A/N: Here lies your first and only warning. This story will contain slash.
This only left one parcel. Harry picked it up and felt it. It was very light. He unwrapped it.
Something fluid and silvery gray went slithering to the floor where it lay in gleaming folds. Ron gasped.
"I've heard of those," he said in a hushed voice, dropping the box of Every Flavor Beans he'd gotten from Hermione. "If that's what I think it is-they're really rare, and really valuable."
"What is it?"
Harry picked the shining, silvery cloth off the floor. It was strange to the touch, like water woven into material.
"It's an invisibility cloak," said Ron, a look of awe on his face. "I'm sure it is-try it on."
Harry threw the cloak around his shoulders and Ron gave a yell.
"It is! Look down!"
Harry looked down at his feet, but they were gone. He dashed to the mirror. Sure enough, his reflection looked back at him, just his head suspended in midair, his body completely invisible.
He pulled the cloak over his head and his reflection vanished completely.
I open at the close
The black stone with its jagged crack running down the center sat in the two halves of the Snitch. The Resurrection Stone had cracked down the vertical line representing the Elder Wand. The triangle and circle representing the Cloak and the stone were still discernible.
And again Harry understood without having to think. It did not matter about bringing them back, for he was about to join them. He was not really fetching them: they were fetching him.
"So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" whispered Harry. "Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does…I am the true master of the Elder Wand."
A shaking hand reached out to touch the three objects sitting innocuously on the red and gold comforter but drew back at the last second, as if scared they would burn it. The owner of the partially extended limb was none other than the messy haired, tired eyed Boy-Who-Lived, although before he'd retired to the semi-privacy of his dorms he had heard a few people refer to him as the Man-Who-Conquered. Only a slight step up in his opinion.
Harry took a half step away from his bed and its unwelcome residents; the invisibility cloak, folded neatly into a triangle, with the Elder Wand and Resurrection Stone settled on top of it. He'd gotten rid of them, or at least he had the latter two; he'd left the stone in the forest and, after repairing his ever faithful holly wand, returned the wand to Dumbledore's tomb. And yet here they were, all settled on his bed as if he'd never attempted to get rid of them.
Sighing softly to himself, he reached out and collected the Hallows, it had been a bad idea to leave them there anyway, any mischievous student who decided they wanted to take a jaunt through the Forbidden Forest could stumble across the stone, and the moment some greedy wizard who wanted the most powerful wand in history figured out that Harry was no longer in possession of the Elder Wand, they would turn to where it had been hidden last and find no opposition when retrieving it. If the goblins allowed him to enter Gringotts after his stunt with the dragon, he would hide it in his vault, if not he would find somewhere else to hide the wand and stone, somewhere much less predictable.
Harry tucked the Elder Wand in his back pocket, smiling sadly when the memory of Moody warning him he'd lose a buttock stashing it there came to mind, then threw the invisibility cloak over his shoulders. It would be easier to get out of the castle if he wasn't mobbed by adoring wizards and witches wanting to shake his hand, to kiss their babies, to thank him and tell him they'd never doubted him, when in truth every last one of them had been despairing over the fact that only a seventeen year old Hogwarts dropout stood between them and the Dark Lord. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate their gratitude, he did, but he had hoped that after the war he could just fade into the background, hoped that he could finally be Harry, normal, boring, ordinary Harry. It was a foolish hope, but he couldn't bring himself to stop.
The Resurrection Stone remained in his hands for a moment longer, flipped without any intent between his fingers. Remus was dead, Tonks was dead, Fred was dead. The list was numerous and devastating, but Harry felt no urge to call upon any of them. Their deaths had been ugly, brutal, unnecessary, the least he could do was leave them to the peace of the afterlife. The Stone joined its sister Hallow in his back pocket, a tight squeeze and not at all secure, but it would get the job done. He would need shoes, preferably with socks, both of which had been carelessly discarded in his haste to burrow beneath his somewhat dusty sheets. The overstuffed mattress of his four poster bed and the thick curtains that blocked out even the memory of sunlight had been a luxury whose absence he'd felt every night he'd spent on the narrow, meagerly padded cots that the tent they'd called their home for the better part of a year had to offer. A luxury that he was quick to reclaim while others were occupied mourning and celebrating respectively.
His left shoe was wedged between his headboard and the wall, Merlin knows how that got there, while the other was entangled in the velvet curtains hanging only partially open around the border of his four poster. His socks, unfortunately, were another matter entirely, the bloody things may as well have up and sprouted their own little legs with all the luck he was having finding them.
"Should have shoved them in my shoes," Harry muttered with his head shoved beneath his bed. He couldn't see a damned thing in the enclosed space, but maybe he could sniff them out, he couldn't remember the last time anything he'd worn had been properly washed. He cursed when a particularly deep inhalation drew a large clump of dust halfway up his nose. "Ah, shite. Where are the bloody things?"
The dorm was meant to be empty, Harry had only been talking to himself and his elusive socks, he hadn't been expecting an answer of any kind. So when his words were greeted by a low, almost eerie muttering, he reared back in surprise, which turned out to be a bad decision as his head was still buried beneath his bed and so came in jarring contact with the solid, wooden slats that held the whole thing together.
"Fuck." He clumsily extricated himself from beneath the wooden monstrosity he'd been pledging his allegiance to only an hour previous and glared around the room with watering eyes. It was empty, just as he thought it had been all this time, but he'd heard something, he was still hearing something. A murmuring, nearly silent and impossible to discern, but undeniably there.
"Who's in here? It's probably in your best interest to stop hiding, I'm a war veteran, I can and will curse you if you startle me, and I won't feel sorry afterwards."
Harry tilted his head and listened, the whispers, the muttering, whatever the hell they were had not changed in pitch, remaining at that same infuriatingly quiet volume that had his ears straining to pick up on the words being spoken. If he didn't know any better, he would think the quiet voices were actually the hissing of yet another monstrous creature lurking within Hogwarts' walls.
"Homenum Revelio." The spell swept through the dorm and the adjoining restroom, but it yielded nothing, he was alone in the room.
