her memories would be of him making a fool of himself at Hogwarts, which was an unacceptable way to introduce himself to his son!
Turning back to the mirror, James cleared his throat self-consciously and attempted to tame his wilder-than-usual hair. It was always worse after he rolled out of bed, which he’d just done to sneak in here in the middle of the night. Frowning at his reflection, James flicked his wand and transfigured his slacks into a more respectable set of red and gold robes. There. That was better.
Grinning at himself, he shoved his hands in his pockets and wondered where to begin.
“Hey there, Prongslett. It’s, uh, me. James. Your dad. Of course you knew that, but, well,” he coughed uncomfortably. Maybe he should have rehearsed this or something. “Anyway! If all goes well you’ll never have to watch this and see how bad your dad is at talking about his feelings, so I guess it doesn’t matter much how awkward this comes out. This should be the last time I’ll have to pull out a memory—thank Merlin—and I wanted to make it a little more personal than the others. Not that seeing your mother being beautiful or me being my handsome self is boring or anything, but you understand.” James ran his fingers through his hair as he frowned. “This is very strange. I hope you appreciate this, Prongslett, because talking to myself in the bathroom mirror is something I’d expect out of Padfoot. He’s your godfather, by the way. Merlin only knows what I’d been thinking when I decided that. I must have been drunk. Yes, that’s probably it.” Nodding firmly to himself, James grinned. “Tomorrow’s Halloween, you know. Your mother has you dressing up as a lion, with ears and everything! I will never let you live this down, Prongslett. Never.” He smirked to himself before sighing. “You know I love you, right Harry? I’ve loved you since the first time your mother put you in my hands. Since before that, even!” James cleared his throat, feeling the ward around Harry’s crib twinging and deciding to wrap this up and go cuddle his son where Lily couldn’t catch him and hog him all for herself. “No matter what happens, I’ll always love you Prongslett. Even if you…” James swallowed heavily, grimacing. “Even if you married Snape.” He shuddered, trying to shake off the very thought. “Don’t, though. Really. You can do much better than Snape.” The ward started humming, letting him know that Harry had just woken up and was feeling grumpy. “I gotta run, Prongslett. It’s time to go cuddle you a bit—and doesn’t that thought just boggle the mind?—before your baby-hogging mother hides you somewhere all for herself.”
Grinning at the mirror, James snuck back out the bathroom and headed for his son’s nursery. He couldn’t wait to see Harry in that lion outfit. He would be taking a lot of blackmail photos for when he was older. James was looking forward to it.
Chapter 21: Lily's Memories
Harry emerged from the pensive gasping for breath, both hands white-knuckled on the edges of the silver bowl as his mind ran around itself in circles trying to make sense of the maelstrom of emotion currently rampaging through him. There was a painfully tight grip on his shoulder where long, pale fingers had clamped down in sympathetic reaction but Harry hardly noticed.
“He knew,” Harry breathed, eyes burning as the joy he felt at seeing his father properly for the first time warred with the sudden, horrible understanding that Dumbledore had known Sirius was innocent, and had left him to rot.
Death was silent at his shoulder, and when Harry turned to look at him he saw a face that could have been carved out of stone. There was no fanged smile on that face, nor was there even a hint of green in terrible void-black eyes. Death was staring at the quietly swirling pensieve without a shred of emotion to betray what he might have been thinking, and—not for the first time—Harry wished he knew how to read minds.
“It is strange,” Death finally spoke, voice soft and hoarse. “I had… forgotten what grief felt like.”
Harry took a deep breath as he shoved back his own reaction and studied his companion more closely. How would this feel to Death, he wondered? For an immortal who had gone eons without so much as thinking about his human past, to suddenly be confronted with the first, undeniable proof he’d ever had that his mortal father had loved him?
Death’s face twitched slightly, and his lips peeled back into a familiar, sharp grin that was far less friendly than the ones Harry normally saw. “Shall we proceed, my shell? Or shall we put my spell on the old mortal to the test?”
Harry steadied his heartbeat as he tried to make a rational decision. He wanted to watch his mother’s memories desperately, but he also felt a burning desire to go confront Dumbledore where the whole Order would see. He wanted to make everyone aware of what the old man had done to Sirius and to his parents. He also wanted to climb up to the top of the Astronomy Tower and cry out for everyone to hear that his father had loved him.
He was almost afraid to watch his mother’s memories. What if they revealed more horrible secrets he hadn’t known about? What if they managed to cool down his anger enough that he forgot about confronting Dumbledore?
“Time will wait for us, my shell, if I will it to.”
Harry glanced up at the amused, patient smile on Death’s face. There was no hint of the previous, slightly-mad expression or the cold emotionlessness of before. Harry didn’t know if that meant Death had simply gotten over it so quickly, or if he was just far better at hiding it than Harry was.
He watched absently as Death waved his hand over the pensieve and the threads of memory rose out of the bowl and sorted themselves back into the empty vials. Death reached for one of the remaining ones still in the box and pressed it into Harry’s hand, cold fingers closing around both the vial and the hand holding it.
Death leaned over his shoulder, his breath like ice as he spoke into Harry’s ear. “I am here, my shell. I am with you. You are not alone.” Death’s other hand combed through Harry’s hair in a bizarrely comforting motion. Harry became aware of a wave of magic washing over and through him, leaving him shivering and shuddering in its wake as the world around them became unnaturally still. “Take your time,” Death murmured, “We are patient. We can afford to wait.”
Harry was a bit worried about why Death had suddenly started speaking in plural, but he appreciated the sentiment. He was also rather positive that Death had literally just forced the rest of the world to stop moving so Harry could have time to make up his mind.
Taking a steadying breath, Harry reached out and tipped the vial in his hand into the pensieve, watching as the other memories from the box rose up and joined it with a flick of Death’s wrist. He swallowed heavily as he watched his mother’s memories float and twirl inside the silver bowl, feeling Death lean back and return his hand to Harry’s shoulder.
Steeling his nerves, Harry leaned forward and pressed his face into the pensieve, feeling the hand on his shoulder tighten in response before his world faded away.
Lily frowned, resolutely focusing on her Charms essay in an effort to avoid listening to Potter braying about with the other Marauders. She paused mentally as he laughed at something Pettigrew had said, and had to admit that he had a rather nice laugh. It was low and slightly husky, and it was far more genuine than those fake-sounding malicious laughs he’d used to use whenever he tormented Severus.
Keep it together, Evans! Lily scolded herself. She couldn’t allow such thoughts to manifest, not when Ja—Potter was in the same room! The boy had a sixth sense for knowing when someone was thinking about him; it was almost unsettling.
She could feel his eyes on her from where she hid behind her book, and she could practically feel the blood rushing to her face as she tried to nonchalantly duck down further. Darn. He knew she was thinking about him, like always. If things followed the pattern, he’d come swaggering up to her with compliments and a cheesy smile as he attempted to convince her to go out with him. He’d been doing this since third year—when he finally realized that girls weren’t gross and did not, in fact, carry the wizarding equivalent of cooties—and had been pulling her metaphorical pigtails since their first day on the train.
She waited, but nothing was forthcoming. There was even a heartbeat of silence from the Marauder’s corner near the fireplace. Lily lifted her head with a frown, looking over in time to see Jam—Potter turning back to his friends with a strained, defeated sort of smile as he said something that made Black and Remus laugh.
Something cold and painful clenched in her chest at the sight of that smile. Had Potter given up? This thought was oddly discomfiting, considering all the times Lily had wished the boy would leave her alone for a change. The idea of a year without Jame—Potter chasing after her was not a comforting one, and she found herself riddled with the desire to go over there and shake some sense into him.
