"Avada Kedavra". The shout came from one of the few remaining Death Eaters, hitting him in what was probably an attempt to avenge their downed master.
Disoriented, Harry barely had time to process the words before the spell impacted for the second time that night.
When he opened his eyes this time he found that instead of being dead -as he'd been half expecting- he was back again on that train platform in his mind. Only this time, instead of Professor Dumbledore and the blackened, deformed body of a baby Tom Riddle, he was received by what years and years of muggle culture indicated to be the Grim Reaper.
"Master" The word seemed to come from the black clothed skeleton, though Harry could only guess at how the being spoke, seeing as the bones of the face and jaw hadn't moved. "Welcome back" The Reaper addressed him.
"Master?" Harry questioned, wondering about his mental sanity, having once again fallen into an Avada-Kedavra-induced delusion, and, really, how common were those anyway? "I'm sorry, but who the hell are you? And, did you really just call me Master?"
Thus began what Harry would later label as the most bizarre conversation in his admittedly already weird life.
Apparently, Dumbledore hadn't been as- ahem, eccentric as Harry had been led to believe.
In the end, The Tale of the Three Brothers had originated from a real encounter with Death, the being of which he was now the reluctant master of. It turns out that, in a misguided attempt at helping Harry defeat Voldemort and not die in the process, the former headmaster had instead accidentally given him an immortal entity as a slave.
"So now I can't die?" Harry tried to wrap his mind around this. As Death had explained, the train station in his mind was not in his mind at all, but was rather his very own personal purgatory, from which, if he had been at all normal, he would have boarded the train to either Heaven or Hell, or whatever other place his soul recognized those concepts as. He would never have guessed religion to be so subjective.
The catch though, was that as he was his Master, Death wouldn't be able to take him as he had everybody else. The same idea as to how a house elf wouldn't be able to command its owner while bound in service.
"No, the balance must be maintained, a mortal body cannot live forever, but your immortal soul, My Master, and all of its knowledge I cannot take as mine, for it is you who own me." His newly declared servant repeated that same sentence for what must have been the tenth time.
Harry still couldn't wrap his mind around this. He understood, in a theoretical sense, that rebirth was a possibility. It was even an idea that he had toyed with while in the Horocrux hunt, what would have happened if one of the horocruxes had fallen into the hands of a pregnant mother, or a new born baby. Would Voldemort have been reborn, calling all the pieces of soul to his new body? Or would he simply be absorbed by the original soul? Was there even an 'original' piece after the last one had been vanished when he was one year old? From his perspective they all acted the same- looking for a body and ways to kill him. And if there was, was the original the first piece of soul to be made a horocrux, or the last remaining in the body?
Still, it wasn't an idea he had ever discussed with anyone. Even less a possibility he had considered for himself.
It had its advantages though; his Slytherin side wouldn't let him forget that, because, since his soul could not be taken, as long as there was a healthy body to return to, he would be sent back again. This in essence meant that he was now officially immune to the Avada curse, which, for all that it magically killed any living thing that touched it; it left behind a perfectly damage-free workable body.
"So, say, if I boarded that train" Harry pointed to the afterlife version of the Hogwarts Express that had just arrived on the platform. "Where would it take me?"
"Death is timeless, Master. You are my commander, and as such, yours are my abilities."
Huh. That was certainly unexpected.
So, not only AK-proof, but, once dead, his body having given up and beyond repair, he could just board the train, travel a bit through time and space.
He wondered what would happen if he boarded the train now. His body was intact, so he would probably drag it backward or forward with him as he went. Would the world rearrange itself and give him an identity, a life already lived that he would be stepping into? Or would he be dropped in the middle of nowhere and forced to forge an identity for himself amidst suspicion?
Could-could he change time? If he traveled back in time with this body, would he be able to save his parents? Save Sirius?
His mind whirled with the possibilities.
Maybe he wouldn't be coming back to Ron and Hermione after all. Whenever he made gambles like this they tended to pay off –then again, he'd had his own fair share of close calls…
What was life without a little bit of risk anyway?
And suddenly, his Gryffindor side decided to come out to play. Before he could over think his plan through and chicken out he snapped into action. Not giving Death time to object, he jumped into the train and willed it to return to the past, back to the early 1980's. Harry concentrated his thoughts on Voldemort and all the grief he'd given him when his younger self was turned into a Horocrux, of all the pain he could spare the wizarding world and his infant self if the war was ended before Trelawney could give that damning prophecy.
