Also available as: Epub
By Mike [FP]
Fics begun in 2009 (post-DH)
This was a one-chapter response to Reptilia's challenge for an H/Hr do-over fic. I wrote it as a palate cleanser in early 2009, in an attempt to get my writing mojo back. It wasn't particularly effective at that. There's no intention that this will ever be completed or continued, and it was never edited or beta-ed.
Here's Reptilia's challenge:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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
6. Harry had to have died at least three times before this one.
I'm not a fan of soulmates / soul bonds as they're commonly played in fanon, and that shows here. If you think you recognize Mr. Grimm's description and a couple of his remarks, then you're a fan of English indie rock and that's all I'm saying.
Harry Potter had thought about the nature of death. It wasn't something he had dwelt upon, but having faced death too many times for someone of his age – someone of any age, for that matter – it was only natural that he'd wondered what it might be like. A train ride from Heathrow to King's Cross followed by a street car to Soho wouldn't have made his top-100 list of afterlife scenarios, but there he was nonetheless.
The train had been absolutely packed with hundreds of people of all ages, most of them clad in the same white Henley shirt and tan trousers as he was. Harried workers in Savile Row dress and bearing thickly stuffed clipboards had hustled them all onto buses, into taxis, toward the Tube – anything that led away from the station. A thirty-something woman in a frumpy dress had held up a sign that read “H.J. POTTER – 31.07.1980”, like he was a celebrity of some sort. The woman had then dragged him onto the street car. The other passengers looked to be a mix of work-a-day sorts and people out on the town. He was the only white-shirted person in sight.
A man dressed for the evening put down his newspaper, which was something like a modern full-colour version of the Daily Prophet, and asked Harry's minder, “What's the lad doing here, then? Don't see his sort out this way often.”
“Taking him to Eduardo's... his guide's having drinks and dinner there,” the minder said tersely.
“That so? Not many guides would rate a table there. This one must be trouble, for you to interrupt someone's evening,” the man said amiably.
“Oh, he's trouble, all right, the very worst sort of trouble. He's a repeater,” said the minder. The street car went silent, and several people turned to look at Harry. He was accustomed to gawking, so he paid it little mind.
The man's eyes noticeably widened. “Good heavens, a repeater? Don't see many of those, not many at all. A fair few guides have been broken by repeaters, don't you know? May I ask... how many times?” he asked.
“Eight,” Harry’s minder returned through clenched teeth. A collective gasp ran through the car. It reminded Harry of the gasping and murmuring that had followed him after his fourth year at Hogwarts, and couldn't ignore it – he didn't care for it at all.
Another woman with a horse-like face that reminded Harry a little too much of Aunt Petunia scoffed, “Eight times? That's impossible – I've never heard of such a thing! Who on Earth would be allowed to keep repeating...?” Her voice trailed off and she raised her hand to her mouth.
“Good heavens! That's Him, isn't it? Never thought I'd have occasion to see this one,” the man with the newspaper said. Harry couldn't tell whether the man was reverent or disgusted, but he could hear the capital-H in 'Him' and that couldn't be a good thing.
“Nor did I,” the minder said in a shrill voice; “I'll not see my existence ruined over this... this... this incompetent little turd –”
“Oi!” Harry interrupted.
The minder continued as though he wasn't there, “– and if you think I'm shaken over this, well, I don't even want to think about the state Ross will be in.” The collective gasp returned.
“Ross, you say? Ross Grimm is responsible for Him? I'd heard rumours to that effect, of course; who hasn't? Oh, the poor man must be beside himself!” someone said.
“I'd hate to be you right now, lassie,” someone else said.
“It's not my fault the stupid boy can't do his job!” the minder protested.
“Pardon me – I'm sitting right here, you know?” Harry growled.
The minder gave Harry a withering look and said, “No one else is going to talk to you, boy. I certainly wouldn't do it, if I had a choice in the matter. You're the embodiment of bad luck!”
“I'd rather blow up a mirror factory, myself,” Newspaper Man said.
“Run a marathon under ladders,” Horse-faced Woman said.
“Take up residence at a black cat crossing,” someone else chimed in.
Harry reached his limit; “Piss off!” he snapped.
Newspaper Man muttered, “Perhaps a change of cars is in order...?”
