Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling et ál. The Inheritance Cycle is the property of Christopher Paolini et ál. No copyright infringement is intended with this work. No profit is being made from its publishing either. This is merely written for entertainment.
"Well," Harry said after a minute of silence. "This is awkward."
"Give them some time," Roran said, "It's a pretty big thing to have you flying around and actually helping."
"You talked to me just fine when we first met, if you'll recall."
"That was more trying to convince you not to eat my men than knowing who you were."
"Eat your men?! I was being perfectly reasonable! Why would you think that?"
"You'd just gobbled up the imperials we were chasing; I'd say getting eaten was a valid concern."
"I'll have you know I didn't eat anybody." Harry replied, carefully stretching his limbs to confirm everything was working. "Not right then, anyway. One of the imperials even got away… I wonder what happened to him."
"How in the world did you two meet?" Eragon asked.
"A better question," Arya interrupted, "would be how you escaped Galbatorix."
There was silence again, expectant this time.
"That's a bit of a story." Harry hedged after a moment, looking around and at all the people arrayed before him. Roran had gone over to his cousin and was waiting for his answer with the rest.
The strange blue oak still siphoned eddies of clouds from the storm off in the distance and the smell of rain was heavy about them. The growing chill in the air made Harry's abused bones ache. Not that long ago he'd been shrugging off freezing winds in the Spine and now he was feeling like an abused old man.
His own discomfort aside, Harry worried about the sort of questions that these people would ask of Shruikan. Since arriving in this world, he'd dreamt bits and pieces of the dragon's memories; they'd later gotten mixed up enough with Voldemort's more vivid experiences to make sleeping at night a real adventure. He only recalled the more salient points of Shruikan's death, but he didn't know anything of the time between Shruikan's kidnapping and his imprisonment in the Silent Vigil beyond a deep, abiding hatred for Galbatorix and a fear of possession so strong, it bordered on phobia.
Needless to say, actively trying to remember anything with his head like that was a scary prospect.
"Is this really the place for something like this?" Harry asked.
"We can't really allow you into camp just like that. There's a lot of… animosity between the Varden and the Empire." Eragon explained, "Even taking into account your help with Murtagh just now, a lot of people… most people really, will only see you as the next best thing to having the Emperor on hand to kill."
Harry's derisive snort showed what he thought of that eventuality.
"My thoughts exactly." Roran said, "We'll need something to work with though, if we're going to find you a place with the Varden."
"We have also had close personal experience with Galbatorix's spies and the Emperor's penchant for learning inconvenient Names." Arya added, glaring at Eragon for good measure. "The last thing we need is a preprogrammed dragon, however well intentioned, amidst what is left of the Varden."
"I know what you mean, miss." Harry growled, "Still, I'd have thought that my questioning would be a lot harsher than this… whatever this is."
Merlin knew Harry would have dumped a cauldron's worth of veritaserum down any turncoat's throat in the same situation. Considering that Shruikan leaving Galbatorix was more like Bellatrix deserting Voldemor, Harry would kill first and… that's pretty much it, really.
Everybody else looked at each other for a few moments before Blödhgarm took it upon himself to explain.
"Your fight with Murtagh was a very compelling argument by itself. We believe that if there was something the Emperor would have thought to prevent you from doing, it is killing his best agents.
"That said, we need to know you are as committed to our cause as the rest of us." He said.
"And that cause would be?" Harry asked.
"The Emperor's death." Roran answered.
"The goodwill of the people you see here carries a lot of weight with the Varden, and we elves know that you alone, out of all the Forsworn, did not follow Galbatorix willingly." Blödhgarm continued, encompassing the gathered people with a broad wave of his hand. "It has been, however, more than a hundred years since Vroengard fell and people forget these things in the face of constant strife. Tell us your story, that we may judge what brought you here and tell our superiors what we think."
"Later, when things are calmer, I'll have to ask you to let me into your mind. It's a requirement for anyone wanting to join the Varden." Eragon said.
