Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, that would be Rowling. For crying out loud, I don't even own the basic premise, Reptilia28 does.
Warnings: Occasional mild language. See top of each chapter for applicable warnings.
Pairings: currently, eventual H/Hr, (possible) R/Susan
A/N: Please take the fact that this is my first time writing fanfiction into account as you read this.
This is a response to Reptilia28's challenge:
*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 had 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.
Chapter One: In Which Harry Meets the Reaper
Harry stood still, waiting for the sickly green light to hit him. He felt it wash over him, before carrying him away into oblivion. It felt like he had entered a void, in which nothing could exist – no light, no sound, no warmth and most certainly no people. Time stretched out before him, yet only a second passed by. Despite this, Harry felt no fear – after all, what can harm the dead?
Just as suddenly as everything had disappeared, reality came crashing back. Except, he was no longer in the Forbidden Forest, sacrificing his life to destroy the horcux in his scar. No, now he was seated in what appeared to be an unnervingly calm hospital waiting room. All around him sat silent figures, several of them looking like they were well past the point where a doctor ('healer', Harry dully reminded himself) could help them. Harry took a moment to examine those closest to him. Across from him sat a young Asian woman, not much older than himself, who had a gaping hole in her chest. While she kept her face blank, every now and then she would raise her hand to prod the edges of her wound. Tearing his eyes away from her, he looked to his right, where an elderly man with a smile on his face sat humming softly. Given his suspicions about this new location, Harry did not particularly appreciate the man's almost... gleeful acceptance of the situation. Harry was jolted from his contemplation by the appearance of a new seat to the left of him, upon which sat a small red-headed boy, no older than seven, soaked to the core with great tremors wracking his frame.
Harry was not quite sure what to make of this version of the afterlife. It was certainly unlike any he had heard of during his lifetime. He had expected to appear in the midst of his family and friends, who would welcome him with open arms. He expected to finally find his home. Instead, he was near the end of the line at the most poorly attended 'hospital' he had ever heard of, with nobody he recognised in sight. Determined to find out what was going on, Harry went to stand up, only to realise he was stuck to his chair. Looking around once more, hoping that someone who could help him understand what was happening had miraculously appeared since he last did so, Harry noticed a most unusual, and completely unwelcome, phenomenon.
Off to the very far right, so distant he had been unable to see it just a minute beforehand, was a fragmented wall, with sections just slightly wider than the chairs upon which the newly deceased sat. This wall, though fascinating in its complexity, was not what had so disturbed our young hero. What had done so was the fact that this wall was moving closer, with different sections moving at different paces. Harry didn't know how it did so without pushing the rows of chairs into the wall on the left, but he had a nasty suspicion that they and their occupants were disappearing into the sections themselves.
Just as he was experiencing the first tendrils of panic, a surge of calm tranquillity rushed through him. While a distant part of his mind realised that it was artificial, and he really should get back to panicking, the rest of him didn't particularly care, and so he spent an indeterminate amount of time staring around the room absentmindedly, paying no mind to the steadily approaching section of wall, other than to idly note that his earlier suspicion was correct, and the chairs with their occupants were in fact swallowed by the wall as it moved, one chair at a time. Sometimes the wall would move forward almost immediately, other times it would take several minutes or longer to do so. It was not until the elderly man on his right was the only person separating him from what came next that the detached feeling began to wane. By the time he himself was passing through the wall, the calming quality of the magic in the room had almost completely worn off, not that that did him any good, since he still could not leave his chair. The last vestiges of the strange magic were destroyed as Harry once more passed through a void, although his time in this one seemed much briefer, before he found himself in sitting in a new, less comfortable chair in front of a mahogany desk in a rather large office.
The office itself did not have much room for movement, since boxes full of parchment littered the floor, probably waiting to be sorted into one of the many metal filing cabinets that lined the office walls. The monotony of the filing cabinets was unbroken, except for a small wooden bookcase to the left of the desk, which was filled with ancient looking tomes. Harry was quick to note that there were no doors or windows to be seen, thus trapping him in this cluttered office with no possibility of escape. He had realised before he was forcibly calmed down that his wand was absent, so he couldn't even blast his way out.
Gulping softly, Harry turned back towards the desk, and the woman seated behind it. Said woman had yet to look up from the parchment she was writing on, and seemed intent on ignoring the sudden appearance of the rather scruffy looking teenager in front of her desk. This gave Harry the opportunity to examine her carefully. She looked to be in her early forties, with dirty blonde hair that was swept back in a loose bun. She wore small, rectangular reading glasses perched perilously upon the end of her nose, which vaguely reminded Harry of the librarian at his old primary school. His assessment of her was interrupted by the woman herself. She spoke in a dry monotone voice, still refusing to look up from her paperwork.
"Please state your full name, date of birth, country of residence and cause of death. If the latter is still causing you emotional turmoil, you may partake of the complimentary tissues to your left."
Sure enough, there was a full tissue box at the edge of the desk which Harry had previously overlooked.
"Uh, my name is Harry James Potter, I was bo –"
"YOU!" the blonde woman shrieked, jumping to her feet and leaning over the desk, her glasses falling to the ground. The look of utter fury upon her face scared Harry more than he cared to admit. He glanced around quickly, hoping to spot some hidden exit he had overlooked before, or at least somewhere to hide from this strange woman. Finding neither, he steeled himself before meeting her furious gaze once more.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself this time? No, no, let me guess. The world was in danger? Riddle had some nefarious plan that would have killed everyone? There was a kitten stuck up a tree? Well, which is it? Hurry up boy, I haven't got all day!"
Feeling even more confused than he was before, Harry began to stutter out a response, "W-well, V-Voldemort was i-in the forest, y-you see, so –"
Cutting him off, the woman snapped out, "So you had to go and get yourself killed for no good reason? At least tell me it was the Dreaded Lord of Anagrams himself who did it, and not that bloody Malfoy brat again."
