Harry and Tom spend a quiet winter holiday together, sequestered away in their house with nothing but an overly large snake and Christmas carols to disrupt them.
Truth be told, Harry can't help but find it rather ominous. Nothing in her life every stays calm and quiet for very long, and this dimension has not proved itself to be any different than her last. She idled the days away with her head in a book, much to her own consternation and Tom's incredulity. Harry was very clever and worldly, but not normally so interested in academia. She told Tom she'd rather learn things by doing them, and investigating the world around her, then through a book. Tom agreed on principal, but also pointed out from a logistical and efficiency standpoint, books were superior. Harry had given him a fond and exasperated look in response— but had picked up a book all the same.
Tom would normally be annoyed to have Harry's attention so conclusively taken up by something else, including his beloved books, but as it was he too had spent most of break with his nose tucked into a book.
He was deeply annoyed to find the book Gellert had given him was, in fact, extremely helpful. He hated the idea of owing the man anything, but, well, half this situation was the man's fault anyhow so it was only fair he offer something in recompense. After all, Tom might have been naive enough to enter a ritual with fresh blood, but Gellert was the one foolish enough to initiate a ritual with someone so obviously young and ignorant to begin with. The book, he supposed, went a long way in smoothing Tom's ruffled feathers. It also helped that, at least as of now, Baal-Hammon had all but disappeared from this plane, returning to… wherever beings from a higher dimension go when they're bored of this one, he supposed. Anyway, even after reading this book front to back multiple times, he still wasn't sure what to do with an ancient God, so it was for the best.
Being in a pact with a god like this was… rare, to say the least.
No wonder even the Dark Lord had been so taken aback.
Long ago, when great Viziers and shamans reigned and the world still believed in magic, sorcerers of amazing power rose above the rest. They were gods in their own right in some ways. Many of them had pacts with beings of a higher dimension, just like he did. However, the relationships tended to be fraught and ultimately ending in tragedy. The book did not offer any enlightenment as to why that may be so, but from the passages of history it was easy to see it was true. For whatever reason, there were no more gods on this plane, and humanity by and large had forgotten about the relevance they had once played.
In summary, no god had taken a pact with a human in centuries. Or at least, not in any way that could be verified. Tom didn't quite believe that; after all, it had happened to him, somehow. Surely he was not alone in this predicament?
At any rate, reading these accounts of great mages wielding the powers of their gods made Tom rife with envy. He was eager to join their ranks, though he did not know how, and he wasn't entirely sure how to go about learning it. These mages could cast plagues upon entire people, part the seas and raise mountains from rock. A mage's powers were in direct correlation to the domain of their god; in Tom's case, he should be able to bless a bountiful harvest, call forth storms and gale force winds and powerful strikes of lightning. The idea of blessing a harvest was dreadfully boring, but lightning and storms certainly had their appeal.
Beyond weather and harvests, Baal-Hammon was a god of time. Tom couldn't find many accounts on such gods though. Much like Baal-Hammon, time gods usually had an array of powers that were probably more useful during ancient times and therefore more prolifically used. Even the other time gods he could find had no accounts of wizards actually utilizing such a skill.
Time… what would he even do with time? Tom couldn't fathom it. Time magic was sparse and secretive. Not even his professors had much to say on the matter, and they seemed bemused he'd even broach the subject. Apparently, even accomplished wizards considered it to be something of a hoax. It existed to be sure, but experimentation thus far had bore poor results. In light of this, most professors considered charms to be more of a legitimate field of study than time.
He imagines there must be some kind of Time Master somewhere, but certainly not at Wolcroft.
So Tom is once again stopped by a staggering lack of information.
It's infuriating, to say the least.
There is so much knowledge in this world, so many things to learn, and Tom simply cannot access it from the shuddered view of it he has. Even a place like Wolcroft, a renowned institution of learning, is not enough. And he already knows Hogwarts won't be enough. He doesn't think any institution will ever be enough. Not even all the ones in the world combined. He wants more.
He wants more than just the secrets of the Deathly Hallows, the ancient art of rituals, or even the god currently haunting him.
Tom wants to know it all, and the idea of being stuck here in a room full of books and still not being satisfied is a difficult one to swallow.
"Tom? Are you up yet?" Harry calls from the bottom of the stairs.
Tom reluctantly pulls himself up from his spot on the ground, where he had been mutinously staring at the ceiling with Spot as his pillow for most of the morning. "I'm awake." He replies, and even his voice sounds defeated.
Harry pads up the stairs, peering into the library with a swoop of curls. She smells like cinnamon and nutmeg, and there's flour in her hair. "The cookies are almost done! Do you want to come down and open presents?"
The thought of the Christmas presents waiting for him under the tree did lighten his spirits somewhat. It also made him somewhat maudlin.
"Yeah," he replies, feeling oddly overwhelmed. "In a minute."
Harry takes his answer in stride. "Alright. I'm going to start the hot chocolate then!"
With that she's bounding down the stairs, leaving Tom alone with his snake and his thoughts.
He pushes himself up into a sitting position; behind him, Spot hisses joyously with freedom, slithering away before Tom can commandeer him into becoming a backrest again. Spot disappears behind the door, and Tom spends a moment merely sitting there in the room, surrounded by books. Behind the bay windows, snow is lightly falling under a twinkling gray sky. He turns slightly to watch flurries whirl behind the glass. It was a day not unlike this one that Tom first arrived at this house. Snowing intermittently, with a low overcast horizon line.
It's only been two years.
Two years ago he couldn't have dreamed of where he is now; in a vast library all to himself, his own bedroom down the hall, the noises of his pet snake sliding ungracefully down the stairs outside. Spot hit the bottom of the stairs with a loud thump. His hissing complaints were loud enough for Tom to hear, so they were certainly loud enough for Harry to hear. Unsurprisingly, both of them ignore him. Spot continued to whine, this time about what he considered the 'pervasive and hypothermia-inducing cold' inside the house. This time Harry acquiesces, and he could hear the fire crackling to light in the fireplace. Despite Spot's whining, it wasn't actually necessary. It's not even remotely cold in the house. It is, in fact, just a bit too cozy. There's no draft at all. The orphanage always had a draft, only had one fireplace, and most certainly didn't have whatever weird mechanism Harry did to keep the whole house at a single temperature. Tom is even wearing a jumper, one of many he owns. More than likely there are a half dozen more waiting beneath the tree for him, because Harry is forever obsessed with dressing him up. Tom has no opinion on clothes, mainly because he'd never had the option of choosing his own, so he can't say he minds. Anyway, having many sets of clothes was nice to have, in and of itself.
Who knows what else is down there? Well, a real Christmas tree for starters. A magic one even, with snow fairies in the boughs, and gingerbread men that danced to twinkling lights. Harry had gone with a 'Nutcracker' theme, whatever that was supposed to mean, so the whole house was dressed up like some kind of edible gingerbread house. The potted plants had been replaced with giant candy canes and trees of peppermint, the countertops were decorated with sugar plums and brightly coated candies, and cupcakes that were apparently candles dotted every surface. It was… a lot, frankly, but who was Tom to tell Harry how to decorate? It was her house, after all, and to be honest, since Tom had never actually lived in a house before he was delighted by anything she did to it.
It was a house lit warmly and well-decorated for Christmas, and Tom lived in it. From the outside, it looked just like the rowhouses in London Tom used to pass by on his way back to Wool's; handsomely trussed up for the holidays, cozy and inviting. Tom and the other orphans could only look at them longingly, before returning to the dreary and cold brick building that housed them.
