Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his whole universe belongs to J. K. Rowling and her associates. I'm just having a good time playing with it all, and I - unlike the owner - don't make a penny from it.
A/N: Based very loosely on Reptilia28's challenge, combined with inspiration from Luan Mao's 'Fate's Chosen'. In other words, a cliché with - hopefully - a twist. While I'm definitely trying to tell a story here, it's mostly an attempt at getting back in the swing of things. I've been at a very dark place for the last 5-6 months, and writing fanfiction really hasn't been on my agenda at all. This is to try to change that.
I know I promised not to upload another unfinished story, but I need to get something out there, and should it generate a bit of feedback, it could even be helpful. Don't expect the next instalment real soon - although it is finished - as I'm going to partly keep the promise and wait until I'm closer to the finish line before posting again.
Enough is Enough
At Death's Door
The world went black for the second time in a few minutes. A short while later a bewildering multitude of psychedelic lights flashed from every corner of an apparent nothingness, and suddenly he was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a nondescript waiting room, only this time it definitely wasn't King's Cross.
'Huh'? was his first, very eloquent thought. 'He hit me with that curse, so this time I'm supposed to be dead - I think'. He looked around and saw what looked much like a reception area of a public office of some kind, complete with a desk for the receptionist in the corner. 'Looks like bureaucracy isn't limited to the living world. Damn! I'd kinda expected something more... otherworldly... than this'. He looked around again. 'Feh. The magazines are several years old even here. Figures'. A movement caught his eye. 'Hmm... At least the receptionist is good looking'. He ogled her a bit more, and his eyes gradually widened to maximum as the buxom blonde rose and first stretched, then bent down to reach a filing drawer. 'Scratch that. She's to die for'.
'Heh, to die for... I guess I did just that. How's that for irony'? He chuckled mirthlessly. 'Oh well. At least there's something otherworldly about this place. I wonder if they've got another room for straight women with a hunk of a male receptionist in it'? He pondered the question for a time, all the while ogling the gorgeous blonde behind the desk. 'I guess I'll have to ask mum when I meet her'. He lit up as he finally cottoned on to the implications of his own stray thought. 'Cool! I'm going to be seeing mum and dad and the old Grim again soon. Looks like dying is good for something after all'. He resumed his meticulous mental undressing of the blonde until an unwelcome thought intruded, just as he'd gotten to the good parts.
'Crap! Mad-Eye is going to be there as well. I'm going to endure an eternity of CONSTANT VIGILANCE! for being dropped like this'. He groaned. 'I guess there's some truth to the saying that not even dying comes for free'. Then a thought came to him.
'Hehe... Actually he kicked the bucket before I did. I'd better remind him of that'. Then his mental giggling was rudely interrupted.
"Mr. Potter?" He started and looked up - right into a very appetising cleavage, situated a few inches below the aforementioned gorgeous blonde's chin. Taking a deep breath - strange to do that seeing as he was dead after all - swallowing hard and mercilessly beating his baser instincts into submission, he raised his gaze until he looked into a pair of amused blue eyes. "Ah, there you are," she said in a breathy - almost purring - voice. "I would've said it was nice to finally have your attention, but I seem to have had it for quite a while already." He had the decency to blush to the roots of his hair, eliciting a delighted laugh from the goddess. "At least I have it where I need it now. I'm Norma, and if you'll just follow me, I'll take you to you personal Reaper's Assistant."
"My personal what did you say?" Harry had a hard time processing what was happening. As far as he was concerned he was dead - end of story. Literally. What was all this about? He died and went to wherever this was, and then he was supposed to end up with those who'd gone before him, and that was that. What did Reapers and illegally sexy secretaries and what not have to do with anything?
"Your personal Reaper's Assistant, Mr. Potter. The one responsible for getting you through life to meet your foreordained destiny, and the one who's charged with making sure you don't get here before time."
"I see..." He scratched his head. "Well, actually I don't." He looked at her enticingly swaying hips and quickly decided that that particular view didn't help him collect his thoughts. Well, it did, but those thoughts were not the ones needed right now.
The goddess in front of him sighed. "No, I don't suppose you do, Mr. Potter." They went on in silence for a few moments, and Harry was once again losing himself in the vision of perfection that was the posterior he was following, when suddenly he had a full frontal view of the whole goddess. He stopped abruptly, inches before what could've been a delightful collision.