The driver piped up, “We're here, Mrs. Setterholm... and may the Boss have mercy on your soul.”
“Thank you for the encouragement,” Harry's minder deadpanned. They stepped off onto a busy walk amidst a street filled with nightclubs and pubs and restaurants.
After being shouldered a half-dozen times, Harry grumbled, “Some heaven this is... maybe we're in a fancy part of hell?”
The minder – Mrs. Setterholm – seized Harry's arm and dragged him through the crowd. “Welcome to the next great adventure. Regrettably, there are still nasty people, wait times for the train, low pay and high rents. There are also impertinent little bastards who make me late for the theatre!” she snarled.
A loud ding! sounded and an unpleasantly pleasant voice – the sort one would hear over speakers at an airport pick-up or in a long queue – announced, “The offending word beginning with 'B' is a grade four violation of Ordinance 101, Section 2. The related fine will be docked from your account. Have a pleasant evening!”
“Arrrgh! Foul, filth, expletive deleted... here it is! Through that door! Good riddance to bad rubbish!” Mrs. Setterholm shrieked.
Eduardo's was a mood-lit club with brick walls, an open kitchen, cosy nooks with casual tables and comfortable seating, and a jazz quintet in the corner that played loudly enough to be heard but quietly enough to allow for conversation. Everyone – even the wait staff – was dressed to the nines, excepting Mrs. Setterholm and Harry. Harry's white shirt and tan trousers guaranteed instant attention from the patrons. The minder put her hand to Harry's back and practically shoved him toward the rear of the establishment.
Just beyond the jazz quintet, two tables had been pushed together adjacent to a curved booth. In the booth, with undeniably beautiful women to each side of him, sat a man who instantly drew Harry's eye. He was thirty-something, like Mrs. Setterholm, but virtually her opposite in every way Harry could imagine. His brown hair was artfully tousled and he wore a neatly trimmed mid-length beard. There was a twinkle in his eye, and he gave off a virtual fireside glow of his own. He was stocky, but instead of appearing heavy, the added girth lent him a certain ursine charm. His clothing was casual but perfectly fitted and clearly expensive. He sat comfortably, in the way of someone who was used to being the centre of attention but couldn't be arsed about it. Two words that Hermione had taught Harry came to the fore: 'urbane' and 'raconteur'. In short, this man was cool and he knew it.
The man said in a warm Mancunian accent, “Hullo, Setterholm! Didn't figure on seeing you tonight...” His gaze shifted to Harry, and his face changed utterly – from cool, urbane raconteur to jaded killer.
“YOU!” he shouted.
“Erm... hi?” Harry managed.
The man's neck twitched as he ordered, “Don't greet me. Don't be pleasant, don't be cordial, don't give me that sugar-won't-melt-in-my-mouth expression. Don't speak to me until I give you leave to speak.”
“Yes, sir,” squeaked Harry.
The man sagged into his seat. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, “I said that you are not to speak. Could you manage that? Could you do one single thing that you're supposed to do? Is that too much to ask? I'm going to have a migraine – did I tell you about my migraines, luv?... horrible things, they are... oh, yes, rubbing the back of the neck helps... yes, right there...”
Harry ventured, “Er... I don't suppose someone would explain –”
The man cut him off, “Ahem! You're speaking! It's like training a puppy, really. Lucky for you that I don't have a rolled-up newspaper... yes, keep rubbing the neck, luv... thank the Boss that we can’t be at risk of a stroke, because I could have a stroke right now, I honestly could...”
The woman to his right – for the one to the left was preoccupied with his neck – asked eagerly, “Is that Him? That isn't really Him, is it?”
“Oh, that's Him, all right,” the man huffed.
“I have a name, you know? I figure you must have a name as well – Ross, is it?” Harry snapped.
The man said, “Don't glower at me. I've been glowered at by the best, and you're not within sniffing distance. If you'd stop finding your way back here, it wouldn't be necessary that you know my name at all. You will call me Mr. Grimm. As for you, your name is Mud.” He drew a giggle from the woman on his left.
“Is it safe to be this close to Him?” the woman on the right asked.
“I'm not named 'Him' with a capital H, and I'm not bloody radioactive!” Harry protested.
The entire establishment went quiet for several moments, before Mr. Grimm raised his voice to point out, “He's not supposed to be here, ergo he has no account, ergo he can't be fined. Show's over – back about your business, right?”