By the time Tom makes it down the stairs the hot chocolate is already on the table, and Harry is carefully examining the cookies in the smelled good, but Tom refrained from becoming too over-eager to eat them; the last time Harry had made cookies they had been just this side of too salty.
"Well go on, don't just stand there!" Harry shoves him gently, removing him from the spot he's been rooted to for the last couple minutes.
Tom shakes himself out of his daze; it's been years now, and he still isn't quite over the fact that all these presents are for him.
"Don't you think you might have went a bit overboard this year…?" Tom can't help but ask, as he surveys this year's haul. He's fairly sure a dozen more have appeared in the interim of last night to this morning. When on earth did Harry have the time to purchase all of this?
"Nonsense!" Harry disagrees, cheerfully. She might be a bit biased, after so many years of being subjected to the staggering amount of presents Dudley got every year, but what does it matter anyhow? Tom deserves to be spoiled, and he doesn't have anyone else to do it.
Anyway, Amazon was having a fantastic Christmas sale with one-day shipping, and Harry was a sucker for a great sale.
Besides, Harry rather enjoys shopping for clothes for him. He's the best little doll she's never had; he doesn't even protest no matter what she buys him! How can she not go a bit overboard, in light of that?
"Now go on, pick one!" The oven dings behind her. "Oh, I really hope they're actually done this time… go ahead and start Tom, I'll be there in just a second!"
Even if that second turns into a half hour, Tom doubts he'll even have made a dent into his presents. But he's hardly going to complain about something like that, so he makes his way to the tree and reaches for one of the presents at the top of the pile.
Harry hums a tune as she prods one of the cookies, the smell of chocolate and cinnamon heavy in the air. She thinks they might need just one more minute. A half minute. Harry laments her lack of baking ability for what seems like the thousandth time today. She was an excellent cook, her time at the Dursley's had seen to that, but Aunt Petunia would never dare to let her touch her precious baking equipment. Baking was her Aunt's pride and joy, and she'd hardly let her scruffy and dirty niece near her baking cabinet. Harry really wishes she didn't have to think of the Dursley's right now. Harry hated acknowledging them in any capacity, and would prefer to pretend as if they didn't exist and the time she'd had to spend with them didn't happen. Thinking about all the emotional trauma of her childhood just made her angry and irritable, and today of all days she refuses to be either of those.
So, Aunt Petunia can fuck off. Harry was determined to be just as good of a baker, Aunt be damned.
On that note, she decides they could use a full two more minutes, and occupies herself with going through the mail that has piled up over the holidays.
Most of it is junk, there's one for Tom from his school— presumably teacher's instructions for the new term, which he's been getting at a steady clip— and another with the school's emblem addressed to her.
This gives Harry pause.
It has a wax seal, and the return address is to the Administrative Department. She shears it open with a little bit of wandless magic, examining the handsomely embroidered cardstock hidden in the envelope.
Harry's brows raise as she scans through the impeccably handwritten script.
There's not much written on it, unfortunately. It appears to be an invitation for tea with the Headmaster, set for the week Tom returns for term.
Harry stares at it with apprehension.
A meeting? With Tom's Headmaster? Whatever for?
She doesn't even think she's spoken to the man before. She can hardly remember what he looks like; an unremarkable older gentleman with glasses, she thinks. Or is she imagining the glasses?
Either way, from what little she knows of him, he's not the sort of man she could just decline off the bat. She has no reason to, anyway. And who knows what he wants to talk about? Perhaps he's impressed with a gifted student like Tom and wants to talk future career opportunities? Further avenues of study? He seems like a man with friends in a high places— the sort of man that has all kinds of connections.
It's worth a meeting, at the very least. Anyway, Harry's probably getting ahead of herself. For all she knows the man meets with all parents of students, and this is just her turn for a brief ten minute conversation.
"Are the cookies burning?"
Harry curses loudly, diving for the oven.
Maybe she should just give up on baking.
Harry's bad omen comes to a head when she arrives at the school for her meeting and promptly gets lost on the grounds. And her gut is telling her this is just merely the start of it.
Despite this, Harry refuses to let her apprehension get the best of her.
Harry checks the paper in her hands once, twice and then a third time just for good measure. She squints at it. Wait a minute, is she holding the map upside down?
Truth be told, this is her first time exploring the greater school grounds of Wolcroft, and she has to admit she vastly underestimated the scale of it. She couldn't be certain it was actually bigger than the Hogwarts grounds (excluding the Forbidden Forest) mainly because it was not as open or elevated. Instead it appeared to be divided into three main campuses, interconnected by a web of stone walls enclosing all sorts of interesting areas. All the same, they had provided her a map, and she had followed it to a tee, so she's not entirely sure how she got so lost.
Harry does, in fact, have an excellent sense of direction, so when she does actually get lost she tends to quietly panic until she finds her way again.
Okay, okay, I took a left at the fairy fountain, and crossed the bridge between the twin lakes, and then…
She'd seen the building that was to be her final destination as she crossed along the tall, arched bridge, peeking out over the tops of a small grove of pixie oak trees. But after entering the misty forest, she'd been spit out in front of yet another cobblestone pass surrounded on all sides by towering stone walls.
Cursing, Harry quickly checks her watch; at least she made it a point to be extremely early. But if she doesn't find her way soon she'll be well and truly late.
Mind made up, she takes the path to the immediate right, feeling as if the main university hall must be in that direction.
To her dismay, when she pushes past the iron wrought gate what lays behind it is most certainly not the university. Instead it is a long, winding path cut through what appears to be some kind of shrine. But perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel; she can just barely spot another gate on the far side of the gardens. Her sense of direction is rarely wrong; more than likely that gate will spit her out on the other side of the forest— the side she originally intended to be at.
Despite the time, she finds herself walking across the stones at a moderate pace. She hasn't had much time to truly appreciate the school grounds as much as they deserve; perhaps she'll wander about after her meeting with the Headmaster, maybe even until school lets out so she and Tom can return home together. Much like Hogwarts, Wolcroft certainly has many curiosities hidden within its labyrinthine depths. It's all too easy to overlook the breathtaking magic of it all if one doesn't stop to admire it.
Why is this garden blooming in winter? She wonders curiously, as she examines a vibrant amaranth flower. The other gardens she saw were inhabited by pixies, fairies, and other magical woodland creatures that can keep nature in bloom despite the weather, but this particular fragment of the ground has no such creatures to speak of. In fact it doesn't seem to have any creatures at all. Even the distant chirping of birds has dwindled into silence. But what it lacks in animal diversity it certainly makes up for in architecture.
Dotted along the path and the hedges of heather are large stone structures of varying size and composition. The one she stands in front of has the geometric pattern and vibrant crimson and cyan coloring that makes her think of the tribal dress of the Aztecs in Tom's history book. And the one after that, well… she's no expert, and she's not as fixated on the subject of ancient civilizations as Tom certainly is, but she'd have to guess maybe Hindu or Javanese.
Maybe this is some sort of sanctuary for worship?
All the shrines had various items that she assumes were placed there as offerings; flowers, burning incense, arrays of fruit and herbs. They were all fresh as well, with some incense pillars still burning. The place was clearly well tended.
Perhaps they use it during classes? That would certainly explain the well worn path.
She really ought to learn more about what, exactly, they study here at Wolcroft. Tom can be rather evasive on the subjects when he wants to be, and the vague class overviews she gets from the teachers are too broad to be helpful. For example, she knows Tom studies Ancient Magics, but what exactly is Ancient Magics? It sounds benign, but knowing this school that's rather naive of her to think.