"Malfoy, what, I'm afraid I don't understand. Malfoy isn't even capable of killing anyone, he proved that last year. And what do you mean 'again'. I'm dead, that only happens once. I think I would remember if it had happened before." Harry was becoming more sure of himself, especially when he remembered that, since he was already dead, he couldn't exactly end up worse off.
"You, remember? Don't make me laugh. As if we'd let a pathetic human remember passing through here. Some of the theories about the afterlife are close enough, without confirming them! Oh, this is such a nightmare. This is the twelfth time you've come to my office. Twelve times!" She sat back down with a slightly hysterical expression on her face, before continuing. "How freakin' hard is it complete your destiny without dropping dead every five seconds? I mean, I know it's a bit more complicated than most destinies, but it wouldn't be yours if you were incapable of carrying it out, would it? I mean, really, all you have to do is off Riddle, marry your soul mate – some Granger girl – reform that ridiculously bigoted society you keep dying for, bring in a new Golden Age for the magical word (and yes, there is a difference between the wizarding and the magical worlds), have a few heirs, at least five, and live until you're at least 217, at which point I suppose you can die peacefully in your sleep. But no, that's not good enough for you, is it? No, you have to keep getting yourself killed in as gruesome a manner as possible! Why? You can't be suicidal, or you wouldn't fight so hard, so why can't you just stay alive! I swear, you've made it your mission in life – death – whatever – to get me fired. That's it, isn't it? You hate me! What the hell did I ever do to you?"
Leaning back in her chair, the woman stared at Harry despairingly, as if hoping he would be able to provide a satisfactory explanation for his alleged misdeeds. If she was, she was bound to be disappointed. Harry had sat through her rant with a gobsmacked expression on his face, while he grew more and more alarmed as she kept talking. After a few minutes, when it became clear that she was not going to resume yelling at him, Harry hesitantly decided to ask about the most pertinent part of her rant.
"Wha- what did you mean, Hermione's my soul mate? I didn't know that there was such a thing as soul mates. Besides, don't you mean Ginny? After all, Hermione's in love with Ron, and I was dating Ginny before we started hunting for the horcruxes..." But Harry trailed off before he could continue his argument, realising exactly what he had just said. Had they really just been 'dating'? Before he left on the hunt, he would have said no, he was in love with her. Hell, he would have said that had he been asked before he left to be killed by Voldemort. After all, hadn't the thought of being with Ginny again been one of the few things that kept him going even through the worst moments of the past year? Hadn't the thought of the kiss they shared on his birthday, of watching her at Bill and Fleur's wedding, helped him carry on fighting when he just wanted to give up and move to a remote, undiscovered island of the other side of the world? But try as he might, he was unable to conjure up the feeling of love he had thought he felt towards her for over a year.
'It's just shock. I mean, I just died, found myself in the waiting room from hell, before being sucked through that ruddy wall only to find myself trapped in an office with a mentally unstable woman. Who wouldn't go into shock?' Harry thought desperately, but deep down he knew that he was deluding himself.
The blonde woman, having regained some control over herself, looked at him amusedly. She had seen the desperate, confused look upon his face and nodded to herself in satisfaction.
"You can see it, can't you? You're no longer under the delusion that you're in love with the little trollop." Seeing him opening his mouth to continue his denial aloud, she said sternly, "Don't deny it."
Harry's jaw clenched momentarily, before he mulishly asked, "What do you mean, 'under the delusion'? And don't call Ginny a trollop!"
"I meant that you have started to shake off the after effects of prolonged exposure to love potions", she paused, waiting for the inevitable explosion. She did not have to wait long.
"Love potions! No – she wouldn't. Alright, you're right, I don't love her right now, but that doesn't mean that what we had last year was the result of potions! It- it's the hunt, I've changed, and I may no longer care for her like I did last year, but I know that Ginny is a good person, and she would never, never, take away my free will like that! Besides, even if she did try, there is no way in hell that no one would have noticed – that Hermione wouldn't have noticed. She's the one who warned me about how Romilda Vane was looking into love potions – there's no way she would have heard that and not researched how to detect their effects." Harry leaned back in the hard-backed chair, certain that this logic would convince the woman ('who is she, anyway?') of the foolishness of her assertion.
The woman, however, was obviously quite pleased with the way this conversation was going. After all, his faith in his soul mate to protect him, even if he was unconscious of it, was a good omen for the success of her plan. Instead of pointing this out (and having to explain her plan to the ignorant little human), she decided to tell him just how 'good' his precious ex-girlfriend truly was. "Of course she would have noticed. Which is why Weaselette (Malfoy Junior may be an arrogant little toerag, but that name certainly fits) started working to distract her months before she started dosing you."
"Hush, boy, and let me explain".
Harry scowled, but kept silent.
"Now, don't you think that it's a bit suspicious that Hermione, Hermione, the girl who did everything she could to help you and your red-haired friend academically, would treat you so poorly because you started to excel in a subject you had previously barely tried in? That she would begrudge you knowledge? No, she wouldn't. She would have welcomed its presence, since it helped you to actually understand the subject, something that even she had given up trying to help you do."
"Then why..." was all Harry managed before the woman's glare silenced him.
"As I was saying, her response was unnatural. It was the result of unfocused jealously potions. Weaselette may have been proficient enough at brewing to make said potions without poisoning your soul mate – thankfully – but she did not know how to focus them. Still, she got the results she wanted. Hermione, overcome with unexplainable jealousy, rationalised that she was jealous of the advantage the old potions book gave you. Where she normally would have happily shared it with you, her potion-addled mind told her she wanted it for herself, and since she couldn't have it, she took it out on you. Luckily for the Weaselette, Hermione was able to overcome her jealousy over small things and focus it on those that she could logically justify, otherwise it would have been obvious, at least to the professors, that she had been dosed with something. Therefore, while she suppressed her jealousy over Parvati Patil's new quill, she could not quell her response to Lavender Brown dating one of her best friends. She rationalised this to mean that she liked Ron, even though she had never thought of him like that before. Obviously, this wasn't originally a part of Weaselette's plan, but since it distracted her brother as well as isolating Hermione, it worked out. And once Hermione was well and truly entranced by the potion's effects, she was literally unable to notice the effects of the love potions you were fed."
