The sky was clear, light blue painted through the horizon. It was a hot day as usual by these lands, and the people's clothing reflected it. Men wore tunics held in place by pins at the shoulders and a belt around the waist. Women wore dresses that went down to the ankles, held together by pins in various places. Most of the people were also barefoot, with a few of them wearing leather sandals.
This place was an impressive sight. Beautiful public buildings, shops and other constructions that showed this civilization's advanced grasp of complex architecture. Adult men were gathered in an open place, all of them citizens by the city's standards. They seemed to be in a heathed debate, one of them gesticulating wildly. Some started to unconsciously surround him, in a way showing their support to whatever he was saying.
Those people, and even the others who had no say in the city's politics, were making history. Long after their time, they would be remembered as the very basis for the Western Civilization, the birthplace of democracy.
Harry stood there, appreciating the sight of history being made. He stood like a sore thumb in this place with his jeans and loose T-shirt, and, as unlikely as it seemed, no one spared him a second glance. It was magic working its wonders.
He sighed. For years he has debated with himself, and from an objective standpoint of view, he could see why this was a bad idea. Still, he had a lot of those on his younger years, and he was the last one standing, so they couldn't have been that bad, could they?
'Or it could be exactly because of how bad my bad ideas were that I am the last one standing.' A traitorous part of his mind voiced the thought.
Harry supressed it. He had procrastinated for a long time, and one of his old House's main mottos never seemed so appropriate.
"Gryffyndors charge forward." He whispered. His right hand reached for the ring on his left, gripping the stone inserted on it tightly.
He turns it once, twice, thrice. As he waited, he felt the familiar sensation that he came to long for so much, yet didn't truly reach him. Never him.
"I admit I am surprised," The disembodied voice slowly took the form of a man on his early thirties. He had a familiar face, though Harry's memory of it was blurry, and like that same shade had said long ago, even looked something like himself.
He looked human. It was strange, his former body would later be described by historians, poets and writers as a reflection of his own darkened soul. An inhuman physical shell that reflected his own inhuman nature.
The only thing that was retained from that form were his piercing red eyes. Even death couldn't clean the stain on his being caused by his abuse of the Dark Arts.
"I didn't expect to see you again, Harry Potter." His eyes and semblance reminded him of a shark. Unemotional, focused, relentless. It baffled him that no one in Hogwarts besides Dumbledore suspected that man's true nature back then.
"It's been a long time Tom." Harry agreed easily. From an outsider's perspective, their expressions would be mirroring one another as both wizards locked stares for the first time since Voldemort's defeat. The shade spoke first.
"And to what do I own the pleasure Harry? Social calls are hardly common from where I came." Or any calls at all, it went unspoken. Harry observed in a detached way that Lord Voldemort's shade was livelier than any other he had ever summoned. He recalled the hollow and pained expressions of those who he used to summon, their silence, their invisible tug to go back to afterlife.
Voldemort wanted to stay, to cheat death.
"I'm in need of your expertise in a case of mine," Voldemort's eyebrows went up, the former Dark Lord seeming genuinely surprised. "You see, I'm about to invade a Dark Lord of old's base, and your knowledge in breaking through magical defences would be pretty useful. Of course, you could refuse and I would try my hand at it by myself." Harry didn't hold back his smirk as he already knew what the answer would be.
"That won't be necessary," Riddle spoke in a confident tone, albeit a little too quickly. It didn't go unnoticed by Harry. "I will be glad to set our old differences apart in favor of a commong goal." The way he talked and gesticulated reminded Harry of many great speakers he had seen in his travels through history.
He wondered how many of them were Riddles in disguise, using of their charisma to push their own nefarious agenda.
"That was impressive Tom, with the old you I would be already dodging the Crucios." Irritation crept its way through the former Dark Lord's face, but he said nothing.
Harry savored the little victory. His bad idea didn't turn so bad, at least for now. It actually felt good talking with somenone that he could talk about his past. Once upon a time he would've been careful at poking a dragon like Riddle, but unfortunately for the former Dark Lord, he was a dead dragon now.
"Since you don't have a wand...or magic at all," Riddle now seemed one step behind apopletic fury, and finally his demeanor and body language reminded him somewhat of the old Voldemort. "You will be doing the Arithmancy stuff...you know, which way of cracking open the protective enchantements is less likely to get me horribly maimed and all that. You Dark Lords are a nasty bunch, expect the worst." Harry grinned and the shade nodded with a stony face, no doubt fantasizing Harry's horrible maiming. Done by himself of course, he was a possessive bastard like that.
