Tension gripped Harry's muscles as he moved deeper into the Nefarium Caves. He scanned the rock walls with the glowing tip of his wand, and wondered what lay in the darkness beyond his light.
"How much further?" he asked his counterpart.
"We still have a bit to go."
"And if we do find the wand, that lighter you have can destroy it?"
The other Harry nodded. "It's filled with Blancosflame. White flame created to destroy objects of dark magic. If it worked on the Wand Supreme on my world, it should work here as well. Of course, if we do destroy the wand I still won't be out of danger."
"What do you mean?"
The other Harry peered over his shoulder, grinning. "Running off to find the Wand Supreme without telling Pansy? I think I'd rather face Voldemort than a furious girlfriend."
"Yeah, well I wouldn't know what that's like."
Harry stopped, closed his eyes and grimaced. He couldn't believe those thoughts formed into words. He cursed this jealousy he had for his counterpart. Why couldn't he get rid of it?
Harry opened his eyes. His counterpart turned around, a concerned look on his face.
"I'm sorry." Harry shook his head. "It's just . . . stupid thoughts, really."
"Come on, out with it. If you can't talk to yourself who can you talk to?"
Harry managed a small grin. "Ever since you got here, I just feel . . . jealous."
"Jealous? Of me?"
"You have a girlfriend who adores you. I don't. You have a relative who actually loves you. I don't. Even with Voldemort around, you still act . . . I don't know. You just seem to deal with it better."
The corners of the other Harry's mouth twitched. "Thanks for making me sound like some perfect hero. But I'm not. Things weren't always great between me and Aunt Petunia. And as much as I love her, every day I wish it was my mum and dad who see me off on the Hogwarts Express, or send me letters, or fix me lunch, or one day see me get married."
"See, you can think beyond Voldemort. I can't."
"Because with everything's that's happened, I just have this feeling when I meet him for the last time, I'm not going to get out of it alive. I feel like it's pointless to make plans for the future."
The other Harry's face hardened. "Or you make plans for the future because it gives you something to fight for, something to live for. Every night, before I go to bed, I think of me and Pansy, years from now, married, living in some cottage, raising our children. When I was at the Ministry last year fighting Voldemort and his Death Eaters, that thought is what helped me fight him off when he tried to take possession of me."
He put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "You have the same burdens I do, but you can't let them rule your life. You have to make room for your hopes and desires. Otherwise, what are you fighting for?"
Harry sucked down a deep breath. God how he wanted to do that.
"It might be easier to think that way if I had someone to share a future with."
"There has to be someone you're interested in."
Harry chewed on his lip. He'd kept these feelings to himself for so long . . .
If you can't talk to yourself, who can you talk to?
"G . . . Ginny."
The other Harry's eyes widened. "Ginny Weasley? Seriously?"
"I don't know. She's Ron's sister. And she's with Dean, and he's a good friend. But every time I look at her I . . ."
After a few seconds of silence the other Harry shook his head. "What is it with us and girls who wind up in Slytherin on other worlds?"
A rumble started in Harry's stomach and rolled up his throat until it burst out of his mouth in laughter. Holding his stomach, he looked at his counterpart, who was also laughing. All the jealousy he'd felt toward him evaporated.
"Come on." The other Harry patted him on the back. "We can sort out your pathetic love life later. Right now let's find the Wand Supreme."
Dumbledore groaned, trying to keep his frustration at bay. He and the other professors had been at it for hours. So far none of them had been able to open the portal that transported the alternate Harry, Ron and Pansy to this world.
"I think we're ready to give it a go, Headmaster," announced Sinistra, who was working on combining a port key with a Diversus Cube to open the portal.
"Then let's try . . .
A bright flash cut off Dumbledore's words. He and the other professors turned to the middle of the Great Hall. A fissure of white light hung above the floor. Moments later a robed figure with long gray hair and a beard stepped out of it. Dumbledore watched this mirror image of himself widen his eyes behind his glasses and slowly gaze at the professors.
"It appears we were right," said the other Dumbledore. "Miss Abbott's spell did open a portal to a parallel world."
Dumbledore bowed slightly. "Headmaster."
His counterpart nodded. "It's a pleasure to meet me."
