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“James…” whispered Harry in shock. He was elated to see his son standing before him, alive and—for the most part—unharmed. He found his feet rooted to the ground, despite how badly he wished to run over to him and take him into his arms. He blinked back his tears of joy. “You came back.”

James nodded, his expression blank and his eyes still resting on Parker’s body. His eyes were open and staring up at the sky, empty and devoid of all signs of life. A body that had once held so much cruelty and hatred was finally nothing more than what it appeared to be: a body. A body that could no longer harm them. And the body of a nineteen-year-old who had taken too many turns down the wrong path.

“He had suffered enough,” stated James again without prompt. He pursed his lips and looked at the scene around them.

Harry felt himself grow uneasy as he watched his son; he seemed different. He had a different aura about him; he seemed more contemplative and more composed. He was levelheaded in that moment. There was no trace of the anger that once fueled his every waking moment.

“What happened here…?” he asked calmly in a whisper. His eyes came to rest of Clancy, lifeless and unmoving on the ground beside a dead Pansy Namken.

Harry willed himself to move and approached his son. He didn’t know why he moved so gingerly as he grew closer to James. He almost expected the son he had grown accustomed to—the one who would lash out in anger without a moment’s notice—to return without warning.

When Harry reached him, though, he was still as calm and composed as he was when Harry had first laid eyes on him. He stood before him, looking deep into his eyes and appraising his expression. James’ eyes swam with the desire to know the truth of what had happened in his absence. But Harry noticed something different there, too. This demeanor was more than just James without Parker; this wasn’t who he was or who he had been before he ever had the horcrux. This was only a shade of James, and Harry wanted the rest of him back.

He reached out and cupped his face between his hands. He stroked his high cheekbones with his thumbs as he shed a few tears. “Jamie, hey,” he said quietly. “You’re back. It’s over. It’s me. You can relax…”

James blinked a few times and swallowed. “I know,” he said calmly, and then it clicked with him why his father was redirecting his attention in such a way. He had died and had once again left his father thinking he would never return to him. And here he was, back from the grave. His father was allowed to savor such a moment. James managed a smile then and placed his hands on Harry’s shoulders. “I’m here, Dad. I came back.”

“Thank god,” breathed Harry in an airy whisper as he finally recognized his son. He pulled him into his embrace and held him tightly, burying his face into his neck. His tears dampened James’ neck, and James held onto him as further reassurance.

“I’m here,” he encouraged, and he sighed. He clung to him tightly, grateful to be with him again and just taking in that feeling. He rubbed his father’s back reassuringly.

“Jamie!” a third voice cried out.

Knowing her voice by heart, James pulled away from Harry to see her. Norah stumbled to her feet, still pressing a hand to her split face and gashed chest. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she rushed to him and threw her arms about his neck.

James caught her apprehensively, wanting to hold her tight but to also inspect her injuries. He embraced her delicately as she grabbed at the hair at the back of his neck and cried against him. He turned his head into her neck and closed his eyes as he breathed her in.

“I thought we lost you,” she sobbed into him. “I…I was starting to think you weren’t coming back.”

He kissed her cheek, his arms wishing to forever feel her against him. “I’m here now,” he breathed reassuringly, “and I’m not going anywhere.”

He pulled away from her then to make sure she was all right. He raised a hand to appraise her wounds, but she waved his hand away. “I’m fine,” she said dismissively. “I’ll be fine.”

James lovingly kissed her forehead as he accepted her dismissal. He then turned back to his father, keeping a protective arm around her waist and pulling her into his side, and he looked to the scene around them. He grew still again as his eyes landed on Clancy’s body.

“Someone tell me what happened…” he muttered quietly again, his throat clenching with pain at seeing her lifeless form. Before Harry could respond, James released Norah and slowly moved to Clancy’s body. He approached her with uncertainty until he reached her and knelt beside her. James looked back to Harry expectantly, still awaiting his response.