The green eyed Gryffindor squawked in surprise and pivoted on the balls of his feet. "George? What?" He glared at the wand in his hand in betrayal, maybe the Elder Wand hadn't done such a good gob fixing it, the spell he'd cast was fairly basic, he shouldn't have had any trouble casting it.
"They won't stop crying."
Harry frowned. "What? Who's crying? Was that you whispering?"
But no, he could still hear the voices, they were if only the slightest bit louder, their words were still indistinguishable, but the tone was clear. They sounded pleading. Lost. Desperate.
"All they're doing is sitting and crying and touching. Touching me. I don't like it, I want them to stop."
"I don't understand. Do you mean your family? Is that who you're talking about?"
"I tried asking them to stop, but they can't hear me, no one can hear me. Except you. You can hear me. You can talk to them for me."
This wasn't right. This wasn't George. The young man before him was a cheap, worn out version of what he had once been, as if he'd been churned about in the bloody seas of the war for too long only to be wrung out and hung up to dry in the stripping sun. His skin held no color, his eyes were devoid of the warm spark of life, and yet he was whole. Two arms, two legs, two ears. He was not George.
Harry took a step forward and Fred took one back, out of reach of his young friend's touch.
"I don't want you to touch me."
A humorless smile quirked too pale lips, a far cry from the usual mischievous smirk. "It hurts to look at you. It burns. I'd hate to find out what it feels like to touch you."
There was so much wrong with that statement, so much wrong with this situation, Harry didn't even know where to start. "You're dead. But you're here, are you-are you a ghost?"
Fred shook his head. "I don't think so, they can see me and speak to me, but they're different. I'm different."
"What are you?"
"Stuck. I think I'm stuck."
Harry winced, his hands crawled up the sides of his face to press into his ears. The whispers were no longer just desperate, they were louder and angrier and clamoring to be heard. They weren't overly loud, he could still here the catch of his own breath, the brush of his feet against the carpet, but the mutter of those voices was comparable to the slow drag of jagged nails on chalkboard.
"They don't like being ignored." Fred tilted his head, hearing what Harry couldn't. "They want you to listen to them."
"Yeah? Well, let them know not to hold their breaths. Their voices are wooly, like static, I couldn't listen even if I wanted to."
"They don't like that."
"I don't like this."
The shadows lurking on the edge of his vision twisted unhappily, they grew longer, stretching, reaching for him, before drawing back suddenly. Harry shuddered and his jaw clenched uncomfortably, the discordant rasp of each whisper, each moan, each wail, sent a lance of not quite pain, but most certainly discomfort, through each temple.
"They just want to be heard."
"I said enough. Shut up!"
A switch flipped and the voices fell absolutely silent, Fred reeled back, struck by an invisible force that clamped his jaw shut. As if in direct contradiction, Harry's own fell open. He was momentarily taken aback by the immediate response to his ire.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to shout."
Without thinking, he reached out and grasped Fred's elbow, as if to help him regain his kilter. A part of him was expecting his hand to pass through the limb, despite his denial Fred had to be a ghost, there was no other explanation for his presence. But Harry's hand met solid, if not a bit too cool flesh.
It took a moment for the contact to register, it had happened unconsciously and in the stilted moment between two blinks of an eye. They were utterly still for one long second but then it registered and Harry realized that the touch didn't hurt Fred like the redhead had feared, it hurt him.
It started off as an itch, a heavily uncomfortable sensation that held the promise of pain if not relieved in due time. But then the itch became a burn, radiating from the point where Harry met Fred and sweeping throughout his body into his core. Harry tore his hand away and staggered back several steps, but the damage had already been done; he let out a distressed whimper when his blood turned to acid sludge and yet continued to chug laboriously through his veins and burn a pathway through his heart.
Frantic hands tore into the thin, worn fabric of his shirt, granting him access to the itching, burning, excruciating flesh beneath. He scratched until bloody furrows carved searing pathways across his torso, but the drag of his fingers did nothing to relieve the pain. He gasped and he writhed until his legs gave beneath him and his fingers no longer had any flesh left to carve. Was this how he was to die? Prostrate between the unused beds of the boys dormitory? Darkening the rich burgundy of the carpet with his blood and tears and sweat? This ailment, whatever it was, was going to do what the darkest wizard in centuries had failed to do, and it would have him wishing for it to hurry up and finish the job as it did.
Harry heaved with the effort of pushing himself to his knees, if he was going to die he would do so on his feet. And to his surprise, that one act of determined fury caused the pain to falter; he was so focused on rising without ending up with his face planted in the carpet once more that the pain was, not forgotten, but at least momentarily not at the forefront of his mind. Bolstered by this discovery, Harry forced his body across the room and through the open door to the attached loo, each step tempered the pain that had only minutes before had him likening his bones to gelatin.
The uncharacteristically loud blast of water bursting from the faucet and the splash of frigid water he threw at his face helped to ground him a bit, though it did nothing to calm his violently shaking hands or clear his eyesight, which was painfully blurry and causing his head to ache.
He inhaled deeply, inflating his lungs for several seconds before releasing the oxygen in a heavy gush. Once. Twice. And again. The familiar routine forced the blood he could feel pounding behind his eyes to slow and, in turn, steadied his hands. The sharp burn of agony lessened with each breath he took, but his entire body remained coiled and tensed, half convinced the inexplicable pain would return any moment and refusing to be caught off guard once again. He was burning (in the metaphorical sense this time around) to work out what had afflicted him. What had caused his body to rebel against him so violently? And it seemed the only person with even the faintest idea of what had occurred had gone uncharacteristically silent.
Blessedly steady legs led him back out into the main room where he found himself to, once again, be alone.
"Fred? I didn't scare you off with all my writhing and flailing, did I?" Disquiet twisted Harry's stomach when he received no response. "Fred?"
The older male's presence had already been cause for alarm, what with him having died the previous night, but his disappearance elicited even greater concern. If Fred really were a ghost, he could have hurried off to find Harry help when the first bout of agony had torn through him, but something told him that that wasn't the case. Fred hadn't been a ghost, not the sort he was used to at least, and he hadn't just wandered off, he was gone. Harry was sure of it.
But he could call him back, he could ensure whatever had momentarily incapacitated him hadn't hurt Fred as well, he need only use the Stone to summon him.
