Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Harry Potter and no copyright infringement is intended.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Carmine Rose, BarneyXII, and the folks over at DLP for helping to make this readable. And thanks to Andromalius for the new summary.
"It'll get worse before it gets better," Harry Potter said. He ran a hand through his hair, the other holding open a red, velvet curtain as he peered through the window. His eyes strained as he leaned closer to the glass and gazed out into night. Thick flakes of snow pelted the ground, covering the countryside in white sheets.
He felt a pair of slender arms encircle his waist and the smell of jasmine hit his nostrils. For just a moment he allowed himself to smile, before turning to face the woman standing behind him. "I think I'd go crazy without you, Daphne."
She looked up at him and traced her fingers down his cheek. "I know you would."
Harry bent down and pressed his lips against her forehead.
He walked across the room and stopped by the fire roaring in the hearth. He kicked off his shoes. The wooden floor was warm beneath his feet. He pulled his set of black dress robes over his head and draped them across the back of a recliner, unbuttoning his shirt as he moved. Sighing, he walked back to the fireplace and picked up a moving picture from the mantel.
It was an old photo, from their fifth year at Hogwarts. The three of them stood by the old, stone bridge down from the castle. Harry draped his right arm around Daphne's shoulders, holding her close to him. She smiled and lifted a hand to brush her blonde hair out of her eyes. The third figure stood to Harry's left, a grin on his face, playfully shoving Harry away from him.
"Remember when Neville jumped into the Black Lake?" Daphne asked.
Harry snorted. "How could I forget? He was sitting right beside me on the boat."
She nodded, smiling fondly. "Did Hannah ever get her ring back?"
"Yeah. Flitwick summoned it for her when we got to the castle." Harry chuckled, his eyes never leaving the picture. "Neville always swore he could've gotten it himself if Hagrid hadn't pulled him back onto the boat."
Harry sat the picture back on the mantle and collapsed onto the sofa. Daphne sat beside him and Harry wrapped his arms around her.
"What about the dance he got out of the French Champion at the Yule Ball?" Harry said.
"Fleur something-or-other, wasn't it?" Daphne asked.
"That's right. She said 'non' at first, of course. But Neville never gave up on anything. She eventually agreed, probably just to get him to leave her alone. There wasn't a man in the room who wouldn't have traded places with him."
"I seem to remember there was this one fellow who only had eyes for a certain Slytherin witch." Daphne poked him in the ribs and Harry couldn't help but grin.
He stared into the dancing flames, and he thought. Neither of them said anything and the silence extended for minutes-he wasn't sure exactly how many-as his mind returned to that night, all those years ago. A lifetime ago. More than anything else, he remembered the feelings. Happiness. Contentment. Love.
His eyes found Daphne again. "Those were the days, weren't they?"
"Your glory days, eh Potter? Mother always said you Quidditch-types peak before you leave Hogwarts." She pulled his head down and brought her lips to his.
Harry pulled away after a long moment and grumbled, "You know your mother loves me."
He stood and picked another photo off the mantle. Daphne wore a flowing, white dress, a veil pulled back behind her head. She beamed at the camera. Harry stood beside her, his hand in hers, their fingers entwined. Neville stood to Harry's other side, clapping him on the back.
Harry closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He sighed.
"He was a good man, Daphne. He deserved better." Harry hung his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. When he spoke again, his voice was low, strained. "I can't do this again, Daph. I can't put anyone else I love in the ground."
Daphne sat on the couch and pulled her legs close to her body, her eyes following Harry as he walked around the room. "It really is going to get worse, isn't it?"
Harry swallowed heavily, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I figure it will. There's no way around it, really. Voldemort won't stop until the Resistance is broken, and they'll fight to the last man."
"Do they have any chance? To get rid of You Know Who, I mean?" She looked so damned hopeful. He wished he could lie to her.
Instead, he shook his head. "Not likely. Even if they had the strength to fight his army, no one since Dumbledore's been able to match Voldemort."
"What about Diggory, the fellow who won the Tournament? They say he's clever with a wand."
"Clever's not good enough. Not for Voldemort. You were there when he killed Moody in front of the whole damned school. I've never met a more wily old codger, and Voldemort cut him down like he was a first-year. Nobody's landed a curse on him since he came back."
"But it would just take one lucky shot," she protested.
"For all we know, he can't even die. Everyone thought Dumbledore had killed him twenty years ago, but it wasn't enough."
Daphne nodded and tried to smile, but Harry could tell it was forced. "We'll be safe, won't we?"
"As safe as anyone can hope to be, I suppose. We've never opposed Voldemort, so he probably won't target us specifically, but-" Harry trailed off.