Harry balked at that. Shruikan's lingering fear of mental invasion and Harry's own loathing of mind magic fed off each other, throwing him into a rage in an instant.
"No one goes into my head but me!" Harry snarled. "I did not spend the last forty years fending off that bastard just to throw my mind wide open for a ragtag lot of jumped up minutemen and their pet Rider."
Everyone started at Harry's outburst and Saphira pushed forward, to stand between the suddenly enraged Shruikan and her friends. Both dragons stared each other down with bared fangs and half open wings.
"Just try me." Harry growled, "You saw how it went for that coward Murtagh and he was toting around several dragon's worth of magic."
The dragon's growling was too loud in the tense silence that followed. Harry was a good bit larger than Saphira, but he knew she was far deadlier in a close quarters fight than he could hope to be.
Harry pooled his much abused magic, preparing to cover a quick getaway when Roran stepped between them.
"Calm down!" he yelled, waving at Shruikan. "Yes, I'm talking to you, idiot!"
"Are you suicidal or just that stupid?!" Harry asked back, "You keep pestering me like this and I'll take that meal you owe me out of your hide."
"I'm only half as stupid as you think." Roran replied, "I know she won't do anything stupid with me standing in the middle."
"You wouldn't even make a decent mouthful, come to think of it." Harry harrumphed.
"You can't hear a word she's saying, can you?"
"What?" Harry asked, nonplussed.
"Saphira." Roran explained, "You really can't hear anything she says."
"I'm sure you're dying to interpret for her."
"It wasn't very flattering." Roran said airily, ignoring her disdainful snort behind him. "It doesn't bear repeating. Still, don't you think that was out of proportion?"
"Mind magic is a difficult thing for me to deal with." Harry growled, "The elves know why, if they remember as much as they say they do."
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." Eragon said, "If it's that much of a problem, maybe Saphira can do it in my stead; she can't work the sort of magic you're… worried about but she can do enough to vouch for you."
Harry gave Saphira a more searching glance after that, taking a deep breath to calm down. He eventually lay down again and she followed suit, close enough to bite if he made any sudden movements.
"We'll see." Harry told her, "I'll think about it and get back to you, alright?"
Saphira nodded and finally relaxed.
"How is it that you can speak?" Eragon asked suddenly.
"Err… My magic did that one day." Harry said, shrugging his wings, "I wasn't willing to open my mind to Galbatorix just to speak; I think I wanted to talk bad enough that it happened on its own, just to spite him."
"Huh. Odd magic, that." Eragon said, sitting down next to Saphira. "No stranger than hers, I suppose."
"Where were we?" Harry asked.
"You were telling us about Galbatorix and how you escaped him." Arya replied.
"There's really not much to tell. I don't remember much of the time when Galbatorix actually rode me." Harry explained, "I can only tell you that he put me inside the tower when I could fight his compulsion enough that it'd have been dangerous for him to get on my back.
"Breaking into my mind to learn my Name didn't appeal to him… he didn't want a dumb beast to fly around on, after all. After thinking about it, he put me in the tower, sat down and spent the next several decades trying to bore me, starve me or trick me into opening my mind for him. Fortunately, since he wanted to fly on my back he never got very physical.
"All in all it was a really long time with nothing to do, unable to move and only now and then interrupted by reports from his underlings. Arya's trick with Saphira's egg was good entertainment for days and his bitching about her escape kept me going for months.
"In the end, it wasn't anything terribly clever that got me out." Harry sighed, "I actually owe my escape to your teacher, Eragon."
"What?" he asked, puzzled. "How so?"
"Oromis fought Murtagh quite some time ago now. I think Murtagh may have killed him but I don't know for certain." Harry explained, speaking carefully while he drug Shruikan's memories to the forefront of his mind and described them. "Galbatorix couldn't resist gloating about it and threw his mind into Murtagh."
Harry sighed again, sad that he couldn't speak the truth about Shruikan's real escape. The one willing action he took in life and nobody would know about it. Harry wasn't willing to jeopardize a potential alliance with the Varden by explaining his presence here when Harry himself didn't even know how he'd woken up in this world and ended up in Shruikan's body.
