As with many horrible things in life, it was both a long time coming and simultaneously very sudden when Harry Potter realized something was wrong.
He'd lived many happy years with his wife, Ginny. They'd had many children, and he'd been proud to see them go off to Hogwarts. It was the first time seeing a child off to Hogwarts when he got a comment for the first time, when he had an inkling that something might be wrong.
"Oh, wow! Harry, you look phenomenal! Haven't aged a day. You and Ginny have always looked so good together." Lavender Brown cooed at the famous couple. "You'll have to pop 'round for tea some time!"
That was the beginning of the end. More and more people began to comment on his age. Ginny used to laugh and joke with him about it. "Give it a few more years, people'll think I've robbed the cradle! No one would ever guess you were the older of the two of us." She'd wink and give him a swat on the bum as she said it.
Years went by, and it was just another part of being Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived, Man-Who-Conquered. One more thing people felt they had the right to comment on, to talk to him about, even though he bloody well hadn't asked anyone's opinion, thank you very much. Being famous was hard, sometimes. Even though he'd won the epithet 'Man-Who-Conquered' on his own, his youthful appearance and survival as a baby really weren't anything he had done himself or done on purpose. And honestly, he attributed most of the work for the whole "Man-Who-Conquered" bit to have been done by Dumbledore anyways. It was all out of his control, and he hated the praise he received for it.
But he was an old hand at practiced smiles and a friendly half-wave, so he let it slide off his back like water off a duck. An apt analogy, as he often felt like something straight out of a petting zoo.
Eventually, with all his children graduated Hogwarts and off living their own lives, Harry and Ginny slowly relaxed into a comfortable retirement.
But then one afternoon Hermione and Ron decided a trip down memory lane would do them all some good. So, they pulled out all the albums and photos they could find, many of which were taken by Colin Creevey, which made them especially dear to Harry. Pictures of Hagrid and the Trio from first year, smiling wide with rosy cheeks after a snowball fight drew laughs and cheerful stories. Second year, third year, on and on the stories came and went. But it was a picture of Harry and Ginny, holding each other tightly in the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts that brought the four up short.
It wasn't the memories of gasping breaths and spellfire that shook them. It wasn't the exultation at the remembered rush of adrenaline and pure joy that had coursed through them all those years ago with the thought we won, dear Merlin we really won. It wasn't the feeling of loss, regret, and longing as they remembered their fallen comrades, friends, and family.
No. It was none of that.
Shock. They were brought up short by the pure shock of seeing Harry at that age, just returned to life from death, looking the exact same as he did now more than two decades later. Hermione, Ron, and Ginny all looked weathered by age, older and more refined, but Harry's face in the picture was the exact same youthful expression as it had always been, as though frozen in time. It was Hermione, sweet, no-nonsense Hermione, who broke the silence.
"Well, people have always joked, or commented, but I didn't realize how… well. I didn't realize, did I? I suppose it was silly of us to think there wouldn't be any side effects at all. It's not the end of the world, just one more thing to do. If you'd like, I can bring it up with the Unspeakables at work tomorrow?" Even though Harry, Ron, and Ginny had all finally retired, Hermione wouldn't give up her work until she couldn't apparate to her office any longer, no matter what anyone thought. She was far too passionate about it.
Harry desperately wanted to deny her. To be poked, and prodded, and analyzed by a bunch of faceless wizards? No, thank you, none for him. The look in Ginny's eyes, though, melted his heart just a fraction, enough so that he subsided.
"Alright, just tell me when and where and I'll show up."
He received a date and a location shortly after, and by the end of the week he was headed out of the house to his appointment with a shouted "Don't forget to water my plants, Gin! Last time I left you alone with them, Neville's Mimbletanzia almost died!"
"It's called a Mimbulus Mimbletonia, you prat! And you're the one that always kills the plants!" She shouted back. He smiled as he turned with a smart crack to apparate into the alleyway around the corner from the Ministry.
In no time at all he was sat on a stiff medical examination table, wearing only a thin robe, with Merlin only knew how many wands pointed at him. In short, he was miserable. They hadn't even let him hold onto his wand or the mokeskin pouch Hermione had Charmed for him right as the War was heating up. He wasn't sure why he kept it on his person at all times, all these years after the War, but it calmed him to have it resting on his hip. The fact that she'd expanded it to have no bottom was especially useful, and it never left his side if he could help it.
As he suspected, the Unspeakables didn't find anything quite wrong with him. The single thing they found to point out was that his magic was growing stronger over time. 'Almost unnoticeable, but steady' was how they worded it. It didn't affect his day to day life, so he wasn't overly concerned.
"You see that law pass?" He heard in the halls of the Ministry as he walked to an Apparition point. "Can't believe that the ICW actually let it go through! Repealing the Statute of Secrecy. Bloody crazy, that is. Absolutely mad."
"Well," he heard a woman chime in "it wasn't as if we could keep the Muggles blind about it forever, could we? Not with their ekeltricity, and their weird version of moving portraits that update themselves. Besides, that marketing campaign, the one for Satan? They brought in some of the best Seers and Arithmancers in the world. Turns out, it's the real deal! Don't know where he gets off on breaking the Statute of Secrecy, but I suppose he isn't exactly a wizard, is he? It'd be more like being mad at a Phoenix for having a burning day; it's just in his nature, y'know?"
Harry sighed as he turned with a sharp crack. The world around him kept changing, and yet he seemed to stay the same. Literally, it seems he thought to himself with a dark chuckle.
Ginny wasn't well pleased that the Unspeakables had sent him on his way with the equivalent of a pat on the head and a shrug of their shoulders. It took all his considerable skills in persuasion to keep her from storming the Ministry. As it turned out, it was a waste of breath. Hermione had gone on a rampage of her own, marching up and down the Department of Mysteries and lambasting the Unspeakables as, if he was told the story correctly, "incompetent fools with more dust than braincells, who couldn't understand the readouts of a diagnostic Charm if it was written in the Queen's English on a stack of fresh parchment."
He did so love his friends, headaches though they gave him.
"Have fun, did you?" He had mocked her at dinner the following week. She pinked prettily as Ron let out a loud guffaw, and Ginny did her own impersonation of the rant, to light applause from Harry and Ron when she finished.
