Harry should have expected it.
When the lifeless shell of what once had been the most feared Dark Lord to ever threaten the Wizarding World fell to the ground, Harry didn´t feel anything.
He had often day-dreamed about the moment when Voldemort would finally be defeated. He would be free to do whatever he wanted without the threat of a raging madman trying to kill him looming over his head. He would become an Auror or a Quidditch player, maybe marry Ginny and have children with whom he would share the lessons life had taught him. They would grow up with a loving family, and the only thing the cupboard under the stairs would be used for would be storage for all those unnecessary awards he would earn at the Ministry. And with old age, he would finally move on to, as Dumbledore aptly named it, 'The Next Great Adventure'.
Harry looked around. He saw the Hogwarts students who had stayed to fight erupting in cheers, tears of joy flowing down their cheeks and falling into each other´s arms: Hufflepuff with Ravenclaw, Gryffindor with Hufflepuff and even some Slytherins who couldn't hold themselves back and embraced the odd Gryffindor. It was a pandemonium of jubilation and joy.
Harry didn't feel anything.
On the other side of the courtyard, the Death Eaters and their allies stood shell-shocked and absolutely silent. Faced with the demise of their master, who many had revered as an immortal god-like being, at hands of a seventeen-year-old half-blood, many of them didn't even attempt to attack the cheering forces of the Light. They just stood there like lifeless statues, staring at the remains of their Lord; the only thing that moved was the wind that played with their black robes. It was as if Voldemort´s death had sucked out their lives as well.
Harry looked at this scene of devastation and sorrow, and he didn't feel anything. He was numb. But as he stood there and watched the Death Eaters and their allies, something began to stir within him. The numbness receded – and hot rage washed over him.
He just wanted to scream at them, at all of them, because of the uselessness of it all. So many lives had been lost on both sides, so many young people who would never have the change to carve their own path in this world. So much beauty had been tainted by this conflict – by this war – that could never be recovered. Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Ministry of Magic would likely be rebuilt sometimes in the future, but who would ever be able to look upon the walls of Hogwarts and not remember the blood of those who had fallen in its defence? Who would be able to walk through Diagon Alley without the fear of a sudden Death Eater raid, and who would walk through the marble entrance hall of the Ministry without thinking of the abomination of fountain that the Voldemort regime had had installed to show the superiority of purebloods?
He wanted to scream at them for letting it go that far. He wanted to scream for little Teddy who would never know his parents; for Severus Snape, who had lost everything; who had been forced to live a life in fear and shadows because of the struggle between two powerful wizards, and who would never receive any recognition for his service; for Draco Malfoy, who had been shaped by the war of beliefs handed down to him by the generations before him which had never allowed him to be his own person; for Sirius, who had lost his whole life to the machinations of a faceless bureaucracy; for Fred, for Cedric, and for his own parents. He wanted to scream at a society that never changed and that allowed the same atrocities to happen again and again and again. But he didn't.
Harry just stood there, gripping his wand tightly, and watched them through his emerald-green eyes. He felt somehow detached, as if he was only some spectre watching through the body of someone else, someone who had no personal stake in the battle that had transpired before him. He mused that perhaps this was how historians felt when they studied some war fought long ago. Interested, of course, with a tiny bit of admiration, but mostly just shaking their heads and wondering what those people had thought when they waged this conflict.
Maybe the historians in a few centuries will judge us the same, Harry thought as he watched the Light forces beginning to round up the Death Eaters, of which only a few put up any worthwhile struggle. Maybe someone will sit crooked over a dusty old tome and think how stupid and petty this whole 'war' had been, and how it could have been avoided if only a few people had made different decisions.