Harry pursed his lips. James could sense his hesitation and recognized that Harry didn’t want to tell him what had happened, so James grit his teeth and said firmly, “Tell me what happened.”

Apprehensively, Harry exhaled and tiredly rubbed his eyes. “James…” he began quietly, keeping his voice calm and his tone soothing as to trigger a rise out of him. “We don’t have to discuss this now. We can talk about this at home.”

“Tell me what happened!” urged James again, although his voice was still nothing more than an impassioned demand. They all knew that, if the horcrux inside him hadn’t been destroyed, the James they had grown accustomed to would be yelling in anger by now.

Harry sucked in a deep breath and approached him slowly, accepting that James wasn’t going to let this go. “It all happened so fast. After you…were gone…Norah and I were fighting Pansy and Parker. The two of us could have finished it, but then Pansy hurt Norah. Clancy was still unconscious, then she woke up and…Before any of us could notice, she…She must have found the basilisk fang in your pocket. She destroyed the horcrux in the locket.”

“What?” asked James, aghast. He looked back and forth between Harry and her body. With an uneasy hand, he reached out and moved the black tendrils that covered her face. “Clancy destroyed it?”

“She did. She must have had a change of heart,” answered Harry. “But that was when it all went wrong…Parker was hurting. He knew what had happened, and when Pansy realized what had happened too, she killed Clancy. Then Parker…I still can’t believe it. He must have been so…so blinded by his anger at his mother and so deeply hurt by Clancy’s death and the baby’s death that he…”

Harry faltered, choking on his words and clamping a hand to his mouth. He fiercely swiped at his eyes, surprised to find himself overcome with emotion. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t help but think of himself as a parent; it was nearly impossible to imagine one of his children ever holding such a rage against him that they would actually kill their own parent. Just the thought of it ebbed at a piece of his heart.

James finished for him, understanding that Harry couldn’t manage it. “Holy…No…He killed his mother.”

Harry willed himself to keep his composure and nodded. “He did. Without hesitation, without thinking. But after the fact, he regretted it. As you saw. He was begging for death.”

“A–And I did it…I killed him,” breathed James in a panic. He began to tremble beside Clancy’s body.

Harry read the fear on his face. He quickly went to James’ side and clasped his face between his hands. “Stop. Don’t. Not here, not now. Don’t be afraid of what you did.”

“But I murdered him. Won’t I…?”

Harry shook his head. “Stop,” he said again. “Don’t be afraid. Remember, Hermione made Parker Undesireable No. 1 and issued a kill-on-sight order. You can’t be convicted for what you did.”

Releasing a shaking breath, James nodded in relief.

“Now,” reassured Harry, “we can talk more at home. As Head Auror, I have a lot I need to take care of. I have to get to the Ministry to imprison the captured Death Eaters and follow the proper protocols for the bodies of the deceased.”

At the mention of the deceased, James looked back to Clancy’s body and suddenly became alarmed. “What will you do with Clancy’s body? She deserves more! You can’t just take her body with the others.”

Harry pursed his lips. “James…” he began sadly. “I’m sorry, but I have a protocol for casualties and collateral that I must follow. Bodies are taken to St. Mungo’s for families to then identify and collect. I–I’m sorry, but my hands are tied.”

“Collateral damage?!” blurted James. “She is not collateral damage. Please. Make an exception. Her only family is her grandmother. I should tell her.”

As he finished his plea, he looked carefully to Norah to read her expression, hopeful that she wouldn’t be bothered by his desire to do this himself. He was relieved to find her just looking on with an expression of admiration. She was clearly admiring his passion on the matter and was not bothered in the least.

Harry, though, was less pleased. “James, you’ve just come back. You don’t need to do that. This is my job. Let me.”

“No,” argued James. “It needs to be me. I need to be the one to tell her.”

“Very well, but at least wait until tomorrow! You’ve just died and come back. Rest tonight, and I can go with you to tell her tomorrow.”

After several moments of contemplative thought, James finally agreed. “Fine. Tomorrow.”

