A/N: Written for the When Worlds Collide crossover gift exchange over on AO3 for penkindisbestspecibus. I'd been wanting to write some Master of Death Harry for, oh gosh, years now. I'd just never gotten around to it. Luckily, penkindisbestspecibus was a wonderful person who handed me this prompt on a silver platter, with bonus Supernatural's Death! Man, what a great Death. What a great idea to combine MoD!Harry with Supernatural's Death! Hopefully I've done both characters justice. Fic title comes from Chris Vrenna's song of the same name. Also, I'm very much an American with no pocket Britpick handy. Sorry!
It's all oily smoke and hissing shadows, monsters and madmen rushing through the dark towards the only home he's ever known.
Sickly green lights lash out over a crowd of scattering children. Most miss their targets, but a few bodies still make awful, loose-limbed thuds against the wet grass.
Farther off, ancient stone walls shudder under the fists of giants, collapse in on themselves with booms that resound throughout the school grounds for miles. Enchanted candlelight spills like blood from the Great Hall, ripped open like an animal carcass.
Dementors stand out in ragged silhouette with each blinding strike of lightning, blotting out the clouds and smothering the battlefield with a leeching, hungry chill.
An ancient basilisk slithers out of the Lake, its huge body glistening a poisonous green. But the yellow eyes capable of killing with a single glance are gone, replaced by red, wet holes. Fangs long and wickedly sharp as rapiers spill, clattering, from its mouth.
Red and white feathers fall thick as rain from nowhere.
In each of Harry's fists there is something biting his palms. He doesn't need to look to know he holds the Philosopher's Stone, gritty and sweat-slimed by Professor Quirrell's ashes, or the Resurrection Stone, a deep crack in one glossy facet that drips ghosts like an old faucet.
Set curiously disjointed from the chaos, like a transparent image skewed across a television screen, bodies wearing familiar faces make tidy rows in the exposed belly of the Great Hall.
It's a jumbled mess of a nightmare, old horrors and new cheaply stitched together to ensure the bags under his mother's eyes don't fade. It's only been a handful of weeks since he died in the Forbidden Forest, only a handful of weeks since Narcissa Malfoy lied to save her son. If she hadn't-
Well, Harry tries not to think about that.
Sometimes he wonders if he really came back from that night. If he's really still himself. Everyone is so caught up in mourning and in celebration, no one sees that their Boy Who Lived may not be so alive as they think. Dramatic maybe, but something… something happened to him that night. Something changed in him, and it's more than having that last foul bit of Voldemort wrenched out of him. Or at least, it feels like it ought to be more than that. Perhaps he feels so strange because he's no longer a horcrux, but it's not like he can look that kind of question up in a book. The only other known living horcrux had been Nagini, and Neville had done a top-notch job of slaying her. Oh well.
Still, he is himself. He eats. He showers. He lays down to sleep at night and wakes up long before the sun with post-war trauma splashed across his pillow. He is alive because he has a heartbeat and shivers in the cold and smells bad when he forgets to wear deodorant. He is alive because Dumbledore's ghost spoke with him in a gateway trussed up like King's Cross Station. He is alive because he chose to come back. He is alive because the job wasn't done yet.
In his dreams he hears his mother shout, his father die, and he's heard these things so often he can't even bother with flinching.
Sleep isn't worth it, mostly. It's turned into variations of this-Dark Marks and curses, broken bodies and holes in his life where people used to be. Awake and bone-weary, he repairs what he can, rebuilds what he can't, and smiles when the cameras crowd thick and cloying as Inferi. The Weasleys insist he stay with them, Hermione too, for as long as they need. What he needs is time alone, but try explaining that to a mother who just buried one of her sons.
Besides, where could he go where owls wouldn't find him? Each day he gets dozens of letters from witches and wizards around the world, filled with blessings and desperate pleas for help against other evils, other dark lords and ladies, against monsters that make acromantulas look downright cuddly. He cast the right spell at the right time, and now the entire world is demanding more of the ideal hero they've all got in their heads instead of him. He's eighteen years old, he's got scars that will never fade, and all he wants to do is curl up somewhere quiet and figure out the mess in his head.
