Okay, I thought this chapter would need the answer but it doesn't lol. Next chapter! So feel free to continue to bash slash or raise your L/Harry banners, there have been fantastic points made for both so far.
Okay okay also, I don't normally do this but I was feeling really discouraged and/or listless and not really about this story anymore, and then I read Carnivorous Muffin stories and suddenly had inspiration again for my existential crisis. If you have never read Lily and the Art of Being Sisyphus, or October, but you like this story then I would highly suggest reading them. I heart fem!Harry so I lean towards Lily (Ellie Lily Potter, technically) but October is also awesome and they both feature totally OP but reasonable Harry and Death!Harry.
And sorry for the undoubtedly endless typos. I just wanted to get it up as fast as possible!
Harry found his own feet dragging him to a place he hadn't seen in some time. The door was closed and deadbolted, but locked doors had never done much to deter Wizards and Harry was no exception.
It was so strange to be back in the place he had called home not even a few months ago. Unfamiliar. He looked around at all the furniture he once owned, lost in the gloom, covered in colonies of dust. He almost wanted to wave his wand and dispel it all; vanish the dust, open the curtains and let the sunshine in. Instead he turned towards the hallway, making his way to his bedroom.
This too was not particularly remarkable, but unfamiliar all the same. His bed was made—but he had never quite succeeded in the art of folding corners, so it looked a bit lopsided—and he'd forgotten to put the pillow covers onto the pillows the last time he had done the laundry. His bedside table was devoid of anything of significant value, but he had never been the type of person to put trinkets and memorabilia about the house anyway. Inside the drawer though lay a leather bound book, full of photos that weren't his own. Harry had never been one for photography, but he had finagled copies from his friends nonetheless.
He thought most of them had come from Hermione—or Ginny, perhaps. Or maybe Neville? The boy had a surprising knack for them. The older ones were most certainly from his bookish friend; photos of them on the train, laying by the lake. Mrs. Weasley always took thousands around the holidays, so there were no shortage of those.
He flipped idly through the pages, recalling each and every moment. Was this what it meant to be alive? In the abstract, it was all quite uninteresting. Even a life like his own, one that most would consider to be eventful and dramatic, mattered very little in the grand scheme of things. In a way it seemed all life was insignificant and yet monumental; looking at his own through a pragmatic eye, it was wholly insignificant. If he had read this in a Death Note file, he would not even bat an eyelash. Male, young adult, wizard. Death by (insert here). But yet this would not describe what it felt like to be on that broom five years ago, with Ron and Ginny flying beside him; or being in the heart of all the chaotic enthusiasm of a Weasley Christmas.
At any rate, there was nothing about him that crowned him as the Living King, nothing that spoke of greatness or superiority. Maybe Dumbledore was right; maybe it was a meaningless title. The same way people would refer to him as mortal: human, alive, breathing. There were a lot of other mortal creatures, a lot of other humans, and a lot of other things that could be classified as 'alive' and 'breathing'. He didn't know what else marked him for the title.
It had come to him that he was the death king and the living king, just as he was not dead but not alive. He had opened Schrodinger's box to find himself, both alive and dead. It was not so much a paradox as it was inevitable.
Just like you and me, right Tom? Harry thought. How can one soul be two people?
Harry closed the picture book with a certain fondness, giving it one last glance before gently placing it onto the dusty table. Something about the whole process felt very final, but Harry did not want to think on that.
He looked away from the table, the room, the reality of it all, and then left.
"Death couldn't give me an answer—nor could Dumbledore." Harry confessed. "And incidentally, I don't have any answers to give myself, so…"
Grindelwald looked at him curiously. He had abandoned his post on the window sill for one of Harry's armchairs. "Why must there be an answer at all? Is it really so surprising to find that there isn't one?"
"Surprising? No. Disheartening? Very." Harry returned, blandly. Things that don't have answers were the worst kinds of things. "I don't understand it."
"Death might have been speaking metaphorically, you know. And on the subject, Albus was always one for allegories. "
"You were the one who suggested the existence of the Living King," Harry pointed out, balefully.
"Did I?" Grindelwald rubbed his chin, much to his ire. Then the old man laughed. "Well, nature never creates imbalance, you know. If you are the Death King, it would only stand to reason that there would be an opposite to you. It might not be so succinct a description."
