Chapter 1: The Eight Vials
"Wake up, Harry. We need to have a chat."
Harry knew that voice, but it wasn't possible. He felt himself becoming awake, his consciousness slowly returning, and opened his eyes. He didn't really want to wake up, as having a lie-in was definitely a luxury lately, with the way his life had been lately, but while thinking that he didn't want to wake up he actually did wake up. After being annoyed for a few moments Harry opened his eyes and then felt very, very wide awake.
"Oh damn, not again!" He sat up and looked at the ethereal white mists hovering about, nebulously forming the outlines of what he knew was the Hogwarts Quidditch stadium. He looked up at, well, more mist, and shook his head. "What happened?"
"That's why I'm here." Sirius Black appeared over Harry's shoulder, causing his godson to turn and stare. "To help you out."
Even though he knew it was just a memory, just how he saw Sirius in his mind, Harry couldn't help himself; he stood up quickly and gave Sirius a hug. Surprisingly, he felt...real. Solid. Harry jerked back in horror. "Wait, you're real?"
Sirius smiled. "More or less. Tell you what, it's been ages, can you conjure up the Hog's Head? Think of it clearly in your mind, how it looks, how it smells..." For a few moments nothing happened. And then, as if it had always been there, the Hog's Head stood ten meters away. "Brilliant! Oh, and for Merlin's sake think about some clothes. I changed your nappies and all but I don't want to see it now." Sirius looked away for a moment and when he saw that Harry had on jeans, a jumper and trainers he clapped him on the shoulder. "Let's have a pint."
As Harry walked into the pub, feeling the weight of Sirius' arm on his shoulder, he knew what it meant. He was dead, of course. When he had been at King's Cross Station with Dumbledore...and just like then, the version of the Hog's Head he stood in with Sirius was much cleaner, very deserted, and existed because...he turned to Sirius as his godfather helped himself to the pint glasses. "I'm dead, right?"
Sirius flipped his hair out of his face with a hand and smiled. "Well...that's the tricky bit. Let's have a pint first."
Harry noticed that the almost broken, shell of a man that he saw in the Shrieking Shack wasn't in front of him, nor the haunted and frustrated Sirius that fell through the Veil, but a younger-looking version in a green pair of trousers, Muggle trousers actually, a white shirt with a black velvet waistcoat and jacket. As Sirius filled the first pint glass with dark beer Harry looked even closer; those lines around the corners of Sirius' eyes were gone but most importantly there was light in his eyes.
"There." Sirius put a pint glass on the bar and moved around the side, eventually coming to sit next to Harry with his own pint. After a long pull that left foam on the hair of his mustache and dribbled slightly down his beard Sirius wiped away the beer with the back of his hand. "Oh, that's good. Missed that." He turned to Harry. "So about the dead thing..."
Harry turned and stared at his godfather. He looked to be roughly about the same age as he was when he fell through the Veil, but he was different. Instead of...
"Let me explain or you'll hurt your brain. Hah! Rhymed. I crack myself up. Here I'm what I would've been like if I would have never been in Azkaban. Still dashing and all that, just the age I'd be now. You're seeing me as I'd be if I hadn't had that little trip at the Ministry."
Harry almost knocked over his pint. "Little trip! I saw Bellatrix..."
Sirius waved him off. "Trust me, that's of no importance here. Here, that's the thing. Took us the longest time to figure out exactly why you're here."
"That's easy. I'm dead. Done this before, you know."
"Oh yes, I remember." Sirius took another long drink from his pint. "Merlin's short and curlies I've missed that. Anyway, my boy, to be quite honest you're not supposed to be here."
"So why am I here?"
Sirus took a deep breath. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Harry stared for a moment, reached over and took a drink from his pint, immediately regretting the decision as he wasn't that fond of dark beer. "I was at home. Grimmauld Place, I'm living there now. But you probably knew that. You do, don't you?" After seeing Sirius nod Harry continued. "I'm cleaning the place up, making it livable. Kreacher's actually been quite helpful. That's been odd. So I was cleaning out a back closet, not really paying attention because Ginny and I had a row about things before she went back to Hogwarts, and I pulled out something from the back of the closet and...then I woke up here. That's it, really."
"Mother strikes again." Sirius drained the rest of his beer and grabbed Harry's pint glass. "You don't mind, do you? Thanks." After another drink he turned to Harry. "My wonderful mum, you know, 'blood and filth' and all that, had some rather nasty things in her collection. You accidentally found one. Poisoned. Right now you're not only here but in St. Mungo's. Kreacher took you right away, of course, but they can't figure out the poison, so you're hovering between life and death." He smirked. "Sort of like right now, actually. By all rights you actually should be dead, but you're not. The way they explained it to me, well...you're not going to like it."
"What else is new?" Harry wished he had a glass of firewhiskey and a bottle and a glass floated over from behind the bar and settled in front of him.
"Well done, should've thought of that, but this is your show." Sirius laughed.
"Heard that before."
"That's what Dumbledore said." Sirius took on a more somber expression. "Harry, the reason you're not actually dead is, sorry mate, horcrux residue."
"Residue. Best we can figure out is that since you lived with that piece of a horcrux inside you for so long it, well, left residue. Aftereffects. That's why you're here when you're not exactly supposed to be, well, here. Don't worry, you're not staying. All the time in the world for that later on, afterwards. Death and I had a chat..."
