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James didn’t know why he was so frantic and panicked by this news, but he was. It rattled him and made him uneasy. So after he had filled the others in on what he had seen when slipping into Parker’s mind, James had risen from the table and had begun to pace about the kitchen, gnawing on the nail of this thumb.

“We have to get to Clancy. We have to get her out of there. We have to help her,” he ranted. He spun on his heels to face his family at the table, his eyes desperate and beseeching.

Harry pursed his lips and took a moment to think before he spoke, but when he did, he was calm and collected. “James, it sounds to me like she doesn’t need or want help.”

“No…” disagreed James. He shook his head in disbelief before returning to the table, where he dropped back into his chair with a huff. “No. No, we don’t know that. Parker is twisted. He’s demented and out for blood. Does that sound like a safe place for a child to you?!”

“I hear that,” countered Harry, “but you went to Clancy once already. You offered to help, and she didn’t want to leave him then. Clearly, she’s slept with him recently enough, which means she slept with him knowing his true identity, and now she’s pregnant. Now that she is carrying his child, she may be even less inclined to leave him. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to be helped…”

James shook his head again. He didn’t want to believe that. He couldn’t. “She hasn’t sided with him. Not completely. She helped Dominique escape! And she knows my secret! If she had truly sided with him, Parker would know what I am. But he doesn’t. Which means there’s a part of her that isn’t truly with him!”

He paused to think of the Clancy he knew and remembered. He thought of their first meeting together—how they had connected unlike any of his other clients, how he felt like he finally had someone who understood him and knew what it was like to be an epileptic seer. She was a good person. His hours on end with her as each other’s confidant had proven that. Hell, he had even slept with her a few times while James and Norah had been broken up because there was a true connection between them, and James could feel that goodness when he was with her. Even though he had been single at the time and even when he had found himself unable to connect romantically with anyone else, Clancy had managed to break through that barrier. And it was because an unwavering goodness could be found at her core.

Wincing, James shook his head. “You all may disagree with me,” he began again, “but I know her. And this is what I have to believe.”

Harry was quiet for several moments, as was everyone else. They all knew this was Harry’s call. He sighed heavily and looked unconvincingly to James. “Fine. Believe what you need to believe. But right now, this is the only thing I know that has come of this: we need to use this to our advantage.”

James scoffed. “She’s pregnant! Not a piece of bait!”

Harry raised his hands in defense, trying to calm James to explain his thinking. “Clancy and the baby won’t be harmed. Not if we play this right. But think, James. Her pregnancy means doctor visits. It means they will be forced to leave the safety of whatever protected residence they are in now. We can figure out where they are and where they will be. We need this upper hand on Parker. With this knowledge and your ability to look through Parker’s eyes, we can finally find a way to end this. We can plan the next move.”

James nodded. He knew his father was right. They could find a way to use this to their advantage while also keeping Clancy and the baby safe. If James looked through Parker’s eyes enough, they could figure out where Parker would be and when, and they could spring a trap and catch him while he was vulnerable.

They needed this. They needed this advantage. For too long they had been forced to sit back and let Parker make the next move. But they couldn’t continue living like that—constantly fearing for the lives of their loved ones and afraid of when Parker would make his next move. For the last several months since Parker’s resurfacing, the Potters had just been puppets on the ends of strings being held by Parker, bending and breaking at his will because they had no leads.

But no more. Sitting back and letting Parker take the reins in this vendetta was what got Dominique kidnapped. It’s what killed Albus.

Well now the reins of the vendetta were in James’ hands, and now Parker would be his puppet.

Sucking in a deep breath of determination, James closed his eyes and forgot himself. When he opened them again, they were no longer his own.

Clancy couldn’t stop trembling. She had yet to move from the floor of the bathroom. She still sat on the cold tile floor with her back against the cabinet. She had pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, trying to shrink into herself.

Parker still kneeled in front of her, his hand outstretched and reaching for her cheek. He stroked her smooth skin and gave her a sad smile. “Are you sure you’re happy…?” he asked.