He couldn’t just give up like that! Lily’s previous hurt swiftly transformed into anger. James Potter was not allowed to surrender like this, not now that Lily had finally noticed that he wasn’t terrible looking and that he had a nice laugh! Slamming her book closed with authority normally reserved for judges and Wizengamot members, Lily stood from her chair with such force that it scooted back a few inches with an unholy amount of noise.
Lily set her face in a fierce scowl as all eyes in the common room locked on to her, as she straightened up and began marching towards the Marauders and the startled, deer-in-the-headlights stare of the bane of her existence.
“You’re taking me to Hogsmeade this weekend,” she informed the bewildered Chaser curtly. “You’re going to wear something publicly appropriate, buy me a bunch of roses, and we’re going to have a wonderful time together. Is that clear?”
“Yes ma’am!” James saluted, grinning ear-to-ear as he all but vibrated in his chair, the earlier defeat and heartache gone from his expression. Something eased in Lily’s chest at their absence, feeling much better about herself now that he didn’t look so miserable.
“Good,” Lily nodded, still frowning but no longer feeling the desire to whack James upside the head with her Charms book. “I’ll see you Saturday.”
She turned on her heel and headed for the girl’s dorms, ignoring the triumphant “Woop!” coming from the corner she’d just left and the good-natured ribbing she could hear going on, along with familiar delighted laughter. And if she found herself smiling as she went up the stairs, well…
He did have an awfully nice laugh.
“I look like a whale,” Lily informed her friend mournfully, earning a bright giggle that she couldn’t quite bring herself to match. She was tired and sore and her feet hurt, and there did not exist a chair in the world that gave her aching back the support it needed. And here was Alice, the lucky woman, who looked like being eight months pregnant was a walk in the park.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Alice chided. “You look beautiful, and I’m sure James agrees.”
Lily knew James basically thought she hung the sun and moon. It was written all over his face every time he laid eyes on her—a dazed, delirious sort of happiness like he couldn’t believe he’d been fortunate enough to have married her. It didn’t help her feel better, though. Her emotions were all over the place and she was practically stuck in the bathroom all the time and she wanted to give birth already.
As if she could read her mind, Alice laughed. “Just hang in there for a few more weeks, Lily.” Alice brightened, looking excited as something crossed her mind. “I wonder if the boys will be born on the same day? Wouldn’t that be something?”
Lily smiled, imagining it. She and Alice were due for around the same time, so it was actually rather possible that they might end up giving birth on the same day. Lily could already picture little joint birthday parties for Harry and Neville, certain that the two would be best friends just like she and Alice. With Frank and James working so closely at the Ministry and with the Order, there would be plenty of opportunities for the mothers to share babysitting duties.
Because there was no way Lily was entrusting her unborn child to the likes of Sirius Black, the scoundrel. He’d probably wind up accidentally converting her son to pranksterdom, and then just sort of shrug helplessly when she confronted him about it. Now Remus, she wouldn’t mind leaving little Harry with Remus. She could trust the gentle werewolf to actually exercise self-control, unlike a certain wolfhound.
“Lily,” Alice began, breaking her from her thoughts. Lily turned to her curiously, only to see Alice’s round face marred with nerves. “Frank and I… we were hoping that you’d agree to be Neville’s godmother. Just in case… well, you know that I plan to go back to the force once it’s safe to do so and with the war acting up…”
Lily smiled and reached over to stop her nervous rambling, covering Alice’s hands where she’d been wringing them together and squeezing reassuringly. “I’d love to be Neville’s godmother. You’ll be Harry’s, I hope? I’ll need someone with some sense to counteract James’s mad idea of making Sirius his godfather.”
Alice beamed, reaching out and hugging Lily as best she could with them both so pregnant. “Oh I’m so glad,” she breathed, looking exceptionally relieved. “Frank was sure you’d agree, but I was worried…”
“Nonsense,” Lily interrupted, smiling at the sheepish look on Alice’s face. “Knowing us, they’ll be practically brothers anyway. We might as well make it as official as we can.”
Lily laughed as Alice hugged her again, babbling about plans and birthdays and future parties, and she just listened with a smile on her face, glowing with anticipation.
Lily couldn’t stop looking at him. Her son, her little Harry. He was just… so absolutely perfect that she could barely bring herself to step out of the room without him in her arms, even after several months had passed. James was even more besotted with their son than she was, which made her feel both indignant and fondly affectionate simultaneously.
This was one of the rare times where Lily had Harry all to herself, having literally shoved a protesting James through the floo to go bother Sirius and Remus an hour ago. If her darling husband had his way, he’d likely just permanently attach Harry to his chest with a sticking charm and be done with it.
Lily stilled as big green eyes opened a little to stare in her direction before closing again, and she felt a wave of increasingly-familiar emotion wash through her. Those were her eyes, on the face of her son. She still woke up sometimes in the middle of the night, convinced that Harry’s entire existence was simply a wonderful dream. She’d start crying then, hating herself and hating her mind for conjuring up such happiness only to snatch it away, and then James would reach over, half-asleep, and pat her on the arm as he tells her in a slurred voice that you’ll wake up the Prongslett, Lily-flower.
She fell a little deeper in love with him every time he did that.
Unable to help herself, Lily reached into the crib and took Harry into her arms, cradling him close as if trying to fuse him with herself. She couldn’t help but smile when he didn’t even stir at the movement. Harry was such a deep sleeper—he got that from his father, Lily knew. Lily herself woke up if a branch outside so much as creaked, but waking James for anything less than the apocalypse was a feat worthy of song.
Lily was thankful that Harry was such a quiet, sweet baby. Unlike poor Alice’s son. Now Neville was a crier; he was fine if Alice or Frank was in his line of sight, but if they so much as stepped behind an open door or behind a piece of furniture, little Neville started bawling his heart out. It was kind of adorable in an overly-attached-baby kind of way, but Lily was still glad that Harry could express his displeasure through oddly serious Looks and tiny little involuntary frowns.
Sirius—the mutt—sometimes called Harry a “little old man” as a joke. He was always joking when he said it, but Lily couldn’t help but think the term old soul fit more. James, of course, thought Harry was perfect and the best baby in the entire world (which he was), and his retaliation pranks against Sirius were always a bit more ruthless if he overheard his friend calling his son names.
There was just so much potential in little Harry that it frightened Lily sometimes. She wasn’t afraid of her son, no, but she was afraid for him. He hadn’t displayed any accidental magic yet, but you could feel the power coming off him, even in his sleep. That sort of power was addicting, and not necessarily to the wielder. She could name four people off the top of her head who were just power-hungry enough to see the same potential in her son as she did, and one of them was Albus Dumbledore.
She trusted Albus, sure, as much as she trusted anyone, but she trusted no one with her son. No one but James, who she knew would lay down his life (God forbid) for Harry if the situation called for it. Becoming a mother had made her incredibly paranoid, Lily realized wryly. She was double-guessing the intentions and words of everyone and anyone who so much as laid eyes on her son, ready to take on all-comers if there was a single sideways glance in his direction.
It was her paranoia which had kept her from letting Albus visit her son, even though he’d known about Harry’s birth for the past seven months. She was running out of reasons to keep him away, and even James was starting to eye her oddly whenever she insisted that now just really isn’t a good time, Albus, maybe next week?
She didn’t even have any solid reason for wanting to keep her son all to herself. It was just a feeling, the kind that had warned her not to invite Petunia to her wedding but that she’d ignored when James insisted, which told her that her son was in danger. Constantly. It was enough to make her rather frazzled, and she was beyond grateful that she had this time of quiet to herself with which to calm down a little.
Harry stirred a little in her arms and she leaned down to press a kiss to his brow without even thinking about it. Lily’s eyes cut towards the wall across from her, behind and beyond which was the warded safe-room James had shown her. He’d taught her the activation key to bring up the wards and had run her through several mock-attacks in which she had to get inside with their son as fast as possible.