There's just never any time for selfishness anymore.
In Ron's room he shifts restlessly in his sleep, a grimace passing across his gray face. This nightmare's a mess of sour memories, but there's a pattern he's learned to expect, a finale that is guaranteed to jolt him awake with a lungful of stale air, wand in hand and wondering how it even got there. That will come soon, and with it another night sitting quietly downstairs, waiting for dawn and wondering what to do with-with everything.
Now, here in this ugly dream, Death Eaters part like an evil tide, bowing and scraping as their master ghosts through their ranks. They become background noise. The dead, the monsters, the storm raging overhead-they too all fade away, becoming unimportant, muted. There are dark things in the world, and Dark things too, but they will all pass away in time. This is what Harry tells himself. Maybe he'll even believe it one day. In the meantime, the Harry in his dream shuts his eyes and waits for the worst to be over with. As with the stones, he doesn't need to look to know who's there, or what's going to happen.
Voldemort walks freely towards him, the Elder Wand raised in one long-fingered hand, poised to strike him down. This time, there won't be an ethereal King's Cross Station or Dumbledore or even Voldemort's squalling leftovers. This time Harry won't come back, because that's how a nightmare works. There's no stopping the monster that runs you ragged through a maze of your own making. The only way to win is to wake up.
So far, Harry has always woken up, but he's learned not to trust words like always.
He swallows his scream, tries to force himself awake without startling Ron, but Harry's never been any good at lucid dreaming. He stays where he is, entrenched in piecemeal horrors, magic rocks useless in his hands as a snake-faced Dark Lord smiles coldly down at him. He doesn't bother looking. This, at least, he can control. What's the point of giving a dream any more power than it already has?
He should have woken up by now. Voldemort should have cast the Killing Curse, and he should be blinking away a flash of green light, sweating and shivering in Ron's bedroom. So why…?
He dares to look just as lightning strikes again; a theatrically searing bolt that bleaches the world a stark blue-white. He blinks away the light, and he sees the old scene, Death Eaters and dead friends as far as he can see. But Voldemort-
Voldemort isn't there.
Instead there's an old man walking unhurriedly towards him, leaning slightly on a glossy black cane. In the flash of distant curses his face is all harsh contrasts; bone whites, ink blacks, his eyes dark holes, glittering like far-off stars. Harry's heart hammers in his chest; his breath rattles through a throat dry as sand.
The old man stops a mere arm's length away. This close, with his skin stretched thin and transparent and his mouth a pale slash, he's a perfect likeness of the skull masks scattered behind him. He looks around; one eyebrow raised appraisingly as he surveys the mess of a dozen life-or-death battles. A soft syllable of laughter escapes him, an unimpressed little noise that makes Harry's lip curl even in his sleep. He made no noise, yet the man's focus returns to him as if he did, sharp as an owl's. He holds up one long, gnarled hand and the dream stops. Witches and wizards, cruel spells bursting like fireworks, a fire raging in the distance-it's all frozen in place, still as statues, like a paused VHS tape.
"Hello, Harry," the old man says.
Harry's ears buzz with the shock of silence. The old man laughs again, and it's like a cold hand squeezing his chest, his heart-
Harry doesn't know why, but he has never felt quite so alive as this.
Harry wakes up quietly, despite his heart doing its very best to beat clean through his ribcage. He lays there in his sweat-damp sheets for long minutes, waiting. Did he scream? He's done that often enough before. But Ron still snores nearby, and there's no worried knock at the door. He's all on his own tonight. Lucky him.
He's had enough bad dreams lately to know when to give up sleeping again. He eases out of bed, grabs his wand and glasses from the bedside table. He shivers. It's normally so warm in the Burrow, especially up on the top floor, yet he feels like he just took a dip in the Great Lake. He picks up a jacket on his way out to the stairs.
