Harry Potter is property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. No copyright infringement is intended with this work of fan fiction.
Eragon is property of Christopher Paolini. No copyright infringement is intended with this work of fan fiction.
It was a desolate place Harry found himself in: A featureless gray world where indistinct white light filtered through grimy windows above and through a gray, cloudy sky over the rails up ahead. A crossroad between worlds indeed... This place could very well be the most tranquil setting he'd ever seen, where he could sit and ponder the incoming train and where it would take him for ages without noticing the passage of time. If it were not for the thing he held in his arms; or the person in front of him.
Harry couldn't contain his revulsion when looking at the twisted, miserable creature that was Tom Riddle's soul fragment. Neither could he disguise his bewilderment at Professor Dumbledore's request for this very same creature.
"I can't let you take him Professor. For one, there's no guarantee that your taking him with you wherever death leads you will, in fact, end Riddle. The prophecy clearly states I must be the one to kill him." The creature in his arms started fussing, as if it understood the underlying meaning of Harry's words, forcing him to hold on tighter to it just so it wouldn't fall.
"As I have told you, the prophecy will still be fulfilled. You need only walk out of the station after giving me what's left of Tom and you will be back in the living world. Scarcely a minute will have passed then."
Harry sighed resignedly "And then what professor? At best I'll wake to a fight I can't win. Every time I've faced Voldemort in the past I've only barely escaped with my life and then only through someone else's efforts; my mother's, Sirius'... yours. I won't make the mistake of letting the prophecy play out in his favor just because I didn't take a chance here, now."
Sorrow filled the elderly man's face and voice at his student's words. "There's no reason for you to throw your life away like this! I have the greatest confidence that you can yet return and succeed. The very prophecy you fear states that you HAVE the power to defeat Voldemort!"
Harry scoffed disdainfully at this "The power you'd have me believe is love? Forgive me for being skeptical Professor, but I don't see how THAT could be true."
The creature Harry held in his hands was becoming increasingly aware and holding it still now actually took some effort.
"I won't deny that at least until now the prophecy has proven to be accurate. I probably have this power the prophecy speaks of but having it and using it are two very different things. I just don't think I have the skill."
Dumbledore walked heavily to the single bench in the station, followed by Harry's sullen stare "It has always been a matter of will, your fight with Tom. Your determination and selflessness are what have allowed you to defeat him time and again. Trust me and your friends as you have all these years and you'll be fine".
Seeing that he had Harry's attention and was apparently managing to convince him, Albus found himself quite nonplussed at his student's wry chuckle.
"You do realize we are dead, don't you Professor? It doesn't really matter anymore anyway. I can see the train coming up".
Turning to the tracks, the headmaster did see an oddly silent Hogwarts Express about to arrive, its distinctive red locomotive quite visible in the distance.
"We're out of time Harry! You must -"
The Headmaster was astonished by what he turned back to. Harry had surreptitiously changed his hold on Tom's soul fragment and was choking it to death. The small creature was now entirely aware and scrabbling at Harry's arms with long thin claws that had sprouted from its stubby fingers.
"Harry what are you doing?" Albus yelled as he stood to try and pry Harry's hands from Tom's neck.
"What you should have done YEARS ago!" Harry replied, grunting against the pain from the numerous slashes to his arms and Albus' own efforts against him.
"Tom won't die if you kill him here but you will if you stay here to do it!"
"He will be mortal after this." Harry growled, "Do you hear me? YOU WILL BE MORTAL AGAIN!"
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of red light and Voldemort's voice clearly incanted: Avada Kedavra!
This caused a sudden lull in the action. Everyone stood stock still until the moment was broken by the still living Potter.
"Well fuck... THIS one's destruction you noticed. Is it because you're so used to listening inside my head?"
"Potter!" Voldemort spat venomously "How are you NOT dead?"
Harry took the opportunity to grab hold of the outstretched arm pointing at him as if it held a wand with his free hand "I am dead actually, and there's no magic here that we can work with. I think it's only the strength of our souls that matters here and I've got both of you beat there, hands down".
Tom took notice of Dumbledore standing behind them both, looking quite confused by now.
"Ah, Albus, as effective a leader as always, I see. Still boy, if we are at death's gates you won't be able to choke me to death" the smirk in his voice was obvious even if the distorted features of his face hid it quite effectively.
"Oh that much is obvious," Harry chuckled back with a savage grin that seemed manic under the red glow of his enemy's eyes, "but by now I think I'm an expert in just what it takesto kill a piece of you."
Taking Tom's other arm in hand along with the first one; heedless of the claws that had rivulets of blood running down his own arms and onto the floor, he wrenched both appendages up to leave Voldemort hanging in the air. Harry palmed the distorted head by the face and pulled.
"I'll tear you apart."
The fragment of soul was so tiny and fragile that a mighty heave on Harry's part was enough to tear the creature's head off its neck in a short, intense, shower of blood. The red glow of its eyes faded gradually; leaving behind the broken remains of a soul destroyed a long, long time ago.
The head and body made a dull thud on the ground when Harry released them to speak to his old tutor, who was staring at him with a horrified expression.
