Warnings and Disclaimers: Another dialogue chapter. 'Fraid there's going to be quite a few of those…
Harry stared at the young American like a deer caught in the headlights, his eyes wide and surprised and oddly helpless under the stares of the pilots. Duo was briefly tempted to let up on him, seeing the look in his eyes, but just the fact that the ghost had reacted at all meant Duo's hunch had some substance to it, and Harry really did know something. "I- why would you say that?" the spirit stammered, seeming to shrink into himself. "And... what war?"
Duo frowned. "You died in 1996, right? The Shadow War started right around then..." He glanced at Wufei, who was usually the most scholarly of the pilots.
The Chinese boy nodded. "It was in 1996," he confirmed.
Duo had to blink at that. "You're kidding..." Barely sparing a glance for Harry, who had settled onto his bed with his knees curled to his chest, the teenager moved to the laptop sitting on top of the plain desk.
It only took a few moments to get it turned out and his search parameters entered. The results... well, they weren't as surprising as he thought they maybe should have been. "It didn't just start the year he died," Duo said, his voice flat. "It started the day after." He turned towards the ghost, his mouth open to demand an explanation.
Nothing came out, though, when he saw Harry's face. The wizard was staring at nothing, a spot floating somewhere in the middle of the room. He had faded until Duo had to squint to make out details, but that distant stare was clear enough. "That's why," he murmured, and both of the pilots leaned forward to hear better.
"That's why what?" Duo asked, much more gently than he had before. While it was obvious that Harry was somehow connected to the Shadow War, it was equally obvious that up until this moment, he hadn't known anything about it. "Harry?"
"That's why they never came for me after I died," Harry whispered, meeting the braided boy's gaze with grief-stricken silver eyes. "They were already dead."
It took some time for them to get anything else out of the nearly catatonic ghost. Quatre popped his head in once, concerned by the dramatic change in the emotions of the room, but Duo waved him off and kept telling Harry hopefully-soothing nonsense. Wufei watched from his spot against the far wall, frowning with what Duo knew he would never admit was concern.
"I'm sorry," Harry finally said, lifting his face from his knees. "I didn't mean to be a bother." He was still pale- more pale than he usually was, anyway- but he was at least back in the present.
"It's cool," Duo told him, forgetting for a moment and reaching out to touch his shoulder. The burning cold he encountered instead was a painful reminder, and he pulled back with a hiss. "So, feel up to explaining?" the teenager asked, rubbing his fingers to try and get some feeling back into them.
Harry nodded tentatively. "I guess." He took a deep breath out of pure habit and then began. "The first thing you have to understand is that wizards are like any other people. There are good wizards, a lot of them, but some go bad."
They nodded along. It wasn't exactly surprising, after all. "Just after Grindewald's War, the one that crossed into the muggle world as World War II," the ghost ignored Wufei's grunt of surprise, "a wizard named Tom Riddle went through school. After he graduated, he took the name Voldemort and began practicing the Dark Arts, the worst of all magics. They corrupted him, even more than he was already, until in the seventies he decided to take over the wizarding world and purge it of all those he considered unworthy of practicing magic." Harry stopped and blinked. "Er, that's the 1970s..."
Duo waved him on. The story was just starting to get good, even if it did sound a lot like that twentieth century series of movies he'd seen once, what was it, Star Wars...? Hey, maybe Harry'd seen those; they were right around his time. He'd have to ask at some point.
"Um, right. Well, Voldemort's first rise to power was while my parents were in school, and things came to a head soon after they graduated, when I was just a year or so old. There was an incident that pretty much knocked him from the playing field for another decade and a half, until he finally returned when I was almost fifteen. He stayed quiet for a year, making everyone think his return was just a rumor. Then he attacked the Ministry of Magic a couple of months ago." Harry shook his head. "I don't know what happened after that. I was stuck here with my aunt and uncle."
Wufei frowned. "That doesn't explain why your death precipitated this Voldemort's war."
Harry glanced at him with startled eyes, and then smiled, much to their surprise. "You said his name," he said with a hint of wonder.
"Yes... Just as you did..." Wufei said cautiously. "Why?"
The ghost's smile faltered. "Most people were too afraid to. I was muggle-raised, so I never learned to be afraid of his name, but you should have seen how wizards would react when I said it. Professor Dumbledore hated it. He told me being afraid of the name only makes you more afraid of the person it belongs to."
The Chinese boy wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Cowards," he muttered, not quite under his breath.
"Tell me about it," Harry replied, smiling bitterly. When Duo quirked a brow at him, though, inviting him to continue, he just shook his head. "You wanted to know why my dying was so important," he said suddenly, peering intently at them from behind thick, translucent glasses.
The pilots exchanged glances, and Duo nodded.