"But You Know Who has never shown much concern for collateral damage," she finished.
"Exactly. He wasn't even targeting Neville. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Harry paused, rubbing his eyes. "Suppose I should be grateful I didn't lose you, too."
Lines formed on Daphne's forehead. Harry supposed it was a look of pity, but he wasn't entirely certain who it was for. Frank and Alice were devastated, of course. Not to mention Hannah. There was no shortage of people deserving pity.
"We could leave," Daphne said. "Get out of Britain and never look back."
"Leave?" Harry asked. "Just like that?"
"Why not? My family's been stuck on the continent since the war started. And now, with Neville… we don't have any connections to hold us here," she said.
Harry paced back across the room. "But it isn't really that simple, is it? I haven't heard of anyone escaping this island in more than three years-not since the Muggle government fell."
"But it isn't impossible, is it? Even if we can't apparate or portkey, we can still cross the Channel, or the North Sea, even! You Know Who can't control every inch of the coastline." Her eyes were so wide, her expression so unbelievably earnest, that Harry couldn't even dream of telling her no.
He rubbed his chin and looked down at the floor. He nodded. "I suppose it could be done."
"Then let's do it," she said, jumping to her feet. "Let's run away from it all."
Harry couldn't help but smile at her enthusiasm. "It'll take some time, love." Harry walked the length of the room again, speaking under his breath as he moved. "Won't be able to use magic without attracting their attention. A boat, maybe…"
"If we could contact my Uncle Alain in the French Ministry, maybe he could do something-help us get across the Channel, even."
Harry shook his head. "All the foreign ministries are content to let Voldemort be, as long as he stays on his side of the fence. They won't get involved. No, if we do this, it's just going to be the two of us. We can't rely on anyone else."
"Us against the world." She beamed at him. "No matter what happens, Harry, I wouldn't have it any other way."
Harry padded across his back yard, the grass damp beneath his feet. It had been three months since he and Daphne had decided to leave England. Spring had only just begun chasing the winter chill from the air. Harry stopped. He shivered, hesitating for only a second as he reached for the wrought-iron gate separating his home from the family graveyard.
The gate creaked on its hinges as Harry pulled it open. He swallowed heavily and moved forward, pulling it closed behind him. He walked, unblinking, toward a pair of tombstones at the far end of the cemetery. The monuments were nothing ostentatious. Made of black granite, they didn't quite reach Harry's waist. Still, he found them quite fetching. He'd picked them out, after all. His pace slowed as the graves grew nearer.
"Hey mum, dad." Harry fell to one knee, just in front of the tombstones. He ran his fingers across the inscriptions, the stone cool to his touch. The bottom date on each read January 17, 1998. "Sorry I haven't stopped by more often."
It had been more than five years. More than five years since he lost his parents, since Voldemort's second campaign of terror had begun in earnest. And he was too ashamed to count the number of times he'd visited their graves.
"I guess I never really made peace with … you know, everything." He ran his hands through his hair, exhaling loudly. He laughed. "I really am pants at this, aren't I?"
His eyes misted as his laughter trailed off. He said nothing for a long moment.
"That last Christmas, before … it happened, that was one of the best times of my life. Helping you with dinner, mum, and flying with you, dad, it was all so perfect." Harry paused, wiping his eyes. "And I know you thought Daphne and I were too young, but when I told you I was going to propose, you were so supportive."
He was silent again, for several minutes this time.
"I … I don't think I'll be able to talk to you like this again. Daphne and I are leaving. Getting out of the country." Harry closed his eyes and shook his head. "I know I should want to get revenge for you, for Neville, for everybody. And it if were just me, I think that's what I'd do. But I've got to look out for Daphne, to keep her safe.
"We're going south, to the coast, and crossing the Channel. You always talked about how beautiful France is, mum. I imagine it'll suit us after being cooped up here in England for so long." Harry bowed his head his, still trying to find the right words. He'd been looking for them for half a decade. He had hoped that the decision to leave, the knowledge that he'd never see his parents' graves again, would inspire a moment of clarity. Perhaps it did.
"I guess I just wanted to say that … that I miss you." Harry sniffed, rubbing his eyes. "And I love you. I love you both so much."
He couldn't think of anything else to say, but he couldn't leave. Not yet. It just didn't feel right, somehow. So he stayed, struggling to let go. Struggling to hold on.
"Harry?" Daphne's voice was soft, as if she were a great distance away. He turned his head and saw her standing in front of a newer-looking marble monument, not far from where he was kneeling, the corners of her mouth upturned in a sad smile. She had a traveling bag slung over her shoulder. She offered Harry her hand.