The Stone was no longer in his back pocket, nor was the Wand, and the Cloak had fallen free from his shoulders. But that was fine, he'd done quite a bit of thrashing around earlier, they'd likely been dislodged and, even now, were waiting for him to retrieve them. Only they weren't
He had fallen in the few meters of space between his and Ron's beds, shredded bits of his destroyed shirt and droplets of blood adorned the small space, but the Hallows were neither around, beneath, or on top of either bed.
His holly wand was still there, having just rolled past the foot of his bed at some point in time. With it, he attempted to summon the Hallows, first altogether ("Accio Deathly Hallows") then each by their individual name. Not so much as a dust bunny stirred.
Panic and an overwhelming sense of wrong spurred his movements as he tore the room apart in search of the three objects; beneath Neville, Dean, and Seamus' beds were searched, between bedsheets and cushions, in nooks and crannies that hadn't been touched in months but were still thoroughly searched anyway. And when it became obvious that the Hallows were not in the bedroom, he moved into the bathroom. It was as he was shaking out one of many neatly folded towels that the door to the dormitory creaked open and two pairs of footsteps entered the room.
"Harry? Are you in here?"
There was one brief moment where Harry considered not answering, where he contemplated diving into one of the shower stalls and hoping Hermione and Ron would go in search for him somewhere else. But then Hermione was there and her eyes were frowning in that way he hated as she took in the destruction he had wrought.
"What are you doing?"
Harry floundered for a moment, it was quite obvious what he was doing (though the why was likely not as obvious) but he wasn't about to explain why she'd caught him in the middle of demolishing the neat towel pyramid that stood as the centerpiece of the boys' bathroom. "I, uh, was about to take a shower."
The fine lines around Hermione's eyes deepened as her gaze traveled from the towel now clutched loosely in his fist, up his arm, before settling on his bare torso. "You're bleeding."
Harry had nearly forgotten about the lines he had cut into his skin in his fit of agonized panic, they still itched and stung like you wouldn't believe, but he'd been too distracted to pay the mild irritation any mind.
"Yeah, I had a nightmare. It was bad."
He knew he should feel bad for using an affliction that had once seriously affected him to get her off of his scent, but Voldemort was dead, there would only be so many more times he could use the nightmare excuse before it began to lose its effectiveness. He may as well milk it for all it was worth while he still had the chance.
Before he could follow up his false admission with even falser assurances that he was, or at least would be, fine, Ron was at Hermione's elbow, taking in the sight of Harry's shredded torso with an awed sort of horror.
"Merlin's balls, you really did a number on yourself."
Harry shrugged self-consciously and only just stopped himself from crossing his arms over his chest in what would no doubt be a painful and entirely fruitless attempt to cover the worst of the damage. "It felt like there were bugs crawling under my skin, guess that was the only way I knew how to make them stop. I'm fine now though, I stopped once I woke up."
Ron bit his lip uncertainly. "They don't look that deep, but there's a lot to get infected. Maybe you should go see Madam Pomfrey, let her patch you up."
Harry balked at the thought of leaving the tower. As word of Voldemort's demise spread, a slow trickle of tentatively hopeful wizards and witches arrived at Hogwarts' gates; some to see if the rumors were true, others to offer their aid with healing the wounded and repairing damages done to the castle, some came to reunite with loved ones, but then there were the unlucky few who had come to collect their dead. They were the ones Harry had secluded himself up in the tower to avoid, the ones who stared at him with their accusing stares as tears wet their cheeks and hollow condolences from a million people who didn't matter rang in their ears. He avoided them because he knew that their accusations weren't unfounded, maybe if he'd been a bit faster, a tad braver their family members, their sons, their daughters, mothers and fathers would be still alive.
Hermione, beautiful, understanding Hermione, seemed to sense the cause behind his hesitation as she offered an alternative option. "Or I could do it, I've still got a bit of dittany left."
Harry nodded eagerly. "Yeah. Yeah, let's do that. But maybe let me shower first, I can wash away all this blood and give you a better idea of what you're working with."
Hermione didn't look entirely convinced, no doubt she was eager to rid him of the marks marring his torso, she had never liked seeing her friends in pain, but Ron nodded and gently wrapped his hands around her arms, using the grip to steer her back out into the bedroom.
He smiled softly at Harry, though it didn't fully reach his eyes, as he reached out to grasp the door handle. "Take your time, I'll ward her off the best I can."
The door shut with a soft click and Harry finally allowed the painfully false smile he'd affixed to his face to drop. He gave the towel tower he'd previously been demolishing a half-hearted glance before sinking back onto his haunches with a heavy sigh. The Hallows weren't there. He could spend the rest of the evening upending laundry hampers and tearing apart bedrooms, but he would not find them anywhere in Gryffindor tower. And yet, a part of him, a small, niggling voice at the back of his head assured him that they weren't gone gone. They had not fallen into the hands of a ne'er do well wizard intent on enacting Voldemort's final vison. The Hallows were gone, but they hadn't been lost.
Gone but not lost. The thought left Harry disgruntled, he couldn't even trust his own mind to make sense anymore.
Despite having likely not been used since the beginning of the new year, the showerhead furthest from the door took less than three seconds before it was producing water hot enough to send clouds of steam billowing throughout the entire room. The torrent washed away the blood that stiffened his skin and the tension that bunched his muscle in a matter of minutes, but he remained under for a while longer. The heavy rush of water over his ears dampened the sounds of Hermione and Ron moving about in the room outside, for a moment, there was only him, not even his thoughts dared disturbed him.
But soon enough, too soon, he had to surrender the tranquil moment and shut the showerhead off, there was only so long Ron could keep Hermione at bay after all. One of the many towels displaced during his bid to find the gone but not lost Hallows was draped over his shoulders and used to gently pat at his torso. The ribboned flesh was sore, each pat of the towel irritated his tender skin, but it wasn't near as painful as it should have been, one cursory glance down revealed exactly why.
As if the water he'd showered in had been laced with dittany, the numerous shallow lacerations he'd inflicted upon himself had closed over. A fragile layer of skin had healed over them, leaving behind no sign but the silvery pink of fading scars, he was sure that in a few hours even those would be gone.