The two Dumbledores shook hands.
"I see you had better luck finding a way to open the portal than we did," Dumbledore said.
"Yes. It took the combination of several different spells, but we succeeded. I just hope my wayward students weren't much trouble for you."
"None at all, though I wonder if we might keep your Pansy Parkinson in exchange for ours. Yours is by far more pleasant company."
"She's that bad on this world, is she?" the other Dumbledore grinned.
"Much as you may desire that, I'm sure our Miss Parkinson is rather anxious to get home."
"Of course." Dumbledore turned to Professor McGonagall. "Minerva. If you'd be so kind as to fetch our guests."
McGonagall nodded and strode out of the Great Hall.
The Dumbledores passed the time comparing notes on one another. Dumbledore frowned when his counterpart informed him he'd given up sweets – bad for the digestion, according to him. That's when McGonagall hurried back into the Great Hall, her eyes wide and her face pale.
"Headmaster. Potter, Weasley and Parkinson, the ones from the other world. They're gone."
Ron's heart beat faster as they moved further into the Nefarium Caves.
"I hope You-Know-Who has something else guarding this cave besides bats." He shivered, his wand pointing to the roof.
"With my luck it'll be spiders." The other Ron gulped.
"Better them than bats, I say."
"I guess no matter which world it is you have to be afraid of some animal." Ginny shot an elfish grin first at the other Ron, then toward him. Ron felt his face muscles tighten. The only time he saw sister smile was when she tormented other students.
"All right. Enough."
Ginny suddenly jumped in front of him. He stumbled to avoid bowling over her.
"You're just as thick as my Ron is." Ginny folded her arms. "When are you going to get it that I'm not like that other Ginny?"
"It's not easy. Not when I look at your face and . . ."
The words froze on his tongue. With a frustrated grunt he tried to go around Ginny.
She blocked him. "Look. Hermione told me what I was like on your world. I'm sorry, okay. But I am nothing like that."
"I want to think that. But instead I think back to . . ."
Ron's lips tightened. He shook his head and marched past Ginny.
"Will you talk to me, dammit!"
"I can't!" Ron spun around. "When I see the way you are on this world, I see what my sister could have been if I'd done what Mum told me to do."
"What do you mean?"
Ron bit his lip for a moment. "When you . . . my world's Ginny, started at Hogwarts, when she got sorted into Slytherin, Mum about had a heart attack. She told me to look after her. Keep her out of trouble. She didn't trust Fred and George with that. Mum was afraid they'd get her in bigger trouble. So she put the responsibility on me. I tried to steer her away from Malfoy and Lovegood and Cho Chang. But she wouldn't listen to me. If I'd been more insistent, if I'd just taken her by the arm and dragged her away from them . . . But I didn't. And after her first year, she stood in the middle of Platform Nine-and-a-half and, in front of a hundred people, and screamed at our parents that they were embarrassments and wished they were dead."
Ginny's mouth fell open. She staggered back, looking as though someone had just punched her.
"Oh Merlin." Her words came out in a whisper. "Ron, I'm so sorry."
Ron sighed and turned away. "I wish I could see you for who you really are, Ginny. The sister I wish I had. But after the past five years it's just too hard. I'm sorry."
Ginny just stared in silence at him. Her lips parted, but before she could say anything two voices firm pierced the air.
"Will you two come on."
Ron wheeled around and saw Pansy and the other Hermione staring at them.
With a snort, Ron started down the cave. He'd forgotten about any bats that may be hanging from the ceiling, ready to attack. Instead he visualized a family dinner with a kind, smiling, loving Ginny at the table.
He closed his eyes and let the vision fade. Why hope for something that would never happen?
"Watch out. This is where we were attacked by the bats."
Harry and his counterpart lifted their wands to the ceiling. They found no sign of any creatures
"I guess you don't have to go through that again."
"I guess." Harry gave his counterpart a half-hearted smile. "But we better keep alert. Voldemort's bound to have something guarding the wand."
They continued for twenty more meters before stopping at the darkened entrance to an ante-chamber. Nervous tingles raced up and down his body. This is where he found the altar where Voldemort tried to create the Wand Supreme. Memories of that day flashed through his mind . . . along with the terror of nearly losing his life.