"Oh, hush, all of you. They've had it coming for a while, the pompous arseholes. You just gave me the excuse."
"Oooh, language Ms. Granger. What would the Headmistress say?"
"She'd say I was bloody well right to give them a thrashing, and you know it. She comes over for tea often enough."
"And honestly, mate, she's been a Weasley now for more than two decades. Why d'you insist on calling her Granger when you get uppity?"
"Old habits die hard?" Harry smirked as he gave a light shrug.
Hermione smacked him across the head with a wooden spoon. "I've been a Weasley longer than I've been a Granger, you twit. Don't get smart with me, or I'll sick Molly on you."
"Yes ma'am!" He gave a mock salute, causing Ginny to spit out the sip of tea she'd just taken.
"You were never in the military, love, and we can tell. Worst salute I've ever seen. Your posture is atrocious!"
"Sod off, we were close enough. I can salute if I damn well want to."
The rest of the night had gone just as well, laughter and frivolity filling the air, and he'd given his two best friends tight hugs as he Flooed back to his and Ginny's home.
It was months later when Harry started having pains. A growing ache in his scar, not the one on his forehead, but the one on his chest. The spot where the second killing curse had struck, a large ugly X-mark marring his chest, right above his heart. It throbbed constantly, with occasional sharp shooting pains, like an orchestra in the background on the Wizarding Wireless occasionally being interrupted by bursts of overpowering static.
No mediwitch or Healer could fathom what was wrong. His body was in perfect health, the same as if he was 17 and in the prime of his life they all said. No mental damage either, he aware and alert at all times.
It was Hermione, with her unique experience as being one of the few people alive to have read Secrets of the Darkest Art, that eventually suggested they check for soul damage. It was unlikely, they all agreed. Highly improbable that something from so long ago would only now be rearing its head.
When her face paled, and her lips pursed, Harry closed his eyes and let out a low sigh. He knew the answer. Felt it deep in his bones, coursing through his blood, throbbing in his scar. Something was wrong with his soul.
When he opened his eyes, his three closest friends were frozen in place. He reached out to shake them out of it, wondering if they had been petrified, when a voice spoke out.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you." A woman's voice. He turned towards it, and saw a middle-aged woman staring down at him from across the room.
"Don't suppose you're here to tell me you made a mistake, and that you need to age me up to match my wife, eh?"
"No," she gave him a small smile. "I don't suppose that is the case."
"Not with my luck." He mumbled. "Don't know what I did to piss off Fate, but when I meet her you'd better bet I'm either going to apologize or hex her right in her face."
"I'd rather not be hexed, if it's all the same to you. But you haven't done anything to me, so I don't especially need the apology." She smirked at him then, as though she knew a secret he didn't. It was an ugly smirk, and he wasn't a fan of it.
"Yeah, pull the other one. What sort of spell is this? I'll admit, I've been out of action for a while, and I'm not the Auror I used to be, but I'm pretty sure Time Magic of this caliber is still illegal."
"Not a spell, Harry. Chronos lent me a hand and has stopped time while we have a little chat. My name is Lachesis, and there is much I need to catch you up on." With that, she reached behind her back and then flung her hand forwards. Harry suppressed his flinch as he saw the three objects floating between them.
"Bloody buggering fuck. Morgana's saggy bra strap, and the tits they hold, what in the hell are you playing at? I destroyed one of those, lost the other, and the third should be safely back at my house, in my trunk, under a Merlin-damned Fidelius Charm. A Charm, I might add, that it took Hermione five years to modify so that I could be both the caster and the Secret Keeper. How in the nine layers of hell did you get any of them, let alone all of them?"
Her eyebrows were raised comically, and continued to climb higher as he spoke and swore up a storm.
"Heavens me. Language, Mr. Potter." Her mocking tone, and the way she copied the jokes he shared with his friends, his family, irked him. His ire creeped up on him slowly, stalking like a jungle cat, growing more and more agitated the longer this went on.
Floating before him were the Deathly Hallows. The Cloak, the Wand, and the Stone. All three were in perfect condition.
"You better start explaining, lady, or I'm going to start getting pissed. And not the good kind, with firewhiskey and strippers, the bad kind with Fiendfyre and charred corpses."
"I am the Incarnation of Fate. You've seen the advertisements put out by Satan, recently? He is the Incarnation of Evil, and being Evil he has taken it upon himself to break all the rules of being an Incarnation. That is to say, he has begun to directly interfere with mortals. But that is neither here nor there."
Harry clenched his fist and ground his teeth as he listened to the woman speak.
"I am Lachesis, one aspect of three versions of myself. I am the measurer of the strands of Fate. As Clotho, my younger self, spins the thread, so do I measure them, and so does my older self Atropos cut them. It is a tireless, thankless job, but it is necessary. All lives must come to an end, and the world must have some semblance of order. Things must happen as they are Destined to happen, and it is our job to ensure that they don't become too tangled up. To be honest, I've had a particularly difficult time keeping Atropos away from your thread. She's wanted to cut it for a long while now."
"Am I supposed to thank you? Because if what you're saying is true, which we haven't established for sure in case you were wondering, then you are the reason a lot of bad stuff happened to me. That was your Prophecy coming out of Trelawney's lips all those years ago."
A simple "Yes" seemed to be all she had to say on the matter. Harry's ground his teeth further to keep from lashing out.
"So, what do you want from me, then? It's always something with you. You likely orchestrated my whole life, and Dumbledore's too, and all my friend's just to get me here. I did what you wanted before, I fulfilled your Prophecy. Why won't you just bugger off!?"
"It isn't that simple. You conquered the Hallows, but more importantly, in doing so you conquered yourself. You faced Death as something not to be feared. To be respected, surely, but as a necessity to achieve your goals. As neither Good nor Evil, but as a fact of the way our reality is designed."
"Where are you going with this?"
"There are five main Incarnations, excluding Good and Evil. I am, as I said, Fate. There is also Time, Nature and War."
"That's only four."
"That's because only four Incarnations are filled at the moment. One of our positions is missing."
Harry paused, for just a moment, as suddenly everything came into view. He let out a grimace as he muttered "Death."
