I can't say how good it feels to be posting this last chapter! There will be an epilogue--a very short one what has little to do with anything important, that may or may not be posted tonight. As I am typing this note is it 11:20, East Coast US time. To everyone who has been reading and reviewing, thank you! Happy New Year and I'm so glad you could all share my 2008 New Year's goal. To everyone who is reading this after the fact, many thanks to you too, and I hope you've enjoyed the journey.
I am very pleased with this last chapter. It ended up shorter than I thought it would be--I cut a bit as I was editing it because one small detail changed which affected a couple scenes pretty dramatically. I hope you all like it and I promise there will a follow up to show the "real world" Harry's return. Nothing so long as this, but just a few snippet to let you know how he transitions.
On to the final chapter:
The flare spell had long-since burned out and as Harry jogged down the hill in the dark he wondered what he would find when he reached the bottom. He kept to the side of the yard near the trees in an effort to remain hidden. He would have felt better if he could hear anything: even more shouting would have comforted him above the heavy silence.
Harry reached the shed and stopped behind the building. He peered out at the house, scanning the surrounding area for movement. His muscles were tense with nervous energy. The bushes swayed in a cool breeze and he shivered. He would never see anything if he stayed where he was. Creeping around the far side of the little building, he eyed the ground where he had last seen Snape and his attackers: only one figure remained--the Death Eater Snape killed.
Shivering again at the memory of how effortlessly Snape had used the Killing Curse, Harry slunk across the yard, warily peering from side to side. How he wished he had his invisibility cloak. He didn't even know where it was now.
"I think I hear something."
Harry froze at the rasping whisper. It came from the pig sty near the house. Ducking close to the ground and pointing his wand in that direction, he continued to inch forward, staying in the shadows created by the clouds passing over the moon.
The exchange sounded too juvenile to be Death Eaters, the voices too low. Taking a chance, Harry whispered into the darkness, his wand raised higher, just in case, "Who's there?"
"Merlin, get over here!"
Running in a crouch for the last couple yards, Harry scrambled over the fence and crawled towards the little hovel that housed the pigs. Ginny and Hermione were huddled in the corner farthest from the door.
"Are you both OK?" he asked, staring between them, trying to make out if they looked injured.
"We're fine," Ginny said. "I don't know about anyone else though."
"What happened? You were supposed to go to the Lovegoods'." Harry tore off his ripped shirt sleeve and tied it around Hermione's wrist, which was bleeding and swollen.
Hermione stifled a sob then said, "We couldn't get to the woods. There were Death Eaters everywhere. I hid in the shed, but they found me."
Anger boiled in Harry's veins.
"They dragged me out but before they could do anything P-Professor Snape stopped them. He told me to hide and wait." Hermione was shaking so badly that Harry thought she might rattle the building.
"It's all right."
"I think they killed him," she whispered, her eyes wide and shining with tears. "I heard screaming and there's a--a body...."
Recalling the body on the lawn, Harry shook his head. "That's a Death Eater. Snape's safe. I saw him alive. At least, he was OK an hour ago. He's not out there any more."
Ginny pushed herself into a kneel and leaned towards the little door. "We have to make sure everyone's all right."
"No. Stay here."
"No!" Harry said a little more loudly than he meant to. "I don't want you going out there. There haven't been any Death Eaters up to the orchard and I doubt they'd leave another way if they were retreating. They have to still be here somewhere. Probably waiting."
Ginny glared at being told what to do, but seemed to agree that it was too risky to go out.
Harry looked out the door. The yard was still too dark to spot anything and he considered that if he couldn't see anything, neither could anyone else. It would be perfect cover to try and find the others. "Stay here, no matter what you hear."
"You just said it wasn't clear!"
Looking at her imploringly, Harry said, "I'll be back as soon as I know what's going on. I'll feel better knowing you two are safe. I'll be fine."
Hermione, much more used to Harry's do-or-die attitude, simply said in shaky voice, "Harry, be careful."
"I will." He crept out into the pen and moved towards the side of the house. The door was only a couple feet back. Maybe he could make it inside....
"Well, well. Out for a walk?" The cold voice came from the back of the house and Harry was sure the comment was directed at him until he heard another voice reply:
"I thought you were in the woods." It was Snape.
"I thought you were, too. Did you check the house?"
"It's empty. They must have run towards the village."
