Author's Note: This is a random little plot bunny that had become annoying, so I decided to write it and get it out of my head…

Author's Note: This is a random little plot bunny that had become annoying, so I decided to write it and get it out of my head…

Disclaimer: This is not mine. Not really. I'm just taking Rowling's characters and shaking them up a little. I won't hurt them…permanently.

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Return Father

By: Renatus

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Chapter 07 – Curious Distractions

James woke late in the morning. The chamber was lit from the windows, and a cool breeze drifted through the open panes. James sat up on the couch, stretching his stiff muscles and shaking the sleep away. He felt immensely better than he had the day before, which surprised him somewhat considering the amount of the Cruciatus Curse he had endured. He had expected soreness and nausea for a week, not just a day or two.

He looked around, finding the chambers empty of any other presence. Someone had left a small breakfast tray for him on the table, toast and milk and tea still hot. A pile of clothing on the chair with the stag figurine perched atop it, reminded him that a shower would do him wonders.

James found the washroom off the main chamber, and stood under the hot spray of the shower, relishing the heat as it worked his muscles into further relaxation. He found trousers, shirt and robes in the clothing left for him, and boots of a size too small for Remus, though they fit him well enough.

Cleansed and dressed, James returned to the couch and enjoyed the simple meal, taking in the room, which was so much like Remus with the walls lined with books and parchments in half-neat stacks on the desk. James wondered about Remus' presence at Hogwarts, living in the Professor's quarters.

Deciding to find his vanished friend, James left the chambers, letting the doors close behind him as he made his way out to the hallway and through the staff lounge. He encountered no one else, and the castle was quiet as he wandered the hallways unsure where the werewolf would have gone.

James finally caught the sound of Remus' voice near the hospital wing. He hovered near the door to the ward, hearing the discussion between Remus and others, though he could not see them past the curtains in the room, and their words were muffled. A curtain was suddenly pushed aside, and a familiar woman emerged, leaving Remus's form half visible in the curtained area.

"Just rest, dear." Poppy said, bustling about the table at the foot of the bed, "I'll give you a pain reliever potion and dreamless sleep for the night."

There was a sharp tone from the bed, the words muffled by the distance and the curtain.

"Well," Poppy said, sniffing slightly in response, "Have it your way then." She said as she turned and retreated to her office. James raised an eyebrow at the exchange, wondering what the patient could have said to put Madam Pomfrey into such a huff.

"I am sorry," Remus said to the patient on the bed, "I wish there was more we could do."

James heard a short response, but couldn't catch the words, though he was sure that the speaker was male. There were more words, only a few of which he could understand before Remus spoke again.

"I agree, Evander, you can't avoid it, you shouldn't. No one else can do it for you, you made sure of that. You have to talk to him."

"It's just been done. How can I?" Evander's soft tones carried beyond the curtain.

James entered the room, not wanting to eavesdrop on them, and his usual curiosity piqued to the identity of the patient. He rounded the curtained wall, stopping to peer over Remus' shoulder at the person in the bed. Snape was there, stretched out under a pile of blankets and paler than James remembered ever seeing him, half glaring at the youth who stood on Remus' other side.

"Potter." Snape said, catching sight of him and sending him an icy glare.

"Snape." The youth said, with what James would call a distinct warning tone, Evander then followed the Slytherin's glare to James. The youth narrowed his eyes at him, but otherwise watched him with a guarded look. James took the three men in, getting the sensation that he had missed something, some secret or piece of knowledge that had not been said. He only half ignored the sensation, usually trusting his instincts, which had saved him in the early war more than once. He also reminded himself that he had missed sixteen years, and that such feelings would likely be common to him for quite a while.

"James, how are you feeling?" Remus asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Well enough." James said, looking between Snape and Evander once more before turning towards his friend. Remus smiled at him, revealing sharp canines. "Come on, let's leave Severus to glare at the curtains and go outside before the weather turns cold on us."

James smiled slightly and followed Remus out of the hospital ward. He glanced back at the two he left behind, catching Evander's red-eyed, watchful stare. Evander turned an annoyed look to Snape behind the curtain as they left.

"Sleep well?" Remus asked as they walked down the hall.

James nodded, "What's up with Snape?"

Remus looked concerned a moment as he glanced back towards the hospital ward. "He's dying."