“Do you have to go, Ross?” the woman on the left asked.
Mr. Grimm said, “It looks as if I'll be working late this evening. Tomorrow night...?”
A man at one of the two nearby tables said, “Grateful Dead concert, eight o'clock.”
Mr. Grimm winced, “Och, I'd forgotten that. Listen, I'll call you, right?”
“Are you sure about that? I'm not exactly the only woman who fancies you,” said the woman on the left.
Mr. Grimm cupped her chin in his hand and stroked across the edge of her lips and on to her cheek with his thumb. “You're the only woman in any room you're ever in, luv,” he said. She responded with a smouldering look that made Harry feel like even more of an intruder.
Mrs. Setterholm interrupted, “I'm already late for the theatre...”
Mr. Grimm disengaged with some reluctance and somehow made his way out of the booth with grace. He was roughly the same height as Harry, but had a presence that made him seem six inches taller.
“Off with you, then,” he said, as he took hold of Harry.
“Ow... ow... OW! That's my ear!”
“Well, I didn't think it was your backside,” Mr. Grimm returned.
After a middling taxi ride made long by the traffic, they arrived at Westminster Palace. “My office awaits,” Mr. Grimm said.
“Here?” Harry gasped.
Mr. Grimm rolled his eyes and said, “No, it's at the bottom of the Thames... yes, my office is here! The faster you move along, the faster we're done with this, right? Still might be able to salvage part of the night...”
As they marched through seemingly endless hallways, Harry asked, “Are you an MP, then?”
“An MP, you say? This may look like London to you, but that's a façade. We do have an assembly that mostly concerns itself with your lot – the newly departed, that is. I'm a member of that assembly and this is where it meets, so I suppose you could think of me as an MP. Now, you see, that's a clever question on your part. Usually you're too dumbfounded to ask clever questions. Perhaps there's hope for you, yet,” Mr. Grimm said.
They passed through a corridor that overlooked a terrace, and then Mr. Grimm came to an abrupt stop. “We're both going to need a bit of pick-me-up to see us through,” he said; “Come on, then, you're with me so that means you're allowed.”
Through the door was a small pub with green carpeting and oaken panelling. It reminded him of the saloon bars in the north that he and Hermione had visited on a handful of occasions, when the monotony of life in a tent was just too much. They were not the sort of place to attract Voldemort or his snatchers, and that had made them worth the risk.
“There's a pub in the Palace?” Harry said.
“Of course, there's a pub in the Palace; there's a pub in your palace in London, as well. Makes sense, really; if I sat in your Parliament, I think I'd need a pint or six just to make it through the day,” Mr. Grimm said.
“What will it be, Mr. Grimm?” the barman called out.
“I'll have a Guinness. My colleague will have a Weston's Cider,” Mr. Grimm returned.
“Bottles or handles?” asked the barman.
Mr. Grimm said, “Bottles – no time to hang about.”
“A cider for one of them, eh? Must be somethin' special,” the barman said.
“You can be a nosey parker some other time,” Mr. Grimm chuckled.
The barman looked up and his eyes bugged out. “Good heavens – it's Him! Here, take it, take 'em both, it's on the house! Out! Out with yeh!” he shouted.
Mr. Grimm took one look at Harry – whose hands were shaking – and said, “I'll hold them both for now. No need for you to drop it on the floor, now, is there?”
“Why does everyone act like I'm a freak?” Harry managed.
“It'll wait until we're at my office,” Mr. Grimm said curtly.
After what seemed like another mile of corridors, they entered a small office with another door. “This is where your assistant sits?” Harry asked.
“Another good question; you're on a roll. This is Setterholm's domain,” said Mr. Grimm. He opened the other door and added, “And this is mine.”
Mr. Grimm's office was large and opulent. At one end, a pair of sofas faced each other across a low table, next to a very large hearth. At the other end sat a massive and intricately carved desk, with a large chair behind it and three wingback chairs before it. There were enormous windows along the outer wall, with a smashing view of the Thames and central London.
Mr. Grimm said loudly, “Private office, please,” and clapped his hands twice.
The same unpleasantly pleasant voice that had spoken to Mrs. Setterholm announced, “Ross Grimm's office suite is now private. All monitoring and recording has been terminated for the next sixty minutes. Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Grimm.” Harry doubted that this was a good sign.
