It took Harry almost four months before he realised he that the ring on his finger with the shiny, smooth black stone in its centre had been the very same stone he lost in the Forbidden Forest. Well, Harry amended, the ring he had sort of been under the impression he had thrown away, because, obviously, if the ring was on his finger then it never had been tossed aside, now, had it?
He wasn't sure if he ever took it off even in his sleep. He knew he kept it on in the shower.
The ring was sitting on his left index finger – in other words, not on his wand hand. Harry wasn't sure why, exactly, but it was important that the hand the ring was worn on wasn't the same hand that wielded the Elder wand. When he wielded the wand.
If he used a wand at all.
The Invisibility Cloak had never whispered or revealed the dead to him. It had always just been a cloak that made him invisible. But ever since Harry had brought all the Hallows together, well.
The wand wasn't whispering to him any more.
The stone wasn't showing him visions of the dead.
But now, once that he was aware of always carrying the Hallows on his person, well. Now, he didn't get how he could've been ignorant of them for so long.
It started small, about a week or two after Harry fully understood that he was the Master of Death, sort of. The title he really could do without, honestly.
It was in a Muggle house on the outskirts of London. The air around it looked sickly, grey and bruised and just wrong. On the porch outside a little girl was sitting, hugging a stuffed toy to her chest.
No, Harry thought, not a girl. An echo of a girl. Where her left eye should have been was a gaping wound, ragged and bloody, as if something had blown it out of her face.
Why the feeling and instinct came as easily and natural as it did, Harry wasn't sure, but at the time it felt like the most obvious action in the world to just reach out and cup the girl's cheek.
"Am I going to Mummy?" the girl asked in a sleepy voice. "I miss my Mummy."
Harry smiled. "You're going to see Nana and Grandpa, sweetie. Mummy will be with you soon."
"Promise," Harry said, knowing it was the truth, just as he had known the girl's maternal grandparents were already dead, waiting in the afterlife for the girl. Time would pass differently there, he knew; most likely the girl wouldn't know just how long it would take before her mother died as well. Twenty-six years, a shiver down his spine promised.
"Now, I want you to close your eyes and sleep," Harry whispered. The stone reacted to the situation, to the slumbering magic of what was happening.
The ghost of the small girl faded out of view. As she did, the air around the house became clear and light.
As Harry stood up, he realised the cloak was wrapped around his shoulders and neck. He couldn't remember putting it on.
Instead of going back to Hogwarts, trying to be an Auror, playing Quidditch or being talked into seeing Ginny again by most of his friends, Harry barricaded himself in the Black family library every spare moment he could find. The books had little information on the Hallows, beyond what had been in the Beedle Bard tale, but what little information they contained hinted at something more, something…different.
Harry wasn't all together sure he liked it, because, well. When was different ever good?
That incident with the little girl had opened his eyes in a way he'd never thought possible. Everywhere he looked, the air was misplaced and wrong. That first week after having… Having done, what, exactly, to that little girl? Sent her on, as he'd got the feeling he did? Killed her, even though that made him feel ill and wrong? But that first week Harry had dispelled seven echoes, as he'd come to call them, because they felt nothing at all like Wizarding ghosts, at the local Muggle library.
The first time he visited the library afterwards, he noticed how much kinder and happier everyone inside the building was.
Muggles were, while ignorant of an entire world centred around magic, extraordinarily talented at amassing information. They collected mythologies and tales and legends in huge quantities. Harry found himself Apparating over the entire country either buying books in some half-forgotten antiquarian bookshop, or borrowing them from a library. Harry had, of course, sent the echoes located in the new libraries he discovered on their way as easily as he had first dispatched that little girl.
Harry was building a library of his own, collecting every book he could find that in some way handled death, Death – capital letter – and the legends that had grown up around the two concepts.