“Very well,” agreed Harry. He looked back to Briggs and the other Aurors still keeping a close eye on the captured Death Eaters. “Briggs, will you come with me to St. Mungo’s to handle the rest of the casualties? And Julia, please return to the Ministry and facilitate the confinement of escaped Azkaban prisoners. I’ll be there shortly.”

Briggs and Julia both nodded and began to move about to follow their respective orders. Harry then turned to Norah and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Why don’t you go on to St. Mungo’s to have those injuries taken care of, all right? Go on home when you’re done. This may take us awhile, and I don’t want you to have to wait on us.”

Norah nodded and embraced Harry before moving to James and giving him a parting kiss as he knelt by Clancy’s body. She disappeared with a crack, and Harry turned back to James. “If you insist on being a part of this, I’ll need you to follow my orders very carefully, even though they may be unpleasant.”

James quietly agreed, placing a firm hand on Clancy’s still shoulder.

Harry then turned to look around. Julia had quickly obeyed her orders and was beginning to ferry the captured Death Eaters with the help of the other Aurors. As they began to move, Harry began to count the dead. Amongst them were Parker, Pansy, Clancy, and, from what Harry could see, three Aurors.

“I count six,” Harry said to Briggs in total. “Will you take two and show James the way? I’ll take the remaining two and scan the area to make sure we haven’t left any behind. Then I’ll meet you there.”

Briggs agreed, turning to levitate two of the bodies of deceased Aurors to his side. When the bodies reached his side, he waited patiently for Harry and James to be ready.

Harry turned back to his son. “I’ll need you to take Clancy’s body and another. Can you do that? I’ll take Parker and Pansy’s bodies.”

James swallowed uneasily and nodded. He stood, turning until he spotted the body of the other fallen Auror. He raised his wand and felt his throat catch as he said, “Wingardium Leviosa.

The Auror’s body slowly rose and James directed the body to his side. When it reached him, James reached out to touch his arm and knelt to grasp Clancy’s shoulder as well. When he had a firm hold of the bodies on either side of him, Briggs told him at which entrance of St. Mungo’s to meet him, and they each disapparated with the four bodies in tow.

When Julia, the other Aurors, and captured Death Eaters had disappeared, Harry was the only living soul left, and somberly, he turned to the last two bodies. He went to stand beside them, Parker on one side and Pansy on the other.

To make sure no body they perhaps didn’t know about would be left behind, Harry raised his wand. “Homenum Revelio.

When nothing happened, he knew they had collected all the bodies. So, he sucked in an uneasy breath and knelt down. He placed a hand on Pansy’s shoulder and then on Parker’s, still terrified to touch him as if doing so would bring him back to life. It was still so surreal that he was truly gone; it hadn’t quite registered with him yet.

He disapparated and emerged at the entrance of St. Mungo’s that was seldom talked about and never frequented on joyous occasions: the morgue. There, Harry joined Briggs and James, where they worked and communicated with the morticians to properly deliver the bodies of the deceased. Harry first helped James, who seemed to be a little shell-shocked to be in such a place under such circumstances, but he remained quietly by Clancy’s side through it all as they placed her body delicately on a table. Then came the hard part; the mortician delicately asked to relay any and all information as to the cause and circumstances of the death.

Harry was proud of his son and deeply admired James when he insisted on handling all communication. He kept a firm hand on Clancy’s shoulder as if its presence on her could soothe her in whatever afterlife she may have been in. James kept himself calm and collected and managed to hold back his tears as he spoke, relaying her name and personal details until the mortician could locate her medical records. From there, he went on to explain the cause of death, careful to specify that she had been pregnant. And when they were done, the mortician asked for preferences on how the family should be notified, to which James vehemently stated he would handle it personally the following day and that her grandmother would likely be by to collect her body.

When all of Clancy’s matters were tended to, Harry pulled James aside. “I’m proud of you, but I can handle this from here. Why don’t you go get those wounds in your side taken care of and go on home? I should be home within a few hours, all right?”

