Disclaimer: Nothing is mine; everything is J K Rowling's.

Still not quite finished... I bet the chapter title makes more sense now.

So I'm caving into peer pressure and posting this now, but review this chapter separately please, because I've tweaked the prose style a bit more introspective for this moment, and I want to know if it's any good.

And a shout out to those who realised the reference to the Tower of Joy scene in the last chapter; I realised halfway through writing that the dialogue style at the start felt familiar for a reason and decided just to go the whole way and include a proper reference.

Chapter 102

A girl with silver hair stood before him, crouched, crying, and shaking with rage, fingers clutching the silver chain about her neck.

'For you,' he deduced aloud, 'he did this for you.'

It was confusing.

He had been sure he had stripped everything away, torn every attachment, taken every piece of his opponent's person save his life, yet, somehow, he also knew that he had not, that he had never even come close, and he had inexplicably known this all along.

The strange, pale, knotted wand that had turned such power against him floated gently into his hand, and at its touch came wave after wave of cold puissance, exhilarating and addictive. The tip glimmered green, levelling itself at the girl who had cheated him from true victory. How he hated her, how he wished he had ensured she wasn't real, then made sure she was dead, so that their duel might have forever answered questions he had no other way of solving.

'I want nothing more than to kill you,' he whispered. 'You were the piece of him I missed, the one that drove him to die, rather than fight, the piece that needed to be torn away before he could truly equal me.'

The silver-haired girl did not answer. She gathered the body of his final challenger into her arms, wand twisting, tearing at the wards, shifting them. He shifted his weight, trying again to apparate, but nothing happens, whatever she has done has not broken the wards that the remnants of the Ministry have thrown up.

He was hardly concerned, a good few minutes of rest here and he will have recovered sufficiently to shatter them himself, and victory will at last be his.

'He was more than you will ever be,' the girl hissed, features shifting as he knows enraged veela will.

The words of the Killing Curse hover at the tip of his tongue, but something shies away from saying them, it writhes, twists and screams within, protesting violently, furiously, and the strange wand falls almost involuntarily back to his side; there are others whom he has to kill, and he swiftly remembers the reason he should not act against her.

'You are protected by his sacrifice,' he told the girl, 'and Lord Voldemort does not make the same mistake twice.'

He has no horcruxes to anchor him now.

She vanished silently, apparating away, and taking the body of his equal with her, but at her departure a strange melancholy falls, a thick, grey shroud over everything he has achieved.

Fleur, he remembers. Her name is Fleur.

Something twists inside, twists so hard and fast it breaks, and with her and his rival gone, he finds himself feeling oddly alone.

He hates it.

Heat seethes about him, and the circle of his followers flinch. They are white-masked, for those that promised to stand beside him, those that had worn silver, are all gone, torn from him by the opponent he has now slain.

He died for the girl.

The idea is so foreign, so alien, he cannot understand it, the concept of willingly hurling himself into the emptiness sends shivers down his spine, and he cannot conceive of anyone that would have been worth that.

Yet it stirs memories he had long left behind him.

The bitter envy of the other children when he was able to leave to go to school, and they were left within the city to watch the fire fall from the skies, dreaming of death flying on metal wings.

The joy he had felt in escaping them, their war-riven, weary world, and finding a better one, one where he had belonged, where everyone was just as special as him.

The squirming agony as his wonder withered, broken beneath the brunt of bigotry, and the same jealousy that had always followed him.

It's lonely, isn't it, he remembers her saying, but he cannot quite recall her features, for they are distorted, blurred, and the only thing that sticks in his mind are her glasses. Wide, thick-framed, and cheap.

He shakes his head, unsure whether the memories are his, or simply some of those he has stolen over the years, the ones glimpsed in the thoughts of his foes and followers.

There are aurors, hit-wizards, and whomever else the Ministry has who can duel and die among them now.

'Go,' he whispers, and his Death Eater's disperse.

Go, he hears himself scream from decades ago, yelling it hotly at the others who tormented him with bitter, angry, jealous eyes, and hurtful words for the boy whose curiosity all the matrons thought was sweet before he learned to retaliate against their cruelty, to fight fire with fire.

He remembers running too, fleeing his less fleet-footed assailants, then, taking a wrong turn, he recalls wishing, and finding himself far away upon the roof.

