The Return of the Father: Until the End
Thank you to all of the (incredibly patient) wonderful readers and reviewers. This is a shock to me too, since I'd thought the disk that had my backup outlines was lost for good. The outline, I feel, needs a bit of overhaul, but luckily this chapter was safe to stay as was. I honestly can't apologize enough for my awful writer's block.
I imagine nothing I could post would be worth the two years wait, but I'd think you'd rather I just post SOMETHING rather than nothing at all. Unfortunately, I stopped at a chapter where not a whole lot is going on, so I've resigned myself to the inevitable "we waited years for this!" but I hope, for the most part, you find something to like in this chapter.
- Outside Hogwarts
"Poppy is going to be angry." Remus pointed out, sounding resigned but not entirely concerned.
"As long as I leave Harry with her, she's going to count her blessings." James countered, tilting his face to the sun. In Scotland, even in summer, sunlight was to be treasured. Sitting in the hospital wing while it rained wasn't much of a hardship, but while it was sunny? Unthinkable.
Sirius nodded, "She's probably glad to be rid of us for an hour or two."
James nodded absently, eyes staring ahead but not quite taking anything in.
"James?" Remus asked, almost hesitant. He had certainly seen James being serious, even more so with the birth of Harry and his own re-birth, but time smoothed memories out and in his head James had been firmly seventeen for quite a while. Seeing him so… despondently serious and almost tired looking was strange, especially when the action was currently over.
James turned to Remus, "He still won't talk to me about the prophecy."
"Oh." Remus said, feeling unintelligent. Beside him, Sirius grew tense. "It's only been less than two days since he found out the truth, James. You can't be too worried."
"My son is fated to kill or be killed." James barked out a harsh laugh. "And I just had to let the Headmaster who essentially signed him up for child abuse tell him about it. Of course I'm bloody worried."
Sirius winced and leaned forward to place an arm around James's shoulders. "I want to say I understand and feel the same, but I can't, so I won't. But still, I love Harry. He's a strong boy, James. If anyone could cope, it's him."
"He shouldn't have to."
Remus gave James a tight smile, "We can wish all we want. He can wish all he wants. It won't change anything."
"The best you can do is be there for him, when he is ready to talk. This isn't going to be something easily processed, Prongslet will need time." Sirius said, feeling like a useless self-help book. So cliché, yet so idiotically true…
James nodded shakily. "I told him he could tell Ron and Hermione. I hope he will."
"You think he'll tell them about it?" Sirius asked. He knew what he would have done in Harry's situation, namely, tell his friends instantly, but he often had to remind himself that Harry wasn't them and everything he did wasn't going to tie back to who his parents were.
James shrugged. "I hope so, even if I'd rather he talked to me about it." He let out a shuddering breath and clenched his jaw, trying to compose himself, for reasons unknown to his friends – as if they would judge him. "I'm learning more about him every minute I'm with him, but now when it's most important, I don't know how he's feeling or if he can accept this… I don't know him!"
Remus grabbed James' hand, worried the younger man was about to fall into some sort of hysteria. He almost blushed at his own dramatic interpretation, but James seemed so genuinely shaken it worried him. "We don't know either. Ron and Hermione probably wouldn't even know. This is beyond anything Harry has ever had to contemplate. We're all going to fly blind."
"I shouldn't be." James said with conviction.
"No, you shouldn't." Sirius agreed, "You shouldn't even be sitting here. You have to let it go, or you'll never move forward."
James sighed, "I'm trying. It's easier said than done, Padfoot. You try hurtling through time in what seems to you like the blink of an eye."
"Hmm… sounds better than sitting in a cell while time crawls past you." Sirius said, not depressed or as though he wanted to compete with James. He just sounded like he was giving an opinion, which heartened the other two, even in the middle of such a tense conversation.
"You two can't seriously be arguing about who is working to adjust with the worse set of circumstances." Remus said, giving the two his best professor-glare. They ignored it, as they had been trying to do of late. They were still not entirely sure what to do with Professor Lupin, besides mocking him, of course.
Sirius smiled, but James didn't. Clearing his throat awkwardly, Sirius gave a quick glance to Remus before darting his eyes back down to his lap. "Did you and Lily ever have a plan on how to tell Harry?"