Harry thought through what she said, and was saddened to realise how much sense it made. Lowering his gaze, he noticed for the first time the little plaque of the woman's desk. It read 'Grim Reaper – European Division'. This in turn reminded him of the main point of her original rant, and, pleased to have a distraction from the disturbing realisations that had just been forced upon him, he latched onto this new train of thought.
"What did you mean, earlier, when you said that this was the twelfth time I've died? How is that possible? I mean, I know you said something about you not letting me remember, but that still doesn't explain why you think I have somehow survived death twelve times!"
Sighing, the woman ran her hand over her hair, readjusting her bun. While she realised he was trying to change the subject, he had raised valid points that she needed to explain, so she let the topic drop – for now.
"I apologise. I let my frustrations get the better of me, I should have at least explained what was going on before unloading on you. My name is Lorelei, and I'm your grim reaper, or 'angel of death' if you want to be poetic about it. Basically, my job is to watch over you and ensure you live long enough to fulfil your assigned destiny. You do remember what I told you about your destiny?"
Harry nodded quickly, fearful that any hesitation would incur her wrath once more.
Smirking slightly, Lorelei continued. "Very few people are as stubborn about dying as you are, Mr Potter. There are some people who will die once, maybe twice, before they complete their destiny, and are sent back and live their lives to their natural conclusion, but mostly grim reapers only have to greet their charges upon their scheduled death, and deliver them to the afterlife they deserve. You however, have spent your life giving me stomach ulcers. I believe the last person to be as difficult as you was the woman you know as 'Joan of Arc'."
Harry looked horrified. "The muggle martyr? Her destiny was to be burnt at the stake? And you kept sending her back until she did so?"
"No, it wasn't. She was meant to bring an end to that frightful conflict between the French and English kings. I believe it's called the 'Hundred Years War'? Anyway, the stupid woman kept dying before her time, so after her twelfth death, we sent her back with her memories intact for her last chance. Even with that advantage, she ended up burnt at the stake. And since it's impossible to send someone back after their thirteenth death", here she shot Harry a significant look, "she failed to complete her destiny. So instead of a lasting peace, the war continued for another 22 years, and countless individuals died – permanently – before their time."
"Why is it impossible to send someone back after their thirteenth death? Does that mean I only have one more chance? Will I get to keep my memories like Joan of Arc did?"
"Very well deduced, Harry – you don't mind me calling you Harry, do you?" She gave him no time to answer. "Good. You're obviously not as stupid as you're made out to be." Seeing the indignant look on his face, she continued quickly. "When those with an important destiny, something that affects the entire world, like yours, continue to die before their time, we do our best to help them fulfil it. Unfortunately, the magic involved in sending them back ceases to work after their thirteenth death – unlucky thirteen, I suppose. When the truly obstinate, like yourself, die for the twelfth time, we try to give them the best chance to make their last attempt work out. This means sending them back with their memories intact and the knowledge of how important their destiny is."
Harry took a moment to process this, before realising the flaw in this plan. "What good will it do to send me back with my memories intact? I mean, I'll still be in the Forbidden Forest in front of Voldemort. Hell, I didn't even have my wand drawn. I'll be there all of thirty seconds before I return to that ruddy waiting room."
"Who said I'd be sending you back to the moment you died? We may have sent you back to that moment, or just before it, the first twelve times, but since this is your last chance, we can send you back to whatever time we choose." Lorelei looked distinctly smug as she said this.
"But what's the point? If you send me back to before Voldemort kills me, I'll have to die again in order to destroy the horcrux", Harry stated despondently.
Harry looked up at her, startled. "What?" he gasped out.
"I said 'bullshit'. It is impossible to make an accidental horcrux. There are five extremely complicated spells that need to be cast to prepare the desired vessel to contain the soul fragment and use it to tie the creator to the mortal plane. And that's if the vessel is inanimate. It took Riddle nine spells to prepare that bloody snake of his, and it would have taken many more if he were to turn you into one. The snake, after all, had no magic with which to resist. There is no way in hell he could have turned you into his horcrux 'by mistake'."
Harry stared at her. 'That can't be right', he thought. 'Dumbledore was certain I was a horcrux. He told me, er, told Snape to tell me, that the only way to kill Voldemort was to sacrifice myself! He wouldn't have done that if he wasn't absolutely positive, right?'
Lorelei, well aware of Harry's disbelief that his mentor could make such a grievous mistake, decided that it would be best to tell him some important facts before he interrupted again. This meeting was going to take long enough as it was, without having to argue every little point with him.
"I understand that you trust Dumbledore, but you need to get over it. He is a human being, and he is fallible. In this case, he sensed the soul fragment attached to your scar, and, already suspecting Riddle of having created horcruxes, took its presence as the proof he was looking for and began to make plans on when it would be best to 'destroy' you – for the 'greater good', of course. If he had of looked closer though, he would have seen that its attachment to your scar was weak, and that it was almost completely detached from the main fragment. Think of it as a passive possession. Not good, but nothing a simple cleansing ritual, found in every first year healing textbook, wouldn't be able to destroy if it were performed before it could attach itself properly. While it began to do so over the decade you spent with your relatives, it was not until you first came into contact with the main fragment that it became fused to your scar. Remember that pain at the welcoming feast in your first year? That was when it happened. From that point, it would have taken a much more complicated cleansing ritual to rid you of it, but it was still doable. When you get back, you will have to get yourself to a reputable healer who will set the necessary ritual up for you. And for Merlin's sake, do not go to Poppy Pomphrey, she's only a mediwitch, and would tell Dumbledore immediately if you were to ask for it. He would demand to know how you knew, and when you didn't tell him (and you won't be telling him), he would rummage through your mind until he found out, before taking all of your future knowledge and obliviating you – again, for the 'greater good'."