"The Lestranges are still missing," the first commented.
A slight pause. "They went through the forest to cut off any retreat. Bellatrix was hit, though."
"I don't think so, but she'll be unhappy when she wakes." Snape's voice was even.
Did everyone else get out to the woods? Harry wondered. Or is Snape lying? It was impossible to tell.
The other man chuckled cruelly. "Who got you?"
"One of the brats. I wasn't keeping a close enough eye on them. It will heal."
He chuckled again then said, "If you're sure they're gone, we should burn the house and be done with it."
"Do as you like," Snape answered lazily. "But one thing first." A moment passed.
"Snape, what are you--"
There was the general racked of someone stumbling about for a moment, then falling to the ground. When everything had gone still again, Harry peeked around the corner to find Snape pulling the still Death Eater away from the side of the house with visible effort.
Snape?" he called quietly.
Glaring at him, Snape asked, "Do you ever do as you're told?"
"Is everyone all right?"
"For your concerns, yes."
"Is it safe?"
"Go to the Lovegoods."
"Where are you going?"
With an ironic smile, Snape said, "To report your escape."
"Will you be all right if you go back? Won't Bellatrix--"
"Oh, what she doesn't remember won't hurt me, Potter. I'll be in touch when it's safe, but for now you have to go. And listen to me this time."
Harry hesitated for a moment, then nodded and moved back to the front of the house. He went to the pig pen fence and hissed, "Ginny! Hermione! Come on!"
Several seconds passed before the two emerged.
"Into the woods!"
Jogging across the lawn, they entered the woods near the shed. Harry led them back into the trees several feet before stopping. "You go to the Lovegoods'. I think everyone is there. I'm going to get Harry and meet you guys there. Tell everyone we're fine and we won't be far behind you."
"Just go," he ordered, not wanting them to have to see the Burrow on fire or the Mark in the sky: Harry was sure the Death Eaters would send it up. An attack on the Weasleys would be a strong message to the wizarding community and they would not want to let the opportunity go missed.
After a moment, Ginny nodded and said, "Follow the road north. There'll be a meadow. If you don't look properly, you'll see a broken down barn at the back of it, by the stream, but when you get closer it'll be a house. That's where Mr. Lovegood lives."
Harry nodded his understanding.
When Ginny and Hermione had run away, Harry stood and watched the house. Three figures came out of the woods on the opposite side of the lawn. One ran to the man Snape had attacked and pulled him up.
"Not dead!" he called to the rest.
"Fire the house!" a woman's voice commanded. "If any of the rats are left inside, let them burn! Or if they run out, kill them!"
The cloaked figures circled the house and sent fireballs at it. The woman who had spoken pointed her wand at the sky and a massive, toxic-colored skull bloomed overhead, blocking out the moonlight.
Harry could only stand there for several minutes, then he recalled the other Harry and his promise to meet Ginny soon. Tearing his eyes from the scene, he ran up the hill, back to the place he had left the other boy. When he got there, the other Harry was standing, looking up at the skull and serpent with an instinctive fear.
When he saw Harry approach, he said, "That can't be our side."
"Not likely," Harry commented. "But everyone's safe. Follow me." Harry hurried through the trees until he reached what he knew to be the edge of the Weasleys' property. They followed the road until he saw a wide meadow with a stream through it. At the back of the meadow was a tall, narrow house with many turrets and spindly balconies and extensions on the second and third floors. "That's got to be it."
"What? That old thing?" the other Harry asked with a sneer.
"Yeah," Harry answered, wondering if the other boy would ever be able to see anything but the barn. Maybe Harry had to tell him it was a house? As they moved along the edge of the forest, Harry described what it looked like and told him who it belonged to.
After a moment of jogging and squinting, the other Harry said, "This place is insane. How'd you do that?"
"Magic. Same as we do everything else," Harry commented. As they approached the door, Harry said, "Keep to the shadows, just in case it's a trap."
The other Harry didn't argue, but did as he was told.
Harry knocked and a light came on behind the door window.
Slowly, the door swung forward and an old man stood in front of them. "My beard! Come in, come in! The both of you!" As the Harrys entered the man peered out behind them, then closed the door. He led them down a hallway far too long to be in the narrow house then opened a broad door on the right.
