Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter isn't mine, he and everything in it belongs to JK Rowling. I'm not her.
All around Harry Potter were the cries, screams and crashes of battle as spells flashed through the night, rubble crashed all around him as he raced through the fifth floor corridor.
"Where the bloody hell are they?" Harry growled to himself as he ducked a spell. "Ginny said they said something about a bathroom, whatever that means!"
"Harry!" a familiar voice called out as he turned the corner. It was Hermione and Ron. Both of their faces were flushed and they were clutching several dirty looking rocks.
"Where the hell have you two been?" Harry shouted.
"Chamber of Secrets," Ron answered, frowning at Harry.
"It was all Ron's idea," Hermione gushed. "I was talking about how even if we find the diadem, we don't have any way to destroy the Horcruxes. Then Ron came up with the Basilisk."
"How'd you get in, you need a Parselmouth to open it," Harry said.
"Ron managed to copy you, show him Ron," Hermione said.
Ron made several strangled hissing noises that Harry could just barely make out over the sounds of battle around him. Harry frowned, "What was that?" he asked.
"It took a couple of tries but I got it in the end," Ron said smugly, Hermione sent him a glowing look.
"But I couldn't understand you Ron," Harry said. But the pair ignored him.
"Hey, what about the House Elves?" Ron blurted out as Hermione looked at him with narrowed eyes.
"What do you mean? Like should we get them fighting," Harry asked.
"No, we don't want anymore Dobby's. We should get them out of the kitchens, it's a bottleneck down there," Ron said. There came a clattering noise as Hermione threw aside the fangs that she was holding and threw herself into Ron's arms and fusing her lips to his. Ron dropped the fangs he was holding and wrapped his arms around Hermione's waist, hoisting her into the air as they kissed. Harry watched stunned as his two best friends snogged right in the middle of a war-torn corridor. He also felt as if someone had reached into his chest and had begun squeezing his heart tighter and tighter, as if trying to crush the life out of him.
The next half hour seemed to pass by in a blur. All Harry saw were flashes as the trio made their way up to the Room of Requirement as Hermione hypothesized that the diadem was hidden in the same place as where Harry hid his Potions book the previous year. However they found Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle waiting for them. They were able to destroy the diadem though they were nearly killed as Crabbe used Fiendfyre to try and kill them. It torched the entire room, killing both Crabbe and Goyle, Harry, for some reason that he couldn't fathom, saved Malfoy. After knocking the ferret out, Harry led the other two down to the Great Hall.
They entered the Great Hall to the sobs and cries of loss and pain. Each cry sent sharp shards of pain arching through Harry's chest. He saw groups of Hogwarts defenders huddled together in small groups. Over to the side of Hall, there was one of the House tables that was made up for Madam Pomfrey as an examining table, as well as Harry saw several bodies at the far end of the table, their features covered by white shrouds. The Weasleys were huddled together, surrounding a shrouded body with red hair sticking out from underneath the white shroud.
"No," Ron croaked as he grabbed Hermione's hand and together they dashed over to the Weasleys. Molly saw them coming and immediately threw her arms around her youngest son and sobbed into his shoulder. Arthur came over and put an arm over his wife's shoulders.
"Defenders of Hogwarts," a voice echoed around them, seemingly coming from the ancient stones of the castle itself. "You have fought valiantly, and Lord Voldemort values bravery however it is a foolish gesture. You now have only half your numbers while the numbers I still command dwarf your own. I shall allow a one hour respite for you to gather your fallen, treat them with dignity that befits their foolish yet noble sacrifice. After one hour, I shall enter the fray personally and no mercy will be given to those still fighting, lay down your wands and you will not be harmed. Too much magical blood has been spilled this day. Harry Potter, I speak directly to you now, you have let your friends die for you instead of facing me yourself. At the end of this one hour reprieve, I will be waiting within the Forbidden Forest for you, come face me so we may end this pointless conflict. Come face me like a man, I will be waiting."
The voice vanished as quickly as it came, and every head in the Hall turned to Harry, pining him in place. Hermione looked at Harry with large eyes, as if pleading with him to ignore Voldemort's ultimatum. But Harry couldn't, he just couldn't deal with it anymore. Remus and Tonks were among the fallen, as well as Fred, Colin Creevey and countless others. They had all died because of him; he just wanted it to end.