Was this a side-effect of finally being rid of Voldemort's accidental Horcrux? Now that it was no longer leeching off of his magic was he finally reaching his full potential? But no ordinary wizard had above average healing, not without liberal use of certain spells, potions, and salves. So did this stem from that long moment of pain? Had whatever inflicted him changed him deeper than he could see?
The thought sent disquiet shivering down Harry's spine as, suddenly, he no longer felt comfortable in his own skin. He was different, he had changed on a level that surpassed the superficiality of skin.
Facing his reflection in the slightly fogged mirror, there were differences, though none so radical to be noticed by anyone who wasn't as intimately familiar with his face as he was. His eyes were just a touch too wide, a shade too green, his skin had taken on a pallor that could only be described as deathly, and yet it bespoke of longevity, vitality. But the greatest change wasn't one that could be viewed by the naked eye, it was a feeling and yet it was almost tangible. A shroud that clung heavy to him like a viscous smoke, it reeked of darkness and death, but it didn't feel inherently evil. Not evil, but still not right because it wasn't him.
The longer he focused on the clinging aura, the more uncomfortable he became, and, as his discomfort grew, he slowly became aware of the voices once again plucking at the very edges of his consciousness.
"Stop." Harry knew, even as the word left his mouth, that it wouldn't have the same effect as it had the last time he had ordered the voices away. He lacked the energy and the fury required to truly compel them, though he was certain the latter would come in due time.
There was a soft knock at the door, jarring Harry from his distress long enough for him to lunge for the jogger's he'd tossed aside earlier and hastily shove them on. "Harry? It's been nearly an hour." Hermione was obviously trying to repress the worry in her voice, but faint strains of it still tainted her words. "Are you all right?"
"No-I mean, yeah. Yes." Harry cleared his throat nervously. "I'm just…I might need some help."
There was a pause, and then, "Can you unlock the door?"
Harry didn't even move, not a finger lifted, but the moment his eyes flickered over to the turned handle, it unlocked. He whimpered pitiably.
Hermione entered the restroom, Ron only a few steps behind her, and immediately focused her gaze on where Harry stood somewhat awkwardly before the row of sinks. She took in his still damp hair, his worn joggers, then settled on his bared chest.
"You healed yourself? You know I could have-"
"I didn't. This wasn't me." Harry winced at the near hysterical pitch to his voice. "Sorry, I'm feeling a bit out of sorts." He took a breath to steel himself. "Can you…can you hear that? Can you hear them?"
Both Hermione and Ron took a moment to stop and listen, for what they weren't sure, but whatever it was was clearly upsetting their friend and they were eager to put an end to it. But there was nothing, they couldn't hear anything but their own quiet breaths. Harry looked absolutely gutted when they told him so.
He looked around anxiously as he spoke between tremulous breaths. "I think I might be going mad." He knocked roughly on his temple. "Voices, I can hear voices. I want them to stop. I asked them to and then I told them too but they won't be quiet. They won't stop."
An involuntary noise of confused distress bubbled from the back of Hermione's throat. "What are they saying?"
Harry shook his head. "I can't understand them. They're too quiet, they're whispering."
Harry was clearly distressed, only a few wrong questions away from what could potentially be a panic attack, only incredible amounts of stubbornness had kept him this calm for so long. But then Hermione touched him, one hand on the side of his face and the other on the inside of his wrist, and his tentative control began to unravel.
It didn't hurt, thank Merlin it didn't hurt, and yet the alternative was (debatably) just as bad. Harry's vision flickered out and the pleasant humidity that lingered after his long shower was swept away by a sharp, dry cold that froze the marrow in his bones. He was no longer in the bathroom, somehow that simple touch had transported him to a room. Dark and so tiny he couldn't stretch unless he lay diagonally on the floor, head in one corner and feet in the opposing one. His lungs rattled wetly, filled with the condensation that went down with each breath and his entire body trembled pitiably. He could hear others in the rooms (cells?) around him. Some were weeping, some were screaming, but they all fell silent when there was a dull rattle followed by the sudden plunge in the already arctic temperatures. Death was coming.
The room around him exploded. There was a shriek of surprise and Harry was suddenly doused in a geyser of water, yanking him free from whatever nightmare he'd been trapped in. All around him, chaos raged, the pipes that connected to the sinks, the toilets, and even the showers had burst, sending water in powerful arcs all around. Ron spluttered and cursed as he attempted to run from the bathroom but only managed to skid across the slippery stone and collapse against the sink where he promptly got a faceful of water. But both Hermione and Harry remained still, staring at each other with wide, fearful eyes.
She was the first to speak, barely audible over the roar of broken pipes. "What was that?"
Harry shook his head. She had seen it too, he hadn't been the only one to experience that horror. "I'm going mad."
When he turned to leave, Hermione's hands remained clutched to her chest, she didn't try to touch him again
He left the dorms, he left the tower, he left the castle. Harry wanted to be alone, he wanted to be away, so he went to the forest. It was involuntary, his body was on autopilot, his feet carried him of their own accord through the double doors, across the grounds, past Hagrid's hut. He didn't particularly want to return to the place where he nearly died, and yet when he slunk into the treeline he felt one tiny knot in the clusterfuck that was his nerves loosen infinitesimally.
A morbid sense of curiosity led him back to the scene of the crime, the clearing where Voldemort's Death Eaters had watched and jeered and cheered as he died. It looked so different in the fading light of early evening, it looked normal, completely unlike any place he would venture to willingly hand his life over. Though he wasn't entirely sure what he'd expected coming here, Voldemort was dead, his Death Eaters gone, this was, once again, just a clearing, just a forest, and he was just a boy. Or at least he should be. He wanted to be.
"So this is where it happened."
Harry flinched violently at the sudden intrusion to his not-so-happy place. Luna had appeared, silent and as ethereal as a forest nymph; her bare feet, the dirt crowning her cheekbones, and the way she clung to the trunk of the tree nearest him only lent credence to the image.
The young Ravenclaw's eyes were just as pale and disconcerting as they'd always been, but there was a darkness to them that reminded Harry that Luna had been a prisoner of Voldemort's forces only a few short weeks ago. She unapologetically used their unsettling force to fix him in place. "This is where they met."
