Harry knew he didn't have a lot of time left.
Fresh from the battle of Hogwarts he felt something off about himself. The way he moved. The way his body responded to him and more alarming was the way his magic was acting. The warmth that had been with him his entire life felt like it was seeping out of his every pore. He couldn't get warm enough. Exhaustion was constant. He couldn't sleep enough to recoup what he lost during the day and he couldn't drink enough Pepper Up to combat the loss.
Ignoring the niggling sense of unease had been easy during the first few days after defeating Voldemort. Everyone was tired. However as people began to recover and get dismissed from Madam Pomfrey's care a strong sense of discomfort lodged itself inside his chest and wouldn't move. He wasn't alright. He wasn't recovering despite Madam Pomfrey's insistence on continued bed rest.
The knowledge came to him from somewhere between a gut feeling and a voice of instinct. He just knew. He was dying. It was a truth he felt right down to his very core. He was dying and he didn't have a lot of time left. Madam Pomfrey, distracted and exhausted herself, wouldn't be able to save him and he knew she wouldn't have been able to save him had she been in perfect health.
He'd been living on borrowed time, sixteen more years than he would have if his mother hadn't sacrificed herself for him, and now he was running out. The Deathly Hallows had bought him enough time to kill Voldemort but it seemed like their fabled ability to cheat death was a temporary thing.
Leaving Hogwarts had been an easy decision and in the end he slipped away unnoticed. If he didn't have that much time left… then he was just going to have to use the time he had left wisely.
The goblins at Gringotts weren't happy to see him when he first arrived but they let him in the doors. Handing Gryffindor's Sword over to the guards that barred his way into the bank went a long way into soothing the feathers he'd ruffled stealing Voldemort's Horcrux out of Bellatrix's vault. He had a will written up. It was a simple thing that left everything he owned to the Weasleys, Teddy, Hermione and set up a trust fund for any magical children that Dudley or any of Dudley's children might have. Along with a few letters he spent the last few days writing he left his wand with the goblins and handed over his vault keys. He wasn't going to be needing them.
He left the bank with several thousand pounds of muggle money in his pocket and stumbled out into the muggle world and into the first high-end clothing store he found. He walked out leaving the a good chunk of his money behind, the pyjamas he'd been wearing and the cloak he'd pilfered from Pomfrey. If he was going to die it might as well be in comfortable style.
What would everyone think of him? Dying right after earning himself the first breath of freedom he'd ever enjoyed? How laughably tragic.
Shivering into the thick folds of his new great coat Harry took a moment to admire his reflection as he walked past a boutique. He'd never worn anything like this in his life, the closest he came to it was his school uniform and even that was a far and distant cry from the suit he was wearing. Would he appear like this in front of his family? Wouldn't that surprise his parents, hell he surprised himself by 'cleaning up so nice' as the shop attendant had crooned at him. Remus would smile and Sirius would probably laugh at him for getting so gussied up.
Too bad the thickness of his coat wasn't doing much to alleviate the cold seeping into his body despite it's obviously high quality. The store attendant hadn't been surprised at his request for the warmest clothing they had in the store, the rain outside had given him excuse enough for it. The attendant had almost gasped at what he'd been wearing once he'd removed his cloak and had hurried to dress him once it was clear he had the money to afford the clothing he was attempting to buy.
One short lie, "My luggage was stolen from the airport!", and he was dressed in a charcoal suit with a light grey waistcoat, crisp white shirt, a warm orange tie (the closest he could get to Gryffindor red in the store) and a gold tie pin, a great coat a shade darker than the suit he was wearing, thick socks patterned with birds and polished black dress shoes. The finishing touch to the entire outfit was a handsome black fedora with an orange band matching the colour of his tie. Looking into a mirror after getting changed and he could hardly recognize himself. The shop assistants had been thoroughly impressed and one of the them had even tried to convince him to go out and get some new glasses.
"A frameless pair." The man insisted as he balled up his old clothing into a plastic bag to be thrown away. "Or contact lenses, your eyes are too gorgeous to hide behind such bulky lenses!"
"I'll think about it." Harry lied easily as he accepted a cream coloured scarf to wrap around his neck and tugged on a pair of thick gloves. Like his eyes were going to be a problem for much longer.
Now he was wandering around Muggle London. With no idea what to do with himself now that he'd settled his affairs and was now free to do whatever he wanted. What would a teenager his age do with himself at this time of night? With the amount of money he had… should he go out and watch a movie or something? Or considering his current form of sharp dress should he go and find himself a restaurant?
Stopping abruptly outside a bar Harry snorted to himself. Right, he knew what he wanted to do. He was going to drink away the last few hours of his life, maybe the alcohol would chase away some of the cold, he was close to shivering now. First of all though… there was something he needed to do. Needed to get off his chest.
Searching the room he'd stepped into his eyes swept along the walls before locating the payphone near the bar, uncaring of the furnishings or interior save for the fact it had what he was looking for. Pausing only long enough to beg change from the bored looking bartender Harry hurried over and fed the machine and punched out the Dursley's number. Might as well clear the air while he was still alive to do so.
The phone rang out and Harry belatedly realized that the Dursleys must still be in whatever safe-house the Order had stashed them away in. Leaning his head against the wall near the phone he gave himself a moment to wish that the Dursleys had an answering machine before he pulled out the phone book sitting on the little shelf next to the phone so he could start looking up names. If he couldn't reach the Dursleys then he'd just have to think outside the box. Piers was Dudley's friend, would probably continue to be friends with him when his cousin returned home.