"Look, Harry..." She worried her lower lip between perfect white teeth for a second, and Harry's teenage hormones screamed at him. "I'm not allowed to tell you much - if anything - but I'll tell you that this isn't the first time we've met." She grinned impishly at him. "...and yes, they have Cary sitting in the other office. You've asked that the last couple of times you've been here."
Harry frowned. "Not the first time you say? How many times have I been here?"
She looked down. "Benny is going to blow up at me, but we first met when you were twelve; twice when you were fourteen; and again the following year. This is your fifth time here, and that's a major black mark for Benny. Those higher up are seriously considering sidelining him, so he's likely to be quite cross with you. I'm sorry," she finished as she knocked on the door they'd arrived at.
"So you're saying that I've even managed to bollix up dying? Five times?" He asked with dismay, but he never got an answer, since the door was thrown open by a seemingly rather irate man.
"Potter!" he barked.
"That would be me," Harry acknowledged, and promptly lost all focus as the goddess leaned in and placed a kiss on his cheek.
"Good luck Harry," she breathed, and then she was gone.
"Well, what are you waiting for? A written invitation? Get your arse in here, Potter," the irate man - presumably Benny - barked at him, rudely interrupting his savouring the close contact with the mortal... Erm, immortal?... Eh, dead?... Well, goddess at any rate.
Grudgingly he entered the office and took a look around. The room wasn't overly large, and it was sparsely furnished with heavy oak furniture that seemed to be from another era. This was further underlined by the few portraits on the walls, all portraits of serious men with triangular hats and gold on their collars.
"I suppose I should say welcome, Mr. Potter," the man ground out. "That's not to say that I actually think you are, but I was raised in a time when politeness still counted for something, unlike today when young people like you don't even have the courtesy of living their allotted lifespan," he continued in a frosty tone. "I am your personal Reaper's Assistant. You may call me Benedict."
Harry looked at the unpleasant fellow, his temper steadily rising from being scolded for something he didn't have a clue about. What he saw was an elderly gentleman with a long, sharp nose; a somewhat high forehead; and a little too much chin. The image stirred something far back in his memory, and when he put it in context with the portraits on the walls, a memory from a long forgotten history class in primary school came back:
"Bloody flippin' heck! I know who you are. You're Benedict bloody Arnold!" He snorted derisively and decided to match 'Benny's' pleasant demeanour. "Figures they'd use an arsehole like you for a job like this. Making sure people die should be right up your alley."
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Potter, I've been trying to make sure you didn't die," the old traitor replied frostily.
"And you've been doing a bang up job of it," Harry snorted.
Benedict turned red. "Watch your mouth, you insolent whelp. I only need two more favours before I can foist you off on one of my colleagues. Two minutes with him and you'll be begging for me to come and take you back."
Harry looked at the man with complete disinterest. "Attila the Hun, I presume?" he guessed flippantly.
"Close, but not quite," Benedict smirked. "Attila completed his millennium in the service and was promoted to full Reaper in 1674 your time. No, the colleague in question is Genghis Khan."
Harry raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"What, no smart comment?"
"Would it make you less of an arsehole?" Harry asked conversationally. " No? I didn't think so. How about you tell me why I'm here and not with people I actually want to see?"
"I know Norma told you, you've been here four times before," Benedict began testily. "Don't you wonder why that is?"
"No, not particularly," Harry replied. "I assume I've died at the wrong time because someone messed up."
"Yes," Benedict growled. "Someone has gotten himself killed five times now. I'd say that qualifies as messing up." He grabbed a thick file. "May 1993," he read aloud, "killed by a Basilisk while playing the hero to save an insignificant fangirl."
"Hey!" Harry objected. "That's my girlfriend you're calling insignificant."
"Yes, we'll come back to that," Benedict smirked. "Now, November 1994, killed by flying face first into a jet of Dragon fire. How utterly stupid." He sent a glare Harry's way. "June 1995, killed by a Blast-ended Skrewt - a creature you'd studied for a year!" He shook his head. "Moving on, you were killed in the Ministry of Magic in June 1996, courtesy of an organ-expelling curse from Bellatrix Lestrange, and of course today when you stupidly got up after surviving one killing curse from Tom Riddle in the Forbidden Forest, only to have him curse you again. Do you deliberately try to get yourself killed, Mr. Potter?" he asked with a bit of heat. "You have a destiny to meet, and dying won't get you there. Even worse, it reflects badly on me. I've done this job for 167 years now, and my superiors, the full Reapers, are this close..." he held up his thumb and index finger with a few hair's with between them "...to firing me. Getting the sack here means at least a century in Purgatory, and I am not going to allow your incompetence to put me there!"