"I won't do it. I don't want to be Death, or an Incarnation, or whatever you're on about. I just want to finish out my retirement with Ginny, Ron, and Hermione. Watch my kids grow old, and their kids. And if I'm really lucky, maybe their kids too."
"That isn't going to happen, Harry. You are now, and have always been, destined to be Thanatos. You shall be Death. And if you don't learn to love it, you may at least learn to accept it."
"You can't force me. I won't be your puppet, I won't dance to your tune! I'd rather just move on than be stuck around, Immortal. I'd kill myself before I took up the mantle."
She gave him a small, broken smile.
"You already have."
His eyes widened, and he breathed out a soft "No."
"Yes. When you chose to come back. You accepted your own Mastery over your Aspect. You should have become an Incarnation then and there. You would have been able to merely pluck the remnants of Tom Riddle's broken soul out of his homunculus construct of a body. When you threw away your Hallows, rejected your Office, you should have immediately perished. But I held Atropos back from snipping your thread by reminding her that you had been accepted as an Immortal, which made your thread immune to being cut. I did this so that you might experience some of the happiness you deserved. You did well as my Champion, to destroy Voldemort with none of the powers of your Station as an Incarnation. But I can hold it off no longer. Now is the time that your thread must be halted, suspended as you take up your Office as Thanatos, lest your thread be destroyed."
"Then let it be destroyed! Better to move on to my loved ones than to wallow away in a job I don't want, set apart from humanity and everyone I hold dear!"
"You'll notice I said 'destroyed' not 'cut.' If you don't take up the office, you will not move on; your soul will cease to be. You will not move on to, as Albus once put it, the 'Next Great Adventure.' You will simply cease to exist, only a memory to those who knew you. Your soul has been tethered too long past the day of your Death, without you taking up the Office. Cutting it will fray it, till it unwinds itself into nothingness."
"You bitch." Harry snarled. "You set this up too, didn't you? If you had come to me earlier could have just let Atropos cut my thread, let my soul move on? I'll bet you waited until just the last moment so I'd have to choose your answer, didn't you? One more choice taken out of my hands, is that right?"
"If I'd let her cut your thread, you wouldn't have been given the option to come back. I'm only doing what I can for the Greater Good; it's my responsibility to thwart Evil." Was all she said before she merely tucked her head and averted her eyes.
Harry stared at the Hallows before him. The deep shimmering expanse of the Cloak, the alluring shine of the Stone, the terrifying power of the Wand. He shuddered at the sight of them whole and unharmed.
"How long is it for?"
"Traditionally, Death takes over his Office when he has killed his predecessor. Unfortunately, when your predecessor was tricked by a few crafty wizards and brothers who stole from him his Accoutrements, the Vessels of his Office, it messed everything up. There is currently no Death for you to kill. By uniting the Hallows, and Mastering Death, you accepted the Office."
"So, I have to do this until someone kills me? Why can't I just take up the office, then let someone kill me? Where will all your plans go then?" He hated the sneer in his voice. He'd left his anger behind him so long ago, filled his heart instead with happier things. When it was all in danger of being ripped away though, old scars were stretched and torn anew as he fought desperately to hold onto what he had.
"You will be Thanatos. Death Incarnate. There shall be nothing that shall kill you. Your Office is your Domain, and within it you are absolute."
"Then how is any Death ever killed?"
"By surprise. When you do not pay attention to your surroundings, when you do not keep a firm grip on your powers and Office, you will become a little more mortal than normal. It is by this that there will never be a Death who would shirk his duties. It will also keep you from being killed, as you are not the type of person to turn away from your responsibilities."
"Bloody hell." He ran his hand through his hair and let out a long, ragged breath. "Seems I was always destined to be your whipping boy. Fine. You win."
He reached out his hand, and though the Wand called to him, craved his touch, and the Stone whispered to him, murmuring sweet nothings about all those he had lost, it was the Cloak he claimed first.
His link to his Father. His shield against the outside world. It wrapped itself around him, a comforting embrace, to ward away the ugliness of the world. His hidden refuge when everything would inevitably become too much.
He held his left hand aloft, and the Stone flew to him, settling itself on his middle finger as a band sprouted from it to slither around his outstretched hand. It settled down upon his finger like a heavy weight, and he despised how comfortable it felt.
His right hand was barely raised when the Wand smacked against his palm, crackling with unrestrained power, almost gleeful in its eagerness. He felt the three Artifacts, his Accoutrements, the Deathly Hallows settle around him like a familiar hug. It sent a disgusted shiver down his spine.
"There. Happy now?"
"Yes." She didn't sound it. Good. Harry wasn't happy either. "I do hope that one day you can come to see that this is for the best. You will be good in your Office, I assure you."
Harry just snorted, then waved his hand for her to get on with it.
"I am not so cruel as you might think. I shall allow you to say goodbye."
His throat constricted as his eyes returned to the frozen bodies of his loved ones.
Color returned to the world that he hadn't realized had drained away, seeping back in like paint across canvas, as time restarted itself. He stood there, watching as his friends saw the life leave his body. His soul was untethered, he was untethered. His soul was nothing more than the mortar that held together the Hallows around him. Ironic that he was the key that locked tight his own restraints.
Ron looked up first.
"Bloody hell! Merlin-fuck!" Ron fell back on his bum from where'd he'd been squatting, and the two women looked down at him, then up at where he was staring slack-jawed. The color drained from their faces, and Harry looked down to see his skeletal visage poking out through his Cloak.
"It is his time. I held off as long as I could. I am sorry." They were the only words he could manage to say without breaking down into tears. He wanted so desperately to convey his emotion, but his voice instead came out raspy and monotone.
They wailed. They screamed. They threatened. They cursed. They demanded, and cried, and raged.
Nothing he hadn't been doing on his own only a few moments before. He sighed as he looked at them, wishing he could tell them the truth. Wishing-.
Wait. Why couldn't he tell them the truth? He began to feel the excitement bubble up from within himself and opened his mouth to tell his family who he really was, but the words wouldn't come. His voice betrayed him, and he clacked his teeth shut instead. From within his cowl, they made an ominous echo.