He felt the Blancosflame lighter in his pocket for reassurance. With a deep breath, he stepped into the ante-chamber.
"Oh my God."
Sweat burst across Harry's forehead as he stared at the altar. On top of it rested five old wands pointed to a cylindrical groove in the center. Another groove pointing at the center was empty. Just like on his world, they'd discovered it before Voldemort could find the final wand.
"So he is trying to create a Wand Supreme on my world." Harry's stunned counterpart took a few hesitant steps forward. "I don't understand. How could Kingsley and Professor Lupin have missed this?"
"Voldemort must have had some sort of spell around it."
"But they checked for that." The other Harry turned to him. "And they didn't find anything."
Harry inhaled slowly. "Maybe . . . Maybe Voldemort cast some kind of spell where only he could see the altar."
"And because of our connection to him," the other Harry continued for him. "We can see it too."
A shiver went across his shoulders. They just had another Fred and George moment.
"Come on." He reached into his pocket for the lighter. "Let's burn it and get out of here."
Harry stepped toward the altar, his eyes darting around the cave. Any moment he expected something to emerge from the shadows. Voldemort wouldn't leave something like this . . .
Fire burned through his skull. He clasped his hand against his forehead and sank to the ground.
"Harry . . ." He strained to get the words out. "Harry . . . he knows."
He fell on his side. That's when he saw his counterpart also on the ground, writhing in agony.
Harry tried to fight through the pain. His hand dug into his pocket, fumbling for the lighter. It spilled out onto the ground.
A sharp hiss echoed through the ante-chamber. Harry rolled onto his back.
The head of a large snake hovered over him.
Ron heard his counterpart give an audible gasp as they entered the ante-chamber. He himself felt invisible cold fingers wrap around him.
Seven giant snakes loomed over the two Harrys.
"It's a Hydra." Hermione's voice quivered with fear.
Four of the triangular serpent heads snapped in their direction.
Dean pushed Ginny to the ground as one of the heads shot forward. Ron and the others dove to avoid it.
"Stupify!" Pansy yelled.
A blue flash of light bounced off the serpent. Its head trembled for a moment, then swung around to face Pansy.
Ron held out his wand. "Constrictus!"
Vines shot out of the cave floor and wrapped around the serpent's mouth.
Other Hydra heads attacked. Dean and Ginny fought them off with stunning spells and shield spells. Pansy tried to reach the Harrys, both of whom lay on the ground clutching their foreheads. Another Hydra head launched itself at her. Pansy deflected it with a shield spell.
Yet another serpent head opened its mouth, filled with rows of dagger-like teeth, and descended on one of the Harrys.
"HARRY!!" Hermione raised her wand. "Retractum!"
Both Harrys slid across the ground toward her. The serpent's head smashed through the rock floor where one of them had been laying seconds before.
Ron hurried over to the Harrys and Hermione, joined by Pansy. The other Ron, Ginny and Dean threw up a huge shield around them. The seven Hydra heads rammed it repeatedly.
"Are you okay?" Both Pansy and Hermione asked at the same time.
"Yeah." One of the Harrys said. He knew it was his moments later when he clutched Pansy's shoulder. "What are you doing here? Why did you bring them?"
"One, I didn't bring them. They offered to come themselves. Two, I came because, as I've told you time and time again, we're in this together. When are you going to get that through your thick damn head!?"
Pansy slapped him upside the head, then hugged him.
"So V-Voldemort's trying to create a Wand Supreme on our world, too." Hermione stared at the altar and the Hydra heads around it. "How could Lupin and Shacklebolt miss something like that?"
"You can see it?" The other Harry looked back at the altar. "Voldemort had a spell around it where only he could see the altar. We must have broken it when we came in here."
"Let's talk theory later," Harry, the other Harry, answered as he sat up. "Right now we have to destroy it."
"Where's the lighter?" Pansy asked.
Ron followed Harry's finger and saw a small gleam of silver next to the altar.
"Guys, I don't think we can hold it off much longer." Dean's face strained. He clutched his wand with both hands as the Hydra heads battered the shield.
"We'll handle those snakes." The other Harry looked to Pansy and Hermione, then turned to his double. "You get that lighter and destroy the wand."
