Chapter 4 : The End is Here
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"I cannot believe you, Potter! To make me leave and then to just take off like that. I was worried sick, I searched everywhere for you! I came here twice just in case I missed you! How could you do that, James?"
He held up a hand, a silent, desperate plea for her to stop, hoping the throbbing headache would stop as well. It didn't. "I'm sorry, Kate. I was just scared; something's wrong and magic isn't healing me and it just all became too much in that room, like it was closing in on me. I just had to get some air, then I started to wander around and I lost track of time. I came straight here as soon as I realized I'd left you, because I knew you'd come. I'm so sorry."
The lie left a horrible taste in James' mouth; he couldn't remember ever lying to Kate before. But he knew it was the right thing to keep what was happening from her; she'd never understand that he was really dying, that Death was killing him. She'd try to be rational, try to help. Only James knew what he had to do. He had a plan.
And a book.
The sincerity of his apology, though his real reason for apologizing was left unsaid, showed and that was what Kate believed. She started to calm, her tears subsiding, and she crouched down to floor, eye-level with him.
"You had me so worried, Jamie. And your parents," she added. "I'm going to floo call them, tell them you're safe. They expect to see you by tomorrow or they're coming for you themselves."
"Okay," James whispered, the pain relief finally kicking in and making him drowsy.
"That's it?" she asked. "No arguing? No talk about them worrying for nothing? Just an okay?" He nodded and Kate started to look scared again; she put her hand on his head and he winced when she checked his ribs. "Are you sick, James?"
But he'd already fallen asleep.
James woke up worse than when he'd fallen asleep; he almost collapsed onto his knees trying to sit up, he suspected another rib had cracked, and the thumping headache had gotten much worse, like his skull was compressing, pushing against his brain. He fractured his skull when he fell off of his broom, he remembered Death telling him. He'd broken his ribs and fractured his skull the first time and they'd happened now; soon enough other bones would break, he knew. Then -
James' eyes when to the clock and he remembered. The game had started at noon amd they'd been playing for a couple of hours before the accident, he was sure. It was almost nine am now; James figured he had about five hours before a piece of his rib broke off and pierced his heart. He had about five hours to say good-bye before he died.
"What a way to go," he whispered to the clock. And for the first time, he regretted playing the game he used to love so much.
"God, James! Sit down. You look like hell!" Kate yelled at him, putting her coffee down to grab his arms.
"I'm fine," he said, trying not to let his voice waver. She didn't look convinced, but he managed, with great difficulty, to stand up straight and only keep a light grip on his chest. She couldn't call him out for that when she herself had heard what the healer had said and she let him go relucantly.
"You're sure you're okay?"
"Yes. I'm going to go see my parents," he told her, going to the fireplace. He had to see them now; he needed time to see Death and he didn't want them to come looking for him. He also didn't want Kate to see.
Kate didn't stop him; she followed him, helped him, stopped him from falling on his face. His mother dropped her toast when she saw him and hugged him gently, keeping her hands on his arms; the healer and Kate must have told her and his dad. He was glad.
"Oh, James, we were so worried when Kate said you were gone," she whispered.
"I'm sorry, I just needed some air. I'm fine."
Ginny stepped back. "Yes, Kate said last night." She held him, examined him. "You don't look okay, James."
"It's just a little pain, I have stuff from the healer; it'll just take a while." He didn't mention that he hadn't taken any today; he knew it wasn't going to work and hadn't bothered. The pain was there either way. "Where's Dad?"
"I'm here," Harry said, stepping inside and taking his turn to hug James. "Don't you ever just take off again."
"I won't, I promise."
He and Kate stayed until lunch, keeping the conversation light and easy; Al wanted a tattoo (they'd said no, but he probably wasn't going to listen), Lily had a new boyfriend (they'd said nothing, it wasn't worth it). He managed a few bites of the sandwich he'd been made before he pushed it away and stood up. They followed him to the fireplace and hugged him again.
"You call soon," Ginny said. "And I'll see you at work if you're well enough."
"I promise," James said again, feeling as empty as he knew the words were. "I love you both, you know that."
"Of course we do," Harry answered, frowning. "We love you, too, James."
"You'd better," he joked sadly. "I'm one of a kind, me. Good bye."
"See you soon, darling."
Kate grabbed his arm the moment they were back in his apartment. "What was that all about? The way you spoke? The way you looked at them? Like it was final."
"I don't know what you mean," he lied, inwardly wincing because she'd seen right through it. Had his parents? "I'm just tired, Kate. Exhausted actually. Fingers crossed the pain will be gone when I wake," he told her, getting back on the couch.
"Fingers crossed. I hate this, but I told my mum the other day that I'd see her today and I have that Quidditch story to finish, so I have to go. But I will be back later."
"I'll see you soon," he smiled. In his head, he was screaming. Kate was going to be the one who found him if he didn't think of something; he couldn't put her through that.