"Oh, is that all?" Harry scoffed. "No loss on my part, so if you'll just show me to where my parents are, I'll be out of here."
"They're on the other side of the door behind me, Mr. Potter," Benedict sneered, "but you're not going there. You're going back to meet your destiny, and you're going to do it right this time, or I'll make wish you were never born!"
"You're a bit late with that, arsehole," Harry sneered back. "That's been my wish since I was about four years old, and with all the shit that's been poured over me since then, I still want it. Except for Ginny, the people I want to be with are already here, so thanks but no thanks. Going back to being alive is nothing to look forward to."
"Now listen here, you delusional little shit! You obviously suffer from the impression that you have anything to say about this. You haven't! I was going to send you back with your memories intact and a little advice on the side, but since you insist on being a brat, I'll just have you wiped and dumped back with your potions-abusing fangirl and let you muddle through your miserable existence. If I'm going to Purgatory, you're damn well going to suffer too!" Benedict had completely and irrevocably lost his calm.
"Do your worst. I've known Vernon and Marge Dursley, Snivellus Snape and Tom Riddle. What do you think you can do worse than them? They could teach things to the guys who ran the Spanish Inquisition."
With that, Harry got up from his chair and made for the door the old traitor had indicated, only to feel himself freeze just as the door he'd come through slammed open and a huge figure strode in.
"ENOUGH!" cried a surprisingly feminine voice. "I think something is going wrong here, and I'm not pleased that I have to come here to sort it out." The voice held significant malice, and Benedict seemed to physically shrink. Harry on the other hand was so fed up with the whole thing, he actually contemplated if he could summon up enough power to wandlessly curse whoever the menacing figure was. After all since he was already dead, what could possibly happen to him? He eventually shrugged and gave it up as a bad job, but resolved to use his time in the realm of the dead - whatever and wherever that was - to find out how to wield magic without a wand. Well... Provided of course that he still had access to his magic after death.
"Mr. Potter," the huge figure turned towards him. "Welcome to the realm of the Reapers. I am Destiny, and normally you would never have met me, but it seems that my subordinates have Benedict here pegged fairly correctly, and since it is plain to see that every chance of him solving this has now evaporated, I have to take your case myself."
Harry nodded at her? Him? It? "What makes you think you can do better?" he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow. "As far as I can tell, you guys need me to fix whatever it is you've screwed up, and I'm not inclined to do anything but go and meet my parents."
Destiny took a deep breath, and obviously made an effort to school some fairly menacing facial features. "You really are an obnoxious little shit, aren't you?"
"You can call me that," Harry shrugged indifferently. "My life has been utter shit from I was fifteen months old, and now I've finally gotten rid of it. The only people I really want to be with are right through that door over there," he pointed behind Benedict, "so why would I want a shitty existence back just to help whoever the incompetent arse is who bollixed things up?"
"Mr. Potter," Destiny heaved a deep sigh, "please allow me to explain just what is going on here. It seems you have made some assumptions that are not entirely correct."
Harry cocked his head slightly and dropped back into his chair as whatever curse had held him was released. "Sure, go ahead. I guess being dead means I have all the time in the world... or wherever this place is."
Destiny heaved another sigh. It seemed that the young man in the other chair had been pushed too far too fast and with too little subtlety. The Entity (Harry had by now decided that It had to be a she, based on 'her' voice and demeanour) didn't look forward to his reaction to knowing just how much he'd been screwed over since before he was even born.
"First of all, since I can see quite plainly what you're thinking about: No, I'm neither male nor female. Genders only have use when it comes to procreation, and my siblings and I don't have that need. We just are." 'She' watched as a flash of comprehension crossed the boy's features.
"Now, about you and your destiny. Your destiny is what it is because of events taking place between 1880 and your birth. You see... Someone back then made a mistake in the assignment of Reaper's Assistants. Every RA has one client with a destiny, meaning that there are on average 1000 people in your world with a higher purpose - or destiny - at any given time. However, in 1880 Albus Dumbledore was assigned as a special client to an RA who already had one of those. Now this wouldn't be so bad if that special client was sufficiently close to completion, but this one wasn't." Destiny paused to see if Harry was following this far. What 'she' saw disappointed 'her'. He actually seemed bored out of his skull. Quickly quashing a spike of irritation 'she' continued.