"Galbatorix may have not taken his eyes off me since locking himself inside the Vigil with me, but he never bothered to ward the window he floated me through on the first day." Harry shrugged, "As soon as he started ranting, I walked out the window."
When Harry looked around, he found dumbfounded stares in every face.
"What? Powerful people tend to make obvious mistakes like that. I knew it was just a matter of time until he slipped up somewhere, although I'll admit he was very patient."
"You just… flew away?" Arya asked incredulously. "And you expect us to believe he did not follow?"
"Oh I'm sure he would have, if he'd known where to find me." Harry said, carefully skirting the truth. "I ended up in the mountains north of here; it's pretty hard to find something that doesn't want to be found in there, even something as big as myself."
"You've been in the Spine?" Eragon asked.
"If that's what they're called, then yes. I headed south eventually, stayed in a cave overlooking a big lake for a while and headed south again when I saw imperial troops being ferried south across the water. I met Roran and his men while they chased some of those soldiers out of a burning village half a day west of here."
"That's Alavir. We followed a band of imperials there three days ago, chased them out of there and met Shruikan after he mopped them up." Roran explained.
"Ferrying troops south?" Blödhgarm wondered. "How many would you say headed this way?"
"No idea, but they'd been at it for a while before I decided to head down here to see what they were up to." Harry said, "I don't really know where they were headed beyond that big city by the lake north of here. I stayed over the mountains on my way south; it was just luck that I came across Roran and his group."
"I left Yarbog and the others watching the road from Belatona in case someone in there thinks to run us over after- what's wrong?"
Everybody else suddenly stood up and Eragon climbed onto Saphira's saddle.
"Something's come up that I need to see." Eragon told Roran, "Get back to camp and speak to Lady Nasuada or whoever is in charge there; I'll meet you there and come fetch Shruikan after we've smoothed things over for him."
The elves nodded and Eragon flew away.
"What was that about?" Shruikan asked.
"There's seems to be something important going on at the ritual site." Arya said, "Eragon needed to take a look at it."
"I see." Harry said, "What now?"
"We'll head back and get things started with the Varden. It will take time, though." Arya said.
"I'll be here by nightfall then, I need to get myself something to eat." Harry said, getting on his feet and gingerly testing his limbs.
"Very well, then. Let's go."
"You go on ahead." Roran said, "I'll be right behind you, I need to speak to Shruikan first."
Arya and Blödhgarm walked away and Roran went to Harry.
"I… wanted to thank you. You saved our lives today. " The human said.
"There's no need. I need your help as much as you needed mine."
"Still, you almost died… I wanted you to know that I appreciate it. I owe you one… we all do, I think."
"Just keep your promises and we'll be just fine." Harry chuckled, bumping Roran with his snout. "I could use that meal now if you can get it though, I'm starving."
"I don't think that's going to happen." Roran said, throwing a worried look at the mess that was left of their camp. "We're going to have to head back real fast if we don't want to get caught by winter, or worse, intelligent imperials."
"Oh well, it was worth a shot. I'll have to see if I can get myself anything for myself around here." The prospects weren't terribly good; the place was very likely hunted all but bare from feeding all these people. "Come on, I'll walk you closer to camp. I'm feeling too stiff for flying."
Harry leaned down and Roran climbed onto his back again. He couldn't hold back a wince when he felt Roran's weight, his joints creaked as he walked and there was an irritating itch between his wings that he found very difficult to ignore but he also needed to talk to the man.
"There was also something I wanted to ask you." Harry said after a few minutes walking in silence.
"What is it?"
"You know I don't have a Rider, and I need one. I can't keep casting my own spells if everything I pull is liable to kill me."
"Well, you said you were looking for Arya." Roran pointed out, "I really can't think of anyone better suited for the job."
"She was the only available choice when we met." Harry stopped, leaning down so Roran could dismount. "This is close enough to camp, I think. I don't want them getting nervous and start shooting at me."