Harry's head bent sharply to the left and his brows crowded together. "Voldemort and I?" He nodded, unsure how Luna could know that this was the exact place where Voldemort's end had begun, but he'd long since come to accept that, sometimes, she just knew. "Yes, this is where we met."
"Not you and the dark lord. Your Heart. It's whole again."
"I don't understand."
Luna hummed sweetly, her bare feet disturbed not a single fallen leaf as she crept closer. "That's all right, you have time."
A smile coaxed its way across Harry's mouth. "I do. Don't I? I've got all the time in the world now." That had never been a notion he'd had the chance to consider, having time to do what he pleased, it was daunting, but in the best way possible.
"All the time in the worlds," was Luna's characteristically odd agreement. "Is it strange having them in you? Can you feel them?"
"Er." Harry couldn't help but run a nervous, searching hand over his torso. "What exactly do you think is inside me?"
"My heart? Well of course I can feel it, though only when I'm paying close attention. Can't you?"
"Well, I don't have any."
"Any? You don't have a heart?" Harry sighed, forcibly stopping his confused queries before he made things worse. "Luna, dear, I love your strangeness, it's so refreshing, but can you, just for one second, say something that makes sense?"
This time Harry could practically see the capitalization she put on the second word.
"In uniting the three pieces, you made them yours."
Slowly, the muddles puzzle pieces she spoke slotted into place. "The Hallows?"
Luna rolled her eyes as if it were obvious. It wasn't. "Yes, the Hallows. They're yours, aren't they?"
Harry hesitated to respond, unwilling to confirm or deny the assumption, though with Luna that likely made very little difference.
"They changed you though, didn't they?"
Very little difference at all. But if she knew something, anything, maybe it would be okay to unofficially confirm it. "Can you see what they did to me?" He subconsciously rubbed at his left pectoral, one of the places that inexplicable pain had taken especial delight in tearing into.
"They fixed you." An excited gleam momentarily chased away the shadows in Luna's gaze. "They let you see, hear, feel."
Harry matched her enthusiasm with what he was beginning to feel was perpetual bewilderment. "See what?"
The frame of Harry's glasses received a sharp prod. "Doesn't feel like it."
"No." Luna shook her head, fondly exasperated, but still near glowing with delight. "It goes deeper than that. Past what the normal eye can see. But you can't fear them, you have to accept them, embrace them, otherwise all you'll see ever see is the horror in death, not the beauty and the peace."
"Death?" Harry frowned unhappily. "Mine?"
Luna laughed despite the morbid turn the conversation had abruptly taken. "Everyone's but."
Harry didn't particularly like the sound of that, but something told him he would get nothing more concrete from her. "How do you know so much?"
A serene smile overtook Luna's entire face. "Haven't you heard? I'm odd."
Harry and Luna lay in the dirt and the leaves and the bugs and watched the moon rise in the very same spot where Harry had once lay dead. Harry drew upon his years of Astronomy lessons to map out the constellations, while Luna made up her own, and when the errant cloud or two disrupted their star gazing, they squinted at the balls of fluff until their eyes tricked them into seeing shapes that weren't really there. Harry was content, he was so drunk off of laughter he might even consider himself to be happy. He would have remained in that clearing with Luna until the sun rose if it weren't for Ron and Hermione's arrival.
The two arrived with none of the ghostly silence and surreal grace that Luna had, their frightened whispers and stumbling steps alerted the stargazers of their approach long before they stepped into the clearing.
"How did you find me?" Harry posed the question with no anger or irritation, only contended laziness with only subtle hints of curiosity.
Hermione was the one to answer. "Well, after we checked all of your usual haunts and came up with nothing we came back here and used a point me spell." She shrugged and refused to blush under Harry's incredulous gaze. "Yes, I'm aware of how impractical that was, but with you not in your usual spots, we hoped you were just lurking somewhere in the castle and that the spell would lend us a bit of a hand in leading us to you."
"I don't lurk."
Ron immediately and mercilessly shut down his protests. "You lurk. You're actually scarily good at it. Like a vampire or something."
Harry flipped him the finger. "Go away. You're ruining our feng shui."
"I don't think that means what you think it does. But you were close." Hermione circled around Harry's prone body so that she could lean directly over him and peer down into his face. "What are you doing out here?"
"Well, we were stargazing." Harry allowed a pointed silence to linger for a moment, hoping Hermione would realize that her unfairly enormous head and even more unfairly enormous hair were inhibiting his view of the stars. She realized, she just didn't care.
"You had us worried. What you did because of your nightmare, the way you blew up those pipes, the voices only you could hear….that vision."
The full blown worry attack Hermione was quickly approaching faltered. "What are you talking about?"
"I didn't have a nightmare, I only said that to distract you."
Worry quickly turned to dangerous anger. "Distract me from what?"
"I think I united the Deathly Hallows."
Ron frowned, though more from confusion than from any actual anger. "But I thought you got rid of them. You put the wand back in Dumbledore's tomb, we saw you do that, and the stone is still somewhere here in the forest."
Harry nodded in vehement agreement. "I did. It was. But when I woke up they were back as if I'd never tried to get rid of them."
Luna offered Harry a sympathetic but irritatingly knowing smile. "All it took was one time. Once united they'll never be separated again."
"Okay, wait." Hermione folded her legs beneath her, ignoring the damp dirt that soaked into her jeans, in order to sit level with Harry and Luna. Ron was quick to follow suit. "Start from the beginning so we can understand. You got rid of the stone and the wand earlier this morning but when you woke up this evening they were there, yeah? But then what?"
Harry hesitated, pondering the best way to explain the events that had occurred only a few hours earlier. But in the end, there was no gentle way to put it. "I saw Fred. He appeared in the dorms after I found the Hallows, but he wasn't normal, he wasn't like any of the other ghosts."
Ron looked pale. "What do you mean?"
"He didn't float and he wasn't translucent." Harry paused trying to recall every moment he'd spent with the strange, undead Fred. "He was pale, washed out, but he looked real. At first I thought he was George, but he had both ears. When I tried to talk to him he seemed disoriented, I don't think he knew what was going on either."