“Look at this wall, Mr. Potter. Take a good, long look,” Mr. Grimm said.
Harry turned to face the door. The wall was covered in tiny photographs, thousands upon thousands of them. As his eyes picked one out, it expanded to be as large as a school photo; when he shifted his gaze, the first picture shrunk even as a second picture expanded. He was startled; this was far beyond anything he'd ever encountered in either the wizarding or Muggle worlds. “Wow,” he said.
“There are just over one million pictures on that wall. I had a milestone celebration last week, in fact. I'm the first guide in six centuries to accomplish that, Potter – the first to guide a million souls through life and death and beyond,” said Mr. Grimm.
“That's amazing,” Harry said honestly.
“It is amazing, isn't it? Do you know what's even more amazing? You are about to single-handedly make this all for naught. You, Harry sodding Potter, are on the verge of well and truly fucking up my existence!” Mr. Grimm growled.
Harry managed to say, “I'm sorry...?”
“SIT,” Mr. Grimm commanded him. Harry wasted no time planting himself in one of the wingback chairs.
Mr. Grimm began, “This is your eighth death, Potter. Eighth. Each time, I send you back to accomplish the one thing that only you can accomplish, and each time you return dead and empty-handed. The first time, I figured it as an honest mistake. The second... you were just twelve years old, after all, and how was either of us to know that basilisks could grow to be sixty feet long? I could hardly hold you responsible for that one. Then came the third one. At three, we generally pull the plug, even for someone with a goodly helping of Fate dropped onto his shoulders. I've had thirty-nine souls return for a second go at life, and six of those for a third. I've only pulled the plug once, Mr. Potter – once in a million attempts. You must admit that 999,961 first-time successes in one million attempts is a rather smashing average, if I do say so myself. And then you came along.”
“I... I've been dead eight times already...?” Harry managed.
“Focus, Potter! And don't give me that look like your puppy was just run over by a lorry – I won't have it!” Mr. Grimm snapped.
“It's a lot to take in...” Harry said.
Mr. Grimm opened a thick binder on his desk and continued, “The fourth time was entirely your fault. Here's a life lesson for you: if you've gagged down some gillyweed and your neck starts to hurt after fifty minutes or thereabout, do not swim deeper into a bloody lake! Not only did you drown, but you soaked my Persian rug. I was fond of that rug. It was from Persia. Note the business-grade carpeting beneath you, Potter: the cheap carpeting that isn't worthy of my furnishings. That was your doing!
“The fifth time... hmm. What did the bossy girl call it?... ahh, yes, your 'saving people' thing. Well, it kicked in at the wrong bloody time! Another life lesson, Potter: if your idiot friend dives into a bowl full of brains, let the brains devour the idiot and keep moving. Instead, you went with your impulse and... let me see here... some evil sod by the name of Dolohov cut three of you to ribbons. One life saved – very temporarily, I might add – and three snuffed out... that is not cricket.
“So, at that point, I contacted the Higher Authorities. A sixth return is above even my pay grade, and frankly, my pay grade is astonishing. I was then notified that the ongoing existence of this Voldemort bloke rated additional attempts: as many as nine lives, they said! Voldemort could bring your backwater bit of humanity to an end, apparently.”
“Are you serious?” Harry gasped.
“No, of course not. I'm gladly spending the evening with you instead of a delightful woman with very skilled hands who was interested in paying a visit to my expensive and very comfortable loft that I will lose if you keep fucking up!” Mr. Grimm grumbled.
“I'm still sorry...” said Harry.
“I hate wizards,” Mr. Grimm said flatly; “I hate sodding wizards. How it is that most of you idiots make it to your nineties and beyond? The near-universal lack of critical thinking alone should cost all of you a decade, at the least. The pathetic excuse for education should knock off a few more years. The completely buggered-up situations that you think business-as-usual... well, at least five more years off for those, I should think. Then there's the inescapable truth that your leaders run the gamut from greedy buggers to murderous despots...