Roran dropped to the ground and looked at the remains of the Varden encampment with Harry.
Small fires still burned all over the place and corpses littered the ground, most of them bitten and clawed to death in the curse's frenzy. The most harrowing sight though, was the pile of smoldering men that perfectly lined the urgal's spirit shield's boundary. Galbatorix's spell had forced the possessed to throw themselves into the golden dome trying to break it… most of them were still alive, their agonized moans carrying on the wind all the way to Roran and Harry.
"I don't think there's enough bowmen left in there that you'd notice them firing at you." Roran said sadly.
"Someone will have to do something about the wounded." Harry mumbled.
"We can't afford to take a lot of them back with us." Roran said, trying to keep his voice steady. "We'll need to be out of here soon."
"You can't do anything for them?"
"Most of that are our supplies going up in flames." Roran said, pointing to the largest bonfires in the camp.
"I could help." Harry said suddenly, "Like back at Alavir! Carn healed a lot of people with a very small crystal."
"No." Roran snapped back. "You're half dead yourself; do you really think you could spare the energy it would take to help all those people without killing yourself?"
"Well… not really, no." Harry hedged, "but we could-"
"Absolutely not!" Roran growled, "What happened with the girl was an unfortunate accident and I won't hand over such knowledge to the likes of the Du Vrangr Gata, not even for this."
A strained silence descended between them. Neither man nor dragon said anything for long moments, until the rumble of thunder and a light cold drizzle distracted them.
"You want me to join you, and yet you don't trust the very people you fight with."
"Oh I trust the Varden army just fine." Roran said, "It's just that most of the Du Vrangr Gata have a lust for power so obvious that you can see it a mile away. They're frustrated mages that for one reason or another couldn't, or wouldn't stay in the Imperial Academy."
"Carn seems like a good sort, though."
"Not all of them are like that, sadly." Roran agreed, "It's the ones at the top that worry me; they're none too pleased that Lady Nasuada shoved Eragon down their throats. I keep thinking they'll stab him in the back just to have someone they approve of in charge of the whole thing."
"You're not doing a very good job of convincing me to stay, you know."
"I'm just being honest." Roran shrugged, "It takes all sorts to fight the Empire, and we can't all get along all the time. It doesn't change the fact that we need each other's help, either."
"I want you to be my Rider." Harry said, after giving the human a long searching look.
"Excuse me?" Roran asked, nonplussed.
"You heard me."
"Where the hell did this come from?" Roran asked, bewildered, "What about Arya?!"
"What about her?"
"Wasn't she the whole reason you came here?"
"When I learned of her, I was still trapped in a tower and she'd just kicked the Emperor's teeth in. What other choice did I have?"
"What other choice is there?!" Roran yelled, "She already knows everything she needs to know to be a Rider!"
"And what do I know about her? Tell me that." Harry challenged, "Nothing, that's what! I already know you for a good man."
"Why give me a choice at all, then?" Roran asked, "Eragon didn't get one."
"I've been forced into service." Harry growled, anger and past frustration tinging his words. "I would never do the same to anybody else."
It was hard, too. The moment he asked the question, power surged inside Harry despite his tiredness. It didn't help that Harry now felt the pull of that blasted tree like someone trying to peel the hide off his body, what with all that magic ready to go off at the barest of touches and do Merlin only knew what, likely turning Roran into his Rider.
"I… I need to think about it." Roran stammered.
"I know." Harry said, "I understand. We'll talk next time we see each other."
"Where are you going?" Roran asked when Harry stepped back and opened his wings.
"Like I said before, I need to get myself something to eat."
"Will you come back here when you're done?"
"I don't think I'll be up for it, to be honest." Harry chuckled, "Your cousin may have put me back together, but I'm still pretty beat up. I'll stay somewhere out of the way for a few days while I heal and catch up to you."
"I'll see you in a few days." Roran said, stepping closer to Harry, who leaned back at the movement.
"Best that you don't touch me until you… make up your mind."
"Oh! Oh." Roran started. "I… see. Alright then, be careful out there. Look for us at Feinster, south of here, if you don't find us on the road."