Without a word, James turned and left the morgue, pressing a hand to his eyes as if it would hold back his tears. He did as his father instructed. He slowly meandered to the emergency ward of St. Mungo’s, having completely forgotten about his injuries before he had died. There, he was tended to and his wounds were healed, leaving behind only a few scars to carry with him. After, he went home, appearing on the doorstep of his family home as if in a trance after the day’s events.

Before he could open the door himself, his mother threw it open wildly and engulfed him into her arms. He cried in relief into his neck, clinging tightly to him. “Norah is here already. She told us what happened. I’m so glad you and your father are all right.”

He didn’t say a word. He didn’t really know what there was to say. He just stood there at the threshold of the home with his mother in his arms, holding her tightly and wishing he could be a small child once more seeking her comfort. He felt his tears leave his eyes and dampen his cheeks.

Finally, Ginny pulled away and led him inside, where Lily and Scorpius greeted him with relief. He hugged them each in grateful silence. Norah then emerged from the kitchen, her face and chest healed. Like James, the only trace of her injuries was from the thin red line of a scar across her face. She ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck and stifling her cries. He held her tightly, never wanting to let her go, but when he did, Ginny ushered him further inside.

“Any news on your father?”

“He’ll be home in an hour or two,” answered James.

“Good,” sighed Ginny. “There’s food in the kitchen, or—”

“Mum,” he interrupted, surprised with himself, “if you don’t mind, I…I need to shower. I…”

He faltered, unsure how to explain how he felt. It wasn’t that he felt dirty necessarily, although he was very aware that he was covered in dirt, ash, and caked blood, but it was that he could still smell the morgue on his skin—a sterile and empty smell, and with every breath, he felt as if he was back in that place, with Clancy’s body by his side. He wanted to wash away that smell and that feeling.

No one asked for him to continue, and he knew that no one would certainly ask him to do otherwise. Ginny simply nodded and motioned to the stairs. “O–Of course not, sweetie. Take your time. We’ll be down here when you’re ready for company.”

“Thanks,” he muttered solemnly and began to trek up the stairs. He stopped after two stairs, though, and turned back to Norah. He extended a hand, an offering to her, and then looked to his mother for permission.

He knew he didn’t need her permission. His parents obviously knew they lived together, but still, when James was under his parents’ roof, he wanted to respect their rules. His parents didn’t normally care if they were together alone, but it was the fact that his mother knew he would be showering that made him feel the need to ask her permission for Norah to come with him. Ginny, though, didn’t seem to care, considering the circumstances.

“Go on,” she encouraged quietly and she turned, guiding Lily and Scorpius from the foyer as well.

With a sad smile, Norah took his hand and let him lead her to his room. Even though he had moved into his own flat, his parents kept his room just as it had been when he lived there, and for that he was grateful. It was nice to have a second home still and to have a room with his parents when he needed it.

James closed the door gingerly behind them and then seemed to go still, as if he had used up all the energy he had for the day. He pressed his forehead to the door, unready to move.

Norah leaned into him, seeking his eyes. “You doing okay…?” she asked quietly.

He pursed his lips and just shook his head.

Understanding that he didn’t want to talk just yet and rather just wanted her company, she reached for his hand and ushered him into his bathroom. He followed weakly behind her and let her turn on the shower. Then, she silently slipped out of her clothes and stepped into the shower. She knew he wished to shower, but she didn’t want to pressure him or force him to move before he was ready, so she just stood under the water and rinsed the ash from her skin, knowing that he would join her when he was ready.

Shortly, he began to undress and followed her in. He let out a sigh as the warm water rushed over him. He let it patter against his back before turning into it and looking up into the stream to let the warm water wash the ash, blood, and tears from his face.

Norah let him just stand there and take it in, clearly savoring its warmth. When he began to run his hands through his hair and turn to face her, she stepped back into his arms and wrapped her arms around his waist. She pressed her chest to his stomach and let her hands rest above his bum.