Many years later, when Harry thought back to this moment, he would wonder if it had been his brief death that had opened his eyes to this point of view. Because who would be so preposterous as to deny that death didn't change a person? For the time Harry had stayed in the Realm Beyond, all his ties to the world of the living had been severed. The Realm was everything and nothing at the same time. Human beings needed a fixed point – anything – to anchor their emotions and thoughts to their reality. In the Realm, there was nothing of such nature. It was incomprehensible to humans who hadn't been there. For the first time in his life, Harry was completely free of all the earthly bonds that had chained his mind, and he finally saw. His death and talk with Dumbledore – who probably hadn't even been his deceased headmaster but rather the personification of what he subconsciously assumed death to be – had taken place beyond time itself. Centuries could have passed, or only a split second, but it didn't matter. It was as if a veil had been lifted right in front of his eyes. He had been able to see the things for what they were, which was something not many had ever experienced.
Harry deeply believed that this was the reason why he had changed so much. He had experienced something no one had ever before, and that made him different from the others. His perception had been changed and with it his connection to his peers.
When Ginny asked him to come back to her, Harry declined. There was much shouting involved, mainly on her part, and the whole Weasley clan made their displeasure known by either sending him angry glares or vicious stinging hexes which lessened as time passed on. But Harry stood by his decision: Ginny deserved someone on the same wavelength as her, someone who would find pleasure in the same things she did. Not someone as altered as he. And later, when she finally found said person in Dean Thomas, she came to him right to him before her father was to lead her down the aisle and thanked him.
"It was never meant to be me and you, was it?" she had asked as she looked him in the eyes. She was still as radiant as she had been in their youth.
"Maybe it was…before…but not anymore," Harry answered and took one of her hands. "But you will be happy with Dean. He is perfect for you." She smiled at him.
"Thank you, Harry," she whispered. "For everything." She turned around and they both watched the guests slowly taking their seats.
"Sometimes I can´t really believe it," Ginny continued as they watched. "It´s just so surreal. One moment I was this eleven-year-old girl who had a crush on you and a teenage Dark Lord possessing her…" She snorted and Harry smiled. "..and the next, I´m standing beside that same crush, about to be married to another man. Who would have thought?"
"Yes, who would have," Harry said. One last lingering touch on his shoulder and then a teary Arthur Weasley came and led his daughter to the waiting groom.
He never became an Auror or a member of a Quidditch team. It just seemed so mundane to him. Chasing small-time criminals – because not every criminal was a psychopathic mastermind – or enchanted balls had somehow lost their appeal. So Harry became an Unspeakable, much to Hermione's delight and Ron´s horror.
"You´re crazy, mate," his best friend had said. "But that´s nothing new, isn´t it?"
There simply was something about delving into the mystery of magic. It had existed since the beginning of time, and even though countless of brilliant minds had tried to discover its secrets, there was still so much to explore. Harry worked in the Death Chamber where the Veil was kept. It had long ago lost its horror to him. Here was where Harry could be as close to the blissful state of mind he had been when he had been in the Realm. Sometimes, he could see shadows behind the grey-whirling fog, whispering and beckoning him to come nearer. But he never did. It never seemed…right to him.
He never told anyone – not even his closest friends – of what he did; what he experienced within the walls of the Department of Mysteries. Harry suspected that Hermione knew at least a bit because of her position as Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic Shacklebolt, but she never asked, and he never offered. They had an unspoken agreement that some things he wasn't willing to share with her and Ron. Ron, of course – with the emotional range of a teaspoon – never noticed and was completely content with letting Harry "play with the creepy brains." ("That's not even what I work with, Ron!"). The only person who probably understood Harry was Luna Lovegood.
"There hasn´t been a single Wrackspurt around you in years," she said to him once in her serene voice. "Maybe death chased them away. They don´t like it when you understand. It makes it more difficult for them to confuse you." Harry had looked in her grey eyes, partly concealed by the spectrespecs she was wearing, and he knew that Luna understood his change. He would never able to talk with her about it – it was too confusing to try to put it into words – but he would not have to explain himself to her.