Harry looked like he wanted to protest this analysis of his headmaster's most likely response, and Lorelei realised that it would take time for Harry to believe what she was telling him.
"Dumbledore arranged your entire life to ensure that you would trust him implicitly. I know it's going to take more than my word to convince you, you'll have to sort through his actions yourself before you truly believe it, but when you do I'm quite certain you'll think yourself to be a complete imbecile. When you do, I want you to remember that you were a child, and children truly can't be expected to be able to see through the deceptions of men who have spent nearly a century in politics. For now, however, I want you to at least pretend that you believe me, and think it over yourself once you're alive again."
Through he still looked sceptical, Harry nodded, realising that defending Dumbledore would get him nowhere. Besides, as much as he loathed to admit it, even to himself, what Lorelei was saying fit in quite well with the Dumbledore Rita Skeeter had portrayed in her book last year. Of course, he was aware that Skeeter was not exactly the most reliable and impartial of sources, which is one of the reasons he was so hesitant to believe what he was being told.
"So what else do you need to tell me? My aunt actually adores magic and has spent the last sixteen years taking the mickey?" Alright, so he got rather sarcastic when he was stressed, everyone needs an outlet, and that was his.
Lorelei pretended she didn't hear the second comment and started looking through the myriad of parchments on her desk. "First, I should probably make sure I have all the proper forms filled out, otherwise telling you all of this would be a waste of time. While it has always been our policy to send back those on their last chances with their memories intact, I still need to officially inform my superiors. They'll be upset enough that you got to this point, I don't even want to think about what they'd do to me if I sent you back without informing them first. One of the forms is one that will dictate who you can tell and what you can tell them."
With that, she turned her full attention to finding and filling out the necessary forms, leaving Harry to sit quietly and reflect upon what he'd learnt. As much as he hated it, he found himself believing her about Ginny's betrayal. Lorelei had made too many strong arguments that he could not refute for him to remain in denial. The betrayal he felt over Ginny's actions was not the worst of it however. No, the worst was the small, traitorous voice in the back of his mind that kept saying, 'If she was right about Ginny, does that mean she's right about Hermione? And if she is, who's to say that she was wrong about Dumbledore?' In the end, he decided to reserve judgement, and see if she truly could send him back in time. If she couldn't, well, he was already dead, so what did it matter? As he sat there watching Lorelei, he thought of the questions he still wanted answered, but he was unwilling to interrupt her – he'd had enough of her temper to last him a lifetime. An ironic thought for a dead man.
Soon enough, Lorelei put down her quill and dropped the papers through a chute in her desk.
"There", she said, "now we just have to wait for my boss to stop by with the proper authorisations. Do you have any questions while we wait?"
"Yeah, a few, actually. Uh, i-if you send back those who die before their time, does that mean that those who have already died in the war were meant to die when they did?" Harry may have started hesitantly, but soon enough he was speaking rapidly, wanting to get this painful topic over with as quickly as possible. "I mean, Remus and Tonks only just became parents – they named me godfather, not that I have any idea what to do with a kid – and what about Fred, and Colin, and Cedric? What about Sirius?" He was starting to sound quite desperate. "How is it fair that I'm being sent back and not them?"
Lorelei's eyes softened, and she took a deep breath before responding. "Of those you mentioned, I'm afraid only Cedric was destined to die when he did. The others... you see, when those without a pivotal role in events to come die before their time, we have to assess the pros and cons of sending them back. I shouldn't tell you this, but we have sent your cousin back six times – being a petty criminal is rather bad for your health, apparently. We've also sent Seamus Finnegan back three times, and Pansy Parkinson back twice, just to name a few. We did this because sending them back to complete their destinies would not have an adverse effect on the destinies of those around them. For others, sending them back could result in an even worse situation for those around them. Take Mr Black, for instance. What did his cousin do after pushing him through the veil?"
"She – she ran out shrieking about how she killed him."
"Exactly – 'she ran out'. Had we returned Mr Black, she would stayed and continued fighting, which would have resulted in the deaths of Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, and Neville Longbottom. Even if the numbers weren't already against sending Mr Black back, the identities of those who would die in his place certainly precluded it."
"What do you mean, Tonks and Lupin just died. If they were so important, then why weren't they returned this time?"
"They were important because they were destined to become the parents of one of the most important symbols for equality – Teddy Lupin, the son of a werewolf and an auror, and the beloved godson of the saviour of the wizarding world! Since you didn't ask, I presume you realise Neville's importance?"
"He's the alternate. It I fail to kill Voldemort, it will fall to him."
"Correct – although he is also destined for other important things as well, not that I can tell you about them, I'm telling you more than I strictly should as it is. I trust you don't need to ask about the others you mentioned?"
"No, I get the picture. Doesn't mean I have to like it though."
Lorelei just smiled thinly at him.
After a moment Harry continued, "Since they weren't meant to die, does that mean I can save them if I go back far enough to prevent the situations that got them killed? What about Cedric, why did he have to die?"
"Because if he didn't, his father would have replaced Cornelius Fudge as Minister for Magic, and he would have readily capitulated to Riddle with a smile on his face if it meant saving his son. Even if you prevent Cedric from accompanying you to the graveyard, he will die in some manner before the school year is out. As for saving others, if you can prevent a situation from occurring, you might be able to save them. You should keep in mind, however, that changing one event could lead to another that you have no control over. There are also situations you might not want to interfere with, like the Department of Mysteries fiasco."