"Very well Harry Potter, lead the way then."
The green eyed man sliced his wand through the air dramatically. Voldemort didn't experience the sensation of apparation, nor he had expected to. In one moment he was in that ancient looking city, and on the next he materialized besides Harry Potter once again, as if he was there since the beggining.
He was greeted by a pitch black, watery, subterranean maze. Potter, in a casual display of magical control, waved his hand and dismissed the cavern's faint mist.
Riddle's senses were assaulted by the magic of that place. He didn't know how it was possible, but he savored the moment as the familiar feeling that came from the cavern made him feel alive once again.
The Dark Arts that protected this place were of the purest kind. Perhaps not as refined as they were on his time, but recognizable nonetheless.
"Well, I'm not paying you to laze about. To the work, Riddle!" Harry comanded as he sat down and appreciated the view. The feeling this place exuded made him want to take a shower but after many times doing this same job, he had learnt to be patient.
Voldemort had to hold himself back from reaching where he used to keep his wand, knowing that it would only bring more humilliation from Potter. Why the blasted boy - man, had to ruin everything?
For Harry though, he was feeling more pleased with himself than in a long time. He also ignored how similar he had sounded to how Uncle Vernon used to, because that way lies madness.
Hmm, was afterlife normal enough for the old Dursley or he was condemned to share it with crackpot old fools, freaks and vegans? He had started to hate the last one too after a while, their whole 'won't eat anything that comes from animals' business seemed to personally offend him.
On a side note, Harry didn't miss that the former Dark Lord had actually managed to sense magic. It wasn't unexpected of course, but to actually be able to interact with the supernatural world in such a way, in a shade form even...
He truly hated death. Fool.
"Why are you doing this, Potter? Chasing Dark Wizards from the long past? What do you expect to gain with such foolishness?" The shade was mentally running over calculations to break through the barriers, because even though he really wanted to see Potter laying in a pool of his own blood, the green eyed man's undesirable presence was better than the...alternative. He didn't even ask how he had actually travelled to what seemed to be millenia ago, because Potter was never one to let something as small as common sense stop him.
Harry's lips quirked on the sides as he adjusted his glasses."I deal with...misbehaving wizards. It has been my job for a long time," An emotion that the Dark Lord couldn't accurately describe passed through Potter's eyes. "in fact you were the proud first one that I offed. Rejoice Tom!" Now the Potter had the same mocking grin from before.
'This is actually pretty fun. What was that muggle slang again? Hmm...Trolling, that was it.' What trolls had to do with making fun of someone he'd never know. On the bright side, now Harry knew that Dumbledore was wrong when he said that revenge was bad for the soul. Harry felt pretty good.
Riddle didn't let his irritation cloud his judgement. Dealing with misbehaving wizards? It wasn't unexpected from the boy to follow a career in law enforcement, but travelling to thousands of years on the past was extreme, which could only mean that he was working for a higher goal. And the seemingly offhanded comment of him being the first one...
It could only mean...
His eyes widened as realization hit him like a bludger.
"I see you realized what my job is," The former Boy-Who-Lived closed his eyes and breathed the the moist air, the calm winds carressing his mess of a hair. "Really, mastering death isn't all that its cracked up to be. In fact, I have in good authority that the Hallows were some of the cleverest traps ever made. I was just the poor sucker who actually fell for all of them, hook, line and sinker. It's more right to say that Death mastered me." He chuckled lightly at his own misfortune.
On his sort of situation, it was better to find something humorous, or else...
"You achieved immortality..." Voldemort's hand started shaking. The former Dark Lord felt like a vulcan was starting to erupt inside of himself. Potter, the Merlin-forsaken brat, always him, had dared to steal-
He stopped. It was like he was drenched by cold water, the blazing inferno that his fury had been put out in a single moment.
"Concentrate on the task Tom." Harry stated in the same light voice. His lips quirked to the sides again, as if he was silently laughing at a joke that only he could get.
Fear surged through his fragile soul. The boy had that much control over his will?
He schooled his expression. He wouldn't give the green eyed man the satisfaction of seeing Lord Voldemort fear him, fear his power.
'There is only power and those too weak to seek it.'
He himself had said this words to Potter long ago, but the Boy-Who-Lived had proved them meaningless. He, who had never seeked power, who had never gone through any lenghts to achieve it, now held in his filthy hands the pinnacle of magic.
What made the blasted boy so special? Why fate favored him so much?