Potter Manor was one of the best-warded properties in Britain, but the wards on that little safe-room were as secure as Hogwarts. Lily looked at the room when she was feeling stressed, reassuring herself that even if worst came to worst, they could survive a nuclear holocaust in that room.
Smiling to herself, Lily leaned further back in her chair and clutched Harry tighter to her chest. They would be fine. Her feelings had been wrong before, after all. Besides, what kind of danger could a seven-month-old infant really be in?
Lily glanced at the doorway, double-checking that James wasn’t popping in for another one of his ‘babynapping’ escapades, before turning and finishing the final rune on the walls of the nursery. Stepping back, Lily watched as the carvings encircling the room flared black and silver—How odd, she mused, those aren’t the colors of my magic at all—before fading out of existence. But she could feel them, still. Humming with suppressed power and an ominous anticipation, just waiting for the sowilo she’d painted on little Harry’s forehead a while ago to burn to life.
Don’t get her wrong; she loved Godric’s Hollow, but without the thick wards of Potter Manor she felt positively vulnerable, no matter how much faith Albus had in his fidelius. The solution to her renewed paranoia had been rather simple in hindsight.
She had been frantic the moment James let it slip that Albus wanted them to leave the safety of Potter Manor and come to this little house with nothing but Peter’s strength of will (she wondered what, exactly, James had been drinking when he decided to let Peter be their secret-keeper. Loyal he may be, but brave he was not) standing between her son and the Dark Lord Voldemort. Lily had been certain that she could develop protection for her son, but she hadn’t been so confident that it could be done in a reasonable time frame.
It wasn’t like Voldemort was going to wait until she was ready before he decided to attack, after all. And he would attack. The Prophecy—which Lily had little to no faith in, but was resigned to the fact that both Albus and the Dark Lord did—all but ensured that her little boy would have a target painted on his back for the rest of his life.
The runic ritual she’d created had not been difficult. She couldn’t quite understand why no one else had discovered it before she did, but figured it was more of the wizarding world’s lack of logic at work yet again. It was a Sacrificial Ward, and it would protect her son from any and all harm at the cost of her own life. The only downside was that it was based on runes, which meant she had to restrict the Ward to a single room or else it wouldn’t be as effective.
She’d chosen Harry’s room because it was the most logical choice. Anyone coming after her baby would likely do it while she and James were sleeping across the hall, and she wouldn’t have the time to set up anything more elaborate. This Ward didn’t need any input from her at all now that she’d activated it. It would sense the danger coming for her baby and take action to stop it from happening, using her magic as a power source. If she’d designed it correctly, the Ward should only take the amount of magic from her that was necessary to rebuke the attack, and nothing more. But if the attack on her son would be fatal, as she suspected it would likely be, the Ward would rip every scrap of her magic from her body and use the ambient magic of the house to make up the difference. The shock of losing her magic like that would kill her, but it was a sacrifice she was more than willing to make for her son. And on the off-chance that she was assassinated before they went after her son, her magic would be absorbed into the Ward to complete its purpose regardless.
Lily stepped up to Harry’s crib and scooped him into her arms, smiling as Harry babbled up at her and made grabbing motions towards her hair. Her little Harry was fascinated with her hair, which—of course—James found hilarious. She’d made her fool of a husband sleep on the couch the last time he’d laughed at her though, so she thought he’d probably learned that lesson by now.
She rubbed her thumb over the sight where the sowilo had been, it having disappeared once the runes around the room came to life. Her smile turned wistful, praying to any deity that would listen that her Ward would never be needed, and Harry would never have to know he had a protective rune inked on his forehead, just waiting for a hostile act to burn to life. She hoped it wouldn’t hurt him when it activated, but she had no way of knowing for sure. It might hurt, but at least he would be alive. And James would be there to look after him, she was sure. And… Lily swallowed and hid it behind a smile that she buried in Harry’s tuft of hair. And if he weren’t, she knew for a fact that James’ will put Harry with any number of good families. He would be raised well.
“Your mum loves you, Harry,” Lily whispered, shivering as she felt the Ward around the room pulse as if it were alive. This behavior was more than a little unsettling, as runes were not supposed to act like this, but as long as it did its job she could overlook a little oddity like sentient magic.
Harry babbled back at her and took some of her hair in his little fist, staring at it, enraptured. Lily smothered a laugh at the look on his face, not wanting to distract him.
“My son’s got good taste, eh Lily-flower?”
Lily smiled and turned to the door where James was lounging, his hands twitching slightly as if he wanted to snatch her baby from her and cuddle him. It was beyond adorable how much James loved their son, and Lily was getting used to having to be creative whenever she wanted Harry to herself.
Lily watched as James’ face contorted slightly as she felt Harry stuff the hair in his hand into his mouth, and she frowned sternly at her husband, daring him to laugh. She kept the frown as James’ face slowly turned red as he suppressed his natural Marauder-tendencies, and sent him numerous warnings with her eyes that if she heard so much as a chuckle he’d be out on the couch for a week.
Well… maybe not a whole week. She did enjoy married life as much as her husband, but sometimes sacrifices had to be made for the greater good. She conveyed this thought with a pleasant smile, the kind she wore whenever she caught Padfoot peeing in her flowerbed or James attempting to teach Harry how to fly despite him being thirteen months old. In a pavlovian reaction to that smile, James’ face lost all its color as he blanched and backpedaled out of the room as if she’d sprouted tentacles and six extra limbs.
Lily smirked smugly as she pulled her hair out of Harry’s mouth, striding proudly out of the room in search of her wayward husband.
Oh yes. She knew who wore the pants in this family.
Lily cracked open one eye as she watched James ‘stealthily’ make his way out of the bedroom and into the loo, ‘quietly’ closing the door behind him. She couldn’t help but smile. James was about as stealthy as a brick, and as subtle as one too, but it was cute of him to try and keep from waking her up.
Too bad Lily woke up if James so much as shifted in his sleep.
Ah well. This would give her some time to go see Harry before her husband returned and hogged their son all to himself. Slipping out of the bed—in a much more silent manner than James—Lily headed into Harry’s room and sat in the huge overstuffed armchair James had smuggled into the room when Lily wasn’t looking. It was a garish, unattractive thing colored the most obnoxious shade of bright gold that she’d ever seen. Looking at it for too long made her eyes hurt a bit, so she tended to throw a nice blue blanket over it whenever she was in the room to avoid it giving her a headache.
She dearly hoped little Harry wouldn’t wind up staring at it for too long and end up needing glasses like his father. Perhaps it was James’ tendency towards horribly bright and clashing colors that had made his own eyesight so awful?
Smiling a little at the—highly likely—thought, Lily peered at the sleeping Harry in his crib. She was very proud of that crib, having fought tooth and nail against James to prevent it being covered in animated lions and griffons.
Lily didn’t want to wake him—she knew perfectly well that her overprotective husband had warded the room to let him know the moment Harry woke up—so she simply sat and took in the sight of him. Her baby boy.
The runic Ward around the room was still strong, just as subtly oppressive and unnerving as ever. Incredibly, neither James nor her rather magically-sensitive son had noticed it yet. She supposed she should count her blessings, because if James had noticed and started asking questions, she wasn’t entirely certain she could explain why the magic felt this way. She certainly hadn’t given the Ward sentience or such… personality.
Giving into temptation, Lily scooped Harry out of his crib and held him as he slept, stilling when he stirred with a disgruntled frown before settling again. She heard James ‘silently’ making his way towards Harry’s room and smiled fondly. It would be just like him to be sneaky like this and squeeze in some extra time with their son while Lily was supposedly asleep.
He stepped through the door and froze, eyes wide like a startled deer. That expression always secretly amused her, because it was almost exactly the face his animagus form had every time Padfoot startled him while they were out playing like overgrown children.