James nearly tripped at the words, and stared at his friend in slight shock. To hear that Severus Snape was dying was about the last thing he had expected to hear. While he didn't like the guy in the least, he had gained a grudging respect for the man. "What?"

"Severus is dying, James." Remus said.

"But he looked fine yesterday." James said.

Remus nodded, "Yes, and he still looks fine today, but it's not a physical sickness that's killing him."

"Then what is it?"

Remus paused, forcing James to stop with him. "Severus took the dark mark shortly after graduation." Remus said, holding up a hand to stop James from speaking, "Not long after that he turned from Voldemort and became a spy for the Light, working for Albus. Albus always trusted him, and because of that, so did I. Severus was a hard man to live with, but he was good at what he did. You know most of this, he was already passing us information before you went into hiding."

James nodded, knowing that Severus had delivered the warning that Voldemort would come after the Potter's, after their child when it was born.

"When Voldemort was defeated a few weeks ago," Remus continued, "Within days, every Death Eater succumbed to death. It appeared as if they had swallowed a poison, or got very sick suddenly. We don't know why, really. All we can guess is that the dark mark had something to do with it. Snape is not an exception to this, though he lasted on his own longer than most of the rest of them. Evander is able to stave off the worst of the effects, but we only recently concluded that we cannot fully stop the process. Severus is dying because of the dark mark on his arm, and the magics connected to it."

"The mark can't be removed?" James asked.

"It never has been." Remus said, "No one has ever had their mark removed by Voldemort or anyone else. As far as we know, Severus is the last of the Death Eaters alive, and he's only lived this long because of what Evander is able to do."

James was silent at that. He wasn't sure what to think about Snape's impending death, or the effects that the mark had on all of Voldemort's followers after their lord's death. In a way he was glad that the Death Eaters didn't have to be hunted down or imprisoned or even worried about, yet the concept that they all died along with their dark lord was a bit sickening. James wondered if the Death Eaters had known about that clause in their contracts with him.

"Who is Evander?" James asked as the two began walking again.

Remus seemed reluctant to speak of the youth, tilting his head to the side as if unsure how to proceed. James couldn't help his own curiosity about the red-eyed man.

"His name is Evander Black." Remus said, watching James out of the corner of his eyes.

"Black? He's related to Sirius?"

"In a way. Evander is an adopted heir to the Black name."

James pondered that a moment, then asked the question that was most pressing to him at the time, "Why are his eyes red?"

Remus shrugged. James wasn't sure if the werewolf didn't know or just didn't want to say. "You should ask him, James." Remus said in a tone that told him that the werewolf would no longer speak about the youth. James' curiosity just about went through the roof. He was never able to control it, and the mystery surrounding the red-eyed man offered a tantalizing distraction from his own grief and memories, so long as he didn't look into the red eyes; eyes that stirred up the memory of Voldemort before he could even think to stop it.

"Alright, Remus." James said, "I can tell when you refuse to speak. You just usually did it when Sirius was trying to get you to answer all his homework questions for him."

Remus smirked at him, then sobered. "I would tell you, James, but you have to ask Evander. I can't tell you about him."

James thought it strange, but let it be, not wanting to push his friend. "Alright, shall I now?" he asked, stopping and gesturing back down the hall the way they had come. Remus stopped a pace beyond him, and studied him a moment, as if trying to decide his answer.

"If you want to." Remus said finally. James had no idea what to make of the entire situation. Remus seemed in turn reluctant to let him talk to Evander, and then almost forcing his curiosity onto the youth.

"Perhaps you should." Remus said, "I've a classroom to prepare, and Evander could use a distraction from Severus' condition."

"You are a teacher here, then." James said. "I wondered."

Remus nodded, "Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"Figured you would always make a good Professor, Moony." James said. "When does classes start up then?"

"Less than a week."

James sucked in a deep breath, looking around the hallway and feeling slightly lost. "It's the end of August." He said quietly, "It should be the start of November."

"You should go talk to Evander." Remus said. "Give you something to latch that curious mind of yours onto."

