On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
III: No Fate
"Who are you talking to?" asked Hermione.
"Can't you see her?"
Ron shook his head "Sorry, mate, see who?"
"Better leave Harry alone for a minute," said Diana.
Harry ignored their discussion, focusing on Death. "This is very confusing."
Death nodded sympathetically. "It's a little complicated. Basically, Hades rules the Olympian afterlife. When someone associated with that particular pantheon dies I take their soul and pass it on to Charon, who relays it to Hades. Hades finds them a home in his realm. It's a very important role, of course, but it has a narrower focus. He sees a few souls a year, I handle roughly a hundred and twenty-three thousand a day. That's just humans on Earth, of course, it's endless quadrillions if you include every living thing across the multiverse that's capable of understanding the idea of death."
"Um... okay? What were you two talking about? The thing Hades wanted?"
"Can we shelve that for a moment? I'd rather talk about your enemy."
"What about Vo... Riddle?"
"You can say his name, he can't hear you here. He's already dead, even if he doesn't think so, and he's pretty much destroyed his soul. When the last part of it dies there'll be nothing left for me to pass on to any afterlife. Which reminds me, do you want the bit that's in your head?"
"Merlin! Of course not!"
"Stand still a second." She stepped forward and touched his brow. Harry felt a sudden searing pain, and Hermione gasped as the scar on his forehead began to bleed for no apparent reason. Harry saw Death step back with a tiny wisp of dark smoke on her hand. She put her hands together for a moment, and for a second Harry thought he heard beating wings as it vanished.
"Harry, your scar!" Hermione tried to move toward him, but Diana held her back.
"It's okay, Hermione. That thing's gone now."
"Here." Death handed him a lollipop. "Honeydukes butterbeer flavour."
"Where did that come from?" asked Ron, staring at the lollipop.
"Not now, Ron," said Diana.
"I think this might be a bit less confusing if they could see and hear you," said Harry.
"Not a good idea. People who see me sometimes get weird ideas, and I can live without more creepy stalkers. Barring the odd near-death experience, most people only see me twice. Once when they're born, once when they die. You wouldn't be seeing me now if it wasn't for that thing in your head. It may have sensitised you, don't be surprised if you start to see me around. By the way, don't even think about showing anyone your memories of me, it really won't work."
"Okay. What's the thing that Hades wants?"
"You remember the Mirror of Erised." It wasn't a question.
Harry nodded. "I remember. What about it?"
"There's something even more dangerous inside the snitch Dumbledore left you. A stone that gives its user the ability to summon the dead, but what they do and say is determined by the user's will. They say what you want to hear, their personalities are less authentic than a wizarding portrait. You think that you've brought the dead back to life, but in the end it's as big a con as the Mirror, and even more seductive. I really have no idea what Dumbledore was thinking about when he gave it to you. It's useful to someone who actually rules the dead, like Hades here, but it can destroy the mind of a normal mortal."
"Maybe he wanted me to trick Tom into using it."
"His soul is already badly damaged, unfortunately that means he's less vulnerable to its effects, he could do an immense amount of harm with it before it killed him. Remember the Inferi? Now imagine an unlimited army of them under his complete control, everyone he's ever killed, everyone they kill, and so forth."
"How do you know all this?"
"Dumbledore, mostly. He seemed to think he had to justify himself to me."
"What did he say?"
"I've told you as much as I can. Probably more than I should."
"If I give it to you what will you do with it?"
"Get rid of it permanently."
"And if I give it to Hades?"
Hades shrugged, but the effect was to make him look even shiftier. "I have no plans to use it." Harry guessed that there was an implied 'yet' at the end of the sentence.
"Okay," said Harry, "that makes things a lot clearer." He dug into his pockets, found the snitch, and gave it to Death. "Sorry, Hades, no offence, but if it's that dangerous I'd sooner it was gone for good."
"How do I open it?" asked Death.
"There's invisible writing on it that says 'I open at the close.' Not sure what that means."
"Cute. Okay..." She vanished for a fraction of a second, reappeared in slightly different clothes and a black bowler hat, and handed him back the Snitch, opened and empty. "...sorry to keep you waiting, I stopped off to feed my goldfish and lost track of time."
"It was only a fraction of a second. How did you get it open?"
"Took it to the last seconds of the universe, of course. Seemed a lot of fuss for such a little stone, but never mind."
Harry resolutely kept his jaw from dropping. "Okay.... Now, about Voldemort..."
"I can't take sides, Harry. You'll have to find the Horcruxes... or is it Horcruces..? and take care of him for yourself. My elder brother will probably be annoyed with me as it is."
Harry decided to let that one pass, he was confused enough already.
"Can you give me any advice?"
"Nope." She grinned, handed him three more lollipops, patted his cheek, blew Hades a kiss, and walked out of the circle of light.
"Blast!" said Hades, in disgusted tones. "Well, that's it, she makes the rules, I can't intervene. Lovely to see you again, Diana, but next time let's just do lunch. Do you have any plans for the rest of that bottle?"