This was even worse. "Well, why am I the Death King?" He returned, a plaintive whine to his tone. "Why me? Because of the Hallows?" He scowled. "And what is the Death King supposed to do, anyway? I feel I don't do much of anything, and don't actually have any power."
"Well, what do you think the Death King is supposed to do?"
Harry thought on this deeply. "Kill things… I suppose. Isn't that what his power is? Death?"
Grindelwald looked at him oddly for a moment. Then he threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, Harry," he chided, good-naturedly but sardonic all the same, "Let me tell you, I was not the Death King, but I caused a lot of deaths nonetheless. You are not the only one who can kill people."
"So I'm the cat, then?" Harry asked. "Schrodinger's cat, hiding in the box?"
"Well it's clear I don't want to come out," Harry pointed out, considering himself as a cat that was never dead or alive. "But I am most certainly the cat, not the observer looking from outside. And if so, I must know the answer, right? Whether I am dead inside the box, or alive. But I'm at just as much of a loss as the person staring at the outside of the box debating this same answer."
"Perhaps that is the answer. Perhaps you are just as alive as you are dead."
Harry made a noise of irritation. "But that can't be right." He insisted. "That's like saying I am going right, but I am also going left. The two contradict each other."
"Do they really?" Grindelwald pondered. He smiled. "Maybe you just haven't traveled far enough to see."
Grindelwald was making no sense again, Harry noted. He let out a breath of annoyance, running a tired hand through his hair as he looked about the office. At least Justin had finally gotten around to cleaning it. He felt stifled here, in this room that could look so human, but had never touched humanity.
"Where are you going?" The wizard asked, when it was clear Harry intended to leave.
"I don't know." Harry replied. "Out."
"Oh. Well take that damned goat skull, will you? Annoying bastard won't stop talking."
Harry blinked, before turning to an end table by the door, housing an inanimate skull with long, protruding tusks. He wondered how the hell it had got there, before deciding that he probably didn't really want to know. He paused for a moment, but eventually shrugged and picked it up, and went on his way.
In a few moments Harry was standing outside the decaying castle, watching it crumble; a state in flux, immobile. The stairs were calm today, so Harry did not have to fight much to wind his way back onto the ground. Finally, when he was back upon the grey earth, he looked out into eternity and decided where to go.
His feet carried him off into the distance, crossing vast chasms of mottled space, glimpses of color and sound rotting through the decrepit landscape like holes in cheese. Towering mountains of treasure rose from nothingness, glittering falsely in the false sun. He spared it all an impartial but curious eye, holding the empty sheep skull in his arms. The scenery did not change much, though whatever vague sense of coherency the world of death abided by (if it actually abided by anything at all) seemed to forget itself as he moved onward. Nothing about the world outside of the world made sense, but it was making even less sense than usual. At first his servants were interspersed among the lands, crowded among pools, cackling amongst themselves. But eventually even they too fell away to emptiness, until the only sounds came from crows in the distance, their sad cries echoing forlornly.
Still, this did not deter Harry, even as he wandered through reality itself, and sound, color, matter and energy all coalesced together. Whatever space he had found himself in did not have any logic or reason to spare, and at some point Harry found himself no longer caring to try and look for it.
Harry did, however, pause chance a glance backwards, wondering what he would see. A train station? Number Four Privet Drive? The upside down castle of the Death King, floating in the far distance?
He saw nothing.
Not discouraged, Harry turned back forward and continued to walk.
He could hear Death cackling at him, as worlds crashed around him and reality collapsed upon itself in a silent, catastrophic implosion. He could see a bit of everything, in it all. Geometric planes of light and matter crossing as existential, static lines and right angles; energy, paused in this moment.
"Why are you cackling?" Harry asked the longhorn sheep skull.
It did not move, but it replied all the same. "We're almost at the end."
"The end of what?"
"The end of meaning. Or rather, the end of everything worth meaning."
Harry thought on this. "You know, I had started to believe nothing had meaning. I feel like I've been searching for the answer to death, in the same way I suppose everyone is always searching for the answer to life. But it's the same answer, isn't it? Nothing. It's all nothing: meaningless. There is no answer. It exists because it exists."