He doesn't bother with a light once the door's shut; he's had too many cups of midnight tea in these recent weeks to need one. Passing a window on his way down to the kitchen, he hears the faint pattering of rain though it's too dark to see it. He can't help feeling vague relief that there's no lightning tonight.
At the foot of the stairs Harry stops. He can hear the clink of silverware coming from the kitchen. Who else might be awake in the middle of the night?
"Don't lurk about, Harry," comes the voice of the old man from his dream, and Harry goes cold all the way down to his toes. His wand's clenched tightly in hand as he steps through the doorway, hoping he misheard, or perhaps even simply imagined that anyone spoke at all.
The old man's dark eyes flash blue in the soft kitchen light. "You certainly took your time coming down," he says.
Harry's throat clicks. "Who are you?" he demands, aiming his wand. As in his dream, the old man's eyebrow arches.
"Oh put that away you silly boy," he scoffs. "I won't tolerate rude behavior when we've only just started. Perhaps once you've actually learned a thing or two, hmm?" He doesn't smirk, but there's a narrowing of his eyes, some secret amusement that reminds Harry so much of Snape for one brief moment he nearly feels like he's back in Potions class.
He brushes the thought aside. "Who are you?" he repeats quietly.
But the old man ignores him, pours tea for two and picks up a chocolate biscuit from a full plate on the table as he speaks. "Harry James Potter, human, eighteen years old. Named Savior of the Western Wizarding World for murdering a coward, but overall appears to be little more than a mediocre wizard with quick reflexes." He slurps his tea, a startling, indecent noise, then looks across the table at him as if he's some curious little thing that's crawled out from some dank hidey hole. "The only interesting thing about you, Harry, is that you happen to be the first to win yourself all three of my Hallows." The old man clicks his tongue before biting into his biscuit, adding with his mouth full, "Dear, but I've got my work cut out for me."
As in his dream, Harry feels a cold fist bury its fingers in his chest. "How do you know about that?" he asks.
"Because I was the one who gave them to the Peverell brothers in the first place," the old man replies. "Sit down, your tea's going cold."
Harry sits. Death sets a biscuit on his plate. After a moment, Harry picks it up. It's easier to look at a chocolate biscuit than at the man-the idea, the action, the result-across from him. "I thought-I thought that was just a story," he says.
"Don't tell me you thought the Peverell brothers made the Hallows?" Death bares his teeth in an ill-used smile. "Think again. There's no such thing as false parables when dealing with me." Death sets his cup down, twisting a wand through his fingers. With a start, Harry realizes it's his own, vanished so neatly from his hand he hadn't even noticed.
"Hey!" Harry shouts, lurching out of his chair to grope in vain across the table. "Give that back!"
"Why? You won't need this little stick anymore." Before Harry can do a thing, his wand falls to dust, spills noiselessly through Death's fingers. He shouts, a wordless, furious exclamation. Death places a finger to his lips and Harry is struck dumb. "You wouldn't want to wake the Weasleys now, would you?"
Harry swallows, tries to speak. He's nearly surprised that he can. "Why-" No, wrong question. Why is a pointless question, when you're dealing with Dark things. He tries again. "Have you come to kill me?"
"Don't be stupid, it's unbecoming," Death retorts. "I've never killed anyone. I'm just the Reaper. I take what's mine and leave the rest to rot." He slurps another mouthful of tea. "I'm here to talk business. I'm here about the Hallows."
"If you want them back-"
"I don't want them, Harry. They're yours, for now. And I must say, you haven't been taking very good care of them." He gestures, and in place of Harry's uneaten biscuit there they are-the Cloak, neatly folded in a triangle; the Wand, lain vertically across; and the Stone, the crack in its facet healed. Harry had left his invisibility cloak upstairs, seeing no need for it tonight. The Elder Wand he'd returned to Dumbledore's tomb weeks ago, and the Resurrection Stone he'd purposely lost in the Forbidden Forest the night of the Battle.
