No Time to Waste
This is a response to a challenge issued by "Reptilia28." I never saw the original challenge but I saw it explained and responded to in a few places. Here's what I know of the original 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 soul mate ("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 soul mate 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 soul mate turns up in his rant.
Obviously, must be H/Hr.
Dumbledore's manipulations can be a factor in Harry's premature demises.
I've read a few responses to this challenge as well as other stories that have Harry or another character going back in time to fix things. I admit to being a big sucker for them. However, I sometimes get impatient as I'm reading them – especially the ones where the character back in time sits around and waits for certain things to happen the way they did before to act to change them. So, I decided to write a version of this cliché where very little time was wasted. Harry has a life to live, and he's got no time to waste.
Harry landed on his back hard. He panicked for a moment when he found he couldn't breathe. "Please don't let me be dead again," he thought. Then he gasped harshly for a few moments when he finally managed to fill his lungs. "Just the wind knocked out of me from the fall." He opened his eyes and saw a large purple bus. Stan Shunpike was all of the way through his introduction and appeared to have asked him his destination at least once before Harry figured out where — or rather when — he was. It was before his third year, right after he blew up Marge and ran from the house.
"Aaah, could you take me to the Leaky Cauldron?"
"Sure. No problem. You want hot chocolate?"
"That would be great." Stan and Harry maneuvered Harry's trunk onto the bus. Harry searched through it to find his moneybag, handed the fee to Stan, and took a seat before Ernie took off with a bang. Harry's mind raced almost as quickly as the Knight Bus as he tried to process all that had happened to him and how he had ended up here.
Harry walked out to let Voldemort kill him after seeing Snape's memories. Bracing for the worst, Harry was surprised to wake up after being hit with that lethal green light in what appeared to be a completely different place. He looked around and found himself in front of a deli-like counter. Looking up, he read the large sign telling him to take a number and automatically reached out his hand and withdrew a small slip of paper with the number 45,871 printed on it. Then he looked back up and saw that they were currently serving 20,689. Looking around, he found a chair to sit down on and started to look around to figure out what he was doing here.
What could have been anywhere from 10 minutes to 5 days later, a voice called Harry's number, and he walked to the counter as he had watched other do before him. As he threw his number in the basket on the counter, the owner of the voice looked up from a clipboard.
"What the hell? Do you never learn?"
"I'm sorry, but have we met?"
"'Have we met?' he asks." She rolled her eyes, and Harry found himself fascinated by her extra long eyelashes tipped in what appeared to be gold dust. "You've only been here more times than any other of my clients." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, her irises had changed from brilliant green to deep brown, and she appeared much calmer. "But you wouldn't remember that, so I shouldn't take it out on you. You didn't ask for fate to saddle you with that prophecy or for that old man to keep you in the dark. Come along."
At this, she spun on her heel and led Harry through a long hallway. They passed at least a dozen doors before she opened one and walked into a small office. Harry took the indicated seat in front of the desk as she sat behind it.
"Hello, I'm your death manager. My name is Genevieve. I am here to help you deal with your recent death." As she recited what sounded very much like something she had said 5,000 times before, she reached down and pulled out a large file from a drawer and placed it on her desk. "You are Harry James Potter, and you are not supposed to be here right now. You are meant to kill the bad guy, hook up with your soul mate, and live a long life before joining us anytime after your 150th birthday. Unfortunately for you, this is not the first time you have died prematurely. Something has to change, and I am going to see that it happens."
"Indeed, Harry. This is your…" Here she opened the large file and flipped forward to about the middle. "…ninth visit to my office. Just assume that any of those times where you almost died, you actually did and were sent back to try again."
"Oh, yes." Again, she consulted the file but this time much closer to the front. "Some Granger girl that you apparently can't seem to get over yourself to even ask out."
"Hermione? But she's dating Ron."
"So? Do you really see them working out in the long term? What, exactly, do they have in common other than you? Please! You and she are much better suited."
"Indeed." After a brief silence, Genevieve clapped her hands together, and Harry startled out of his reverie. "Now, I've got a few thousand more souls to deal with today, so we need to get moving. You need to go back. But this time, we're going to make sure you know what you're doing." She turned to a machine on her desk that looked like a computer had mated with a pumpkin. She clicked a few keys and rattled some of her papers around. She then grabbed the piece of paper that had appeared on her desk and looked it over. "Yes, this looks like it's in order. You'll need to sign here at the bottom of page 5 and on the last page and initial in the indicated places at the bottom of each page in between."
"What is this?"
"The first 5 pages are the standard Return to Life Schedule D. But the additional pages are Retention Form M-6 that will allow you to remember what happened to you before you came here so you can avoid all those messy deaths this time around."
Harry looked at her blankly.
"It's very simple. We'll be sending you back, but this time you will be going back to an earlier point in your life. It will be at an optimal time for you to fix what you need to fix. You will remember this life and are required to keep all of this strictly confidential. Well, aside from the soul mate, that is. You can certainly tell her. If you manage to not meet your goals and have another premature death even with all the extra help, you will have forfeited your chance to try again. Instead, you will move on to your 'next great adventure.'" This last was said with a bit of sarcasm.
"OK. Ahh. Before I sign this, what exactly are the goals I have to meet?"
She smiled widely at this, and Harry felt rather like he had gotten something correct in class. "Very smart of you to check your facts. As I understand it, this can be a very overwhelming process for the recently dead. Now, your first goal is to kill the bad guy." She opened Harry's file again. "Tom Riddle or Lord Voldemort, whatever he's calling himself, is past due for his death, and you were sent to help that along. Second, you are to get together with your soul mate and have at least one child with her. We would prefer if you lived a long and fruitful life of at least 150 years, but that is not a requirement. Accidents do happen, after all."
"That's it? Kill Tom, marry Hermione, and start a family with her."
"Indeed. It does sound simple when put that way. But we all know that Tom has made your task most interesting. And you will be going back to your own past as your younger self. So, you will still have to find and destroy all of his soul containers."
"Are there more that I didn't know about when I died?"
"No, sorry, that would be cheating. I can't answer that. I can't tell you more than you knew when you died."
"You told me Hermione was my soul mate."
"Very true. But you needed to know what your goals were, and that was specifically mentioned, so there was no avoiding that."
Harry looked down at the papers in front of him and started to skim through the words. Within a very short time, he was lost. "Am I really expected to be able to understand this?"
"To be honest, no. Very few actually read it."
"How can I be sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to and not breaking any of the rules if I don't read it? I don't want to screw this up again."
"I can promise you, as your death manager, there is no other hidden agenda. Meet your goals, keep your previous life a secret from everyone other than your soul mate, and you'll be fine."
"What happens if someone guesses the truth?"
"Don't worry, no one ever guesses this."
Harry looked down again and attempted to read the forms again. After a few minutes he gave in and took the pen and signed and initialed in all the indicated places. Before he had even put the pen down, everything went black. The next thing he was aware of was waking up in the bushes by the Knight Bus.