He slipped out of the Great Hall under his Cloak, intent on spending his last hour remembering the Castle that had become his home over the last seven years. Memories flashed past his eyes; he saw the third floor bathroom where he and Ron saved Hermione from the troll, seeing his parents for the first time in the Mirror of Erised, then Hermione giving him his first hug in the logic chamber before Harry went to face Voldemort. His heart clenched when Harry saw Hermione lying in the Hospital wing, cold and till her face frozen in an expression of shock and fear, then Hermione come racing into the Great Hall and hugging him again. Then he saw himself and Hermione flying on the back of Buckbeak as they headed off to save Sirius. His heart clenched when Harry saw Hermione descending the marble staircase the night of the Yule Ball, Harry remembered kicking himself for not asking her to the Ball.
More and more memories flew by, though all of them featured one person prominently. Hermione. It was as if someone had opened his eyes, Hermione was the most important person in his life and had been for some time. She had always been there for him, even when no one else had. Not even Ron could match that record. He had lied to Ron when the redhead had returned in the forest; Hermione wasn't like a sister to him. She was much, much more, Harry couldn't think of a word that aptly described how much Hermione meant to him. But it didn't matter anymore Hermione had made her choice. She loved Ron, not Harry. There was nothing left for Harry anymore, he had lost so much, too much.
Harry entered the Forbidden Forest with his heart and mind empty. He just wanted it to end. It didn't matter anymore, once he gave himself up to Voldemort, someone else would be able to take up the flag of the Chosen One, he was tired of all the pressure, all the looks of jealousy, rage and disdain. He had never asked for this but everyone had piled all this responsibility onto him with no consideration for his well-being. As long as he somehow defeated Voldemort, it was all fine.
"It seems that I was wrong, Potter hasn't come," Voldemort mused as he sat upon a conjured throne. "I would have thought that he would gladly sacrifice himself to save his friends."
"You weren't," Harry said softly as he walked out from behind a tree. All around Voldemort, his Death Eaters leapt to arms, hands darting to their wands. But a raised hand from Voldemort stayed their curses.
"Well, well, well Harry Potter," Voldemort chuckled. "Have you come to bow before me, to proclaim yourself my servant?"
Harry gritted his teeth as the Death Eaters cackled around him. "No Tom, I haven't," he said. "I've come to end this."
Voldemort shot to his feet, his red eyes flashing dangerously at Harry's casual use of his former name. "You dare use that filthy Muggle's name," he hissed, sparks shooting from his wand.
"Yes Thomas, I use the name that your mother gave you, Thomas Marvolo Riddle," Harry said. "Why should anyone be ashamed of their name, I mean your mother named you after your Muggle father and her own father, so she must have loved him very much. I mean we're the same then, both of our mothers named us after our fathers, though my father was a Pureblood and yours was a Muggle."
"Enough of this mindless dribble," Riddle roared. "I am Lord Voldemort, heir to Salazar Slytherin, conqueror of Albus Dumbledore and soon-to-be emperor of the Magical World. And now Harry Potter, you have been a thorn in my side for too long, goodbye."
Harry closed his eyes, and whispered, "Goodbye Hermione, I'm sorry," as Riddle raised his wand and uttered the same curse that had ended his parents', godfather's and countless others' lives.
The green bolt spat from the end of Voldemort's wand and sped toward Harry.
Harry opened his eyes to find himself in what seemed to be a waiting room for some type of office. He was sitting in a comfortable office chair alone; there was a doorway in front of him. Harry wondered if he should get up and open the door but something told him that he should stay put.
The door then opened and a curly brown-haired woman entered, Harry had to blink because the woman looked just like Hermione, though the woman's hair wasn't as bushy as Hermione's. The woman looked up and Harry saw her sparkling brown eyes widened when they fell on him.
"YOU!" the woman cried. Harry jumped in his seat.
"Me?" Harry asked.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here again!" the woman shouted.
"What do you mean 'again'? I've never been here before in my life," Harry retorted.
"Of course not, you only come here when you die," the woman snarked. "And you wouldn't remember since we wipe your memories every time you leave here."
"So I am dead then," Harry said morosely.
"Oh don't start all that moping again," the woman groaned. "Come on, follow me let's get this over with."