"It's yours. But before you go, I was hoping you could tell me if there's any news of Steve?"
Hades looked surprised. "Isn't he back yet? That's odd, he should be. Let me look into it, I'll try to get back to you in the next week or two."
"Thank you." Diana handed him the remains of the wine, and he stood, vanished the throne, and strolled off out of the light with Cerebus at his heels.
"What in Merlin's name was that about?" asked Hermione, dabbing Harry's forehead with a tissue and digging into her bag for essence of dittany to heal the wound.
"I'm really not sure I know," said Harry, unable to stop grinning, "but Tom's not in my head any more, I'm still alive, and I've got lollipops for everyone!"
"They're called the Endless," said Diana, sitting crossed-legged on the piano stool in her apartment, and looking unusually serious, "and they are as old as the universe itself. I've seen Death a few times, she's actually the nice one. Remember, she doesn't actually kill anyone, she just looks after the transition. The elder brother she mentioned is allegedly Destiny, but nobody ever sees him. Morpheus, the Lord of Dream, is far more terrible."
"Why is he the terrible one?" asked Harry.
"You visit his realm every time you sleep, and he is not always a kindly host."
"Nightmares," said Ron. Diana nodded.
"How can I find out more?" asked Hermione.
"Don't. Coming to their attention isn't wise."
"She confirmed that there are more Horcruxes," said Harry. "I just wish I had more of a clue where they are."
"Where would a wizard hide something valuable?" asked Hermione. "Could be in someone's mansion, I suppose, but most of the inner core of Death Eaters were in prison, it'd be a big risk if their homes were searched."
"Could still be in Hogwarts, there might be hiding places we've missed."
"Or another cave somewhere."
"Fat chance of finding that."
"We should ask the goblins," said Hermione. "They know more about tunnels and caves than anyone else."
"They wouldn't look," said Ron. "They don't care what happens to wizards."
"They do with the right motivation," said Diana. "I might be able to help with that, let me think about it."
Hermione snapped her fingers "Wait a minute... Harry, did you say the thing that she took from the snitch was a stone?"
"She said so, I didn't see it."
"Then I know what it was. It's mentioned in one of the stories in Beedle The Bard, a stone that seems to bring back the dead."
"You're kidding," said Ron. "That's a fairy tale."
"Why don't you talk about it in the morning?" suggested Diana. "I don't know about you, but I could do with some sleep. Hermione, you can use the small guest room, you two can share the larger one. And tomorrow we'd better see about some laundry, I think..."
In Somalia a raven glided down to a promising-looking corpse left over from a guerilla ambush and decided that the eyeballs still looked edible. He was busy prying one out with his beak when a familiar voice said "Hello, Matthew. Enjoying your meal?"
"He's already dead, lady, it's not like I'm hurting him."
"Nobody's complaining. Finish up, then I'd like you to take a message to my brother."
"The one you work for, of course. Tell him I think the Prodigal may be about to make a comeback. He'll probably want to give me a call."
Matthew let go of the eyeball. "You're kidding."
"That's gonna stir up some serious shit!"
Death grinned. "Yep."
"Hades and Death both wanted the stone, so if the stone was real, maybe the wand and the cloak are real too," said Hermione.
"Fat lot of good that does us," said Harry. "All that the wand does in the story is get its owner killed."
"About the only useful thing in there is Death's cloak of invisibility," said Ron, "and you've already got one that works pretty well."
"You don't think..." began Hermione. "No, forget it, it's stupid."
"You might as well tell us."
"The story doesn't say that Death ever gets them back. The wand keeps changing hands, the stone just fades out of the story when its owner dies, and the cloak gets handed on to the wizard's son. What if they just went on that way, and someone still has the wand and the cloak. Passed on from victim to murderer or thief, or from father to son."
"Get real," Ron said uneasily. "It's just a stupid story."
"How old is your cloak, Harry?"
"It's been around since my parents were killed, and my father had it well before that, so at least eighteen or twenty years. What about it?"
"It's unusual. Invisibility cloaks don't usually last more than five or ten years. They wear out, or the spell wears off. Yours is still perfect. It fits the story."
"Or maybe Dumbledore found a version of the story that fitted the materials he had available, including the cloak," said Diana.
"I never heard of any other versions," said Ron.
"I have." Diana went to one of the crammed bookshelves and found a thick leather-bound volume. "Here we are. Legenden der Nördlichen Wälder, Legends of the Northern Woods, first published in 1465. One of the stories is a German origin for the Wand, Die Waldnymphe und der Verfluchte Zauberstab, The Wood-nymph and the Cursed Wand. A young witch is captured and raped by an evil wizard, when she escapes she transfigures herself into an elder tree to hide from him. He chops down the tree and uses the wood and her hair to make an unbeatable wand, but it's cursed and haunted by her spirit; she gets her revenge by betraying him and everyone who subsequently wins the wand. Some of them go mad, others have their magic fail at a crucial moment. There's nothing about the stone or the cloak in that one. I'm sure that there must be other versions. I know that Hades does have an invisibility cloak, he wore it when we met in 1969, but I could see him through it, I really doubt that anything could stop Death from seeing anything she wants to. There are probably other stories about the stone too."