He knew from an overheard conversation between his Aunt and Mrs Polkiss that the woman had 'invested' in an answering machine. Did they still have one? Punching in the number he found in the phone book Harry lifted the receiver up to his ear and waited, absently stacking the coins the barkeep had given him into a small tower.
"Hello. You have reached the household of the Polkiss family. Unfortunately we cannot take your call right now, but we would like to return it as soon as we can. So please leave your name, number and message after the beep and we'll get right back to you."
"Don't pick up the phone, Piers! Please." He immediately said at the prompt, somehow knowing that on the other end of the phone call that Piers Polkiss was a hairs breadth from picking up. "I… I don't think I'll be able to say… what I need to if there's... someone there. It's Harry. Dudley's cousin. I uh... I don't have a forwarding address for them so, I'm hoping that you'll be able to pass this message onto them since... I don't really have much longer left. Please tell them that it's safe now. The guys who killed Mum and Dad are gone, they caused a lot of damage, but we got them in the end so it's safe now, you can come home." Pausing to take a deep breath he continued.
"I'm sorry Dudley, but it doesn't look like we'll be able to make another go at trying to be family. I uh... I got hurt. Badly. And uh... well, I REALLY don't have much longer left. A day. Maybe two. Tops. I'm getting worse every hour, I can FEEL it. And... there's nothing much the He-Doctors can do. So. I just wanted to say my goodbyes while I could. So, thanks, thank you for trying in the end. It... it meant a lot. Surprisingly. I was actually looking forward to trying again clean. But it seems like... That won't be possible. I set a little bit of money aside at the bank, my bank, just in case any of your children, or grandchildren, or even their grandchildren, ever come to my school. Hopefully things will be better for them there than me once they've finished rebuilding it."
Closing his eyes for a bit Harry fiddled with the phone cord. He had more to say, so much more but he didn't exactly have a lot of time for it. An answering machine could only record so much before it ran out of memory. "Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, we've never gotten along. I think mutual loathing would be the proper term for it but... thank you for taking me under your roof. You at least managed to give me ten years without that murderer chasing me, ten years of being just me, ten years of - I guess, toughening me up. If it hadn't been for that, I might not have lasted this long so... thanks, I guess. I wish things could have worked out between us, properly. I would have liked to call you family, but… I guess those sorts of things are out of reach now." He said the last part mostly to himself, voice trailing off towards the end of the sentence.
Shaking the melancholy mood off of himself he continued on with the last words he'd ever be able to speak to the only family he had left. "Aunt Petunia, I checked Mum's Will, she left you a few pieces of jewellery so, if my friend Hermione drops by, don't worry, she's just giving them to you. She's a lot like mum so please, try to be nice. Her parents went missing and they're still looking for them. Well... I think that's it for me. I should hang up before I use up all of Piers' answer machine memory." he said, leaning a shoulder against the wall as he absently fed coins into the phone just in case he ran out of credit.
"Thank you for letting me say my goodbye Piers." He said finally, straightening up from where he'd started to lean up against the wall, this time speaking to the teenager who was no doubt listening to this on the other end of the phone. "Good luck to you too. I don't know what you've been up to, or what you plan to do, but I hope you manage it. Grow up to be a good man. Not the little shit I grew up with." he finished with a short laugh as he imagined the look on the boy's face at those words. "Oh, and before I forget, Good luck with your Boxing career Dudley. You have a killer right hook. Use it well. I didn't spend all those years helping you practice for nothing... Goodbye."
Harry sagged against the wall when he hung up and fought against the wave of dizziness washed over him as his magic flickered like the last embers of a dying flame. Two days? That had been an overly generous estimate. At the rate his magic was draining away from him… he was left with hours, not days. He… wasn't even going to last long enough to see the sunrise.
Waiting for the worst of the dizziness to subside he slid into the closest seat nearby and propped his elbows up on the bar, taking his glasses off and rubbing a tired hand over his eyes. When he finally lifted his head and slipped his glasses back on he realised he'd sat in a seat right next to someone already seated at the bar but couldn't find the energy to move, he gave the man a silent smile in apology but the man merely shrugged and turned back to his drink, seemingly uncaring that a stranger had popped right into his personal bubble.
"What can I get you?" a voice asked and Harry looked up at the barkeeper.
"Um… I'll have… what he's having." He replied, pointing to the dark haired man sitting at his elbow. The man seemed to be enjoying whatever he was drinking, savouring each sip and drinking in slow, deliberate mouthfuls. The dark haired man sitting next to him snorted and reached his glass forwards to clink against the one the bartender soon had on the bar in front of him.
"Aged scotch. Not a bad choice." The man remarked as he pulled his glass back, a smirk curling up his face.
"… thanks?" Harry blinked, reaching for his glass and drinking down a mouthful.
He regretted it immediately.
Fire burned down his throat. He coughed and spluttered around his hand. Hastily setting his glass down he groped blindly for the wad of napkins the amused looking bartender had left for him, apparently haven foreseen his reaction and prepared for it, and tried to regain his breath. Some of what he'd coughed out had taken the next best escape route when he'd covered his mouth, even his nasal passages were now joining in on feeling like they'd been set on fire!
"You… are a… b-bas… tard." Harry coughed out painfully, eyes watering at the sensation as the man sitting next to him laughed in his face.
"Puppy." The man returned, stealing the drink he'd just abandoned and taking a very pointed sip from it. "Drinks like this are meant to be savoured, not knocked back like water." The man smirked again as Harry signalled the barkeeper down for a glass of water and tried to clean himself off and control his breathing.