Harry followed the woman through the door and into a smartly decorated office. On the desk was a nameplate, 'Danielle: Agent of Death.'
"What does that mean, 'Agent of Death'?" Harry asked.
"Never mind that now," Danielle said, waving his question aside. "Sit down, we've got a lot to talk about."
Harry sat down, and watched as Danielle pulled a thick folder from her desk drawer. Harry noticed his name was on the folder and that several papers were sticking out of it, as if they had just been shoved haphazardly into the folder.
"Harry James Potter, age 17, birthday July 31, 1980," Danielle said, opening the folder. "Dates of Death: age 7, when Vernon Dursley beat subject to a bloody pulp after accidental Apparition at school; age 11, Professor Quirrell succeeds in throwing subject from broomstick during Quidditch match; age 14, Horntail's tail knocks subject from his broom during First Task of Triwizard Tournament; age 15, subject follows Sirius Black through Veil of Death; age 16, subject killed by Inferi in cave, panicked due to levels of love potion obscuring the subject's abilities; and finally age 17, subject WILLINGLY let's Tom Riddle kill him because of some belief that a Horcrux was still within him. So I ask again, DO YOU ENJOYING DIE?"
"What are you talking about? I didn't die all those times…did I?" Harry asked.
"Of course not, I mean I'm an Agent of Death, your Agent of Death, so I must be wrong in saying that you've died six previous times," Danielle snapped. "Look, I understand this must be disconcerting to you but trust me you have been in this office too many times for me to make a mistake."
"Ok, say I believe you about me dying more than once, what's this about a love potion? Who was it keyed too?"
"Who do you think?" Danielle snarked. "Who was the girl that you suddenly had feelings for, as if a monster had reared in your chest, well first of all, that's not love, that's lust."
"Ginny! No, there's no way, I love Ginny…don't I?" Harry countered weakly.
"Come on kid, she looks almost exactly like your mum, hell, if your parents had a daughter, chances are that she'd look exactly like that," Danielle said. Harry felt as if his stomach had just imploded and exploded at the same time, he felt bile rise up in his throat. A wastebasket appeared in front of him. "Try not to get any on the carpet," Danielle said as Harry retched into the wastebasket. A moment later, Harry resurfaced and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I'm sorry for the mental trauma but that little Potions Princess made it so that you and your soulmate, some Granger girl, wouldn't get together," Danielle said. "This Ginny Weasley had grown up with your 'Boy-Who-Lived' story and believed that you and she were the second coming of your parents, the so-called perfect couple."
"But I thought that Ginny had gotten over…wait, Hermione's my soulmate, what the hell is a soulmate?" Harry interrupted.
"It's your second half, of course," Danielle said wearily. "Haven't you always wondered why you and her seemed to be able to carry conversations without talking, how you seemed to trust her immediately when you met. Remember how whenever you had a question, who was the first person you turned to for help?"
"Hermione of course," Harry replied without thinking. "Oh." Danielle grinned. "But it doesn't matter now, I'm dead and she made her choice. She chose Ron, not me. If we are soulmates, shouldn't we have gotten together? Why did we never…"
"You have your so-called friends the Weasleys to thank for that," Danielle said. "The Potions Princess and the Walking Garbage Disposal, along with their mother and Dumbledork have been plotting to keep you two apart in a scheme to get your families' money and titles. Don't you remember in your third year when Mrs. Weasley was talking about her usage of a love potion during her school years?" Harry nodded slowly. "Well, during your fifth year, when you and Hermione seemed to be getting closer and closer, the Potions Princess wrote to her mother about a way to 'gain your attention' to make you see that she was a girl. And that's when then Potions plot began, but since your soulmate is the smartest magical person since Rowena Ravenclaw, she would have spotted a love potion instantly, so she needed to be taken out of the equation. Enter the Walking Garbage Disposal."
"What!" Harry shouted.
"Yes, your supposed best mate, a Ronald Bilius Weasley, wanted Hermione for himself, not out of his affections for her, which were nothing more than lust, but because it would be something that he had that you didn't," Danielle said. "Remember when Ron came back in the Forest, the Locket Horcrux, how it played on his fears of being second-best to you in everything? Well, you being your stupid noble 'people saving-self' realized that your feelings for Hermione were that of a sibling, rather than the romantic sense. Answer me this, how do you know that Hermione is your sister, when you never had one? You had said that Ron was like your brother, were your 'feelings' Ron the same as your feelings for Hermione?"