He nodded and rose to his feet. He took Daphne's hand in his and they walked back to the gate. It creaked loudly as Harry opened it.
"I didn't hear you come in," he said, motioning toward the gate.
Daphne shrugged. "Seemed like you were lost in thought."
"Yeah," he said. "Guess I was."
"So," she began, her smile growing much more bright, "Are you ready?"
"It's more than 300 miles to Dover, Daphne. It won't be an easy trip." It was hard for him to be the voice of reason when her enthusiasm was so infectious.
"Well, the sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be there!" She walked forward with a spring in her step, damn near skipping.
Harry looked back toward the old house. It was a wooden cottage, nestled between groves of evergreens, with a stone walkway leading up to an oaken front door. He could look in any direction and not see another house. Harry still remembered the day when his family moved there from their home in London, though he couldn't have been more than five at the time. They told him it had been in the family for generations and he wished he'd asked them more about it when he had the chance. Truth be told, he'd grown rather fond of the place over the years. Despite everything that had happened in England, this was home.
He took one last look at it, and turned away. "Daphne, wait up!"
Harry rushed forward, chasing after the lilting sound of Daphne's laughter. The trees thickened as he ran, closing in around him. He remembered playing in the forests of Northumberland as a child, running through the clearings with Neville, or just getting lost in the seemingly-endless expanse of trees. Everything had seemed so simple back then, in the years between the wars. His parents had told him stories about Voldemort and his first rise, but he hadn't really understood.
"Catch me if you can!" Daphne called. Broken from his reverie, Harry shook his head. He quickened his pace. As Daphne raced ahead, she craned her neck to look back at him. Her blonde hair fanned out, framing her face. She beamed at him, and Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her smile so brightly. "Slowpoke!"
Leaning forward, his arms pumping, Harry picked up speed. The gap between them closed in a matter of seconds. Reaching forward, Harry grabbed Daphne around the waist. He matched her pace as they slowed and eventually stopped. She spun in his arms, their lips meeting as Harry pushed her backward, until her back came to rest against the trunk of a towering oak tree. Daphne ran her hands through his hair, pulling him closer as she crushed her lips against his. Harry pulled away after a few moments, breathing heavily.
"Took you long enough," she said, her voice husky, her hands cupping his cheeks.
"Better late than never," he said, grinning. "Besides, I'll always catch up in the end."
She nodded, casting him a look that he couldn't quite read. "I know."
In a single motion, she spun free from his embrace and grabbed him by the hand, urging him forward.
Harry chuckled. "In a hurry, are we?"
"I should think so," she said, giving his hand a squeeze.
"Damn shame we can't fly, what with all the new wards." He looked wistfully toward the sky.
She grimaced. "You know I've never been fond of brooms."
He sighed dramatically. "You fall off a broom from five feet in the air, and I never hear the end of it." He looked over at her. "You know, you really are adorable when you pout."
He thought he heard her mumbling something about a "traumatic experience" under her breath when he felt a light sting on his cheek, and he refocused his attention on the path ahead of them.
Daphne stuck out her tongue at him. "You should really watch out for those low-hanging branches."
"Yeah, yeah." He gave her hand a squeeze. "C'mon, let's get a move on."
And on they went.
"We're really doing this, aren't we?" Her eyes were wide as she stared up at the stars. "We're finally leaving."
"Yeah," Harry said, "We are."
They lay side-by-side in sleeping bags on the ground, the clearing around them providing just enough space for the two of them and the fire crackling at their feet.
"It's kind of surreal, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yeah, I suppose it is." Harry felt a pressure on his lower back. He shifted and withdrew his hand from the sleeping bag. Reaching under it, he found a small rock and pulled it from the earth. He tossed it into the forest. "You aren't nervous, are you?"
"No, not really," she said. "More expectant, I think."
"Me too, I guess." He closed his eyes, though he knew it would likely take him quite a while to fall asleep. "We should start early tomorrow."
Harry opened his eyes and looked over at her. In the fire's flickering light, he saw that her eyes were fluttering closed. He whispered, "Goodnight, Daphne."
Harry lay on his back and listened as Daphne's breathing evened out. He could hear something chirping deeper in the forest-a bird of some kind, though he'd never been able to distinguish their calls.
Sometime before their fire had stopped crackling, sleep claimed him.
The days and nights of the first week blended together, a seemingly-endless cycle of walking, eating canned foods, and sleeping. Harry supposed he should be grateful that nothing more eventful had happened. And he knew they were making good progress.