He heard the man sigh. "Since you can't get down to work, I suppose you can ask away what is bothering you." Harry moved his hands in a placating and somewhat condescending gesture.
"Who are we after? Why call me of all people? Why are we here?" The shade shot question after question, his former composure now utterly gone.
The green eyed man wondered if Tom was aware that he could feel the shade's emotions as clear as day. The sheer amount of anxiety was really impressive, especially considering that he had shut down his anger a few seconds ago.
Harry sighed again, as if dealing with a particular foolish child. Voldemort glared, his menacing red eyes wishing him the worst kinds of torture. "For your first question, let's just say that we are offing someone very...foul." Harry smirked and realization hit Riddle. The former Dark Lord recalled the city they were few minutes ago, and the powerful if primitive protections protections surrounding this place.
Herpo the Foul, infamous Dark Wizard from Ancient Greece. A Parselmouth and first one to breed a basilisk, but most importantly... first wizard to succesfully create a Horcrux. Voldemort's predecessor in all but name.
"...your sense of humour certainly has changed Harry Potter." He finally said.
"Dumbledore said that Love is a magic of its own, why not irony too?" Tom Riddle now could only hope that Potter wouldn't call Dumbledore too to have a chat about the 'good old times'. His mind could only take so much torment.
"As for your third question, I already answered you. I deal with misbehaving wizards, but more especifically, the ones who try to mess with Death. If stuff like your precious Horcruxes actually worked out well, there would be a lot more of Voldemorts running around." Voldemort this time couldn't hold back his wand hand this time, but it went unnoticed by Harry.
'This is taking forever...did old Herpo put his Basilisk on guard duty like Slytherin? Perhaps the gaze might kill me for a while.' He started to drift into his own little world, absently listening the frustrated shade. "You kill any wizard that tries to reach immortality?" Harry nodded, not really paying him that much attention. "Why not Flamel then? Why not me?" He couldn't understand. Potter could have killed him when he was at his most vulnerable, why he didn't? Why waste so much time, resources and the countless people that were killed by his hands? It didn't fit with Potter's hero complex.
"Flamel wasn't really seeking immortality, just a very long life, so Death let him off the hook" Harry explained." You on other hand? Death would rather not have me paradox myself out of existence, unlike it I'm still subject to some of the laws of time. No Voldemort means no Boy-Who-Lived." For the first time since they started talking, Potter's face showed annoyance.
It made sense, Riddle reasoned. If Potter killed him at any point before the original time there wouldn't be a Master of Death, because the same conditions wouldn't be reached in the first place.
Harry stood up, glancing around at the maze. He started speaking in a casual tone. "Really, you Dark Lords are too predictable. Always with the same ideas that you have to do despicable stuff to reach immortality. You kill, you tear your own soul, you experiment with things that should be left alone." Harry's whole demeanor made a 360 turn. An opressive feeling filled Voldemort's soul, worse than that place. It felt like his soul was being constricted, suffocated by a force beyond his comprehension.
"Let me tell you a story Voldemort." Harry smiled coldly, revealing teeth that shouldn't look so menacing as they did.
"There was a witch that sought immortality," He began."like you and Herpo did. She had intelligence and drive beyond pretty much anyone else I ever knew. The wizarding world of her time was a prejudiced place, where the powerful oppressed the weak and wars were waged because of something as useless as blood. She was a visionary, she wanted to give voice to the weak and make the world a better place. A place where everyone, magical or not, human or not, would have a true chance to achieve happiness." He smiled fondly, but none of the foreign pressure left Riddle's body.
"Unfortunately, as time passed the witch started to understand that what she wanted to achieve would take time, longer than she could afford. You see, there is a fairly simple human quirk that you probably understand better than most." He laughed humorlessly. "Those who are in power want to stay in power, and usually will do quite a bit to keep it on their death grip. They didn't want to change, so any major changes were slowed to a crawl." Voldemort understood, and was already drawing his conclusions on who the mysterious witch was.
"There were two ways she could have faced that problem. She could have given up." Harry snorted. "Not likely at all. She could have adopted a ruthless approach, but in her opinion that sort of war was fought not by violence or slandering, but with ideals. If anything was to improve, the world would have to want it. Trying to drag them kicking and screaming would only bring their scorn."
"The witch wasn't losing, but she wasn't winning either. Time passed and little changed, so she used her impressive intellect to create the third option. An option that would give her all the time in the world, and the opportunity to someday see her ideals realized. It would take the witch decades, but she would create a modern magical miracle." The awe on his voice was clear, and Voldemort himself was curious. He could recognize that he had been too brash in his youth, jumping to any chance to achieve his dream to be eternal. He, too, could have created another method but as talented as he was, he felt vulnerable to death and any failsafe was welcomed by him with open arms, even something as inefficient as the Horcruxes.