Numb to his touch in that moment, she nodded. She had fixated her gaze on a small crack in one of the flooring tiles, and she had yet to take her eyes off of it. She was seeing but also not really seeing at all. All she saw was crack in the tile, and that was all she wanted to see. She didn’t want to look at anything, especially Parker.

“I’m happy,” she managed to choke out.

Finally Parker grabbed hold of her chin and directed her gaze to him while moving in front of her so she couldn’t see anything else. “Clancy,” Parker said painfully. “Why won’t you look at me? You can be honest with me.”

“I am happy,” she repeated. “O–Or I will be, at least. I think I’m just…shocked…right now.”

“Okay,” said Parker weakly. He was sad and disappointed to see Clancy without the same excitement he had, but he also understood where she was coming from, and he knew wouldn’t be able to change how she felt and when. “Do you want to be alone…?”

Parker couldn’t tell if Clancy registered his words. Instead, she just began to rattle off her own thoughts in a frenetic rant. “H–How are we supposed to do this? We don’t have the money or the resources to raise a baby. This house and environment is no place for a baby either. We can’t raise a baby in a home full of wanted, escaped prisoners. A–And I’ll have to find a doctor a–and, and…and I don’t know how we’re supposed to do this!”

“Shh,” consoled Parker. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his lap, stroking her hair lovingly. He kissed her head as he cradled her small form. “I know. But we’ll figure it out. I promise.”

“O–Okay,” she mustered with a nod. “But until we figure this out, can we not tell anyone else? Especially—”

“Especially my mother,” chuckled Parker. He didn’t quite know what it was about Clancy that his mother didn’t like. By now Parker was convinced that Clancy was just automatically wired to dislike Clancy simply because she was Parker’s girlfriend and she took Parker’s attention away from his mother.

Clancy pursed her lips to fight back a smile. She nodded. She then fought back a renewed sensation of nausea.

It wasn’t the nausea of morning sickness, though; this was a different kind of sickness—one of a deep and unsettling anxiety. A part of her was happy. Truly. Despite her lack of showing it. She was happy to have a baby and to have a new opportunity for a family in her life.

So it wasn’t the baby at all that subdued her happiness. It was who she was having the baby with. She loved Parker; she did. But she had spent the past several months doubting her love for Parker and her reasoning for being with him. If she was unsure about being with him even just as a boyfriend, then she certainly knew that starting a family with him in the midst of these doubts was not in her—or the baby’s—best interests.

She wanted this baby. But one day, when her child was old enough to learn and understand the ways of the world, would the child ask why they lived the way they did—if they were still living in secret with Parker and the Death Eaters, that is. Would the child ask where their father was if Parker were to get imprisoned or worse? How would she one day explain to her child that their father had been a bloodthirsty sociopath? Would Parker inflict his hate for the Potters—or anyone for that matter—onto their child? Or worse, what if their child were just as sociopathic, bloodthirsty, and driven by hate as Parker was?

That she couldn’t handle.

Harry, James, and the others spent the next several weeks carefully laying out their plan. When James wasn’t at work at the Department of Mysteries, he was with his father putting his heart and soul into Parker Namken’s takedown. Although the bulk of the planning had to be left to Harry and the Aurors in order to follow Ministry regulations and keep everything as legal as possible, James still played a critical role in it all, and he was pleased at how inclusive his father was being with the whole thing.

James helped mostly by watching Parker’s every move. When he wasn’t working, eating, or sleeping, he was watching Parker and learning his enemy’s routine inside and out. James felt as if he had learned the interior of the safehouse down to every last detail, yet he had no inclination as to where it truly was. He watched Parker move through the house and interact with the Death Eaters until finally James had a total headcount of 12. He watched Parker interact with Clancy, and he retreated from the depths of Parker’s mind when they began anything sexual. He also watched Parker with his mother as they both tried to figure out what his second horcrux could possibly be housed in. In watching them, James was pleased to learn that they were no closer to discovering that James was the horcrux than they were when they first realized the second horcrux had already been made. Their discussions and attempts were all for naught as they tried to determine if a horcrux resided in the late Elias Namken’s watch or any of Elias’ or Parker’s other items—even down to the very belt Parker had worn that day at Azkaban.