"Special clients are guided towards their destinies by subtle nudges, for lack of a better term, and they take up a lot of their RA's time. For an RA to handle two to completion is almost impossible, and Albus Dumbledore ultimately failed his destiny. He should've died while taking out the Dark Lord Grindelwald, but lack of time and attention from his RA meant that he hadn't been guided correctly from very early on. I saw this in 1926, and moved to counter it by changing the destiny of Tom Marvolo Riddle, a change which should then have fixed the problem in early 1962 by mutual takeout."
"So you tried to fix a monumental blunder by making an even bigger one?" Harry asked snidely. "You must be so proud."
Destiny's face grew stormy. This level of disrespect was unheard of, but young Potter really had them all over a barrel, and he was apparently very well aware of it. It was imperative that he was brought to see reason, or Earth would be back to square one in less than 150 years. The Boss would take a very dim view to that!
"Not exactly, no. Anyway, I saw it fail in late 1959 when I became aware of Albus Dumbledore's far too high opinion of himself, along with his firmly entrenched idea of redemption for all rather than putting down the mad dogs, so I moved once more to create a special client to correct it, and this time I succeeded. Lily Evans was born with the sole purpose of giving birth to the one who could fix this mess, and she did just that..."
"Are you out of your fucking mind?" Harry exploded. "My mum was created to have me and then be thrown away? Is that what you're saying?" Suddenly he was frozen in place.
"Be still, foolish boy!" Destiny barked. "Yes, that was your mother's destiny. She knows that and accepts it. She knew love in her time, however brief it was, and that's more than many get." Destiny made a visible effort to calm down. It wouldn't do to anger or alienate the boy further. "Now everything would've worked out perfectly after that, if it wasn't for Benedict here. He was the one who had been saddled with Albus Dumbledore in the first place, and because you were so closely linked together - and because Albus was nearing the end anyway - you were assigned him. Unfortunately it seems he neglected to read the file closely enough, and allowed Albus to take control at your parents' deaths, rather than your carefully selected godfather. You see... You were supposed to live with Sirius Black, at first in his flat in Brixton, and then when you were four you'd move to Romford where you'd meet the Granger girl. Your soulmate."
"You're joking!" Harry sputtered. "My soulmate? Hermione? If that's so, why was she all but shagging Ron Weasley in the middle of battle? No, I'm all for Ginny. Besides a life with Hermione would mean being nagged to death before I'm twenty."
Destiny cocked a non-existent eyebrow. "Is that what you think? She wasn't 'all but shagging' him. She wanted to hug him for being thoughtful for once, and he took advantage of it. You two were supposed to be thick as thieves from around your fifth birthday; protecting and helping each other through school; falling in love around the time you entered Hogwarts; and having a warm and loving relationship until you die in your sleep at 121 years of age, only this is another part where Benedict's failure mucked up your outlined life. As for the Weasley girl, she wasn't supposed to be alive at this point. With the relationship between you and the Granger girl, she wasn't supposed to have been petrified, and you wouldn't have been around to hear about Miss Weasley being taken to the chamber. There the diary would've taken her life-force, and once she died, the shade would've ceased to exist as well, being without any force of life of its own. The Basilisk would've gone back to hibernate and everything would've been good."
"So Ginny was born to be thrown away as well? Do you get off on killing people?"
"No, the Weasley girl was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is in no way part of your destiny, but her being alive past the Chamber served to further muck things up. You claim to be in love with her, but you're actually not. You saving her sorry arse back then allowed her irrational crush on the fictional boy-who-lived to reach insane proportions, and she's been dosing you with a mild enticement potion since the beginning of your fourth year. Unlike out-and-out love potions those are actually legal, but given enough time and enough potion, they work much the same." Destiny glared at him. "And no, I don't get off on killing people, but unlike Albus Dumbledore and his delusions, I know that killing can't always be avoided. Had he killed - and been killed by - Grindelwald in 1930 as he should have, Grindelwald wouldn't have been able to manipulate the outcome of the German election in 1933, steering Hitler to power; World War 2 would never have happened; and Tom Riddle - with his original destiny - would've been taken in by a magical family two years before coming to Hogwarts, married Myrtle Cartwright in 1949, and gone on to be elected Minister of Magic in 1978. Instead the Bearded Blunder took an additional fifteen years to catch and imprison his former lover, and look at the difference."
