Harry groaned in despair.
He was supposed to have died. He was certain that he had intercepted the green light of the Avada Kedavra curse with his body. He was certain he had saved his daughter. There had been an attack on Diagon Alley just as he had sent his sons to Hogwarts. Dark wizards poured out of thin air, trying to destroy the Potter-Weasley family for some unknown reason. Harry had eliminated several of them before seeing a jet of green light rush towards his precious daughter; and unable to think of anything else, he jumped in front of the curse to save her.
The ethereal King's Cross was absolutely as desolated as the previous time Harry had spoken to Albus Dumbledore. The platforms were deserted and only a single train was in sight. Harry wandered for a short while, trying to leave the station from the front, but only found himself emerging from the back.
"Dumbledore?" Harry called out. "Albus? Are you here?"
He sighed when no response was forthcoming. Having nothing better to do, Harry walked to the sole train in the platforms in front of him and entered it. Frowning, he walked to the First Class compartment and sat down.
Harry turned around and his mouth fell. Standing behind him in a ticket collector's uniform was Death himself. Unable to stop himself, Harry chuckled. "The uniform and the scythe don't quite go together."
Death sighed in despair. "Whose fault do you think is that? This is your party after all, Mr. Potter."
Harry frowned. "What do you mean? Can you not speak like Dumbledore please?"
"I would do as you say if I had an option. Alas, we are all bound to the whims of our own limitations," Death said in an eerily Dumbledore-like calm voice. Then, he removed his hood and revealed Dumbledore's face. "Do not be shocked. I can only come as one you would feel comfortable receiving guidance from, and only in a place that represents best the Realm Between Worlds, according to your own life experiences. It was I who spoke to you the previous time as well. But then you weren't prepared to know my true identity."
Harry nodded. "King's Cross was where I left the muggle world and went to Hogwarts for the first time. It is also the place where I first saw my wife and best friends." He frowned. "If you are truly Death, then tell me this. Is my daughter safe? Or did those dark wizards get her?"
The Ticker Collector paused for a moment, before taking out a cell phone from his pocket. He dialed a number and spoke clearly, "Status update: Lily Luna Potter: dimension 0100-7895-4098-C." He waited for several seconds while listening to the phone before nodding. "Thanks," he said before hanging up. He turned to Harry. "Your sacrifice left the same blood protection as that enjoyed by you in your early childhood. Your daughter is safe and lives with her Aunt Hermione. Barring any accidents, she will live to see the birth of her great grandchildren."
Harry turned pale. "Then that must mean the others didn't make it," he sighed. "My sweet Ginny."
"She has moved on to the next great adventure," said Death.
"Oh, please be clearer," Harry begged. "I beg you. Can I see her? Will I ever be with her again?"
Death shook his head. "Alas, the consciousness that gives identity to the soul of a mortal is limited to a single lifetime alone. The soul lives on, reincarnated as a new life, but the identity is lost. Verily, as a mortal sheds clothes and wears new ones each day, so does the soul shed all traces of its past identity and enters a new one."
Harry listened in silence. "Then, you are saying that my soul has also lived many lives?"
"Indeed," said Death. "But all previous lives experienced by your soul are lost and cannot be regained. Such is the ordinary state of affairs. However, you have united the Hallows and inflicted upon your soul a freedom, of sorts. The identity, consciousness and memories of your soul henceforth will no longer be lost."
Harry grimaced. "I always thought the Master of Death bit was a highly exaggerated metaphor or something."
"Exaggerated? Yes. Metaphor? No." Death took a step closer to Harry. "By completing my challenge, your soul has won the right to retain its memories as it traverses the eternal journey through different worlds."
Harry frowned. "That sounds horrible to me," he said. "Like some sort of twisted immortality. I can imagine it: waking up as a one day old toddler, but possessing memories of several lifetimes. Can nothing be done to change it?"
"Alas," said Death. "To unite the Hallows is no trivial matter. Verily, as a mortal who raises a wand and casts a spell cannot call back the spell on learning of its consequences, neither I nor you do have an option to undo what has been done by your uniting the Hallows."
Harry sighed. He nodded slowly. "Very well," he said grimly. "I suppose I have no choice. Is there anything else?"
Death nodded. "The choice henceforth will always be yours. A ticket must be purchased."
"Is that also a metaphor for something?"
Death nodded again. "You may choose the ordinary ticket for the slow journey and live the whole life from a newborn till death. In that case, your memories will be retained as… something that you are aware of rather than what you have experienced, like a muggle movie, of sorts. You will be a newborn who has seen a movie about your previous lives. The feelings, emotions and desires will be completely detached."
"Oh," said Harry. "That actually doesn't sound too bad. It would be good to get rid of the emotional baggage of my current life."
"However," said Death. "You are currently seated in a First Class seat." Harry groaned in disbelief and looked dolefully at Death. "The price is higher, the benefits are greater. You will have the option to shed, as you call it, the emotional baggage of your cumulative experiences, but you may retain it if you so desire. As the train moves, you will travel in reverse order through the time frame of the world you are about to enter, as it would have progressed without your presence. Outside the window, you will see glimpses of the world you are about to enter in reverse order. You may get off the train at whatever point you desire. Just press the red button." Death pointed a red button near Harry's seat. "You will be able to enter at whatever point of your age as you desire. Doing so, you may entirely avoid the process of pampers, baby-care, toilet training, puberty… However, the price will be greater."
"You will work as my agent," said Death. "Every time you travel by First Class, you will be taken to a world where an individual tries to cheat me of their mortality. You will bring death or aid another to bring death to the Cheater. Until you do so, you will remain in that world."