They had no idea. And that was the best piece of news they could hope for. James was still their secret weapon, although James and Harry still weren’t sure how such a “weapon” could be utilized when it came to destroying Parker, if the destruction of Parker meant the very destruction of James himself.

In watching them, they had taken their time to construct a careful and precise plan. Harry would enlist several Aurors for an ambush at the safehouse—an ambush that would all begin with one person: Clancy. She would be the catalyst in Parker’s final fight.

Over the several weeks the Potters had taken to learn Parker’s life inside and out, Clancy had learned that she was indeed pregnant, and Parker and Clancy had spent several conversations discussing how Clancy and the baby would receive the proper care they both needed when their situation was so precarious. Although they had not figured out the exact details of how they would manage having a family together, they at least knew where to start. And so, with Parker’s help and permission, Clancy left the confines of their secluded home to schedule an appointment with her doctor. When she returned, James made sure to be looking through Parker’s eyes to discover when the appointment had been scheduled for and where the doctor was located. In watching them, James had also learned that Parker would lift the anti-apparation enchantments during that period of time for Clancy’s appointment.

The appointment had been scheduled for three days out. It was early Monday morning, and the appointment had been scheduled for late Thursday afternoon. So James, Harry, and the Aurors had three more days to perfect their plan before they would finally put it into action and take down Parker for good.

They spent the next three days going over every little detail of their plan and preparing for every possibility. They knew where to find Clancy and when. As the house was unplottable, she was the key to getting to the house and to Parker, and James would have a pivotal role in getting Clancy to take him to the house—a task he knew would be nearly impossible but that he would have to do no matter the cost. They knew how James would communicate with Harry and the rest of the Aurors upon arriving at the house, and they knew what they had to do after the Aurors arrived. They would have to get the locket from Clancy’s neck—another objective James had been tasked with—and then they would have to destroy it, which they would do with a basilisk fang pulled from the skeleton of the basilisk still rotting in the Chamber of Secrets beneath Hogwarts. Teddy and Dominique themselves had gone down into the Chamber at Harry’s request to fetch the fang and had then owled it to Harry.

Truly, the only part of the plan still in flux was how they would handle the horcrux inside of James. Their goal of this entire operation was to take Parker down—for good. After some deep discussion between James and his father and amongst Harry and other Ministry officials, they had come to the conclusion that “taking him down for good” could only end two ways: one, captured and given the Kiss or two, in his death. If the latter were to happen and for Parker to truly be dead and gone, his horcruxes would have to be destroyed. Which meant James. And they didn’t know how to handle that.

It was the night before the mission, and Harry, James, and the Aurors had just wrapped up their last session to review their plan. Harry had dismissed the Aurors for the evening, leaving only Harry and James left. They had retreated to Harry’s office in silence to gather a few things for the evening. As Harry shuffled through the papers on his desk, James, gnawing the nail of his thumb in silence, dropped into one of the arm chairs opposite Harry’s desk.

Harry watched him carefully out the corner of his eye, pursing his lips as he debated whether or not to disturb him. Finally, he did. “You okay, son…?”

“Yeah,” said James in a quiet and empty voice. “I’m fine…”

“That was just about the least convincing ‘I’m fine’ I’ve ever heard. What’s wrong?” urged Harry, trying to chuckle lightheartedly and seem encouraging. He stopped moving about his desk to lean against it in front of James.

When James hardly seemed to register his words and only continued to stare emptily into space while chewing on his thumb, Harry reached out and put a hand on his knee. “Hey…” he whispered sadly. “Look at me.”

Slowly, James responded. He raised his head to meet his father’s eyes.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked again as he gave his knee a squeeze of reassurance.

“Is this how you feel before your missions..?” he asked under his breath. “Every time you leave on one of your missions. Is this what you go through?”