"But if it could save Sirius –"
"That attack led to the ministry acknowledging Riddle's return, and saved countless lives. If you can figure out how to force them to acknowledge that beforehand, then by all means, stop it from happening. But if you can't, why not use your foreknowledge to your advantage. If it's still applicable, of course."
Harry thought this over, understanding what she was saying, but already planning how to keep Sirius safe. Deciding to think on it more later, Harry decided to find out what else Lorelei knew or thought about those around him.
"About Ginny –"
"Oh for crying out loud!" While she was a little surprised by the sudden change of topics, Lorelei quickly covered it by allowing the irritation she felt about the conversation she believed was coming to show. "She potioned you up to your eyeballs, you idiot boy, and she felt no regret –"
Harry quickly cut her off before she got into her stride. "I know, you've already made that abundantly clear. What I was going to ask is how she did it?"
"What do you mean 'how'? If you must know she slipped it into your –"
Again she was interrupted. "No. No, what I meant was, how was she able to do it? I mean, I know she's a decent student, but you said she didn't know enough to key the jealousy potions she fed to Her- Hermione", Harry had to pause to quash the sudden anger he felt towards his ex-girlfriend. 'What did Hermione ever do to her, anyway?' he thought bitterly. Aloud, he continued, "How did she know what potions to use? Was she getting any help? I mean, you said something about how she was glad the jealously potions distracted Ron, so that means he wasn't involved, doesn't it?" This was what he most wanted to know. He didn't think he could bear it if his first friend was in on it, not after what Ginny had done, and certainly not with the doubts he now had about Dumbledore.
Lorelei looked at her charge sympathetically. She regretted the turmoil she was subjecting him to, but it had to be done. Sighing softly, she set about putting his mind to rest. "Ron was unaware of his sister's actions, but he was not against reaping their benefits, not that he can be blamed for that. He truly believed the girl he had been crushing on for several years liked him back."
"I think it's a bit more than a crush, I mean, after what the locket said... they're happy together, why would I get in the middle of that?"
"They're happy together now, or rather they could have been if they weren't in the middle of an incredibly dangerous battle in which many of their friends have died, but they wouldn't have stayed that way for long. They would argue worse than they did in your sixth year, and both would end up incredibly hurt. You don't truly think that the fact that they argue like 'an old married couple' is grounds for a relationship, do you?"
"No, I suppose not. They really wouldn't be happy?" Harry really didn't want to intrude upon either of his friends' happiness if there was a chance it would last. He couldn't do it to either of them. Ron was the closest thing he had to a brother, and Hermione... well, Hermione was very important to him.
"No, they wouldn't. If Ron is truly your friend, and I assure you, he is, then he will eventually accept that you and your soul mate are meant to be. He'll eventually find someone that is better suited for him, and be happy with her."
This made Harry much more comfortable with the situation, although he wasn't sure what to think about Hermione still. After all, being told that you are destined for someone doesn't mean you will automatically fall head over heels in love with them – you have to work for it.
"As for how the Weaselette came up with the idea, well, I'm sure you've heard Molly Weasley's tale about how she caught Arthur's attention through love potions? Her daughter adored that story, and had no compunctions about trying to recreate it. And it worked well, even how you broke up with her after Dumbledore's funeral tied in quite well."
"It did?" Harry asked in disbelief. How could getting dumped be part of anyone's fantasy?
"You see, when her father found out about the potions, he left Molly, and refused to speak to her for over six months. At that time he realised that she was still quite smitten with him, despite how he had been treating her, and decided to give her a second chance. They fell in love, no potions required."
"And she decided to recreate that? With no thought about whether I wanted that as well, about whether Hermione and Ron would still be happy with their jealousy-induced relationship in ten years time?" Harry was stunned at how self-centred his ex was turning out to be.
"Don't ask me to fathom how that girl's mind works. Although to be honest, I'm more inclined to think that she just didn't care. Now, while she didn't get any help, you should know that it would have been impossible for her to do any of this without –"
"Dumbledore knowing", Harry finished, resigned. This thought was another reason he had returned to this topic. There was nothing that happened in the castle that Dumbledore didn't know. Didn't he prove that with Malfoy last year? While on the hunt, Phineas Nigellus' loyalty to the sitting headmaster – Snape – had provided the answer as to how he knew everything. The portraits (and probably the ghosts) reported to him, and one of them would have had to have seen Ginny lugging around ingredients and potions equipment, or sneaking around looking shifty.
Lorelei looked quite pleased that Harry had made this connection for himself, but before she could continue, a bright light appeared behind Harry, before fading to reveal an ancient looking man, holding a number of scrolls in one hand, and a hearing trumpet in the other.
In a loud voice, the newcomer exclaimed, "You must be that troublesome human brat Lorelei bin complainin' 'bout. Twelve deaths. Ridiculous. Ain't seen no one that stupid since Joan o' Arc."
"Oh I assure you Gil, he is every bit as troublesome as she was. Just as stubborn as well. They're probably related somehow. Have you got the authorisation sorted out yet?"
"What was that? Me hearing trumpet ain't workin' prop'ly, you gotta speak up", Gil practically yelled.
Rolling her eyes, Lorelei yelled back, "Do you have the authorisation to send him back with his memories intact?"
"Yeah, I got it. Don't really think it's a good idea lettin' the Potter brat loose on th' world, tho'. If he mucks it up this time, you better be prepared t' go th' same way as Connor." With that, Gil placed the scrolls he was carrying down on Lorelei's desk. "Well then, sign the ruddy things an' get on with it."
"I've not finished explaining everything to him yet Gil. We'll sign and I'll send him back after I'm finished. Don't you have some new intern to harass or something?"