Oddly, James was wearing an ostentatious set of red and gold robes that she didn’t recognize and had even attempted to fix his untamable Potter hair. Lily cocked a brow at him, pointedly staring at the robes as James cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his hair with a nervous grin.
How, exactly, did this man get away with anything at all during his school years? He had the absolutely most obvious “guilty face” that she’d ever seen.
“Going somewhere, James?” she asked quietly, mindful of the sleeping child in her arms, and attempted to look serious and unamused. It wasn’t really a natural look on her, though, since just looking at James tended to make her smile sappily like a lovesick schoolgirl.
James smiled sheepishly and with a wave of his wand his robe melted back into the pair of trousers he wore when he slept. “Ah… just… posing in front of the bathroom mirror.”
James laughed nervously.
Sighing, she decided to let it go. She could imagine her ridiculous husband ‘posing’ in front of a mirror, even if it was something she’d expect out of Sirius instead of James. Beaming at her in lieu of his ‘victory,’ James pranced over to the huge eyesore of a chair and squeezed and squirmed his way in it until he and Lily were rather uncomfortably squashed together with Harry between them.
“Cozy,” James grinned, waggling his brows as he slung an arm around her shoulders and tugged her against him. She halfheartedly slapped at his chest before snuggling into him, holding Harry in her arms.
They were quiet for a while, the only sounds their soft breathing and Harry’s occasional grumble of noise.
She stirred out of her half-doze when she felt James press a kiss into her hair, the arm tightening around her shoulders.
“You seem worried, Lily-flower,” James whispered into the crown of her head, eerily insightful like he tended to be anytime it concerned herself or Harry. It was endearing, seeing as how he was so utterly obvious in everything else.
“I just have a bad feeling,” Lily admitted, knowing better than to try and hide something like this from her husband. “I’m sure it’s nothing, though,” she dismissed a second later before James could get truly concerned. “I’ve been having bad feelings pretty much since Albus told us about the prophecy, and nothing’s happened yet.”
James smiled into her hair. “Have a little faith in Peter, honey. The Fidelius is unbreakable, and I trust Albus’ spellcasting to hold even under duress.”
Lily pushed aside her constant worry—and the slight derision she felt at ‘having faith’ in Peter—and poked at James in his ribs, making him jerk with a stifled yelp. She knew all of James’ ticklish spots, and she wasn’t above using them whenever it suited her. “Such a big word, James,” she teased. “Duress. Did Remus teach you that one?”
James mock growled at her, and she knew he was giving her The Eye because—unlike her husband—Lily was not ticklish at all. She lorded this fact over him every time he tried to initiate a Tickle War, and she inevitably came out victorious. “Yes, as a matter of fact he did,” James replied snootily. Lily giggled at the sound of it (James did not have a voice predisposed to sounding snobbish) and James just harrumphed in reply.
“You’re very intelligent dear,” Lily consoled, patting him on the chest where he was all but wrapped around her and Harry. She’d said it teasingly, but she knew James was actually very clever when he wanted to be. He just didn’t showcase it often, preferring to come off as goofy and ridiculous rather than ‘stuffy and pretentious.’
“I prefer the term ‘gifted,’” James admitted without any shame. “‘Prodigious,’ even.”
“Oh dear,” Lily fretted, placing the back of one hand against her forehead in a suitably dramatic fashion, “I appear to be suffocating beneath the immense weight of your prodigious ego. Oh woe. Oh woe is me.”
“Very funny, Lily-flower.” James’ voice was a dry as a desert.
“Thank you dear,” Lily beamed back angelically.
James sighed expansively and just shook his head. “I don’t know where people get the impression that I’m the troublemaker in this family.”
“You make a magnificent scapegoat, James.”
“I believe the term you’re looking for is scapestag…”
Death did not often indulge in the use of pensieves. Why would he? He could recall every moment of every second of his innumerable eons of existence in perfect detail whenever he so chose, so what good did a pensive do him? He found the pensieves of this era to be the technological equivalent of crude stone bowls, especially after that one enterprising mundane-born had created an electronic, holographic version that did not require one to put one’s finger (or, in versions where you wished to watch the memories in third person instead of from the viewpoint of the owner, one’s face) in a bowl of liquefied memories.
So Death did not often indulge in the use of pensieves, but he had used them before, extensively, and so was prepared for the odd out-of-body experience and the disorienting nausea of having one’s mind forcibly adjusted to the viewpoint of another person. Temporarily. If the effects had been permanent, Death would not have let his shell anywhere near such a device. But, the mind-switching only lasted a few moments in the outside world, so Death was content to stand back and watch as his shell emerged from his mother’s memories, gasping for breath and with a heart-wrenching whisper of James on his lips.
He very politely refrained from making any sort of incestual jokes about the incident, although it was terribly tempting. Death did, in fact, possess enough tact to know that such a thing would not only be very inappropriate, but would likely cause extreme emotional distress to his shell, which was entirely counterproductive to Death’s current desire to keep his shell happy and mostly-sane and functioning for as long as was possible. He had this tact, yes; he just normally chose not to use it.
Death watched, clinically curious, as his shell slumped to the ground beside the pensive, trembling and breathing rather heavily, and attempted to comprehend what his shell must be feeling at the moment. He, himself, was not nearly as affected. He had lost all possible attachment to his mortal parents millions of years ago. In fact, the amount of time since he’d last thought of them in anything but abstract terms would be comparable to the birth and death of three consecutive stars.
He had watched a star die, once, many ages ago. To this day, he has never seen a sight more enrapturing than a star going supernova, although the sight of his shell smiling at him (at him) was a close second.
Regardless, Death could not quite grasp the upheaval his shell would be experiencing after watching the memories of his parents. He could understand, in vague terms, that such a thing would be both uplifting and distressing, but he could not empathize, no matter how much he may wish to. Such depth of emotion had long since been lost to him, and he found himself rather curious as to what it might be like to feel so strongly about something again.
He knew he was capable of emotions. He had them, but they were faint, distant things that he tended to ignore unless it suited his purposes. He felt curiosity (an endless, ceaseless curiosity which had prompted him to taste the soul of a mortal for the first time with his teeth and tongue and found nirvana), and he felt amusement (always searching for the next bit of entertainment, digging his fingers into the throat of a phoenix and watching it die and be reborn again for hours as he laughed and laughed and laughed until the stars went out).
And he felt anger. A cold, black void of emotion that razed worlds, cracked entire planets in half, and fractured an already shattered mind until the only thing that was left was The Pale Rider, Bringer of the Apocalypse, the only of his kind no matter the legends the mortals made about him and his non-existent brothers, and nothing of Harry remained at all. Those were the times when entire oceans ran crimson, when the sun was snuffed out like a candle, when entire galaxies collapsed upon themselves beneath the weight of his rage.
But Death rarely felt so strongly anymore. He had been terribly young when he still lost his temper like that (only a few million years old, then, still a child in all the ways that mattered), and it had taken so very little to set him off back then. The Earth was fortunate that it never remembered its countless deaths, and that he had feared isolation enough to always reset Time so that it was as if nothing had ever happened.
(But Death knew. He remembered those deaths, those ends of billions of worlds, and he laughed about it now that he was older, wiser, calmer, about how his tantrums had extinguished more lives than had ever existed at a single moment.)