"As an immortal?" asked Harry curiously.
"Standard protocol enables you to achieve immortality through various means: you may choose a Philosopher's Stone, an immortal creature as an Animagus or proceed as a Vampire or Dementor," said Death casually. "It might interest you to note that the Fawkes in your world was a Grindelwald from another reality, who had united the Hallows. He had to remain until Albus Dumbledore's supply of the Elixir of Life from Flamel's Philosopher's Stone ran out."
Harry nodded slowly. Just then, the train started moving. He saw Death become a bit tense.
"You are being sent to a dimension in the multiverse where Lily Potter gave birth to twins," said Death seriously. "For reasons that will become clear to you as you travel, you must guide the Chosen One in his path to bring down one who has aspired to immortality and become the leader that the world needs, as Albus Dumbledore will not be a suitable mentor."
Harry nodded. He had experience in killing Voldemort. "Is it Voldemort again?"
"Nay, but that will become clear when you enter the world. Do you wish to retain your emotional baggage?"
Harry frowned. After a few seconds, he hesitated. Then, he shook his head. "I wish to mourn for my family a while longer but I cannot. If I keep it, I will not be able to focus on my task and separate the new people from the old."
"Very well," said Death. "You have made a wise choice; you will be like a completely new person with the memories and knowledge of another. When you enter the new world, you must choose a name and identity for yourself, and that will become your new identity. How do you wish to maintain your immortality?"
Harry raised an eyebrow contemplatively. "Becoming a Dementor or Vampire is definitely out of question," he muttered. "What choice do I have among mythical creatures?"
"Phoenix, unicorn, basilisk among others."
"Basilisks aren't immortal," Harry said, with a frown. "I should know. I killed one when I was twelve."
"Indeed," said Death. "But it resurrected. Had you paid attention to the carcass, you would have noticed a tiny serpent emerge from the womb and move into hiding."
Harry was surprised. So, Slytherin's monster was still lying beneath Hogwarts in the Chamber of Secrets in his own home world. He noticed Death was waiting impatiently for him to answer, while gazing outside the window. Harry followed his gaze and gasped.
"That is not possible!" Harry yelled.
In front of him, very clearly was Hogwarts - not in splendor and majesty - but burning and in utter ruin. A horde of dragons attacked it, while werewolves ran rampant among the screaming and fleeing students. A group of wizards and witches - the Order of the Phoenix perhaps - tried to hold off the invaders but they were fighting a losing battle.
Then, Harry's eyes fell on the leader of the invading force. He was standing aside from the battle, calmly commanding his human soldiers from the distance. Harry felt his blood freeze and his throat constrict.
"It can't be," he whispered. The monster who commanded the death of innocent children and the destruction of Hogwarts was a replica of himself. But he looked nothing like what Harry would see had he faced a mirror. There was a cold indifference in the face of the dark-robed man as he gracefully flicked his wand and sliced the head of a wizard who tried to challenge him. Harry gasped again. It was Sirius Black who had been murdered. "What unholy world is this!"
"I care not for the lives and crimes of man, but death must come to all in the end and none may cheat me for long. Make your choice," Death hissed.
Harry ripped his head away from the window and gazed at the unyielding blue eyes in front of him. He knew then that it was definitely not Albus Dumbledore but Death that gazed upon him. "I'll have a phoenix Animagus then," he muttered.
"Very well," said Death. He snapped a piece of paper and scribbled something on it and the paper vanished. "To transform, you must think Memento Mori with the intent to become a phoenix."
Harry nodded. He followed Death's back as he retreated from the carriage, before turning back to the window. He froze yet again. The scenes were nearly as gory as before but of a different kind. His doppelganger was lying prone in a small cell.
"Azkaban!" Harry hissed with disgust. He leaned forward, wanting to see what terrible crime he committed to be sent to such a vile place. But the scenes remained unchanging. Harry's expression darkened. "Who would send a teenager to Azkaban?"
The answer to his question was like experiencing a bucket of cold water being thrown on him on a winter morning. The Order of the Phoenix grabbed him from Dumbledore's office after Snape was supposed to have murdered him. Without Snape's intervention and with Dumbledore dead, the sixteen year old was held accessory to murder, and condemned by his own family.
"So, James and Lily Potter are alive," said Harry to himself. He saw Lily Potter's hysterical breakdown during her confrontation with her son, who had aided Draco Malfoy in allowing Death Eaters to enter the castle. "But why would he do that?"
The answer left Harry stunned. For several minutes, he remained speechless and unmoving. He tried to convince himself that the scenes in front of him could hardly be true, but failed. The answer was plain.
The Potters treated the younger twin as the Dursleys had treated him. He had been neglected, ridiculed and faced scorn all his life, driving him to join the side of the Dark Lord. However, when he was thrown in Azkaban and nobody came to rescue him - not his family or his new maser - Harry Potter snapped, his magical core expanded and twisted in corruption, he became a more terrible than the Dark Lord himself. He became a terror of his own making.
Harry sighed. The world he was going to was strange and alien to him. He was glad he had let go of his emotional baggage. To see an alternate version of himself suffer at the hands of James Potter, Lily Potter, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin would have been beyond staggering. He averted his gaze, allowing it to rest at the red button he was supposed to press.
Harry frowned. How would it work out? Would his soul be transferred into the body of the existing Harry Potter or would he be a completely different person? Death hadn't been clear about that. Regardless, he would need a body. The question was whose.
Shrugging, Harry brought his fist crashing down on the red button and everything turned black.