Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.

XxXxX

"Unbelievable."

The Boy known to so many as Harry Potter blinked in bewilderment, ears pricking up at the word uttered in such a caustic, contemptuous tone.

Then his jaw dropped as he remembered.

Hand reaching in panic for the gaping hole in his chest, Harry Potter suddenly frowned. He felt nothing out of the ordinary—for where he did not expect to find his heart remaining, he was fairly certain a faithful little pump was still keeping his circulatory system healthy and whole.

How strange, given the last few moments throbbing in his memory.

Digesting this fact slowly, Harry Potter then grew aware of the narrowed gaze alighting on his crown of black hair. And of his…curious surroundings.

Clearing his throat, the Boy Who Fought asked tentatively in a deep baritone voice, "Am I…dead?"

He'd certainly never seen this peculiar, misty chamber of marble and echoes before. Not that he was aware of, at least. It defied description, really, leaving Harry Potter with the intuitive sense that it was not quite of the world he knew.

A pair of thin lips behind a desk curled in what the Boy guessed was disgust.

"Yes, Harry Potter. You are dead."

A pale hand scratched out several lines of writing on a sheet of parchment with a languid, exaggerated flourish. The writer's burning gaze then settled back upon black hair and startled green eyes.

"Again."

Harry Potter blinked. "Um…"

The speaker—who himself escaped description beyond a creeping sense of otherness—carefully set aside his ebony quill before folding his hands beneath his chin. "So. Harry. Blasting Curse to the chest."

The Boy Who Fought scratched the back of his neck. "I…think so, yeah."

"And do you remember how, exactly, this happened?"

Dragonhide boots scuffed the tiles. "…ah…"

The speaker scoffed at his desk. "Perhaps your recollection is as limited as your capacity for self-preservation. Let me refresh your memory."

The figure stood and began to pace fluidly, taking predatory strides and keeping pale eyes fixed on the Boy.

"You and your little friends had broken into Riddle's safe house. You had dispatched his lieutenants with some level of…aplomb," the speaker said with a wry twist of his mouth. "And having directed your comrades to occupy themselves with his remaining minions, you dueled your 'nemesis' to a standstill. And after many fireworks, barbed insults, and pithy comebacks, you had disarmed your Dark Lord and laid him low." White teeth gleamed in a contemptuous sneer. "Sound familiar?"

Harry Potter chewed the inside of his cheek. "Yes. Definitely remembering that part."

"And what. Happened. Next?" came a low hiss in response.

The Boy Who Fought dropped his gaze and twiddled his thumbs.

"You gloated." A slow head shake. "You stood over your fallen foe…and started monologuing." A sniff of withering dismissal. "News flash. He had another wand hidden up his sleeve. And you took his blasting curse like a limp sack." The speaker stopped and spread his hands in a falling arc. "Credits roll. Curtain falls."

Fists fell upon the desk in a deafening peal of thunder, and Harry Potter flinched.

"And you. Died. AGAIN."

The speaker slumped backward into his chair, lip curled in derision. The Boy fidgeted.

After long moments passed in blessed but awkward silence, the seated figure leaned forward and steepled his hands. "Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"

Harry Potter cleared his throat. "I…got cocky?" he wagered.

"As good a word as any." Eyes narrowed. "Except, perhaps, for arrogant. Prideful. Egotistical. Cavalier. Pretentious. Insufferable. Fatally flawed."

"That's two words," the Boy pointed out instinctively.

Harry Potter then decided that it was entirely possible to weaponize a glare into a death ray. He next figured the only reason he hadn't burst into flames was the fact that he was already dead.

"A further unwelcome illustration of my point."

The Boy shuffled his feet, and the figure sighed under his breath. When it became painfully clear that the recently deceased hero had little more to add, the speaker pinched the bridge of his nose. "Well, then. For reference, I'll have you know that it's very inconvenient to repeat this conversation. It's become rather rote at this point."