"You chat with Death?"
"Yeah. He's actually a pretty good bloke. Or she. Kind of iffy on that. Anyway, since you've done what nobody else has done, willingly give up two-thirds of the Deathly Hallows, Death likes you. We've all decided that you had to put up with more than anyone ever has, and since the whole horcrux residue thing means you're not really dead, Death's given you a gift."
"Death. Giving me a gift. Bloody hell." Harry reached over and downed the shot of firewhiskey, feeling it burn all the way down. "Bloody hell."
"Too right. So, I figured you're full of questions. Fire away."
Harry took a deep breath. "Where are Mum and Dad?"
"Oh, they'll be along shortly." He smiled at Harry's happy expression. "Oh yes, you'll get to see everyone before you go back. Least we could do. I'm just the welcoming committee." Sirius drained the last of Harry's pint. "So do you want to know what Death..."
"Yes!" Harry looked at him with a mix of unease and excitement on his face. "But I want to see Mum and Dad. If I find out what it is before that..."
"Don't worry, sport, you'll get to see everyone." Sirius took a deep breath. "You have no idea, Harry, no idea how...you'll figure it out, how much of a gift this is after the first one. Let me see, what was I supposed to do..." Sirius sat for a moment then snapped his fingers. "Ah yes, here we go." Eight shimmering vials of silver-blue liquid popped into existence on the bar. "Got it in one! I'm still brilliant." He turned to Harry. "Each of these vials contain a possible future for you. After you look at them you can pick which one you want."
"Really?" Harry stared at the vials. "But that means I'm going back."
Sirius gently smacked Harry on the back of the head. "Of course you're going back! Don't worry, you won't remember a thing about this. Whatever one you pick will just feel right." Sirius got up and walked around the bar and poured another pint. After sitting it on the bar to let the foam settle he leaned over and looked at Harry. "Before we get to that, though, tell me what's going on with you."
"Can't you see everything from up here?"
"Sort of." Sirius stuck a finger in the pint, causing the foam to dissipate slightly, then pulled out his finger and popped it in his mouth. "I've so missed that. Anyway, I get flashes. Your mum tells me things but I'd rather hear it from you."
Harry thought about another glass of firewhiskey but instead pushed the bottle and glass over to the side. "Well, let's see. After Voldemort was finally gone things were mental for a while. Hermione, Ron and I got Order of Merlin, First Class awards. I've been helping McGonagall rebuild Hogwarts. She's Headmistress now. I've been thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life. Mrs. Weasley thinks I should help Kingsley at the Ministry. He's Minister for Magic now. The Daily Prophet's been watching me like a hawk, can't hardly go out without them on my heels. Hermione and Ron are finally dating, but that's about how it usually is; they bicker all the time, but now when they make up it about makes me vomit. I'm living at Grimmauld, trying to clean the place, make it livable and all. Like I said, Kreacher's been a great help. Don't give me that look, he has. Ginny and I...well, that's been hard." Harry grew silent for a while, stared down at the bar and reconsidered the firewhiskey. After a bit he turned back to Sirius. "It hasn't been easy. She's still rather hurt that I broke it off, but she knows why. Still doesn't make it easier. And after all that she went through at Hogwarts while I was gone she's not the same. None of us are the same, really. She's back at Hogwarts now with Hermione. I've been helping George and Ron at the shop, just for something to do and to help George, but I got an owl from the Auror department. They want me to join up."
Sirius nodded. "Your dad told me about that. So, Harry, as your godfather, let me ask you; what do you want to do? What makes you happy, really happy?"
"I...I don't know." Harry grew silent. Eventually, his voice came out barely above a whisper. "I don't know anymore, Sirius."
Sirius put his arm around Harry. His voice was soft and full of emotion. "That's because you didn't think you'd actually live this long, isn't it? Don't say anything, I know it's the truth. But if anyone deserves to be happy, Harry, it's you. You've done more than anyone should ever have to do, and now you've got choices." A pensieve appeared on the bar, a golden basin with silver filagree. "You've got choices now. Death said that you'll be happy in each one, but not for how long or how happy. Just the way it works, apparently."
Harry stared at the vials. "So what do I do?"
Once again Sirius lightly smacked him on the back of the head. "Pensieve, come on. Don't tell me you've forgotten how they work?
"I remember." He took a few deep breaths. "Will I see you again when I come out?"
"Yeah, before you go back. I won't be here when you come out, though. Somebody else will. We all get to take turns. Quite a commotion to see who got to talk to you. You'd think every relative you'd ever had would know better, but your, let's see, your great-great-great-great-great grandfather Potter was quite insistent you'd want to meet him. Your dad took care of that, told him he'd have all the time in the world later on. Don't worry, you'll meet him eventually." Sirius gave him a smirk. "I'm not supposed to tell but when you get out your mum will be here. Don't tell her I told you."
Harry laughed. "Ok, then, so just pick one and..."
"That's it. Just pick one." Sirius paused. "But can you let me finish my pint first?
"Sure, Sirius." As Sirius drank the rest of his pint Harry stared at the vials. Eight futures. Eight. "Why eight?"
Sirius tipped the last of the beer into his mouth. "One for each horcrux, mate. Death's like that, you'll find out eventually."
"Right." Harry looked at the vials, took the one from the end of the line and poured it into the pensieve.