James didn't quite freeze, but the effect of his wife's name was obvious all the same. For Harry, James had been trying to put up a brave front and keep his mother alive for his son. Alone, he grieved for her so intensely he wasn't sure if he was ever going to be able to heal or think of her without a pang going through his whole body.
"You can tell me to sod off if you want, Prongs." Sirius offered when the silence stretched on.
James shook his head, but neither Sirius nor Remus was sure what he was denying. After another moment, James spoke, "We didn't know quite what we were going to tell him. We were using everything we had just to keep him safe." James raised his eyes to his friend's faces. "We thought we had time to figure it out."
"You still do." Remus said gently, "Not the amount of time you'd like, but as long as Harry is thinking about it, you can too. He'll want to talk to you eventually, that much I know. It's a lot to take in, especially when he's had to deal with so much already."
"I supposed I'd be a whining git if I said it wasn't fair that this gets piled onto him too?" James mused aloud. Sirius relaxed beside him and Remus, who had always used the creepy intuition that James and Sirius had always had with each other to gauge a situation, felt himself relax to. He wasn't sure what exactly they'd said that had reassured James, but he was glad they'd said it all the same.
"You would be." Sirius said with confidence. "Even Harry would say so, and he's a teenager. They're prone to wild fits of self-pity."
Remus grinned, remembering Sirius when he'd been that way. Of course, Sirius had last been that way when Madame Pomfrey had forced a nasty potion down his throat that morning. "You'll have to keep reminding him about all the good things he's got."
"Like a father who's already reconsidering his punishment?" James asked sheepishly.
Sirius laughed, but Remus could do no more than drop his head into his hands.
- Hospital Wing
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... And the Dark Lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives."
"That's me, isn't it, Dad?" Harry asked, valiantly keeping his voice steady. Somehow, it seemed so fitting, so obvious…
James knelt beside his son, "Yes." He answered simply.
Startled, Harry glanced across the aisle. "Yeah, Ron?"
The redhead eyed his friend carefully. With a quick, vitally important, glance around the wing to ensure that Madam Pomfrey had retreated, he slid out of his bed and crossed the room. "You okay?" He asked as he sat down next to Harry.
Harry shrugged, was he okay? It should be an easy question. How could anyone be okay after finding out what he'd just discovered? "I guess." He answered thickly.
"Don't look it." Ron observed leaning back against the bed. "Come on, practically no one's around."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Harry asked, pulling himself from the covers. Ron's comment, while irrelevant, was certainly true. Most people had been let out of the wing by morning. They were nearly the only ones around, which was a relief. He didn't have the energy to keep up some mask of normalcy.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Just tell me."
Harry sighed, "I can't." He answered. This was, technically, a lie. Dumbledore had told him to keep things close to himself, yes, but James had told him that he could tell Ron and Hermione. Even still, if Voldemort wanted to know so bad, he wouldn't stop at hurting them to get the information.
"If you're all upset over getting grounded, don't be. I'm grounded too." Ron revealed, sounding annoyed but fairly resigned. Harry felt his face flush, still unable to be upset with his father for grounding him. It was, he felt, more than a little pathetic.
"It's not that." He answered, and meant it. "Look, it's something to do with Voldemort and it boils down to him and me, at the end." He blurted and then looked away.
Ron was silent, but Harry could feel his eyes staring a hole into the side of his face. "Mate, if it's you at the end, then it's me at the end too." Ron said finally, saying it gently as though Harry had heard it before and it had upset him.
He shook his head, "You don't understand," He started, a little desperately. He couldn't even help it and he looked away again, sentence unfinished because near death sentence or not, he wasn't particularly keen on letting Ron see him cry.
"I don't need to." Ron countered firmly. "Why would I?"
Harry shrugged, trying to make it casual and knowing he was completely failing. "I meant what I said, it's got to be me."
There was some shifting next to him and then Ron was there, draping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him in a bit closer. Sort of like George and Fred, sort of like Sirius and his father…
"And I meant what I said," Ron countered. "Harry, maybe it's got to be you that says the words and casts the spell, but it don't mean that I won't be next to you while you do it."
He couldn't help but feel vaguely touched at such a promise, even if this entire situation filled him with a not so vague feeling of unease. He took in a shuddering breath, "Not if you're dead by then."
Ron nodded his head, as though he considered this sort of thing regularly. It wouldn't have been a shock of he did, Harry thought, a little bitter, since so many of the people close to him had a nasty habit of dying.