They followed him into a kitchen where Mrs. Weasley and her children were sitting. Hermione sat beside Ron, her wrapped hand cradled against her stomach. She seemed to be in line for attention behind Fred (or George), who was having his mother poke a long gash on his bicep with her wand. The other twin was stretched out on the bench looking tired but more of less unharmed.
Tonks was there as well, and she was the first to look up as the Harrys entered the room: her eyes were red and puffy. "Harry."
Ginny jumped up and Mrs. Weasley poked her son especially hard.
"Thought you were making it better," he chided lightly.
"Harry, you made it!"
Harry looked around the room. "Where's everyone else? Mr. Weasley? Remus? The others?"
Ron stood up. "Dad's in one of the other rooms lying down. He'll be fine, but he's a bit banged up." Ron looked more worried than his voice betrayed. "And Lupin's in bad shape, too, but Mr. Lovegood gave him a potion and he's sleeping it off."
"Everyone else left from here," Tonks explained. "Flooed."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Harry said, "Snape got away all right. He was seen, but I think he erased the memories of everyone who knew he was there."
The group was quiet for several seconds and Mrs. Weasley went back to healing the wounded. Harry covered his own scratches: they weren't that serious and he didn't want her fussing over him. He turned to the old man who had let them in. "Thank you, Mr. Lovegood."
"No thanks needed, no thanks needed. We must all band together in these trying times." Though he seemed very nice, Harry couldn't help but wonder if madness ran in the Lovegood family: the man was wearing a very odd assortment of wizard clothes with several pendants and signs hanging from his neck on various sized chains. His hair stuck up worse than Harry's own, and the vacant look in Luna's eyes, he decided, was definitely hereditary.
Mostly out of concern, but also to be making conversation, Harry asked, "How is Luna?"
"Oh, she's away at school." Mr. Lovegood nodded several times. "Very bright girl. Very smart. Like her mother. Like her father, too, but there you have it." He sounded as though this explained everything, and in a way, it did.
Mrs. Weasley finished bandaging Hermione's wrist and said, "Harry, come here."
"I'm fine, but I think he has a hurt foot," Harry said, pointing to the other Harry. It was the first time he'd looked at him since coming in out of the dark and he was startle at how pale and sick his looked. "You all right?"
"Fine." He swayed on his feet.
Recalling the three Death Eaters who had attacked them in the beginning, Harry said, "I don't know what hit you."
As if in response, the other boy's eyes rolled up into his head and he fell over as promptly as if he had planned it. A moment went by before anyone responded because they were all so surprised.
"You said he was hit by something?"
Harry nodded. "I don't know what. It was green." The only thing green Harry knew of was Avada Kadavra, but that would have killed him, not made him ill.
"Get him on a bed," Tonks said, standing and helping George lift him. "Is there another empty room?"
"Right down there," Mr. Lovegood gestured.
When the other Harry was tucked safely into a bed, Mrs. Weasley insisted on checking that Harry was really OK, then said, "We can't bring him anywhere."
After a brief discussion, they settled on giving him some murtlap draught and waiting it out. Harry volunteered to sit with him in case anything happened.
As he curled up in the arm chair that had been brought into the room, Harry watched the boy with wonder. He was different, but somehow, not too. He sort of saw himself in this other Harry, and it frightened him a little. As the hours passed sleep over came Harry and he fell into a dream about the other world: his mother was making him breakfast and Sirius had just come over to take him out for lunch before they went to work on the car. Somewhere in his sleep Harry realized he was dreaming, and he savored every moment of it even as he knew it would end soon.
Harry woke as someone shook his shoulder roughly. "Huh? What?" he asked, looking around.
The other Harry was awake, staring at Harry closely. "You were talking."
"Sorry," he answered sleepily. When he realized that the boy was not only sitting up but looking no worse for the wear, he said, "Are you better?"
"I'm hungry, but yeah."
"What? I haven't had food for almost a week. They gave me water, though," he commented quietly.
Shaking his head, Harry said, "I'll have you know, everyone thinks you might be dying."
"I'm still not convince I didn't die in the car crash," he replied. "I think I'm probably still alive, because this doesn't seem much like Heaven or Hell--"
Guilt about changing the other boy's life so much crept into the back of Harry's mind. He should give him some kind of warning.... "Speaking of Heaven, and all that, umm...."
Harry watched him for a moment then guessed shrewdly, "You and Riddle got into it?"
"A bit. You've sort of been excommunicated."