Harry stared at them a minute longer, judging them with his gaze, and the American saw the little flicker in his eyes, the instant he decided he couldn't fully trust them. "My parents were... involved in the incident that brought the Dark Lord down. They sacrificed themselves, trying to kill him, and it was my mother who very nearly succeeded as she died. Then, when he came back, I was the only one left of the family that had destroyed him."
There were a few moments of silence. "...There's more to it than that, isn't there?" Duo asked with an uncharacteristic quiet. He couldn't imagine what it would be like, having an evil wizard after you. Yeah, OZ was bad, and pretty scary on those rare occasions he stopped to think about it, but somehow adding evil magic into the equation made it the stuff of nightmares.
"Yes," the ghost answered, his face set, "but you don't need to know it. It's not important anymore. Voldemort lost."
"And just how could you know that if you claim to have had no contact with the outside world since you died?" Wufei wondered out loud, his dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. Duo nearly grinned; for being so wigged about all this earlier, Wufei sure had adjusted quick to talking about things that he himself still half-expected to get shipped off to the funny farm over.
Harry laughed, a laugh that made them wince because there was nothing happy about it. "I know he lost because your muggle friends are alive. If Voldemort had won, they would never have been born, because he would have slaughtered every muggle he could after taking over the wizarding world. I just hope whoever finally managed to kill him took their time about it."
"So this Voldemort guy killed you, then?" Duo grimaced as he realized how callous that had sounded, but Harry didn't seem offended.
"No, I didn't get that honor," the wizard said, shaking his head. "He sent some of his Death Eaters, the wizards who followed him. They killed the Dursleys while they were sleeping and then came after me."
"I'm sorry for the loss of your family," Wufei said, bowing his head.
"I'm not." Two pairs of wide eyes fastened on the ghost. "They weren't my family. Family doesn't..." Harry took a deep, unnecessary breath. "We didn't get along," he said with forced calmness.
This time the silence stretched longer. Wufei broke it with an awkward cough, pushing himself way from his wall. "I'm going to bed," he said. "If you don't want to be useless in the morning, Maxwell, I'd suggest you do the same."
Duo waved a hand, glad the tension had been at least partially broken. "Yeah, yeah, in a few minutes, Wu-man," he said, swinging his legs out over the side of the bed.
He smirked as Wufei growled at the nickname, but left the room rather than press the argument down its old, familiar paces. "Well, that was fun. Things always this exciting around here?"
Harry's lips twitched into an unwilling smile. "I'm afraid the bustle's settled down a bit since you got here. You might have better luck trying again next century, assuming I'm still here."
Duo had closed his eyes, but cracked one open now to look at his erstwhile host. "Oh? You planning on going somewhere?"
Harry shrugged, pulling his knees close to his chest again. The braided teenager elected not to mention that he'd drifted back a bit through the headboard. "Depends on how long the wards last, how much energy I keep using."
"There's a limit, then?"
The ghost nodded. "Yeah. Every time the wards recharge there's a little less. Shows you just how strong they were that they've lasted this long, even if they didn't work to protect me."
That kind of made sense. Even something like magic would have to obey the law of entropy. Sounded pretty ominous for the spirit whose existence depended on it, though. "How much longer is it going to last you?"
Harry shrugged again. "Depends. Maybe half of what was there in the beginning is left, so if I go back to using as little as possible I might get another three hundred years out of it."
"And if you keep using it up like... this?" Duo asked, gesturing towards the ghost's silvery, but perfectly visible form.
The wizard chewed his lip unhappily. "Maybe... It might stretch to a year. But I don't think it'd be that long."
Duo closed his eyes for a moment. "Shit." What would it be like, after three hundred years of existence, to realize you only had one left before... "What happens after that?" he asked, opening his eyes again to look at the person he suspected might in another world have become one of his few friends.
Harry shrugged for the third time, playing with a loose thread on the clothes he'd died in, and abruptly rose from the bed. "He's right, you should get some sleep," he said, drifting out to the middle of the room. "We can talk tomorrow, if you'd like."
He was halfway through the floor before Duo spoke, his torso sticking out like some macabre sculpture. "You don't trust us, do you?"
Harry paused and turned to look at him. "…Twice now since I've met you people you've stuck guns in my face. They can't hurt me, but unless things have really changed children shouldn't be carrying them. Are you going to tell me why?"
When a minute passed without an answer from a chagrined Duo, the wizard nodded, and made his way out.
In a hotel room in Münich, Heero Yuy tossed his bag onto his new bed. It had been a long, tiring journey, and it was late enough that it made more sense to continue on to the safehouse in the morning. In the complete absence of any emergency calls, he was sure the other pilots were safe and sound, and that everything was going to plan. It had only been three days, after all.
How could anything out of the ordinary have possibly happened already?
A/N: No, I'm not dead. Just… hibernating. Yeah. Cold is bad, where are you summer, I need you…
Hopefully the site's back up enough to get the alert to y'all.
5 January 2007
(Just as I'd gotten used to dating things '06…)