Judging by the position of the sun, it was right around noon. Harry sat on a log, a yellowed map stretched out across his knees and a compass in his hand. He studied the map intently, tracing his finger along their planned route, from their home in Northumberland and stopping in West Yorkshire.
"We should be right about here," he said, more to himself than to Daphne. "I think."
He looked over his shoulder, to the right. "Can't afford to get too close to Leeds..."
Looking back down at the map, he moved his finger to Lincolnshire. "If we rush, we could sleep here tomorrow night."
For a few moments longer, he sat there and stared out into the distance. He nodded and folded the map before rising to his feet, his knees cracking audibly. "Let's get a move on, yeah?"
By Harry's best guess, they were somewhere in Lincolnshire, close to Norfolk. The sun had sunk behind the trees, casting shadows long across the ground.
"We've got to cross that road," he whispered. "Hand me the bag."
He rummaged through their things, eventually withdrawing the Invisibility Cloak. With practiced ease, he threw the Cloak over them. They walked toward the road, taking carefully measured steps.
"Look over there," Harry said. A pair of men walked down the road, toward them. "Let's wait for them to pass."
Harry eyed the men carefully as they got closer. They wore black robes and carried wands, holding them loosely to their sides. One man stood to the left, slightly ahead of the other. When he spoke, Harry heard him. "They say it could be any day now."
The other man laughed. "I've been hearing that for three years now. I'll believe it when I see it."
"We've already flushed 'em out of their bases in London and Cambridge."
"They're like a fucking disease, mate. Get rid of them in one place, and they'll just pop up somewhere else."
"Wish I could have a go at one of 'em," the leader said. "Resistance has been a pain in the arse for long enough."
The other man laughed. "When's the last time you saw a rebel on one of our patrols?"
"I hear one of the patrols in Bristol caught a couple Muggles making a run for the border a fortnight ago. Reckon they had a right bit of fun with the woman."
"Not quite the same, is it? I doubt the Resistance'll miss a pair of Muggles."
They were directly in front of Harry now. Under the Cloak, he strained to control his breathing.
"Still be more exciting than walking around in the dark, wouldn't it?"
Harry's breathing evened out as the men walked past them and continued moving further away.
He grabbed Daphne's hand. "Come on. Let's go."
They stuck to forests and rural areas, continuing to rely on Harry's Invisibility Cloak when they knew they were likely to encounter other people.
He suspected that they were nearly halfway there and by the middle of the second week, they were still making good progress.
The sun grew smaller on the horizon as Harry and Daphne went south. They'd covered a large swath of land since they'd started that morning. Harry believed it had been one of their best days yet, but they moved more slowly now, their fatigue-both from that day's hard walking and the totality of their journey-finally catching up with them. Harry's steps were particularly labored.
"What's the first thing you'll do?" Daphne asked. "When we get to France?"
"Sleep," he said. "In a bed. Indoors. What about you?"
"I'm going to have a bowl of ice cream." She rubbed her chin. "Or perhaps a cone. Why, I don't think I've had ice cream since Fortescue's closed down. It's been years."
"What flavor?" he asked.
"Vanilla, of course," she answered, without hesitation.
Harry's right hand found her left as they continued forward, arms swinging.
"With almonds. Maybe even some melted fudge," he said.
"And a cherry!"
"Naturally," he agreed.
Daphne tilted her head to the side, frowning. "Come to think of it, a hot shower sounds like a rather good idea. Maybe that should come first. Never thought I'd have to wash in a cold stream..."
Harry nodded. "You could certainly use one."
She looked away from him, pouting. "Prat."
Harry gazed to his left, through a thick curtain of branches. Stars appeared, very faintly, on the horizon.
"Maybe we should stop for the night," Daphne suggested.
"Just a little further," he said. "There's still light, yet."
She looked back at him, fluttering her eyelashes. "Do we have to?"
Harry looked over at her, not noticing the fence he walked into. He grunted as he fell to the ground, nearly bringing Daphne with him.
"Late to be out for a stroll, innit?"
Harry looked up. A man stood above him, just on the other side of the fence. He wore a flannel shirt and a pair of well-worn boots. A farmer, Harry suspected. He scrambled to his feet. "Yeah, I guess it is."
Harry figured they were quite the sight, after roughing it for the better part of two weeks. He knew that he had started to look scruffy a few days ago, though he'd never been able to grow a proper beard. Glancing to the side, he noted that Daphne still looked impeccable.
"What're ya doin' here?" the man asked.
Harry paused for just a second. "Got lost, I think."
The man nodded. "Where ya headed?"