"S… savour away." Harry wheezed, waving the glass away when the man made as if to offer it back to him to try again. Accepting the glass of water from the barkeeper he drained it completely and handed it back. "I'll try something with a little less… punch."
"Suit yourself." The man said as he pulled the glass back.
"God that was awful." Harry complained as wiped the last traces of alcohol off his face and clothes, mopping up the worse of it. "Why would you even drink something like that?"
"Because I'm not a cultureless brat?" the man replied sarcastically, the smirk on his face growing. "Try picking from the children's menu, their drinks aren't likely to kill you."
Harry plucked the drink back out of the man's hands at that and took a small cautious sip, wincing at the burn but managing to drink the small amount down. "A drink isn't going to kill me when I'm already dying." He said, coughing a bit as he looked the man dead in the eye. "Might as well try it while I still can."
The man stared at him for a long moment and Harry turned away and back to his drink to try another cautious sip. He HAD been looking for something to chase away the cold and he'd certainly found something that fit the bill, he just hadn't expect it to be quite so potent. Warmth curled through his system and settled in his stomach, it didn't affect his magic in any way and he could still feel the same drain but now… he wasn't feeling the accompanying cold that he'd been feeling since waking up from getting hit by the Killing Curse.
"… dying?" the man sitting next to him asked quietly, dark eyes raking up and down his body as if looking for confirmation of what he was saying and keeping his voice low enough that the bartender couldn't hear him.
"I'm… sick. Terminal and I don't have very long left." Harry said, staring into the amber liquid in his glass as the words left him. It was the first time he'd acknowledged it, actually said it out loud and doing it felt surprisingly natural. It was coming. He wasn't afraid of it. Sirius, Remus and his parents were waiting for him. Just thinking about it put him closer to peace than he'd been in years. Smiling softly to himself at the thought Harry raised his glass to take another cautious sip of the liquid that had managed to warm him up when numerous doses of Pepper Up had failed… and promptly choked as the man sitting next to him asked his next question.
"… and have you kissed anyone yet?"
Inhaling scotch was infinitely more painful than simply drinking it without being prepared for it and Harry spent a good few minutes spluttering as the man laughed at his reaction.
"I would have asked if you were still a virgin but the answer to that question is painfully clear." The man continued on as if Harry hadn't just choked, smirking down at him as he slumped over the bar wheezing again.
Ok, he was SO not about to fall for that again, he had the guy's measure. He was getting a real kick out of getting a reaction out of him wasn't he? The guy wanted to play that game? Fine then. He'd play along. "Yeah." He said as he mopped himself clean for a second time, determined not to get caught spluttering again. "They weren't that good though. But I'll chalk that up to the first using me for rebound on her dead boyfriend, and the other as my best mate's kid sister."
"Oh? A little sister? How brave of you." The man said, eyes glinting at the unspoken challenge in Harry's eyes, seemingly determined to see him spluttering again.
"… she also had six brothers."
The man snorted. "And no plans to spend your last night with that young lady in question?"
"Not really. I don't think I could do that to her."
"So you'll die a virgin, how sad."
"... smooth. Remind the dying kid what he's going to be missing out. Great stuff. I can see you're all sunshine and gumdrops. Must be real popular with the ladies."
"I could help you with that." The man purred, ignoring the slights to his character and leaning right up into his personal space, knocking Harry's new fedora off his head in the process.
Catching it before it could hit the ground Harry scooped it up and squashed it onto the man's face, pushing the man back onto the seat he'd leaned out of trying to get him spluttering again. "Nah. You're alright mate. I'll have to pass on that." Harry said as he pushed the hat onto the man's head. "However would you deal with my corpse in the morning?" he asked sarcastically as the man flipped the fedora off his head and examined it before tilting it back on at a rakish angle.
"I'm sure I could manage, I am the world's greatest Hitman after all." The man replied, buffing his nails on his shirt and smirking in good humour.
Harry's froze in mid-sip and choked down it down, staring up at his drinking partner for the night with wide eyes. "You… aren't joking."
"Interesting." The man murmured, leaning back into his seat. "The first person not in the Mafia to ACTUALLY believe me."
Mafia? That… Ok. Sure. Didn't matter. "Couldn't you have waited till after I'd finished swallowing to drop that on me?" Harry asked, rubbing at his throat as he coughed painfully, it felt raw from forcing down his most recent mouthful.
"So you swallow. Even more interesting." The man said, waggling his eyebrows.
"You're going there? Really?" Harry asked even as he felt his face flush a bright red, just the reaction the man had been looking to garner judging by the satisfied Cheshire smirk crawling up his face. Harry had heard more than his fair share of dirty jokes before, you couldn't escape living in Gryffindor tower without hearing a good few, but he'd never actually been the target of them before. No one had ever had the balls to crack dirty jokes about him, at least not to his face.
"I'm not used to being turned down, humour me."
Harry snorted. "Well if it's any consolation, I just don't do one night stands. And since I've only GOT one night - you're getting nothing." There was a moment of silence at that and their eyes met, a silence that stretched before breaking with a laugh that sounded out of the both of them.
"Oh my god." Harry said as he leaned heavily against the bar, wheezing with laughter this time. "If any of my friends saw me right now they'd die. I'm in a bar, drinking and getting hit on by a professional killer."
"Not just a professional killer." the man corrected, ever present smirk angling down at him again. "I'm the World's Greatest Hitman."
Harry palmed his face, not knowing if he wanted he wanted laugh or not. What a thing to be proud of. "There's a cop sitting just across the room." He pointed out, keeping a firm lid on the bubble of unreal hilarity that wanted to escape out of him.