Harry sat, slumped, in his chair starring at the floor, his mind reeling and racing. His entire world seemed to be crashing down around him. But yet, everything that this Danielle had said made sense. His feelings for Hermione were different than his feelings for Ron. They were stronger for sure; he and Hermione rarely argued but when they did it was more over some principle rather than when Ron and Hermione would argue, it was as if Ron was trying to cut Hermione down. And besides, Harry could never recall if Ron ever apologized to Hermione for anything.
"You said that Hermione didn't need to be taken out of the picture, what do you mean?" Harry asked.
"Well, since Ron 'wanted' Hermione for himself, his mother and Dumbledork decided to give her to him as a 'reward' for doing his part in their master plan," Danielle said. "Hermione was given small amounts of a jealousy potion keyed to Ron at the end of your fifth year. Don't you remember how she became extremely emotional when Ron and Lavender Brown started going out? Since when did Hermione ever act like that, she's always been calm, collected and logical. But that was the key to their plan, when she became jealous of Ron when he started dating Lavender, her brain made her think that she must like Ron."
Harry's eyes flashed. "So you're telling me that my 'best mate' gave my best friend a potion to make her think she liked him?" he growled. Danielle nodded.
"Look I'm sorry to lay this on you all at once but you and your soulmate are destined for so much that my boss has decided to allow me to bend the rules for you," Danielle said. "Sometimes, when a person is so important to the grand scheme of things, they get second chances (well in your case, six chances) to make things right. And that's what is going to happen now, should you choose to accept it. However, this will be your final chance. You will return to any of your previous deaths with all of your memories and skills."
"Ok, say I do accept this, what's the point?" Harry asked. "How would this change anything?"
"This would change everything!" Danielle cried. "For Merlin's sake, you are getting a chance to change everything that went wrong. Depending on when you go back, you could save Cedric, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Fred and countless others."
"What about Dumbledore?" Harry asked.
"NO!" Danielle screamed. "Dumbledore is just as bad as the so-called Dark Lord, he's the reason the magical world is so messed up to begin with."
"What do you mean, Dumbledore is the greatest Light Wizard since Merlin," Harry protested, though the words sounded hollow and weak. Danielle looked at him in stunned amazement.
"ARE YOU BLOODY KIDDING ME!?" Danielle shouted. Harry jumped backward. "Dumbledore is the reason that Voldemort went after your parents that Halloween, he's the reason that your godfather was placed in Azkaban illegally, he's the reason you were placed with the Dursleys when he had no legal leg to stand on."
"But…he said it was for my safety," Harry whispered.
"Do you really believe that?" Danielle scoffed. "Were you truly safe there? After all you slept in a cupboard for ten years, were mentally and physically abused by your so-called family," She then noticed Harry's eyes watering and him retreating into himself, "Harry, I'm sorry that I'm seeming like a cold-hearted bitch but you have to realize that Dumbledore has been setting you up all your life. He keeps talking about the 'Greater Good' but what not many people realize it, that he's the one who decides what the 'Greater Good' is. He believes that he is the only one who can decide what is best for the magical world, yet all he's done is widen the cracks between everyone."
"Setting me up, what do you mean?" Harry asked.
"Come on Harry, think," Danielle said. "Do you really think that a giant chessboard, some flying keys, a Cerberus, some Devil's Snare and a logic puzzle would really be able to stop a wizard of Voldemort's caliber? Only Snape's logic puzzle and McGonagall's chessboard were not covered in a first year curriculum. What about your second year, Dumbledore was the Transfiguration Professor when Voldemort opened the Chamber the first time, and yet he couldn't recognize that it was a Basilisk attacking the students. And he didn't notice the Potions Princess was being possessed by Voldemort's diary, the wards around Hogwarts would have instantly recognized Dark Magic like that and since the Headmaster controls the wards, he would have known as well."
"Your third year, Dumbledore is the head of the Wizengamont and ICW, but he couldn't keep the Minister from putting Dementors around Hogwarts. Dementors that guarded a PRISON, they should have never been anywhere near a school full of children. Also about Sirius, he never received a trial, just thrown in Azkaban for twelve years. Dumbledore could have gotten him a trial easily but didn't because if he did and Sirius was cleared, then you would have lived with Sirius and that was something that Dumbledore couldn't have. Dumbledore wanted you to rely on him and no one else, that is another reason he went along with the Weasleys' plan to get you and Hermione separated. You were getting too close to Hermione for his comfort, and he didn't want you to trust her more than you did him."