James gave his friend a lopsided look, knowing that Remus wasn't trying to get rid of him so much as try to help him. James was always better at dealing with his grief when he had distractions through the day, anything to keep his mind from descending into a whirlwind of memories and sadness and what-if's. He spent the week after his parent's deaths researching in the library and disproving a host of the rumors circling around the Hogwart's students. After that week his sadness hadn't gone away, but he could handle it better. Remus knew how James had reacted to the deaths of his parents, and James recognized that his friend was helping him handle the loss of his wife and son.

Remus waved him down the hall, "Go."

"Yeah," James said, pulling a hand through his hair and giving him a small smile as he turned back down the hallway.

"Meals are in the Great Hall," Remus said after him. James waved over his shoulder and rounded the bend, hearing Remus' footsteps fade behind him. James retraced his steps back to the hospital wing; they hadn't gone far. He paused in the doorway again, spotting Albus standing over the foot of the bed where Snape was.

"Headmaster," James greeted, wandering into the ward. He rounded the curtains, hoping to spot Evander, but the youth was gone.

"Ah, James," Albus greeted with some concern, "How are you feeling?"

James glanced towards Snape, and then back to the Headmaster, "I'll be alright." He said honestly, knowing that if he said he was fine that Albus would know it for a lie.

"Good, good. Please let me know if I can do anything to help you, James."

James nodded, seeing the sincerity in the old man's eyes. James noticed then, that Albus, like Remus was so much older than he expected him to look. Each time he looked in their direction he was surprised again by their age, unnerved by the years that had been added to their faces and their eyes. He expected unknowingly to see them in a certain way and suddenly was reminded by their faces how much he had missed. How much he had lost.

James sucked in a deep breath, trying to ignore the memories, the emotions that came with them, the grief that threatened to overwhelm him if he let it.

"Were you looking for me, James?" Albus asked, pulling him from his thoughts. James started a bit and looked back at the headmaster, grateful for something to focus his thoughts on.

"Actually I was looking for the Black kid."

"Evander?" Albus asked, his eyes bright, "Ah, Severus, do you know where he wandered off to?"

James heard Snape sniff stiffly, and turned to take in the Slytherin. Snape wasn't quite as pale as he was a bit ago, but James wouldn't say he was healthy either, and the man appeared to be distinctly uncomfortable, with traces of pain lining his face.

"Anywhere but my labs," Snape said snidely, "Though I doubt that he's learned to obey overnight, in which case give him to Filch for breaking into a Professor's rooms and tell the man to string the boy up from the Quidditch posts."

Albus chuckled, and James found himself surprised, and even a little impressed. He had never noticed that Snape had a sense of humor that would agree with his own.

James glanced at Snape, feeling like he should say something to the man, something to thank him for aiding his son, for saving his life. He was unsure how the Slytherin would take it. At the best of times the two of them were grudging comrades in a war, suspicion and long-fueled dislike heavy between them.

"Severus is probably right." Albus said. "The potions labs were moved this summer, I'll show you the way if you like, James."

James nodded, turning to follow the Headmaster out of the ward. He paused at the edge of the curtain and looked back at Snape, finding the man's dark eyes watching him. He couldn't read the man's expression, and wasn't sure that he wanted to.

"Thank you." James said simply, looking past Snape out the windows behind him, unable to fully meet the man's eyes. He dragged his gaze back the Slytherin, seeing slight surprise written across the man's features. "Thank you, for helping Harry." James repeated.

Snape looked away, his profile sharp against the walls of the hospital. "If he isn't in the labs, I'd check the Quidditch pitch." He said.

James blinked, a bit surprised and confused, but he knew that Snape had received his thanks. There was little that James knew he could do otherwise.

"Oh, and one more thing." James said as he took another step, bringing himself in line with the curtains, and slightly out of view of Snape. "I am sorry for the way I treated you through school."

James didn't offer any further explanations or reasoning, nor did he wait for a response. He wasn't really looking for one, and didn't want to hear whatever acerbic insults the man would come up with in reply to his apology. James could remember the words that Snape had spat at him the first time James had tried to apologize. It hadn't been so long ago for him, but James wondered if Snape recalled the incident.

James joined Albus in the hall, pointedly ignoring the look that the headmaster was giving him. Albus allowed him his silence, leading him down the halls through the school. It didn't take long to reach the classroom. It was situated on the main floor of the school, in a room with tall windows along one wall. The door was unlocked, and the windows cracked open, letting the cool breeze filter into the room.