His drinking partner set his drink down and slanted his head in the direction Harry had indicated, as if he hadn't even noticed the uniformed officer relaxing at her own table, and turned to give him a look so heavy with condescension that Harry wanted to kick him. It was a look that said 'Really?', 'As if.' and, 'Bitch please.' all at once.
"Someone as high-class as myself will never have to worry over such small things." The man said loftily, sniffing at the very idea of getting arrested.
Wasn't exactly lacking in confidence was he? "And if I went over there and told her that you told me you were a Hitman?" Harry asked, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing. This conversation really shouldn't be as funny as he was finding it.
"Well I was just trying to score myself a hot date wasn't I?" the Hitman asked rhetorically, an innocent, butter-wouldn't-melt expression briefly crossing his face. "I had no idea you'd actually believe my little joke~!"
"Unbelievable. So what if I added that I was underage? You could get arrested for trying to 'get lucky' with a minor."
The man smirked viciously, dark eyes bright with hilarity. "You wouldn't be that stupid would you? Why that would be you admitting to underage drinking! To a police officer! You'd spend the last night you have on earth stuck in a jail cell, what a tragic end!"
Harry let out a burst of shocked laughter. How the hell had the bastard managed to turn the hypothetical situation around so fast? This guy was stupidly fast on his mental feet! "I think I might be starting to see how you earned your title…" Harry said when he finally gained control of himself.
The smirk on the man's face shifted from viciously amused to highly satisfied and preening in seconds. The man sketched an elaborate bow at him from where he was sitting and reached up to his own head and doffed the fedora at him. "It's always good to hear appreciation, especially from such a lovely audience."
Harry snorted again. "You never stop do you?"
"It's in my nature." The man said, false tone of apology in his voice. "I'm very… active."
"There's an innuendo in there I'm too polite to point out." He shot back, leaning away as the Hitman leaned into his personal space again. He reached out a hand to push the man back away from him again when the world abruptly began started to spin. His drinking companion was saying something but Harry didn't hear any of it.
Darkness eclipsed his vision for a brief moment, not long enough to make him fall from his seat to the ground but definitely nearly there. He felt dizzy, the sudden cold rush that crashed through him left black spots dancing in front of his eyes and his head feeling light. The world went dark for a heartbeat and his body just lost the strength to hold him up.
Harry had felt this before.
Sprinting up the stairs to the North Tower and the Divination classroom, finally getting there only for his knees give out on the last few steps, too tired and weak to carry him. Diving from a too-steep height and having the breath rush out of him when he levelled his broom. A lethargy that came with not being able to catch his breath followed by the tingling weakness that came from casting too many spells at once.
When the darkness receded he realized he was hanging sideways halfway out of his chair and a solid arm was the only thing keeping him from meeting with the floor. He realized almost immediately that his black-out must have only been momentary, otherwise his drinking companion wouldn't still be trying to drag him back up onto the seat he'd almost fallen out of.
"I knew you weren't lying but I didn't think you were being so completely honest about your estimated end of the line." The man remarked as he got up out of his own seat to steady him further.
"Did you think I was joking about leaving you with a corpse to deal with in the morning when you offered to 'help' me earlier?" Harry asked faintly as the dark spots in his eyes stared to dance across his vision.
"… I'm taking you to a doctor." Was all the Hitman responded with, slipping the arm he had caught him with around his waist and pulling him off the chair.
Harry struggled weakly against the man's grip as he all but manhandled him out of the bar. "I told you, there's nothing they can do. They had me on bed rest before I checked myself out this morning. I want to actually DO something on my last night on earth. Not sit in a bed and listen to my bestfriends tell me everything will be okay, that I'll be fine and soon we'll be able to move on with our lives and all that sort of bollo…"
Harry's legs weakened mid-word and buckled, they folded out from underneath him as his visioned darkened again. When he next came-to he was no longer being pulled out of the bar but was instead lying in the passenger's seat of a car.
"Should I start trying to climb out the window screaming about abduction?" Harry asked groggily as he peeled his eyes open to glare weakly at his kidnapper.
"I doubt you could muster the strength. Sit down, shut up, and accept my help. I don't usually offer it beyond a bullet." The Hitman snorted, dark eyes briefly glancing off the road to slant an irritated glare of his own down at him.
"Sounds lovely. Give me one of those, beats being dragged into a ruddy hospital again." He managed to grit out, finding it hard to breathe all of a sudden.
The next few minutes passed by in a blur of unintelligible noise and movement, he faded in and out of consciousness between one weak breath and the next. One moment he was in the car, then he was being pulled out and set on a wheelchair. He was being wheeled into a hospital and then lifted up onto an bed. The Hitman was leaning over him and then a doctor took his place, a strangely young doctor that couldn't be very much older than he was. One that was possibly just year older than he was.
The teenager's brown hair was disheveled and the white doctor's coat he had thrown on over a pair of light-blue scrubs had seen better days. A stethoscope was hooked around the doctor's neck and he had a badge that read 'Shamal' pinned to them.
"...shouldn't be possible. He's actually hemorrhaging Sky Flames, losing them too quickly for his body to replace. But not active or we'd be able to see it from half a city block away. Where did you find him, Reborn? By all rights he'd be on every radar in the underworld but he's a complete unknown. His organs are in the middle of failing due to massive flame-depletion, he has full-on heart arrhythmia - he's physically having a heart attack because he doesn't have enough energy to keep his heartbeat to a steady rhythm. Even his BRAIN is shutting down! Goddamn. I… I couldn't do anything even if I wanted to! He would need an ocean of Sky Flames just to keep him out of ICU long enough for a ridiculously powerful Sun flame to heal the damage. And I'm talking RIDICULOUSLY strong. Stronger than you."