She vows to gather more information on the subject. She could even try to pull aside one of his teachers while she's here; it is the start of a new term after all, surely it's not so unreasonable for a parent to want to hear more about what their child is learning—
Harry gives a yelp as the toe of her heel gets caught on a rock, tumbling face first onto the ground.
Well, that was ungraceful. She laments with a scowl, quickly dusting herself off and examining her outfit for dirt. Fortunately the ground is arid and dry with winter, so it comes off easily enough with a few pats and a quick cleaning charm. All the same, Harry is deeply aggrieved. So much for being a worn path— oh, there's nothing she hates more than looking frazzled and unkempt, especially when she's going to something important!
A high flush rises up her neck as she furiously combs her fingers through her hair, hoping it's salvageable. The tips of her ears burn miserably at the thought of appearing sloppy or messy in front of someone like the Headmaster; it's an old wound that reminds her far too much of her childhood spent in tattered and unwashed clothes. The cringes she'd get from strangers, the way all the children at primary would sit as far away from her as possible, holding their noses because the Dursley's refused to have her wasting their bath water. The day they finally started letting her bathe regularly because the school principal had called them in to tell them they'd had to shave her head because she'd given the other children lice. Snape's expression when he'd bypassed Hagrid and walked into the cottage to see her covered in dirt and grime, lying on a filthy, soot filled floor.
Its fine, she tries to calm herself, it was just a little tumble, it's not as if a bit of dirt on her was going to give her fleas.
Don't think about them, she reminds herself, pushing the thoughts of the miserable and awful Durlsey's aside. They're not worth the effort of remembering.
Something glints in the corner of her eye, and she turns to see a shiny, obsidian plaque centered on the shrine beside her. There are characters in a foreign language engraved onto it, but it's still plenty shiny enough to work as a substitute mirror in dire circumstances. It's with no small amount of relief that she steps onto the altar and catches her reflection on its lustrous surface.
She breathes out a sigh. Her hair, miraculously, is still perfectly in place, pinned out of her face and tumbling down her shoulders.
Harry quickly looks down at the strands to make sure they're free of dirt and debris, and when she looks up she finds herself completely frozen.
There, in the reflection, is someone who isn't her.
She wants to scream, but finds herself paralyzed. Either by fear or by magic she can't quite tell. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart thumped loudly in her chest, beating frantically against her chest, furious for air.
It wasn't even just someone.
It was something.
Her eyes very slowly creep upwards. The sun, which was out in full, seems to grow wintry and dim, like the world around her is being dragged away, taking the light with it. The frigid air seems to grind to a painfully silent halt. Reality, in this moment, turns to dust. The world grows still and empty. There is no whisper of sound, and yet the silence screeches in her ears. The sound of distant bells began to ring, somewhere off in the distance.
Harry doesn't understand how, but she knows.
This is death.
She doesn't know how long she stands there, but it could very well have been an eternity come and gone. She stares into the abyss and stares into her own eyes, and somehow they are one in the same. The presence she feels and the eyes she stares into are at once alien and alarming and yet wholly familiar. Like looking into a pool of slightly swaying water, sometimes her reflection is familiar, and others it is distorted into something disturbing to look at.
Harry is still paralyzed as her reflection reaches for her.
It crosses the barrier of obsidian and the veneer shatters. A creature from beyond the veil crawls out of the stone; black smoke drips off its form, melting in the air like ink in water, carrying the smell of ash. Its depthless eyes are the only defining feature she can comprehend with clarity, and even then she would not be able to describe what she sees when she stares into them. If fear were a color, she thinks it must be this. The smoke turns to limbs, many of them, grasping towards her.
Every fiber of her mortal being is telling her to move, but she can't seem to get her body to cooperate with her. It's like she's not even there anymore, like she's gone off to somewhere unfathomable, where a creature like this can reach its hands out to her, stare into her eyes and show her something beyond.
Fingers dripping in darkness reach up to her face, slowly, deliberately, perhaps even venerably. Like she is the sun, the first peel of light in an otherwise barren universe.
She can feel nothing on her skin, but she knows tendrils of gloom envelop around her. Harry does not look away to see if its limbs have truly reached her— she cannot look away. She just stares, unblinking, as it stares back. Its mouth opens. She wonders what it means to do; kiss her, as dementors do? The kiss of death? Or perhaps it means to devour her, pull her into a world beyond? What would await her there, she wonders. It looms closer, and Harry thinks she might be leaning closer as well, no longer in fear but in exaltation, enlightenment, even, and then—
"Are you a patron of Yama?"
Harry sucks in a cold, shattering breath of air.
She crashes back into the world.
She blinks once, twice. Takes another sharp breath. Foreign characters stare back at her; etched into a great obsidian plaque at the altar of a shrine.
Harry turns to the side, where the voice has returned her to this tether of reality.
A woman stands at the base of the stairs, off to the side. Her expression is pleasantly neutral, perhaps even a bit amicable. Her short dark hair glistens in the wind, tan skin warm in the light.
Harry swallows thickly. Her mouth feels dry and parched and uncomfortable, like she's forgotten how to use it for a moment. Like she's forgotten how to be human.
"I— ah, I'm sorry?"
"Yama," she repeats, tilting her head in the direction of the shrine. "Sometimes referred to as Yamaraja, or Yima. He is revered as the god of death, and the guardian of directions, in most Hindu derivative cultures."
Harry stares blankly. "Oh." She scratches her cheek. "Um, haha, you see I actually just tripped earlier and was using the reflection to make sure there were no twigs in my hair…"
The woman blinks, clearly not expecting this response. "I see." She recovers gracefully. "Are you a University student here? I'm afraid you appear unfamiliar to me."
Harry shakes her head quickly. "I'm actually a guardian to one of the students here. His name is Tom Riddle, and he should be in—
"Sixth year primary, yes." The woman cuts her off, surprised. "He's in one of my classes. A truly excellent student. You are his mother, then?"
"His guardian," Harry corrects. The woman frowns curiously, but Harry continues before she can speak; "Harry Riddle. And yes, he is quite studious, isn't he? I despair for him sometimes; I try to get him into other extracurriculars, but alas, my efforts usually fall short…"
"Well it's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Riddle. I am Professor Caithe— I teach Necromancy here."
"You're Professor Caithe!" Harry blurts out, before she could stop herself. The woman looks amused. "Sorry, it's just, oh, Tom talks about you all the time. You're his favorite teacher— although don't tell the others I said that!"
The Professor smiles behind her hand. "Well, I am thrilled to hear it. He's one of my favorite students; so gifted, and such a hard worker. I suppose I have you to thank for both of those?"
Harry waves that off quickly. "Oh, not at all, he's always been like that, even before we met."
Professor Caithe tilts her head. "All the same, Necromancy must run quite strong in your family, for him to show such innate talent."
Harry isn't entirely sure how to respond to that. "Is that to say Necromancy is a hereditary trait?"
"There is a strong correlation, yes. There are surely some families in which Necromatic talent manifests without fail. My own family has been able to trace our Necromancy abilities back to the time of the Umayyad Caliphate. However, much like magic there are times when Necromancy abilities show up or disappear without much reason."
"Ah, I had no idea. Perhaps Tom is a special case, then? You see, I'm not a Necromancer."
The Professor merely blinks at her. "Perhaps not by trade, but your powers are quite obvious."
Harry's stomach drops, as her face loses color. "Is that so?"