"You still not finished? Brat must be denser than Joanie too. Alrigh', alrigh'. Let me know when he's gone."
"Will do, sir."
Still grumbling under his breath, Gil faded out of the room, presumably using the same method he used to arrive. The moment he was completely gone, Harry turned back to Lorelei and began questioning her.
"Who was that, exactly? And who's Connor? What happened to him?"
Sighing for what felt like the hundredth time that hour, Lorelei replied, "That was Gil, my boss. Deaf as a door knob and old as the hills – literally. As for Connor, he was Joan of Arc's reaper. He's been working the welcome desk of the third level of hell ever since."
"Third level of hell?"
"Hmm, oh, yes. Nowhere near as, well, hellish, as the seventh level, but much worse than the first level. I believe that that's where your aunt and uncle can expect to spend the next millennia or so. Of course there's also purgatory, although most who go straight there end up going to heaven fairly soon afterwards. Those who go there after finishing a sentence in hell have to work for it though, and some wind up being thrown back to at least the first level. We don't section people off in heaven. If you're good enough to get in, then you have the right to mingle freely, although the truly good get a few perks reserved for them alone."
"Oh... well, that's nice, I guess." Harry wasn't quite sure what to make of this information.
Smirking, Lorelei nodded in agreement.
"Now what was I going to say before we were interrupted? ... Oh yes, Dumbledore. Now, I don't want you to start thinking he is evil, he isn't, but he is fixated upon what he believes to be the 'greater good' of the wizarding world, but he refuses to accept any counsel on what this 'greater good' should be. He is also a great believer in the theory that the end justifies the means, which is why he is often so willing to forgive the transgressions of others – he isn't exactly innocent of any wrongdoing himself. He certainly isn't receiving any of those perks I just mentioned. Now, I know that you're not quite ready to believe what I'm telling you, even if you are starting to think about his actions more critically. I just want you to think on what I'm about to tell you when you get back – you don't need to completely change your perceptions right this instant. Alright?"
Harry was quite relieved about this, and quickly agreed.
"Good. Now, I'll only tell you a few things, things that you can easily authenticate. You can work the rest out for yourself. Firstly, you should know that your parents had a will which Dumbledore had sealed. You can prove this by making an inquiry at the Hall of Records. He did this because it suited him to place you with the muggles, and the will prohibited this. He was afraid that if you found out about the wills, or about the rather extensive resources you have at your disposal, you would have left as soon as possible. He wanted you there because he had already discovered the soul fragment in your scar. He thought that the fewer positive attachments you had, the easier it would be to sacrifice you. He also had some idiotic belief that for you to be Riddle's equal, you had to be able to overcome a similar childhood. That's why he stopped reading the reports he received about your relatives' 'stellar' treatment of you. He was disturbed by what he read initially, and deeply regretted the role he playing in your abuse, but he refused to step in and stop it, believing he would be interfering with the natural course of the prophecy."
"But the blood wards..."
"And what did they ever do to protect you? How many people were able to find you before you started Hogwarts? You and your oaf of a cousin almost became soulless husks because those of those dementors. And even setting all of that aside, do you really think wards that were capable of preventing any deliberate harm from coming to you would have remained inactive while your uncle beat you bloody? Hardly."
"But what about what happened with Quirrell at the end of first year? They protected me then..."
"Yes they did. But that was the last active protection they were capable of providing you. You see, the blood wards your mother set up were weakened almost to the point of nonexistence the moment Dumbledore decided to stretch them over Privet Drive. After your encounter with Quirrell, they became passive. This is because your mother didn't base them on her blood, she based them on yours. While Dumbledore may have thought that that was the same thing, what it really meant was that as long as they weren't tampered with, you and you alone would be protected from those with evil intentions. There was no reason for you to ever stay there, in fact remaining there as long as you did continued to drain them. If you had of left them permanently, they would have faded from the house. Unfortunately, they would never have returned to their original state around you, because they were too damaged. There isn't even any way to stop Dumbledore interfering, both because of your age at the time, and because of the fact that he did it prior to you first death."
By now, Harry was resigned to the fact that he would eventually have to accept the reality of Dumbledore's rather monumental mistakes, as well as his mishandling of him. Sighing, Harry decided he might as well get this over with. "What else did he do to me?"
"Well, he used Hagrid's mistake – and it was a mistake – of not telling you how to get onto the platform to have you meet the Weasleys, a light family who were loyal to him. No, don't look like that, they were unaware that they were being manipulated, he had simply asked Molly to keep an eye out for any children who couldn't find the platform. I believe he told her that there had been a misprint in the muggleborn letters, and that he was uncertain whether they had all received the updated letters in time. The only other thing I'll tell you is that your suspicions at the end of your first year were correct: he wanted you to go after the stone, but not because he thought you had the right to face Riddle. No, he wanted to test you."
Harry nodded dumbly. He had secretly suspected the last revelation ever since Dumbledore had told him he that he had 'done the thing properly', although it still hurt to have it more or less confirmed. At the very least, he could be comforted by the fact that the Weasleys weren't involved in whatever Dumbledore had planned. What was bothering him, however, was how far Dumbledore was willing to go for his arbitrary definition of 'the greater good'. He also knew that even if he could, it would be no use arguing with him about it. After all, if Dumbledore decided something, nothing and no one could convince him to change his mind.
As he sat there contemplating what he had been told, Lorelei watching him worriedly. She was beginning to think that she may have told him too much in too short a timeframe, he seemed to have reached the end of his limits. Inwardly, she berated herself. 'How many times have I dealt with him now? I should know his limits'. Resolving to distract him, she cleared her throat loudly, instantly gaining his attention. 'Maybe I didn't tell him too much after all', she thought, relieved.
"We still need to decide when to send you. Ultimately, since it's your life, it's your decision."