Harry managed a sad smile and retracted his hand from James’ knee. He dropped into the empty arm chair next to James and rang his hands together. “No,” he admitted. “Not usually. There’s not usually so much at stake. This time it’s different. But it’s okay to feel this way, James. It’s okay to be scared.”

“I’m not scared,” whispered James. “I’m terrified.”

“I am, too,” admitted Harry with a nod.

“What if…” stuttered James, his voice faltering as he couldn’t muster the courage to ask the question. He had so many thoughts and concerns about how this plan would be executed. So much of the plan depended on James getting Clancy to do what they needed, and then there was of course the horcrux. “What if I…If we can’t capture Parker for the kiss, then we have to kill him. This needs to end, so I know we’ll have to kill him if we don’t have any other choice. But for him to die, that part of him inside me has to die, too…”

Harry fell into sullen silence. He leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees, his hands tightly clasped. “We don’t know that,” he argued softly. “Maybe there’s a third option.”

“What do you mean? There isn’t a third option. We’ve been over this.”

“For him to truly die, the horcrux inside you has to be destroyed, yes, but when all of this was me…When I was a baby, Voldemort was ultimately vanquished even though a part of him lived inside me. He lived for years as this…inhuman thing. Suppose we can destroy the other horcrux and use the Killing Curse on Parker without destroying the horcrux in you? Perhaps it would do the same thing to Parker? Render him a helpless being. And perhaps we could capture and imprison what’s left of him—without ever putting you in danger.”

“Suppose that works,” suggested James as he thought on it. “Suppose that actually works and we capture what’s left of Parker, but what does that mean for me, though? Am I just supposed to live the rest of my life with him inside me? And it’s like you said when you first told me about this horcrux—what does that mean for me when I grow old? Can I even die of old age with this horcrux inside me? Can I die at all? Will I just live forever and wither away until I’m nothing more than the creature Parker turns into?!”

Harry raised his hands in defense. He suddenly stood and shook his head. “I don’t know!” blurted Harry harshly, overwhelmed with the sudden onslaught of questions from James. “I don’t know, James!”

Harry and James both knew these were questions that had to be asked, though. And in truth, they should have been asked long ago. They were questions that had surely been at the forefront of both their minds but had both been too afraid of asking. But now the time had come for the attack, and they still hadn’t addressed these questions. They hadn’t even mentioned them aloud once, as if speaking of them would breathe certain life into them and as if their silence on them would keep their concerns from becoming real.

“I wish I had the answers, James!” groaned Harry in frustration. He was mainly angry with himself for ignoring the questions; he knew he shouldn’t lash out at James; he knew it was only his method of coping with the level of uncertainty in all this. “Okay?! I wish I knew! But I don’t! All I do know, though, is that you are my son, and I have to protect you. And to protect you…Hell, I don’t even know how to protect you in all this.”

“You don’t have to protect me,” said James weakly, shaking his head as he watched his father pace about the office. “I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t need you to protect me.”

Harry actually chuckled, and he ceased his pacing and came to stand by James’ side. He dropped his hand to let it rest on James’ shoulder, and his voice softened. “I know you’re not a kid anymore, and I know you can take care of yourself. That’s not what this is about. Maybe when you have children of your own you’ll understand. I’m your father, James. When it comes to your children, you’ll do anything for them. Anything to keep them safe. To keep them alive. I already failed one of my sons…”

Harry’s grip tightened on James’ shoulder at the mention of Al.

“The pain of losing one of your children. It never goes away; it follows you. I suspect it’ll follow me to my grave—this feeling of pain and failure…I failed your brother, James. I can’t fail you, too.”

“Dad, you could never fail me,” said James. “You can’t fail me if it’s my choice. Isn’t it my life? And I’m the one who will have to face living forever if this horcrux isn’t destroyed. I’m the one who will have to live through watching everyone I love eventually die.”

“This is uncharted territory. We don’t know what would happen,” Harry argued back. He knew where James was going in all this. James didn’t want to live forever to see all his loved ones eventually die, and Harry understood that. So in James’ mind, he was only seeing one option in all of this: letting Parker destroy that part of him. And while Harry knew it was the best option to ensure Parker’s true death and James’ mortality, Harry didn’t think he could willingly let James walk into his death tomorrow.