Harry hesitated. He wasn't sure exactly where they were and he didn't want to arouse the man's suspicion by saying their destination was somewhere too far away. "We've got family just a bit south of here."
The man squinted his eyes and looked past Harry, as if scanning the treeline. He shrugged.
"Can you point us toward the road?" Harry asked.
The man looked past Harry again, scratching his head. He pointed backward. "Yer headin' the right way." He jerked his head, motioning to a house off in the distance. "C'mon then, follow me."
Harry and Daphne locked eyes. He nodded.
The fence was made of three wooden planks and came up to Harry's chest. He put his foot on the second rung and swung over the top, jumping to the ground on the other side. He took Daphne's hand and helped her scale the fence.
"Where ya from?" the man asked.
"Ipswich," Harry said, hoping they weren't too far from there.
"What's yer name, boy?"
"James," he said. "And this-"
The man raised his hand, cutting him off. "We oughta get to the house. Awful late to be out."
Harry nodded, and fell in step behind the man. They were in a valley, Harry noted, as he followed him down a hill. The thatched-roof house was high up on the other side.
"I didn't catch your name," Harry said.
When they reached the house, Richard spoke again. "Ya ought to bed down here tonight. Wouldn't do to be seen out so late."
Harry looked over at Daphne. She shrugged. Sleeping in a bed did sound good, Harry thought. He also wondered if they wouldn't seem even more suspicious to Richard if they refused his offer.
"Well, if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition," Harry said.
Richard shook his head and opened the door with a loud creak. "C'mon in."
It was a small place, Harry noted, and without much decoration. The walls appeared completely bare. He saw a pot of something simmering on the stove and though he couldn't recognize it by scent, it made his stomach rumble. He supposed most anything would have been appetizing after nearly two weeks of canned food.
"Just upstairs," Richard said. Harry and Daphne followed him to the second floor.
"In here." Richard pulled open a door. He grabbed a matchbook out of his pocket and struck one. He picked up an oil lamp from a stand by the bed and blew the dust off it before lighting it. The flickering light illuminated the room, though just barely. Like the lamp, the floor was covered by a thick coat of dust.
Richard retreated down the stairs and returned a moment later, carrying a bowl in one hand and half a loaf of bread in the other.
"'S not much," he said, looking apologetic, "but times is hard."
Harry gladly took the bowl-porridge, he realized. "Thank you. You've already done too much, especially with how rough everything's been since You Know Who-"
Richard's eyes widened. His voice was low but emphatic. "The Emperor's a fine leader, and you'd do well to remember it."
Harry had to struggle not to recoil. "Of course."
Richard took a step back, toward the stairs, suddenly looking very nervous. "Loo's just across from you." He turned and started down the stairs.
"Richard?" the man stopped, glancing back at Harry. "Thanks for everything."
He shifted, appearing decidedly uncomfortable. He nodded sharply, before turning and rushing back downstairs.
Harry pulled the door closed. "Odd fellow, isn't he?"
"You can say that again," Daphne said. She fell back on the bed.
Harry dipped the bread into the porridge and took a bite. "Hmm. This is very good. Get another spoon out of the bag. He only brought one."
They ate in silence, quickly finishing their meal.
Daphne stood and rummaged through their bag. She withdrew a new set of clothes.
"I believe a hot shower is in order," she said. She grabbed Harry by his collar. "Care to join me?"
The guestroom was dark, save for a sliver of moonlight that crept in through a gap in the lay on his side beneath a heavy set of covers, Daphne's back pressed against his chest, his arms wrapped around her.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, her eyes cast forward, looking into the darkness.
"Nothing." He shook his head, laughing. "Everything."
"Don't start getting philosophical on me, Potter," Daphne said, a smile on her face.
"Never!" Harry grinned, saying nothing for a long moment. "Say Daphne, how'd a girl like you ever fall for a guy like me?"
"I've often wondered the same thing," she said, sighing dramatically. "A love potion seems the most plausible explanation, doesn't it?"
Harry shook his head. "I've always been rubbish at brewing potions. I never could've managed Amortentia."
Daphne nodded, her brow furrowed. "Maybe I'm after the Potter fortune?"
"The gold's been gone for generations, I'm afraid." He sounded very sympathetic. "But you already know that."
"Hmm…" She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "A charm, then?"
"I am rather charming, aren't I?"
She snorted. "That was just awful, Harry."
Harry grinned, pulling her closer to him. "Here I was starting to think you were with me for my keen wit."
"That's probably it," she conceded.
Harry laughed. "Good night, Daphne."
"Good night, Harry."