He looked down at Death. "Was that what you were trying to tell me, when you said you didn't have the answer?"
Death did not reply.
"Is this where you come from?" Harry found himself asking, after a beat. "The End?"
"Oh, no, no, no. Harry, I cannot believe you think so horribly of me." There was something chilling to his words. What sort of things lingered out there, past the end, if even Death thought them abominations? But then where is Death, if not the end?
Shards of reality continued to pass them by, locked in some sort of endless state of entropy. The universe was ending, it seemed. It was always in a state of dying, so that was nothing new. It crashed soundlessly around him, and he thought he might have seen something familiar in the reflections scattered about, but he found he could not remember anything anymore.
But there were things wandering around here that could remind his memory of things worth remembering. Harry reached out a hand, ripping a hole into reality and peering into the next one. There was a little boy underneath a cupboard. He looked away and looked at all the lines floating about, some wide enough to see things through, others barely enough to see at all. He found himself curious enough to peer through quite a few. Sometimes it was only his reflection he saw; sometimes he saw a little girl with red hair, the eyes of death, and a lightning bolt scar, or a man with cold red eyes.
And then finally, he came to the end.
Harry could feel it, somehow, even though it was not dissimilar to the fading edges of reality he had already been traversing. But there was something cold, out here. Something that reminded him that there were things beyond his realm of comprehension, terrible things; things that had been banished from reality long ago.
And there was something else there, too, sitting, staring off into the endless nothingness.
Harry found he did not want to stare into the end, but his eyes were drawn to it anyway. It felt like too much for his meager existence to handle, so he finally pulled his eyes away, to the something else; a woman, staring unblinking, directly into the end. He wasn't sure how she could do that—stare so unwaveringly into something beyond comprehension.
"What are you?" He asked, as he sat himself beside her on this shard of flat dimension.
She spared him an amused glance. "Maybe the better question is; what are you?"
"Haven't quite figured it out yet." He decided upon. "People call me the Death King, sometimes. But can a king be a king of nothing?"
Chrysanthe Lawliet smiled at him. "I had my suspicions about you, you know."
"What kind of suspicions?"
"Not everyone can come here—just like not everyone can look into the abyss."
Harry tilted his head, until it was partially in his vision. Vague alarm and apprehension caught him in an iron grip, and he found his eyes would not wander any farther. The end lingered in the corners of his vision, and he did not want to look at it. "What happens to people who can't look, when they do look?"
"They get lost."
"And they don't come back, do they."
"No, they do not. It acts like a black hole, you see; I don't know what's on the other side, if there's an other side at all, but it is so impenetrable that all light and matter and energy just gets torn apart."
Harry made a noise of comprehension. But would that really be so bad? To stop existing entirely; even in the abstract? In the end, everything was made up of the same stuff. Atoms; matter; energy—forms could be as complex and frightening as a blue giant star, or as complex and frightening as a quantum particle, but they could not be extinguished. It was all just reused and reused; except for the moment when nothing became something.
Harry swallowed, gripping the sheep skull tighter as he forced his gaze to look directly into it. The only other exception he could think of was when something became nothing.
Well, he was still there, so he had not yet been turned into nothingness.
He blinked, before turning to Chrysanthe. "You don't seem to have any problem looking into it."
She turned to him. "Neither do you."
He cleared his throat. "So, if it is not too rude of me to ask: what are you?"
"I don't really know, Harry." She said, gently. "I'm afraid if you are looking for answers for yourself, then I have none to give."
Her eyes were deep and black, endless and chilling. They felt as if the went on forever, and yet remained as an impenetrable darkness. "But I believe you and I to be similar, but inherently different. Would you mind if I told you another story?"
"I like stories." Harry said.
She smiled; it was as blank and empty as her eyes. "A long time ago, I used to be a young girl, fascinated, bereft of fear. I wanted to learn everything, I hungered for knowledge. I wanted to know it all and would stop at nothing until I had learned all there is to know."
"Did you ever get to learn everything?"