He didn't see Teddy as often as he liked. Andromeda had moved to America because England held to many memories with which she could not cope. Harry visited as often as he could, becoming the 'coolest uncle ever', but he always thought that it wasn't enough. But he did not take Teddy back to England: Andromeda was more suited to raising a child, and he wasn't so selfish that he would destroy the lives of two people dear to him for the sake of his own conscience.
Three years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry found the three Hallows lying innocently on his bedside-table: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Invisibility Cloak. He had hidden them in the oldest and deepest vault of Gringotts behind enchantments not even the Goblins remembered how to put up anymore, for the Goblins had no use for such 'frivolous' things as supposed objects out of a wizard´s fairy tale. He had assumed that with his inevitable death, those three objects would lose their powers and no longer be the temptation they once had been to every wizard and witch. But when Harry saw them, he knew that getting rid of those objects was not supposed to happen. He did not try to hide them for a second time. Deep within, he knew that they would come back every time no matter what he tried and so he complied with the Hallows´ will. He was their master now; as such he had the duty to prevent any abuse of such powerful objects. He hid them in plain sight: The resurrection stone on his finger as the ring of his Potter-Lordship, the Elder-wand glamoured as his Holy-wand (which had stopped working for him with the Hallow´s return) and the Cloak as his everyday robe. Nobody would search for those three powerful objects in such obvious places.
By the time Hermione and Ron had their second child, Harry noticed that he no longer aged. While the first strands of grey appeared in his friends´ hair, and the stress of their everyday-life made more and more lines appear on their faces, he stayed looking the same twenty-year-old that he had been when the Hallows came back to him. The application of numerous glamours made sure that none of his friends noticed.
Hermione´s seemingly endless energy she had used the pursue equal rights for all sentient creatures diminished after she had successfully installed several ground-breaking laws and instead she turned towards house and home; managing the now five children containing Weasley-Granger-household with the same strictness with which she had terrorized Harry and Ron in their Hogwarts years. Hermione giving up work for staying at home: something Harry had never thought possible when they were younger.
Ron used his strategic skills to further expand his brother´s joke shop which became one of the most successful wizarding ventures in the last centuries; even going so far as opening local branches in the muggle world which only sold the 'not so obviously magical' products. His love for the Chudley Cannons never lessened, even though they never won the championship while he was alive.
After a turbulent but successful Quidditch career Ginny settled down as well. Her first child, a girl, she called Harriet and Harry was made her godfather.
"Because without you she wouldn't be here," Ginny had said after laughing at Harry´s incredulous expression when he first heard her name.
Harry meanwhile stayed the same; an immovable pillar in the ever-changing world around him.
"Only you, Harry," Ginny said to him, now completely grey, as they sat in his kitchen in Grimmauld Place. She was the only one he had confided in about his immortality: Hermione would have nagged him at every turn about his agelessness and his apathy towards it while Ron would throw a jealousy-fit, though he had become better with dealing with such feelings over the years. Ginny had just shaken her head and laughed. Every now and then she would talk with him about it.
"Harry," Ginny continued, now in a more serious tone. "We´re all past hundred now. With grandchildren – Bill has even a great-grandchild now! And I´m worried about you. There will be a point in the future when the last of us will have died and it´s just…the prospect of you all alone while every one of us has moved on…it frightens me so much." A tear ran down her cheek. And another. Within seconds, she was a sobbing mess. Harry leaned forward and embraced her, holding her while she sniffed into his robes.
"You don´t have to cry for me, Ginny," he said to her after she had calmed down. "It will be hard. It will be the most difficult thing I have ever done. I will cry, I will rage, and I will curse everything near me to try to chase away the grief." Ginny´s eyes began to water again, so he continued. "But I have this feeling, this instinct – I don´t know how to describe it. It´s like when you come inside after a rainy day and you instantly feel warm and protected – that there is something more coming after, something big, and it will be good. It´s difficult to say." And Ginny smiled at him, her eyes shining with hope.