"He can hear you, if you would like to say goodbye. But he wanted you to know he loves you, with all that he has. He fought, and bargained, and did everything he could to stay with you. Sadly, it is out of my hands. It is his time. But know that he will never forget you, not now nor in the Next Great Adventure. He loves you, with all he has. He will wait for you. He longs to be reunited, but hopes you live as fully as you can until then."
"We'll miss you mate. Don't know if you can hear me, but we will. All of us. Think of you every day, we will. But I hope you're not too mad if we don't follow after you too soon, yeah?"
"We love you Harry. I'm so sorry I didn't figure it out in time, but never doubt that we love you. We'll look after Ginny, and the kids, and everyone, and oh! We just love you so much!" Hermione broke down again in to tears, burrowing her head into Ron's chest.
Ginny, his brave, beautiful Ginny. She approached his skeletal form and stared deep into his now empty eye sockets. It tore at him to know she couldn't see his eyes; she had always said how much she loved them. Like fresh pickled toads she had said when they were young. He had mocked her for that endlessly. She still joked with him on occasion, telling him he even smelled like one, too.
Well. She used to, anyways.
She stared deeply at his skull, and he wondered if she could sense his resignation. Then she leaned in and placed a featherlight kiss on his bone cheek and whispered "I love you, Harry Potter. I'll see you soon, I promise. I'll take care of the kids. And I promise, I'll remember to water your plants."
For a brief, terrifying, glorious moment, he thought she knew the truth. But when he looked closer, he saw the strain in her face. The terror, the loneliness welling up inside her. He didn't know if it would hurt more in that moment if she knew the truth or not. So, he turned to walk out of the house. He couldn't stand to be with them any longer knowing his two best friends thought him a stranger, being unsure if his wife knew his knew fate. He didn't make it far. Feeling like there was a vice around his heart, he heaved out heavy wracking sobs in the garden, invisible to all around him as he let his Cloak hide him.
"Funny, I thought she said he'd be here. I'm usually right on time." Harry turned to see a tall man in a long white robe, holding an hourglass. The sand fell at a normal, steady rate, despite the fact that the hourglass was tilted at an odd angle.
Time to buckle down. Time to shove it all down, bottle it all up, and deal with his emotions later. He had a job to do. With one last long and unsteady breath he stepped forward and allowed himself to be seen.
"Are you looking for me?" He croaked out.
"Ah, Thanatos, it is so good to see you again."
"Oh, have we not met before?"
"Not that I can recall."
"A pity, then. This shall be our last encounter, for me at least. I knew it was coming up, but that does not make it any easier to lose a friend. You've been through so many versions of me, or so you said, that I'm surprised our time is finally here."
"What are you on about?"
"You don't know?"
"As I've been told by many a Professor in my youth, the amount I don't know could fill oceans."
"I'm Time. Chronos, if you will. All of us Temporal Incarnations live our lives backwards, from the moment we grab our Hourglass to the moment of our mortal birth. I can't believe I'm the first to meet you!" He let out a loud guffaw. "This is wonderful. Well, time's a-slipping by. We'd best get a move on, eh? You have quite a bit of catching up to do."
Harry just frowned and gestured "Lead the way." The dark-skinned man grabbed his hand, and the world blurred and shifted. Suddenly, they were no longer where they had started. Harry wasn't even sure if they were in England any longer.
"This is the right time. Where is… Ah! See, over there." He pointed off into the distance, where a skeletal figure, almost reminiscent of a Dementor, stood warily on a hilltop, looking out into the distance. A figure walked up the hill towards him, and Harry could see the moment the skeletal figure noticed the man, for his whole countenance changed. Anger radiated off of him, and Harry couldn't help but walk towards the potential conflict. If this was what he thought it was…
As he walked closer, he saw the skeletal figure, the previous Death he assumed, running through a gamut of emotions. Rage faded to mockery, blended into grief. As Harry approached close enough to hear their conversation, which the mortal man had looked incredibly calm throughout, Death finally settled on resigned.
"Yes, I suppose you did truly best me. Though, I doubt that a life spent hidden was a life well spent."
"I spent it well enough." The man was much older than Harry had expected. From a distance, his posture and countenance were that of a young man, but up close the age-weathered skin, wrinkled and browned, contrasted starkly against a long white beard. He continued speaking "I left the cloak to my son, and he shall pass it to his son, and so on and so on. My line shall only ever pass on when we are ready, not when Death decides."
Harry decided that this was a good time for him to speak up. If he was going to do this job, he was at least going to do it right. "I don't suppose you expect that will hide them from me, do you?"
Both of the men on the hilltop turned to look at him then, both mirroring a surprised expression.
"I grew up with that Cloak. I know it's secret's better than anyone. It's not perfect, not in the least. Your children shall pass when they are meant to, when I decide. You will be the last of your line to escape Death."
At least until I show up, the traitorous voice inside his head muttered.
"And who are you, exactly?"
"Your replacement, so I've been told. You lost the contest, which means you've forfeited your Office. You have complete control over Death, and by extension souls or so I'm led to believe. I'm not sure why you chose to enter a silly contest instead of just taking their lives. It would have made my life a hell of a lot easier."
Both of them looked at him like he was crazy, which didn't faze him in the slightest.
Chronos decided this was an apt time to jump in.
"It is true. It is your Time to move on, both of you. Atropos has agreed to cut both your threads, and Lachesis has determined the rest of the details. This shall be your replacement." He turned to Harry and whispered "Just do whatever feels natural. You'll be taking their souls, so you may take them however you wish. Remember, your own words were true; Death is your bailiwick. You may do as you like, and none shall stop you."
Harry stared at the Wand in his hand, Elder wood with Elder berries carved intricately into its shaft. Lazily, he pointed at the two figures before him and whispered "Accio." A silky smooth something slid out of the man, and the skeletal figure before him collapsed, before a similar silky material slid out from the rags covering the ground and flew gently into the air.
"What the hell was that?"
"You took their souls. It seems that our previous Thanatos' soul was already well decided. It was Good enough, clean enough, to proceed to Heaven on its own. The soul of the Peverell, though…" Chronos drifted off. "Making deals with Incarnations is not something to be done lightly. He must have trafficked with powerful beings to be so confident. Many of them may have been quite Dark."
