Harry's life consisted of a series of unlikely events. Aside from his uncanny habit of surviving things which were widely considered fatal - basilisks, Dark Lords, killing curses - there was nothing predictable about it. So while Harry had always assumed that once Voldemort was defeated, peace would follow, it was almost inevitable that the opposite turned out to be the case. Harry had certainly never expected the war to drag on for years after the Prophecy had been fulfilled, but that was exactly what happened.
The idea of Pureblood Superiority did not die alongside Voldemort. The Death Eaters remained in control of the Ministry and, in the chaos following the Dark Lord's defeat, managed to free those who had been captured during the battle at Hogwarts. They quickly made their power felt, passing dozens of laws supporting purebloods and suppressing Muggle rights. The Death Eater regime met with little resistance from the public; their bigoted beliefs were popular and they had many supporters throughout Wizarding Britain. Everyone knew what was happening, but most either agreed with the Death Eaters' ideology or were too cowardly to speak out against it. Only a handful of witches and wizards joined the Order in fighting back, but those who did were vilified, hunted down and even killed by the Ministry.
Harry, his friends, the DA, and the Order found themselves alone in their fight against an entire society. There was simply no way for them to win; for years they tried and failed and lost too many good people with nothing to show for it. The Death Eaters' control over the Ministry was unshakeable, Hogwarts was a school for the Dark Arts, and there were hardly any Muggleborns in Britain left alive.
After the arrest and execution of eleven Order members, amongst them Neville Longbottom and George Weasley, the small group of survivors finally admitted to themselves what had been obvious for years - they had lost the war. The remaining Order and DA members, along with their families, decided to leave Britain and restart their lives far away from the memories of death and bloodshed. They scattered across the globe, no more than a handful going to any one place as a precaution against their locations being discovered. Seamus, Dean and Ginny picked Canada; Andromeda took Teddy and moved to Romania with Charlie Weasley (confirming a longstanding rumour of a relationship between the two); and Arthur and Molly decided to travel to Brazil for a second honeymoon and to recover from losing yet another of their sons. Eventually Harry, Hermione and Ron were the only ones left on British soil.
"Sure you don't want to come with us, mate?" Ron asked again. "Maybe you and Ginny could-"
"No, Ron." Harry shook his head. His relationship with Ginny was over for good and while he'd miss Ron and Hermione, he was firm on not going to Australia with them to join the search for Hermione's parents.
"I just don't get why not," Ron said.
"It's not too late to change your mind, you know," Hermione added.
Harry sighed. "I told you. The Death Eaters won't stop hunting me, and I don't want my presence putting you two in danger." That wasn't his only reason, but it was the one he thought they'd accept.
"Oh Harry!" Hermione lunged forward and smothered him in a hug. "You never change, do you?"
"Well, I'm taller than when we first met," Harry joked as he hugged her back.
Ron snorted. "Not by much. You're still a midget compared to me."
The three friends grinned at each other. The nature of their friendship had changed over the years, an inevitable result of fighting a war and Ron and Hermione starting a relationship, but Harry would never forget everything they'd shared together.
"Take care of yourself, Harry," Hermione said fretfully, no doubt picturing all the trouble Harry could get into if left to his own devices. "Oh dear, maybe we should stay…"
Ron groaned and rolled his eyes. "Here we go again."
"I'll be fine," Harry said. "You should go, Hermione. Find your parents, then settle down, marry Ron and have a dozen red-haired children."
"Well if you insist…" Hermione gave him a wobbly smile and dried her eyes. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too," Harry said. "Good luck, both of you. Name your first son after me, yeah?"
Ron clapped Harry on the shoulder. "That's a promise, mate."
Moments later Ron and Hermione disapparated, leaving Harry standing alone in the entrance hall of the Order headquarters. With a heavy sigh, he picked up his trunk and prepared to follow their example.
Despite knowing there was nothing left for him in Britain, Harry was reluctant to leave. He couldn't stop obsessing over the terrible situation he would be leaving behind. Everything had gone wrong; he had fulfilled the Prophecy, but lost the war. Surely he or Dumbledore or someone could have chosen a different path and prevented such a terrible outcome. Surely there was something he could still do, some way to keep fighting, some strategy he'd overlooked. That was the real reason Harry had decided not to join his friends - for him the war wasn't over yet. He simply couldn't imagine happily living his life somewhere far away, complete with a wife, children and a white picket fence, while Voldemort's followers ruled Britain.