Ginny was the last of his friends to embrace death. And true to his words, Harry cried and raged, cursing every surface of Grimmauld Place. But also true to his words, he did move on, leaving behind the Wizarding World to disappear into the anonymity of the muggle one. He watched as humanity left Earth and began to settle down in the Solar System and beyond. He watched as wars tore apart whole worlds, leaving behind nothing but lifeless, charred husks. He watched humanity coming back to those planets and recreating them like they once had been. He watched humanity evolving into different sub-species and, later on, into completely different ones. Wars were fought between them and many centuries later they had completely forgotten their common origin. And he felt – rather than watched – as the whole universe came to an end in a gigantic white explosion.
When Harry opened his eyes, he found himself in an all-encompassing whiteness and immediately noticed that he lay upon the ground. With one swift move, he stood up and looked around. He was in the Realm Beyond, again, wearing nothing but a white tunic. A sense of peace was penetrating his very being and Harry felt unburdened for the very first time in many millennia.
"Ah, Harry, welcome back," a voice came from all around him. It was young and old, male and female, hard and soft, angry and amused at the same time.
"Why am I here?" Harry asked, confused. "Doesn't even the end of the universe grant me the right to see my family and friends again?"
"All will be explained," the Voice said and chuckled. "But we´re not finished here yet." Exactly as the Voice had finished another man appeared right next to Harry. He looked older than him by at least twenty years, and seemed to be rather nervous: His gaze was flickering around, never focusing and he fidgeted with his hands while he constantly changed balance from one leg to the other. When he saw Harry standing there, some of his nervousness seemed to abate for his movements stilled and his eyes focused on the only other being.
"At least I´m not alone this time," he mumbled in American accent, and then spoke to Harry. "So you´re here as well? Nice to meet you, I´m Chuck Shurley." He extended his hand and Harry shook it. "So, how long have you been immortal?" However, before Harry was able to answer, Chuck continued: "I really hate the Voice" – Harry could practically hear the capital spelling. – "always sprouting some cryptic nonsense…" Before Chuck could continue his rant they were interrupted by the Voice.
"Ah, now everyone is here…"
"But why?" Harry pressed for answers. The Voice was silent for a moment. Or for an eternity; it was difficult to say. After all time was meaningless in the Realm Beyond.
"The answer to that is simple and complicated," the Voice said. "You are the Inheritors. Like the Creator and I once were. And the entities before us."
"What!?" Harry and Chuck gaped simultaneously. The Voice just laughed at them benignly.
"You humans had this concept of the Circle of Life," it continued to explain. "Life is followed by death, and death makes place for new life. Why should it be only applied on a small scale instead of on something larger? Why shouldn't gods and universes bend to the same rules? I too was once mortal before I assumed this role. I too had to endure hardships and tests set by my predecessor which determined my eligibility. You had ones as well, remember? I am Death, and I will always be the last one to cease." Stunned silence.
"What does that even mean?" Chuck asked after the shock of actually speaking with Death had worn off.
"You, Chuck, have passed all the tests that the Creator has set to search for the one who would relieve him from his duty," Death explained. "And Harry has done the same with the test I installed. Only two beings in our universe were able to do so. It is a never-ending circle; one of which you are now part as well. You, Chuck, have passed the test to become the next creator and you, Harry, are to be the next Death for the universe that is yet to come."
"Y-y-y-you mean that…that we´re the new Death-God-Duo?" Chuck asked incredulously and Harry had to agree with him.
"What about our families?" Harry asked a little bit frightened at the prospect of possibly never seeing those he loved again. "Are we never allowed to see them again?"
"You will," Death said. "Like I will when I have done my duty." Here, it sounded weary and worn. "It may seem unfair to you, but there always has to be someone who shoulders the responsibility, one who comes last. And out of all the beings that existed under our tenure, you two were the most suitable for this. Do this and be assured that it won´t be detrimental to you."