Harry hurried out of there after that awkward farewell. It was stupid to feel Roran's reluctance as rejection and Harry knew it, but the little boy in his heart that had never stopped yearning for acceptance couldn't help feeling slighted.
Harry needed to get his mind off things for a while and hunting was as good a distraction as any, besides, eating would help him ignore the little voice in the back of his mind that insisted burying all those bodies back there was a waste of good meat. Putting some distance between the damn tree and himself wouldn't be amiss either; the pull its strange magic had on him was really starting to hurt and he wouldn't be able to take much more and stay mobile in his present condition.
After several minutes in the air, he'd lost himself in the pleasure of flying despite his many aches and pains. Suddenly, a terrible pain wracked his body; the tree's magic flayed Harry from head to tail, leaving the wizard feeling as if he'd left his skin several feet behind. His wings seized up; all his body was cold and unresponsive. Harry fell from the sky like a brick and saw the ground rushing up to meet him before he lost consciousness.
Harry awoke disoriented and still in pain.
He was in a dank hole in the ground with barely enough space to sit up in, his head was killing him and he'd obviously shrunk while he was out. Harry crawled outside and gingerly stood up to look himself over.
He was bipedal and about as short as he'd been back in England. Then again, after being a hundred year old dragon, anything was small.
There were actual opposable thumbs on his hands again though, praise be to Merlin, so it wasn't all bad.
After a couple minutes spent admiring his hands (flexing fingers and moving his wrist every possible way), he noticed the scales that were staring him in the face. And the claws on his fingers.
Harry realized with a start that he wasn't entirely human.
"Oh come on!" Harry groaned when he noticed that his groin was still bare of… anything really. "I deserved that back at least!"
He'd gotten used to that particular quirk of being a reptile quickly when he first turned into Shruikan - mostly because his size let him forget about it. Now, standing up as a human would, the lack of anything external was positively distracting.
"Grin and bear it, Harry…" he told himself, "It could be worse."
It was actually worse. He couldn't find a single patch of human skin anywhere on his body and long bone spikes from his elbows; his face was also covered in scales and Merlin only knew what he actually looked like now… at least his eyes were still a dragon's, judging from the shades of gray he could see all around him. The only spot of color in the night was a small campfire some distance away from the hole he'd woken up in where he could make out someone tending to the fire; the faint smell of roasting meat coming from the place made Harry's gut give a plaintive rumble.
He could get some food and directions there, if whoever was there didn't run at the first sight of him. He'd get the food if the owners ran, at least.
Walking on two feet after so long on four was awkward. Painful too, since there still were wings on his back and they had cramped from his laying on them. They throbbed painfully with every step he took.
"You took your time." Said the small woman Harry found in the campsite. "We've been waiting for you to wake up for more than a week."
"Thanks for saving me." Harry said.
"It was no problem," The girl said, "It was just the digging that was annoying."
"What?" asked a bewildered Harry. "Where did you find me?"
"Not far from here, three or four miles west. We had to get away from that mess you and Eragon made before the Imperials came looking." She explained, "We would have made it farther but picking through all that ice was difficult and Didi didn't want to jostle you around too much."
"Ice? What ice? Who's Didi?"
"Just one of my friends." She said with a smile and nodded at three rabbits roasting in the fire. "Aren't you going to eat? You must be very hungry."
"Who… Never mind." Harry said with a tired smile.
Harry gingerly sat by the fire and dug into one of the rabbits, eating the whole thing without stopping when he realized how hungry he was. He paused before taking a second rabbit.
"Thank you again for saving my life, miss…"
"Angela," She said. "And I didn't save your life so much as made it easier. You weren't dying, just unconscious."
"Thanks for finding me then, Miss Angela."
"You're welcome, but it was really Didi that found you, I just invited myself along because she's a friend and I didn't want her travelling alone." She said with a shrug. "The roads are dangerous nowadays."
