Harry Potter opened his eyes slowly. The room he was in looked like something you'd see in a head office in London. An expensive mahogany desk, a type writer, and a wing-backed chair, a pipe in an ashtray and a multitude of books on shelves, all in a very nice room painted a very delicate peach, so pale that it was almost white.
He was lying on his side, on a rather comfortable sofa; the cushions appeared to be some sort of super-soft cotton, no doubt a result of charming, and Harry felt all his woes and worries just… Melt away. He could quite happily just stay where he was forever.
Oh, someone just had to be here. He sat up, and groped around for his glasses, before remembering they were sat on his face. He looked at the voice, and found a man, possibly thirty… It was difficult to tell his age, standing just in front of the desk. Mousy hair sat on his head, slicked back with some expensive and pleasant smelling oil, Peridot eyes that twinkled gently in the apparent mid-afternoon light, and a heart shaped face that bore thin lips and a gentle and almost, dare he say it, dainty nose.
"Ah, good. You are with us, that is most fortunate." The young man commented with a gentle smile. "It is good, but unfortunate to see you again… I'm sure you have no recollection of meeting me, ahaha." The young man nervously played with a button on his jacket.
"I'm afraid you're correct… Who are you? And where is this place?" Harry asked quietly.
"My name is Thanatos. Just Thanatos." The now identified man gave a polite bow. "As for where we are, this place is called 'The Damned Bureau', a place where the recently deceased go to receive their ticket to the allotted elevator, and from there go to their eternal rest."
"So… I'm dead?" Harry confirmed.
"Yet again, yes." Thanatos confirmed with a grimace. "Now, I've kept you long enough, the door to your right, if you please. You're about to be late for your appointment."
Harry got up and murmured thanks to Thanatos, before grasping the door knob and twisting. The orb of metal twisted without a single sound, and the door (also mahogany, Harry noted) swung open with barely a whisper of air.
"This is the fourth time you've been here, Mister Potter." A crisp voice barked as soon as the door had clicked shut. Harry jumped in fright, and looked around. This office was identical to the one he'd just left, down to the very last detail.
Sitting behind the desk, and scribbling furiously on a piece of lined paper (not parchment, how oddly refreshing) with a biro (again, refreshing), was a man. His hair was a spiky mess of depressingly dark blue, with eyes that shone a bloody red and all around sharp features. His nose looked to have been broken, and ended in a point; his lips were thinner than Thanatos' and pale… Every detail was stark on his face… His bones were painfully obvious.
"Sit." The stranger barked, pointing to a familiar looking sofa with what appeared to be a third arm. Harry wandered over to said sofa, and sat, feeling anxiety claw at his belly and fear sit on his heart.
"Most mortals get one extra chance, and that's their lot." The man spoke dryly. "You are on your fourth, and unfortunately your last chance, and how you've managed to die so many times is quite frankly an insult to humanity's supposed "Will to live", if you ask me."
A sigh, followed by the clipboard being placed onto the desk, and the man leaning forwards, peaking his fingers quite like Dumbledore used to.
"My name is Alkali, Mister Potter, Alkali Asmodeus Wilkins. A weird name, I know, but it's the one I've been given." Alkali explained. "I am what you would call your Angel of Death. It is my duty to watch you, and make sure you're not bumped off before your time comes. And given that it is your fourth time here…" Alkali trails off, and Harry winces at the implications.
"I'm guessing you're… In a bit of trouble?" Harry asked tentatively.
"A bit is an understatement, young man, but I will overlook this because it is my duty." Alkali sighed. "In the Bureau, when a person is killed before their time, it places an itty bitty black tick next to the Angel of Death's name. See, people aren't supposed to be dropping like flies without… Permission, I guess you could say."
He clicks his fingers and, with a little spark, a single piece of paper floats in front of Harry. A number of names are on this paper and next to them a grouping of ticks. Some names have no ticks, others have two or three, and a few names are even crossed out.