Harry nodded and got to his feet.
"We have to get to its body!" Hermione shouted. "Hit it in the heart. That's the only way to kill it!"
"Ron! Ginny! Dean!" The other Harry hurried toward them. "When I say now, drop the shield and hit these snakes with everything you've got!"
The three nodded.
The shield vanished.
The Hydra heads shot forward, only to be met by a barrage of spells. Ron followed Pansy and Hermione to the left, firing one stunning spell after another. His eyes widened when he saw the other Harry step forward and raise his wandless hand.
"Harry! What . . .?"
Another voice emerged from the other Harry's mouth. Lower, raspier.
Parseltongue! He was trying to talk to the Hydra.
The snakeheads stopped attacking. All of them turned their attention to the other Harry, who kept talking in Parseltongue.
His Harry rushed to the altar.
Ron grinned wide. "I can't believe it's working."
Suddenly two of the heads surged toward the other Harry. He jumped and rolled out of the way in the nick of time. His Harry ducked as another head swung at him.
"I bet V-Voldemort made it so the Hydra would only listen to him." Hermione tried a petrifying spell on a Hydra head. It only worked for a few seconds.
Ron looked back to the altar. One of the serpent heads dove for his Harry. Again he rolled out of the way . . . almost. The creature's mouth clamped down on Harry's robes and lifted him off the ground.
"NO!!" Pansy screamed. She aimed for the serpent's head, hesitated, then aimed her wand to the cave ceiling. She fired a Redactor Curse. An explosion echoed through the ante-chamber. Ron watched huge chunks of rock fall away from the Hydra's heads, landing right where its body should be.
All seven mouths opened and roared with pain. The one head that had Harry dropped him and shrieked. He hit the ground, wincing in pain. Moments later he forced himself to his knees and grabbed the lighter. Harry used the altar to pull himself up. He flicked the lighter. White flame rose from it.
Three of the serpent heads turned toward Harry.
Ron stepped forward and used a levitation spell to lift several of the boulders. With a snap of his arm he sent them flying at the serpent heads.
Two more heads dove at Harry. Ron was about to levitate more boulders when a streak of long red hair dashed out in front of him.
It was Ginny. She used her wand to pick up two boulders and drop them on the serpent heads. She did it again and again, driving the heads into the ground, splitting them open.
Ron had to blink several times. He never thought he would see this sight. Ginny, his sister, actually saving Harry. Actually saving anyone. His heart pounded. He drew a deep breath and started to smile.
"Ginny! Look out!" Dean shouted.
Ron turned left. A Hydra head came up behind Ginny and reared back.
He darted forward and pushed Ginny to the ground. Something knocked the breath out of him. Pain seared his body and destroyed his consciousness.
Harry barely registered Pansy's tortured cry. One of the serpent heads lunged at him, coming over the white flames burning the Wand Supreme. Again he rolled away from it. But the head turned its mouth open to reveal its sharp teeth. It hissed and moved toward him.
Harry felt for his wand. It wasn't in either hand.
The Hydra head drew closer. No time to find his wand. He drew back his legs, ready to kick.
The white flames incinerating the Wand Supreme surged up from the altar. The serpent shrieked as the fire burned through its neck. The brilliant white flames spread to all the other heads. Harry grimaced at the sound of high-pitched, agonizing cries.
Suddenly all was silent. The white glow that engulfed the Hydra vanished, leaving behind piles of ashes.
Harry drew a deep breath, fighting off a wave of nausea from the stench of burnt flesh hanging in the air. He saw his counterpart, shoulders sagging in relief, wand clutched tightly in his hand.
"I guess I owe my life to . . . me." Harry grinned to himself and got to his feet.
"Harry," his other self whispered and pointed behind him.
Harry turned. What he saw almost made him collapse.
"Ron . . ." He remembered Pansy's scream. "Ron, no!"
The others gathered around Ron, who lay on his back surrounded by an expanding puddle of blood.
"Ron! Ron!" He fell next to him. Tears streamed down Harry's face. This can't be happening.
Someone called to him from a distance. Ron forced his eyes to open. He couldn't believe the effort it took for such a simple act.
Harry knelt over him. So did Pansy. Both clung to each other and cried.