Harry was well aware that it would be suicide to linger, but though he knew he had to leave, he didn't go far - only across the English Channel to France. Once there he got a job serving drinks at the only bar in a small muggle village, earning just enough to rent a small cottage by the coast. It was an odd, reclusive sort of life, since Harry did his best not to draw attention to himself while still keeping an eye on the situation in Britain, just waiting for a chance to restart his fight against the Death Eaters.
It was difficult to adjust to his new surroundings after the constant struggle for survival Harry had experienced over the past few years. Living as close to Britain as he did, he couldn't risk using any magic due to the Aurors and foreign mercenaries hunting him, and he found the pressure of living as a Muggle was difficult to endure. Magic was too much a part of him for Harry to ever give it up entirely.
Whenever the loneliness and sheer tedium grew too much to take, Harry risked travelling further south to visit Bill and Fleur and her extended family (her Veela cousins always gave him a very warm welcome), and even made an occasional trip to the magical enclave in the centre of Paris. Over the course of a year Harry began to relax and settle down, slowly realising that outside of the narrow confines of Wizarding Britain there existed a whole world of possibilities. Peace was not a concept Harry had ever really understood, but he thought he might be beginning to. When news came of the Ministry scaling back its search for the so-called terrorists, Harry even began entertaining the idea of one day being happy.
Which was what made the attack, when it came, so very unexpected.
Harry didn't know who killed him. All he heard was a voice crying out "Avada Kedavra" while his back was turned, not giving him enough time to even draw the Elder Wand from his pocket. Nor did he have any idea how his attacker had found him - he didn't want to think that he'd been betrayed, but after his experiences over the past few years, Harry wasn't able to discount the possibility. The truth behind his murder would have to remain another unsolved mystery, however, since upon opening his eyes he found himself lying flat on his back in the middle of a ghostly Kings Cross Station. He was dead - again.
Guessing that his death would end up being just as dangerously unpredictable as his life had been, Harry scrambled to his feet and cautiously looked around. Thick fog swirled through the platform making it hard to see anything, but after a while he spotted a small figure approaching through the white mist. It wasn't Dumbledore this time, perhaps because Harry - unfairly or otherwise - blamed most of the war's disastrous outcome on his old Headmaster. Instead he found himself faced with an over-excited House-Elf.
"Oh Harry Potter, sir! You has arrived!" Dobby exclaimed loudly, his voice echoing along the empty platform. "Dobby is so glad to be seeing the great and noble Harry Potter once again!"
"Er… hello, Dobby," Harry said, staring down at the small being he hadn't seen in almost three years. The elf was just as he remembered him, wearing mismatched socks, a yellow and purple striped scarf around his neck, and a bright red tea-cosy as a hat. Overwhelmed with affection for the odd being, Harry knelt down on the hard tile floor and hugged him. "Thanks, Dobby," Harry said. "Thank you so much for everything."
"No need to be thanking Dobby, Harry Potter sir!" The elf's ears flapped wildly as he bounced on his toes. "Dobby is proud of having protected sir and his Grangy and Wheezy."
Harry slowly stood back up. "You're a great friend, Dobby."
Death seemed to have calmed the elf somewhat, since Harry's words didn't cause him to burst into uncontrollable sobs. His already manic smile became even wider and his bouncing more energetic, but he otherwise contained himself. "Dobby is not having much time, Harry Potter! Dobby must be giving you a message before you is leaving."
"I suppose that means I'm still not completely dead then," Harry said with a frown. It was ridiculous - he'd been hit by three killing curses in his short twenty years of life, and not a one of them had worked. Not that Harry wanted to die, of course, but he didn't like there being yet another reason for him to be considered a freak. If this was the consequence of mastering all three Hallows, Harry wished he'd destroyed the things while he had the chance.
"Harry Potter's mind is being very much alive," Dobby told him, "but Harry Potter's body is most dead. The bad wizard is chanting nasty spells and burning it."
"Huh," Harry said as he puzzled over Dobby's words. "They seem to have learned something from the last time, then. Does that mean I can't go back? Not that I'd be likely to live long, what with the bounty on my head and everything, but I'd like to spend more time with my friends…"
"Harry Potter cannot go back, but he cannot yet go on," Dobby said. "Harry Potter must go to a new world, where he can die properly!"