"Yes, and that was the problem. I eventually discovered everything there was to know. Knowledge changes us, you know. I ceased being human that day, but I refused to believe it. I turned my back on the truth, and returned to living a lie." She sighed deeply. "See, we are quite similar, so I suppose I have a word of advice for you, Harry. I spent so much time running away from myself, determinably shoving my mind back into ignorance. It didn't work, of course, and I wish someone would have told me to stop living a lie of my own making."
Harry opened his mouth, but then closed it.
He could imagine it; almost see it behind his own eyes. A young girl so terrified of what she found that she returned back to reality, to the things that she knew; she grew old, or at least, thought she was growing old; she got married to a man she never wanted to marry. She waited for years, pretending to be something she no longer was, until one day the lie was simply too worn to use again, and the truth arose from the ashes.
"I could see it when I met you—that you were attempting to do the same. Of course, perhaps the most influential of our differentiators is the method in which we came to this knowledge. I set out to seek it; wandering with the centaurs through stars, space and time; projecting my awareness into places even light could not reach. You, however, spent all your life running from this truth, whether you knew it or not. Eventually it came to a point where it was unavoidable."
Harry sat silently for a moment. It made sense, suddenly, why a lonely old widow locked in a castle would ask such an odd favor of Harry. If she hadn't asked, how long would he have spent attempting to pretend to be human? Probably far longer than he ended up spending.
To his surprise, the only thing he could feel was… relief.
"Well, at least I'm not the only one." For some reason, discarding humanity felt as if a large burden had been lifted off his shoulders, even though it was most likely the opposite.
"No, definitely not." Chrysanthe laughed. "There will always be mortals who search for the Universe; I suppose that is probably the folly of being human."
"I would disagree," Harry cut in, thoughtfully. "I would say that it is their greatest strength. The fact that we can choose to search at all, I mean."
Chrysanthe pondered this. "Maybe you're right." She said, at length. "I had never thought of it that way."
The two sat in companionable silence, in a place where time and space could not reach them. But Harry did not worry about that for now, absently petting the sheep skull as he turned his eyes out into the dramatic drop of reality itself. It was a humbling sight to see, and one he would never quite be able to put into words. "How long have you been staring at this?" He asked her.
"A very long time." She replied.
"What are you looking for?"
"I'll know when I see it." Chrysanthe answered, with conviction.
Harry looked down at the hollow skull in his arms. This was Death, or at least, the only personification of it he would ever get to know. Even Death did not belong out there, in the ether. Death was natural, after all—and more importantly, it was not the End. Things did not end when they died; they returned to the particles of which they were made, to be molded again. Dust and ice and metal came together through the terrifying force of gravity, condensed until they began to burn as one bright, explosive being. And the energy and warmth from that star would breathe life into the barren orbital objects around it. And then eventually, one day, the star would explode, taking all the planets and the people with it; together they would all return to dust and ice and metal, only to be swept back up into stars and people.
But they never really ended. It was a transitive existence that continued into eternity.
But what would happen to them, if they truly ended? Where would they go? Out there, Harry supposed. Out there outside the Universe.
It hit Harry like a single, incomprehensible spark of recognition.
They were called the Deathly Hallows, but words had a way of twisting the meanings out of themselves. They did not come from death, not in the literal sense. They did not come from the natural transitional process that all matter and energy went through. They came from death, as in the end of all things. Hallows. Hollow. Empty. Nothingness.
Harry swallowed, his eyes transfixed in front of him. This is where they came from, some place of irreversible entropy where the already ambiguous laws of physics cease to exist at all; perhaps it is something to be scared of. Perhaps there is a very good reason that even Death himself is afraid of this place.
As Harry stared deeply into the abyss, and the abyss stares back, he seems to lose himself just as quickly as he returns. He saw himself, his own life, things about him he doesn't even remember. It was all very familiar.
It felt like home.
"I lived a lie for a very long time, Harry." She said, softly. "Don't make that same mistake."
Harry thought on this deeply. But what was a lie, at the end of the day? Was he living a lie right now, pretending to be the God King of nothing and everything? Or was his whole life a lie, all his precious moments; Ron's proffered hand on the Hogwarts Express; his very first look at the awe-inspiring candlelit Great Hall; tracing snowflakes on the frosted window of his dorm room, looking out into the snowy castle eaves—were these all lies? Lies he hadn't realized he'd been telling to himself until he awoke one day to find himself the Death King?