Ron opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He felt too weak to speak, too weak to move.
He always thought this moment would be painful and his soul overwhelmed by fear. Instead his body felt numb, and a sense of calm washed over him.
It's going to be all right, someone whispered from the recesses of his mind.
He scanned the faces around him. His Harry and Pansy, weeping. The other Harry, Ron and Dean stood over him with looks of shock. Hermione trembled and cried.
Then to his surprise Ginny leaned over him. A tear fell from her left eye and gently splash his chest.
In his mind he chuckled. Had this scene played out on his world Ginny would no doubt be laughing with macabre delight. Here she actually cried over him.
Ron summoned what strength he had and reached out. Ginny took his hand in both of hers. The tears flowed from her eyes uncontrollably.
He tried to say it, say the words he never expected to utter on his world. Words he would have given anything to say just once.
Why can't I talk?
With his last bit of strength, he squeezed his Ginny's hand.
I love you, Ginny. My sister.
The darkness swallowed him.
(ALT HARRY, THE NEXT DAY)
Harry sat by the shore of the lake, staring into his lap. He briefly thought back to yesterday, all the times he pictured the three of them returning to their world and celebrating.
Ever since returning home, Harry had done nothing but cry.
He wiped his eyes with the sleeves of his robes. He had no idea how long he'd been sitting by the lake. He also didn't care. Right now Harry didn't want to be around other people. He sure as hell didn't want to go back to his room. All he'd do is look at Ron's bed and be forced to accept something he didn't want to.
Ron was gone.
So many times he glanced to his side, expecting Ron to be there, as he had for the past six years. His chest always tightened when he found no sign of his best friend.
He turned around, ready to shout, "Leave me alone!" But he held his tongue. Pansy slowly made her way toward him.
"I just wanted to see . . ." She swallowed a breath and didn't bother finishing the sentence. Instead she knelt beside him. "I just stopped by Lavender's room. Shared a good cry with her. And I heard Hannah Abbott had a breakdown when she heard about . . . Ron." She uttered his name in a barely audible voice. "They took her to St. Mungo's. I don't know how long she's going to be there."
Harry just stared out at the water.
Pansy wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. Harry slid an arm around her back as she started crying.
"I still can't believe . . ." Harry choked back a sob. "I don't want to believe he's gone. Not after everything we've been through."
He wiped his eyes with his free hand. "Why do I feel like I'm cursed?"
Pansy lifted her head off his shoulder. "What do you mean?"
"It's like everyone that matters in my life winds up dead. Mum and Dad. Uncle Vernon and Dudley. Sirius. Now Ron." His body jerked with a sob. "I don't know how much more I can take."
He turned to face the girl who meant the world to him. "Pansy, I can't let anyone else I care about die. You . . . we . . . I don't think we . . ."
"Don't you dare." Pansy said each word deliberately.
"I'm already mourning my best friend! I'll be damned if one day I'm going to mourn the woman I love!"
"And you think the best way to protect me is to push me out of your life?"
"Too many people have died because of me."
"They died because of You-Know-Who and his followers."
"And if we stay together you may end up like them!"
Pansy's lower lip quivered. She reached out and cupped Harry's cheek. "I knew being with you meant accepting certain risks. But it's worth it. I love you, Harry Potter. I love that you're kind and brave and noble to a fault. I know you've had more pain in your life than anyone should, and I would give anything to see you don't suffer any more for the rest of your life. But if you walk away from me you'll just be creating more pain, for both of us."
She gently stroked his hair. "I want a future for us. With you as my husband, raising our children. Don't let You-Know-Who take that away from us."
Harry held his breath and stared into Pansy's beautiful, tear-streaked face.
"Stop thinking you have to go at this alone. We can face You-Know-Who together. I want to be at your side every step of the way."
Harry's lips managed to curl into a half-smile. "I can just imagine what Ron would say if he were here. He'd probably tell me what a complete git I was for wanting to end it with you."
Pansy emitted a brief laugh. "He'd be right, too."
She settled into Harry's lap and hugged him. "I miss him so much."
"So do I." He hugged her tighter. "At least he got the one thing he really wanted before he died."
"He finally got to see the sister he always wanted."
- THE END -