This took longer than it should have, but I started writing it, got blocked, accidentally saved over it, and had to start it again. This was the hardest one to write, so I kept just giving up on it as well. I still don't think it's good enough, but I think if I'd carried on trying to fix it I'd've gone crazy. Not my best work, but it'll have to do.
In Their Arms Again
Summary: Part of my Again series. When Harry dies, for real, he's expecting Dumbledore to greet him again. Instead, he gets his heart's desire.
Last time, there had been curiosity, a vague understanding, and interest.
This time, there was a lot less curiosity, clear understanding, and little interest. That's the problem when you've already experienced something. The second time round is never the same.
Last time, he'd been face down, naked, and had remained so for several seconds.
This time, he was face up, which just went to show that dying in your sleep had it's benefits. He was still naked - and suspected this was either a small joke in the grand design of things, or big symbolism. This time, half-sure he wouldn't remain alone for long, Harry got to his feet and dressed quickly, barely registering the way the blank whiteness was slowly turning into an empty, clean version of King's Cross.
He noticed, however, that he was no longer the age he'd been only moments ago, when death had finally claimed him. He was, at his best guess, eighteen, presumably because at eighteen he'd finally been free, with Voldemort gone, the grief and guilt of the many deaths lessoning, his life finally beginning.
Thinking this caused a pang of emotion when he thought of Ginny finding his lifeless body, of how his family would have to greive him.
And then he waited.
He expected Dumbledore to come again, possibly with something to say, and for them to go to whatever came next. "On" Dumbledore had called it last time. Probably just to make it seen all mysterious. Or because he wasn't really dead, and he wasn't allowed to know about it. Were there rules about death and whatever happened after it?
Probably. There were rules everywhere. It was something James had always complained about.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed - or if there was even any time here - but he started to feel a little uneasy. Surely he wasn't expected to go "on" alone? He didn't even know how!
After everything he'd done in his life, after everything he'd lost, he was supposed to do this completly alone? There was no one to guide him? No one to help famous Harry Potter in death, when people had been tripping over themselves to help him in his life?
Angry, Harry turned around, looking for the way out, the way on, and jumped violently when he saw them.
They were stood completely still, familiar yet painfully not, looking at him. And he felt the anger seep out of him before he even realised he was moving, moving forward quickly - not running, but quickly all the same. Some part of him was afraid none of this was real, that they weren't really there. But his heart knew that they were real, they were there. His hear knew them. When he got closer, and they moved forward, too, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to touch them, feel them. But he threw himself into their arms anyway.
Lily and James Potter had been stood side by side, each with an arm around the other's back. When their son had reached them and thrown himself at them, their free arms went around him, and held him close, tight, like he never remembered being hugged by them.
They stood for some time - or no time at all - in the three-way-hug, no one speaking, or moving.
Finally, he drew back, and looked at them, like he'd never been able to. They still looked young, too young to be his parents, a painful reminder that Lily and James hadn't aged with their son. Lily was crying silently, smiling, just like she had when he'd looked into a magic mirror at eleven and seen her. Beside her, James looked torn, as though he couldn't decide which emotion he felt the strongest.
"I - I didn't know it'd be you. Here, I mean. I thought - Dumbledore -" It was hard to know what to say to the parents you never remembered, to the parents you'd longed to see so many times.
It was then that it hit him, truly hit him, that he didn't know them. That all he knew of them was from other people.
"You'd rather Dumbledore come to meet you?" James wasn't joking, and he looked a little guilty, a little sad that at the thought of his son preferring someone else.
"No, no - this is better." Harry said quickly. Was it a deep set human trait to want to please your parents? Throughout his life, he'd been hoping to make them proud of him.
"We wanted to come last time." Lily told him. "But Dumbledore was the only one who could explain it properly, and...well, he needed to see you. He needed to explain. I think he wanted you to forgive him..."
"And we walked into the forest with you. We got to see you, and talk to you." James murmured. "So we thought...it'd be fair..." He trailed off, and for a moment there was an awkward silence.
"Wh-what now?" Harry asked eventually, annoyed at the way his voice stuck. He'd been prepared for death, he'd been ready and unafraid. But now, at the point of uncertainty, when he had to take that next step into the unknown, he felt like that teenager who's legs had shaken as he walked into the forest to die.
It still wasn't easy to let his life go. Ginny. His kids. His grandkids.
"When you're ready," Lily told him softly, "we'll take you on."
"On to what?"
"To what comes next." James said, and grinned at his son's look of frustration. "Really, it's hard to explain. You'll see."
"First, you need to let it go, Harry." Lily explained. "You need to be completely ready, you need to let your life go."
"Let it go? Ginny - my family -"
"You'll see them again." James assured him quickly. "Lily meant, you have to accept that you're dead, that you can't go back."
"Oh. OK." Harry nodded, and wondered how he'd know if he was ready or not. But when he thought about it properly, he decided he was - there wasn't a part of him that wanted to go back. He wanted to go forward - on - with his parents. Ginny would follow him soon, he knew.
And he knew, somehow, that he had to do this. Not only because he was unable to go back, but because it was time he met his parents properly, knew his parents properly.
"I'm ready." He heard himself say it, without even knowing he was going to. Lily and James exchanged looks.
"Are you sure?" James asked him, and he nodded again.
"Let's go." He looked around, then realised he had no idea where he was going.
"This way." Lily murmured, and began to lead him.
Yes, he decided. He was completely ready for this.
Death wasn't the beginning. But it wasn't the end, either.