"How long does he have?"
"Not even an hour. The kid is burnt out, running on fumes. By all rights, he should have died long before you brought him in with the level of flame energy he has. I've seen squirrels with stronger wills to live than him right now. I honestly don't know what to say, Reborn, I've never seen anything like it. It shouldn't even be possible to hemorrhage your Flame like that."
"I shouldn't… have lived this long in the first place." Harry muttered under his breath, tilting his head towards the voices and opening bleary eyes that he hadn't realized he'd shut, focusing his blurring vision on the two men standing at his bedside. "People aren't supposed to survive what I did, I'm on borrowed time anyway, always have been. It's not a big deal, you can stop freaking out… I'm just going to the Next Adventure is all."
"There is no great Adventure. Just death. Are you really so weak willed that you're just going to give up?" The dark haired hitman, (Reborn?) snapped, turning away from the awfully young looking doctor and reaching a hand to grip one of his shoulders in a near-painful grip.
"… And you would know what happens when people die, wouldn't you?" he snorted as he lifted his own hand up to pull the man's hand off his shoulder. "As for giving up, this isn't me giving up. This is me accepting that what will be, will be and I will meet whatever comes afterwards with my head held high. I'm not going to be dragged down kicking and screaming like some ungrateful coward. Death is just another part of life after all, and I will greet him with a smile." Harry smirked bitterly. He'd meet death just like he had the last time. Head on, without choice but with no regrets, without the will or desire to die but accepting the inevitable. This was the Peverell Fate.
A stubborn glint appeared in Reborn's dark eyes and Harry let go when a warmth started to spread down from between their joined hands. "… didn't the doctor just finish saying that you wouldn't be able to help me?" he asked gently as he pushed the hand away from him. "How crazy do you have to be to go so far for a complete stranger?"
Dark eyes widened. "You know what I was…"
"You're warm. Like I used to be. Didn't take much to figure out." Harry smiled wryly as he shifted. "If you want to help… there is still one thing you can do for me." He said as he reached a weak hand into his lapel pocket and tried to get his shaking hand to cooperate long enough to pull the object in his pocket out.
"Here, let me…" Shamal said, easing Harry's hand away from where he was trying to reach and slipping his hand into the pocket. Grasping the ring he had tucked away in there the young doctor yelped when he came into contact with it and hastily pulled his hand back, making the ring tumble out onto the bed-spread.
"Feels horrible doesn't it?" Harry asked as he caught it, wrapping his fingers around it.
"What is that thing?" the teenage doctor asked,(or was it nurse? Hard to tell when he was missing his glasses), pulling a face and wiping his hand off against his scrubs, then examining his hand briefly as his face contorted.
"My curse." He answered. "Toss it into the next volcano you happen to pass?" Harry asked jokingly, pulling the silk handkerchief he had tucked into the breast pocket of his suit so he could drop the Gaunt Ring into it and tie the folds shut over the awful thing.
He'd already taken care of the Elder Wand, broken it into pieces, pulled its core out before burning it and left his invisibility cloak with the goblins for Teddy to inherit when he was old enough for Hogwarts. The only thing he had yet to take care of was the ring, he'd thought to maybe toss it down a storm drain somewhere or drop it in a dumpster. He'd nearly forgotten he still had it until he'd unwittingly reminded himself of it by thinking of his Peverell ancestors. By giving it away to a stranger, someone with no connection to him, no one would be able to find it. Not without retracing the steps he'd taken to get to where he was and then the searching witch or wizard would have to track down Reborn. Who had admitted to being the 'World's Greatest Hitman.' Anyone who came after him looking for the ring would deserve what they got.
"Chop up the ring, grind the stone down to dust, drop it in molten lead or whatever. Just destroy it. I would have done it myself but… well, here I am. In a hospital. Again." Harry said as he sighed gustily. Pushing himself up off the bed he tried to reach out and hand the little silk-wrapped bundle over to Reborn but stopped halfway as he felt the world around him start to swim again.
Reborn caught him as he folded forwards over himself, catching the hand that had tried to hand over the Gaunt ring and gently taking it from his hands. Harry let himself fall over onto the man's shoulder and slumped as the last vestiges of energy slipped from him. "It's… the last… thing I meant to do…" Harry whispered into the man's ear, unable to summon the strength for anything louder. "The number… of people… who died over this thing… I meant… to be the last and let… the Peverell Fate… die with me. Don't let anyone… else… get their hands… on it. Destroy it… as soon as you can."
Warmth blossomed inside him, traveling down from where Reborn had placed his hands to run through his near-frozen system. The Hitman was channeling the energy that had been flaring through his hands earlier into him and Harry didn't even have the strength left to stop him anymore.
"No! Reborn! What are you doing? Do you know the consequences of Harmonizing with a dying Sky? That's going to shatter you! You're ruining yourself Reborn! Stop before you go too far!" Shamal exclaimed, reaching forward to try and tug the Hitman away from him and getting kicked back roughly to the wall with a pained grunt for his troubles.
"It's a little too late for that." Reborn snarled, hands twitched slightly on him.
Shamal sucked in a shocked breath.
Harry didn't know what they were talking about but in the end it didn't really matter did it? The energy Reborn was feeding into his system wasn't going to last very long, it was just barely enough to give him the strength breathe out a laugh against the man's ear. "So stubborn." He said weakly, reaching up to hook his fingers into the man's breast pocket, too weak to reach up any further. "Thank you… for trying but… my time… is finished. You need… to let me go. Sorry, I guess I'm going… to be leaving… you to deal with that… corpse after all…" Harry whispered softly into the man's neck. "You… didn't even manage to get… anything out of me…"
"… I got your hat. I'm keeping it."