The woman nods. "I've never sensed such energies from this shrine, before. It was so powerful I could feel it across campus. Not even the most talented of my students have been able to draw such power from this shrine; even I myself could not. My university students and I come here once a week to pay our respects to these shrines, and I've never witnessed any of them have such a strong reaction as Yama had to you."
"R— Really?" Harry laughs uneasily. "I had no idea! How odd. I just got lost, you see. I'm on my way to the main university building for a meeting with the Headmaster."
Caithe frowns. "That's entirely on the other side of campus."
Harry's nervous laughter continues. "Is it now? I have a horrible sense of direction!"
That's not true at all. It's so false, in fact, that it is yet another peculiar circumstance piled onto so many peculiar circumstances that Harry can no longer believe this was all just an accident. Something greater was at work here, and she was terrified to find out.
"It is rather easy to get lost on the school grounds, if you don't know your way." The professor agrees, although she still does not look quite convinced. "Shall I escort you there?"
Miss Riddle dismisses her concerns with an easygoing smile. "I should be alright from here. I should just use that door on the far side and follow the path to the right, no?"
Caithe blinks a few times. "Yes, that's correct."
"Excellent! I'll just be on my way, then. I'm late enough as it is… If you'll excuse me." She gives a polite half curtsy, and then is delicately but doggedly picking her way across the rocky path.
The dark-haired professor watches the perfectly pinned coiff of vermillion hair disappear out the other side of the garden with a look of vague disbelief. She turns to the shrine of Yama, which has grown oddly cold with Miss Riddle's departure.
"How positively odd." Caithe murmurs to herself.
She's not even referring to Yama's reaction, although that too was anomalous. But rather, how exactly did Miss Riddle manage to find her way into the professor's garden of shrines? She was not exaggerating when she said this place was on the opposite side of the school from the main building. It was, in fact, extremely far and difficult to get to from the main campus area, and that was entirely intentional. The shrines and the adjacent graveyard were for the university students only, and were guarded accordingly. Beyond just the convoluted path to get here, there were all sorts of subtle wards charmed to turn unwitting people away.
Caithe walks up to the now empty shrine altar, tracing her fingertips across the familiar characters etched into the stone. The shrine had been all but a beacon of light earlier; if magic was visible in the spectrum of light, it would not be unlike a giant flame rising from across campus. To someone like Caithe, trained in the arts and quite sensitive to dark magic, it had all the subtlety of a bludgeoning. She was hardly the only person on campus— student or professor— to notice such a presence, but she was the one versed in this particular god. She knew immediately which shrine had activated. Imagine her surprise then, to see a completely unfamiliar young woman at the altar, staring up at the shrine with a feverish and empty gaze.
If she's honest, she had half expected to find the younger Riddle.
It wouldn't surprise her in the least to see Tom had snuck into the garden of shrines during his free period to further study the ancient gods, and had accidentally awakened one of them. That it wasn't To Riddle, but Harry Riddle that did so…
"Where have you gone, I wonder?" She sighs, dropping her hand.
The statue is cold now, almost barren. Caithe cannot tell if the lack of energy emitting from it is a good sign or a bad one.
How do I get this thing to stop following me? Harry thinks, panicked.
She is entirely alone on a walled path leading to the main administration building. Almost entirely alone.
There is a… a thing here with her.
Harry reluctantly glances behind her, where a creature bathed in shadow stops the exact moment she stops walking.
Harry wants to run away. She wants to rip apart the anti-apparition wards around the school and run home, crawl underneath her bed and pray it doesn't follow her. She wants to run to the other side of the earth. But none of those are solutions to her current predicament, and Harry has never been one to run away from things.
(Most things. Things that do not include existential life crises, like possibly being some kind of god.)
She takes a deep, shuddering breath, and whirls around to face this thing head on, wand in hand.
Her first impression, unfathomably, is that it looks a little harmless.
It's not, and she knows it. This is some kind of ancient god from a bygone world. Some horrifying creature of such power it is worshipped as a God of Death.
Right now though, it sort of looks like a dog. All of its limbs are folded beneath it as it peers up at her with its big, glowing and hollow eyes. They seem to burn into her very soul.
Harry should be terrified right now. She should be screaming bloody murder. She should be throwing every curse she knows at it and then some.
And yet, she isn't.
And she can't help but find her astounding lack or reaction telling in and of itself.
So instead of hitting it with a bombarda, that may or may not work but will absolutely serve to enrage it either way, she tucks her wand away. She takes another steadying breath, opens her eyes and tries to meet its gaze as calmly as possible. At its full height, it would tower over her and might even be triple her size. Sitting on its haunches, it is only slightly taller than her, perched on the path like a massive, inky black gargoyle. The creature is humanoid in shape, although she's not sure if it could be considered bipedal if it has more than one set of legs. And arms. It has a lot of limbs. More than she can properly discern. A somewhat elongated jaw with massive teeth. She can't tell if it is wearing some kind of headdress, or if the horns protruding from its skull are indeed part of it. Harry doesn't know. She's never met any deities before. She's hardly even met that many magical creatures.
Yama, she thinks to herself. Tom's teacher had called him Yama, the God of Death. And… directions?
Harry swears to look it up as soon as possible. She knows Tom has multiple tomes on Ancient History and the many deities in their pantheons. She has never been more thankful for Tom's erudite tendencies; she'd pointed out at the time that the school supply list had only mentioned one of the five books Tom had wanted to purchase, but Tom had insisted he wanted all of them for supplementary purposes. Harry was all for the pursuit of knowledge— especially when it had nothing to do with murder and torture— so she hadn't batted an eyelash at his request. Thank Merlin she'd let him.
In the meanwhile, Harry did not have access to those books right now (or the internet, unfortunately) and she was running late to an important appointment, and the god was right in front of her, and she couldn't just sit here staring at it forever.
Hesitantly, Harry took a step back. Then another, and another.
Yama merely watches her, as she slowly backs away from it, still facing the god. Her shoes get the better of her again, and she nearly trips walking backwards like this. By the time she steadies herself, the creature is gone.
Harry breathes in sharply. The hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
When she turns around, Yama has appeared directly behind her.
She barely manages to withhold her shriek of fear, clasping both hands against her mouth. Her knees feel weak.
"Okay, sneaking up on me, not cool." She manages to get out, gasping loudly for breath.
Harry doesn't even know if this creature understands English, or any human tongues at all. She braces herself with a hand against her chest, where her heart is threatening to give out on her. "You're really not good for my blood pressure, you know that?" She sighs out, reminding herself to breathe.
Yama does not respond.
"What do you want from me, anyhow? Why are you following me?"
Her questions are met with silence.
Well, we're off to a great start, aren't we. She thinks, irritably. She's trying to be civil here; the least the creature could do was give her the same courtesy. Assuming, of course, it even knew what she was saying.
In all fairness, Harry was only being civil because she had no idea what else to be. How was one supposed to act in this situation? Harry had enough problems as it is; she didn't need some kind of god of the underworld thrown in on top of that.
"I can't deal with you right now." Harry says, with a calmness she absolutely does not feel. She checks her watch: she's gone from impolitely early, to impolitely late and at this point she's going to go from impolite to just plain rude, and that's one thing she just can't stand for.
The headmaster. Right. Okay. Let's just focus on getting to this meeting at a time that isn't completely unreasonable and work out what to do from there?
So Harry quietly channels her inner Hermione, focuses on one task at a time, and marches her way to the administrative building, gods of the underworld be damned.