For the first time since they'd left Northumberland, sleep took him quickly.
The silence was broken by the sound of the front door creaking open. Harry tensed.
"Harry, what-" He put his finger over her lips and closed his eyes, straining to hear what was happening downstairs.
"…just upstairs…from Ipswich, he says…" Richard's voice was soft, little more than a whisper, but it carried well through the quiet house.
"Awfully far from home...we'll get this sorted." Harry didn't recognize the second voice.
"We have to go," Harry said, fumbling for his glasses on the nightstand. "Now."
Daphne sat bolt upright. "Harry, what's wrong?"
"Grab your wand. We need to leave now," he whispered. "Quick, through the window."
He heard the sound of feet coming up the stairs. The person moved slowly, as if attempting to catch them by surprise.
Daphne threw a cloak over her shoulders and grabbed their bag as Harry pushed the window open.
"Come on." He grabbed Daphne's hand and helped her through the narrow opening. "Fall into the shrubs and start running. I'll be right behind you."
Daphne nodded, lowering herself out the window, and letting go of Harry's grasp. She landed gracelessly. She disentangled herself from the bush and started running. Harry moved through the window and followed after her.
"This way!" he shouted and they rushed southward, back into the trees.
The moon was high overhead, but its light barely penetrated the thick canopy above them. With nothing but the occasional sliver of light to guide their way, they kept running.
Harry felt the underbrush as it scratched his face and tore at his shirt.
"Avada Kedavra!" An evergreen a few yards to his right exploded. Smouldering embers fell to the ground, igniting the dry grass.
The curse had come from behind them. Harry couldn't tell how far back.
"Over here!" She was somewhere to his left. Fairly close, he thought. He leaned forward, pounding his feet against the ground, and ran toward where he thought she would be.
A branch well over their heads snapped in half with an audible crack as a curse struck it. It fell to the ground behind them.
Harry saw Daphne's outline just ahead of him. She ran with one arm held aloft in front of her face, attempting to keep the branches from her face.
Harry reached into his pockets, fishing for his wand. He withdrew it and held it up, above his shoulder. He pointed it behind him. "Stupefy!"
An orange curse struck the ground at his feet, sending Harry tumbling down. His glasses flew from his face.
He scrambled to his feet, stabilizing himself with one hand, using the other to keep a death grip on his wand. He could hear his heart pounding against his chest over the sounds of snapping branches and crumbling leaves. He kept running.
He pointed his wand back toward their pursuer. "Reducto!"
He heard a satisfying explosion behind him, as the man cried out in surprise.
Despite everything, he grinned. He had no time to celebrate, however. His foot landed on rock and he felt a sharp pain in his ankle as it twisted. He fell, landing hard on his shoulder. Grimacing, he lifted himself back to his feet.
He started running again, his ankle throbbing with every step. He cringed as a branch struck him just below the eye, opening a gash on his face. Blood trickled down his cheek and nestled into the bristles along his jaw.
He heard a shouted curse and felt it strike his back like a whip. As he toppled to the ground, his vision blurred. Moving his hand to his back, he felt the wetness of his blood.
He tried to stand, but pitched forward and landed in a heap. He looked up. Daphne stood above him, her hand outstretched.
"We have to keep going, Harry." The desperation in her voice forced him back to his feet.
Daphne started moving, holding Harry's hand in hers and pulling him along with her.
"Confringo!" Harry belted out the curse.
"Protego." The incantation was soft, and Harry could tell that he was catching them.
"Diffindo!" Harry knew as he was casting that his aim was too high.
"Daphne," Harry said, his voice strained as he panted. "We have to stop this."
"What do you-"
The curse struck the ground behind him, leaving a small crater. Harry flew forward from the force of the blast, barely missing Daphne. He felt his wand fly out of his hand.
He crawled forward, clawing at the ground, searching desperately for the thin strip of ash wood. The smell of sulphur overpowered his nostrils.
His fingers dug through fallen leaves and dirt. He heard footsteps close behind him. The man had slowed his pace and he breathed heavily.
He felt the smooth, polished piece of wood and clasped his fingers around it. He rolled over onto his back and sat up.
"I don't know what the fuck you think you're-"
"Stupefy!" Harry heard the man collapse as the spell struck him. "Lumos."
Harry rose shakily to his feet, grimacing. His spell lit up the area around them. "Daphne?"
"Over here, Harry." Her voice was soft and her breathing labored. Harry pointed his wand in her direction, the light landing on her face. Her skin was pale and she was shaking.
"We need to hurry, Daphne. With all this magic, more of them will be on their way."