There is magic around him, spells bursting, and burning about him.

He bats those that might strike him aside with wand he has claimed.

The Elder Wand, he smiles, but he cannot remember how he knows.

An auror with one arm steps bravely from the chaos to confront him, wand raised, eyes proud.

He dies in moments, torso burning and crumbling to ash from the heat of spells twice as powerful as they should be, but beneath his remnants, spreading from under soiled silk, are faint patterns of frost.

It's different, unexpected, but familiar, and for an instant the world twists away.

Let me show you the entrance, he grins, leading her by the hand into the bathroom.

She is not beautiful, she is not strong, but she is clever, she comes from where he has, the other world, and together things make sense. They are both reviled for being from that other place, both isolated in the world they left behind and the one they have found. He dreams of being strong, she dreams of being clever, and they know that they will achieve it with each other to help them.

Understanding is built from their years together.

Flames curled across the stone underfoot, washing past him as he tears control of them from the wizard who created the fire, twisting the inferno away, up the wall, and into the fight again.

The Death Eaters burn alongside the aurors, but he does not care, none of them swore to stand beside him.

He remembers other flames. Thick, bright, red ones. They poured across the floor of the orphanage, rippling from his feet as he rose furiously to defend the girl who had come to visit him there against their taunts, unable to restrain his emotions, full of hate, and fury for those ordinary, envious people.

The other children burned.

The smell of scorched flesh is one he knows well, he smells it now around him in the ruins, he smelt it then in the orphanage as it burnt, and he remembers the scent of his hands, blistered, peeling and painful from the frying pan in the kitchen of his relatives.

The something stabs at him again, and his mind recoils, the Elder Wand flicking up of its own accord to shield him from the curses of the female auror before him. She casts the Killing Curse, over and over, but he blocks it every time, his butterflies swallowing the spell effortlessly.

His wand twitches up, almost without command, tearing fist-sized holes through the chest of their assailant, glimmering orange spells arcing from its tip to leave bright, molten cracks against the walls.

'Damn you,' the auror gurgles, 'monster.'

She dies, but he flinches.

Monster, the girl whispers fearfully, you don't feel any remorse for those children, do you?

His fear, his anger, the betrayal, raw, open and agonising again. She who was supposed to understand turned her back on him, telling him she was going to alert the aurors, and ruin everything he longed for.

He cannot hurt her, despite her betrayal she is still the girl who came to find him, the one who stood between worlds with him, so he takes her memories instead, ripping away every recollection of their time together.

The rubble around him is a molten pool, Death Eaters and aurors alike are aflame at its edge, and he knows he is killing them, his foes, and his followers, but now, as he tries to think clearly, he cannot remember which is which, only two faces ever speak of friendship.

The silver-haired girl, with eyes of summer sky.

Fleur, part of him breathes with desperate longing.

The girl with glasses sobbing on the bathroom floor.

I feel a little better here, he hears her tell the mirror, but he knows she cannot remember why, because he stole that comfort from her when she abandoned him.

The book he has tucked under his arm, his diary, was created to replace her, but it is ink and paper, and there is no real understanding to be taken from its cold pages; it only echoes his own thoughts back at him.

His magic pulses, a whirling wave of heat pushes the battle back from him, and the wizards and witches flee, their duels moving away from him, to safety from his flames.

The ruin of the courtyard is his own now, but he has been alone before. It is no hard thing to recall the way they turned their back on him, his so-called friends, betraying him from beneath his shadow over such petty things, leaving him when he grew strong enough to survive. His family too, when he finds them, do not want him, they pretend to have never known of him, and deny his relation to them while they look down at him from their perfect life, not wanting him to intrude into the relationships they have.

He kills them, taking revenge and a ring, binding a piece of himself to the heirloom after he kills the man who should have been his father, so that he will never die, and when he eventually escapes the emptiness it can never reclaim him. He killed the traitor too. Captured, bound and murdered him among the trees, taking revenge for the loss of the family he should have had, and ripping himself apart after the act to take his freedom.

The portrait of his ancestor, the last semblance of kin he has, his teacher, his mentor, a parent in paint, turns his back on him, disgusted by his attempts to kill the ordinary, envious filth that have fled the other world to corrupt the one that he will make his.