She passes a few university students who don't even give her a second glance, despite the horrifying shadow dogging her steps, and Harry can't help but let out a breath of relief. At least it appears she's the only one who can see it. That's a good sign. Maybe she's just going crazy? She wonders what kind of life she lives, that she's hoping she's just losing her mind right now and none of this is real.
Harry finally manages to get to the headmaster's reception desk, after dodging every mirror and reflective surface in the building and keeping her eyes fixed dead ahead.
A cheerful older woman with thick glasses and a pleasant smile greets her at the desk as if nothing is amiss. As if Harry can't see a dark shadow fall over her, three times Harry's size.
"Are you here for the Headmaster?" She asks, politely.
Harry nods miserably. "Yes, and I'm afraid I'm horribly late. My deepest apologies; I hadn't expected the grounds to be so confusing…"
"That's quite alright— frankly, I can't believe I didn't see a request for an escort… we don't usually force people to attempt to wander their way through here." The receptionist says with a genial smile.
Yet another odd and positively convenient turn of events. Harry can't help but think. Is the universe conspiring against her today? It's starting to feel like it.
Harry's hunch seems to prove correct after a few minutes waiting in the reception area with a cup of tea in hand.
The receptionist has left her to go fetch the Headmaster, leaving Harry all alone with a plate of biscuits, a cup of tea, her distressing thoughts, and a long forgotten God of Death. She is very studiously refusing to look to her left, where Yama has seated itself on the couch next to her. What is her life? She can't help but despair. She's sitting here on a plush sofa drinking tea with some kind of oddly docile but still monstrous creature sitting at her side. Harry can't help but hope this is just a bad dream. It's starting to be just as surreal as one, frankly.
This is of course the point where a person who is decidedly not the receptionist comes to fetch her.
"I'm afraid your meeting with the Headmaster will have to be postponed for a later date," a familiar voice says, and just the sound of it makes Harry want to hurl her teacup at the wall.
Instead, her brow twitches slightly as she drops it back onto its saucer with just a bit too much force. She refuses to look at him, her focus remaining on a pastoral painting on the opposite wall.
"Oh, you don't say?" She replies pleasantly, with an iron smile that could slay puppies.
Gellert usually adores being the bearer of bad news, but he's trying to stay on the good side of this particular walking calamity these days. Not that this plan seems to be working out for him.
Harry turns to him with an expression so frigid he honestly wonders if the room has gotten colder, or if that's just his imagination. He gives a discreet sniff; and is it just his imagination, or has the room started to smell slightly like dark magic?
"This is just a completely arbitrary and unfortunate turn of events, I imagine." She remarks coolly, brow raised.
He crosses his arms, leaning against the wall. "Unfortunate? Perhaps. But it's hardly arbitrary."
"And has nothing to do with you, of course."
"Why, Harry, do you think I've conspired this turn of events for a moment of your company?" Gellert pauses. He'd meant it as a joke, but on second thought, that rather does sound like something he'd do. From Harry's nonplussed expression, it's clear she thinks the same.
He shrugs. "Believe it or not, I actually have little to do with this. The Headmaster was called away moments ago for urgent business."
Harry appears skeptical. "Urgent business of what kind?"
At this, the man's expression turns grim. "Nothing you'll appreciate, I'm sure."
Harry just frowns at him. "Are you being intentionally vague, or just trying to annoy me? Either way I've had a pretty shite day, so either tell me or don't tell me."
He gives a humorless laugh. "I see your patience is quite thin today."
"It's been a trying day." Harry deadpans.
"It's not even noon."
"You'd be surprised how quickly things can go to hell."
The blonde man chuckles bitterly. "Oh, I'm sure I have some inkling." He shakes his head. "Either way, you'll find out in the evening news."
Harry's frown deepens. The news? That's rather alarming. In all honesty Harry doesn't really read the news in this timeline, mainly because she's too lazy and just googles things when she gets to the office. After being enlightened to the duplicity of an alternate timeline however, she's started at least attempting to do so by getting the paper delivered daily. But that's normally in the morning… she's not entirely sure why there'd be an evening edition, unless of course the situation called for it.
"Well, I suppose I'll just have to contain my expectations until then." She shrugs.
"Frankly, the Headmaster's abrupt departure might be a blessing in disguise." The Dark Lord remarks. "He's not a man to be trifled with, Harry."
"I'd expected as much, from his many accolades." He had nearly as many as Dumbledore.
Gellert's mouth thins, as if he has quite a few choice words but isn't certain he should say them. Harry merely observes him with an intrigued eye; she doesn't think she's ever seen him so uncomfortable. Except perhaps for the time she had burst into tears. That had been more of bewildered horror; his expression now is pensive, and somewhat wary.
"He's much more dangerous than you're giving him credit for." The man says, at length.
Harry chokes on a laugh. "You, calling someone dangerous? That's rather ironic, don't you think?"
Gellert merely nods. "Yes, it is. And it should speak to the severity of the matter. I would hardly warn you away from someone if I myself did not consider them dangerous."
This effectively gives Harry pause. At the very least, she appears to be taking his words with serious consideration. "Are you… not on friendly terms with him, then?"
"We're amicable, but I would never call us friends. I doubt he has any. He is, by and large, the most dangerous man of this century."
Harry remains silent, watching him with bright and wary eyes.
He pushes off the wall, walking closer to her. His hand is warm but urgent where he places it on her arm. "The next time he invites you over for 'tea', make any excuse you can to get out of it." He says, voice low. Harry's eyes widen. "By some stroke of luck you managed to avoid him today, but I can't imagine you'll get such a reprieve again."
Harry swallows with difficulty. "... Right. I'll, er, keep that under advisement."
"I'm serious, Harry."
"I know you are." She agrees, and if she is shaken by his words she puts on a good show of hiding it. Either that, or she's more aware of her powers than he thinks she is. "I've no idea why you would bother to warn me of him, but I can imagine you'd only do so if it was of the utmost importance and with no small amount of political gain involved."
His look turns a bit exasperated. "Is it truly so difficult to imagine that I might hold the slightest shred of fondness for you?"
"Only if it serves your purposes to say so." Harry retorts with an amused look, removing herself from his grip. "At any rate, I thank you for the warning. I'll be sure to heed it in the future."
However, Gellert doesn't let her move too far, tightening his grip on her arm. Harry frowns down at the offending appendage. Isn't it horribly rude to touch a woman without her permission in this era? Well, it's rude either way, and for a Dark Lord the man is usually surprisingly polite.
"Are you feeling alright?"
Harry's gaze travels back towards his face. "...Yes?"
He searches her face, as if looking for some sign of malaise. "You look a bit pale."
"Do I?" Harry feigns ignorance. "Like I said, it's been a trying morning. Perhaps I just need to rest."
"Perhaps." The man agrees reluctantly, releasing her. "Well, be sure to take care of yourself. And stay safe."
Harry frowns at him. What an odd thing to say, especially coming from this man. "Of course. You as well."
Yet another unfortunate (and rather ominous) meeting with a certain Dark Lord not withstanding, Harry has more pressing and urgent matters at hand. The Headmaster is far from her thoughts currently; so is Gellert, if she's being honest. There is a god that's still following her around, and apparently doing terrible things to her constitution.
She's been avoiding mirrors, but she looks into one now in the powder room.
As she had suspected, Yama is there behind her, the color of obsidian, oddly iridescent in the powder room lighting.
She does look a bit pale. A bit feverish, too. She can't imagine it's coincidental that she's begun to feel a bit under the weather immediately after being followed by some wayward creature of the abyss.
