*Harry is killed at 17 during a fight with Voldemort. He's sent to his Death's office (explained later) and finds out that this isn't the first time that this has happened.
*Harry's Death (who can have a human name) is mad at his arrival. Apparently, people dying before their time is a black mark on the various Deaths' records, and Harry is getting perilously close to getting this particular one fired.
*When Harry asks what was supposed to have happened, Death goes off on a rant saying how he was supposed to have killed Voldemort, found his soulmate ("Some Granger girl...") and lived to be a centennial age. But since Harry keeps getting into life-threatening situations for one reason or another, he keeps dying before that happens. Harry is surprised about the soulmate part.
*Death gives Harry a paper to sign that allows him to retain his memories (the previous times, he wasn't given this option for some reason). Harry is deposited to a previous time of the writer's choosing.
*Eventually, Harry gets it right. He kills Voldemort, gets the girl, and lives to a ripe old age of whatever. And Death doesn't get fired.
*Harry has to have died at least three times before this one.
*The memory keeping contract must be included.
*Death must refer to Hermione as "some Granger girl" when Harry's soulmate turns up in his rant.
*Obviously, must be H/Hr.
*Dumbledore's manipulations can be a factor in Harry's premature demises.
This story will work towards a relationship between Harry Potter and Hermione Granger as you can probably tell from the challenge. Ron will be a bit of a useless prick. I don't intend to go out of my way to bash him but that's mostly because he isn't worth the effort. If either of these things are not your cup of tea then the back button is up top. Furthermore, there will be scenes that include some graphic violence later on in the story. You have been warned.
As an additional little note: the cover image is my little sister, and fantastic beta's work: an actual hard cover book of this fic which she gave me for Christmas.
Harry Potter and all associated characters, locations and what not belong to J.K. Rowling and whoever she sells the rights to. I have borrowed these characters, locations and what not in order to mess around with them. In some cases I have lifted a piece of dialogue or scene directly from the books as a touchstone. I do not own anything except the plot and I am not making any money from this endeavor. This applies to the whole story.
Harry woke up with his face pressed to a cool floor. Something about that seemed wrong to him. Wracking his brain he suddenly shot up off the floor. The last thing he remembered was the green light of Riddle's killing curse hitting him in the chest. That should preclude any waking up on a floor, or indeed anywhere else. Maybe he was back at the ethereal King's Cross Station he had just visited. Looking around he realized that wherever he was it didn't look at all ethereal. In fact it looked like the waiting room at a doctor's office right down the ghastly pattern on the floor. Thoroughly confused, Harry sat in the chair provided. The best thing to do was probably just wait until someone showed up like Dumbledore had done.
Harry had no idea how long he sat in the waiting room. There were magazines on a table but they weren't in any language Harry had ever seen let alone learned. Eventually though, a door opened where there hadn't been one before. A bored looking woman stepped through holding a clipboard.
"Your Reaper will see you now, Mr. Potter."
Harry saw the shock spread across the woman's face as her own words sank in.
"Wait. Potter?! You're back? Oh, not good. Not good. Well come along. Best get this over with."
Harry found himself bustled from the waiting room and down a hallway. Any attempts to ask the woman where he was or what was going on were roundly ignored. The two came to an empty stretch of hallway that looked no different from any other and the woman once again opened a door that hadn't been there before Harry blinked.
"In you go, dearie. Good luck."
With a firm hand to his back Harry was shoved through the door. When he turned around to look back at the woman who had brought him here he was once again looking at a blank wall. Looking around he realized he was in an office of some sort. On one of the walls hung several framed diplomas. Across from him was a desk stacked so high with folders that the person sitting behind the desk with a look of unmitigated horror on his face could barely see over them.
The man leaped across the desk scattering the folders and the papers they contained all over the office. Harry wasn't in any state to do anything about that as the man had grabbed him by the shirt and started shaking.
"What in the name of the nameless are you doing here, you bastard! Are you some kind of fetishist?! Mentally deficient?! What is it, huh?!"
"What are you on about, you madman?!" Harry was thoroughly annoyed. He had known that dying was a possibility for a long time now. He had even accepted it as a certainty for the short time it took him to walk into the Forbidden Forest. However being accosted by strange, obviously deranged man had never featured anywhere in his expectations .
"What am I on about?! You showing up here for the, drumroll please, twelfth blasted time! You are trying to make my afterlife difficult, aren't you?!"