Harry chuckled weakly at that. "Looks better on you… than it ever did… on me."
"… any last requests beyond destroying the ring?" Reborn's voice ground out, sounding strangely rough for such a smooth voice. "That kiss offer is still on the table."
Harry laughed. "Open… the window? I just… wanted to… see the sky… one last time."
Reborn jerked, as if that wasn't exactly something he was willing to let him go long enough for, and Shamal abruptly moved from where he'd been kicked to the wall and over to his bedside instead of the closed and dark window. The doctor reached into a coat pocket, threaded a ring over his finger and a wave of deep blue flames washed over the room. Harry felt them brush over his skin and felt his lips tug upwards at the sensation. The warmth was a very welcome relief against the creeping edges of cold that was beginning to sink back into his bones despite Reborn's best efforts.
The indigo flames flooded across the floors and edged up the walls to eclipse the ceiling, they blurred the hospital away and replaced it with a stunning expanse of wide open sky, a gorgeous sunset. Shamal had somehow managed to create a misted sky inside the room, one that burned brightly with a sun colouring the clouds in various shimmering shades of vivid gold and orange. An artificial wind brushed the hair back away from his face and, if Harry allowed himself, he could almost imagine that he flying in the air above Hogwarts, viewing a peaceful sunset after a tiring day of classes. He could even halfway ignore the chill threading back through him as he imagined the warmth of the flames tickling his skin were from the hearth of fireplace in Gryffindor Tower.
For that one blissful moment, he was home. In the only home he'd ever known and somehow safer than he'd ever felt in his entire life. How was it that a professional killer, a hitman and his friend, made him feel this way? Not even the warmest of Mrs Weasley's hugs had ever left him feeling so…
"… warm." He whispered, leaning into the hold that was the only thing keeping upright. He felt his breath begin to slow and smiled as his vision began to blur into grey around the edges. He felt his hand slip out of the Hitman's breast pocket, no longer having the energy to keep them hooked there and forced out his last words even as he felt the last vestiges of strength leave him.
Reborn marked that day as the beginning of the end of the 'golden age' in his life. It certainly marked the day his luck took a turn for the worse, or perhaps that was merely a reflection on state of his mind, that he would mistake his shattered thought processes and blame his failures on 'luck'.
For a long time he stopped caring which jobs he took or who they came from. Missions stopped being challenges and became pay-checks. He threw himself into his work with the kind of hard-boiled attitude Shamal called 'self-destructive' to his face. He didn't care. It wasn't like he had anything to worry about. He was the world's greatest Hitman, any surprises weren't exactly going to hit him any harder than he'd already been hit. Though if Shamal said he was being self-destructive one more time he was going to self-destruct his fucking foot up his herniated ass.
He was back in Italy now, after months spent in England. He was working. Finally after weeks of burying himself in research, combing record after record and strong arming Shamal into calling hospitals looking for information on the 'John Doe' that had been 'admitted' into the hospital and finding nothing.
Reborn had spent those months in England in the grips of a blind obsession.
Retracing the teenager's last moments had been surprisingly difficult and combing through the streets for any clue as to where the mysterious Sky had come from only dug up the store the boy had apparently bought the clothes he'd been wearing when he died. The boy had even paid for the new clothes with cash. Reborn had chased down the dead end that had been the shop-keeper's belief that the boy had lost his luggage at the airport and collected the articles of clothing the boy had left at the shop but had turned up empty handed as far as a name went.
All he had to show for that arm of the investigation was set of white pyjamas and a thick hand-made cloak made of heavy wool, clothing had ended up being yet another gigantic dead end as they had been hand-made instead of store-bought. He hadn't even been able to locate the tailor who had made the cloak despite having visited more than a fair few specialty stores and having insinuated himself into England's community of Renaissance fair goers to comb through their entire network of contacts.
CCTV footage was yet another dead end, Reborn managed to track the young Sky's last moments, from their meeting in the bar to the purchase of the clothes he'd been wearing but tracing his steps further into London proved to be an exercise in frustration. The teenager had walked to the clothing store out of an area almost completely devoid of cameras.
"It's like he appeared out of thin air!" Shamal had complained as he hung up the phone in the hotel room Reborn had been using as a base of operations. "I must have called every hospital in England by now and no one has got any matches for the kid! The kid was only seventeen and he looked like he'd been through the wringer, he had to have visited a hospital at SOME point in his life!"
The only other clue they'd had on them as to the teenager's identity was the ring he had told them to destroy, the symbol engraved on the stone and the name Peverell. The internet didn't reveal anything about the symbol on the ring on its own but paired with the name the boy had unwittingly dropped they came across what seemed to be an entire online community, one that was wholly dedicated an urban myth unique to England. It was based an old children's story that had apparently been passed down from parent to child in England for the last few thousands of years and spoke of three objects that supposedly granted the person who collected all three immortality.
The three items were a 'wand', an 'invisibility cloak' and… a stone engraved with the symbol of 'the master of death.' A stone that was able the summon the dead, but such a pale imitation of them that they weren't even ghosts. Goddamn it, he'd finally met the one Sky strong enough to pull him into a Harmony and of course the boy was going to be tangled up in something that had painted a gigantic target over himself.