Harry couldn't really believe it. While Chuck stuttered through one question after another, he just stood there and stared into the whiteness of his surroundings. Harry knew that he was 'special' – who wouldn't have figured it out after living a life that spanned several millennia, until the very end of the universe itself? He had always assumed that at the very end of everything he would see his friends and family again. But as the anger about the taken chance to reunite with his family abated and reason took its place Harry also had to admit that he wasn't in a hurry to do so. Over the time the pain of their deaths had lessened and was no longer that constant searing pain that it had been at first. During his long life he had lost his sense of time. What use were measurements like seconds, hours, days, months and even years if they were all the same for you? His anger
But becoming Death for a complete new universe? Even with all the things he had lived through, this sounded absurd. Although Harry wasn't overly religious (the Dursleys made sure of that by belittling him as evil´s spawn and gleefully reciting all the cruel punishments he was to endure according to the holy texts), he had always believed that there had to be something bigger out there – something far superior to even the greatest wizards. For Harry, the mere existence of magic itself was proof of that. Magic was a mystery, unexplainable, fantastical, and seemingly bowed to no rules humans could come up with – so there had to be something out there that could. But for him, those entities were infinite, incomprehensible to everyone who tried to understand them. And now he was talking to one who wanted him to become his successor so that it could do the same thing at its end that Harry had thought would always come at his: finally being granted rest with those that left this universe before him. Oh, he could empathize with that yearning.
"I´ll do it," he said. Chuck stared at him, gaping like a fish. Harry could feel a deep gratefulness penetrating the atmosphere around him. Hermione had always called it his 'saving people thing', and even after all this time it still dictated his actions. How could he decide to move on when there was someone (or something – he didn't really know) who had even more right to do so and had waited even longer than him to finally have this chance? Harry couldn't enter the afterlife with such a heavy burden on his consciousness. And when he felt the other Death´s relief, he knew that he had made the right decision.
"I don't want to be a spoilsport," Chuck said, turning to Harry. "But why would you do that? Do you really want to live even longer?"
"I don´t know how long you have already lived," Harry began. "But for me time has become meaningless. Sure, I want to be with my family and friends again, but what are a few millennia than a blink of an eye for beings such as us? The Creator and Death both had this burden long before us and do you not think that they deserve to move on before we do? They have already done their duty. It would be a selfish and cowardly way to deny them. Besides," Harry grinned, "where is your sense for adventure?" Chuck seemed to mull about that for a while. Then, when he came to a decision his whole posture straightened and he looked Harry directly in the eyes.
"So I´ll do it, too. You don´t seem to be such a bad guy to spend another eternity with." Harry grinned at him.
"We thank you that you take up our Mantle of Responsibility," Death said. "May we meet again Beyond." And with that, the whiteness turned into darkness.
The first thing Chuck did was to re-create light.
"All that black was pretty annoying," he said as explanation. Harry just nodded and added some shades of grey simply because he liked it so.
"Is it a sign of lacking creativity that I can´t come up with another name for 'Earth'?" Chuck asked as he and Harry watched the newly created solar system. Some things were adopted from the universe they had come from, such as the sun being the central point of the solar system, but there were some new planets as well. Harry was especially fond of Saturn and its many rings. They hadn't had such a lovely planet in the universe before.
"I don't think so," Harry answered Chuck´s query. "There was an infinite amount of universes before us, so I don't think that you can come up with anything new anyway." Chuck just stared at him forlornly.
"I haven't even started to create life and I already suck at being God," he sighed, hiding his face in his hands.
"Stop that," Harry said and laid his hand on Chuck´s back in a placating manner. "I bet all those other Gods had their problems as well. Just keep going, and if you don't like it, you still have me." He gave a Chuck a lopsided grin which, together with his encouraging words, seemed to cheer him up.