"I've been here before?"
The shock in Harry's voice calmed the man somewhat.
"Yes, you have been here before. In fact this is your twelfth death. Since you mortals never remember this plane I suppose I'll have to introduce myself again. I am Ephialtes, Reaper of Europe. You are Harry James Potter, the little brat that can't stop dying. Boy-Who-Lived, my hairy arse! You do realize that you are this close to getting me fired, don't you?"
"Grim Reapers can get fired? How would that even work?"
"It works by giving them a soul to watch over that insists on taking joyrides to the afterlife rather than fulfilling the destiny laid out for it. If I get fired there will be no way for me to pay back the debt I incurred on my soul while I was alive. If that happens I promise you I'm dragging you down with me!"
Harry was starting to feel a little overwhelmed but he still managed to pick something out of Ephialtes' less than polite introduction.
"You said 'if'. That means there is still a chance for you right?"
"Yes, but since that chance rests entirely in your hands I'm not holding out too much hope." Throwing his hands up in disgust Ephialtes turned back to his desk and froze. Seeing the state of his files he whimpered.
"Oh great! Just what I needed!"
Stomping over to the desk the man threw himself into his chair and aimed a glare at Harry.
"I blame you for this, Potter."
"I'm pretty sure I wasn't the one who jumped over that desk."
Ephialtes simply huffed in response and started looking through the mess on his desk. After a few minutes of sifting through papers he had several in his hands and gave out a loud sigh.
"Well, sit down. We have a lot of work to do."
Taking a seat in front of the desk, Harry decided he had been patient long enough.
"Are you actually going to tell me what that work is then?"
"We're going to save my job. And you are going to fulfill your destiny to do it."
"I don't know what my destiny is, but doesn't being dead present a bit of an obstacle to me fulfilling it?" Okay, so that was a bit snarkier than he intended, but for once Ephialtes seemed entirely unconcerned.
"A bit of an obstacle, yes, but not an insurmountable one. I am going to send you back to the living world and you are going to do it right this time. After all if you don't then we're both up the Styx without a paddle. Your thirteenth chance is your last one. You die again and you really will be joining me in purgatory, never to walk the Elysian Fields. As for what you have to do, it's embarrassingly simple: kill that degenerate running around down there, find your soulmate and live to 169 years old. Then, and only then, do I want to see you again. Are we clear?"
"No! How am I supposed to avoid making whatever mistakes I made first time through? How do I know who my soulmate is?"
Ephialtes was giving Harry an odd look and it was beginning to make him uncomfortable until the Reaper abruptly stood and walked over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room. When he returned he was holding a thick scroll.
"In my hands I have a contract that you will sign. It states that you fully understand that you are on your last chance, that you will be allowed to retain your memories since you are too much of a dunderhead to get it right without assistance. Finally it says that you will keep everything you have learned here a secret. The only person you may tell, if you so choose, is your soulmate. As to who that is, if you weren't so bloody infuriating I would simply be able to look it up in your file. As it is I think we can safely say that it isn't anyone you've been spit-swapping with so far. After all we wouldn't be in this mess if they were."
This prick was starting to remind Harry more and more of Snape. Never a good thing.
"Helpful, aren't you? You don't remember anything that could be useful? Anything at all?"
"Do you have any idea just how many people die per minute? No, I don't remember everything about every angsty, little brat. However, since you seem determined to screw me over I will give you some simple guidelines. First, the degenerate: you know how to kill him. Remember that this is your task, don't hang around and hope someone else will come by and solve your problems. That is good general advice, mind you. Second, the soulmate: it takes something really messing with their heads to keep soulmates apart. Check yourself regularly for potions, charms and diseases. Again there's some sound general advice in there." Harry was blushing like mad at the insinuations coming from the being in front of him.
"So you're saying that the only way Ginny could get me to fall for her is with a potion?" That was insane. He couldn't imagine any of the Weasleys doing something like that, let alone her. Ephialtes was giving him a long suffering look.
"I have no idea who this 'Ginny' is, but by your expression I'm guessing she's the angsty, little brat you were playing house with before you decided to die before your time. Again." Harry opened his mouth to respond angrily but Ephialtes beat him to the punch. "Look kid, you've tried this your way. Several times, in fact, and turned your destiny into a royal clusterfuck every time. You were the one who asked if I could come up with anything useful so keep quiet and listen for once in your lives." Here the Reaper took a moment to glare at his charge and make sure he wouldn't be interrupted again.