Harry bit into the rabbit to keep from snapping at the irritating girl. It would not do to be rude to the person who'd just saved your life and fed you, no matter how irritating she was about accepting gratitude.
"Shruikan, I know."
"How did you-"
"Didi told me." Angela shrugged again. "Didn't I just tell you she was looking for you?"
"And where is this Didi?" Harry growled, fed up with the girl.
"She had to go see about some business with her brother, but she'll be back soon."
"In the middle of nowhere this late at night?" Harry asked skeptically.
"We've all got our little quirks." Angela smiled. "Like you! Why would you want to try and turn yourself human?"
"It was an accident, if you must know." Harry mumbled around his food.
"Hm, that makes sense." She said. "Not that a dragon trying to be human makes much sense mind you, just that you botched the magic so badly."
"It was the bloody tree's fault!" Harry growled.
"Ah yes, that tree." Angela said, growing somber. "I saw it when we picked you up. Eragon's little trick will be a real problem before too long."
Harry ate in silence after that, only the crunching bones of his dinner and the sputtering fire disturbed the quiet night.
"It was a decent effort though," She said, "it's just the eyes, and the scales… those wings are very obvious, and you shouldn't smile at people with those teeth."
Harry said nothing.
"If you stay out of cities and away from people, you really could pass for a human. Just fold the wings around your shoulders… ought to look like a really expensive cloak."
"Thanks for the tip," Harry said with a strained smile, "But I've got a terrible cramp in the joints. I can barely move them."
"I'll go see if I can find something in my pack to help that cramp in your wings." Angela said after Harry finished eating. "Didi will be back soon and she'll want to talk to you in private."
"Where are you going?"
"Our horses are that way." Angela said, pointing at an indistinct clump of trees to their left. "We didn't know what state you'd wake up in, so we thought it prudent to keep them safe in case you were violent. Trust me, going from here to anywhere on foot would take a long time."
She stood up and walked into the night.
Harry sighed to himself after she was gone. "And I'll just wait here?"
"Don't fret Mr. Potter," Said a quiet voice behind him. "I'm Didi."
Harry started and turned to find another short, dark haired woman approaching the fire, from the direction he himself had come. She wore travelling leathers, high riding boots and a cloak about her shoulders, clasped with a large golden ankh.
"Who are you? How do you know my name?" Harry demanded.
"I've been aware of you most of your life," She said, "Although I've only taken an active interest in you for the past year or so."
She absently threw more wood into the fire and stoked it. "I'm Death."
Harry's disdainful snort was loud and expected. "Pull the other one, why don't you?" He said, "I assume you're Didi?"
"I often use the name, yes" She shrugged "I understand how you can't take me at face value, but I don't need more proof than the Stone in your breast," she pointed at Harry's breast where, on his right side, the symbol of the hallows shone with a faint purple glow, "the Cloak about your shoulders, or the Wand that even now calls out for its Master."
Harry winced, hearing a cacophony of voices screaming in his ear; he swayed, dizzy for several moments and when his vision cleared, he noticed the silver shine to the scales under his wings.
"The Elder Wand?" Death asked, "Yes. It's the nastiest of all Hallows… Ironically, it ought to be the safer one to use now."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"You'll believe me now?" she asked back, sounding just a little bit smug.
"Hard not to, with this thing on my chest." Harry said, placing a hand over the glowing sigil, "Besides, you know too much about the Hallows; even back home almost no one knew anything about them. If you're not Death, at least you know more than I do."
"Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I believe you." Harry said, rattled, "How did you do… whatever you did just now? I dropped the Cloak and the Stone before going to Voldemort, and I never had the Wand to begin with."
"I see your people forgot a lot of the old lore." Death sighed. "Nobody took the Cloak and the Stone from you by force and you didn't bequeath them to anyone either; the Wand you won from Draco Malfoy at Wiltshire when you disarmed him. All three Hallows were yours when you died; whether you carried them on your person or not is irrelevant."
She unclasped her cloak and dropped it beside her, along with a small leather satchel. She sat down on her cloak and rummaged through the bag, producing a small iron pot and a bunch of dried herbs.