"It'd be worth it in the end, though, wouldn't it?" Ron said, decision apparently made. "I mean, going heroically for the good of your world or your friends or your family… that can't be the worst way."
Since Harry had always privately agreed with that sort of sentiment, he couldn't really refute it. What he could do, however, was to mention what would now become one of his deepest fears. If it all came down to him, if everyone was counting on him to save them… "What if I fail? Still think dying for me would be worth it?"
"Yeah, Harry, I would." Ron said, without missing a beat. "It's got to be how it is between best mates, though, right?"
"I wouldn't blame you…" He started, trailing off with the offer that he only half-wished Ron would take him up on.
Ron snorted, "I'm not even going to answer that."
Harry smiled a little at that. "How lame am I?" He asked, not rhetorically, "He's done so much. He killed my parents and so many people. He's… Merlin, he's fucking evil and anyone… anyone would gladly step up to bat and end him if they could. And I'm sitting here not sure I want to be a murderer, not sure I could even do it."
" 'S'not lame." Ron whispered, "It's probably why it's got to be you."
"If this is going to end some good-versus-evil, I'm a bloody shining beacon of hope pep talk I'm going to throw up on you." Harry laughed hoarsely.
Ron laughed too, his shoulder knocking against Harry's. "I just mean, it's going to take a lot, isn't it? The shit they'll have to teach you? No way is it going to be sweetness and light. It can't be, I'd bet."
"So?" Harry asked.
"It's going to be a lot of power and if I can think of any bloke that could do it and not wreck themselves on it," He paused then shrugged. "It's you, mate."
Harry wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Ron believed in him, his father believed in him, Sirius, Remus and Hermione too. Dumbledore might've been grave when he revealed the truth to him, but Harry could see it in his eyes. They all thought he could do it. How could they be so sure when he was nearly as positive that he would fail? Maybe he'd been lucky before, and maybe he was brave where others weren't, but at that didn't match up to the magical knowledge Voldemort had, or how long he'd been fighting against some of the best that the Wizarding World had to offer. He was a teenager, and not even one with the most brilliant of grades.
The prophecy mentioned a power that the Dark Lord knew not, but whatever it was it was something that Harry knew not too. Maybe it would come to him, but thus far he couldn't see how it would.
His mother's love had saved him at the start, Hermione's cleverness had pulled him through, Ron's loyalty had bolstered him when he seemed to be gone and Dumbledore's training (because god, how could he have not realized that was what his entire school career had been thus far?) had taught him to think quickly and not too hard on the consequences. His own personality had a hand, sure, but it wasn't going to carry him through a war. The others couldn't hold his hand and feed him the answer to this.
He was quite literally on his own.
But you're not though, not now. Your father, godfather and friends would all rush in after you, no matter how unprepared you were and they'd die for you. You'd let them too, wouldn't you? Just to keep them close…
The traitorous thought came unbidden, making his chest ache. He would, he would keep his father with him, even though it was probably going to kill him again. A half strangled sob rose up in him and he couldn't hold it back.
"Come on, it's okay." Ron soothed awkwardly. He shook Harry with the arm around his shoulders, just a little, as though to shake him from whatever he'd been thinking.
Just the sound of Ron's voice - his best friend who was not the most emotionally present of blokes - trying to keep him from crying had the complete opposite effect. Another sob slipped out.
"You can't change it now." Ron reminded, "So there's no use getting upset."
"I can't beat him, Ron." Harry said, thickly. "I'm not nearly a match for him."
Ron shook his head, "You're better. And you've got me and 'Mione, as far as we can go with you. I swear."
"You'll be killed and… "
"Shh…" Ron whispered, cutting him off. "You'll get Pomfrey out here after me for starting this up." He said, glancing towards the Mediwitch's door. "It's our choice, Harry. You can't predict how it'll turn out, you'll kill yourself with the worry."
Harry could see the merit to that, certainly. Death by worry seemed entirely reasonable to him in that moment. "It will be my fault."
"It'll be Voldemort's fault, or one of his Death Eaters, but not yours, Harry. You didn't pick this, but I pick you and Hermione will too." Ron said.
Harry took deep, controlled breaths, trying to get himself under control. He could already tell that Ron didn't fault his tears, and somehow that helped.
"Wanna play a game of chess?" Ron offered suddenly, apparently done with the conversation.
Harry burst out laughing. God, he loved his friends.
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