Evander was not there.

"The potions classroom in the dungeon was heavily damaged in the attack on the school a few weeks ago." Albus said, stepping into the classroom. "We decided to move it up here, as we had more than just the potions labs to repair for the school year."

James wandered into the classroom, recognizing the familiar desks and stools that stretched across the floor, the cabinets that lined the walls, filled with vials and jars, though little else. The atmosphere of the classroom was strange. The light beaming in through the wall of windows made the classroom feel far different from what he was used to.

"Is Evander training to be a potions master or something?" James asked, eyeing the stack of empty cauldrons next to the basin, wondering why the youth would likely be found in the lab.

"No. He's a student here." Albus said, "In his seventh year come next week."

"A student?"

"Yes. Many of our students missed a year or two of their schooling. Evander is one of those, like Harry's friends, he never graduated. They will be here this year to complete their NEWT classes."

"How old is he?" James asked. He would have guessed that Evander Black was young, but not young enough to have never graduated. The man was far too powerful to be that young. His magic was more mature and strengthened than many adults that James had met. The shear presence of him was beyond many of the Aurors that James had trained amongst.

"Let's see," Albus said, poking his head out one of the windows, "He is eighteen now, I should think."

"That young?" James said, surprised.

"He has been through much." Albus said, "As have many of our youths. His generation faced the war, and most fought in it."

James looked around the room absently, dwelling on the thoughts of the young people of their world fighting in a war of devastating proportions. James had yet to witness most of the scars that war left on their world, but he saw pain etched into the eyes of those who had faced Voldemort himself. And James felt the gaping hole of his own hurts, still more wound than scar; too recent even for him to face fully and speak of it.

He could barely separate himself from them. In his own mind he was only recently graduated, only a few years out of Hogwart's halls. He was only in his early twenties, grown into a world descending into war, and trained through his NEWT classes and the few years afterward to fight in it. He was barely older than the young people who fought next to his son in a war that ended merely weeks ago.

"It's over then?" James asked, leaning back against the counter, staring out the windows to the grounds beyond. "Is it really over?"

Albus came and settled himself onto a stool across from him, arranging his robes around him absently. The old man looked him in the eye.

"It is over." Albus said, his voice both firm and gentle.

James took in a deep breath, holding it a moment before letting it go in a rush. "It's hard to grasp, that he's gone."

"Yes, it is difficult." Albus said, "More so even this time than it was sixteen years ago. People fear that he is not gone, as we thought he was before. That he will again emerge from the shadows, out of our dreams and come back to begin it all again."

James shook his head, trying to grasp a hold of the idea that the dark lord was gone, that he had been gone and then returned and had to be faced a second time. James was again faced with the fact that he missed so much. He still had trouble accepting that Voldemort was gone, and those around him had to face that very same thing more than once.

"You found all of them, then?" James asked.

"The Horcruxes?" Albus said, "Yes. Eventually, we found them all." James stared at the headmaster, hearing the note of sadness in his voice, the hidden depth of meaning of something more to his words.

"What were they all?" James asked, "Lil found the sword, and we knew of Slytherin's ring and locket. How many were there?"

Albus watched him a moment, giving James the distinct impression that the man didn't really want to tell him or was reluctant to do so. "There were six in all, discounting the piece of soul left in Tom's physical body." Albus said, "Tom's diary, which he wrote during his school years. Harry destroyed it when he faced the Basilisk in his second year. He didn't know what it was at the time, of course, but I knew then. Slytherin's ring I found a few years later, and destroyed it then. It nearly took my arm." Albus held up his right arm, letting the sleeve of his robe fall to his elbow, revealing a patch-work of scarring along his hand and arm. James didn't ask him what curses was placed on that ring to cause such damage.

"We found traces of the locket some time later." Albus continued, "It had been destroyed years ago by Regulus Black when he betrayed and escaped Voldemort."

"Sirius' brother?" James asked, a bit surprised that Regulus would turn from Voldemort.

"Yes, he did us more service than we knew at the time." Albus said thoughtfully. "The fourth was Hufflepuff's cup, in the possession of the Malfoy family. We know only that the young Draco Malfoy, Lucius' only son destroyed it. We do not know if Draco died by the Horcrux's power, or his father's. Gryffindor's wand was found by Harry, though he never did tell me where he discovered it. It was the fifth Horcrux. He destroyed it when he was seventeen I believe. Not long ago. He was severely injured from it, but he survived, unscarred by those wounds, though he spent some days in Madam Pomfrey's care."