He remembers it vanishing beneath white flames, surrounded by runes he both recognises and cannot recall, the canvas curling and charring away to ash.

The courtyard seems a world away, and he is with the girl in the bathroom again, only this time she is crying, remembering some of the things he thought he had taken, and he hopes, he hopes so much, that she might return to him.

Wishes like that don't come true, he reminds himself, dreaming bitterly of green-eyes in mirrored glass.

The girl betrays him again, and this time he is too angry to care for her.

Her body is lifeless and still on the bathroom floor, and while there is no blood the scarlet still stains his hands. He knows now that he will always be alone, that no matter how strong he becomes they will never love him, never understand him.

In the chamber of secrets he seethes and broods, while the ghost of the girl cries in the bathroom above.

Let them hate me, he remembers deciding. Let them hate me so long as they fear me.

Old castles, pine-filled forests, dark things, dark places, magic without words, without name, ritual after ritual, blood, pain, sacrifice and swelling strength.

I will be the greatest wizard, he promises himself. I won't look back.

A vivid flash of emerald light, pain his mind cannot bear to recall, ripped from his body and cast adrift on the world, fleeing, floating, consuming and surviving until eventually the agony is ended.

Red eyes burn like coals in his sockets, stained as scarlet as his soul, reflected back from water spilt out of the cauldron, the vessel of his rebirth, and his followers shrink back in terror from his new visage.

To be powerful is to be feared.

There is only power, only fear, and he will have the most.

The something within twists violently again, objecting, protesting, pushing a single hue of sky blue into his thoughts, and the smell of sweet, burnt holly.

It is not the girl who betrayed him in the bathroom; it is the other girl. The one with silver hair, the one his rival died for, who loves sugar, her sister, fingers in her hair, and elegant, delicate things.

The one I died for, he realised, recalling kisses against the bark of a hot tree, the simple comfort of entwined fingers, and the perfect knowledge that he was always somebody with her.

The flames burned within as well as without, magic bending, boiling and swirling as it fought itself. Beneath the fire was frost, as deep, dark and cold as the flames were bright and hot, perfectly alike, but impossibly different, unable to coexist.

Finally he understands.

He is not one, but one of two.

Only one soul can inhabit a body, there cannot be two. He knows this from thirteen years of trying, even the homunculus he inhabits, resilient in so many ways, cannot survive that.

Neither can live while the other survives.

The last line of the prophecy that he has known, and not known for years, sends a shiver down his spine. One of them will fall into the emptiness, and be consumed by death.

He laughs almost giddily, because he does not know which he is. The boy who burnt the children, or the one who was abandoned in the tower, the young wizard who killed his absent father, or the one who burnt the painting, Voldemort, or Harry.

The frost and the fire writhe.

The cold swells within.

The flames flare without.

Something snatches the Elder Wand from his fingers, slicing his palms as it is stolen away, so he pulls the yew wand from his sleeve in its place. The slender length of wood is more false comfort than protection, for his magic is no longer his, but theirs; it belongs to Harry and Voldemort, and he cannot control it.

The wand spins about his fingers as he twirls it, over and over, round and round, remembering one life, then another, with only an emerald moment to separate them.

Which was I? He wonders, for he does not know, can't tell.

There is anger, fierce as flame, hate, cold as ice, seeping through the stilted, twisted, warped memories of two shattered souls. They are scattered, tattered shadows, bound in foreign flesh, thrust together within a mannequin of man, mutilated and merged.

The crooked, pale yew wand thrums with heat.

It is smoking.

The wood peels, burns, and cracks, flames running from its tip to his severed sleeve; the shredded, ragged robes are wreathed in white flames, but feel as cold and smooth as wet silk.

A palmful of ashes that were once yew slip through ivory-skinned, long fingers that blacken and crack, baring bone.

Only then does he realise that he is burning too.

The flames roar in rage, and the ice howls in hate, but neither are loud enough to obscure the pain, and there is nothing, for he has no wand, no magic, no name and no-one.

All he can do is scream.

AN: Please read and review, thanks to everyone who does.

P.S. I apologise for these few chapters being a little shorter than usual, but I'm sure you all understand why that is!