Harry looked her blankly for a moment, before blurting out, "I really get a say in where – when I end up? I never get a say."
"Well, here you do. But you can't just arbitrarily pick a date. You have to go back to another time we've sent you back, since the magic separating this place and the mortal plane will be easier for you to breach at those points." Lorelei looked distinctly amused, he thought suspiciously.
"Well, since I don't seem to remember any of my previous deaths – thanks for that, by the way – I'm afraid you'll have to tell me my options." This was said very sarcastically.
"You're welcome. Now, can I safely assume, from your earlier questions, that you don't want to arrive after your godfather's death?"
"Well then, going chronologically, we have age five, when your uncle killed you with your cousin's cricket bat, –"
"And here I thought I couldn't love my relatives any less."
Shooting Harry a dark look, Lorelei continued as if he hadn't spoken. "We also have age eight, when you fatally splinched yourself in an attempt to escape your cousin and his gang; the night you got your Hogwarts letter, when the boat you were in capsized and you and your relatives all drowned – one of my favourites, I assure you. Then there's age eleven, when Quirrell succeeded in shaking you off your broom; age eleven again, when Quirrell killed you to get the stone; age twelve, when you were eaten by Aragog's children; and age fourteen, when you were roasted by the Hungarian Horntail."
Harry was now looking distinctly ill at the many gruesome ways he had died. "I think I'd prefer not to return to a situation where I'm still in danger of dying", he declared, his voice rather weak.
Lorelei nodded sagely, having hoped he would see the flaw in some of these options for himself.
"So that leaves, what, three options? I mean, I don't want to be anywhere near Uncle Vernon with a cricket bat, and I'd probably be injured already anyway. Besides, five is a bit too young to do anything, and I don't want to have to spend another six years stuck with the Dursleys. As for the other three, I'd rather not wake up in the middle of a fight for my life with Quirrell, Aragog's brood, or the dragon."
While Lorelei could understand his reasoning, and agreed with most of it, she was still disappointed that one of her preferences had been the first eliminated.
"So that leaves just the broom incident in first year where I'm already at Hogwarts, doesn't it? I'm not sure I can go back to acting like I did as a first year. At least if I arrive before starting Hogwarts, I can act like myself. I may be more mature than most of the other first years, but I won't be the only one. I mean, look at Hermione. So if I go back to the boat, I'll be back in the wizarding world almost immediately, but I won't have to spend the next seven years acting. I think I'll go back to then." Harry nodded resolutely, as it to emphasise the point.
Lorelei winced. While that could still work, she didn't want to send him back to that time unless he gave her no other choice. Thinking quickly, she set about trying to convince him to agree to her plan. Smiling, she said, "While that could work, you should also consider the benefits of being a bit younger."
"I will not be five."
Conceding the point, Lorelei continued, "Then eight. Think about it. Once you re-enter the wizarding world, there will constantly be people watching you, and once you get a registered wand, the ministry can track what you do. Doing anything too drastic will be noticed immediately, and reported to Dumbledore, the ministry, Riddle, or the world at large. Besides, it will give you plenty of time to consider everything I've told you."
"But I'll be at the Dursley's", Harry whined.
"Not if you don't want to be. Remember what I told you about the blood wards and Dumbledore's motives. By the time you were four he had stopped reading the reports. You should have at least six months to make good your escape. You could be a hell of a lot safer in one of your family homes than you ever were in Little Whinging. If you go to Tonbridge, you'll feel a pull to you grand-parents summer house. You never know, you might even find a wand that you can practice with that isn't tracked by the ministry", she finished with a wink and a sly smile, which quickly fell from her face as she heard his response.
"So, what, I'll live alone for three years, waiting for Dumbledore to catch me, search my mind for what I've found out that he doesn't want me to know, take everything I know about the future, obliviateme, and then send me back to the Dursleys? No thanks, the boat works for me, I think."
Growling in frustration at how obtuse the brat could be – honestly, how hard was it to accept that she knew best? – she decided that she had to elaborate a bit more if she wanted the fool to have any hope of succeeding. After all, if he failed again, she'd find herself working reception in hell alongside poor Connor.
Gritting her teeth, she replied, "If you go there, you will have time to train yourself in occlumency, thereby preventing the situation you just described, as well as think of ways to destroy the horcruxes without having to face down that basilisk before you absolutely have to, and without alerting the old coot to what you know."
"And how exactly will I, as an eight year old, collect all of the horcruxes?"
"Well obviously you can't collect them all, you need Sirius to get to the locket and the cup. Since he is Bellatrix's head of hou – hang on." She glared at Harry suspiciously as he did his best to look innocent. "I know you're not that obtuse, and I certainly don't remember you being this infuriating. Explain."
Harry shifted guiltily for a moment, before sighing in defeat.
"Look, you've spent practically the whole time I've been in your office telling me that two of the people I trusted most manipulated and used me. If that's true – and I'm starting to believe it is – then can you really expect me to just do what you tell me to without question? If I'm getting another go at this, I should probably start trying to find out other people's motives before trusting them implicitly. You just happen to be the first person I get to practice on." He looked defiantly back at her, daring her to tell him not to.
Grumbling, Lorelei couldn't really fault him, and it would serve him well in the long run. 'Might as well finish explaining, it's not like he'll accept any less.'
"Fine. If you had of realised that you were head of the Black family (don't interrupt, I know Dumbledore has a lot to answer for, but don't take it out on me), anyway, if you had of known, you could have confiscated her vaults as recompense for her actions against the previous head of the Black family. The goblins wouldn't have objected.
"So, now you just have to wait for Sirius to be freed in order to help you. There's a clause in the contract you have to sign that will let you tell him about all of this, as long as he takes an oath not to tell anyone else who isn't authorised. You can also tell Remus Lupin, Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, her parents, your parents, and your descendants, again, with secrecy oaths." With that, she sat back and waited for him to realise what she had just said and the implications it held. It didn't take long.