“Why am I beating around the bush with this? You buffoons should have a collective life expectancy that makes famine-stricken countries in Africa look good in comparison! But no... due to the frustrating ability to survive accidents that would off a normal bloke in an instant, you wizards just keep plodding along. With a bit of luck, magical England might stumble into the twentieth century before you're old and grey. Even Grindelwald wasn't enough warning to change the ways of you lot, and he was a nasty piece of work by any standard, let alone for a bumbling bunch of wizards!
“Ah, but this time, you've all put your foot in it. This is an entirely new sort of disaster. Your lot could get rid of Voldemort's men, if they put their minds to it. They could even get rid of Voldemort... but he'll keep returning, again, and again, and again. The future of your village of idiots all comes down to one individual: Harry James Potter. Huzzah!
“So, here's the rub: the Higher Authorities refused to let me pull the plug, and they refused to take you on themselves. After the seventh return – and what in Hell made you think that you had the ability to wave Fiendfyre around without burning yourself to a crisp? – after that, the whispering started. Maybe ol' Ross is losing his touch? Maybe he made it to a million with the easy ones, passing off the difficult stuff to others? Why does the Boss let this one keep repeating, anyway? Anyone else would have been fired by now, they said.
“And now, this. You're back! What did you do this time? Challenge Voldemort to a dance-off? Throw yourself into a volcano on a dare? Hmm... let's see if Setterholm inserted this latest disaster into your file...?”
Harry protested, “I did everything that I could do! We found the Horcruxes, we destroyed all of them but Nagini, we had a scheme to get rid of Voldemort for good... and then, I find out that there's another Horcrux stuck in my bloody forehead! It had to be destroyed before he could be killed, right? So, I went into the forest, he did the deed, and the Horcrux was destroyed but I wasn't... still don't really understand this 'Master of Death' business, by the way... and then I went back. Of course, I just had to return to the same spot, and the bloody Malfoys made sure that Voldemort finished the job!”
Mr. Grimm nodded without looking away from the binder on his desk. “Sure, sure... sounds as if you did everything per Bumble-dore's master plan, all right...”
“What did you call him? Dumbledore was a great wizard! Sure, he had his flaws like anyone, but he got me to where I needed to be. It's not like I was prepared to do the job any earlier, was I? He had a plan and it worked right up to the end. Besides, the prophecy's fulfilled. Anyone should be able to kill him now,” Harry protested.
“One would think so, wouldn't they?” Mr. Grimm said absently.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Harry demanded.
Mr. Grimm looked up and said, “You're assuming the snake is dead, for one. With you out of the way, only a few know that the deed needs to be done, and those could all be killed before the end of the battle. What then? Voldemort is now the master of the Elder Wand. Who else is going to off him now, Potter? Your friends might have luck on their side: they might eliminate most of his followers, and perhaps even kill the snake. However, no one present at that battle could best the master of that wand. He shan't be killed at the Battle of Hogwarts, and the Wand only makes him more powerful. You've extended the war, not ended it. He remains at least marginally in control of the Ministry. The chances of a meaningful defence or even a counter-attack in the near term are slim. Possession of the Wand will go a long way toward convincing his allies on the continent to continue their support. There's also a legitimate chance that Voldemort could locate the Cloak and the Stone. If he should find all three Hallows...? Within a few years, your world would become known to the rest of humanity, at the worst possible time and in the worst possible condition. You've left the door open for the end, all right: an apocalyptic one.”
Harry sank deep into his chair. “What have I done?” he said in a near-whisper.
Mr. Grimm said, “Based on what you've told me and what I see in the records, you've done exactly what you were led to do. Keeping you naïve and unprepared was the plan. I'll give you this much: this is the closest you've ever come to doing the job.”
“So you're sending me back again, because Voldemort isn't dead?” Harry asked.
Mr. Grimm shook his head;' he said, “That's not the only thing you were supposed to do, Potter. One's fate doesn't end after a pivotal event... at least, it doesn't have to end there. The ancient Greeks thought of Fate as three women: one who spun the thread of life, one who measured it, and one who did the cutting at the end. Each thread contributes to the tapestry, and the placement of one thread affects the placement of others. Every so often, a few threads become so important that the Boss must take an interest. You and Voldemort are two of those threads. Either of you could shred the whole thing. Grindelwald was that way as well. Bumble-more made himself almost that important by tying his thread to yours. He also poised your world for its end, whether by accident or not.