To Harry's surprise, the boy laughed. "I bet Mum flipped!"
"She wouldn't talk to me for weeks."
The door opened and Mrs. Weasley walked in. "What's all the noise?"
"He's feeling better," Harry said glummily. He didn't see what was so funny about Lily being angry at him. The memory of it and the realization that he'd wasted so much time that he could have had with her stung. She might not really be his mother, but she was beautiful and lovely.
Mrs. Weasley felt the boy's forehead and checked his eyes. "Seems fine. I'll bring you both something to eat, then we'll talk about getting you home."
The other Harry nodded solemnly.
The two sat in silence until Mrs. Weasley returned with a tray of bacon and eggs, then left again.
"What else changed?" he asked after a moment.
Harry looked up. He thought of Draco and blushed. "Well, Draco has promised to talk to you when you get back."
He raised his eyebrow and looked remarkably like Snape. "Promised to talk to me?"
Harry glared at him. "If you hadn't noticed Ginny, I'm not exactly into guys," he huffed in a low voice.
Pulling his knees up to his chest, the other Harry wrapped his arms around his legs and looked thoughtfully out the window. Daylight was streaming in, making shadows of tree branches dance across the floor and walls. If Harry expected something profound when the other boy finally spoke, he was sorely disappointed: "She did end up pretty, didn't she? Never would've guessed."
"Really," Harry answered blandly. Neither spoke. "How did you end up with Draco? I mean, I kept trying to figure it out...you know, when I thought it was really me."
"Nothing too much. It just sort of happened."
"Drunk at a party?" Harry sneered.
The other Harry shook his head, not looking remotely offended at the comment. "We actually started hanging out before we started partying. We were thirteen." He looked thoughtful and his eyes, which were clouded most of the times Harry had looked at them, shown with an odd emotion.
"What are you going to tell James and Lily?"
"That I got another bonk on the head and forgot everything again? I don't know. Like they'll even care."
"They'll care a lot."
"All they care about are my grades and my sports."
"That's not true." Harry sighed, deciding to give the finally confession: "I'm failing practically every subject and quit the soccer team. They didn't chuck me out of the house, or anything."
Harry stared at him in horror. "You what?"
"Like I said, I thought it was my life, so I did what I wanted. Sort of. You're managing the team, at least. And if you're half as good as everyone seems to think you are, I bet you can pull your marks up by report time."
The other boy was still staring. He moved his mouth several times but words had failed him.
Hoping to make it better, Harry continued, "I'm sure everything will be fine."
"Fine? Fine!" he bellowed. "This is my life you're talking about! You just took it and--and threw it out the window like it was nothing!"
Feeling defensive, Harry said, "It's not like I did it on purpose."
"It doesn't matter if you did it on purpose!"
"You're the one who complained about only being liked for your grades and stuff. At least now you know your parents are concerned with more than that."
"Who cares what they're concerned with!? I care about them too! This is my final year! I'll never get into university!" The boy got on a roll and Harry couldn't help but be reminded of Lily. When he'd yelled himself hoarse, he finished with, "You ruined my life completely!"
Harry stood up and yelled back, "I ruined it? What were you doing with it? You went and got yourself killed in a car wreck because of some stupid fight with your stupid boyfriend, that was just a setup in the first place because you pick lousy friends! And I'd bet anything you were more than just drunk when you got in the car with Colin, too!"
The other Harry jumped out of bed, his face red. "You don't know anything!" He didn't meet Harry's eyes as he said this.
"I know your life's different than it was when you left it, but at least I haven't done anything that stupid!"
The punch was thrown before Harry realized what happened. Stars popped up in front of his eyes. Reeling backwards, Harry glowered back at the other boy. He would give him that he had a right to be upset, but he certainly wouldn't back down when he knew he was right. He didn't know whether to punch the boy or draw his wand. In the end, he only said, "You're pathetic."
Dropping his arms to his sides, the other Harry answered quietly, "So are you."
"You want my life so bad you can't stand it. You're jealous of what I have--" he looked at the scar again-- "but you won't even admit it. All you'll do is stand there, spouting on about 'your' parents and 'my' parents, like they're different people. Whatever poetic shit makes you feel better about your Hell."
"Our parent are different. Just like we are. We're nothing alike." Feeling a little sad at seeing what he would have been with a family, Harry stalked out the door and down the hall. This isn't hell. I'm glad for what I have. I'm glad I'm not like him.