"My – my parents? How? Wait – the Resurrection Stone? You want me to get that before I start Hogwarts, don't you? That's why you want me to go back to when I was eight."
"I'm afraid there's only so much I can tell you to do, and I passed that limit ten minutes ago. But hey, if you think that's a good idea, who am I to stop you? If I might suggest though, since you don't know what protections are around the ring, you might want to retrain your magic a bit before going after it." She hoped he would follow her advice, because the results wouldn't be pretty if he didn't.
Understanding that Lorelei was trying to tell him just how dangerous going after the ring would be, Harry nodded mutely, before frowning suddenly. Tentatively, he asked, "Just what is the Resurrection Stone? I mean, I've heard the Tale of the Three Brothers, but, being dead, I can see that death doesn't work that way, yet the Stone does what the story says it does. So, that means there has to be some truth in the story, right?" Seeing Lorelei grimace, he quickly added, "As it's currently a horcrux, it seems like something I need to know."
Lorelei nodded slowly. As long as she took his explanation at face value, she shouldn't get in too much trouble for telling him. "The 'Hallows' were created by three very powerful and intelligent wizards. The man who eventually became known as Cadmus Peverell was much like you." She paused to glare at him. "He, too, kept dying before his time, and was eventually sent back just like you will be. Still, he was unable to save his betrothed's life. Since he knew there was a life after death, he became obsessed with bridging the divide, and bringing her back. He succeeded in creating the 'Resurrection Stone', but killed himself when he realised he had failed to truly resurrect her. I should add that he spent the next eight centuries in the second level of hell for attempting to abuse the knowledge he was gifted with, before he was permitted to go to purgatory and work his way into heaven, where he was originally meant to go.
"Now, 'Cadmus', like you, was permitted to tell several people of his return, two of whom are known to history as his brothers 'Ignotus' and 'Antioch', but were actually his good friend and his cousin respectively. 'Ignotus', hearing of his fate in 'Cadmus's' previous life, sought a foolproof way of escaping his would-be murderer, his mother-in-law, and spent the next ten years of his life improving his invisibility cloak. The third 'brother', 'Antioch', has only recently completed his 2000 year long imprisonment on the fourth level of hell, for his crimes with his 'Death Stick', and for the crimes that were subsequently committed to gain control over it."
"How was it created?"
"'Antioch' was also aware of his fate in his cousin's previous life, and it scared him more than any assassin would. You see, 'Antioch' was renowned for his skills as a duellist, he was the best in the land. In the other timeline, however, he was defeated by a young newcomer, and his reputation was destroyed. Before long, he was forgotten. He refused to allow this to happen, and spent years making improvements to his wand. But as he got older, he began to struggle to maintain his reputation, and so began to spread the rumours that would eventually become 'The Tale of the Three Brothers', in order to dissuade any potential challenger from fighting him. This worked, until he was killed in his sleep for the wand. He even lost his identity to the rumours he started, his true name lost to the living."
"Dumbledore would have a conniption. So would Grindelwald, for that matter." Harry was obviously rather amused by this turn of events.
Lorelei smirked at him and said, "Shame you won't see his face when he finds out, since it will have to wait until after his death. Don't worry though, I'll tell you about it."
Harry just scowled at her, before remembering another aspect of the tale – the pain being recalled to the mortal pane had caused the woman. "It won't hurt my parents though, will it?"
"As long as you don't use the Stone constantly, they should be fine. You'll know when it starts to affect them – they won't be able to hide it."
This was a relief for Harry, since he couldn't bear to be the reason they were in pain, no matter how much he wanted to get to know them.
"So we're agreed that age eight was best, then? Perfect." With that, Lorelei pulled the scrolls Gil had brought towards her and began signing, before handing them to Harry and showing him where to sign.
"Now remember Harry, it'll be enough of a stretch to say you accidentally apparated to your grand-parents summer house, without doing things that are supposed to be well above your skill level, or knowing things you can't explain. I would recommend building up a reputation as a bit of a bookworm once you get to Hogwarts – you'll be expected to do a bit better than your classmates then. That means you cannot take one look at 'Scabbers' and yell 'murderer'. If you want him caught early, find a plausible way of doing so. Understood?"
Harry nodded somewhat nervously as finished signing the last scroll. "Yes ma'am."
"Well then, I hope I don't see you back here for a very long time, Mr Potter."
And without so much as a 'by-your-leave', she pushed him backwards, back through the void, back through the years, back to the rooftop of Little Whinging Primary School.
A/N. Wow. 10050 words, excluding the challenge information. Quite a bit more than I was planning (I was thinking more like 5000), but it kind of got away from me. I can't say whether or not future chapters will be this long, but I refuse to post anything less than 5000.
Now, I know many authors provide update schedules, and I'd love to be able to do the same. I'd also love world peace, but that isn't happening either. I will try to update at least fortnightly, preferably weekly, but do not bug me if I don't. I've just started my honours year, and everyone keeps telling me how intense it is supposed to be. Study comes first. If I know something is coming up, I will warn you in the update beforehand.
Reviews. While constructive criticism is appreciated, whining and flaming is not. Deal with it. Speaking of, from author's notes I have read in the past, I know some people are easily offended when it comes to anything referring in any way to religion. There is no religion in this story. The depiction I created in this chapter will have no further impact on the story and is in no way meant to insult anyone. I will not change it because you do not like it. The challenge itself dictates a non-traditional afterlife ('Harry's Death'). Don't complain.
I know this has been rather negative, but I have spent years reading stories with author's notes dealing with reviews from people you don't seem to understand that the author has a life, or who want to complain about harmless details the author decides to include.
Any suggestions will be taken into account, and possibly used if they fit in with what I'm aiming for.
Thanks for reading,