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Towards the end of Deathly Hallows, Harry is presented with a choice:

“I’ve got to go back, haven’t I?”

“That is up to you.”

“I’ve got a choice?”

“Oh yes.” Dumbledore smiled at him. “We are in King’s Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to… let’s say… board a train.”

“And where would it take me?”

“On,” said Dumbledore simply.

— Chapter 35 (King’s Cross)

What was this choice supposed to be?

Had Harry chosen not to go back, what would have happened? His body was lying in the Forbidden Forest, and he wasn’t dead:

“But you’re dead,” said Harry.

“Oh yes,” said Dumbledore matter-of-factly.

“Then . . . I’m dead too?”

“Ah,” said Dumbledore, smiling still more broadly. “That is the question, isn’t it? On the whole, dear boy, I think not.” They looked at each other, the old man still beaming. “Not?” repeated Harry.

“Not,” said Dumbledore.

— Chapter 35 (King’s Cross)

Had Harry boarded a train, where would it have taken him? What did Dumbledore mean by "On" What would have happened to his body lying in the Forbidden Forest? Can someone explain the scenario?

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Would someone care to explain the downvotes? –  Tom Lynd Aug 10 at 16:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 19 down vote accepted

He was in a “limbo” state between life and death. Had he chosen to “go on”, his spirit/soul would have gone on to the afterlife, and his body would be dead.

The idea of limbo comes from an interview with J.K. Rowling, shortly after the publication of Deathly Hallows:

In the chapter of King’s Cross, are they behind the veil or in some world between the real world and the veil?

You can make up your own mind on this, but I think that Harry entered a kind of limbo between life and death.

J.K. Rowling and the Live Chat, Bloomsbury.com (July 2007)

It’s clearly established in the Harry Potter universe that there is something after death: perhaps a heaven or an afterlife; canon doesn’t go into detail.

For Harry, the real King’s Cross station represents the boundary between the world of the Dursleys and the world of Hogwarts. As Dumbledore indicates, the exact appearance of limbo is unique to Harry – Dumbledore doesn’t seem to have any awareness of what Harry is seeing.

In this limbo state, Harry is presented a choice, and it’s implied that he really can choose either option:

“I’ve got to go back, haven’t I?”

“That is up to you.”

“I’ve got a choice?”

“Oh yes.” Dumbledore smiled at him. “We are in King’s Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to… let’s say… board a train.”

“And where would it take me?”

“On,” said Dumbledore simply.

Silence again.

Deathly Hallows, chapter 35 (King’s Cross)

His two choices are:

  • Return to the battle, and his body. Although his body has been hit with a Killing Curse, his spirit has not moved irrevocably to the afterlife, and he can return. This is the option he takes.

  • Leave the mortal plane behind. When Dumbledore says “on”, he means the afterlife. Whether Harry would actually board a train, or if this is just a metaphor on Dumbledore’s part, isn’t clear. But if he chose this option, then his spirit would never return to the body lying in the Forest, and he would truly be dead.

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If he had chosen not to go back, he would simply have died. The Harry in this sort of "dream state" would go 'on', but the body in the forest would actually just die. Harry has a choice of living or dying here, because the piece of Voldemort's soul within him has been destroyed. He can now decide if he would like to die himself or go back as the man he would have been had Voldemort not implanted a piece of his soul in him.

The train is metaphorical, if he (metaphorically) boarded a train, it would take him on to an afterlife, to death, or whatever you believe happens when you die. The fact that the whole scenario is happening inside Harrys head, shows that it is a metaphorical situation of Harrys mind's decision.

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But its highly unlikely that the dead use trains!!["Board a train] –  Tom Lynd Aug 10 at 11:45
    
I have edited the answer –  ZenLogic Aug 10 at 11:48
    
But they were at King's Cross! It may have been an ordinary or even Hogwarts express. Nothing can be ruled out –  Tom Lynd Aug 10 at 11:51
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They seemed to be at King's Cross - it's highly unlikely, given that there were no passengers around (for example) that they actually were. In fact I'd say given the circumstances that that possibility can indeed be ruled out. –  Matt Gutting Aug 10 at 11:56
    
That doesn't mean that Dumbledore isn't really there, of course. –  Matt Gutting Aug 10 at 11:57

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