"There. Now we know for sure that he's mortal."
"But Harry..." The silent train was by now waiting behind them with open doors. Despite the horror he'd just beheld, Albus couldn't contain heartfelt tears for who was probably his most cherished student.
The adrenaline driven rage that had seized Harry left him, making him feel bone weary.
"I'm leaving Professor. I've done my part... we both have. Tom's weak and mortal now; let the wizarding world earn its freedom if it wants it so bad. I want some rest."
He climbed onto the train but Dumbledore's voice stopped him just shy of closing the door behind him.
"I just hope that your actions here do not weigh as heavily upon your soul as I think they will. You died a master of the Deathly Hallows Harry... odds are they won't let you just go to your rest as you wish; best of luck to you Harry."
"And to you Professor. If we don't meet again, please give my love to everyone else, and don't worry... I didn't get to own the Elder Wand so the Hallows are a moot point."
Turning around to meet the Headmaster's gaze, Harry sighed and his voice trembled as he said goodbyes he'd been denied a year ago.
"I understand why you did what you did, and I respect you for it. In time, I may even learn to forgive you because, despite everything, I still love you old man. Goodbye."
The door closed soundlessly and the train sped away from the station, disappearing into the distance. Professor Dumbledore shuffled back to the solitary bench and carefully sat down, heedless of the remains of a student he'd tried so long to save from himself.
There was naught to do now but hope that Tom could be killed... and wait for his own train. With some luck, the people back home would leave Harry's spirit to whatever life it managed to find at his destination.
It wasn't very likely though, and Harry probably knew it too.
The Silent Vigil, Uru'baen
It was a cursed place for his kind. Uru'baen was both graveyard and prison for dragonkind, as for nigh on a human generation Shruikan had been doing his level best to combat Galbatorix's incursions into his mind.
Almost literally from the time of his hatching he'd had to resist the domination that, to this day, ruled his existence. Sadly, he was unsuccessful more often than not.
When Shruikan's mind grew strong enough to consistently keep the emperor's away, Galbatorix decided that it was an unreasonable risk to trust magical bindings to keep the dragon from dropping him in flight or betraying him in battle. He decided, instead, that he would discover the dragon's True Name and bind him thus; forever.
Breaking the beast's mind open, however, was not an option, as targets of such attacks tended to go mad in the process. With the war all but won and as mighty a lieutenant as one could wish for in Durza, the emperor opted for an effort of attrition. Once the dragon was so weak of will that he could not keep his mind protected, he'd have free reign to plunder its secretes and divine his True Name quite easily... at this point he was very much an expert in the art.
At his command, a new tower was built on the fortress of Uru'baen, big enough to hold a dragon of a hundred years of age and little else. In an unprecedented feat of magic that served to cement the awe (and undeniable fear) that his new subjects felt for him, Galbatorix levitated the massive dragon into the tower's only floor several hundred feet above ground entirely on his own. He had his gilded throne sent in and proceeded to step inside and lock the door behind him. He hadn't left since and there they both remained.
Thus the Silent Vigil came to be.
With the amount of power at his command Galbatorix did not need to sleep, eat or even move. Every day for the last 20 years he'd been sitting on the same gilded chair, keeping his body hale and hearty through the magic of Shruikan's dead kin and counting each day that passed out loud, just to spite his prisoner. He even had the gall of providing the dragon with just enough energy to prevent starvation and deny him even the meager pleasure of feeding himself.
Recent events however, had made the emperor's task unexpectedly difficult: One of the remaining dragon eggs had been stolen, and although the material agent of the theft was dead, Galbatorix still cursed the name of the elf who'd removed so prized a treasure from his grasp. That the egg had hatched for someone who'd then gone ahead and killed both his right hand and the Ra'zac gave Shruikan not only the cold comfort of his jailor's impotent rage, but the fleeting hope of escape now that the emperor was forced to lend some of his eldunarí to his Rider thrall.
"It has been seven thousand and three hundred days Shruikan. How much longer can you endure?"
The dragon glared balefully at Galbatorix. Since their bond was not a Rider's bond, they could not touch each other's mind without lowering their defenses. This, and a true desire for the traitor's death, had forced Shruikan to a life of silence.
The emperor took the heated glare as an opportunity to launch a mental attack and felt feeble barriers hold him at bay.
"You've grown steadily weaker but no less defiant;" Galbatorix smirked "if anything, you should feel relieved that a hundred years and more of silence will soon be over. You'll be able to insult Murtagh and Thorn openly!"
Shruikan couldn't help or hide the shudder of shame that shook him for having to lower his head to escape the emperor's gaze. Enduring smug laughter at his expense was nothing at this point.
"You'll have to forgive my good humor, but after the last few setbacks, I must confess that this debacle at Gil'ead was surprising. The elves have crippled themselves sending their casters to the Varden, and this will cost them. Murtagh will break them with the power I've given him and then he will defend Belatona indefinitely".
Galbatorix stretched a hand to stroke Shruikan's muzzle, who shook with restrained rage. "If a couple years from now this upstart Eragon and his dragon are still alive, you and I will go and burn them and their little army to cinders. I will of course let you keep the dragon; we mustn't let the last female of your species go to waste".