"If an A-oh-dee reaches five ticks… They are fired." The last word was said with a smidge of ice, and Harry felt a chill go up his spine. "I am currently on four, no thanks to you. One more tick, and I'm out of a job!"
Harry spluttered and stammered, unable to use his words to explain himself. He had no recollection of his past deaths as it was.
"I h-have no idea…" Harry began.
"I know, I know." Alkali interrupted suddenly, waving a hand. "I apologise, you cannot exactly help your deaths. That said, these deaths of yours are intensely irritating… And they go against my records, too."
"Records?" Harry asked, curious but terrified.
"Yes… Says here you're to defeat Lord Whatever-his-name-is… Blah blah blah soul mate… Blah blah blah five hundred years old… Yatta yatta."
"I-I'm sorry… Soul mate?" Harry enquired quietly. It was a term he'd heard, but never believed.
"Yes, soul mate… Herm… Her… Some Granger woman." Alkali informed Harry, oblivious to the shattering that occurred in the young man's world. "How I'm supposed to keep things straight when all you ever do is die, is anyone's guess!
"Look, I hate to rush you, but we really don't have much time. I've got to go to a meeting, and keep the higher ups off my back with some excuse good enough to keep me as your A-oh-dee. Trust me, you don't want the only other available one, heavens no."
He opened a draw, and pulled out a sheet of parchment and a quill, complete with ink well.
"I hate this stuff, unfortunately all the paperwork for wizarding kind has to be on parchment… Why? I say, why indeed. Anyway, I've pulled some strings and we're going to make some slight… Adjustments."
The sickly sweet way in which Alkali said 'adjustments' reminded him of Professor Umbridge… Oh gods, this was scary.
"Nothing serious, don't worry. Every time you've come here, we've wiped your memory of it all and sent you on your way. But this time, what with you being on your final chance… Well, we can't have you forgetting, see."
"So… I'm keeping the memory of this meeting, then?" Harry asked, his voice high and tight with fear.
"Yes, yes indeed. Calm down, I'm not going to kill you, Christ. Oops." Alkali covered his mouth quickly, a childish little chuckle passing through his lips. "Now, I'll need you to sign where it says "Idiot client sign here please", okay?"
Harry looked down at the parchment, which did indeed say "Idiot client sign here please", and read the fine print. Memories retained, magical core recharged, magical core strengthened etc… Wait, what?
"Magical core strengthened?" Harry asked, pointing at the term.
"Ah, that. This is a special contract." Alkali replied. "See, I have reason to believe someone is bumping you off, and that these deaths aren't at all accidental." He tapped his chin in thought. "It's fucking annoying when someone kills your client, so I appealed to have some… Minor modifications made to your person."
"Yes, minor modifications. Ever heard of Ye Olde Magicka? I doubt it. It's old school magic, kid. Wizards now are a pale imitation of wizards back when I was young, and it appears you're in desperate need of some more power. We'll give you a minor infusion, and send you on your way."
The idea of more power appealed greatly to Harry, who wanted to know exactly how he'd died and who was killing him. He picked up the quill, dipped it into the ink well and went to write his name. A bony hand reached out and gripped Harry's wrist.
"No turning back once it's signed, Potter." Alkali drawled. Harry nodded, and the bony hand removed itself from his wrist, and the seventeen year old scribbled out his signature… Then, it all went dark.
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Alkali?"
"Thanatos, no one is given four chances. So the fact that the higher ups have given Harry here four chances means something big is going down."
"B-but… The old magic."
"Yes, I know. It's a massive risk… But this kid, above all else, deserves a shred of happiness. Don't you think?"
"W-well, yes, b-but."
Author's notes This is a challenge, set by Reptilia28. I decided to take this up after reading a fiction based off this challenge written by a different author.
Please leave feedback if you did, or didn't, like this chapter. I'll be updating as and when I can, as I have to balance University with a social life and the interwebs, ohoho.
Edit 1 Please, do not be alarmed. I've made minor corrections that were pointed out in the reviews I've received.