“We do know one thing, though,” James spoke up again. “When you gave yourself up to Voldemort, he destroyed that part of himself. And you lived.”

Harry moved in front of James again and dropped to his knees desperately. “We can’t just assume that what I went through and what happened to me will be the same for you. Yes, I came back. But who is to say that you would too?!”

“I’d have to try, though,” whispered James. “Dad, it’s my life. I couldn’t live knowing I may never die. I couldn’t live if it meant watching you, mom, Norah, Lily—everyone!—die. Tomorrow with Parker…I’ll have to try, Dad.”

Tears filled Harry’s eyes, and he shook his head desperately. “No. James, please. You may not come back.”

“You can’t ask this of me, Dad,” choked James through tears. He was suddenly overwhelmed by an alarming number of emotions he didn’t realize he had been suppressing for so many months. All of these thoughts and fears had crossed his mind over the last few months, yet he had ignored them and forced him to the back of his mind because he couldn’t bear to even entertain the idea that he may have to one day willingly die for the sake of killing Parker. But now he understood and accepted that it may be their only option. “You can’t ask me to not try.”

“Yes, I can!” argued Harry fiercely. “As your father, I can. I can ask you to please let us try to capture him to give him the Kiss. I can ask you to please stay out of harm’s way tomorrow. I can ask you to please not give yourself up to Parker. Please James. We’ll find another way. You will have a finite life that will end when you are old, after you’ve lived a full life. You don’t have to watch everyone you care about die. If we can just get through tomorrow, we can find another way to get rid of this horcrux inside you—after Parker is dealt with. Please. Can you promise me that?”

“But isn’t that selfish?” questioned James, bewildered that his father—a man who was so well-known for his selfless deeds—could ask something so selfish of him.

“So what if it’s selfish?!” blurted Harry. “So what?! I’ve tried to be selfless my entire life, but I’m your father. When it comes to your life, aren’t I allowed to be a little selfish?”

James closed his eyes to suppress his tears, comforted by his father’s desire to keep him safe but knowing deep down that it was wrong of him to ask so much of him. James didn’t want to live forever, but this was also about much more than that. This was about Parker, too. Suppose things went wrong tomorrow and their only option was to kill him. To do so, James would have to make the necessary sacrifice. If it took James’ sacrifice to take Parker down, then to keep his family safe, James would do what was necessary.

James shook his head even as Harry squeezed his knee and reached for his cheek. “You can’t ask this of me,” he groaned in protest, saying it over and over. “You can’t ask this of me. You can’t. You have to let me do this. If it comes down to it. You have to, Dad.”

“I don’t,” Harry refused. He shook his head and blinked back his tears. “What kind of father would I be if I let you walk to your death? I can’t let you do this. Let me find another way. Trust me. Please. I know there has to be another way.”

Even as James tried to convince him, Harry knew James was right. He knew it was wrong of him to ask this of James when so much depended on destroying the horcrux. Parker posed too large a risk to the Potters to continue to let him live or walk free, and so by asking James to continue living with the horcrux inside him, Harry knew he also ran the risk of allowing Parker to further harm his family. But Harry had lost Albus. He knew what it was like to lose a child, and he couldn’t lose another. He didn’t think he had the strength to live through the heartbreak of losing another child. And although Harry did come back after Voldemort destroyed his own horcrux, who knew if that would be how it happened for James as well? Who was to say that what happened to Harry wasn’t a fluke?

Harry couldn’t run that risk. He had to believe that there was another option.

“Let’s compromise,” managed Harry through tears. “There has to be another way. We just need the time to find it. So tomorrow, we capture Parker and imprison him. Then we find a way to destroy the horcrux inside of you that ensures your safety. After we’ve exhausted all resources and all options possible, if we can’t find another way, then—and only then—we go to Parker in whatever prison he’s in and have him destroy it himself. Can you agree to that?”

Pursing his lips, James thought on it for several moments before nodding. “I can agree to that.”

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