He limped over to the stunned man. He wore the black robes of Voldemort's forces. Harry wedged his foot under the man's stomach and rolled him over. With some satisfaction, he noted that the Death Eater didn't appear to be in much better condition than him. Blood flowed freely from interwoven cuts on his face and arms.
"Stupefy. Incarcerous." Harry stunned the man again and bound him in ropes for good measure. "Accio wand."
The wand flew up from the ground and Harry snagged it out of the air. He pocketed it.
"Daphne, can you fix my back?"
She nodded, still shaking as she walked toward him. She lifted what was left of his shirt above his wound and went to work. Harry felt an odd tingling as she traced her wand across the gash, and the skin reconnected. Daphne swallowed heavily. "All done."
Harry looked back at her, and she tried to smile. Oddly, there were no cuts on her face that Harry could see.
"Come on," he said. "We have to go. We're getting really close."
And on they went, through the night.
The sign read, "Welcome to Dover." Harry and Daphne walked along the side of the road beneath his Invisibility Cloak. Their journey was nearing its end. The road beside them was in disrepair, pockmarked with holes and with weeds growing through the asphalt.
The days following their near-capture had proceeded in much the same way as the days before it: uneventfully.
They made good time as they walked through the town and toward the docks. The downtown area was in shambles. The buildings, many of them centuries old, crumbled. One of the tallest structures, however, was perfectly preserved. The wall facing the street was completely covered with Voldemort's snake-like visage.
As the docks drew nearer, the wind picked up and the smell of salt air from the Channel became more powerful.
"Remember Daphne," Harry said, "We have to be quick about this. For all we know, every captain of every boat down here is loyal to Voldemort."
They came to a stop when they reached the dock.
"That one," Harry said, pointing at sailboat anchored close to them. It was a small vessel, and he expected it wouldn't have much of a crew. Besides that, it looked like one of the fastest ships there.
They walked up a narrow plank onto the ship's deck. Still concealed under the Invisibility Cloak, they had to be especially mindful of their footing. The captain stood at the rear of the ship, preparing to leave the harbor.
He turned, and walked toward them. Harry and Daphne shifted, quickly moving to their left, giving him just enough room to pass.
He walked across the deck, checking a series of fishing nets. When they all seemed to be in order, he turned, walking past Harry and Daphne again. He pulled up the anchor.
As the voyage began, Harry and Daphne waited.
When the docks were well behind them, Harry withdrew his arm from the Cloak. He pointed his wand at the man's back. "Imperio."
The Muggle offered little resistance to the curse. "Take us to Calais Beach. Quickly."
He walked back and began tinkering with the sails. He adjusted the ship's direction and they picked up speed. They stayed concealed as the ship moved, and Harry could feel the wind whipping at the Cloak.
Minutes passes as they moved further and further away from England.
A black-robed figure appeared on-deck with the tell-tale crack of apparition.
"Avada Kedavra!" The curse struck the fisherman in the back. He crumbled to the deck, dead as quickly as the curse struck him.
The Death Eater walked toward the fallen man. His eyes scanned the deck where he lay. "Accio wand."
He turned and looked back across the deck, scratching his chin. He tilted his head to the side, and a malicious smile appeared on his face. He lifted his wand. A cylinder of flames erupted from its tip, quickly engulfing the sails and mast before moving to the deck. Chimeras and serpents danced within the fire.
With a crack, the Death Eater was gone.
"We have to move!" Harry grabbed Daphne by the waist and dove into the water. Harry's eyes widened and he gasped for air when they landed, the cold water shocking his system. He could see land far off on the horizon.
Without a word, they started swimming.
As they moved, Harry felt a sudden desire, a compulsion to turn around.
Go back to England.
He stopped, his eyes glazed over.
"Harry, we have to keep moving," Daphne said. "We're almost there."
Still, he did nothing. Daphne grabbed his hand and tugged, struggling to keep him above the current as his limbs faltered.
"Please, Harry!" She pulled him forward. Her movements were frantic, like nothing Harry had ever seen before. "For me. We're almost there!"
He blinked rapidly and his eyes snapped into focus. A wave struck him, pulling them back under. He kicked wildly, thrashing as he resurfaced. As he coughed, water was expelled from his mouth. He gasped, willing his lungs to take in more oxygen. "Let's hurry."
And on they swam.
The sun was high overhead when Harry's feet finally landed on white sand. He cast a pair of warming charms on himself and Daphne. A light breeze whipped through the air, rustling his shirt. The Invisibility Cloak was gone, lost at sea. He inhaled deeply. They had made it.
Yet, a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach told him that something was very wrong.