Harry snorted. "I don't care. How do I get rid of it? Send it beyond to where it belongs?"
"You may measure it now, if you like. Or you may capture many more souls, then bring them to Purgatory and do many of them at once. You must store it safely, if you'd like to bring it to Purgatory."
Harry reached down and was immeasurably relieved to find his mokeskin pouch still attached to his hip. He opened it and slid the smooth material of his ancestor's soul into his bag. It would be safe there until he was ready to deal with it.
"One last gift, before I go." The dark-skinned man reached into his long white robe and pulled out a simple watch.
"It shall tell you how much time until the next soul that needs your attention. I'm not sure how you know where to be, only how to tell you how much time you have. It will also tell you what your backlog looks like. You only need to attend to the tricky cases, the ones where the souls are so very close you need to measure them yourself. The rest of the souls are set to 'auto-pilot,' if you will, and will go to their destination without your conscious say so. Otherwise, you'd never get any work done!" The man winked at Harry. Harry just nodded back.
"If you'd like, I could add a function to your watch to slow down time, or stop completely, even, in case you're ever running-."
"Arresto Temporus." Harry muttered as he harshly jabbed straight outwards with his wand. The world slowed around them, and Harry cranked his wand backwards, rotating his wrist, until the two Incarnations were stuck in a temporal standstill. Chronos frowned momentarily, then let out a huge grin. With a wave of his hand time resumed.
"Excellent! You shall be fine then. And remember, you're already starting a bit behind in your schedule. Your predecessor was a bit preoccupied with this silly bet and left you something of a terrible backlog on souls that need to be harvested."
Harry just grunted and waved at the man. With nary a sound, he vanished, and finally Harry was alone.
He took in a breath, inhaling as long as he could, till his chest hurt and his eyes watered, and he couldn't hold it in any more. Then, with all he had, he screamed. Loud, harsh, terrible, his scream echoed around him, bouncing back to his ears as if to prove to him that he was truly alone.
No friends. No family. Forced into the distant past by crazy primordial beings that cared not a whit for the desires of mortals. His despair ripped through him like a barrage of serrated blades, like a cascade of cracking whips. It tortured him, and he laid where he was, on the ground, on a hill, in the middle of nowhere, lost in somewhen, and Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, the Man-Who-Conquered, Thanatos, Death, the little boy locked in his cupboard began to cry.
He had no idea how long his tears lasted, how many lakes he could have filled. But when his tears ran dry and his throat grew hoarse, he did finally relent. There was no going home. He tried every spell he knew, he tried some he didn't know how to do but had seen done once before, he even tried made up spells, just to say he had, all in the name of returning to his family in the future.
Nothing worked. This was his life now. Set apart, alone, to be that which all men feared. Inevitable, he would march forward, taking all who walked the earth, outliving them all. The problem was, he knew how important his job was. He knew what would happen if he forewent his responsibility and never reaped a single soul. Much as he hated it, he knew he had to perform the job until he was replaced.
He doubted he'd be lucky enough for anyone, wizard or Muggle, to be able to kill him any time soon. He was well and truly stuck.
He slowly picked himself up, his Hallows clinging to him like ice to the pavement after a snow storm, and he wandered.
"How the bloody hell am I supposed to know where I'm going?"
A mighty neigh was let out, and Harry turned, shocked, to see a large pale horse braying on the hill he'd just come from. The horse trotted out to him, and instincts Hagrid had drilled into him kicked in. He reached out a hand, gentle and tender, approachable. The horse came closer, and closer still, until their foreheads touched, and Harry heard a strong voice within his head.
"Hello, Thanatos. I am Mortis. Allow me to guide you."
"I already have a familiar." Harry warned. He had never replaced his first real friend, and he never would. He felt a gentle breeze through his mind, then heard a soft answer.
"I shall never replace your Hedwig, I know that. But I should also like to be your friend, if you would permit it."
Harry sucked another breath in and let it out slowly. "You know, I think I could really use one of those right about now."
Hours, to Weeks, to Months.
Years, to Decades, to Centuries.
Time became a fluid and nebulous thing for Thanatos. His memory was clear and sharp as ever. Every moment he had ever experienced could be recalled as though it was yesterday, from both his Mortal life and his Immortal one. But it was as though he was living in a greyscale world. Souls were collected, and stored, and measured. Mortis (who was ecstatic when Harry finally convinced him to shapeshift into a car; Mortis was a speed-fiend) was his only companion, his only escape from the monotony of his existence. The only place he found any measure of solace was in the solitude from within his Palace.
All of which contributed to his shock when he entered the house of the next soul he was to collect and saw a young familiar looking girl. He couldn't quite place her, which was odd given his memory, but he paid it little mind.
The little girl couldn't see him, nor could her mother, and he had long ago destroyed any guilt about reaping a soul in front of their family. Life was not easy, nor was it pretty, and Death was even more gruesome than life.
The familiar material flew out of the mother's chest and into his outstretched hand as he summoned it with his wand. The woman shuttered from the cause of her death, a bit of poison added to her tea by a rival if Thanatos didn't miss his mark. He turned to leave, just one more gruesome scene etched into his mind, when he heard a noise he'd hoped to never hear again.
A loose, lofty voice, dreamlike in quality. It spiraled around him and drew memories out from the well within his heart that he kept locked up at all time.
"The final battle is coming, heralded by Death approaching himself. Death shall find love in the Moon and save her from Evil. He who rides the Pale Horse shall be firm in his domain, or the Moon shall be taken from the sky, and Evil shall triumph in sending the world into Darkness. The final battle is coming, heralded by Death… Approaching… Himself."
Thanatos looked down at the young girl, who looked around quite suddenly with a dazed expression, which morphed to horrified as she saw her mother lying on the floor, and yet Death felt no pity. He recognized this girl now for the woman she would become.
A cold fury swept through him, chilling him bone deep as he seethed out of the house. "Mortis. To Fate" he hissed, and with the rev of an engine that sounded suspiciously like an angry braying, he was off.
The ride did nothing to calm the storm brewing within him, and as he approached Fate's Abode, he crashed the doors open. "Fate!" He shouted, "Show yourself!"