“The fact of the matter is that you weren't supposed to die tonight. You're supposed to live much longer... much, much longer. I won't tell you how long exactly. Knowing that won't help you, and it could even hurt you down the line.”
“So, I can't just kill Voldemort and settle all of this? I have to survive it?” Harry confirmed.
“Right in one, Potter. Dying early completely buggers the whole plan. It's like unweaving the tapestry. You're supposed to live a long and generally happy life. Have you heard of soulmates, per chance?” Mr. Grimm asked.
Harry started, “Soulmates? Isn't that where a person's soul is half of... something or another... and someone else's soul is the other half? There's supposed to be a golden light when you get together, and then you hear each other's thoughts, and –”
“Hullo? Someone's been reading the penny-dreadfuls...” Mr. Grimm chortled.
“I have not!” Harry insisted.
Mr. Grimm laughed, but went on to explain, “You're talking about a 'twin soul', which is yet another idea from the old Greeks... silly buggers needed some better hobbies, what? Plato's an interesting bloke, by the way – great dinner conversation, if you can get him to stuff the whole philosopher-king business. As for soulmates... a soulmate is just someone that you share strong feelings with, natural feelings with; it's where you completely click with someone, and it's just right, you know? When that's true of the whole lot: love, friendship, sex... well, I'm told that it's really something. When you click with a soulmate, it's for life and maybe beyond.
“Not everyone finds a soulmate, or even has one. Most of us get along well enough without one, thank you very much. I've never had one myself, which is fine by me. 'Love 'em and leave 'em, but leave 'em loving you', that's my credo. Never burn your bridges with the birds, Potter, because I swear to you that the second time around can be tastier than the first. Oh, and the golden lights and telepathy business...? Complete and utter rot; it's something to sell romance novels.”
“Er... so what's your point? You're saying I have a soulmate, then?” asked Harry.
“You're one of the lucky ones, Potter, depending on how you look at it. You have a soulmate – or at least there's one for you to stumble upon,” Mr. Grimm said.
Harry's eyes widened; he asked, “Who is it – is it Ginny Weasley?”
Mr. Grimm turned a few pages in the binder on the desk and mused, “Weasley? Right, those are the redheads. Decent people, they are... the mother's a clingy one though, isn't she? The father's a nice enough bloke: a bit obtuse, but he's a good man and knows his limitations. Most people never do, by the way, and more's the pity. Stumble-snore had a plan for them too, of course. He planned for you to become close to the Weasleys, figured they would be good for you. He was mostly right about that, at least. There's no such thing as perfect role models, but you could do far worse than that family.
“The older boys are solid lads. The middle one needs to grow up, but he did show up in the end, didn't he? The twins were good fun, once they grew up a bit – the last year didn't treat them very well, thought, did it? The other boy, the one in your year... brain boy... Ron, that's it!... bit of a leech, don't you think? A fair friend in a real pinch, but not as loyal as you need him to be. On the main, he's better than most, not as good as some. He treats the bossy girl poorly, but that's just adolescent emotional constipation showing up – happens to everyone at some point. He does hold you back in your studies, I must say.
“So, then... ah, yes... Ginny Weasley: that's right, she's the one who had Voldemort's diary! I can't say for certain, but I suspect she was part of Bumble-Bore's plan as well. She could love you the way that the fair maiden loves her champion, and you could have someone worth dying for. The old goat probably fancied himself Merlin to your Arthur. I can't say that for certain either, of course. I've never spoken to him, and I wouldn't piss on the old goat if he was on fire. So, Potter, did you date the chit this time? You've done that before a time or two... you know, on those rare occasions when you've lived long enough to start dating?”
Harry admitted, “Err... it was last year, between Ginny and me; the whole thing was pretty intense. I broke it off once I knew that I'd have to find the Horcruxes without Dumbledore. I think we both expected to get back together after it was all over. I can see how she might be the one, I guess.”
Mr. Grimm stopped on a particular page and appeared to read it closely; then he said, “Meh. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't be happy with her – I expect you'd be more-or-less satisfied in the end. She's a sporty one – I see how that would catch your eye. She's a looker, as teenaged birds go... reasonably intelligent... thinks it's all right to hurt someone for a laugh, but that might be from the twin brothers... bit of a spiteful streak... self-entitled as well, but that's from the brother in your year... acts on impulse, so she does fit into this Gryffindor business. Oi, and whose idea was it to divide people by personality traits at the age of eleven, by the way? Stuff and nonsense, that is! The raw stupidity of that alone should trim another ten years off your lot's life expectancy. Bloody idiots...”
