Clouds of dust clogged the air, rubble littered the cobblestone, and the morning light filtered through a haze of fear and drab overcast. The air sang with the hissing flashes of spells, all of variant origin and lethality as they flew past his running body, which was leaping over the larger rubble and brickwork that cluttered the rain-slick-stone, underneath what used to be Diagon Alley. Powerful spells struck vacant shops to his left and right, causing them to crumple like card houses as he sprinted through the war zone. Trying to gain just enough headway to be out of sight, so that he could slip into one of the buildings and hide for a minute because he knew he wouldn't last much longer.
He could feel the sizzle of curses shooting past him like tiny falling stars. He heard the devastation they wrought when they made contact, narrowly missing him. His eyes burned with the dust and smoke that slipped under his dirty, cracked spectacles and created a film over his vision. He was inhaling enough smoke to make his chest tight and contract his airways painfully, it felt like he was breathing out more ash and smoke than he was breathing in. His body was numb with adrenaline and the only sensation that seemed to permeate it, was the pain and protests of his body.
Harry veered sharply to the left and practically flew down the narrow and winding paths that made up Knockturn Alley. The devastation here was less drastic, but not by much, as the dangerous and darker market place had long since been scourged by Aurors and torn apart in the new regime of the Light.
Finally seeing his chance, Harry climbed through a shattered display window and didn't stop until he was crouched behind the counter deeper in the shop and out of sight. The gutted shop still striped with scorch marks from the spells that must have been flung about here. He could hear spells still being cast and the ominous thudding of footsteps on the cobbles just outside the shop where he hid, but nobody passed the glass-littered threshold.
Harry's breathing was labored from the exertion of being chased up and down the abandoned wizarding market, but he forced it to be as quite as possible. His body was tense, lips trembling in pure, visceral terror. If he wasn't holding himself so rigidly, he knew he would be shaking like a leaf where he crouched. His wand was gripped so tightly in his sweaty palm that it might have either snapped or been permanently warped—it was already damaged enough in the earlier fight—if he ever made it out of there alive.
'When,' he fiercely corrected himself, 'not 'if', but when he made it out alive,' because the other scenario just wasn't an option.
The scent of smoke, rain, and brick dust burned the inside of his nose and dried out his airways, eliciting the urge to cough, but he forced the need down out of necessity. It would be so much easier if Harry could just disapparate but the in-laid wards throughout the alley prevented it to protect against thieves and spontaneous attacks. Though there were apparation spots at different ends of the alley, he had no doubt that they were currently being guarded, or at least there were too many between him and those spots. He was sure that all exits and floos had been shut down as well.
On top of it all, Harry's wand was cracked along its wooden length. He could still cast a few shields and a defensive spell or two, but even if he made it to the dissapparition point, he knew his wand would be done for once he apparated. There was the Elder wand in his bottomless bag, but he'd lost that somewhere in the alley during the scuffle. Essentially, he was trapped.
Though, he was quickly running out of options and means of escape. Something would have to give, and he would have to take a risk before it was too late.
The market had even been evacuated by Aurors before he'd arrived nearly twenty minutes ago. Under the impression that he was going to meet someone called 'The Ferryman' who was supposed to get Harry out of the country discretely and set him up somewhere far away with a new identity.
As to why he was being hunted like a dog in the streets and needed to get out of Britain so badly? Well, it was a bit complicated. . .
It started before the war had even ended, during his time horcrux-hunting with Ron and Hermione after their sixth year. Harry had stopped receiving visions from Voldemort at some point and at first, he thought that perhaps Snape's occlumency lessons had been of some use after all and he was finally starting to get the hang of it. That was when the dreams started.
In the beginning, they were quick barely-there flashes that disappeared into nothing the moment he awoke, just a timbre of a voice echoing in his ears or the nebulous sensation of breath on his neck. He thought nothing of it, until they began to solidify and grow stronger each night. The soft brush of cool fingertips against his cheek, the warmth pooling in his gut, the vague impression of warm bedding around him that wasn't his own and the strong frame of another form at his back.
Instinctively, he knew what it was and that if he continued to allow it, it would change things irrevocably for him. But without anyone else to know, anyone else to witness what was happening and try to convince that his actions were unwise, Harry allowed his honest desires to slip away from him and gave his unspoken permission for . . . more. The brief touches turned intimate and some of his nights were consumed by shared breath, desperate hands, and phantom blazes between the two.