"See you soon."
James watched her leave, getting up the moment he was sure she was at the stairs, and grabbed the book from his desk. Using the desk for support, James looked through it until he found the page Hugo had shown him. Magic had been simpler when these spells had been written; there was no complicated ritual to get through, he didn't need anything except the incantation written down. It was in an old language, maybe Latin, and he didn't understand it. But he could read it and he hoped that was enough.
He tried three times before he was sure he'd gotten the spell right, then he waited and he waited. He tried not to be disappointed when ten minutes passed and nothing happened; Hugo had said that he wasn't sure it would even work. James sighed, looking down at the book; there was nothing else he could do. He was going to die in an hour and half.
"Well, well, has it been a year already James?"
James jumped, crying out when the move caused pain to shoot right through him, and looked up. She looked exactly as she had last year, as he remembered in his dreams. Only this time, she wasn't pale like the room, or surrounded by a bright white light. She looked tanned and her clothes were all black.
She was Death.
"Where did you get that book, James?" she asked, frowning.
"Friends in high places," he answered, shutting it. No way was he going to give her Hugo's name. "So nice of you to come."
"You called me; it seemed rude not to," she smiled. It didn't reach her eyes and she looked angry by the thought of being here. James knew why quickly. She'd been summoned; she had no choice. It seemed Death still had a boss, even if that boss was just a centuries old book. "You're not playing by the rules, James. I told you what was going to happen when you took the deal; you can't back out now. I'll just make dying that much worse."
"You can't blame a guy for trying," he shrugged. "So, we're not even going to talk about it?"
"Nope. Why would I want to? I'm about to claim a Potter." This time her smile did reach her eyes. "James Senior wanted to stay with his wife and Harry managed to stay here, that boy always finds a loophole, but not you. You're stuck."
"I'm just unlucky, I guess," James whispered.
He didn't get a chance to say more; the phone rang and he groaned, letting the machine get it. It was probably one of his Dursley cousins, wanting something. They only called when they wanted something. But it wasn't, it was Kate.
"Hey, James, it's me. I hope you're okay; you're probably asleep now actually. Anyway, I forgot my bag and it's got my work in, so I'm coming back over. I'm around the corner now and luckily my key was in my pocket. I'll be in and out, this message to just let you know that I'm coming. See you in a minute."
"Nice girl, your Kate. She won't be coming, though. Not if the car speeding past has anything to do with it."
"How do you know that?"
"Im Death, I know all. Especially the one's close to death. Her future's hazy; she might survive it, if that helps."
With effort, James got to the window in time to just about see Kate coming their way. On the other side, he saw the car. James altered his plan; he'd just have to give Death his final message another way. Running past, ignoring the pain, James made his way outside. He got there just as Kate was crossing the road.
"You got my message?" she called over.
The car turned the corner, too fast for Kate to be warned. He ran, screaming her name in warning, and pushed her out of the way.
The impact didn't hurt like he'd expected. James rolled along the road, stopping on his back by the curb. The pain was gone, too, and Death was kneeling down watching him.
"You brave fool," she muttered appreciatively, looking across from them. James watched Kate get up and run to the body in the road, begging him to wake up. It was him, he realized. That was why the pain was gone; he must have died instantly. "To make that sacrifice. I almost want to give you back," she said, holding out a hand.
James took it and pulled himself up, dropping it quickly. "Am I...?"
"You're not a ghost."
James kept his eyes on his friend, who was calling for help. "But she can't see me."
"That doesn't make you a ghost." Death held up her arms. "Welcome to Reaperland. But why did you do it?"
"You said I had to die today, you said it was going to happen in the same way, but you didn't say I couldn't change it," James said, curious as to what 'Reaperland' meant. "I go on my own terms, not yours. I summoned you, so that you could see that."
"You've surprised me, James, that doesn't happen often."
Death let him stay with Kate, with his parents when they came to the hospital, long enough for him to know that they knew Kate's story, that only Hugo would know what could have happened. He hoped Hugo would be proud; a deal hadn't killed him, he'd saved a friend. Hugo couldn't hate him for something he'd have done himself. And he was proud to have gone this way.
"I'm sorry this happened to you," Death said and she looked so uncomfortable that he knew she'd never apologized before.
But why would she? Death was a natural part of life to her. He had disrupted that natural balance when he'd made that deal and now they'd set it right.
He shrugged. "I should never have made that deal. You can't hide from Death."
"Not when you've made a deal, no. But I'll tell you a story about a man who did manage to hide once," she grimaced. "I want my clock back one day."
Death smiled and gestured for him to follow. James took one last look at his family, then started walking. The end was finally here.
He hoped the new beginning wasn't so bad.
A/N: Hey, guys. I bet you can guess who the man who hid from Death is and the cloak. ;)
One chapter left. It'll be up soon. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Let me know what you think; about James, his death, anything. :)
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