"But why? Why would he do this?" Harry asked weakly.
"'For the Greater Good', that's why," Danielle said heavily. "Dumbledore wants to be remembered as the greatest wizard of all time and what better way is to be the one to defeat two Dark Lords in his lifetime."
"So Dumbledore was trying to set me up to die, Ron, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley are trying to potion me and Hermione up to get us to like them, and Hermione is my soulmate," Harry said. "Is there anything else?"
"None that I can think of," Danielle said. "So have you decided to return?" Harry nodded. "Good then, when will we be sending you?"
"I think the best time would be right before the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament," Harry said. "That way I can use the Tournament as an excuse to learn as much as I can, also I'll be able to save Cedric."
"Also, maybe ask that soulmate of yours to the Yule Ball perhaps?" Danielle teased causing Harry to blush heavily. "So are you ready to go?"
"Just one more thing, what about the Horcrux that was in my scar? You said when I let Voldemort kill me, there wasn't one anymore, does that mean Dumbledore was right, that I am the last Horcrux?" he asked.
"Yes and no," Danielle said. "You did have a Horcrux in you but when Riddle tried to possess you in the Ministry and you threw him out, the Horcrux went along for the ride. Didn't you ever notice that after the Ministry, Riddle couldn't send you mental messages, at least until you got the locket and started wearing it? And after wearing the locket for so long allowed it to open a crack in your mental defenses, to reestablish the link. Enough for something's to pass through when Riddle lost control of his emotions."
"So when I go back, will it still be there?" Harry asked.
"No, it has been removed permanently," Danielle said. "And all the damage that Snape caused during those farces of 'Occulmency' lessons has been healed. He wasn't teaching you, he was just widening and enhancing the connection under Dumbledore's orders."
Harry was furious, he had suspected this but when he tried to find any books on Occulmency in the Hogwarts library, there were none. "Dumbledore took away any books about Occulmency to prevent me from realizing that Snape wasn't teaching me anything." Danielle nodded. "Is there anyone that I can trust?"
"Your soulmate for sure, also the Weasley twins, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood as well," Danielle said. "Those five are the only ones who like you for you, not the Boy-Who-Lived at least at Hogwarts. There might be some others, but they don't know you enough to make a difference in opinion. Only the two youngest Weasleys, Snape and Dumbledore are the ones that are actively trying to do you harm."
"I see, so what now?" Harry asked.
"First off, I would get Sirius cleared so you don't have to worry about the Dursleys anymore. Send an owl to Madam Bones; also get a hold of the goblins to take up your inheritance. Once you do that, concentrate on surviving the Tournament and maybe get rid of the diadem. Also make sure you complete your soul bond with Hermione, that will protect you from any and all potions that the red-headed twits and Dumbledork might try to put you on," Danielle said. A packet of papers appeared on her desk. "This here is a contract with the powers-at-large stating that you will do all you can to right what has been wronged, also you promise to not discuss what has happened here unless absolutely necessary and only with those you consider 100% trustworthy. Also, it states that you will retain your memories and skills from the current time."
Harry read through the contract carefully, making sure there was nothing that might trip him up. He had enough of unknown magical contracts for a single lifetime. Once he had signed it, the contract glowed blue and vanished with a pop.
"All right then, good luck Harry, and remember if I see you here again before it's your time, well let's just say it won't be pretty for you," Danielle said. Harry began to glow and the office grew hazy and Danielle's voice got softer and softer. The last thought that passed through Harry's head before the office fully vanished and Harry blacked out was that 'watch out Hogwarts, you're about to see a totally different Harry Potter.'
A/N: This is my take on Reptilla28's 'Harry back in time' challenge. The first chapter is also titled "Snake in a Lion's Pelt" under my one-shot collection 'What's in the Works', there are some changes to it though. Hope you all enjoy. This is my first challenge-fic, so I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do aside from give credit to the 'challenger'. Please read and review, as well as tell me if I have to contact Reptilla28 asking permission. Enjoy,