He took comfort in it and hid the truth from his two long-time friends, who he knew wouldn't understand.
Dumbledore had told him before that a bit of Voldemort's magic had disconnected and founds its home inside Harry. It was why he could sometimes see through Voldemort's eyes, why they were inexplicably connected. He hadn't known at the time that it was really a Horcrux living inside him, but even then, he understood what it would mean if he ever told Hermione and Ron. They would think he was being possessed again. Turn against him, treat him as a spy—as unwilling of a spy he may be.
However, Harry also knew that Voldemort didn't know of these dreams. The handsome young man in his dreams was . . . different. He never uttered Harry's name, and there was no recognition in his eyes when they met at night in the privacy of his own mind. Something in him told him that it was Tom Riddle and not Voldemort he was with. A distinction he felt only he would make at that point in time.
Which is why, when the war inevitably found its way to Hogwarts, Harry felt minimal qualms fighting Voldemort. Because he knew it wasn't him. He wasn't entirely sure what it was, but the necrotic, festering wizard he faced was without a doubt unaware of Harry's dreams and he certainly wasn't the source. Harry held no love for the person who visited his dreams. However, he had found bountiful comfort there and there was a bond of some sort—perhaps even a friendship.
And so, when it came time to finally face Voldemort, to start doling out lethal curses, Harry . . . he just couldn't. Somewhere along the way, he'd lost his surety in what he was fighting for and even though Voldemort was vile and insane and resembled nothing of the soft hands and heavy gazes he'd grown so familiar with, he still couldn't bring himself to do it. He wanted to leave right then, just walk off of the battle field and let the pieces fall where they may. But then he discovered the Horcrux inside of him and realized that he would never be able to walk away. Not really.
Voldemort offered him an ultimatum and it became fairly easy after that. Most thought he'd done what he had out of bravery—sacrificing himself when Voldemort threatened to slay everyone Harry knew—but it wasn't. He didn't do it for them. He was tired. He didn't have anything to fight for anymore. The dreams had stopped months ago and he didn't feel like fighting any longer. So, he went to die. Simple as that.
Except . . . nothing's ever that simple.
It wasn't until Harry faced his end in the forbidden forest and appeared in the blindingly-white Kings Cross Station that he finally encountered what had been the cause of the dreams. He remembered very little about the encounter, but he could still bring up flashes of dark blue almond-shaped eyes, alabaster skin, and soft red lips that tasted like honey. The only thing he remembered with clarity, was Tom's parting message. Tom spoke of a gift he had for Harry, a gift that Harry had to protect. He told him that he must survive and protect his gift. He told Harry to kill Voldemort, that it was okay and that the last of Voldemort's soul needed to be put to rest.
For the first time in almost a year, Harry had a purpose. One that he wanted to pursue. Protect Tom's gift, whatever it might be. That he could do.
It was the last time he encountered the pieced-together soul of the man who had long-since been fated to leave this world.
When he awoke, he pretended to have been killed and when the time was right, he faced Voldemort one last time. Not for revenge, or to save the hordes of people at his back who were stained in other people's blood. He did it to fulfil his promise to his friend and put a tortured and mutilated soul at peace.
The war was won, people collected their dead, grieved, rebuilt. Harry felt the loss of his phantom companion and the weight of the war left him too tired to maintain pretenses or the relationships he'd held onto for so long. He retreated into himself and hid away from the public.
He thought he just needed time to get out of his funk, recuperate, heal, and he'd be able to see his friends again without feeling tense and nauseous. They didn't understand though, because everything they'd been through had only made the couple closer and stronger together and they thought that that was what Harry needed, so they prodded and probed and showed up at Grimmauld Place without warning to try and drag him out for more light-hearted activities.
The first time they had succeeded in that, he woke up the next morning with his haggard appearance plastered all over the front page of the Prophet, spouting out a bunch of nonsense about him being ill or having been permanently injured somehow in the war. People sent him letters of condolences and referred him to specialized healers they knew that worked in everything from dragon pox to lost limbs to cancer. People took one look at him and thought he was dying!
For Merlin's sake, it had only been two weeks since the war had ended! Were people really that desperate to move on and forget that they resorted to acting as if nothing was wrong before the dirt had even settled over the graves of the dead? He needed time, how could no one understand that?