“So it's not Ginny, then,” Harry said.
“You are quicker this go-around. It's not like the sixth time, at all... honestly, I wanted to kill you then. No, no, it's not Weasley... it's the bossy girl... Granger, that's her name,” Mr. Grimm announced.
Harry goggled, “H-Hermione? She's my soulmate?”
Mr. Grimm sighed in frustration; then he told Harry, “Look, Potter... both girls are like their mothers. It's like that most of the time with women. Now, the bossy one will tell it like she sees it, but you've been willing to disagree with her when it counts for something. In the end, you'll argue more with that one and you'll have to stay on your toes with her, but you'll have a more interesting life. She won't just push you if you let her down; she'll push you if you let yourself down, as well. The girl comes by that honestly, you know – it's why her father is one of the premier oral surgeons in Britain, and her mother is a scholar and teacher as well as a practitioner.
“I've seen you with the sporty one's mother, and it'll follow the same with the daughter: if she doesn't like what you're doing and complains about it, whether it's to your face or behind your back, then you'll be expected to roll over and play dead. If you let her in charge of matters, you'll end up like her father: a pleasant-enough fellow, but well short of your potential. That wouldn't lead to the end of the world, in and of itself... but you're already managing the end of the world well enough on your own, aren't you?”
Harry grumbled, “I said that I was sorry, more than once –”
The unpleasantly pleasant voice cut him off; “There is an incoming special delivery for Mr. Grimm,” it announced. There was a bright flash atop Mr. Grimm's desk, followed by a puff of smoke. In its wake was a scroll tied shut with a white ribbon.
“I hate that, I really do,” Mr. Grimm said as he fanned the smoke with one hand and tugged at the ribbon with the other.
“What is it?” asked Harry.
“This, Potter, is a contract,” Mr. Grimm said.
“A contract?” Harry said.
Mr. Grimm said, “No, it's a bog roll. Do you enjoy repeating after me? Yes, it's a contract. The higher authorities are finally stepping in, and it's about bloody time. Now, then... let's have a look at the terms... bloody hell... this is new...”
“Do I have to sign it?” Harry asked.
Mr. Grimm went stock still for several moments; his expression darkened, and then he sneered, “No, you don't have to sign anything. If you don't sign the contract, then this is the end of the line for you. Welcome to the next great adventure, or as I'm fond of calling it, 'the next big thing'. Of course, most of your friends will arrive over the next few years, and it won't be pretty.
“You'll also ruin my existence. I'll be sacked and the Boss only knows where I'll end up. For that matter, if you go back and screw it up again, I'll still end up sacked. Ross Grimm will not go quietly back to a council flat, and you can take that to the bank! Here's my solemn vow to you, Potter: if that should happen, I will make your existence a living nightmare, and I'll keep at it. I've already set plans – enough to cover the first century or two, at least – and I've made detailed notes. Do feel free, however, to pass up the very generous opportunity that I have been given the great privilege to place before you. Or, perhaps you might care to read it first?”
Harry snatched away the scroll. “You're a nutter! I'll sign anything, if it will get me away from you!” he snapped.
“Oh, don't think that you'll be getting away from me. We'll be thick as thieves, you and me, if I've read this right,” said Mr. Grimm.
“Is that a good or a bad thing?” Harry muttered as he attempted to read and understand the contract in his hands.
“It's certainly good for me. If I can keep a hand in matters, then the inevitable catastrophic cock-up might not be a fatal one,” said Mr. Grimm.
Harry set the unrolled scroll on his side of Mr. Grimm's massive desk. He said uneasily, “If I understand this right, I'm to have one more chance at things. If I fail... then I cease to exist...?”
Mr. Grimm reached forward and took the scroll in hand. “Let me have a look,” he said; “Never heard of that before... bit harsh, isn't it?” He took a fountain pen from a drawer, drew a line through several words, and wrote something to the side. Then he handed the scroll back to Harry.
Harry squinted at the change, and said slowly, “Right... if I fail, I end up here and you basically get to make my life into Hell for the next five hundred years?”