As his shell bowed his head and rocked slightly on the ground, not making a noise but folding his hands above his head and gripping his own hair, Death stood quietly and watched. He extended a tendril of power to his distressed shell as he had often done when he was curious what the mortal was thinking, brushing against his mind and his soul and feeling that familiar-foreign magic rise up in welcome and anger and fear and—
—physically jerked away because it had been so long since he’d felt like this and—
—he was still listening, still feeling, and he couldn’t break the connection because—
—this was his shell, and he wanted to know what his shell felt, but—
—this was the kind of emotion that extinguished stars, that broke open worlds, that condemned galaxies to an early grave. Death severed the connection more abruptly than he otherwise might have, making his shell twitch slightly, but he was far too focused on containing the sudden maelstrom of emotion filling the void where his soul had been. Or, perhaps, he still had a soul after all. Could someone without a soul feel this much, even if the sensations were borrowed?
Death could not focus on his shell or the glazed, concerned green eyes staring up at him, because if he so much as breathed he was going to end the universe. In the past, he did not have this problem. If he was bored, he entertained himself. If he was amused, he laughed. If he was angry, he killed planets.
He could not allow himself to lose control as he had in the past. His shell was here, only inches away, and if he were to destroy the world he would destroy his precious shell in the process. It did not matter that he could simply wipe the slate clean and make it as if it had never happened. Death would know. Death would remember that he had killed his own shell, had ripped the life from him and then torn him from the Beyond to satisfy his own whims. He would not forgive himself if that should happen, and for Death, that meant he would never forget.
A hand suddenly grasped at his own, solid and present and alive and Death found his foreign rage draining away like a sieve. Its absence left him strangely hollow, as if the anger had taken it with it everything else as well, leaving him the shell he fondly called his alternate self.
But Death was ancient, and experienced, and a better liar than Loki.
Nothing showed on a face cracked open by a fanged grin as Unforgiveable eyes leered down at the exasperated—exhausted—boy at his feet. With more flourish than anything he could remember doing in a long time, Death sank to one knee beside his shell and clapped a (not trembling) skeletal hand to his shoulder.
“I am greatly looking forward to ripping the liver out of the old mortal and devouring it in front of him. I will, of course, gladly save the best morsel for you, my shell.”
As predicted, his shell blanched slightly at this unseemly—creative—suggestion, but smiled in fond amusement regardless. Death felt the numbness recede slightly as a warmth replaced it. His shell did more than merely tolerate him, Death felt. His shell understood. Death’s grin turned more genuine at the edges at the thought.
Death watched as his shell’s small smile turned grim, and fought with his magic so it wouldn’t immediately seek out the cause of such distress and eliminate it. He had plans for the older mortal, after all, and his magic lacked the same sort of patience he possessed when it came to such things.
“You can have his liver, but his heart is mine.”
Had Death been a human being, he would have felt his breath catch. Instead, he felt his eyes turn black and his grin turn hungry.
Ah, my darling shell. You are truly more and more like me every day.
Death was looking forward to the day when his shell would stand up and say ‘Bring me the stars, Death. Bring them to me so that I may wear them around my throat like jewels, and that I may adorn my crown with the sun and moon.’ On that day Death would bring his shell the stars, weave them into ropes and braids and thread them into his clothing, so that in his footsteps trailed the cosmos and in his laugh would be Eternity.
Of course, his shell might simply ask him for a sandwich instead, and Death would gladly give him that too. It was all the same, in the end, and Death laughed and imagined he would keep laughing until the day came when his shell’s soul loosed its hold on the world. Then he would simply grin, and pluck a dying star from the dark reaches of space and bring it to the Earth so that the mortals could—in the final, worthless moments he would allow them—appreciate the only thing more wondrous to him than the smile of his shell.
The sight would be beautiful.
Emerging from the pensieve was the single best and worst experience of Harry’s life. He was not just Harry Potter, but also Lily Evans. He loved his father, but he also loved James. And that’s not even counting the near-fanatical devotion he felt towards… himself as an infant. And then the clarity seemed to fade, and Harry was once again just Harry. Alone in his head except for the nosy entity currently standing silently beside him.
Harry was exhausted. He was emotionally numb, although resting beneath the shock and haze of nothingness lay a whirlwind of chaos and anger and love and joy and agony. He hadn’t ever felt like this before, as if his entire world had just flipped itself on its axis, and then turned upside down for good measure.
He was so glad, so unspeakably glad, that he had these memories, these precious few moments with his parents. He had known that his parents loved him (they had died for him, after all), but it was one thing to know it objectively, and another entirely to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. He felt like crying, and laughing, and punching the wall hard enough to break all of his fingers (he was pretty sure Death would fix them for him if he asked).
And he still had those letters to go through, the mere thought of which caused a spike of not-quite-pain through him, and which convinced him that those could wait a while indeed.
He also, quite unsurprisingly, felt a renewed since of loathing towards Albus Dumbledore, and not entirely for the reasons he had initially assumed. Yes, he was pissed that Dumbledore had let Sirius rot in Azkaban knowing full well he was innocent. Yes, he was enraged that Dumbledore had beguiled his parents into giving up their well-protected Manor and moving into the little house on Godric’s Hollow. But he was also mad because Dumbledore had kept these from him. Knowingly. Dumbledore had had, in his possession, the only memories of his parents in existence, and if Death hadn’t gone with him to Gringotts and fetched the strongbox through some sort of mystical magical death-powers, he would still have them.
Harry sank to the ground and folded his hands atop his head, grabbing onto his hair for balance as he rocked back and forth absently. He wished, desperately, that he’d actually learned Occlumency, because he had a feeling that would have helped a great deal in containing this… this well of emotion currently running rampant with his mind. He simply felt too much, and it actually hurt a little, like a bone-deep ache in all his limbs, concentrated at the back of his skull like liquid fire.
He felt the questing thread of Death’s magic (familiar as it was to him now, now that Harry had learned to feel it out and watch for it; Death’s magic felt like winter and the dark and forever, and it scared and enthralled him every time he sensed it) prodding at him, and as soon as it touched him he felt the incredible overwhelming emotions simply shift away from him and into that thread, which—alarmingly—jerked away immediately as if burned.
With the emotions dulled enough now that he could concentrate past them (he made a note to thank Death for that; he might have had problems gathering his composure otherwise), Harry could raise his head and look up at the towering figure of Death standing unnaturally still beside him.
There was no telling emotion on Death’s face, no gleam in his eyes or wild grin tugging at pale lips. But Death’s magic…
It felt like a storm. Calm here, at the Eye, but whipping out at the edges into barbed spikes and jagged blades ready to tear up the earth and upheave oceans. Harry had never felt anything like it. Not even when Death had first stepped through that portal, and his unrestrained aura had sent them all crashing to their knees in horror. Then, it had been just magic. Incredibly powerful magic, yes, but just magic in the end.
This magic was not ‘just magic.’ This magic was emotional.
Tentatively, Harry reached up and took one of Death’s hands in his, hoping to maybe comfort him or ground him or something, and just like that…
The magic stopped.
There was no gradual slowing, no calming, it was simply there one moment, and gone the next as if it had never been. Harry was actually more alarmed at this sudden switch into nothingness than he was by the actual event, and even more so when Death suddenly grinned (empty empty empty that is the smile of someone dead inside) and sank to one knee beside him, clapping him on the shoulder with killing curse eyes that almost played at being human, but didn’t quite make it there.
It was so easy to forget, sometimes, that Death wasn’t human. He acted like it, if a bit more eccentric and bloodthirsty than a usual human, and despite his unlimited power he didn’t tend to give off any sort of godly signals to Harry. But this, this empty grin and emptier eyes, a hollow shell (how ironic) trying to mimic a human face…
This was death. This was not the Death Harry had befriended, or the Death that was the closest thing to family that he had (his parents did not count; memories did not replace a physical presence no matter how wonderful they were). This was simply death, the End of All Things, staring out of lifeless eyes with a smile that said he had seen a painting of a human once, and that the person in the painting had been screaming, but this was the best approximation of happiness he could come up with when that work of art was his only reference.