Death had needed only to wave his hand to bring them altogether again.
Taking care not to touch them, Harry sits back down. "Why are you letting me keep them?" He asks.
"I'm not 'letting' you do anything, Harry. The Hallows are old, far older than you can imagine, and there are rules set in in place."
"But you made them-didn't you?"
"I did," Death says, but then bares his teeth in another dry smile. "Oh, you think I made them for the Peverell brothers, don't you? Just because Beedle's little fairytale is true doesn't make it accurate."
"Well it's all I've had to go on, you see," he replies waspishly.
Death isn't impressed. "That's because you didn't ask."
Harry blinks. "We didn't think you were real."
"I didn't mean me. I wouldn't have bothered answering." Death takes another biscuit off the center plate. "Not until you'd mastered them, at least."
"Then who? Are there others? Other Deaths, I mean." Harry spares one last look at his old wand, a mere handful of glittering dust under Death's spidery fingers. He picks the Elder Wand up, half-expecting a shiver of its infamous power to run through him. But as before, it only feels like any other wand, just a slim length of carved wood. It doesn't even look that old.
"Of a sort. I have my Reapers; lesser creatures who care for my lesser duties. I only attend the exceptional deaths, these days."
Harry looks up from the Elder Want to raise his eyebrows. "Who's considered an 'exceptional' death?"
Death leans forward, interlacing his fingers to rest his chin against. "Fifty-four million light years away there is a galaxy in its death throes. Right now, it's hemorrhaging cosmic gases behind itself in a trail of newborn stars. Eventually it will run out, and I will be there to collect it when that time comes."
"Oh." There isn't much to say beyond that.
"I was there when you died, you know," Death says after a moment of silence has had its time to settle comfortably between them.
Harry doesn't know if Death expects him to feel honored by this. He isn't. He opts to pretend he hadn't heard rather than fumble about. "If you're so busy gallivanting across the universe killing-sorry, reaping-galaxies, what were you doing on Earth handing out powerful wizarding artifacts in the Dark Ages?"
Death smiles, a cold and humorless curl of his mouth. "What makes you so certain that's a wand in your hand?"
Feeling slightly ill, Harry sets the Elder Wand back down on his cloak, eyes it like it might try to bite him, or worse.
"If I haven't made myself clear," Death says, "my Hallows are not just a bunch of medieval magic tricks. I made the rules assigned to them long ago, and I won't break them on a whim-even for my Master."
"I will retake them from you one day, yes, but for the time being you can consider me somewhat more… open to the prospect of a working collaboration with the Master of Death."
"What-like a partnership?"
This time, Death outright chuckles, a shivery sort of creaking noise that makes Harry feel awfully small. "You think far too highly of yourself. Give it a few million years under my tutelage and then we'll talk."
Did he mishear? Harry must have misheard, because he could have sworn he'd just heard the anthropomorphic personification of the inevitable cessation of all life just say something completely mental. "Hang on, did you say millions-?"
"Yes, of course." Death pours himself another cup, not bothering to offer Harry the same. "A title as lofty as the one you've earned naturally comes with a few perks. Now that you've died, you'll be the Boy Who Lived Forever. Congratulations, by the way."
Harry reels in his chair. "No," he croaks, "That's impossible. There's no such thing as immortality."
"Of course there is," Death replies coolly, his eyes glittering once more. "Your insignificant little species simply hasn't figured out the fiddly bits yet."
Harry tries to say-something, anything. His mouth works uselessly, his mind a dull roar of nothing. Weeks ago, he killed a Dark Lord. Years ago, a man who would grow to be one of his dearest friends and mentors told him he was something wonderful. Those seven years between had been more adventure than Harry had ever wanted in his life. He was done with being somebody else's Golden Boy. He was done. And now-now this? Harry's voice cracks. "I don't want to be Master of Death. I don't want the Hallows! I don't want to be-" He can't say it. Immortality is such a little word for such a huge, impossible, terrible idea. Every second already lasts a minute to him already, and it's only just began. "I just want to be normal. Please."