The ineffable figure began in a weary drone, "You may call me Fate for the simple fact that I am the one who determines the events of your life. That does not mean, however," he added with some measure of irritation, "that I am able to control the outcome of these events. I don't have the authorization to impinge on your so-called 'free will,' to put a very complicated metaphysical paradox into crude terms which you might possibly grasp." The afore-named Fate narrowed his burning eyes. "And you, Harry Potter, are the bane of my existence at the moment."

"Ah." The Boy Who Fought now twiddled his thumbs behind his back.

Fate seemed to collect himself before continuing tersely, "My assignment, as it concerns you, is to ensure that you defeat your petty Dark Lord and live out a sufficiently fulfilling life. A simple enough task for one such as myself, given my long experience in these kinds of affairs." Tapping his long, pale fingers on the desk, he said, "For further reference, I have a great deal of freedom in how I achieve this end—mostly in influencing how you equip yourself to deal with this and your many crises."

"Meaning…?"

"Meaning," Fate responded in a tone of well-practiced exasperation, "I place certain teachers, tools, and other assorted resources in your path. Generally, in a way that you can't fail to miss or stumble over them, because your capacity to perceive and accept these gift horses without their biting you on the nose is sorely lacking."

Harry Potter frowned, but found after opening his mouth that he could not truthfully protest this point.

Fate crossed his arms. "Now, this lack of perception is not truly a problem, all things considered. I've dealt with more difficult circumstances before, and the results have varied from satisfactory to rather spectacular."

The Boy Who Fought raised an eyebrow, prompting Fate to cast a withering gaze at his guest.

Clearing his throat, the indescribable avatar of destiny continued, "No, the problem here…is you."

Harry Potter's expression hardened and he crossed his arms, mirroring Fate. "Is that so?" he challenged.

"Completely," Fate stated with an overwhelming certainty that settled in the room as heavy mist and flooded the Boy's blood like slick ice.

"…if you say so," Harry Potter muttered, attempting to cover doubt with indifference.

Fate rolled his eyes.

"As ever," he began after some moments, "I'm going to lay this out for you in simple but brutal terms. Frankly, I need to let off some steam. Not to mention figure out a solution to this mess before it completely balls up the workings of the future. So…" Fate drawled, fingers drumming out a slow rhythm. "Let's recap."

Harry Potter hesitantly nodded, tucking his hands into his pockets.

Eyes fixed on a distant point, Fate said in a deceptively calm tone, "The first time around, I set you up for a normal life. Relatively speaking. I mean, how normal can you get, being raised by your father, godfather, and the werewolf? But when Riddle got himself a new body, you, fancying yourself as some sort of trickster demigod, thought a little bag of tricks and some cute misdirection would be enough to stall and then end his reign of terror. That worked out rather well, yes? Spoiler alert: it didn't, actually."

"Oh." The Boy Who Fought blinked. "How—?"

"Killing Curse. You didn't merit anything creative that time around."

"…oh."

Fate shook his head minutely, still looking off into space. "Now, it's not unusual for things to go awry once or twice, particularly when the subject is involved in events of some magnitude. So I thought to myself, 'Fate, what does Harry Potter need in order to fulfill his destiny in one piece?' And then I thought, 'Practical skills.'"

"Oh?"

"Yes, oh," Fate answered tightly. "Clearly, you needed training in survival. Strategy. Fighting. Field medicine. Practicalabilities which would give most people the foundation to achieve their goals in war."

Harry Potter scratched his chin. "I take it that didn't go so well either?"

"No. No, it didn't." Fate's eyes took on a faintly reddish cast. "You took the appetizers I gave you and decided it was enough to single-handedly topple a maniacal dark sorcerer. In your sixth year, with nothing more than your red-headed bodyguard, you infiltrated Riddle's base of operations—with a great deal of luck provided by yours truly, by the way—and then got yourself into a duel. With a wizard more than four times your age, with decades of experience in torture and murder, and a great deal more powerful than you on ten of your best days put together."

"...ah."