Shruikan snorted disdainfully at this, curling his head around his body as much as he could in the cramped space to get away from the human's hand.
"Oh I don't think you have a year's worth of resistance in you any longer. I was being generous in my estimate on account of a truly admirable effort; I daresay few in the order of old could muster such stoicism for half as long! You are truly an admirable dragon."
Galbatorix looked out the massive opening in the far wall that dominated the otherwise barren room. Since the Silent Vigil -as he knew the people of the city called this tower- was the tallest edification in the fortress, he could see a very long distance into his realm.
"I must confess I am looking forward to flying again," He couldn't help but sigh wistfully at the view, "but for such a steed I can afford to be patient a little longer. At any rate, it won't … what is THIS?"
Shruikan perked up at the unusual interruption. Lately, Galbatorix had taken to seeing out of his pet Rider's eyes for a few seconds. He occasionally commented on what he saw, just to see if he could distract the dragon long enough to capitalize on it.
"Will you look at this!" Galbatorix rose violently from his chair for the first time since coming into the room.
"My old teacher Oromis is still alive!" he snarled "It was HIM that denied me another dragon!"
After a sudden, staggering flare of magic, Galbatorix started speaking out loud. From what he said, it was obvious the emperor's attention was no longer in this room. All of his senses seemed to have left him, as he was apparently seeing, hearing and speaking to whoever Murtagh was fighting.
For a moment Shruikan was unsure of what to do with the sudden and very unexpected freedom he had been granted. He gathered his wits quickly though, and forced his emaciated body to respond. He stood on shaky legs and, swallowing a groan of pain, forced his almost paralyzed tail to stretch after twenty years of imprisonment. He'd kept his long appendage coiled about himself for all this time just so he wouldn't tip off Galbatorix to the fact that the massive opening through which he'd been levitated so long ago had not been warded to prevent his escape.
There was not any barrier at the opening and the dragon could, with difficulty, turn himself about so that he was facing the open sky.
His breath caught in his chest at the sight.
At the beginning of his captivity, he'd kept this little loophole in mind so that he would be able to escape at his jailor's first sign of distraction. As the years passed and Galbatorix did not shift his gaze from him, Shruikan despaired of ever making use of it.
Here was the opportunity he'd been waiting for... but escape was no longer possible.
The dragon forced his trembling limbs to the edge of the room and gathering his flagging strength took a final jump into the great blue yonder... it was surprisingly difficult to suppress the instinct of opening his wings as the fortress' stone floor approached. While he fell, Shruikan begged whatever was left of his magic to help him do as much harm as possible to he who had singlehandedly hunted his race to extinction.
He was surprised to feel so much energy even after so long an imprisonment. His body went numb and his vision dimmed in his last seconds, but he gathered his breath and with a mighty roar that shook the battlements, he let loose his power to do what it would.
The resounding crash of his body upon the floor seemed to echo this last, defiant cry... He was the first and last of the Forsworn; the only one of them to remember his name and die with it, free.
The train seemed to run forever. The light outside never dimmed or grew brighter, even after the station had disappeared behind them.
The compartment in which Harry rode was identical to any other Hogwarts Express compartment, if done in scales of gray. His own black robes hardly added color to his surroundings; the world outside his window was no help, since it looked like he was surrounded on all sides with a thick, impenetrable fog.
He took the time to explore the train, but every car looked the same and both the locomotive in front and the baggage cars in the back were locked. He headed back to his compartment, where he sat and stared out the window, absently noting that it too was locked. He stared morbidly at his worn reflection for a long time... only the vivid red of Voldemort's blood broke the monotony around him. He dozed for lack of anything better to do.
Harry suddenly startled awake and saw that it was pitch black outside. The train wasn't moving and the lights inside had turned on.
Rubbing the sleep of his eyes, Harry straightened his glasses and robes and realized that all the blood on him had disappeared while he slept. Looking around, it didn't seem as if someone had come into his compartment and cleaned him: His clothes were crisp and clean; there were no stains on the gray upholstery where he had sat.
Perturbed, yet inured by now to the strangeness of Death's realm, Harry simply decided to see what awaited him at his destination. With some luck, his family would be there.
He opened the train door on his own and incongruously stepped into a cavern full of shallow water lit by torches set on sconces on either wall. They lit as he approached and fizzled out as he left them behind, leaving only impenetrable darkness at his back.
Wading through the dank passage made dim by the torches, Harry finally reached a massive stone engraved with the symbol of the Hallows. The biggest gem Harry had ever seen hung from the mouth of a great gold knocker shaped in the form of a dragon, smooth and hard like a diamond, crystal and cut with many facets but entirely black and glowing with an unearthly purple glow about it.
Taking a deep breath to steel his nerves, he took the knocker and upon hitting the stone door, the gem dissipated into a swirl black sparkles that spun about him and were absorbed into his body.
The door opened ponderously with a ground shaking groan, bathing the cavern in blinding white light. Harry crossed the threshold with his head held high and a childish excitement in his heart that he'd thought lost for years.
Perhaps it was true that death was just the next great adventure after all.