And then the empty shell that had replaced Death with death opened its mouth and spoke in a familiar rasping voice which was as false as those eyes and that smile, but was welcomed regardless.
“I am greatly looking forward to ripping the liver out of the old mortal and devouring it in front of him. I will, of course, gladly save the best morsel for you, my shell.”
It was delivered almost correctly, with the right inflection and almost the right amount of bloodthirstiness, but Harry could tell something was still wrong. But, the words still invoked an instinctive shudder of revulsion and—reluctant—amusement. Because that was just the sort of thing Death would do, Harry mused fondly. He would rip out Dumbledore’s liver, and eat it, and would also probably save him a piece under the mistaken impression that that was something that appealed to him in the slightest.
At his obvious amusement, the smile on Death’s face turned more real, and Harry quietly cheered inside at this return to normality.
Normality. The cheer fell slightly as Harry remembered what he’d just seen, just watched, just lived through, and realized that the thought of Death eating Dumbledore’s liver wasn’t quite as horrible as it had been a few moments ago. The realization frightened him, because it was even more evidence that he was slipping, but he let it go for now. He could worry about his strange shift in morals later, when he wasn’t trying to make Death come alive again (the irony burned).
“You can have his liver,” Harry offered, grimly amused at the way this conversation was going, “but his heart is mine.”
And it was. Dumbledore’s heart, his dreams, his fears, his hopes, they were his. Harry didn’t know Death’s plan for the old man, but he figured it had to do something with crushing everything the man loved and bringing down his world around his ears. That’s what Harry would do, and he thought Death would probably do likewise, only better.
The expression that crossed Death’s face just then would have made anyone else soil their trousers, Harry was certain. His grin was slow, dark, ravenous in the way only truly feral things are, and there was something innately unsettling about the way those abyssal eyes fixed on him as if he had personally hung the sun and moon.
Harry wondered, sometimes, what Death really thought about him. He was only a mortal, after all. He would live maybe two hundred years, if he was lucky, and Death would still be around when the world ended. It couldn’t be healthy, this attachment the entity had to him, but Harry couldn’t bring himself to really care. Maybe it was because they were basically the same person, only from different points in their lives. Maybe it was because he was the only person Death had touched in Merlin-knows-how-long, or because Harry had been so desperate for a family—any family—that he latched on to the first godlike being that came around claiming to be him from another reality.
He shrugged off the thought. So what if no one else would ever understand their weird, wonderful relationship? So what if people would get the wrong ideas from Death’s closeness and disregard of personal space? It worked, and it was wonderful, and Harry wouldn’t change a single thing.
He jolted slightly, the realization rushing through him. He wouldn’t change a thing. If he could go back in time (which he could, he realized, just by asking Death), and was given the chance to save his parents, to kill Voldemort early, to stake Wormtail’s head on a pike and put it in Diagon Alley for all to see… he wouldn’t. Because if he did any of those things, Dumbledore would not have felt it necessary to summon a hero, and Death would not have come through to this reality. He wouldn’t change a thing, because then he wouldn’t have met Death.
Impulsively, Harry reached out and grabbed the startled entity around the neck and hugged him tightly, unnerved by his own resolution and the chilling knowledge that he would rather his parents stay dead than lose out on his camaraderie with Death. It felt like a betrayal, almost, but he hoped they would understand. They had loved him, he knew this now, and they would want him to be happy.
This odd friendship with Death made him happy.
And really, Harry figured he deserved a little happiness after all he’d been through over the years. Would they be proud of him, he wondered? James and Lily? Were they disappointed with him, with how he was handling all of this? The betrayal, the theft, the manipulations?
Cold fingers combed through his hair. “They will love you until the stars go out, my shell,” Death’s rasping voice whispered in his ear. “And after that, they shall love you still.”
Harry smiled. “You’d know, wouldn’t you?”
“The death of a star is a beautiful thing, dear shell. But they? They shan’t even notice it, too captivated by their love for you to watch as the universe dies.”
Harry relaxed, believing him because he was Death, and if Death didn’t know how the souls of the departed felt, then who would?
He did wonder, though, when Death had seen the death of a star. Those took millions—billions—of years to explode, and the thought of just staring at a star until it happened, doing nothing else…
Well, Harry was just happy that he wouldn’t have to deal with that sort of boredom like Death obviously had. He had enough trouble staying awake during Binn’s class, never mind watching a star die for lack of anything better to do.
Harry leaned back as Death released him and slid smoothly to his feet, grin fixed in place and twirling a vial with a memory in it that Harry didn’t recognize before it vanished with a flick of his fingers. And Voldemort had wanted to be immortal.
What an idiot.
Chapter 23: Dursley Interlude
Petunia Dursley stared blankly out the window in her kitchen, out at the empty backyard which was slowly deteriorating into unsightliness without the Freak there to keep it in good shape. It was all he was good for, really. Chores. As much as she loathed it and those who could use it, she had to admit that the Freak had been excellent at his chores once she’d taught him properly. While he was away at that school the house tended to accumulate dust and mold, no matter her efforts.
It was obviously some sort of manifestation of it that the Freak had put on their perfectly normal house, and Petunia was always sure to work the boy twice as hard that first week he was back until the house was pristine again.
But that wasn’t why Petunia was currently staring at the backyard. She was staring at the backyard because the backyard was staring back at her.
Oh logically she knew the backyard didn’t actually have eyes, but that didn’t stop the feeling that there was something unnatural out there, looking right at her through the dirty window. She had the feeling that the something in her backyard was grinning, and she could see teeth in the shadows of the shed that did not belong to a human face, and she just knew it had something to do with the Freak and with it.
The eyes and the teeth had been watching her for three hours and twenty-seven minutes. Petunia had counted. They hadn’t moved, or blinked, or stopped grinning in three hours and twenty-seven minutes. Petunia hadn’t dared look away or leave the kitchen, absolutely certain that the moment her attention left the something in her backyard for even an instant, it would no longer be content to simply grin in the shadows behind the shed. It would do something, a part of Petunia’s mind shrieked. It would come into her house—her perfectly normal house—and do something freakish.
So Petunia kept staring out the window, ignoring the long-burnt remains of the chicken she had been making for supper and thanking the God she didn’t believe in that Vernon and Dudley wouldn’t be back until six. She was the only one in the house, and thus the only one who would have to see the freakishness going on in their perfectly normal backyard.
Behind her, two rooms away, the phone rang. Petunia ignored it, watching how the something in her backyard’s grin widened, as if it had heard. She just knew this was the Freak’s fault somehow. Obviously he’d done something in that world and brought the attention of them onto her perfectly normal family. The something in the backyard could only belong to that world, after all, and Petunia was a normal housewife with a normal son and a normal husband; why would it have come to them otherwise?
The phone continued to ring, and Petunia continued to ignore it.
The teeth in the shadows of the shed disappeared.
And two rooms behind her, someone picked up the phone.
Petunia whirled, face pale as her entire body went cold with horror. It was in her house. The thing from the backyard was in her house! Without a second thought, Petunia’s hand groped for the closest kitchen knife and brandished it like a sword, terrifyingly aware that if the something from her backyard was of that world, her kitchen knife would be absolutely worthless. They had it, after all, and it could do unnatural, horrible things to normal people like her.
She could not hear anything from the other room. The quietness was not normal, not natural. There were always little noises in her house. The floors creaked, the air conditioner thrummed, and she always kept the telly on the news so she could listen for anything important while she cooked.
The house was silent. Utterly. The telly had cut out the moment the teeth had disappeared and the phone had been picked out of its cradle. She could practically feel it oozing all over her perfectly natural home, brought here by the something from her backyard that grinned with too many unnatural teeth.