"But how do I know if I'm living a lie?" He asked, candid and urgent. "Am I lying to myself, to think that I am the Death King, or the Living King, or any kind of King at all? Or was a I lying to myself long before that, convincing myself I was human?"
Chrysanthe blinks at him. "It is not about deciding which is a lie, or which is the truth: it is about being honest with yourself."
Harry wanted to throw his arms up in exasperation. But then, that made about as much sense as everything else had today and at this point he was too tired to get worked up about logical fallacies and the oxymoron that was the universe.
"I guess you're just going to stay here, then." He said, finally.
"Will I see you again?"
Chrysanthe smiled again, behind a long pool of dark hair. "You know where to look."
Harry stood up then, patting the sheep skull in his arms. Death was being very nice and well behaved today.
He tilted his head, away from the end, back towards where he came from. "How do I get back?"
She turned her head, sparing him another endless, empty look. "The same way you came."
Harry set the skull on his desk, giving it another fond pat.
The stained glass window was left wide open, but the eaves were empty, bereft of old men and death gods alike. He had never noticed what was etched into the watery colors; a grazing herd of blood red longhorn sheep, poised at the edge of mountainous cliffs. Occasionally one would rear its head, or stomp the ground.
He was alone for the moment; he did not know where his servants had left to, but he could take an educated guess. Probably out by the pools, gambling on Light and L. Light and L. He had almost forgotten them, with all that had happened recently.
Harry found himself wandering around the broken castle, aimlessly searching for nothing in particular.
He found a round table surrounded by skeletons, more than a few corridors leading to nowhere, crypts and mausoleums, stairwells that led to doors that led to the same stairwells, over and over again, like a labyrinth of optical illusions made into reality. His search ended when he came to a bedroom - the King's bedroom. It looked just like the one he left, a mirror image with a few distortions. It was a much larger bed, with the same spread and pillows, and the quilt from Mrs. Weasley slung over the back. The bookshelves were lined with his own books; some fiction, some school books, others tomes that had been given to him by Hermione. When he moved towards it and plucked a book from the long line of shelves, he opened it to find the perfectly written scrawl for Flowers for Algernon. Real books, then, not just illusions. He returned the book and walked towards the bed, running his hand through the dust over a chest of drawers. When he came to the bedside table he opened the drawer, unsurprised to find a small, glittering river pebble. When he overturned Mrs. Weasley's quilt, he found the shimmering cloak. And when he came to the closet and opened it, he found an inky black mantle, dripping in shadow and night. He pulled it out, inspecting it in the wan spill of moonlight. The ends seemed to fade and pool around the floor like wandering mist, and the material was so dark he could not discern what it was made of; it was soft though, almost intangible. When he dug his hands into his pockets he found the wand.
For a moment he simply stood there, inspecting the cloak, the room, the world outside the window.
Then he went back to the table and put the stone in his pocket and pulled the invisibility cloak on. His body disappeared, and when he put the black coat over it, it appeared as if he had no body to speak of, all of it disappearing into shifting planes of darkness. He kept the wand in hand, and pulled the hood up.
He expected to feel rather silly when he saw himself in the mirror. But instead he seemed to recognize himself, more than he ever had as a boy with too green eyes and glasses.
His hands were small and pale in comparison to the voluminous sleeves, and from beneath the hood his face looked far too young and his eyes far too bright to be the face of death.
With that thought, he returned to the maze of hallways, and followed the corridors of the castle until he returned to his study.
From there, he lifted the longhorn sheep skull, pulled down his hood and fitted over his head. He pulled the hood back up, and walked towards the window. His reflection was distorted in red and black, and all the longhorn sheep in the stained glass turned to look at him and bowed their heads.
There was a clattering from outside the hallway, growing louder and louder until he could discern the panicked clobbering of restless hooves.
Justin burst into the study, took one look at him, and dropped to his knee. "My King! You have returned!"
Harry stared at him.
He looked back up at him with reverence. "Is that you, Death King?"
"Isn't it always?" He groused, but it lacked any heat. "Why are you running?"
And how could he be out of breath if he didn't have lungs?
"Well, you see, my King, there have been events on Earth -
But Justin was interrupted by the flurry of motion by his window. The great form of Deridovely roosted on the sill, and he too looked haggard somehow, even though he had no visible features.