"For someone as wrapped up in prophecy and power as you are?" Another dusty chuckle. "For neither can live while the other survives. Sound familiar?"
"But I've finished all that," Harry says desperately. "Voldemort is dead and I killed him just like it said! It's over."
"For everybody else, yes. There's still work for you."
Harry wants to shout, to rouse the whole Burrow and drive this newest adventure away before it can get any worse. But he looks down at the Hallows, at the dust under Death's hands, and he only sighs instead. "What work?" he asks dully.
"Oh, don't sound so put out. I don't mean you specifically. Whoever united my Hallows would have done the trick. For a while there, I thought it was going to be that scheming little spider, Albus. Still, that just goes to show, doesn't it?" Death lays his knobby-knuckled hands flat against the table, dust gritting under his palms, and continues when it's clear Harry isn't going to contribute. "There will be an attempt at the Judeo-Christian apocalypse in the near future. I say 'attempt' as Lucifer will have need of a great many pawns, and I plan to have nothing to do with his tantrum. Understand that ordinarily, when people get it into their head to bind me with an ugly bit of spell work, I have little say in it."
"Rules," Harry asks, not bothering to tack on the question mark.
"Quite so," Death says, sounding nearly pleased. "However, now I have a wrench to throw into his plans. I have you, which means your planet will get to keep spinning without a fuss. Happy days, don't you think?"
"Oh yes, I'm ever so glad," Harry replies scathingly.
Death ignores him, opting to stand and reach for his cane leaned against the wall behind him. "Well come on then. It's time to go."
"What?" Harry sits up, eyebrows at his hairline. "Go where?"
"Well you can't stay here," Death says. "You work for me now."
"No, I won't go with you!" Harry spits, jumping to his feet again. "I don't want anything to do with you! What don't you understand about that? My friends-"
"-will all be dead in less than a century. You might as well forget about them now."
"No!" Harry grabs the Elder Wand off the table and fires a stunning spell. Or, he shouts "Stupefy!" and fully expects a red beam of light to strike Death's chest, but nothing happens at all. He may as well have just waved a bit of kindling around.
Death grins amicably, an expression that leaves Harry feeling a bit like he just tried to set fire to a dragon. "We're leaving, Harry." Death's voice echoes, somehow, and the lights all go out, leaving them only a thin glimpse of moonlight for illumination.
"I don't want to go," Harry pleads into the dark. Death only hums, a bored little sound.
In the morning, Ron will wake up alone in his room and think nothing of it. He's gotten used to Harry slipping out before him. Not for the first time he'll wish Harry had woken him up to talk about whatever nightmare woke him up this time, but he knows Harry better than anybody. Harry's stubborn. He'll talk when he wants to and feel stupid for not talking sooner when he finally does open up. Harry's a great big prat sometimes, but Ron understands. He's had plenty of nightmares too.
Downstairs, Ron will find his Ginny, his mother, and Hermione gathered stiffly in the kitchen, their mouths pinched with worry. Ron's sleepiness will be forgotten as quickly as if someone had cast Aguamenti on him. He'll think of Fred's little hand, fallen off the family clock when they all finally came home after the Battle, of yawning grief and a hole in his life that's only just beginning to hurt a little less with time.
Just before Hermione notices him, Ron will realize he still hasn't seen Harry.
He'll rush into the kitchen. He'll see the tea set for two, now long gone cold. He'll see the smear of dust on one side of the table. He'll see the symbol of the Deathly Hallows, burned deep into the wood at Harry's favored seat. Later, he'll see all of Harry's things are still upstairs-except for his invisibility cloak and wand. Later still, he'll learn that the dust on the kitchen table was Harry's wand. Later even still, the entire Wizarding World will rouse itself in an uproar, wondering-where has their Savior gone?
It will be a long time before anyone sees Harry again.
A/N: The dwarf galaxy Death mentions is called IC 3418. It's the first known galaxy out there that can be considered as 'dying.'