The Weasleys and Remus stayed at the Lovegoods' for another day: Remus had left that morning to meet with McGonagall and pass on the news of what had happened and to assure her Harry and all were well. When it started to get dark Thursday evening, Mr. Weasley pulled Harry aside.
"We need to move from here. We're still in danger and we're making this a dangerous place. A target."
Harry nodded his understanding.
"Mrs. Weasley and I are going to leave soon. Ginny, Hermione, and Ron will go with Fred and George to a safe location. We figure if we're being watched you'll be safe here for a couple days after we're gone. On Friday Mr. Lovegod will take you outside his wards and you'll leave to bring the other Harry home."
Nodding again, Harry felt his anger towards the other Harry ebb enough for him to be worried. He had felt a little safe here with , and the Weasleys, Tonks, and Remus, and now it was being taken away from him again.
"When you come back, go to Diagon Alley, then send Fred and George a message with your Patronus. They'll meet up with you and take you to their safe location."
And from there, Hermione, Ron, and I will set out, he thought. "OK, Mr. Weasley."
Mr. Weasley nodded and clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Good man."
Harry's chest swelled with affection for Mr. Weasley and he was glad the man was with him right now. They stood quietly for a moment, then Harry said, "I'll go tell Harry, shall I?"
Nodding, Mr. Weasley patted his shoulder once more than went into the room where the rest of his family were camping.
Feeling very alone, Harry walked back down the hall. He pushed the door open without knocking and found the other Harry still in bed. "Are you ever getting up? I thought you weren't ill any more."
"I'll get up later."
Harry sighed. "Mr. Weasley's just told me the plan for getting you home." He relayed the messages and finished by saying, "So you should be happy then." He started to leave.
"I said I'm sorry. For yelling at you. It's not your fault, or anything."
Not in a very forgiving mood, Harry just made a sound in his throat and left the room, closing the door firmly behind him.
When it came time for the Weasleys' to leave, Harry said goodbye. The other Harry even came out and thanked them and wished them a safe journey to wherever they were going. Mrs. Weasley hugged him and said she hoped he had a safe journey too. They she drew Harry and Hermione into a bruising embrace and held them for a very long time.
Both Harrys shook hands with Mr. Weasley, then watched from the door as the pair left. They did not speak to one another all that night, even over dinner, which they were both in the dining room for.
Tonks, who seemed in better spirits after getting word from Remus, was very interested in the other world and asked a great deal of questions about the people and life there. As Harry listened to the other Harry describe the world as he saw it, he was startled to learn they had a very similar view, when all was said and done. He described his best friends, Ron and Hermione, an affectionate glint in his eye. He told them about soccer and how he looked forward to playing professionally. When Tonks asked how he became interested in it, the other Harry bragged about his father for nearly half an hour straight.
Harry felt ill as he listened. He knew he was not going back to that place and he felt a deep sense of loss. When dinner was over, he left the table is silence and sat alone by the front window, staring out at the stars. He wasn't mad anymore, just terribly lonely for his parents. Even when Ginny came to sit with him he ignored her until she left.
When it was time for everyone else to leave, Harry said his goodbyes quietly. The other Harry shook hands with Ron, apologized to Hermione in very vague term, who blushed and nodded her acceptance, and told Ginny he was sorry he didn't know her in his own world.
Hermione threw her arms around Harry. "Be careful. We'll see you when you get back."
Harry returned to the window to watch Mr. Lovegood lead the group out to the woods behind the stream. He stayed there until Tonks finally shooed him off to bed at midnight.
Friday morning, Harry woke early and went to wake the other Harry. He found him already up and dressed.
"It's time to go, isn't it?"
Harry nodded. He looked at the boy's bare forehead with a hint of spite and finally admitted to himself that he was, indeed, at least a little jealous. He left.
Mr. Lovegood met the boys in the living room just as the sun finished rising. "All packed and ready?"
"I haven't much to bring," the other Harry answered. He looked at Tonks. "Bye. Thanks."
She smiled at him. "You be good."
They followed Mr. Lovegood outside, watching warily as they went. They were safely into the trees within minutes and they walked quickly, not talking. When they reached a small clearing, the old man stopped and said, "Here you go."