"My King!" He greeted, sounding just as winded. "I have news… The detective…"
"The detective what?" Harry stalked forward, alarmed.
Had he taken too long, sitting at the edge of the Universe? Just how long had he been gone, anyhow? It felt like anywhere from a few mere hours to all of eternity. But then, time had already been getting away from him long before he met Chrysanthe Lawliet at the end.
"You asked me to contact you, if any issues were to arise while I watched the detective…"
"Did something happened?" Harry pressed, urgently.
"Not as of yet." Deridovely was quick to reassure him. "But there have been new events… Ryuk finally found it pertinent to inform me of one of Light's plots when I revealed to him your orders."
"Orders." He repeated.
Deridovely. "Right. That I was to watch over L and make sure he stayed safe."
"Then he's in danger?"
Harry really ought to remind Ryuk of just where his loyalties lie.
"Ryuk, that scoundrel!" At least Justin seemed to share his annoyance. "I'll teach that gambling fool a lesson -
He held up a hand, silencing the skeleton. "Continue." He motioned to Deridovely.
"Light voluntarily gave up ownership of the Death Note, planning for it to one day return to him."
"For what purpose?"
"To lead the detective astray, I suppose."
Harry knew as much. He had assumed Light would have an endgame as well, and it appeared he was right about that as well. Ryuk had already informed him that Light had renounced ownership as a plot to throw L off, but the Shinigami did not know to what end.
"No, that's not all." Harry sighed. "I'm sure he plans to use the opportunity to kill off his most dangerous adversary."
Justin and Deridovely were silent.
"But, my King…" Justin said, at length. "He cannot kill you."
Harry paused for a moment, before laughing. It sounded warped and hollow through the sheep skull. "Oh, he doesn't know I'm his enemy." He reassured, good-naturedly. "He still believes L is the worst of his worries."
Harry sighed. "Although I suppose I'm not entirely sure if I truly am his enemy."
"He's certainly caused you enough problems to be considered such." Deridovely pointed out.
"True." Harry agreed. "But… he's just a human, isn't he? A human playing with a power far beyond his capabilities or comprehension - my power. I suppose it would only be inevitable for that power to… corrupt him."
Justin looked at him in shock and horror. "My King! But you cannot possibly think this is your fault! If anything, it is Ryuk who should be punished!"
"Ryuk was just being lazy." Harry shrugged him off. "And I am the one who is responsible for all of you, am I not?"
They had nothing to say to this.
"All the same, regardless of circumstances out of his control Light still had a choice to use the Death Note or not. It was not an event forced upon him against his will."
Justin nodded. "Yes, yes." He spared Harry a fretful glance. "But… what will you do, my liege?"
Harry smiled. "Confront him myself, I suppose."
It appeared word had a way of spreading amongst the world of the death gods with a speed unprecedented even for the world of the living.
By the time Harry was leaving for earth a familiar old man was hobbling his way towards him, looking as amused as always.
"So you've finally come to a decision?"
"Did I ever really have a choice?"
Grindelwald shrugged. "Yes." He hummed thoughtfully. "You could have continued to pretend to be human; you could have ignored this world and returned to your life before. You could have killed off all of humanity and called it a day."
"None of those were ever really options." Harry pointed out, finding himself amused against all reason.
He sighed, looking away. "I just have to be honest with myself."
Somehow, the old wizard found that Harry looked more like himself in this moment than he ever had before. His wings made of shadow and death spread behind him, streaks of silver lining glistening where light dripped around the curves. In his hands was the longhorn sheep skull, tucked under an arm; in the other was the Elder Wand. Beneath the hood his large eyes were as bright and ominous as always, looking both defeated and determined. The rest of him was wholly indiscernible, lost in darkness.
"Have you come to offer me a prize?" He joked.
Harry smiled. "Would you care to ask for one?" He returned.
Grindelwald laughed. "I hope not."
Harry's smile fell away; he looked down, into the shimmering blue sky.
"What are you going to do?" The old wizard asked.
The answer seemed as old as eternity.
"I'm going to give them a choice."
Sorry it was so short! But if I didn't end it there this would never have been posted lol Next one will be a lot longer.