"Alright so like I was saying: regular checks. Food and gifts as well. And since I am through assuming anything about your competences: learn the detection methods and the necessary counters. If you come back here because you caught something you will regret it." Fine, so he wasn't above taking his frustrations out on a teenager, but to be fair that teenager was the cause of just about every one of his frustrations. The blushing was rather amusing too.
"Finally, the not dying: I'm just not sure what to tell you. While you may know where the hazards were, the moment you start messing with time things change. Be alert and train yourself to deal with your many shortcomings. You live in a goddamn magical world. Find a way to get what you need. There are myriad options for the truly creative and determined. You should have realized this by now but it bears repeating: coasting by will get you killed and getting killed is bad."
The similarities with his old potions professor were solidifying in Harry's mind by the minute. Taking the scroll from Ephialtes he started looking through the contract. It said essentially what he had been told, though a good deal less insulting. Harry was weighing his options. If he didn't do this he apparently would be stuck in purgatory forever. He had a feeling that he wouldn't see his family there. It would also mean damning his friends left behind to world ruled by Riddle. If he did sign the contract he would be thrown back in the deep end and left to work it all out on his own. Although with his memories intact he might be able to save Cedric, Sirius, Dobby and a host of others. That left him ahead of where he usually was in strange and dangerous situations. In the end there was only one thing Harry could do. Decision made he laid the scroll on the desk and looked around for a pen only to find Ephialtes holding one out that seemed to be made from a patronus. Harry took it and signed his name in glowing, misty letters.
"Excellent. Now technically, corporate can veto this so we need to get you sent off as soon as possible. Better to ask forgiveness and all that. Follow me."
As the left the room, Harry got the distinct impression that they were sneaking. Ephialtes certainly was at any rate. Eventually they came to another door-that-wasn't and slipped in.
"Good. Now you stand over there." Ephialtes said, indicating a raised dais. As he walked over to what must be a control panel. Harry simply did as he was told and stood in the centre of a ring of runes that he couldn't make heads or tails of. He smiled to himself as he thought of what Hermione would give to be able to study this room. He was drawn out of his thoughts about his best friend by muttering coming from the controls. Looking over he saw Ephialtes paging through a book, occasionally stopping to double check something and then change the settings on the panel in front of him.
"Right. I'll be sending you back to a time when you will be able to actually do something. I think we'll just leave that bit of Riddle's soul here. It's not going to help you after all." Here the Reaper looked up with a glare.
"That means you can't go getting hit with the killing curse, you understand?" Harry just nodded in acknowledgement. Ephialtes went back to fiddling with the controls in a way that worried the young wizard.
"You do know what you're doing, don't you?"
"I have the manual here, thank you very much. It's not like we have to use this thing very often. Most people manage to live out their destinies just fine without all the handholding and need for extra chances."
Before Harry could respond to that a loud voice boomed into the room.
"EPHIALTES! WHERE ARE YOU, YOU LITTLE SNEAK?!"
The Reaper blanched and muttered something Harry couldn't understand but was fairly sure was a curse.
"No time to double check now. Off you go. Good luck!"
The rings of runes glowed blue and peeled themselves off the floor. They started to swirl through the air around Harry encasing him in their glow. At the same time the door to the room banged open and a figure Harry couldn't make out through the runes strode in.
"EPHIALTES! STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING! YOU COULD PUT EVERYTHING IN DANGER!"
Ephialtes seemed to stiffen and then whirled around to face the swirling magic in the centre of the room.
"Potter! Your soulmate! I've just remembered: I'm pretty sure it was some Granger girl!"
Hermione?! My soulmate is Hermione?
Before Harry could contemplate this any further he felt as he was being squeezed until he shot off like a bar of wet soap. Magic was swirling all around him. There was so much of it in the air that Harry was beginning to feel nauseated. He closed his eyes in an effort to control his stomach. Sicking up all over a magical time vortex was probably a bad idea.
Eventually Harry felt like he was beginning to slow down. The magic was becoming less and less oppressive and seemed to be dissipating. He was finally making some real progress in calming his churning stomach. He was so preoccupied with his struggle that he didn't notice the last of the magic fading away.
AN: Ephialtes of Trachis was a shepherd who betrayed the allied Greek city states to the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. He was offered a reward by the Persians which he never collected as he was killed by a man whom the Spartans in turn rewarded heavily.