"But why? What would Dumbledore gain by it?" asked Harry.
Hermione thought for a moment. "It would make sense if he's somehow found a way to trick Riddle into using a wand that won't work properly on you, maybe cursed to kill him, and wants to give Riddle the impression that it's unbeatable."
"Wait a minute," said Harry, who had been leafing through the book and looking at its woodcut illustrations. He turned it around to show Ron and Hermione a picture of the wand. "Recognize anything?"
"It does look familiar somehow," said Hermione.
"It ought to. Look at the little carved lumps that look like elderberries. I've only seen that once before. It's Dumbledore's wand, or a lot like it."
"It could just be a traditional carving. Dumbledore's old, maybe it was something that went out of fashion since he got his wand."
"If not... Merlin, it would mean that he was carrying a cursed wand as long as we knew him. One that makes people go mad."
"A lot longer," said Ron, "he has the same wand on his Chocolate Frog card, that goes back to the fifties."
Hermione pulled Dumbledore's copy of Beedle The Bard from her bag. "If he only read this version he might not know about the curse, and he might not have spotted it if it was really subtle."
"It would explain an awful lot," said Harry. "Our first day at Hogwarts, I remember Ron said that he was mad. Maybe you were right, Ron."
"I last met Dumbledore in 1944," said Diana. "The wand he was using then was shorter and plainer. But I have seen a wand like this before; Gellert Grindlewald visited Paris in 1925 when he was trying to build a popular political movement, there was a reception I attended. He was carrying it."
"So Grindlewald got the Elder Wand somewhere and was carrying it before the big war, Dumbledore had it afterward? Why would he do that?"
"Maybe he grabbed it in their big fight," said Ron. "If his own wand was damaged he might use it without checking for curses."
"And whatever else the thing is, it's a powerful wand."
"I think that there's something we're overlooking," said Diana. "Death said that her elder brother would be annoyed by what happened last night. To me that means that something's happened to change Harry's fate."
"Maybe two things. I gave away the stone, and Death took that bit of Riddle from my head. Dumbledore must have been counting on both of them. We've probably messed up all his plans."
"Then to hell with Dumbledore and his plans!"
"Sorry Hermione, but if the old coot's plan was that brilliant, why the hell didn't he tell us about it? Why leave us to grope around in the dark? Everything we know tells us that the stone and Harry's connection to Riddle were bad news, why wouldn't we get rid of them if we had the chance? He knew he was dying, he had months to set things up, and did sod all to prepare us. He left us cryptic toys, but couldn't be arsed to tell Harry how the hell we're supposed to use them. I say we find our own way to sort this out, and forget about trying to make his scheme work when we know bits of it are missing."
"'No fate but what we make,'"
"'No fate but what we make.' It's a quote, I'll show you some time. You're right, Ron. Dumbledore's gone, he isn't pulling the strings any more. We need to come up with our own plan, something that plays to Harry's strengths, and preferably something Dumbledore and Riddle would never have thought of."
"Honestly, Harry, do you expect to come up with a brilliant scheme in ten seconds?"
"It'd be nice, Hermione, and you've pretty much done it before."
"While you are busy scheming," said Diana, "I need to go pack, my flight's in... gods, in four hours. Can you look after yourselves for a couple of days?"
"We really ought to get out of your hair," said Harry. "We shouldn't impose."
"Nonsense, I'm enjoying the company, and I think you need to take a break. I'm sorry to have to leave like this, but I'd already accepted the invitation before you arrived."
"I told you, I'm going to my namesake's funeral."
"Won't another Princess Diana turning up raise a few eyebrows?"
"Officially I'll be there as Diana Prince, art restorer and historian, I've done some work for the Queen's collection. But in fact she knows who I really am, I've known her since she was a teenager."
Harry thought for a second. "Is there any chance you could send a message while you're in Britain?"
"Who to?" asked Hermione.
"Anything you tell him might end up getting to Riddle!"
"That's the general idea. I want to stir things up a little..."
The number of deaths per day in 1997 was obtained by dividing the current number, 151600, by the current global population in billions, 7.3, multiplying by the world population in 1997, 5.9, and rounding to the nearest thousand. There are lots of rounding errors, I don't know if they cancel out.
There is rarely only one version of a folk tale, and when it's something like the Elder Wand there are probably dozens of variants. Beedle seems to have targeted his stories at children, somewhere out there was probably some wizarding equivalent of the Brothers Grimm and other folklore collectors who were writing for an older audience and didn't leave out the nastier elements. All translations by Google, apologies for any errors.
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