Harry sighs, blotting her forehead with a tissue. "How long do you intend to follow me, seriously." She complains, sparing a glance at the creature behind her. This is terrible for her complexion.
Yama continues to stare at her with its sable eyes, unblinking and unyielding.
Harry eventually looks away. Getting into a staring contest with a creature that doesn't technically have eyes is an idea doomed to fail.
"You can't follow me around forever, you know." She shakes her head. "Don't you want to go back to your nice, cozy shrine? It looked like a nice place. Much more comfortable than following me around, I'm sure."
Unsurprisingly, Yama has no response.
Harry glances up at it in the mirror.
Curiously enough, she notices the diety's attention appears to be elsewhere. It appears to be interested in something on the other side of the door, large slate horns turned off to the side. Harry follows its gaze to the doorway; after a moment, she realizes she can hear the murmurs of people on the other side. A great deal of them, all swelling over one another to create an unbroken din permeable through the door.
She exits the washroom to find the main atrium appears filled with people who hadn't been there a few minutes ago.
Intrigued, she follows the low drone of voices into the administrative building's main entryway, finding it packed with people.
She recognizes the uniform they all wear as Wolcroft's. If she recalled correctly, the trim of the exterior robes denotes the years; gold is university, silver is secondary school, and white is elementary. The majority appear to be around her age, with gold trim on their collars, but there are students of all ages milling about the room.
Harry stares at them in confusion; where did they all come from? Is there an assembly of some kind?
Harry whirls around, shocked. "Tom?"
It really is Tom, looking just as surprised as she is. He pushes past the crowds, making his way towards her.
"I'd heard from Professor Caithe that you were in the administrative building." He says by way of greeting. "She said you had gotten lost on the way; that's rather unlike you." He ends, with a frown of concern.
Nothing ever slips past this child, does it?
"Ah, yes. I'm feeling a bit under the weather though, so I guess my sense of direction wasn't as up to par." Harry digresses, smiling sheepishly.
Tom is still frowning, but seems to take her lie at face value. "You do look a bit pale. Why did you come, if you were feeling ill?"
"Well, I could hardly turn down an invitation from your Headmaster—
Tom's eyes widen. "The Headmaster called for you?"
"Yes, but he ended up being called away on an urgent matter, so our meeting has been postponed."
"Urgent matter," Tom repeats, underneath his breath. His eyes narrow thoughtfully. "Did he say what?"
"No, there was no other explanation. At any rate, why are you out of classes? And what's going on in here?" Harry segues smoothly, reluctant to speak further on the Headmaster.
Tom stares up at her, blankly. "You haven't heard?"
Harry blinks. "Heard what?"
"Estonia just declared war on Germany. They're saying it's going to be the Second World War."
In the quiet solitude of the antechamber, Gellert takes a moment to compose himself. No one is there to see the briefest glimpse of unease filter through the most terrible Dark Lord of the era.
He never knows what Headmaster Pershing is thinking, but usually the man's enigmatic motivations instill within him a vague sense of intrigue and curiosity, not pervasive disquiet. The man's next move is impossible to guess; the chess board in his mind is set twenty paces ahead of the current board— no, perhaps even more than that. Gellert has always wondered who the man would be playing against, in this analogy; an unknown adversary? Or perhaps even the universe itself?
At any rate, Gellert doesn't even bother trying to guess the man's motivations. The man is not his master; he is under no obligation to tell the Dark Lord anything, in the same way Gellert is under no obligation to reveal things to the Headmaster either. When it is mutually beneficial to do so, they share information. These days more often than not their goals appear to be aligned, but that hardly counts as an alliance.
All the same, a little forewarning about this would have been welcomed.
As it is, Gellert will have to be doing a lot of reorganization of his own plans, and he has to wonder how much of that was intentional by the Headmaster. After all, there was no real reason not to tell Gellert he was planning on starting a war with both the Red Army and the Nazi Party. Unless of course, he had intentionally meant to keep the Dark Lord out of his plans.
Well, it's not as if there was any lost trust between the two of them. He wasn't enraged by this turn of events so much as he was exasperated and mildly irritated.
The Dark Lord combs back his hair with a wary hand, straightening his suit jacket as he surveys himself in the mirror above the floo; not a hair out of place. With an outward expression that speaks to both danger and assurance, his own inner turmoil is impossible to read from the surface. The man spares one last look across the room to the high arched windows, where Tallinn all but glows in the light of twilight, the tall medieval spires of its skyline gleaming gold in the low sun. Beyond the glowing sea, past the distant sun burning through the horizon, in the towering fjords of Finland lay a school he hasn't seen in years. The light in this part of the world is oddly nostalgic at times; he couldn't quite say what it was about it that made it so fundamentally different than any other. But there was an indistinct but unmistakable quality that reminds him of his feverish and restless youth.
With one last look he heads down the hall, towards the meeting he is now officially fashionably late to.
He wastes no time throwing open the doors with all the pageantry one would expect from a great Dark Lord. He catches someone in the middle of a speech off guard, startling the room into silence as all heads turn to look at him. None dare to speak a word against him, and most won't even hold his eyes. Their fear is potent and revolting in the air. It's disgusting, really, that these distinguished and powerful figureheads are too scared to even meet his gaze.
Behind the tall, ornate double doors lay a gilded room of the modern and luxurious art deco style. Exotic tapestries, ornate velvet upholstery, crownings in chrome and gold. Exactly the sort of extravagance he would expect from a castle entirely of Headmaster Pershing's design. The incredibly long marble meeting table was just this side of meretricious; it had gilded seats for at least two dozen, and above it spun an intricate and sprawling chandelier of pure emerald. This lavish castle was far more the embodiment of Pershing's tastes than his head office at the school or even his mysterious cloaked tower. Gellet would, in fact, even venture to say that this was where the man felt most at home.
He was aware that the Baltics were Pershing's stronghold, but he rarely visited the area, as Pershing is easier to find when he is acting as Wolcroft's Headmaster or as himself in his tower. Perhaps this was where Pershing spent his leisure time? Truly, how was Gellert to know?
The man himself was seated at the head of the table, wearing a face that Gellert did not see often. A strong nose, with piercing eyes under heavy brows, creating a stern and somewhat severe look no matter his expression.
It's not a face he particularly recognizes, and yet he knows precisely who it is.
Should he have expected any less, truly?
Obviously the man wouldn't be participating in the meeting as a school Headmaster— a mere attendee.
The entire table turns to him as he enters; a heavy and expectant silence presses down upon the room. Unsurprisingly, Pershing is the only one who dares to meet his gaze head on, and hold it indeterminably.
"President Degurechaff." Gellert greets calmly, not missing a beat as he takes the seat left empty for him across from the man at the opposite head of the table. "My apologies for my untimeliness; I've just finished a… small errand of some importance."
The other man knows precisely what he speaks of. "Ah, yes. I hope you conveyed my sincerest condolences."
"But of course."
This was answer enough for Konstantin Degurechaff, the President of Estonia, former Prime Minister and President-Regent, who gave him a light nod in response before returning to the matter at hand.
"The time to act is upon us, my friends." He began grandly, as he met the eyes of each and every one of them with a penetrating gaze.