"What happened to him?"
Harry quelled his urge to fidget mindlessly by plucking at the blades of dying grass around himself. "He wasn't the only one there. I couldn't see them, but there were others talking, whispering things I couldn't hear."
"The voices you asked us about before you ran," Hermione realized.
"Yes." Harry nodded uncomfortably. "There were so many of them, it was hurting my head. So I told them to stop, I yelled it, and they did, but it did something to Fred. When I reached out to touch him he disappeared and I…I hurt."
Ron inched closer to Harry, but he very noticeably didn't touch him. "You hurt?"
"It was like the Cruciatus, but so much worse because I didn't know where it was coming from, I didn't know what was happening to me, why it was happening."
"Is that what happened to you?" Ron gestured to Harry's bare torso where lacerations had once adorned his skin.
Harry tugged shakily at the ends of his hair as he nodded. "I just wanted it to stop, it hurt so bad. When it did, I realized the Hallows were gone, I searched everywhere but I couldn't find them anywhere. And then you two showed up and…well everything after that happened."
"So what do you think this means?" Hermione looked between her three friends. "The stories say that the one to unite the Hallows becomes the Master of Death, but that doesn't mean literally does it?"
Luna shook her head. "Not Death's master, only his equal."
"Where can we go to find out more about this? There has to be something other than the children's story."
"No." Harry immediately shook his head, shooting down Hermione's pondering. "No books, no research, we're just going to let it be. Let it all play out how it will. I just want to take a break, yeah?"
Hermione didn't look all too pleased with this idea, but she understood, Harry knew she did. "Of course. We'll let it rest for now. But it can't be ignored forever. Agreed?"
Harry nodded reluctantly. "Agreed."
Harry left the castle early the following morning. Despite sequestering himself in Gryffindor tower, the voices that whispered continued to plague him, and though they never rose above a muted mutter, they were so numerous he found it near impossible to tune them out.
To Harry's pleasant surprise, Grimmauld Place had made it through the war entirely unscathed. The last time he had been to the townhome bequeathed to him by his godfather, Yaxley had hitched a ride and broken through the wards. He, Ron, and Hermione had only stuck around long enough to release Hermione from the man's grip before apparating away, leaving the man to wander and plunder the house to his heart's content. So it came as a surprise to him when, after bypassing the security measures set up in the hall, he found the house to be in pristine condition. Everything from the nasty looking portraits to the severed house elf heads were as they should be, it was as if Yaxley had never entered Grimmauld Place. And, according to Kreacher, that was nearly the case.
The Death Eater hadn't even managed to make it past the front hall before Harry's somewhat mad, but incredibly effective house elf used his elven magic to transport him halfway across the country. With no address and no immediately recognizable landmarks, he had not been able to find his way back.
In the weeks following the end of the war, Harry, for the most part, remained the only human occupant of Grimmauld Place. Hermione had taken time off from mother henning her two best friends to retrieve her parents from Australia and work on restoring their memories as well repairing what would no doubt be a damaged relationship. Meanwhile Ron spent the majority of his time with his family, working through their shared loss and preparing to put Fred to rest. It was lonely, Harry wasn't used to being alone considering he'd spent the majority of the previous year camped out in the woods with Ron and Hermione, but they all needed a bit of time away from each other, time to find themselves after having played such an active part in a war so early in life.
Although Harry's idea of 'finding himself' mostly consisted of wandering Grimmauld Place's halls and (very cautiously) picking through the strange, and oftentimes dark, artifacts that had survived Mrs. Weasley's purge from a few years ago. Thus far, some of his most fascinating finds had been a fully intact thestral skeleton, an opal wrist cuff that, according to Kreacher, held the souls of some of the Black family's worst enemies in each of the jewels studding the band, and even a complete copy of Secrets of the Darkest Arts. Finding himself with nothing better to do as well as insatiably curious, Harry flipped through the tome; between its leathered covers were instructions on how to create Horcruxes, how to raise Inferi, and even how to commune with the dead. It was an interesting, if not morbid read, but soon set aside for something a bit shinier. For several days, he didn't think once about it, his attention and interest being occupied by other relics that lay about the house, but then those who'd survived Voldemort's reign began laying those who hadn't to rest.
For reasons Harry couldn't fathom, a majority of the funerals were held within only a few days of each other. The first of those close to him to be buried where Remus and Tonks and her father, Ted, then Colin, then Lavender, and finally Fred. And Harry attended none.
He had wanted to, so badly it ached, but he was the Boy-Who-Lived, the Man-Who-Conquered, his presence would only draw the press and create spectacles of what should be private, peaceful affairs. So he hunkered down in the main parlor of Grimmauld Place and honored those who had passed with a sixty year old bottle of firewhiskey.
It was strong, perhaps too strong for someone whose drink of choice was the mostly non-alcoholic butterbeer. After only a single glass, he wasn't entirely drunk, but he was certainly lacking his usual coordination and his judgment was without a doubt terribly impaired. It was on the latter side effect, that he blamed his decision to summon his fallen friends.
Their memory had been nagging him all night, Fred's especially as he had been buried only a few hours before. Harry's slightly inebriated mind wanted to ensure that they truly were at rest, that, even though they were no longer with those they loved, they were still somewhere good, somewhere they could be happy. Figuring out how to go about summoning the deceased was entirely too easy, Harry had literally stumbled upon the answer only a few days prior in a certain notoriously dark text.
The ritual to commune with the dead was fairly simple, all things considered, it required only four ingredients: asphodel, henbane, a branch from an ash tree, and, as most rituals did, blood from the caster to tie the whole thing together. Harry was to entwine the flowers around the branch into a wreath of sorts before burning it over a consecrated fire. While the wreath burned, he was to allow four drops of his blood to fall into the fire as he spoke the incantation to summon his dead.
Harry was able to find asphodel and henbane in the Black's potion cupboard and Kreacher was more than willing to pop out and grab him a branch of ash despite the late hour. His biggest hurdle was the consecrated fire, he had very little clue what such a fire was or even how to go about consecrating one, so he cast the blue bell fire Hermione had once been so fond of and hoped for the best.