"Yes. Ah." Massaging his temples, Fate continued, "Now, upon review, I realized that I had clearly overlooked something intrinsic to your personality. Evidently, your first impulse is to take what you have and assume that it is enough to accomplish the improbable—not to mention the impossible."

The Boy Who Fought mulled this over before shrugging noncommittally.

"So, since I couldn't make you decide to wait until you were actually ready before embarking on your great adventure," the figure named Fate said, "the simplest solution was to give you better tools earlier. Obviously," he added with a sardonic twist.

Harry Potter considered this. "Sounds reasonable."

Fate looked at him for several long moments.

"…you would think so. Wouldn't you?" he responded flatly. The Boy blinked, not knowing how to reply.

Breathing deeply through his nose, Fate began again, "After some consideration, I decided to up the ante when it came to your upbringing. Evidently the…antics and attitude of your previous guardians had not been beneficial in the realm of self-preservation, so I took steps to ensure that you came into the care of one Alastor Moody at the age of two."

"Mad-Eye?" Harry Potter sputtered. "You…I was raised by Mad-Eye Moody?"

"It seemed to be going rather well," Fate said, nodding. "You were the most paranoid, cautious, and focused child I've watched over in a long, long time. You didn't have much of a childhood, granted, but hey—neither did Voldemort. And look how successful he's been thus far."

The Boy Who Fought drew his brows down into a tight frown. Fate, however, nodded slowly.

"Yes, I know," he said in what might have been a somewhat softer tone. "Life is tough and unfair. But in my extensive experience…'fairness' cripples and kills. If you aren't meeting a challenge, being pushed into an unfair fight, throwing everything you have and more into a struggle…you founder and drown when that one wave comes along." He spread his hands. "I don't make the rules. I just bend them as far as I can in order to get you where you need to be."

Harry Potter pursed his lips, but half-shrugged. Then flinched as Fate abruptly drawled, "Not that it helped much, anyway. You were paralyzed by inaction until your back was pinned to the wall. And then you finally snapped, threw away your training, and rushed headlong into a brawl that left you as a smear on the street."

"…oops."

Fate opened his mouth, but caught himself as he noticed the expectant smirk upon Harry Potter's face.

The Boy Who Fought then found himself shivering intensely as the room's temperature dropped well below the freezing point of mercury.

"Please. Give me a reason to have you raised by Dolores Umbridge. Please," Fate hissed, baring his teeth.

Harry Potter gulped and shook his head minutely.

After a long pause, Fate continued icily, "Over the course of lifetimes, I've given you wealth, power, access to knowledge and artifacts beyond your wildest imagination…and what happens every single time? You take my gifts and with them in hand revert to your base nature, which I must say is one of unbelievable impetuosity and carelessness."

Fate resumed pacing. "Wandless magic, silent magic, the oh-so-vaunted 'mage sight'…technomancy with the Muggles…personal tutoring by the ghosts of the Founders…and that harem didn't do you much good, either," he added with narrowed eyes.

"I…" The Boy blinked. "I had a harem?"

"You step away from the desk for one lifetime and somebody in the office gets a smart idea…but that's not the point!" Fate declared, spinning to face the Potter boy.

Harry Potter swallowed and put on an attentive face.

Taking slow, deep breaths, Fate began again mildly, "Do you remember that particularly special time? No? It was just a few lifetimes ago. When you came so. Very. Close. Well, in case you've forgotten, I GAVE YOU ATLANTIS!" he bellowed furiously, slamming his palms down with a deafening peal of thunder. "Do you have any idea how many strings I had to pull to let THAT fall into your lap? To uncover and unlock the ancient Citadel and First Font of magic as you know it, from the days when mages moved mountains and built a civilization from mere starlight?"

Harry Potter honestly had no idea.

Undeterred by his audience's ignorance, Fate said with gritted teeth, "And what did you do? You LOST it after taking it for granted. Not only that, you killed yourself and a million other people when you tried to channel the entire city's power through your own body to stop this little Dark Lord after he'd begun the same process—and when you screwed up, you put a city-sized crater smack-dab in downtown London."