"She found a way to stop the dispersion of the soul to the Other World, to make it transcend to a higher form of existence, capable of interacting with the material world. The witch wouldn't need a mortal shell anymore. She went farther than anyone else in the path of immortality Voldemort, without doing a single evil deed, whithout hurting anyone." Mixed feelings came out from the man's voice. Pride and sadness, admiration and regret. "Her morals actually pushed her to find a better solution, something that people like you couldn't understand."
Tom Riddle knew who the witch was. He couldn't think of another that could both create such a thing and inspire such emotions from Potter.
"Then...I killed her." The green eyes were locked with his own, and Voldemort felt vulnerable. Helpless. He was afraid of the man that the boy who once challenged him became, because this one he couldn't predict. Couldn't know what was going through his head.
Potter's power did have a price. A price that Voldemort, who had never had such feelings couldn't understand, but knew that existed in other people's hearts. How could he not after his downfall? And Potter had paid it.
There was no Master of Death. It was a carefully laid trap to attract a servant to the primordial force. No, not a servant. The one who Death had wanted all long was in front of him.
Lord Voldemort never stood a chance.
"Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints, all are equal before it." Potter began, his cold smirk resembling Riddle's own." The witch had gone farther than anybody along the path that leads to immortality, but..."
"No one cheats death Tom...no one." The inexcapable truth. As great as any man could become, it would be meaningless in the face of it. There was only one who had ever broken this rule, and... "As for myself, I'm just an adventurer denied the greatest adventure of all." He finished, and took his wand out of his holster.
The former Dark Lord gazed at the Deathstick, the ultimate wand that had for a few weeks been his. The wand who had fought against his will because he wasn't its true master. His past self would be baffled at how was simply ignoring the ultimate wizarding weapon, but things had changed. Circunstances had changed.
His power was gone.
"...you didn't answer the second question." He stated. He too ignored all of the overwhelming info of those few minutes in favor ot those questions. Why call him from the great beyond? Did Potter want to brag? To rub in his face his accomplishments? Was it some sort of twisted revenge?
"You know," Potter began, his wand turning the Deathstick clockwise. "you were far scarier in my memories. Hell, you scared the wizarding world so much that pretty much everyone couldn't even say your name out loud. I remember those times I duelled you, I was terrified, you seemed invulnerable, invencible. I thought that if I called you, you would find some way to mess with my head, to manipulate me." Riddle took a step back. "I was wrong." Harry stated like someone saying that water was wet.
The green eyed man looked up to the blue sky. Harry's self-depreciating grin that came to his face so many times in life was on his face again . "I forgot that now I am an even scarier person."
"I called you because there is no one else to. Dumbledore was right that the stone would only bring me sorrow. The dead don't want their rest to be disturbed, even by their loved ones." And that was the crux of the matter. Potter's own torment, a never ending one that gave him immortality, to the price of, in his own view, living. Potter didn't want to merely exist, he wanted companionship,someone to share his pitiful existence.
Now he understood Potter. They were opposites, the green eyed man wanted a life that he could share with his loved ones, while he wanted Potter's eternity, to be free of death's shackles.
Harry this time smiled, one not terrifying or menacing as the ones from before. "Can you really say that irony isn't a main force of the Universe, when the last one I can turn to is my greatest enemy?"
Only silence greeted his question. Harry didn't mind, silence was a constant companion of his. He waited a few minutes as the former Dark Lord digested everything they talked in their short exchange.
"Now Tom, do you want to stay?" Harry Potter asked his old nemesis.
The 'Master of Death' looked at the former Dark Lord. He could feel the shade's emotions but not read its thoughts. What was going through Tom's head, which one did he hate more, his sworn enemy or Death itself?
Harry didn't know if there was a difference between them at all.
"...yes." Tom Riddle responded. Perhaps one day Harry could ask about his reasoning, but for now he would go with the flow.
Harry smiled. "Cool. We'll have a lot of fun together then." A grin formed on his lips. "We'll tear through those defences like my Expelliarmus through your shields."
The shade twitched.
Good, he had to make the most out of this mission. The next trip would be to Ancient Egypt, a few thousands years before Ancient Greece. Those egyptian bastards were very good at hiding their stuff, so it could be months before another fight.
He snorted. Well, that wasn't really a problem. He had all the time in the world.