She appeared before him as Clotho, young and guileless, and she smiled at him. "Thanatos, what a pleasant surprise! How is-."
"I would speak to Lachesis. Now." He sneered at her. Her grimace didn't faze him, he cared not at all for Fate's opinion.
"You've never liked me, you know. Any of us, really. I don't know why, I've never done anything to you. All we've ever done is try to be kind, and you throw it back in all three of our faces."
"Never done anything to me? Did I not just a hear a Prophecy, spoken by a true Seer, where my name left her lips?"
"Well, the Threads of Life and the Tapestry of Fate are fickle things. We need all the help we can get ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible. Not to mention all the extra time we need to spend thwarting Satan!"
He saw a pout mar her face before her body morphed, and between one breath and the next (which Thanatos didn't draw, being already dead and Immortal) her visage shifted from young to middle aged. Still beautiful, but with a mature rather than youthful countenance, Lachesis gave him a glare.
"She's right you know; you haven't ever liked us. Any of us. You'd never even met me when I was first inducted as Fate and yet you were still rude to me! You never managed to give a sufficient reason, either."
"This is the reason, you insufferable woman. You can't help but meddle, can't stop yourself from sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong. Every Incarnation of Fate, especially when you're new, always thinks that you know best. You go butting in where you aren't wanted, and I end up being the one who has to pay. Death is always, one way or another, bound up in these damned Prophecies of yours."
"Yes, but this-."
"This is special. This is important. This time is different. You have a good reason. If only I understood. I'm not an Aspect of Fate, there's no way I could understand. Sound about right? I've heard it all before. I had the Lachesis and Clotho before you well trained enough that they left me alone to do my blood job without trying to get me involved in your worthless schemes and plots. But whenever there's a new one of you, you get too big for your britches, and I end up the victim who has to clean up your mess. It's one of the reasons that you work so closely with Chronos; he's lived through it all already, knows the ending in advance, so all your silly little surprises don't mean as much to him."
"Just because you've been Thanatos longer than I've been Fate, doesn't mean you know how to be Fate better than I do!"
"Oh, really? Atropos, you've been in the same position long enough. Did you not think to show her what happened when you attempt to embroil me in your silly schemes? You're only a few Incarnations removed, after all. Your predecessor would have informed you of it, I'm sure. Did you not show her the reason, as you did with so many before her, that Fate has so long left me alone, to be the neutral bystander that Death is meant to be?"
"What are you-. Atropos says that she felt this was important enough to warrant intervention, so she didn't tell me? What didn't you tell me? What could be so bad-?"
Thanatos knew the exact moment Atropos explained to her his Last Stand. It had been the moment he had finally had enough, finally hardened his heart and fully applied himself to his role as Death. He had left behind his mortal life and committed to his Office. His stipulation for doing so was getting Fate to agree to leave him bloody out of her wheeling, dealing, and shenanigans. He had told the Fate of the time that he would have no more of it, or she would face the consequences.
There was a snag in her Skein that she seemingly couldn't untangle for months, never realizing that the problem was that she had tried to involve Thanatos in yet another prophecy. When Thanatos had heard she wasn't willing to leave him be, he had let loose.
"The Plague of Justinian?!"
"That lasted more than 300 years! Killed almost 10,000 people a day at its height! You were the cause of that?!"
"It was the precursor to the Black Plague – which Satan used later to kill almost 75 million people! You were the one who gave him the building blocks for that?!"
"Yes! Now do you see? I made it very clear that I won't be a pawn in any of your schemes. Even Evil knows to leave me to my duties, nowadays. So, since no one but I heard that prophecy earlier today, you shall go to your Tapestry and undo it. Rescind it. Now."
Lachesis grimaced "I can't. Satan is beginning to ramp up his plans for domination. We've uncovered some of his plots, but they are becoming more and more common place. Worse, I've seen into the Tapestry, and if we don't set you up as a certain girl's protector, we're not sure who yet, then Satan will kill her before she has a chance to beat him in the U.S. presidential race. Once he's in charge, there's almost nothing we can do!"
"And this matters to me why?"
"Don't you have any morals? Compassion?! We must stop Satan from succeeding!"
"Because he's Evil!" Lachesis was now visibly distraught, muscles tense and near to shouting. Thanatos sneered at her.
"There are worse things in the world than Evil, Lachesis. Men and women can be swayed back from Evil and to Good. Evil is not absolute, and changes over time. Men are fickle things. Death, however? I shall not be stopped. I shall not be denied. If I so wanted, I could reap every soul as they are born, and none could stop me. I could halt the souls from ever leaving the body they inhabit, creating a Hell on Earth. If I was so inclined, I could force every soul, regardless of its true destination, into Hell. Do. Not. Test. Me."
"Why?" she whispered, with tears in her eyes, staring at Thanatos as though truly seeing him for the first time. "Why will you not help us thwart Satan? Why do you cling so tightly to the rules and to neutrality? Are you not Mortal under your Accoutrements, as we all are? Is there no speck of humanity left in you?"
"I have not taken off my Hallows in more than ten of your lifetimes. I may have been mortal once, but now I am only Death. I've spent my time as your plaything, I've done my duty a hundred times over. I shall do my job, and no more. You shall rescind the Prophecy."
"Is there truly nothing I can offer you, entice you with, to persuade you to help me thwart Evil?"
"I shall give you the same truth I gave one of your predecessors: If you want a Death who will bend to your whims, you must find a new Death."
Thanatos was almost surprised to see Lachesis seemingly consider his words as an option.
"I will think on it, but you've been Death for so long, I can't imagine any but you fulfilling the position. You're sure you won't help me?"
"Nothing good comes when I bend to the whims of Fate." He sneered one last time, before sweeping out of Fate's Abode.
He couldn't help the nostalgic twinge he felt as he twirled his Cloak, the same twinge he felt every time he left theatrically. He had modeled it, after all, on the most impressive and caustic of all his Professors from his Mortal life. Thanatos had enjoyed centuries to perfect it, however, and it was quite impressive.
"Are you sure you've made the right choice, Harry?" Mortis neighed gently into his mind as he rode off to his next appointment.
"I've told you before, Mortis. I am Thanatos now."
"I suppose that answers my question then, old friend."
"Yes, I suppose it does."