However, when Harry took a good hard look at himself in the mirror, he realized it wasn't as batty an assumption as he'd hopped. He had shit to sort through, yes, but it wasn't just a mental thing—he really did look ill! Then, about three weeks after the war had ended, Harry's health took a turn for the worst. Every day he spent hours feeling so nauseous he could barely get out of bed and had to depend on Kreacher to get him his meals.
After several days of no change, he finally told Ron and Hermione about his health and they immediately got him a home visit from a healer. It had been the first time he'd talked to his friends in over a week, an olive branch in hopes that they could begin to repair things. Looking back, he really wished he'd dealt with it on his own.
After only a short fifteen-minute physical and consultation, Harry's world was blown apart and yet at once compacted down into something so incredibly small. He hadn't known it was possible for him to be able to . . . conceive. It wasn't supposed to be possible without a multitude of potions and spells—all incredibly dark in nature, according to a blanched-faced-Ron—to prepare for such a thing to be an option. And in the span of only a minute, while the healer none-too-subtly probed him with questions about who could possibly be the other father to the tiny and incredible human life growing inside of him, he knew that the how wasn't really important anymore because he knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the gift the Tom Riddle's soul had spoken of and given him.
Harry sent the healer away and after days of his friends pushing him for answers, promising him they could be trusted and that they'd support him no matter what—the tenseness in their voice and expressions certainly told otherwise—Harry gave in and confessed to everything. He didn't realize until later that three tasteless, odorless drops of Veritaserum had been added to his tea to loosen his lips. Harry had forced the couple to leave and over the following couple of weeks, Harry grew more and more jumpy and anxious as he received absolutely no word from Ron or Hermione and every time he dared to leave his house, he swore he saw people following him from the edges of his vision. Harry changed his wards around Grimmauld Place to keep out everyone but himself.
Every few days, a notice from St. Mungo's would appear amongst his post, stating something vague about there being an issue with his health and requesting he come in for further examination. Harry ignored them, the letters being far too ambiguous and something ominous roiling in his gut that told him to stay far away. After the third ignored St. Mungo's letter, Harry began getting notices from the Ministry as well, just as vague but even more dangerous it seemed. A few from Ron and Hermione telling him to visit them, that they wanted to make up for what they did, had him piecing together exactly what his friends had done after their discovery.
When Harry didn't respond to those either, the messages in them changed to urging Harry to 'do the right thing' and get rid of what was growing inside of him—never referring to it as an actual baby. Harry, knowing that he didn't have long until things turned truly dangerous for both him and his child, started searching desperately for a way out of the mess that didn't involve giving up his only real chance at a family, and also throwing away the gift his secret friend had left with him to protect. Soon enough, the media started publishing stories about him to paint him as a dark wizard who would be toxic to their community if something wasn't done, he knew he had no choice but to leave, and fast.
Harry barely had a moment to revel in the oddity and fascination of the prospect of the life growing inside of him—not yet visible on his flat stomach—before he had set a meeting with "The Ferryman" and got himself mixed up in his whole mess. The alley had been empty when he arrived and before he could run the other way, a mix of Aurors and former Order members were at his back, throwing deadly spells and pushing him further into the alley.
They weren't there to apprehend him, they were there to kill him and—more importantly—the potentially dark wizard (some even believed he was carrying the reincarnation of the Dark Lord himself in his belly) growing inside of him. He wouldn't let that happen, though.
Harry came back to himself as he heard the sounds of people cease their spell casting and instead shouting out instructions to search the area. Harry's heart pounded painfully in his chest and his breathing was so ragged it felt like he'd never truly catch his breath again. His body ached from the exertion from running and hitting his shins on fallen carts and debris, as well as continuously throwing up spells and shields as he went, through his damaged and unreliable wand. His head throbbed from a large gash over his temple that had bled profusely down the side of his face, matting in his curly black hair and eyebrow, and made the side of his face and neck feel stiff and tacky from the viscous scarlet liquid that had dried there.
He was in a bad way and knew he wouldn't be able to keep up a fight for much longer. With a deep breath, Harry gently pressed his free hand to the flat, but firm expanse of flesh under his shirt and willed the baby to be okay, to hang in there just a little while longer. It was too early for a bit of running and maybe a bump or two to effect the little one just yet, but what he'd been doing couldn't have been good for his child.