“Better than the alternative, and it's the best you're going to get,” Mr. Grimm said firmly.
“But I'm to take my memories back with me?” Harry confirmed.
Mr. Grimm nodded and said, “That's right, and I've never seen anything like it before. Voldemort must be a worse threat than I know... hard to figure what could be worse than the end of the world. You'll have the full memories of your most recent life, and as a bonus, I'll include memories of the various ways you've managed to get yourself killed. That should ensure that you won't repeat old mistakes. I expect you to start a fresh series of spectacular screw-ups, of course.”
“You're not leaving me brimming with confidence, you know?” Harry grumbled.
Mr. Grimm sat back in his chair and steepled his hands together. He said, “I've seen this before... I've seen this eight times before. Every time, you're a nice guy about things. Every time, you promise to do better. Every time, you end up back in my office. Now, as I said, you came closer this time than ever before. Hopefully the memories will give you a sporting chance. I'll be popping in now and again, as well. The only unsettled bit is the timing. As you no doubt read, you've been given three alternatives. Firstly, you could go back to November the first, 1981 – a complete do-over, as it were.”
“Another ten years with the Dursleys. That's a cheery thought,” said Harry.
Mr. Grimm said, “Fair enough, Potter. I'm not allowed to say whether they're beyond redemption, but I am allowed to hint around. Let me put it like this: when I think of the Dursleys, what comes to mind are three dead fish left to sit in the summer sun for a week. That uncle of yours is as rotten as they come, at least outside the bars of Her Majesty's locked accommodations.”
Harry glanced at the scroll before he went on, “The second choice is my eleventh birthday. That's interesting; I'd be starting over with Hagrid, then. There are a few things I'd do differently before September the first, I can tell you. And the last is the morning of June 9, 1994...?”
Mr. Grimm said, “That was a very full day, wasn't it? The bloody seer gave her second prophecy after lunch, as I remember it. It was late in the day when everything went sour: first they came for the hippogriff, then Black and Lupin confronted Pettigrew, and then Lupin transformed and buggered up the whole thing, and then you had to save Black without proving his innocence. Six o'clock in the morning... more than enough time to have a spot of breakfast before your Defence Against the Dark Arts examination with Lupin, I should think.”
“That's the one,” Harry said immediately.
Mr. Grimm asked, “Why?”
Harry answered him, “If everything leading up to that stays the same, then the diary is already destroyed and the basilisk is already dead. Hermione and Ron are safe – as safe as any of us were, at least – and they're still my friends. We'd just taken the Quidditch Cup, and most wizards still saw me well. I have a chance at snatching Wormtail before the rest happens... Wait! Hermione found him earlier that day, didn't she? He was in a cup or a bottle or something like that!”
“Your choices during the day could change that,” Mr. Grimm pointed out.
“Still, I'd have an entire day to set things right. I could remind Remus to take his Wolfsbane Potion. I could stun Snape and lock him away before leaving the castle. There's no good reason to change things before that. It wasn't always great, those first three years, but no one on our side had died yet and most of the really big troubles hadn't started yet,” said Harry.
“Set on 1994, are you?” Mr. Grimm asked.
Harry said firmly, “Yes, that's my choice.”
Mr. Grimm gave a small smile at that. “I would have made the same choice, and mostly for the same reasons,” he told Harry.
“So, all I have to do is sign this?” asked Harry.
“Once you've signed, the contract will be executed,” Mr. Grimm returned.
Harry hesitated and then said, “You still haven't told me why everyone calls me 'Him' and won't talk to me.”
Mr. Grimm winced before he explained, “I'd hoped to avoid that, honestly. Here's the thing: you're infamous around here. Eight times? It's hard to get past that. So, when things go completely arse-over-kettle... well, you see... it's called 'pulling a Potter'.”
“You must be joking,” Harry said.
“Serious as a killing curse, I'm afraid,” said Mr. Grimm.
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I'm almost surprised that never caught on at home. Here's to improving my reputation,” he said.
“It's a well-established bit of slang, Potter. I wouldn't raise your hopes too high, if I were you,” Mr. Grimm admitted.
Harry groaned, “Lovely. May I borrow a pen?”
Mr. Grimm gestured to a mug set atop the desk, filled with biros. “Take one – they're complimentary,” he said.