Gellert recognized all the attendees as influential wizards from across the world. He even recognized the form of his old headmaster squeezed into the many seats on the sides of the table, furiously trying to avoid Gellert's gaze. Frankly, Gellert felt his fear was the only one at the table that wasn't warranted; if he'd wanted to kill the man for his actions against him, he would have done so long ago and they both know it. He is both intrigued and yet unsurprised to see there were no non-magicals at the table. He's never been entirely sure what Pershing's plan for the world is, but he knows it at least aligns at the most basic level with his own; a world order defined by wizards.
Pershing has always been a monumental and riveting speaker; now is no exception.
"Today is the dawn of a new world order; the fruition of all our efforts. I stand before you not as a President of a country, but as an equal and comrade in arms in our fight for the rights of magicals all across the world. The journey before us is long and arduous, but I have every confidence we'll emerge victorious."
Gellert can't help but wonder how many times he's delivered a speech just like this one, to a different but not entirely dissimilar audience, in this same grandiose and awe-inspiring tone. Pershing has the kind of unflappable confidence that can only come from decades of experience. Gellert can't help but wonder how many times he's waged a war like this. Again, he's too good at it to be anything but experienced. He knows the man was deeply involved in the first World War, but who's to say how many other, much smaller ones he's been involved in? For all Gellert knew, he could be the instigator of every war to ever be waged in human history. The way he discards personas and rebirths himself into new ones, he really has to wonder just how old the man truly is. How long has he been Konstantin Degurechaff? Has he always been him? Is that his original persona— if he even has one, at all?
Pershing continues on with his speech as Gellert sits and muses, pacing around the room with grand gesturing and riveting inflection.
On that note, why must he be a man at all?
Perhaps he's just feeling a bit of mysterious whimsy, or has just had quite a bit of exposure to branches of magic both arcane and mystical as of late, but he is truly starting to wonder if Pershing is not even human at all. Maybe even not of this world. He's always had an unknowable aura about him, something both compelling and yet impenetrable. Like the deep, calm waters of the arctic ocean off of the Finnish coast, the surface appears tranquil and serene, but beneath the opaque surface lies nothing but ice and danger.
Not unlike Harry, now that he thinks about it.
He truly can't imagine that to be a coincidence.
"So, you're King Yama, huh? I guess I've been kind of disrespectful." Harry muses, idly. "Sorry about that."
The dark, looming shadow by her side says nothing.
The city beneath her is grey and cold; not a soul is in sight, and even the automobiles have disappeared off the streets. Everyone has heard the news by now, and has been frightened into their homes. Harry doesn't blame them. Even she, with a somewhat cohesive picture of the future, feels wary and ill at ease. Then again, after triple checking the internet and even conspiracy sites, she's fairly certain Estonia did not start the second World War. Actually, she hardly knew anything about it, so she had to do a lot of research. The research wasn't as rewarding as it usually was; even though there was plenty to learn online, she no longer had any real way of knowing if it applied in this new universe or not.
Harry had to admit that she felt a bit glum knowing her super-awesome cheat powers (aka the internet) were no longer as powerful as she thought they were. Now she could only fully rely on the woefully lacking resources of this era.
This whole afternoon had made her want to pull her hair out in frustration. Even all the magically summoning books in the world couldn't compare to the efficiency of typing out a question into a search engine, so the process was slow and trying.
All her furious searching over World War Two had turned up nothing useful, but at the very least her researching of Yama bore better results.
Yama was an early deity of Rigvedic Hindu origins. The worship of Buddhism quickly spread his name across most of the Asian continent, as well as many islands across southeast Asia, making him one of the most prolific and widely known deities of death. Harry was far from surprised to hear that. Of course, mythology and reality were two separate ball games, and while Harry now knew quite a bit about his history she still didn't know what it meant that he was here now. The muggles of the internet had nothing useful on the subject, and as it was turning out, neither did the magical world.
Harry gave a long sigh, as she sprawled out on the floor of the library, surrounded by Tom's ancient magic textbooks. Little did she know she was exactly mimicking Tom's position from a few days earlier; listless and helpless and frustrated as she tried to pry ancient information out of books that were unforthcoming.
She was even using the exact same textbook Tom had been rifling through. If she had been in any mood to be observant, she would have noticed that the pages on Carthaginian gods and in particular, Baal-Hammon, were bookmarked and worn thin. As it is, she has the textbook opened to a page far into the back of the book, where Hinduism is covered.
"Tom is due back from his friend's house any minute now, and I still haven't found anything." She doesn't know whether she's whining to herself or the God beside her. In some ways, she wonders if there's even any difference.
She tilts her head, to where she thinks the massive form of King Yama is staring down at her, in a way she thinks is somewhat patronizing. If she were an ancient and immortal deity, she would definitely be lamenting getting stuck with a human like her.
Harry sighs gustily. "I wish you could just talk to me, you know? Even a nod or something would be nice."
It was so frustrating, having the being right here beside her without any way of communicating to it.
It's been hours since she'd met up with Tom at his school and he'd begged her to let him go to Margaret's house, and she really ought to start dinner. There was a good chance he'd just say he ate at Margaret's, but Harry felt she should at least make the effort anyway. She and Tom had been quite close recently. Ever since she'd returned from her trip he seemed to have a heightened maturity to his actions; a lot like the little adult she had originally expected him to be. He still whined and complained like any normal child, but he also listened to her when it mattered, and had stopped acting out. If anything, she almost felt as if he was on his best behavior. Or perhaps he was just being more conscious of her and had more self-awareness?
At any rate, despite the horrifying news, she had no real reason not to let him go— and anyway, the timing had been fortuitous.
She was certain he was over there slyly prodding Margaret's family into unknowingly slipping information to him, but frankly she didn't care. He was safe over there, as there was no way Gellert wasn't in Europe currently, and if he sniffed out any inside information that could only be of benefit. More to the point, him being out of the house gave Harry an indispensable opportunity to have some alone time with his books.
Anyway, as absolutely bewildering and unfathomable as it was, Harry actually had more important problems than a World War.
There was a god standing beside her, and she had no way of figuring out anything about it.
Books were great and all, but would really be great would be to just be able to talk to the creature right beside her! It was right there! She'd even reached out to try and touch it, and had found that it was both corporeal and yet intangible. It was a lot like putting her hand in front of dense mist; it had an odd bit of density, but could not be picked up or moved by her fingers. It had taken her a couple hours to be able to look at it without flinching at the sight; even now, she felt uneasy and unsettled having something so alien dogging her steps.
But the more she thinks on it, the more she wonders why she's not freaking out about it more. She wants to say it's just because she's so used to outrageous things happening to her at this point in her life, but the excuse seems a bit flimsy.
Her eyes slip shut as she lies flat on the ground, a wandering slice of cold sunshine crossing through the window pane behind her.
When she opens her eyes slightly, the presence in front of her seems almost overwhelming. Just like it had been at the shrine earlier— something so consuming even the light seems to be dragged away in claws of darkness. She wonders what it says about her that she doesn't run away from it. She didn't run away from it at the shrine, either.
Harry turns to see a familiar boy standing in the doorway. His face is wan and his expression is pulled tight at the edges. Harry assumes it's from the grim news about the war.
"Oh! Tom!" She sits upright quickly, a little embarrassed to have Tom find her just lying here blankly staring at her own two hands. Just how long was he standing there?
A quick glance at him confirms that he doesn't seem to notice the eerie figure next to her at all. She imagines his reaction would be a lot more explosive if he had. At the very least, his eyes would be drawn to it, but if anything he seems more preoccupied with the familiar textbook by Harry's leg. Harry isn't sure if she's relieved or discouraged to see she appears to be the only one who can see this god.