After everything that had happened, finding out about the life he was carrying deep within him, Harry's entire world had shrunken down to this tiny, defenseless little light and he knew he never had and never will feel such an overwhelming need to protect something or someone as much as his child. It was so different from just protecting his friends; the difference being, Harry had been willing to die for his friends, but for this baby he was willing to kill. His morals, his pride, his sense of self-worth meant nothing in the face of his baby's safety.
Regaining a modicum of composure, Harry focused on the situation at hand once more and knew he had to move. Those people outside that he had once considered friends and comrades, they were relentless in their need to eradicate anything and everything to do with dark magic and Voldemort, knowing that Harry was carrying what could technically be considered his child? It meant that Harry and his baby had to be killed at whatever cost and they would search every single inch of Diagon Alley until they found him. He wasn't that well-hidden, either.
He was trapped, unable to disapparate, and surround on all sides. His only option was to aim for one of the apparation spots and run like hell. Casting both a silencing spell on his feet and a disillusionment spell on himself, Harry slowly moved around the side of the counter, keeping a keen ear out for the sounds of the witches and wizards running about around him. With all the smoke and dust clouding the air, Harry's partially disguised form wouldn't be very hard to spot, unlike if he had his invisibility cloak on him, so he would just have to make a break for it.
Harry climbed back out of the open window as quietly as he could, but the silencing spell only worked on what his feet came in contact with, so where the shards of glass were more concentrated and layered, the telling crunch could still be heard. In the street—not some three meters away—stood Ron, flanked by half a dozen Aurors as he scanned his surroundings with a sharp gaze, wand in hand and ready.
Once Ron turned towards where Harry was, he didn't waste another moment, knowing he was about to be spotted, and dropped into a dead sprint in the opposite direction. Almost immediately he heard unintelligible shouts and the spells were once again being shot at him full force. Harry knew the disillusionment spell would make him a harder target to hit, so he spent less precious time with shields and more energy just trying to get to the closest apparation point that he knew of.
That had been his mistake.
A powerful diffindo tore through the side of his calve and Harry nearly collapsed, but he was thrumming with adrenaline and some foreign instinct that had him desperately pushing onwards, even as the leg of his trousers soaked through with steadily blooming crimson. The next diffindo sliced through his shoulder and the pain made his cry out, but he didn't slow, he couldn't slow.
His vision started to blur and his limbs tingled strangely as his head swam and he didn't know if it was the adrenaline, shock, or blood loss since he hadn't a moment to spare to figure out how badly he was injured. And then his body started to turn against him, slowing down on its own accord, stumbling more. Harry wanted to weep because he was so close but he knew he wouldn't make it and it fractured something inside of him to realize this but he pushed with everything he had and cried out desperately.
With all the desperation of a new parent about to lose everything, Harry leapt forward, hardly feeling the tickle of wards sweeping over him. Harry was already spinning on the ball of his foot before he properly landed and only caught the furious, red-faced visage of his former friend before his world was compressed down tightly. He felt like he was being dragged through a keyhole by a fishhook behind his navel until he was spat out again and landed heavily on his back, knocking the air from his lungs.
The first, weakened thought to filter through his head was, 'at least it wasn't my stomach.' He would have laughed at how strange a thought like that would have been just two months ago. Though, the pain lancing through his body and the panic still raking its claws over his brain certainly weren't a laughing matter.
He didn't know what his panicked mind had chosen as a destination for his appariton, so first things first, he needed to figure out where he was. Sitting up, Harry looked around and realized he was on the ground in a dense, remote, and towering forest. It wasn't the forbidden forest around Hogwarts, but it looked old and just as untouched by humans.
Harry felt something crumble in his hand and looked down to find the wand he'd been using was now no more than ash. For many reasons, he needed a wand, but one good thing to come out of his wand essentially turning to dust was that there was now no way for anyone to track him. Any magical trace from his apparition would dissipate immediately without the anchor of his wand anymore. Which meant that for a while at least, he was completely untraceable.
Unfortunately, Harry thought as he carefully pushed himself up off the ground and took catalog of his situation, he was wandless (pretty much without magic, since wandless magic in his state might push him towards magical exhaustion and would only do more harm to him and his baby than good) he was also injured, in the middle of nowhere, and had all of Wizarding England out for his head.
"Shite." He croaked.
With what had happened earlier, he had no doubt that if he so much as showed his face in public—muggle or otherwise—he would be caught and killed on the spot.