He'd been TEMPTED to find out if the ring was genuine, if it worked as advertised but had ultimately not wanted to drag the poor boy's soul out of whatever afterlife he'd be enjoying just to be forced to hang around him. Because after all the shit he'd clearly been through, he would be in the good place. Not the very hot one that awaited him.
How could someone have been so calm about their own death? Especially when their flame was all but dragging people into his orbit? God, Reborn had practically walked face-first into that and hadn't had a hope in hell at being able to avoid it. He'd noticed the boy as soon as he'd walked in, even overheard snatches of the phone call the boy had made prior to sitting down despite the music obscuring most of the conversation, (The name Piers must have been a first name, damn it). He'd not only been lecherous but when he let his guard down just enough to feel for the kid… he'd Harmonized with him without even a second's worth of warning. Forged a Guardian bond with a dying Sky. Just barely after the boy walked into the same bar as him and he'd bonded with a full Harmonization singing in the back of his head! A bond that strong usually took months, (sometimes years!), to form!
He had gotten to know what it was like, just for that moment, to be accepted wholesale and completely. Had experienced a Harmony. Spent an hour chatting and laughing with the most important person in his life, had finally found a Sky powerful enough to draw him in. One who hadn't cared about his title as the Greatest Hitman, hadn't cared about the lives he had stolen, the power he had hidden away, or the prestige that his presence would bring. One who didn't even know about Flames, or care.
A Sky that had laughed and shoved a hat in his face while blushing to the tips of his ears over a little harmless flirting, and had choked on scotch he didn't like the taste of just to scrape what little teenage dignity he had left.
Reborn had heard all the stories, had multiple recounts of what Harmonizing felt like, who hadn't? But the realization he had Harmonized felt like every story he'd ever heard put together and more.
It had been a feeling so unlike anything else. It had been like... coming home. As if his whole world was suddenly grounded and opened, almost as if there was suddenly a center to his universe and everything that he was, could be, had been, was being welcomed by it, embraced and pulled close without judgement, fear or expectation.
The loss of that was… unspeakable.
Shamal hadn't exactly escaped unscathed but he'd been lucky enough to avoid a full Harmonization, the doctor hadn't had the time yet to acknowledge what had started to happen and the boy clearly hadn't known about it but it had been there. It had been more of a whisper with him though, a brushing of hands rather than the full clinging grasp that had ripped right through his own barriers like they wasn't even there.
Reborn wanted to be jealous of Shamal, of the man's near-escape, but FUCK that had been his Sky. He was angry at himself for being so useless, angry at Shamal for not being as affected by the boy's death and then angry at himself all over again for even thinking Shamal had been the lucky one. Angry that Shamal had suggested that perhaps they should let things be and that surely the kid wouldn't have wanted him to drown in his death. Angry that Shamal had been right because the kid hadn't seemed the type and then at himself over the fact he'd dragged Shamal into the kid's orbit.
It had near ruined the teenager.
Shamal had put a hold on his studies. The Doctorate in Infectious Diseases, his Nursing and Entomology degrees on hold to dive.. no, FALL into his own research. Trying to find a cure he'd likely never use. For a condition neither he nor any of his contacts had ever heard about, a condition he'd never likely come across again and one that he couldn't even begin to fathom the cause of. Working only with the information he'd managed to glean from that brief time Reborn had brought him in to treat him because there was no way the Hitman was going to allow an autopsy on the dead Sky's corpse. Shamal had known better than to ask for permission. The doctor hadn't been anywhere near close to considering suicide. He hadn't been that badly burned by his unintentional Harmony. Not like Reborn had been.
Months later and the teenager was still nowhere near to finding a cure, just like he was nowhere closer to finding any trace of evidence that the kid had ever lived aside from the nameless grave in Italy where he was laid to rest near a beachfront, a location famous for its stunning sunsets. Buried where people would respect the symbol on his gravestone, a winged crown. A nod to the only thing he'd ever known him as. His Sky.
The grave quickly became a local legend - the Unnamed Sky. Rumours soared, and people gossiped on the atypical representation engraved on the tombstone. Traditionally, Skies were represented with a bold crown and flared wings. A crown to symbolize their position and wings that represented their flames, flared to protect what was theirs, in their rightful place, neither falling nor flying.
Reborn had chosen something different for his Sky. The meaning behind the symbol's break from the traditional bold crown and flared wings to the small, understated crown with the curled in wings was simple. His Sky had ended up having to defend himself, shield himself, and ultimately had to go up to the good place in the actual sky. So, wings were folded inwards, poised ready for protection and prepared for flight at a moment's notice. Crown small and understated for his Sky's unrealized potential.
Shamal had understood the meaning immediately, everyone else? Weren't nearly so quick on the uptake. Some thought that Reborn had been hiding a Sky and congratulated themselves over coming up with a reason as to why he'd never Harmonized with a Sky before. Other's assumed correctly that theirs had been a recent meeting, but then went on to speculate over what qualities a Sky would have to have to be able to Pull Reborn into 'her' Harmony.
He looked forward to the idiot brave enough to ask him questions, 'Answering' would make for fantastic stress relief.
Rubbing an irritated hand between his eyes Reborn sighed and carefully, with growing ease of practice, pushed the mental image aside. He… needed to stop obsessing already. Nothing was going to change what had happened and dwelling was just going to drag him back down into the spiral of depression he had only just managed to drag himself back up out of. He wasn't all the way there yet, probably wouldn't ever be but at the very least he could function.
Should he take a break? Take himself on vacation somewhere sunny? All that time in dreary England and then diving back into the Underworld immediately upon his return to Italy had left him with very little time to unwind. He needed some time to relax.