The wreath caught alight the moment it touched the blaze, and Harry immediately began reciting the incantation, not once stumbling over the Latin words. As it was drawing to a close, he quickly cut his hand on a kitchen knife Kreacher had so helpfully provided and allowed his blood to mingle with the ashes of the wreath. All the while he kept the names and faces of those he wished to summon at the forefront of his mind and drew upon every ounce of his desire to see them, to speak with them one last time. The fire seemed to glow brighter for a moment, blinding Harry with its brilliance, before dying down just as quickly and, suddenly, he was no longer alone.
It wasn't Remus, it wasn't Tonks, Fred, or even his parents; across the table from him, dressed in an impeccable black suit, stood an incredibly imposing man. He was strikingly handsome in an unconventional way, his face was all sharp planes and angles, his lips a thin, stern line, and his nose straight and severe, with cheekbones so sharp Harry imagined he could cut himself on them. Dark hair was neatly combed back and fell just to the nape of his neck, contrasting sharply with his deathly pale skin, but matching perfectly with the twin pools of fathomless black locked on Harry's still form.
A slow, predatory smile spread across the man's face. "So you're the bacterium that united my Heart and dares call himself my master. I must say, I'm rather unimpressed."
Harry took a step back, fingers clutched tightly around the handle of his wand. This man radiated power and timelessness and death, and yet Harry didn't feel threatened in his presence, he didn't feel as if he were in danger because he knew without speaking, without any sort of introductions who this stranger was. He had summoned Death.
Such a realization should have him quaking in fear, but he was calm, cool, if not a bit indignant about the entity's condescension. When he spoke, his voice was steady. "Well, that makes two of us then. One would think a powerful being such as yourself would be better at keeping a hold of his toys, and yet here I am picking up after you."
"So you did. You are the first to conquer my possessions and yet you've done nothing with them, you waste their potential." Death seemed genuinely irritated by this. "You could bring this world to itsknees with the power you possess but you cling to the pathetic magics taught to you by mortals. Why use sticks and flowers to commune with those who have passed when all you need do is call and they will come crawling?"
Harry felt himself bristling in the face of the man's harsh words. "I'd have loved to save myself the trouble of using sticks and flowers to call upon the dead, but unfortunately your Hallows seem to have run off again. They have a terrible habit of staying put, don't they?" And, holy shit, he should not be mouthing off to fucking Death lest he wish to be reduced to a pile of ash, but the guy was a prick.
"You fool, they've not run off. Once united, my Heart had no more need of their physical binds, they are within you now, part of your core being." Harry flinched when Death poked a long finger into the center of his chest. "You can call upon their power whenever you wish, or you would if you weren't ignoring the gifts bestowed upon you in a fit of cowardice typical of those of your species."
Harry felt his face twisting into a snarl. "It isn't cowardice. I'm not ignoring them because I'm afraid, I'm ignoring them because I don't want the bloody things. I've had enough death in my life, thanks. So if you're so unhappy with the way I've been using your Hallows, feel free to take them back, but make sure to keep a better hold on them this time around, yeah?"
Rather than being angered by Harry's show of anger, Death seemed the slightest bit amused, though he still didn't completely let go off his aggrieved attitude. "If only it were so easy," he lamented. "My Heart has accepted you as their master, they will not be so easily removed."
"But they can be removed?" Harry urged. "How?"
"You must die. Only when your soul has been reaped will the Hallows be returned to my possession."
Well that was just great. "Do you intend to reap my soul then? Or were the tales true and I'm immune to that sort of unpleasantness?"
Death looked down upon Harry, clearly unamused. "Your soul can be reaped, but only when both you and I are in agreement that it is the right time."
"So if I don't want to die, you can't reap me?"
Death nodded curtly.
"But if I do want to die but you don't want me to I still couldn't be reaped?"
"That sounds incredibly unfair."
"Trust me, I doubt there will be a time where I won't want to reap your soul."
"You are incredibly unpleasant," Harry observed. "Especially to someone who is supposed to be your master."
Death's next scoff was far less amused than his first had been. "You are no more my master than I am yours."
"I'm not?" Harry's brows drew down in confusion. "But the stories said…"
"I presume you are referring to the tales written by that fool of a Bard."
Harry nodded. "Beedle the Bard's Tale of the Three Brothers, yes."
"There was only a basis of truth to that story," Death sighed. "Uniting my Heart does not make you my master."
"So when you gave the Peverells your Hallows-"
Death hissed in irritation. "I did not give them to anyone. They were stolen."
Harry tried his best to hide his disbelief, but he was fairly sure he wasn't at all successful. "Someone stole the Hallows? From you?"
His only response was a venomous glare.
"All right, so it's pretty obvious by now that most of the Tale of the Three Brothers is just hogwash, so what is the truth? What are the Hallows, why are you calling them your Heart, and how did they end up with the Peverells, if they even did."
At last, Death seemed pleased by something Harry had asked. "This universe is far more vast than you could ever fathom. There are entire galaxies and star systems you mortals have yet to discover, thriving with life, teeming with culture and progression lightyears ahead of the rudimentary practices humankind has managed to scrape together. Referring to you as a bacterium is a kindness as, in the grand scheme of things, you couldn't even be compared to a quark.
"There are thousands of worlds and races yet to be discovered. And in the middle of it all, at the very center of this madness was the Heart."
"The Heart?" Harry repeated blankly.
"The Heart of the Universe was power in its purest form, created eons ago to act as a neutral force in the universe, a balance between the forces of good and evil. When it was discovered by the Celestial Order, they attempted to use it to create some form of order in the universe, but all they succeeded in was placing the full power of the Heart into the hands of the mad titan, Thanos. With the full power of the Heart at his disposal, Thanos wreaked havoc across the universe, destroying entire galaxies indiscriminately. It was only when the universe had been reduced to a barren wasteland did he truly realize the gravity of his actions, so he used the Heart's power once more to revert everything to how it had once been. Once the universe had been restored he relinquished his power and led everyone to believe that he destroyed the Heart."
"But let me guess," Harry said dryly, "he didn't actually destroy it."