Petunia inched towards the kitchen door, still brandishing her knife, and made good use of a neck so accustomed to peering over fences to peer around the doorframe instead. There was no one by the phone. She could see it through the door on its end table by the sofa, laying outside its cradle where she definitely had not left it when she used it last.
Heart beating a staccato rhythm, Petunia turned back to the kitchen.
Sharp teeth leered at her from mere inches away, set in a skeletal, gaunt face framed by impossible black eyes and hair that moved like it was aflame. Something in Petunia cracked and broke at the mere sight of it, this something from her backyard. Something in Petunia refused to believe it existed, and something in Petunia died a gibbering, shrieking death as it failed to comprehend the rationality behind its presence in her kitchen. The rest of Petunia, frozen in shock and terror, barely noticed.
Screaming, Petunia leaped back, thrusting the knife forward. “Stay back!” she screeched, waving the knife threateningly. “Stay back, you freak!”
The something from her backyard did not stop grinning as pale fingers reached out and closed delicately around the blade of her knife. Petunia watched numbly as her fine steel knife rusted away into dust in single heartbeat, before wide eyes looked up at shark-like teeth and black eyes without pupil or iris.
“Petunia Dursley,” the thing breathed. It did not speak, it breathed. Its voice was low and hoarse, rasping like scales over sand. The sound of it alone made her head ache and her eyes water. This went beyond mere freakishness, beyond it and that world. Petunia looked into black eyes and saw the Abyss staring back at her. “I see you.”
Her blood froze in her veins at the crooned, silky words. Her hand, still grasping the empty handle of what had once been her kitchen knife, trembled from where it was still outstretched towards the thing in her house.
“I see you, Petunia Dursley. I see all that you are, all that you have been, and all that you shall ever be. I see you in your entirety, and what an insignificant pustule of an entirety it is.” The thing’s grin changed, deepening at the edges as already-sharp teeth sharpened further. What had once been an expression of blatant mockery and amusement now reminded Petunia of a hungry beast. She couldn’t even scrounge up the courage to be offended that it had basically called her existence an insignificant pustule. “I look upon you and see a soul warped by envy, festering with sores of bitterness and wracked with infected scars of misplaced hatred. It is an ugly, misshapen thing, weeping at its own repugnance.” Those Abyssal eyes slowly roved over her trembling form, lingering on her frilly white apron and the delicate gloves still holding the handle of a worthless weapon. “The flesh containing it is not much better.”
Despite herself, Petunia managed to drag forth enough pride in herself to ignore the hurtful, cutting words. She was a perfectly normal woman, with normal features and an average amount of beauty. She could not have attracted her Vernon otherwise, and her Dudders was promising to be a very handsome man when he grew up. This… this thing was obviously a freak, just like the boy, and it would be just like them to try and unnerve her like this.
“A freak, am I?” the thing grinned again, sharp and quick and poisonous. Petunia’s mind blanked. She had been sure the freaks couldn’t actually read minds. “Oh, Tuney,” it cooed, and Petunia’s heart stuttered in her chest at the nickname only her freak sister had ever called her. “I am not a freak, mortal worm. I am an abomination, an anathema, the Final Oblivion. I am the most unnatural thing you will ever see, and yet I am more natural than any human currently crawling through life like the pitiful insects you are.” The thing leaned back slightly, lips closing over sharp teeth in an expression that was simultaneously condescending and amused. “I was here first, after all.”
“W-what are you?” Petunia whispered. She knew this was no man. No, this wasn’t even one of them. They were freaks, yes, but compared to this creature even the freaks were normal. “What do you want?” she demanded, voice cracking as it went up several octaves. She spared a fleeting thought of gratitude that her Dudders wasn’t home; even if this thing were to kill her—which her heavy heart was starting to insist was highly likely—maybe it would be satisfied with her life and leave her son alone?
For a single, ephemeral moment, Petunia felt a close kinship with her deceased sister who had given her life for that of her son. Then the moment was gone, and the creature had lashed out, snake-strike quick, and cold, skeletal fingers wrapped around her throat like a band of solid steel.
Petunia didn’t exist anymore. She was no longer the wife of Vernon Dursley, the daughter of Rose Evans, the mother of Dudley. She was no longer a human woman. She no longer was.
She could think, but only because the thing holding what used to be her body by the throat allowed her to. She existed, but not as she once had, and only because it was allowed her. She could barely even refer to herself as feminine in her own thoughts anymore, the designation no longer seeming quite so important.
She also now knew exactly what was holding onto her, and felt a fear that went beneath skin and bone to the quivering soul beneath. She felt a pull towards this creature, this demon, as if someone had wrapped her in chains and was dragging her inexorably towards the thing that had just ripped her from her body. But the fingers locked around what had once been her throat kept her in place, and the resistance of that pull was more painful than anything she could remember feeling in her entire life.
“Miserable wretch,” Death spoke, and it was utterly unlike the amused, cold rasp that it had used before when it had been wearing its human skin. Death spoke in a voice like liquid silver, smooth and cool and patient. It was a voice content to wait out the end of the universe before it so much as moved.
The thing looking back at her was not human, not even remotely. It wore the skin of a man, but she could see beneath the thin veneer of flesh now and the only thing that existed there was the Void. Had she not been stuck between life and death, merely glimpsing the empty, eternal truth beneath that skin would have driven her mad.
“I have come to avenge the little mortal you so maligned.” The flesh hiding the reality of Death smiled kindly at her, lips still closed over sharp inhuman teeth. The crippling soul-fear she felt from staring at Death kept her from reacting to the knowledge that this was all happening because of the Freak. “Oh, be not afraid of me,” Death reassured, still smiling genially, which was somehow far more terrifying then when he’d been blatantly staring at her like a piece of raw meat. “My shell is not yet at the point where he would wish true harm done to you.” A spark of bright green flickered across black, unsmiling eyes set above a smiling face. “So fear not, little mortal. Death has come for you, but he is not here to stay.”
The cold fingers she could still distantly feel holding her by the neck abruptly released her, and her body fell… but she did not fall with it. Death blinked, and her entire perspective shifted sideways. Immediately, she was Petunia again. She existed. She thought. She feared. She trembled in the palm of a hand that she realized suddenly did not belong to a giant, but that she had simply shrunk to the size of an egg.
“A soul is not meant to remain self-aware outside of its vessel,” Death mused thoughtfully, staring down past her at the ground, and Petunia turned herself over with a measure of effort to see her own lifeless eyes staring up at her. If she’d had lungs with which to do so, she would have screamed. Abruptly, Petunia went tumbling through the air as Death began to roll her around in its palms as if she were a ball. When she came to a rest, she found that Death had moved, and he stood above the motionless bodies of her husband and son, slumped in the entranceway.
Petunia Dursley was a bodiless soul, less than the meanest ghost, but the sight of her son with empty eyes sent her into a frenzy. She writhed and shrieked and fought with all her might, and all of her efforts were stilled when the hand she was held in clamped into a tight fist, and her entire world compressed.
It was worse than the pain of being held back from moving on. Worse than the agony of looking into the eyes of her own corpse. She could feel fragments of herself breaking, crushed away from herself and lost forever. When the hand opened again, the soul that was Petunia lay still, broken and trembling and terrified even as she could see pieces of herself littering the palm around her like shards of glass. They were grey and mottled and slightly smoke-like, and looking at them made her realize that they were pieces of her soul.
Fingers from the creature’s other hand appeared and delicately plucked one of her soul-shards from the palm of his hand, and Petunia watched as Death observed the grey, smoky shard for a moment. A tongue appeared, long and black and serpentine, and Death idly licked the pad of its finger as the piece of her soul was pulled between sharp teeth and disappeared.
Petunia went perfectly still as she numbly felt a piece of her very being abruptly cease to exist. Death was silent a moment in contemplation before a wide, leering grin spread across fanged lips. The terror Petunia had felt beforehand suddenly felt like the distant unease of seeing a spider from across the room compared to what she felt now.