As much as he didn't want to admit it, for now at least, staying in the woods was probably the safest place for him. Who knew how long it would take him to find civilization again, he didn't know where he was and staying in one place seemed like a sure way to get himself caught. So, he needed to move, but being in the woods for now, probably improved his chances of living to fulfil his promise and meet his own child. Which was all he wanted.
With an uneasy flip in his gut, Harry picked a direction and began walking, needing to put distance between him and where he'd apparated before he could look over his injuries and try to treat them a bit.
He carefully sank to the ground, back leaning against a fallen log. There was enough foliage and trees around him that someone would have to almost be on top of him to know he was there. He'd been walking for over a hour and the thick forest around had not yet given any signs of ending. If it weren't for the known limitations of apparition he would suspect he wasn't even in England anymore.
Finally feeling far enough away to rest and assess his wounds, Harry had found a hidden spot to do just that. Tentatively, he grabbed the hem of his jeans leg and began pulling it up. When he reached the gash from the diffindo earlier, he was careful not to disturb any scabbing too much. The wound wasn't very deep and had already stopped bleeding, it was clotting just fine. His trousers had also prevented it from getting dirty.
Harry pulled his cloak out of his magically expanded pocket and with a bit of struggling and the help of a pocket knife he started carrying around to reassure himself he could defend himself against wizards and muggles alike, managed to tear off just the bottom corner. After all, he knew he would need it later to be as intact as possible when the sun set and the muggy summer heat of day gave way to frigid nights. Placing the square of clean fabric over the gash, he slowly rolled his trousers back down over it to hold it in place—the material being just tight enough to do so. If he was careful, it would probably heal up in a week without too big a risk of infection.
It would be so much easier if Harry had a wand or could even attempt a wandless healing spell. Though, healing spells were complex and trying them without a wand in any condition would rocket him towards magical exhaustion immediately. No, best he use magic as sparingly as possible and only keep it to very simple spells.
Sighing, Harry moved on to the most worrying wound. The slice over his shoulder. Even now, he could feel that it was deeper then the one on his leg. Combined with the fact that it was in a harder to reach place and he knew it would be a bitch to take care of. Harry carefully pulled his long-sleeve shirt off, bunching up a clean patch of fabric to place in his mouth before pointing his index finger at the wound over his shoulder and shooting a jet of water from a weak aguamenti spell. Grunting into the material clenched between his teeth, Harry eventually ended the spell and lowered his hand, dropping it to his lap and panting lightly at the edgings of exertion.
He knew that would be the extent of what he could do wandlessly until he had some rest and maybe something to eat. With the reminder of food, Harry knew that, until he was able to find his way out of the woods, his survival skills would be put to the test. He couldn't give up just yet, he needed to protect his child.
Harry lightly pressed his hands to his flat stomach, taking a modicum of comfort and reassurance in the gesture that he had been doing more and more each day since discovering what lay beneath. Perhaps it would be a lot more effective once it began to grow and there was something tangible to feel instead of just knowing what was there. With a heavy exhale, he stuttered back into motion and cut a longer strip from the hem of his cloak and gingerly wrapped it around the wound before tying the ends together so it would stay in place. Pulling his shirt back on and shoving his cloak into his expanded pocket, Harry pushed up off the forest floor and was once again on the move.
His pace was slow, stilted, with a slight limp when the pain of the gash on his leg got to be too much, but he tried not to stop frequently. It didn't look like he would be making it out of the woods by night fall and so he needed to find a suitable place to rest for the evening.
Unlike his time spent horcrux-hunting, Harry was alone, almost completely without magic, with no simple source of food and no magical tent to keep him warm and safe at night. In his current situation, Harry could only hope to find some place dry, out of sight, and out of reach from most animals. The further he walked and the more he looked, though, the more it seemed like he would have to settle for curing up between the thick roots of an enormous tree and pray it didn't rain. More than once, Harry went digging through his pockets, wishing that he had been mistaken and hadn't dropped his bag in the commotion, however, all he had on him was his cloak, his pocket knife, and a now useless pouch of galleons.
It was hot too, the humid air settled down on his shoulders heavily and every inhale was so thick with moisture it felt like he might drown if he breathed too deeply. Harry reached the top of a rocky, steep incline and wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes. His shirt was damp with perspiration, his silky onyx curls sticking to his neck and forehead. His feet were aching something fierce and he could feel the beginning of blisters on the backs of he heels were his shoes had been rubbing against them for hours.