It was years later when Fate called on him again. She had left him to his devices, and with the lack of any additional knowledge Thanatos assumed that she had recalled and destroyed the Prophecy. Apparently, he was mistaken.
"I've thought on what you said, Thanatos."
"So, the Prophecy is undone, destroyed?"
"Well, no, but-."
"Then I must unleash another culling? Shall I visit another city, and destroy all that I see until you relent?"
"NO! No, just,-."
"Then what, Fate? What do you think to gain by drawing my ire?"
"The father's name is Cedric! He knows he is going to die, and he's sacrificing himself for his daughter!"
Thanatos' bones froze.
"Repeat that. Now."
"The father of the woman you're to fall in love with, his name is Cedric. He's a magician, and he's been practicing Black magic. But he heard the Prophecy, and he's trying to protect his daughter from Satan."
"Should this mean something to me?" Thanatos knew that he had revealed more than he should have by the way he answered, but he was too shocked to care.
"Doesn't it? Does the death of a man name Cedric, who condemned himself to Hell for the sake of his loved ones, and for the sake of honor, does it really mean nothing to you?"
After so many centuries, he no longer needed any incantations. It was with a flick of his wand that Lachesis flew to him, petrified and levitating before him. He reached his skeletal hand, agonizingly slowly, into her chest and gripped the soul that resided there.
"I don't know, exactly, what you think being an Incarnation means. I'm not sure if you believe, falsely, that Immortality equates with Invincibility." His words slithered, soft and sibilant, surrounding his sister Spirit. "Allow me to remind you of the difference. You may be Immortal while you hold your Office, but you still have a Soul. Beneath your Accoutrements, within that body of yours, three souls remain. The truth, Niobe, is that your soul belongs to me. It is merely on loan until I determine that it should be sent to its final resting place."
He gripped her soul more fiercely, winding it tighter around his skeletal digits, constricting and pulling it taught within her body.
"I am so close, so very close, to tearing out your soul and sending it to Satan. He would have such fun with you, after all the little webs you've tried to weave. And I would shed no tears for it, nor for you. We would have a knew Lachesis within a week, a day, and the world would march on."
"So it's true" she breathed. Her body was taught, and her breathing strained, her soul stretched as it was within his hand, but her eyes shone as she spoke, regardless of her metaphysical torment. "You are Harry Potter. I-."
"No." Thanatos interrupted. "I am not. I left that name, that life, behind me long, long ago. Perhaps I was once that man, that mortal, but now I am only Thanatos. You would do well to remember that."
"What happened to you? You were my Champion, my Hero. I have seen the future, your past to come, and you did so well. I cannot imagine Harry Potter becoming you, but it is true. How did you become as you are? So attached to rules, defined by structure? So heartless?"
"You." He intoned, treasuring the look of shock that graced her features. "Your meddling is what turned me into this. After your interference tore from me everything I loved, previous Incarnations of you continued to embroil me in their schemes. I grew tired of it and eventually I-." He paused and took a deep breath. "But we are getting off track. I told you the consequences. You have not rescinded the Prophecy. This is your last chance. Or shall I descend upon the Mortal realm with all my fury? I've heard New York has something of an overpopulation problem. I'd be happy to assist…" He let his voice trail off.
"Her name is Luna." She whispered, clearly her last resort.
"What did you say?" Thanatos growled his response, low and menacing, and enjoyed the way Lachesis flinched.
"Her name is Luna. She's kind, and sweet, and self-sacrificing. She cares deeply for her father, her mother died when she was young, and her life is in danger." She got it all out as quickly as she could, in one large breath, so quiet Thanatos had to strain to hear her speak.
He dropped her, as though she was too hot to touch, too painful to be near.
"Mars. I call upon you. Your presence is required." His voice sounded strange, even to himself. Echoing oddly within the halls of Fate's Abode, falling softly upon his own ears. It sounded far more calm than he felt, and he wondered at his own control.
War appeared before them, bedecked in splendorous armor, his sword strapped to his thigh.
"Thanatos. It is not often you call upon me. How can I be of service?"
"I am declaring a Feud between Incarnations. It shall be settled by a duel. You shall officiate."
Mars' eyes grew wide, and Lachesis's prone, limp form shifted into Atropos.
"Wait! Thanatos, halt, cease this nonsense, please! I tried to warn her this was a terrible idea, but she wouldn't listen!"
"You were the only Fate I ever really liked, in all the time I've done this job. Did you know that? You were the only one who knew to leave well enough alone. You didn't try to be my friend, you didn't try to involve me in anything. I told you I wanted to be left alone, and you listened. I'm sorry that you shall suffer at my hand due to her incompetence, but it cannot be helped."
"Please, is there no way I can convince you to spare her? The result of a duel between Incarnations, one instigated by a Feud… there hasn't been one in centuries."
"I am well aware. I was the last Incarnation to issue one. To your predecessor twice removed, if I recall. The result of a duel that I win, as I am sure to do, is not moving on to the afterlife. It is the destruction of the soul."
"Niobe doesn't deserve this, she's just trying to help!"
"I told her what I thought of her help, and she refused to listen. You warned her against it, and she refused to heed you as well. When she was first inducted as Clotho, I warned you all what I thought of her. No one listened to me. I warned you again when you inducted her as Lachesis, and still no one listened. This is the consequence for her hubris."
"I'll find you a replacement!" Atropos nearly shouted this last plea. "Before the Prophecy is to come to pass, I shall find you a replacement. It is too late now to rescind the Prophecy, but we can keep you out of it, I swear it!"
"It shan't be easy. You know my Office only transfers with my Death. How do you expect to kill me, Atropos?"
"It can be done. I have seen it in the Threads, but you must trust me when I say that your patience will be required."
Thanatos paused. Something he had long thought out of his grasp forever, being dangled tantalizingly in front of him. Could he risk it? "You have but one chance."
Apparently, he could.
"Your replacement won't be magical. You'll need to change your Hallows into something a non-magical person could use and understand."
Thanatos sighed. It wasn't as though he used the Hallows much anymore, to be honest. They were more symbolic than anything else. He'd been Death so long that he was more the Office than the symbols were.