James tried not to dwell on the raw magical power that would have lashed out at the destroyers of the Horcruxes. He didn't want to imagine his son being the focus of such rage and anger that was infused within those magics. He didn't want to imagine the wounds that would have resulted from it, splashed across the flesh of his son.

"And then there was Ravenclaw's sword, which you and Lily had in your possession."

James nodded, remembering the sword, "Lily tore it apart. She pulled the soul out of it and shattered the sword."

"Harry found it in a cottage in Ireland. He said Voldemort's soul was no longer there."

James nodded again, looking away from the man out the window. "We had gone to that cottage for our honeymoon." James said, "She thought it would be a good place to hide it until we figured out how to destroy it."
"It was a good hiding place." Albus agreed, "How did she pull the soul from it?"

James shrugged. "I'm not sure what she did. She was a genius with charms, I could never understand all she did with her spellwork. She was so smart." James sighed, rubbing his hand over his face and through his hair. "All I know is that she pulled the piece of soul out of the sword and the sword shattered."

"What did she do with the Horcrux?" Albus asked, "What did she do with the piece of Tom's soul?"

James darted his eyes to the headmaster, then away again. "I'm not positive." He said, staring at the floor of the classroom. "I asked her, then I told her not to tell me, that I didn't want to know in case Voldemort ever got a hold of me looking for secrets. So she didn't tell me."

"But you suspected something, didn't you." Albus said, "What do you think she did with it?"

James shook his head, not wanting to think of his theories. He hadn't wanted to consider them months ago when they surfaced, nagging into his mind, and he still didn't want to explore the possibilities now. He didn't want to think about the consequences if his theory was correct.

"James?" Albus prodded, "Did she put the soul into another object? Is it still out there?"

James shook his head again, "No, I don't think she moved it into another object."

"What then? What did she do?"
"I'm not sure, Albus." James said, staring out the windows again, feeling in a daze as his suspicions and theories surfaced again. He had almost managed to forget them and put them out of his mind in the past months of his life.

"James." Albus' voice said, stern.

"I think," James started, "She might have transferred the soul into Harry."

Silence greeted him, and James nearly cringed but turned to look at his headmaster. Albus was staring at him, but not really seeing him, his eyes were distant, as if staring into his own memories.

"That would ensure Harry's survival if Voldemort tried to kill him." Albus said, his voice quiet as he continued to dwell and process on the idea. "Voldemort would not have been able to destroy his own soul."

"Makes sense." James said, refusing to think what other effects such a thing would have had on his son.

"When did she do this?" Albus asked. "Was there any marks on Harry afterward?"

"A few months ago." James said, "And there was a scar on his forehead, jagged." James traced the back and forth shape against his own head over his right eye.

"Was it healed?"

James nodded. "Yes, Lily said she healed it right away. It didn't seem to bother him at all."

"James," Albus said, "Harry is known for that scar. It marks him. When I found him that night, he bore a lightning shaped wound above his eye. It was a fresh wound, bleeding and raw. I assumed it was a recent cut, the mark left from surviving the Killing Curse."

"No, it was months ago, back in the summer."

"Perhaps it was opened again because it was Voldemort's killing curse that struck him." Albus said, sitting back a bit, looking as if he were puzzling through something.

James remained silent, letting the old man think it through. James was still unsure that that was what Lily had done, but there had been small hints, clues that pointed to such a thing. James realized and understood why Lily would have done it. It would have indeed, ensured Harry's survival against Voldemort's own hand. Voldemort would have been unable to kill him, though it would not have easily stopped anyone else. But Lily had been so sure that Voldemort would want to kill Harry with his own wand, if ever given the chance. The simple audacity of the prophesy – that a child would be the dark lord's downfall, would have ensured Voldemort's direct attentions.

"That explains a lot." A voice echoed from the door. James jumped slightly at the unexpected sound, turning to find Evander Black standing in the doorway, his red eyes glinting in the reflection of the sunlight.

Albus looked at the youth over the rims of his glasses, "Yes, yes it does."

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