"They´re an absolute catastrophe!" Chuck exclaimed as he stomped into Harry´s part of the Realm Beyond. The emerald-eyed man was sure that the God would've torn out his hair if he had been corporal. But he wasn't, and so Harry had to deal with waves of emotions – anger, disbelief, disappointment, grief.
"I guess from your behaviour that you weren't as successful with those Leviathans as you hoped?" he inquired.
"It´s an absolute mess!" Chuck complained. "They´re just eating! Eating, Harry! Everything they can get their greedy hands on. I don´t know what to do! If I allow this to continue, my whole creation will be nothing but charred ground within the next millennia. But I can´t just simply destroy my first creation. What kind of God – what kind of father – would that make me?"
"Then don't do it," Harry offered as solution. "Imprison them somewhere they can´t do any damage – a hole in the ground, another dimension. The possibilities are endless." Chuck seemed to think about it for a while. Then without a word, he vanished, leaving behind a very annoyed Harry.
Sometime later, as Harry was watching a supernova explode, Chuck reappeared. "I went through with your idea," he announced.
"You put them into a hole in the ground?" Harry asked, surprised, raising an eyebrow at his counterpart. Chuck shot him an irritated look.
"No, I put them into an alternate dimension," he groused. "I called it 'Purgatory' in the hope that it may purge them of their greed and hunger…and because of that movie. I really liked that one."
"That´s deeply philosophical, coming from you," Harry hummed nonchalantly as he watched another explosion rocking through the sky. "The first part at least."
"The next time I create something, I´ll put more thought into it," Chuck said. "But that can wait a few millennia."
"Why is my grandfather – or someone looking creepily like him – lying on the ground?" Chuck asked the next time he saw Harry, equally appalled and curious at the same time.
Harry looked at him in surprise. "It looks like your grandfather?" he asked shocked. Chuck nodded.
"The same hooked nose, gaunt face, hollow cheekbones, and long black hair," he confirmed. "He wasn't a very pleasant person to be around, so tell me, why someone so similar to him lying here?" He pointed at the figure lying on the ground.
"That´s Death," Harry exclaimed excitedly. "Or he will be when I´m finished with him. I don't think I´ll ever create something again. You make it look so easy, just imagining it into existence. I had to work for centuries to get even this one right."
"Why would you create 'Death'?" Chuck asked, perplexed. "You already are him."
"Yeah," Harry said. "But if your creations become even half as numerous as the previous universe, I want someone else to help me collect all their souls. I´m not some bloody delivery boy. I want to have my own leisure time!" He ended his rant with rather passionate wave of his hand. Chuck just stared at him with an incredulous expression.
"So that´s your…" he searched for the right word. "…substitute?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Want to watch how I wake him up?"
"I have nothing better to do at the moment," Chuck shrugged.
"Still not over the whole Leviathan debacle, hmm," Harry commented, and Chuck shot him a dirty look. Harry raised his arms in a yielding gesture. "Sorry, sorry, won´t bring it up again. Now, let´s wake this guy here up." Harry kneeled down beside the motionless figure and touched its temple with two fingers. A shock went through the figure and it opened his eyes.
"Welcome!" Harry greeted the substitute death.
"Master," it said, staring. Harry had to supress a groan; Chuck, on the other hand, had no such scruple and let out barks of laughter.
Voldemort would be so proud, Harry thought.
"Don´t call me Master," he said to his creation.
"As you wish, Sir," it replied evenly. "Who am I?"
"You are Death," Harry answered. "Or rather I am Death but I bestow you with the duties and privileges that come with it. Come with me and I´ll explain. Will you accompany us, Chuck?" Said God just shook his head.
"I´ll leave you to your bonding," he just said and vanished.
AN: So that idea haunted me for a very long time and then I sat down and simply wrote it out of my head ;) This story is already finished and there is only one more chapter to come which – of course – entails our favourite Winchesters. I just have to wait for my beta-reader to send it back to me. If this story is received well I may continue it as part of a series. That depends entirely on you, my dear readers. Till next chapter!