He pointed the wand at his watch first. His mokeskin bag would work fine for his successor and continue to hold all the souls it would need. His ability to temporarily stop time, however, was invaluable and not something a Muggle would know how to do. He could always ask Chronos, but he didn't really need the help. And he wasn't sure which Incarnation of Chronos they were on now. He very rarely kept up with them. An extra few dials were added with a twirl of the Wand, and the watch had its own temporal abilities.
Next, he took off his glasses. He stared at them, levitating above his palm, contemplating. He could leave them as they were and imbue them with his power. They might, however, be more convenient in a different form. He split them in half, broken across the nose guard. He pointed his wand at one half and Transfigured it into a pair of shoes, and the other half into a pair of gloves. Just in case the next Incarnation didn't wear glasses.
He took off the Stone and cast a simple Duplicating Charm at it. Two pitch black stones stared back at him; his successor could use them to weigh the souls they harvested.
He stared at the Elder berries carved into his wand and pursed his lips. He grasped his want by the tip, and slowly pulled his hand down its length, dragging the carved berries within his fist. They slid seamlessly down and off of the wand. He squeezed his hand, the wood berries Transfiguring into stone, and in his palm sat a variety of Jewels and Gems to help his successor.
The length of Elder wood remaining grew in his hand, growing longer and longer until it was his height, and the edge grew and curved into a stunning blade. He stood, the classical depiction of Death. Scythe, and Gems, and Cloak. It was enough change that even a Muggle could manage.
"Is this sufficient, Atropos?"
"Of course, Thanatos. Thank you, so much. I appreciate your-."
"If I become entangled in this Prophecy," he interrupted her "before you find me a replacement, the Feud shall be official, the duel shall be set and you three shall be destroyed. There shall be no Next Great Adventure for you, in Heaven or in Hell. There shall be only oblivion."
With that, he swirled away, Mortis spiriting him off to his next job.
Days, became weeks, became months.
Months, became years.
It had been so long since he had struck that bargain with Fate, and still he reaped souls. Try as he might to avoid the first Wizarding War in Britain, the one during the late 70's between Voldemort and Dumbledore, Death Eaters and Order Members, he couldn't avoid it completely. It was difficult, but his heart had long ago become inured to Death, hardened itself against heartbreak and compassion.
It was when the next War began that even his frozen heart was forced to melt, if only slightly.
So many students and children, men and women right out of school, all paying the price for the sins of their forefathers, as the sinners sat back and hid. They cowered like fools, and Thanatos desperately desired to steal away their souls, but he strictly held to the rules. Much though he may have believed they deserved it, he could not allow himself to be swayed by emotion.
He was Death. Death was impartial. It must be.
He did, however, delight in the destruction of Voldemort's Horcruxes.
Each Horcrux, being less than a whole soul, was not heavy enough to sink into Hell where it would belong.
However, it was so unmistakably Evil that it wouldn't float up to Heaven either.
So, when it came time to reap them, he pulled the sickly material out of its container. If a normal soul was like the finest silk, the softest cotton, and purest material to have ever existed regardless of its status as Good or Evil, then a Horcrux was worse than an abomination.
It felt like moss covered in pond scum, slimy and grimy and gross. Dead and decomposing, it wilted in his grasp, and he grimaced each time he took one. When he had originally harvested the Horcrux of Herpo the Foul, he hadn't been sure what to do with it. When he'd sent it down to Hell, Evil (who was then going as Lucifer, not Satan, and was a different person all together) had informed him that he didn't want it, and to take it back.
It was then that he'd first learned the trick to destroying a soul, rather than sending it where it belonged. It was a tightly kept secret for so long, until he'd finally needed to teach Fate a lesson about meddling in his affairs.
He wasn't much troubled by Fate after that, not for a long time.
The War ended, and still he hadn't been replaced. The only thing stopping him from taking his ire out on Fate for stringing him a long was the fact that he hadn't yet been pulled in on that accursed Prophecy. With his desired outcome so close in sight, though, and the end so near after so many centuries, or was he finally at multiple millennia? Either way, he was becoming antsy. He was anxious to move on, to be done, to be free.
It was with all this in mind, that after a rough few months in a row where nearly every soul he encountered has some strange ability to see him as he approached, and each and every one of them tried to barter or bargain with him, that he was finally relieved to have a normal everyday Muggle to attend to.
Honestly, I wish I knew who started that story about Death enjoying a barter. Just let me get on with my job! And just my luck that so many in a row could see me. It happens now and again, but normally I get at least a few months or years between them. To run into so many at once? Glad that I'm normally invisible, even if I don't choose to be.
The city was ordinary. The street was ordinary. The house was ordinary. The soul was ordinary, barring the fact that it was almost perfectly in balance.
The crack of gunfire, and the piercing pain he experienced? Those were definitely not ordinary. A gentle smile graced his lips.
Finally, he thought, as the world around him faded away in slow motion. He saw his body fall, and his cloak flutter through the air. He rings and gems, his gloves and shoes, his watch, his scythe. All left behind as he felt the familiar sensation of dying.
Although they were different in form, he left his Hallows behind, and in the space of a breath, he was gone.
He stood, once again in King's Cross Station. He looked the same as he had at 17. Messy hair, skin and bones, far too thin. Glasses drawing attention to his startling green eyes. He looked around for someone, anyone to greet him. Surprisingly, it was Dumbledore who met him again, though he looked far more downtrodden than he had the last time they met.
"I'm sorry." Were the first words Dumbledore uttered. "I didn't know."
"I forgive you." Whispered Harry, because he did. He really and truly did, after all these years. How could he still hold a grudge against a man who had been just as much a slave to Fate and Prophecy as Harry had been all his life?
"Are you ready? Everyone is waiting." Dumbledore's gentle, paternal smile warmed Harry's heart as Dumbledore reached out his hand to help him up on to the train. He had forgotten how nice it was to have someone smile at you. Not many people smiled as they greeted Death.
"Yes. Yes, I think I am." They got on the Hogwarts Express together, and Harry let out a sigh as he listened to the whistle of the steam, the thrumming of the engine, the squeal of the wheels on the tracks.
He closed his eyes, not interested in watching the scenery go by. After so long, he thought to himself a spot of rest sounds just right.