With a sigh, Harry took the vial out of his pocket. He'd been protective of it since Snape had given it to him and he looked at it as though it was the greatest treasure. "We have to swallow it at the same time. You'll feel a pull and see a lot of light. Don't worry. Just keep hold of me. I'll signal three to swallow."
The other Harry nodded as he watched Harry take a small pull on the vial then hand it over. Taking some of the liquid in his own mouth he handed the rest back. Harry quorked it then raised three fingers. He dropped the first and second quickly, hesitated, then dropped the third. They swallowed and began their journey to the World of Worlds.
They flew through time and space, bright lights blinding them until they reached the sprawling green and blue earth with the purple sky. They landed side by side near a narrow pool.
"That was...." The other Harry looked queasy.
"It'll get better," Harry said, guessing that they would have to Disaparate out of the sky again. "You'd better hold on real tight and keep your eyes closed. I'll tell you when you can open them."
"It can't be worse than that."
Harry didn't answer, but offered his arm to the boy.
He gulped, took the offered grip, and waded out into the pool after Harry.
As Harry guessed, they dropped into the atmosphere miles and miles above the Earth. Harry closed his own eyes and thought of the park near the Potters'. It was the safest place: they could walk to the house from there. As they disappeared the familiar squeezing sensation pushed in on Harry, threatened to make him lose his grip in the other Harry. After several seconds, they appeared in the park.
The other Harry fell to the ground, gasping, his eyes round. He was unable to speak for a very long time and they sat on the swings while he calmed down.
"You opened your eyes after we went into the pool, didn't you?"
Wordlessly, he nodded.
"Told you." Harry stood up. "Come on. Let's get going before school gets out and anyone happens along who'd see us together."
"I know a back-cut to the house that doesn't go by the school," the other Harry offered, standing as well. His legs were shaky and he still limped on his one foot--he hadn't told Mrs. Weasley that he'd hurt it after he came to, and didn't seem to mind the inconvenience. Perhaps he planned to use it in his excuse for being gone for a week.
Harry followed the other boy through the familiar neighborhood. He felt sad and even more lonely than ever. How he wanted to stay! But he couldn't, and as they came to the street behind the Potters' he forced himself to swallow the lump in his throat.
The other Harry stopped in front of an unfamiliar house. "We can cross into the backyard from here. There's a loose board on the fence I use for sneaking in and out."
The boy pushed his hands into his pockets and stared sheepishly at his feet. "You're still pissed at me, huh?"
Slowly, Harry said, "I'm not pissed. I'm just...." His eyes darted to the other boy's forehead, a scar still conspicuously absent. "I think you're a little right. About me being jealous." Before the boy could reply, Harry started over the lawn and ducked into the high bushes beside the fence.
The other Harry came up behind him and reached around to push the board aside.
Harry went through and waited. The two looked at each other for several minutes, then Harry looked towards the house. It was still and the eves sparkled with dew. It was so tempting.... "You should go in. We're days late as it is: Mum's probably having a conniption."
Harry bit his lip. "I bet you could come in. I mean, you could wait and claim to be a long-lost son, or something. All drama like, where the doctors separated us so they could sell you on the black market, or something. It'd be like a BBC program. I know they'd like you."
It was one of the most ridiculous things Harry had ever had to contemplate, but also one of the most tempting. He could stay here. He could have parents and go to school and have a life.... A real life that wasn't threatened by an ominous prophecy in which he must kill or be killed.... It caused him physical pain to mutter, "Go on. Go in."
The other Harry waited a moment as if to be sure Harry meant it, then started towards the back door.
Struck by the need to have one final word, Harry stepped forward, out of the bushes and called, "Harry."
The boy turned.
"Give Mum and Dad a hug from me."
As Harry opened his mouth to reply, the back door opened.
James stepped out, a full trash bag in his hand. He looked exhausted, his clothes rumpled, his hair even messier than usual. "I will, honey," he was calling back inside.
Harry froze: the man couldn't see both Harrys together.... He scrambled to get back into the bushes and duck down before James looked in their direction.
Seeming to sense the situation, the other Harry said, "Dad?" drawing all attention to himself.
From the bush Harry watched as James dropped the trash bag and stared at his son. Several emotions passed over his face, the last being anger. "Where the hell--" He stopped. In a softer voice he said, "God, Harry." James moved forward and embraced his son. "Your mother is going to kill you," he choked.
As he crouched out off sight, tears stung Harry's eyes. He wanted to run out there. He wanted to go into that house and never have to leave it....