"Get some water for tea, please."
"How would I know where to get any?" Harry grumbled.
The petite woman threw him a flat stare, "are you a wizard or are you not?" she asked, shaking the pot. "Water, please."
"Hell no! Not without a wand anymore." Harry huffed, "In case you've forgotten, I almost killed myself last week doing magic."
"What did I just tell you? You have a Wand, the most powerful one in existence, even." Death said, "Call it."
"How? I didn't even know I had it!"
"Wish for it."
Feeling stupid but willing to humor the woman just in case she was the real thing, Harry focused on his desire for a wand and called out for the Elder Wand to come to him.
A storm of whispers erupted around the campsite, as if Harry stood before an expectant crowd. The earth before him moved suddenly and skeleton arms sprouted from the ground before him. Far too quickly for such a grisly spectacle, four pristine human skeletons had pushed themselves out of the earth and knelt back to back before Harry. One hand rested on their bent knee and the other was raised above them. There, cupped in their joined hands, rested Professor Dumbledore's wand, the Elder Wand.
Harry had to stand up to pick the wand up from the bone hands. The moment he did, the skeletons crumbled to dust and the whispers quieted.
Death raised her pot with an exasperated smile and Harry, wrestling with the weirdness of the last few minutes, absently cast aguamenti for tea.
"Try not to lose it," Death said as she prepared the tea and placed the pot on the fire, "as you just saw, it likes to make an entrance and it won't always be painless. On the plus side, it will always come when you call."
"You talk as if it is alive." Harry said.
"Not alive; sentient." She said, "All three Hallows are, to an extent, but the wand most of all. All three Hallows take the souls of those who use them, it was just the more widely circulated one. If you put that many souls and that much magic together long enough, you get sentience… or some semblance of it, at least."
"What?!" Harry asked, dropping the wand in his shock, "What do you mean?"
"It's simple enough," Death explained, taking small tin cups from her bag and pouring the tea, "The Hallows imprison their Master's soul and magic when they die; every soul the Hallows take makes them more resilient, while their Master's magic makes the Hallows more powerful."
"Professor Dumbledore's soul is inside the wand?" asked a horrified Harry.
"Not his. He hasn't crossed over yet." The slight girl growled over her cup. "It will be, though, after you start doing your job."
A terrible chill gripped Harry's heart for a moment, when Didi (Death?) turned her eyes back to him.
"Wh-what would you have me do?" Harry stuttered, feeling vaguely ashamed at being intimidated by this slip of a girl.
Death carefully drank the last of her tea. When she put down her cup, the world around them had become an endless plain of gravel with a pitch black void above it. The merry little fire beside them looked to Harry to be woefully out of place in the barren, freezing wasteland they all found themselves in.
She stood, swung her cloak on her back and clasped it with the golden ankh again.
"The lingering dead, Harry." She said, picking up the other cup of tea. "I spared you from the torment of having your soul split between the Hallows because, of all their wielders, you deserved it the least. I want something in return though; you will destroy the lingering dead wherever you may find them."
"You mean, like ghosts?" Harry asked, taking a step back when the girl approached him. "I'd have thought that Death of all people would be able to handle the undead on her own."
"I swore to myself a long time ago, that I wouldn't take more from the world of the living than what I was owed. Here." She said, shoving the cup of tea his way, "Since they stay there because they have the power and the will to resist crossing over, I don't feel entirely comfortable just yanking them across.
"You could say that's more personal preference, but there are cases like your Tom Riddle; those who actually try to cheat me." She explained, turning to warm her hands on the oddly silent fire.
"People like him have found the means to avoid me; to stay alive at all costs, and given that their precautions protect them from me; they become a thorn in my side and a cancer in whatever world they linger in.
"They won't be safe from you though." She said with a smirk, "you'll be a living agent of Death; your power is your own and only marginally connected to mine through the Hallows. I couldn't have made it better if I'd planned it, really."
"You mean you didn't plan to be here blackmailing me like this?" Harry asked.