"Not in its entirety. He preserved just a piece, barely a sliver of its power, and gifted it to me."
"You? Why you?"
Death barked a twisted sort of laugh. "Because he believed himself to be in love with me, or a version of me that is. And, as all gentlemen do when courting a pretty lady, he presented me with a gift, a token of his affection."
"Only most gentlemen present aforementioned pretty ladies with flowers and jewelry, not masses of energy that have the power to wipe out the universe."
"I'm a creature of expensive tastes," Death shrugged. "I imbued the Heart with my power and intended to use it to build my empire. However, not long after, the remnants of the Heart was stolen from me by one I trusted and used to wage a war against me."
"Who would try to wage a war against Death?" Harry asked incredulously.
The ancient being arched a well-manicured brow. "You would be surprised. However, the story is far too long and far too bloody to waste my time explaining to you at the moment."
Harry rolled his eyes. "All right then. But considering the fact you're standing before me, I'm going to assume you won."
"Your assumptions would be correct," Death nodded. "That sliver of the Heart was truly a force to be reckoned with, however it is a force of balance and so could not be wielded to its true potential by just anyone. To wield such a weapon, one must have some form of balance within themselves. That is why my opponent ultimately failed, but not before he broke the sliver into three pieces and entrusted them to three powerful Necromancers. They paid for his mistakes with their lives, but by then what remained of the Heart had been lost."
"Until now," Harry said dully.
"Exactly. You managed to not only reunite all three pieces of the Heart, but to conquer them in one of the only ways possible."
"And how is that?"
"By conquering death. You looked me straight in the face and accepted your fate. When realizing that death is a force far beyond your reckoning, that it could not be stopped, only delayed, and even then not for long, you found the balance that fuels the power of the Heart, for there is nothing more impartial, more neutral, than Death."
"So what does that mean for me exactly?"
Death's lip curled in disgust. "You have become my equal in nearly every sense of the word."
Harry felt the blood drain from his face. "I've become Death?"
"No you imbecile! You are able to do what I do, see what I see, but you are not me. You are, for lack of a better term, my protégé, you possess most, if not all, of the capabilities of Death. However, there will never be a time when you, as most protégé's do, take up my place as Death as I am a cosmic entity, I cannot truly die. As long as there is life in this universe, I will exist."
"What does it mean for me then?" Harry asked. "Am I immortal? Can I die?"
"No man, beast, or any other such creature can kill you, only I reserve that honor, and it may not be permanent even then."
"How will we know?"
"You could relinquish your soul to me so I may attempt to harvest the Heart from whatever remains. There is no guarantee it will work and it will be incredibly excruciating for you, but it is a risk I am willing to take."
Harry's stomach tightened at the thought. "Thanks, but I think I'll pass, there's bound to be a better solution. But in the meantime, could you tell me about these…capabilities I've been bequeathed with."
Death arched an eyebrow questioningly. "What have you experienced thus far?"
"Voices, mostly, constantly whispering to me. I've seen friends who have passed on and once I saw a…a vision of something, I'm not entirely sure what it was."
"The most basic of our abilities," Death snorted. "If you are overwhelmed by something as simple a shade you will surely be driven mad before you have manifested the full might of your abilities."
Harry flushed in indignation. "I just need to know how to control them. They came upon me with no warning, there was no explanation as to what they were, of course I was overwhelmed. But if you teach me how to control them it won't happen when I begin to manifest any other abilities."
"I have neither the time nor the inclination to waste on such trivial matters."
"Do you really want to spend potentially all of eternity with a being driven mad by the power of this Heart?"
"Who says I will be spending any of eternity with you?"
"We're bound to have to spend some time together," Harry reasoned. "Me being your protégé and all."
"You are quite…irritating."
"And unimpressive and less than a bacterium, yes, yes, we've been over this already," Harry waved a dismissive hand. "That doesn't, however, mean I'm wrong."
For the briefest of seconds a look that could have passed as amused flitted across Death's face before it was, once again, purged of all emotion. "Do not expect me to teach you anything more than is strictly necessary for your continued mental health. I have far better things to do be doing with my time."
"The friends you saw and the voices you hear are nothing more than the shades of souls who have yet to move on. They were attracted by the power of the Hallows."
"Shades. Like ghosts?"
"To a certain extent. After a life is lost the souls of those who have passed on are given a choice by my reapers, they can either move on to the next life or they can remain as ghosts. However some souls rebel and refuse to choose either, they remain stuck between worlds unable to contact those still alive but unable to move on. After several decades, they are forcefully crossed over to the afterlife, but some are known to affect the mortal plane before they do, appearing as unidentified lights, ghostly faces, and such. They are the cause behind many paranormal occurrences in the mundane world."
"So all of the voices I heard were the souls of those who had died in the battle?"
"That is more than likely."
"How do I tell the difference between a ghost and a shade?"
"Ghosts are described as pearly white translucent beings who have a tendency to float instead of walking. Shades look exactly as they did before their deaths, they walk not float, and are neither pearly nor translucent, though they are washed out version of themselves, less bright and colorful, less alive."
So Fred hadn't been a ghost and Harry hadn't killed his soul, he'd only forcefully crossed him, which, while not ideal, was undoubtedly better than the alternative. "You said that I can also summon the dead, anyone I wanted, anytime I wanted, is that it? Is that the scope of my powers? Or do I have more to look forward to."
"More." Death's face stretched into a grin that left Harry feeling the slightest bit wary. "So much more. But it will not be immediate, your body needs to change and grow in order to withstand what you will be capable of. I imagine it will be quite painful."
"And when I'm done growing?" Harry pressed. "How will I control them? Can I count on you to help me?"
"Certainly not," Death scoffed. "They key to controlling your abilities is simple."
Harry arched a brow, waiting impatiently.
"Clear your mind."
Harry gaped when the ancient being disappeared just as silently as he had appeared.
A/N: Triumph is nearly done so I figured I'd go on and post another one of my works lest I start feeling empty inside without fanfiction to take up all of my time. I like to think that Prometheus Bound will stray from the usual Master of Death stories, beginning with the origin of the Hallows, but in the end you all can be the judge of that. Feel free to let me know what you think in that lovely comment box below.