His arms reflexively went around her and held her tight, and together, they stood under the warm rushing water. After several minutes, he seemed to have overcome his shocked state and slowly began to be someone she recognized again. He slowly pulled away from her when he had gathered himself and appraised her changed features—the scars across her chest and face.

He gingerly raised a hand and let his fingers trace along the harsh and jagged red line beginning above her right breast and continuing down and across her chest to end just above her left hip. She looked down as he did so, first at her own scar and then to his.

He had clearly been splinched upon arriving at the manor and had tried to heal himself, something she hadn’t even noticed until now. Expanding from the top of his abs and down to his hips was an intricate web of red scars.

She looked up to him just as he reached to take her face into his hands and stroke the scar across her face.

She flinched at his touch—not from the pain of it. In fact, she hadn’t felt any pain at all. But from shame and embarrassment at the change in her features. She winced, pulling her head from his grasp.

James dropped his hands weakly, knowing why she was bothered. “Don’t do that…” he softly demanded. It wasn’t a request; he wouldn’t let her be ashamed of her features. “Do you think I care? You’re beautiful. You always will be to me.”

She swallowed and took a calming breath before speaking. “I know…I’m sorry. The Healers reassured me it’ll get better with time, too. I’ll get used to it.”

He reached for her again, unwilling to let her pull away this time, but he avoided touching her face that time to avoid further bothering her or reminding her about it. He simply traced his fingers along her hips. When she settled into his embrace, he lowered his head to hers and pressed his lips comfortingly to hers.

She wrapped herself around him, and he held her tighter. He felt as if she were so close and yet so far away from him, and all he wanted was to feel every inch of her, to feel her warmth against him, to hear her voice, and to know that they would always be together and have one another.

Only when he was completely at loss for breath did he pull away. “I hope you know how much I love you,” he whispered.

She only smiled. She knew. Of course she knew how much, for her love matched his.

“And I hope you know that you can’t ever leave me like that again. You’re done nearly dying on me, do you understand?”

He actually chuckled. “I’m done. I promise. I’m here now. With you always.”

She smiled and raised herself up to kiss his cheek. Even though she was unsure if he was ready to talk about it yet, she broached the topic they had both clearly been trying to avoid: who he was and who he would be without Parker. “And how are you…How are you feeling?”

He was quiet for several moments, contemplative.

“Pure…” he answered. “I feel pure. Finally. Like I can be me again. Whoever that may be. I’m not sure. But I’m ready to find out.”

James and Norah rejoined the rest of the family a short while later after they had cleaned themselves up and felt rejuvenated from doing so. They ate the food Ginny had put out for them, not realizing how hungry they had been until they began to stuff their faces. Harry came home while they were eating and cleaned himself up as well before rejoining the family.

Then, when they were all home, clean, and well fed, they found themselves all sitting on the floor in front of a warm fire. James and Norah sat were leaning against an armchair near the fire, a blanket draped over their legs. James kept an arm wrapped around Norah’s waist as he clasped a warm mug of tea. Harry and Ginny sat together next to them, with Lily and Scorpius on the other side of them with their hands tightly clasped. They simply enjoyed their newfound peace and each other’s company over the crackling of the fire.

Harry finally broke the silence after several minutes. “I’m proud of you, James.”

James turned to look at him, looking into his father’s eyes as they glinted with the gold of the flames. “Proud…? I don’t understand.”

“I’m proud of what you did today. For handling everything the way you did. I wish I could have been as strong as you.”

“I wasn’t strong,” countered James. It was true; he hadn’t felt strong at all, and if he had seemed that way, it was only a façade.

Harry continued on, though. “You were. When Parker was…begging to die…I wouldn’t let him. I wanted him to feel pain. I’m embarrassed at myself…for how I reacted. I was mourning you and wanting to avenge you, and I was so affected by a man killing his own parent. I wanted him to pay…I’m embarrassed. I’m sorry. He wanted death, and I wouldn’t let him have it. I didn’t think he deserved that peace. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have given him what he wanted. I should have—”

“Killed him like I did…” James finished for him, faltering as he questioned his actions.