"I thought we'd established I have a soft spot for you, Harry." She smiled at him, "even your dad had heard stories of what using the Cloak would cost him, without anybody telling him it was a deathly hallow. There were many gruesome legends about it among the Peverells and the Potters later on. You, on the other hand, had no clue.
"It would've been cute if it weren't so sad."
"What do you mean it would 'cost' him?" Harry asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know.
"The Hallows were conceived as punishment Harry." Death explained, "The Peverell brothers summoned and bound me, trying to find a fool proof way to avoid dying. I wasn't about to take that lying down and I convinced them that the three hallows would each give them what they wanted."
"What about the river in the story?" Harry asked.
"Well forgive me for a little poetic license with the truth." Death huffed, "It was bad enough that the three stooges pulled their little stunt. If I'd told facts exactly the way they happened, there'd be legions of idiots trying to summon us both even now. I had to take enough grief from my brother when he helped me with the story, thank you very much."
"Both of us?"
"Well, we're a team now." She said, throwing her arm around his back with a smile in her voice. "And the Hallows make you family… sort of like a second cousin I think, so if somebody knows your Name and puts together a ritual that works… Bang! There you are, stuck with an unpleasant job." She shook her head, "it's quite annoying, really, but it comes with the territory. Anyone with enough power has to deal with it."
"This is too much…" Harry muttered, shaking her hand off. "Why didn't you just let me go? You just said that you don't like the dead to linger and here I am! I left England and Hogwarts and everything else because I was tired of things like this!"
Death's smile slid off her face. "I'm trying the best I can to be fair, Harry. I gave you something; you give me something in return. Sure, some of it is inconvenient, but nothing is perfect.
"You didn't die back in England, Harry. The wand would not betray you after you'd mastered all three Hallows, it just brought you here, to my doorstep. Albus Dumbledore told you that you weren't dead and still you willingly walked into my realm." She crossed her arms and glared. "That was very stupid, Harry."
"Still, I've been kicking out living mortals who stumble into my domain for eons now; you'd hardly be the first one." She said, pacing around the fire, "But you didn't come in with your body... just your soul was in here and without a body to put it in, the Hallows would tear your soul apart sooner or later."
"…and then Shruikan called me here." Harry mumbled.
"Yes. His magic brought you and your body here, the Stone stored the power he traded for his last wish and became your eldunarí. He basically put your body and soul back together in exchange for your killing Galbatorix. Do you begin to understand just how unfathomably lucky you were?"
Harry sipped his cold tea and said nothing.
"If you'd rather die though, even knowing what's coming if you do, I won't stop you." She said, sounding defeated. "Just step away from the light. When Shruikan's geas is complete, you'll die yourself."
"…If I do this for you, what then?" Harry asked into his cup.
"There's no 'what then'" Death said softly, "It's a job much like mine… Endless. You can check out anytime you want, but you know what happens next."
"Well here, what would you have me do here? Kill Galbatorix?"
"Shruikan placed that chain on you, not me."
"It's not fair." Harry grumbled, thinking about his earlier words to Roran.
"Be thankful that he offered something in return." Death said, "The truly powerful, those who can summon us without the trappings of an actual bargain, almost never do."
"So? What is it you want with me here?"
"Did you know that a lot of dragons escaped into their heart of hearts when Galbatorix and his Forsworn attacked?"
Harry nodded, "I've gathered something like that from Shruikan's memories… I thought they were horcruxes or something like that."
"It's something all dragons here share; the seat of all their magic, like a brain houses memories." Death explained, "The order of the Dragon Riders discovered that a dragon could throw its memories and magic into this stone in their chest. Their magic would not fade or weaken and their souls would remain shackled to the stone. Someone with training in the mind arts could communicate with the trapped dragons and any wizard holding the stone could use the dragon's magic."
"Like Murtagh has been doing, I know." Harry said, "What about them?"
"Galbatorix has many of them in his tower; Eragon has one… the rest of the Rider's inhabited eldunarí are somewhere in Alagaësia," Death explained, "I want you to find and destroy them all."