Fortunately for Tom, Harry is too busy feeling uneasy about her own secrets to notice how quickly his face pales when he discovers her so close to one of his own. His Ancient Magics textbook is open next to her— it's a minor miracle to see it's not open on any of the pages he's dog-eared.
"... You're reading my textbook?" He manages to swallow down most of his hysteria at the sight.
"Huh? Oh, yeah." Harry laughs, a bit nervously. "It was just lying on the bench so I thought I might give it a go. Just wanted something to… take my mind off things, I guess."
He seems to take her blatant lie at face value, nodding slowly.
"How long have you been here?" She runs a hand through her hair, which probably looks like a mess right now. "You're back pretty early."
He shrugs. "I didn't want to miss dinner." He walks forward, holding out his hands.
Harry is touched. He came back just to make sure they could have dinner together? How exactly did I manage to end up with such a well-behaved kid? She can't help but think, wryly. She can't imagine her trial-by-fire parenting skills had much to do with it.
"Well then, what did you want to eat?" Harry asks, as she takes his hands in her own.
Tom pulls her up easily. She can't help but belatedly notice how much bigger he's gotten in the past year alone. He's growing up so fast.
"I don't know. Pasta maybe?"
Harry doesn't let go of his hand, and Tom doesn't pull it away.
Harry will never admit it aloud, but in the privacy of her own mind she can admit she's holding on so tightly because the warm palm in hers is the only thing here right now that's reminding her how it feels to be human.
"Funny, you know, I saw you just yesterday at tea time, and at some point in the interim you managed to declare war on the whole world."
"There's no need to be so dramatic, Gellert." Pershing chastises with amusement, reaching for his cup of hresvelg blend.
He's in a better mood than usual, Gellert notices.
He doesn't know what it means. He's never seen Pershing in any kind of mood but capricious. Not when they're alone, at any rate. Pershing wears all kinds of masks in front of other people; the gallant general, the noble knight, the charismatic leader of a revolution. Right now, still wearing President Degurechaff's face, he appears in good spirits. Perhaps even eager.
He supposes after such a bracing and rousing speech, it would only be natural for that energy to carry forward. It wouldn't surprise Gellert in the least to find Pershing to be the kind of person who relishes in the dramatics of war.
And yet here he is chastising me for being dramatic. He thinks, with an internal eye roll.
"This war was a long time coming— inevitable, one might say." Pershing continues, setting his cup down after a long sip.
"I can hardly disagree, but I was surprised, to say the least." After a beat, he adds, dry as a bone; "I hadn't realized you liked to spend your time as President Degurechaff. I hope I've never said anything to offend you when you're wearing this persona."
"Oh, what can I say, I do like to enjoy some light democratic leadership in the afternoons on occasion." Pershing replies, wholly unapologetic.
Not that Gellert expected any less.
Then he laughs. It's the second time Gellert has heard it in less than a month, after years of speculating he was some kind of creature that was incapable of humor or amusement. "I hope I haven't offended you too deeply, my friend. To be frank, the decision was spur of the moment."
"I had intended to wait a bit longer. But the fancy struck me quite suddenly, you see."
"Surely you jest." He says, faintly.
As someone who had lived through the last excruciating World War, he could never imagine so callously deciding on another. He would have thought the same of someone like Pershing— formerly known as General Paul von Hindenburg, one of the best leaders of the Imperial Army, widely considered to be unmatched by any other soldier in the Great War. Someone who had seen the totality and inescapable cruelty of war firsthand was not someone he would have imagined to be so cavalier at the idea of starting another.
Gellert looks down at his own untouched cup of tea before him. It was steeped for just slightly too long; rather unlike Pershing. The dark surface ripples slightly. His own reflection is murky and unreliable. Still it is wholly and undeniably human in form. What does that mean though, really?
Perhaps he truly has spent too much time in the darkest of obscure magics lately, if he's questioning the humanity and veracity of everything and everyone around him.
That being said, he's always had his suspicions about Pershing. Suspicions that have never been outright confirmed, but never even remotely denied.
The man stands then, surprising him out of his musings.
He walks over towards a handsome wooden console nested between two stained arched windows. In the dim dusk light a golden instrument shines brilliantly on the table. Spindles of light crease around it in iridescent arcs. Scattered prisms hover in the arms. Pershing moves to stand before it, setting his cup aside.
"Do you know what this instrument is?"
Gellert furrows his brows. "An astronomy instrument of some kind." He hazards. "Forgive me, it was never one of my favored subjects."
Pershing chuckles. "I confess it has never been one of mine, either. Far too entwined with Divination for my tastes." He looks as if he means to reach out and touch one of its swooping brass arms, but thinks better of it at the last moment. "This is a magical astrolabe from the hellenistic era."
Gellert looks on with intrigue. He's always been fond of antiques. "You've kept it in excellent condition."
"Of course. It's still fully functional." He remarks casually.
Gellert is taken aback by that. "Truly?"
For a magical artifact to retain such abilities for so many centuries was impressive. Even the strongest of enchantments could hardly hold for more than one or two.
Pershing nods. "Yes. It's said that Thanatos himself blessed this astrolabe with his divine emblematic powers."
"Is that so?"
Perhaps he is being overly paranoid, but the name of the bygone Greek god only seems to raise a heightened, subconscious suspicion that he feels he might have had all along.
"Who is to know, truly?" Pershing laments, wondrously. "So many arcane and inaccessible secrets lost to the unforgiving grip of time… it makes you wonder just how much humanity has abandoned to the sands of infinity, does it not? All the achievements and sacrifices, the glory and desolation, forfeited to an endless cycle."
His words hang ominously in the still air of twilight. Still and stoic, doused in a glorious gold, Gellert doesn't even bother to fool himself with the veneer of humanity.
"I wish to break the chains that bind us, my friend."
What us does he refer to, Gellert wonders?
He doesn't pull out his wand, but only because he knows it would be a pointless endeavor. Pershing is not the type of man— the type of existence— that could be conquered by a mere wand. Perhaps not even by magic or creation at all.
At any rate, despite the very real reality of his questionable mortality, Gellert still can't say he finds Pershing to be particularly threatening. At least not to him.
HIs curiosity is piqued. "Is this to infer that you cannot break them, but they can, in fact, be broken?"
"Nothing in this life is impermeable, nor immutable. Not time, not death." He says this quietly, as if he is no longer talking to Gellert, but to himself.
He reaches out again towards the astrolabe. His fingers hover over an orb of light; the opalescent shine seems to grow bright and overwhelming in response.
"The fabled god-shattering star has arrived at the edge of the dawn line. What new world it will herald into the planisphere is anyone's guess." His smile is eager— zealous even. "To miss this opportunity would be a fool's folly. The time for war is now."
A powerful force streaking through the sky, blazing a path to a new and unseen world. It sounded rather pedestrian and theatrical. Gellert was hardly one to put any stock in Divination (excluding the blood magic branches) or the stars, and yet he can't brush this particular prophecy off in the same cavalier manner he has all the others.
Mainly because he thinks he's fairly sure he's met the god-shattering star herself, and can't help but think that this particular prophecy— as sensational and uninspired as it might sound— is entirely true.
WHO ELSE IS PLAYING THREE HOUSES? (Team edelbae for life) There are a ton of easter eggs in this chapter. I always look forward to people finding them! ?
To be honest, I pushed this chapter out because I just got it and its taken over my life and if I didn't get this out now I have a feeling it would have to wait until I've played through every house and married everyone I've wanted to in fire emblem and yeah, that would take forever lol.