Harry was overwhelmed by what he was hearing and only able to focus on the injustice of it all. "What? Are you honestly telling me I have to be killed all over again! I've already died twice, isn't that enough?"
"Not killed!" Dobby's tennis-ball eyes grew even wider. "Never killed. Dobby is wanting Harry Potter to be safe and happy and wrinkled!"
"Wrinkled? You mean old?"
Dobby nodded enthusiastically. "Very wrinkled!"
"Well, dying of old age doesn't sound like such a bad plan," Harry said slowly, needing time to adjust to the idea. He had long ago been forced to give up such hopes, since his lightning bolt scar meant he might as well have had a bulls-eye painted on his forehead. "But what's this about a new world? It sounds pretty dodgy to me."
Dobby looked hesitant all of a sudden.
"Yes?" Harry prompted, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. Considering that Dobby's idea of a good plan involved Harry's near expulsion from Hogwarts and a thirty foot drop after being knocked off a broom, any hint of caution from the elf had to be a very bad sign.
"It is being another world, Harry Potter sir, one without the great Harry Potter in it!"
"Why, what happened to me?" Harry had heard Hermione debate the existence of alternate worlds on occasion, but he'd never believed there could actually be other versions of him running around. It was a disconcerting idea and one Harry wasn't too pleased to find out was true. It meant there must be countless of Harrys in innumerable worlds - he wondered if they all suffered from the same bad luck as hum.
"Harry Potter is being killed in a car crash when he is being five years old, Harry Potter, sir," Dobby informed him, a sad look on his pointy face. Then he brightened up considerably. "But no Harry Potter means that Harry Potter sir can join world and live there instead!"
Apparently the Potter luck really was inescapable. Harry found it tragically ironic that his counterpart had died from what he'd grown up thinking had killed his parents. "So I'm supposed to take the place of a young me?" Harry asked after working out who all the Harry Potters mentioned were.
"Oh no, only if sir is wishing it," Dobby said. "Time is moving slower there, so Harry Potter sir is being ten years old when he arrives – as old as Harry Potter is being if he had lived - and can be anybody he wishes. No one is suspecting sir, since other Harry Potter is dying many years before."
"So I'll be starting Hogwarts and everything, but I don't actually have to tell people I'm Harry Potter," Harry checked. Dobby nodded eagerly, clasping his bony hands together in delight. "Back to the year nineteen ninety one, a proper fresh start…" Harry couldn't help but be tempted by the prospect. "No more Boy-Who-Lived or Undesirable Number One…"
"Then Harry Potter is accepting?"
Harry frowned and held up a hand to stop Dobby saying anything more. "Hang on a moment. If I can accept, doesn't that mean I can decline?"
"If Harry Potter is saying no then he is staying as a ghost forever and ever and ever!" Dobby looked distraught at the very idea. "Harry Potter sir is never going Onwards, never going on his next great adventure!"
"Oh," Harry said. The thought of never joining all those who had died – his friends, family, Sirius – was a most unwelcome one. No matter how unsure he felt over travelling to a strange and unfamiliar world, he knew it had to be the better choice. "There has to be some catch, though. I mean, what's wrong with the world I'll be sent to? I'm sure there's something."
"It is being similar to sir's old world. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is still lurking and Professor Trelawney is still telling future, but Harry Potter will also be seeing many differences. Dobby is not allowed to tell, Dobby must be keeping secrets. Dobby is sorry!"
"That's all right," Harry said kindly, seeing that the elf was upset at not being able to explain more. He might not know exactly what mess he'd just got himself into, but he didn't want to make it worse by demanding answers to the thousands of questions crawling around his head. "At least I know for sure it's not all going to be sunshine and roses. It'll hopefully give me a chance to prepare."
"So Harry Potter is saying yes?" Dobby nervously fiddled with the ends of his multicoloured scarf. "Harry Potter must hurry, almost being no time left to decide."
"Well… all right, I suppose I'll accept," Harry said after a long pause. He'd wanted a chance to win the war and a new world would give him that. "As long as you promise me that the next time I die, I'll stay dead."
The elf nodded solemnly. "Dobby is promising."
"Well then, I suppose this is good bye for now." Harry smiled down at his small friend. "Take care of yourself, Dobby."
"Good bye, Harry Potter," Dobby said, and snapped his fingers. With a loud crack that echoed down the empty platform, Harry disappeared. His last thought was that Dumbledore had been right about one thing - death really was the next great adventure.