"I see..." Harry was reeling. "The diary was a Horcrux though. How could just leaving it not bring Tom back?"
"Those abominations don't work, Harry."
"Then how is he still alive?"
"Through the magic he siphons from his minions' Dark Marks, and from the leech in your forehead. That leech was his last second desperate measure when he was dying from the curse your mother hit him with, and had you been with Black as you should, it would've been discovered and removed before your second birthday, leaving Tom to die quietly a short time later. You would then only have to deal with Albus to have fulfilled your destiny, leaving you with a hundred years of life of your own making."
"How was I supposed to deal with Dumbledore?"
"You would've found out that he could've dealt with Grindelwald much sooner than he did, and that Tom is basically his creation. That would've been enough to destroy his public persona and reputation, and he wouldn't have lasted long after that."
"Right, so you're saying that if I agree to go back, I can do away with both of them and then you guys will leave me alone?" Distrust was lacing Harry's voice.
"More or less, although it's not a matter of you 'agreeing' to go back. You will go back, whether you want to or not. My Boss has made it clear that you are the last chance we'll get to put things right, and if you don't, the world will be ripe for recycling in around 150 years."
"So I'm the whipping boy whether I cooperate or not?"
"Let me put it this way: If you don't go back, everything in your world will cease to exist pretty quickly, and your parents' sacrifice will be for nothing."
"I don't care about anything down there! It can all rot for all I care, and my parents' sacrifice was forced on them by you, so pardon me if I don't give a shit."
Destiny glowered at Benedict. Apparently he had screwed up much worse than anyone thought.
"In some way I can understand that, Harry, but at least listen to me. I'd rather not force the issue, so here's the deal I'm offering: You'll be sent back to immediately after the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, just as you're walking towards the champions' tent. With what you know now, that'll give you the best chance of getting with your mate, and you'll be in a prime position to end Tom after the third task. You just have to be smart about it, and I know you're smarter than you've let on. You've been dumbing yourself down."
"Well yeah. Getting punished for being smart will do that to you, and when the first friend you're ever allowed to make is a slacker - and not much of a friend when it comes down to it - that's what happens."
"I know, but now you don't have to. When you come back, Weasley hasn't apologised yet - not that he ever really did - and I recommend you don't accept his lame attempt at it and let him continue to hold you back. Don't be afraid to shine, Harry. How you go from there is up to you, but you need to deal with both Tom and Albus, preferably in that order. We're going to have a couple of people teach you a few tips and tricks before you're off, and I will tell you the secret to dealing with Tom: Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration."
"If you can do all this, and even decide almost the exact second I come back, why don't you just snuff them both yourself?"
"Good question, Harry. The answer is that I can't. I can send back the dead in transition - like you - and if the circumstances are special enough I can even let you keep your memories, but I can't pull the living out of the world. I - through the RAs - can nudge them, but I can't order them to commit suicide. Had that been possible, the world would've been a Utopia by now, and you would never have been born. As it is you have to take care of Tom since Albus can't, and we need Albus to go without the reputation he's been trying to build for himself."
Harry mulled that over for a while. At last he spoke. "Say I agree to this. Who is going to teach me, and what are they going to teach?"
"Merlin and Helga Hufflepuff, and what and how they'll teach I have no idea. My understanding of earthly magic is limited. It was your father who told me about Gamp's Law."
"Right. And you guys will leave me alone if I go back?"
"Almost. There'll be a review every two months until your task is complete, but once you're done you won't be bothered again."
"Either I or Benedict will manifest and have a talk with you."
"And I'll be allowed to go be with my parents when I come here again?"
"You have yourself a deal then."
Destiny got up from 'her' seat and motioned for Benedict to follow. As soon as they were out of the door, a stocky man who exuded power and a somewhat rotund woman with a humorous glint in her eyes came in.
"Greetings, young Mr. Potter. It seems we have something to teach you. Let us not waste our time."
5 points for anyone who works out who Norma is with only the clues left here. It can be done - the Missus did it in 8 seconds flat.
No, despite his comments regarding Ginny, this will not be H/G - but that's all you get to know at this point.
I firmly believe that Benedict Arnold was the epitome of a war hero, not to mention the best soldier and commanding officer the Colonials had, until he was royally screwed over by both the Congress and his own colleagues. No matter what the reason though, high treason is never the correct reaction. I've used him here in his roles as both soldier and traitor, and allowed my estimate of his bitterness at everything to get to the foreground and interfere with his conduct.