Guided by his thoughts, the train started to move.
When Harry returned to the world of the living once more, he started to really question what he had done. Was he really so self-sacrificing that he'd given up his new danger-free life as the Man-Who-Conquered in order to fight Voldemort again in the off chance that if would save even more people?
Yes, apparently he was.
And the plan hadn't even worked; maybe he should have stayed in that train station, questioned Death a little more, and not bloody assumed that having a perfectly fine soulless body in the future and his also perfectly fine body-less soul in the past meant that the two would somehow reconnect themselves wherever he wanted.
He really should have remembered how the whole 'follow the spiders' fiasco had turned out before going off following yet another gut feeling.
No, that was not at all how the whole affair worked, because, as he found out as soon as he opened his eyes in this new world, he was not in the forbidden forest –or Godric's Hollow– and he was not in his eighteen year old body.
Instead, he was in a cave that he faintly remembered as the one he had visited with Dumbledore in his past life, only about a year and a half ago. A cave that he could unfortunately confirm as being infected with inferi, given that he was watching before his very eyes as a young man battled with a horde of them. Wanting to get up and help the poor sod who'd ended in what he and Ron referred to as 'Voldemort's Horocrux Cave of Death', he came upon the realization that he was not, in fact, inhabiting his trusty old body. He knew he was in some kind of body, simply because he could feel it, he knew he had all five senses, and he knew, in that same instinctual way, that he was sitting in the cold floor. He was, however, watching the scene for a much, much lower point of view than that which he was used to, and when he tried to stand up, he discovered that his motor skills were not what he remembered them to be.
Rather than getting up and helping in the fight as his brain ordered, the new body started to cry.
This was really one of those situations that only Harry could get himself into, and that exclusiveness was not due to his own unique status as Master of Death. No, it was all due to his unique status as fate's whipping boy, because, if he was reading the situation correctly, Harry had been reborn as a baby.
Upon this realization the body cried even harder.
Something that turned out to be a good reaction, as it caught the attention of the guy fighting for his life a few meters away.
Seeing a baby crying not far away, the fighter quickly ran to Harry's side, wanting to protect his defenseless baby-self from the inferi that were closing in around them. It was on the moment that the stranger picked up what he must have thought was a baby that had accidentally apparated, that Harry remembered which horocrux exactly was the one that had been hidden in the cave.
Regulus Arcturus Black
The mystery savior that had given his life to make Harry's task easier, and the wizard that Kreacher later confirmed to have been his godfather's kid brother. This lifted Harry's spirit, because, while he had not taken Sirius' brother into consideration in his saving-the-world-plan, he knew how Regulus' death had affected him, and even though he had hated Kreacher with every single fiber of his being, his inner Hermione cheered at the chance to make a house elf happy.
Finally knowing on whose arms he was, and being able to make an educated guess as to the year and the circumstances on which he arrived, Harry called upon his magic. The pressure that had been building up ever since he got off the train finally released, and in a burst of light Harry grabbed a hold of it and pushed, trying to break through Voldemort's anti-apparition wards and get both himself and Regulus to safety.
While Regulus tried to both maneuver Harry, and control his fiendfyre spell, Harry prodded the wards looking for an out. It was after what felt like ages but must have been a couple of seconds that he was able to concentrate on his wonky-feeling magic and break the both of them out of there. Or rather, break himself out of the cave and into Grimmauld place, with Regulus tagging along.
Disoriented after his escape, Harry thought, for about five minutes, that his idea to bring the both of them to Grimmauld Place -where help could be found in the form of Kreacher- had been a stroke of genius. That is, until he realized that Orion and Walburga Black hadn't died yet, and that both of them had been having afternoon tea in the parlor where he apparated.
It was Walburga's outraged screech, along with Kreacher's tearful cry for Regulus, the couple things that Harry was last aware of before both himself and Black collapsed from exhaustion.
I know, I shouldn't be starting another story so soon, but i really couldn't help myself. To the people following my WC story, expect another update either tomorrow or the day after, as soon as my Beta is done proofreading.
About this story: not much I can say, it got stuck in my head, and is just something I would have liked to read at some point or another. The chapter names are going to be titles of books that I recommend, and I'll drop a line about the book at the end of each chapter.
Tell me what you think!
About 'The Gambler': Pretty good, for some reason it makes me think of the Great Gatsby -you know, the whole money issue and escaping from who you were?- but Dostoyevsky is surprisingly funny, in that dry, ruskin humor sort of way. Its a longish read, but totally worth it.