James and the other Harry walked towards the door. James was saying, "Seriously, though, where did you go?"
"I got lost."
Shaking his head, James opened the door, said, "You'd better have a better story for your mother," and the other Harry disappeared back to his old life. "You hurt your ankle, too? Here, Sit down...." The door closed.
The longing to follow became almost overwhelming, then he thought of Ron and Hermione, waiting for him. He thought of Ginny. If he stayed here, he wouldn't have her. Worse, she wouldn't have him--all she would have would be Voldemort, at full power, unchallenged....
Guilt flooded him as he realized he had seriously considered not going back to the wizarding world. Hoping his own parents would forgive him the lapse in judgment, Harry stood up and muttered to himself, "I have to go back." As he turned to leave, he looked towards the house one last time, craning his neck and standing on tip toe to see inside the kitchen window. The curtains were drawn and it somehow felt appropriate that he should be shut out from a finally view into the family he was giving up, even though it hurt terribly.
Taking his small vial out of his pocket, Harry poured the thick liquid into his mouth and waited. It was almost a minute before he forced himself to swallow and felt the irresistible pull back to the wizarding world--back to his own life. Even as he resolved to go back and do what he needed to, he also resolved to keep the rest of the Traveling Potion. When everything was over, when no one needed him any more, he might use it again....
When I first finished this story I was struck by how sad the ending feels. I thought, "That's it? That's the best ending you can come up with?!"
Rereading it for editing, though, I'm struck by how much I like the end. It is sad, but look at the setting: he, Ron, and Hermione are just about to set off in search of the horcruxes and try to destroy Voldemort for good. He's resolved, but no doubt scared and unsure. In the interest of writing as though this really could have happened in the time lime of the actual series (which I usually strive to do), I think it's the best ending I could give this story.
Also, now that it's over, I can share some of my original thoughts: when I started I wasn't sure if the magic world really did exist or not: it could have gone either way. When I wrote the scene where it turned out Harry's arm had been broken (I imagine that the Skelo-Gro brings bones back the way they were last in the person, and so Harry did have the markings of broken bone despite the fact that they'd been completely removed and regrown), I thought to myself, "I can always take it out. It's only a couple lines."
Then I got the idea that Voldemort had captured Harry in the raid on Hogsmeade, but needed to keep him alive for a while for some reason. To keep Harry from trying to escape or be easily rescued, he fashioned this fake world for Harry to "live" in while he was a prisoner. I wrote quite a bit of the story believing this would be the grand plot twist when all was revealed, but then something happened....
I thought of that same plot only as if James had never been killed, but only captured by Voldemort and was being kept in a pseudo-reality in which he thought he'd killed Voldemort the night he attacked the Potters. I won't go into that plot too far because I might actually finish it some day--it's not about James's fake life so much as James suddenly discovering he has been a prisoner and learning to cope with everything that really happened in the 18 years he'd been gone.
Whether I ever write that or not, that plot twist suddenly belonged to a completely different setting and I couldn't make it go with my Harry-in-Wonderland story, no matter how I thought of it. So I kept writing, going back to the idea that magic really didn't exist. The only problem was that by then I had plotted Harry finding out he was a prisoner, escaping, and defeating Voldemort (all of this before DH was released). I felt very strongly that the magic world had to exist.
The more I thought about it, the more it vexed me, until I sat down to write one day and the dream scene in which Harry, with his scar, sees the other Harry in Voldemort's clutches. From then on, the plot remained the same, though the exacts of where it would end kept changing. I even played with the idea of having James discover that the Harry he had wasn't his Harry, but I realized that would be ridiculous. We're talking a real-world James. No real-world parent would think their child was actually a version of himself from an alternate dimension. At least, no parent who should be allowed custody of their child....
This story took a long and winding journey to completion and I was scared it might not make it their with all the changes and difficulties I faced writing it. I'm very glad it did, though. I think it's my favorite fan fiction that I've written and I hope you all liked it as much as I liked writing it.
Thank you all once again for your reviews, and I hope at least some of you were interested enough in the back story to stick through this very lengthy end note. ^_^* It's sort of like sitting in the theater for the movie credits....
Speaking of credits, many thanks to chibiduo, who has been there from the beginning, suffered through many unfinished stories, and bribed me with pretty dollies of characters by way of encouragement.