He decided to take a short break at the top of the incline, leaning back against a large boulder to catch his breath and cool himself down for a minute before he could continue. Another weak aguamenti gave him a stream of fresh, clean water to drink from. He couldn't hold the spell for long, but Harry knew he shouldn't rely too much on what was around him—berries, plants, small bodies of still water—as he didn't know what might be poisonous, inedible, or riddled with harmful bacteria and disease. The safest route was to only drink his own water and try to hunt some animal if he could. He was hungry, but he knew he didn't have the time or energy to sort out how he might manage that just yet. First, he needed shelter.
Harry was getting ready to start walking again when he paused, hearing something far in the distance. It took a bit of straining to figure out what the static-like sound coming through the trees was, but he perked up when he realized he was hearing the sound of moving water. It was also in the direction he was already headed, so Harry just kept going straight.
Several minutes later, he found himself standing on the bank of a wide, but shallow, and slowly drifting river. The water looked clean and clear. If harry hadn't strictly decided to stick to aguamenti to drink from, he would have surely been tempted to drink from the river. Pale green eyes scanned up and down the river. Considering his options.
The river cut off the path he'd originally been taking, but it wasn't like he knew specifically where he was going. Besides, he couldn't cross the river here without getting his leg wet—as the water at the center of the river was at least waist-deep—which could set back his heeling. He also would have to cross barefoot since he didn't want to get his shoes wet, as he didn't want to get any sort of infection like gangrene out here and end up losing his toes. So crossing the river was out—for now—but it might be a good idea to follow it down stream. He would have a better way of keeping track of his path, although he won't be drinking from it, it might be good to have the river to cool down or wash up in—both his shirt and pants were becoming stiff with drying blood from his wounds. Plus, if he had any hopes of catching animals for food later on, sticking close to the river made that much easier, as all animals would need water eventually.
With his decision made, Harry began walking down the river bank alongside the river, stopping occasionally to scoop up some cool water to splash on the back of his neck, mindful of his make-shift bandage so as not to get it wet.
As the sun slowly shifted from its highest, hottest point in the sky to gradually sink towards the western horizon, Harry felt like perhaps things were looking up for him in the smallest ways as he found himself a suitable place to settle in for the night. Which came in the form of a cave.
It wasn't very deep, more like a pocket taken out of the side of a cliff than an actual cave, but it wasn't occupied by any animals, it had a roof to protect him from any rain, it was also tucked behind a thick grove of trees and huge boulders, so even if he started up a fire, he wouldn't be seen. Harry spent the rest of his afternoon before the sun disappeared completely, gathering wood—as dry of wood as he could manage in the climate—and even managed to find a bush of familiar berries among the trees. The lower branches were picked clean by animals, but the topmost branches still held quite a few of the maroon and dark-purple-colored berries left.
Boysenberries, nearly twice as big as raspberries, Harry recognized them immediately, as there had been a bush of them in the Dursley's back yard he always used to eat from secretly when he was especially hungry. It wouldn't be much and he certainly couldn't be sustained by them for long, but after a day of filling himself up on only water, the berries were more than appreciated.
Once back at the cave, he set up a ring of stones to contain his fire and started arranging the sticks he had gathered into a cone shape with some looser wood-fiber he had scraped away from a dead tree for kindling at the center of the cone. Setting aside a pile of other wood he would need to keep the fire going, Harry crouched down next to his wood and kindling. After that, all it took was the snap of his fingers for a few sparks to set the kindling alight, a bit of tending from Harry to get the blaze going and he had himself a fire. He could thank his bleak childhood in the muggle world for this achievement. There was a fireplace in the Dursley's living room and of course none of them were willing to crouch down and risk getting smudged with soot and ash every time they felt a chill.
With that, Harry ate his berries, drank some more water, pulled on his cloak as the night leeched the warmth from the forest, and settled in until morning. It took a while, but eventually exhaustion took over and he was able to fall asleep on the hard, unyielding ground, his legs pulled up to curl protectively over his stomach. His dreams sought to fixate on what he had refused to think about in the light of day. Twisting memories of bushy light brown curls and flaming orange locks into disgusted gazes and shouted spells meant to slice him from navel to breastbone. The betrayal of his friends haunted his dreams, where he once found such comfort. Now, his comfort—his hope—was in his waking hours, curled up tightly and so very small behind the protective walls of his body.