The Boy Who Fought tentatively raised his hand.

"Yes?" Fate bit off.

"…was this when I had a harem?"

And despite being already dead, Harry Potter suddenly found himself unable to breathe.

"I am this far…" Fate said in the most still, perilous tone conceivable. "Do not push me."

And with this grim pronouncement, that indescribable figure slumped back in something approaching defeat. As the Boy Who Fought haltingly drew in a ragged breath, Fate closed his eyes and shook his head.

"You're no Hector. You're an Achilles. With a heel the size of your head, which is bloated beyond any reasonable measure."

An eternity of silence passed as what passed for emotions warred in Fate's expression.

At last, he muttered, "Maybe I should let you grow up helpless as a babe, incapable of doing anything for yourself if your life doesn't depend on it—and maybe not even then! Maybe I should—!"

Fate paused, as though taken aback.

"Maybe…maybe…"

The Boy Who Fought found himself hanging on Fate's next words, leaning forward expectantly.

"Actually…that may not be a bad idea."

Harry Potter blinked, quite certain he had misheard.

"Maybe…" Fate mused, steepling his fingers, "you're not supposed to be a dragonslayer, a warlock, or an action hero. Maybe you're not supposed to be The Boy Who Rose, the Boy Who Schemed, or the Boy Who Fought. Maybe you're supposed to be…just Harry. Wouldn't that be ironic?"

"Um…"

Fate's eyes were brightening and his fingers twitched as though dancing on the threads of a loom. "Yes. If you had nothing of your own to be so proud of, so consumed by…if you had to rely on the goodwill and care of others, instead of only yourself…that might do it."

Harry Potter frowned. "I don't know that I like the sound of that. Just saying."

Fate waved his hand absently. "Oh, I imagine it will be more difficult in many ways than anything you've endured so far. To go from having everything you could ask for to possessing practically nothing? It's destroyed greater men then you before. But look on the bright side." Fate smiled grimly. "You won't remember your previous failures and their circumstances for comparison."

Nodding suddenly, Fate pulled a fresh piece of parchment to the center of his desk and bent over it with his quill. "Now, I have a great deal to do, you understand. Trials and tribulations to plan, to bend a proud neck over a humble knee. Perhaps this time it will stick."

Heedless of the Boy Who Fought's sputtering and growing agitation, Fate muttered to himself, "Mayhap…the Dursleys will prove useful if I allow them to play a role…"

xxxxx

In another life, Harry Potter was born in the usual way. His hair did not change color with his mood at birth, nor did his parents allow him to play with ancient and inscrutable artifacts in his crib. At the age of one, the boy came to his mother's sister and her family, who treated him poorly and even shamefully. And yet, Harry Potter did not discover within himself any particularly notable talents or oddness, aside from jumping great heights, vanishing glass panes, and talking to snakes. Common enough events for a young wizard—for the most part. At the age of eleven, he traveled to a boarding school, which he loved, where he was nevertheless not especially gifted intellectually or magically. He was not particularly remarkable for anything out of the ordinary (aside from prodigious flying), except perhaps for his fierce devotion to those who showed him kindness and genuine affection. He was also extraordinarily gifted at staying alive, despite his admittedly uncommon knack for seeking out or merely attracting trouble. One could likely credit his friends and guardians with his continuing years, and Harry Potter would be the first to agree.

Times grew darker, but Harry Potter did not invent spells or tools that the world had never seen before. He loved and lost as many others had, and do, and will—no more and no less than most. He did not bend the laws of nature to his will, nor develop exotic and esoteric skills with which to overcome the challenges he faced. Yet he persevered and even triumphed on more than one occasion, due mainly to the support and enduring friendship of those who loved him. And at last there came a time when Harry Potter stood unbroken at the bittersweet end, not by virtue of what he had won for himself, but by merit of what others had given to him of themselves.

In this life, he was called the Boy Who Lived.

And Fate finally smiled as he filed a piece of parchment.