Letting himself into his office Reborn closed the door behind him and walked over to is desk, dropping his keys in the ashtray he kept on-hand for clients. Taking the time to greet his newly hatched pet chameleon, a gift from Shamal that had clearly been meant to have been something of a distraction, Reborn carefully shifted the potted plant the reptile was clinging to. He made sure it was as far away from the edge of the desk as possible and let a rare smile cross his face when the creature leaned forward to press up against his hand.
Leon the Chameleon, named so for the express purpose of seeing Shamal slap a hand to his own face in exasperation, had turned out to be quite the priceless gift. A shape-shifter. One that had been handed to him as an egg and given to him to 'fuss over' as Shamal had put it. A shape-shifter was rare. Finding a shape-shifter's egg was rarer. Even rarer was the chance to have such an egg respond to the owner and hatch. Rarer still was the opportunity for said shape-shifter to imprint on said owner.
Giving Leon the petting he was clearly looking for Reborn reached a hand into the shallow dish of pins he kept next to Leon's plant and turned to press it into the picture he'd been given of his latest target, pinning the man's image in between the eyes. Leaning back he stared wordlessly at his photo-covered wall and considered. He… really had been working himself down to a thread hadn't he? Maybe… it was time to consider retiring-
Feeling the hair on the back of his neck rise Reborn had a gun in hand and levelled directly behind him within an instant. "Who's there?" He demanded, scanning the apartment for the intruder that had his hair standing on end. He'd heard something. In his apartment. Somewhere that should have been completely safe, how had he not noticed someone had gotten in before him? Now that he was paying attention he noticed the throw rug in the hall had moved a millimeter to the left, the door to his filing room was open and, of course, someone was lounging in the armchair he kept in that room. Waiting in the shadows. For him. Making himself at home in his own chair.
How bold. The action itself spoke volumes as to the skill level and fearlessness this person had, to be confronting him in such a manner. To think he was so tired and stressed that he'd MISSED the tiny and minute details that gave away the fact that someone had gotten into his apartment before him… he would have noticed had he not been so overworked. It seemed he was LONG overdue for that vacation.
"Please excuse me, Mr World's Greatest Assassin." The intruder said calmly, tilting his head and observing him. The movement shifted his upper body into view as the man had been sitting just so that the light coming in from the room Reborn was standing in illuminated only his lower body. "So, you really are qualified."
Quite the dramatic soul wasn't he? How long had the man been sitting in his apartment thinking of ways to introduce himself? Going from what he'd seen of the man so far he wasn't impressed. The only reason why this man had gotten the drop on him was simply because he had let it happen, worn himself down enough to the point that apparently his apartment was deemed safe enough to break into. Qualified?
Keeping the sneer off his face Reborn made sure his face stayed passive. Easily impressed as well, wasn't he? To be so admiring of what he himself viewed as a mistake that could have cost him his life. This either had to be another Hitman or… a suicidal client. Well then, best get straight to the point. "Who are you? Who sent you?" He asked, keeping his questions short. He was tired and he'd already had enough of this man's bullshit from first appearance.
His intruder had a taste for checker-patterned clothing. Tie, gloves, hat, mask and even part of his great coat was patterned with the same blocky black and white print. How tasteless. "I came on my own." The man returned lightly, one of his hands releasing its grip on an overly gaudy cane to reach into a lapel pocket.
"Don't move an inch." Reborn warned, tensing up. One wrong move and the man was going earn his death wish.
"Just calm down a moment." The man said, hands closing around something smaller than the gun Reborn thought he'd been reaching for. He didn't relax, any number of things could be small enough to—a clear pacifier?! Eyes unintentionally tracked the object's movement as the man tossed it in a high loop above his own head. Shifting momentarily off of his mental target Reborn was caught flat-footed by the sheer absurdity of the man pulling such an object. On him. A Hitman he had just acknowledged as the best in the world.
"I am… collecting the world's strongest, I Prescelti Sette." The man smirked, obviously feeling much more comfortable now that Reborn had shifted his piercing gaze off of him for that brief moment. A cocky smirk was now stretching across the man's mouth, visible under the half mask he was wearing.
Client. Couldn't be anything else. When had he fallen so far that lunatics thought that coming to him was a safe thing to do?
"I Prescelti Sette?" He asked, curious as to what this particular crazy was asking of him. Might as well hear the man out. Damn his curiosity.
"Is this a commission for work?" he questioned, because was this really the best way the man could think of to go about asking a wired Hitman if he wanted to take on a job? Reborn kept his gun steadily pointed at the intruder, this wouldn't exactly have been the first time another Hitman had posed as a client in order to 'knock him off his throne', so to speak. "As a team?". The man HAD said he was collecting the world's strongest, what other conclusion could you draw from that?
"You will be well-compensated. First I want you all to join up." The man agreed, unfolding a piece of paper he must have pulled out of his lapel pocket at the same time as the pacifier. Shit, he really wasn't at the top of his game today was he? "Go here." The man instructed, smoothing the small slip of paper on the coffee table next to him as he rose to leave, wisely choosing not to try and hand it over. "Meet up with your colleagues."
He kept his gun trained on the man's head as he left and didn't relax or reach for the piece of paper he'd left behind until he was well and truly sure he was gone. It was a simple map with directions to the apparent meeting place.
Reborn considered it for a long, drawn-out moment. If he'd be working with a team, a team to match him as the 'World's Greatest' then this job could be an easy one. If the team members selected pulled their own weight… it could be just the thing to ease him away from hits and into retirement.
What the hell, one last client as the World's Greatest Hitman. What could it hurt?