“Ah,” Death breathed, idly reaching for another of the shards even as Petunia frantically tried to get her suddenly-not-responding form to latch onto the others to keep them safe. She was not a very religious person, but even she knew that the concept of parts of her soul being eaten was horrible to even consider. “Apples.”
Petunia could only stare, horror mounting, as Death calmly proceeded to pick the rest of the shards of her broken soul from its hand and pop them in its mouth like grapes. When it finished, Petunia felt like barely half of herself, a gaping hole deep inside where once had been her.
Death idly ran its tongue over its teeth before it peered back down at her with an amused smile. “If you’re quite finished…”
Petunia did not have a head with which to nod, but she conveyed the concept with a series of jerking trembles. She did not want the thing to break her soul again, nor to experience firsthand what being swallowed like that would feel like. The shards had not been self-aware like she herself was, and she could only feel a distant sort of relief that it had not been so.
Death, seemingly satisfied with her ‘cooperation,’ reached out its free hand and from the body of her husband rose a smoking dark-grey ball of flickering light. With a jolt, she recognized that smoky texture from the pieces of herself she’d just lost and realized, dismayed, that it was her Vernon’s soul.
Death held the soul of her husband close to its face and stared it down with a terrifying blankness of expression. A muscle in its jaw ticked, and the smile that spread across its face was all teeth. The sight of those teeth so close to her Vernon made Petunia jerk in panic, the hand around her tensing meaningfully but not closing into a fist again.
‘Not Vernon!’ she screamed in her own mind, unable to verbalize her pleas. ‘Leave him alone!’
One pitch-black eye flicked negligently towards her. “But Petunia,” Death reasoned, sounding as if she were being hysterical for absolutely no reason whatsoever, “it would not be fair if your husband retained his entire soul when you have so tragically lost half of yours.”
‘Tragically!’ she shrieked, now aware that it could somehow still hear and understand her.
“The loss of one’s soul is always terribly tragic, mortal,” Death’s face was suddenly incredibly solemn, and its eyes were heavy with the weight of Eternity reflected in them. Then the weight was gone, and Death was grinning again. “And let it never be said that Death is not fair.”
And before Petunia could so much as protest, Death had bitten her husband’s soul in half as if he were a particularly ripe piece of fruit. She couldn’t hear Vernon screaming, but from the way the jagged half of soul was shuddering and jerking she could imagine it well enough. She watched, numb with shock, as Death swallowed and stilled, staring at the half of her husband’s soul it had not devoured.
“Bacon,” Death announced gravely. “How fitting.”
With an absentminded flick of its eyes, a white soul with a few light grey patches floated out of Dudley. Petunia threw herself forward with a monumental effort of will, disregarding any possible consequences in her desperation to reach the soul of her son. The hand that closed around her was gentle, restraining but not crushing, as she was pulled back even as Death began to walk back towards the kitchen, the soul of her Dudders bobbing along behind him.
Petunia watched, terrified and confused, as Death glanced at Dudley’s soul for a moment before he dropped what was left of Vernon’s soul and it plummeted to the ground. Alarmed, Petunia strained to see what was happening and Death obliged her by tilting its hand so she could watch as her husband’s soul fell and disappeared into her own lifeless body.
She watched as her body shuddered and drew in a deep breath before screaming out in a man’s voice, deep and incongruous with her thin, bony frame. Death flicked its fingers and the screaming was silenced, but her body continued to writhe and soundlessly voice its agony to the world. Petunia could not comprehend what had just happened. It was so… so beyond freakish that there wasn’t even a word for it.
“Living with only half a soul is a very painful experience, mortal. Doing so in a body utterly unsuited for it will be delightfully agonizing.”
Before Petunia could truly come to grips with that, Death was returning to the entranceway. She had a vague idea what was to happen to her now, and it chilled her deeply. She watched as her Dudders’ soul floated into Death’s outstretched hand, and felt a spike of fear as the creature studied it intensely for a moment. She worried Death planned to bite into her Dudley as well, and prepared herself for another futile struggle in defense of her son.
But instead of unsheathing those deadly fangs, Death bent forward and licked a long stripe across Dudley’s soul with his black tongue. The soul trembled and shivered, but did not seem to be aware enough to be truly afraid. Death licked its lips a few times before making a face.
“Sweet. Far too sweet.” Death dropped Dudley’s soul into Vernon’s body, and while it shuddered and twitched, it did not break out into screams. Death turned its attention back onto Petunia and smiled that genial smile again. “Let us see how your veneer of normality holds against your current predicament, hmm?”
And before Petunia had a chance to protest, she found herself in freefall for mere moments before she connected with the unmoving body of her only son and her world dissolved into agony.
Death stood silently as he watched the soul of Petunia scream from inside her son’s body. He could hear the faint sound of Vernon-in-Petunia still screaming beneath his spell from the kitchen, and he smiled. It would amusing to see how the mortals tried to explain their new circumstances to the public. After all, a mortal soul was all that one is, was, and would ever be—including one’s voice. This was why moving souls around like this was always so entertaining for him, although he’d admit that he didn’t tend to do it often.
The temptation of holding a soul in his hand and not immediately devouring it often got the best of him, and he hadn’t really completed this process in quite a while. But he’d had… added incentive to do it right this time, and the pieces he’d taken from both of the elder Dursleys were adequate recompense for his restraint.
He eyed the quivering figure of Petunia-in-Dudley speculatively. For a hideous abscess of a mortal Petunia had a rather stubborn soul. Twice she’d tried to defy him, twice she’d fought the grip of Death. Of course she had no chance of succeeding, being only a soul, but the fact that she’d actually proceeded to struggle again after he’d cracked her soul into pieces in his fist was grudgingly admirable.
Death stepped back as he observed the three Dursleys, each of them in the wrong body and two of them with horrible fractures in their souls.
He wondered if his shell would approve. Death hadn’t killed them, after all, and that was really the only thing his shell ever worried about when he thought about introducing his relatives to Death. And now that he had the flavor of their souls in the back of his throat he found himself eagerly anticipating the day his shell would no longer oppose the idea of them truly dying. Except for the boy. Death eyed Dudley-in-Vernon in distaste. His soul was granulated sugar, pure and overly sweet, and Death rather thought he’d avoid swallowing that one when the time came.
Death turned on his heel and stepped through Time and Space to appear at his shell’s bedside several hours into the mortal future, absently running long fingers through his shell’s hair as he slept. He’d had a rather emotionally exhausting day, and Death did not begrudge his shell for turning in so early. He’d gone so far as to remove his shell’s bedroom from the mortal plane of existence and slip it sideways through reality so he would not be disturbed until he woke. He planned to surprise his shell with the fate of his relatives in the morning, along with a delightful piece of writing that would culminate from the memory he’d anonymously sent to that insect, Skeeter.
The mere thought of the mortal woman made Death’s lip curl, thinking of all the lies she’d printed about his shell and the distress she’d caused him. He would crush her betwixt his fingers when the time came, but for now she had her uses. Shaking off the thought, Death returned his attention to his unconscious shell.
Death hoped the news would make his shell feel better, or at least distract him somewhat from the revelations of the previous night. After all, Death had demonstrated an enviable amount of restraint in his dealing with the Dursleys, and he was confident his shell would see and understand this. And surely his shell would see the humor in what he’d done to his loathsome relatives. Death himself thought it was positively hilarious to imagine them trying to live their lives in each other’s bodies, unable to hide it and becoming the freaks they so abhorred.
Not that he was done with them yet, but it was a good enough start he supposed. His shell deserved the chance to come up with some revenge of his own, so Death would hold off on tormenting them further. For now.
Death was patient, after all. He could wait.