“Don’t do that to yourself. It would have been death or prison for him. You gave him what he wanted,” Harry encouraged again as the others looked on with deep interest.

“But I still killed a man,” he muttered, turning his head to stare into the fire. “I wanted him to suffer, too…Before I died. That was all I wanted him to do, but when I came back, I…I don’t know; I thought differently on the matter. When I came back and saw him, he was so tormented. He was in so much pain. And I didn’t want him to suffer anymore…”

Harry smiled sadly then. “And that’s why I’m proud of you,” he said calmly.

James pursed his lips and nodded. On the surface, he was bothered with what he had done, but deep down, he knew he shouldn’t have felt remorseful. He knew that, with time, he would accept what had happened.

So they fell into silence again. James took a long sip of his tea and swallowed, ready to share what he had been waiting to tell them all together. He had kept waiting for someone to ask him what had happened or to explain in some way what he had seen while he had been gone. But no one had, which he knew was likely because they didn’t want to pressure him to talk about it if he didn’t want to.

Without prompt, he said quietly, “I saw Albus…”

The surprise around the fire was suddenly palpable. He felt Norah tense from beside him, and she turned in his embrace to look at him. All the others grew still, whereas Ginny abruptly jumped from beside Harry and whipped around to face James.

“W–What?” she asked, at loss for words.

James nodded, trying to manage a smile. He was surprised with himself; just at the mention of Al, his vision had blurred. He swiped at his eyes to rid himself of his tears.

“He was there,” he began to explain, “while I was…dead.”

Harry and Ginny, and Lily and Scorpius, each looked to each other in shock and excitement before turning back to James to listen eagerly.

“I woke up in the middle of the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch. And Albus was there…Just waiting for me.”

“Of course…” breathed Scorpius as an epiphany struck him. “That prophecy you gave. You said he would come back to you.”

James smiled again. “I did. And he did. He was there. He was real. I could feel him, touch him. He…”

“And how was he?” questioned Ginny. She had grabbed hold of Harry’s arm and was squeezing tightly, clenching with all her might. Harry held her wrist in his grasp as well, their grip seeming to grow until they knew their son was okay. “Did he seem…”

“He was happy,” said James through his tears. He swiped at his eyes again. He didn’t know the last time he had said Albus was happy. He likely hadn’t said such a thing in four years. “He was himself again. He was better—if that makes any sense at all.”

“It does,” Lily said quietly, a twinge of relief and happiness shining through.

“We played Quidditch,” added James with a chuckle, looking into the fire with a smile as he remembered his last game of Quidditch with his brother. “It sounds silly—saying it outloud and considering what I was missing at the time…But it was just like old times. One last time. He even caught the snitch.”

Everyone around the fire began to smile and even chuckled.

James’ voice dwindled to just a mere whisper then. “It was the perfect goodbye…”

He looked down and dried his cheeks again.

The others grew somber again, and it was Scorpius who smiled and reassured him. “You got a chance to say goodbye again. Hold on to that.”

He knew Scorpius was right. James had been allowed to say goodbye to his brother again—a proper goodbye this time. That was more than anyone else had been given.

That was when James knew it was time to pass along Al’s last request. “He says hi. He wanted me to tell you that he loves you. All of you. And to not worry about him.”

Ginny wiggled into Harry’s side, gripping him tightly as they blinked back their tears. She stifled her cries and hid her face in Harry’s arm. Harry, though, turned to look at James, his eyes swimming with his tears. “Thank you, James, for sharing that with us.”

“He also said that he hasn’t been alone. Not once. I like to think that meant your parents, Dad. Sirius. Teddy’s parents. Uncle Fred. Everyone we’ve lost. And he’s never left our side.”

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