"That damned compulsion ward almost had me. Didn't it affect you at all?"
There was a moment of silence before Daphne said anything.
"You've done so well, my love. So very well." Something about her voice troubled Harry, though he couldn't quite put his finger on what. It sounded almost as if she were a great distance away. "I couldn't be more proud of you."
"We did this together," Harry said, smiling in spite of a growing feeling of dread. "We made it."
She cast him a pitying look. "I need you to do something for me, Harry."
"Anything," Harry said without hesitation. He looked away from her for a moment, his eyes taking in the coastline, looking for any potential dangers.
"Promise me you won't go back."
"What?" He turned to face her.
There was no one there.
His eyes widened at the sight of the empty beach. He stared out across the water, shimmering in the afternoon sun. Nothing.
The smile evaporated from his face. He spun around slowly, his eyes scanning the length of the beach. He was well and truly alone.
"No," he whispered. He lifted his hand, reaching for the spot where Daphne had stood. His fingers grasped at the air, as if he were trying to catch something. To hold on. His arm fell back to his side. He opened and closed his mouth, saying nothing. With his whole body shaking, he stepped forward, toward the rolling waves.
Harry, Daphne, and Neville wore heavy cloaks as they strode down Diagon Alley, the sky grey overhead. They moved quickly, not meeting the eyes of the people they passed. Neville looked straight ahead, focused, taking in their surroundings. In spite of the tense atmosphere, Daphne smiled brightly.
Neville pointed to the old ice cream shop's boarded-up windows. A strip of parchment hung from the wood, reminding them that curfew started in less than an hour. "Place has gone to hell, hasn't it?"
Harry nodded once, but said nothing.
The hair on the back of his neck stood before he heard the first curse shouted.
"Avada Kedavra!" Harry fell to the ground as quickly as the curse was cast.
The Alley glowed a pestilent green as a section of brick and mortar wall behind Harry exploded, covering him in dust. He looked up to see two wizards circling one another. One wore the black robes of Voldemort's Death Eaters; the other was more nondescript, wearing a traveling cloak. Harry didn't recognize him, but suspected he was part of the Resistance.
Daphne and Neville stood where they had been the moment the first curse was cast. Daphne backed away slowly, while Neville remained stock-still, wide-eyed and seemingly unable to move.
The Death Eater leveled his wand again and fired a curse Harry couldn't identify. The other wizard deflected the bolt of orange light, redirecting it toward-
He let out a small gasp as the curse struck him in the throat. He lifted his hand to his neck, blood seeping through his fingers and out his mouth, pooling on the stone at his feet. His eyes met Harry's and he opened his crimson-stained lips, but Harry couldn't make out the words. He couldn't even tell if he'd said anything at all. A second later, Neville slumped to the ground.
Harry shook as he rose to his feet, all the color drained from his face. He rushed to Neville's side, wand in hand, but he suspected it was already too late.
The dueling wizards continued to lash out at each other, panting as they exchanged spell after spell. "Confringo!"
Harry looked up at the shouted incantation, just as the curse struck the ground between Daphne and himself. He saw a wave of shrapnel fly toward her and his world blackened.
"No," Harry pleaded, his voice barely a whisper. "Gods, no." He fell to his knees and retched. He reached around to his back, to the wounds Daphne had healed only days before. When he looked down at his hand, it was stained red with blood.
Harry stood near the altar in the front of a church, wearing a set of black dress robes Daphne had always loved. It was a simple, one-room building with a wooden floor and walls.
Harry's eyes were cast forward, as if he were focused on something far off in the distance. He could've counted the number of people there on both hands.
A mahogany coffin rested on a bier to his left.
Harry's hands were behind his head, his fingers interlocked. He looked to his left, past the coffin, steadfastly ignoring the other side of the chapel. To his right sat another, smaller, casket, made of oak. The wood had been polished painstakingly by hand. The bars were made of bronze.
Harry craned his neck and looked up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes.
"No, please," he whispered, crawling forward, toward the tide. He hardly noticed as the first wave crashed against his face. He kept moving. "Please don't leave."
"Daphne!" he screamed. "We're here! We made it." His voice trailed off at the end.
Snow fell in sheets on the family graveyard as the coffin was lowered into the earth. A marble headstone had been erected, not far from where Harry's parents were buried. Harry stared forward, observing the scene, but not really seeing it.
He moved forward deliberately, one foot after the other. With a gentle, almost reverent touch, he laid a wreath of jasmine down on the freshly-turned earth.
He plunged his head into the freezing water, holding his breath as it surged around him. With a gasp, he jerked up, out of the tide. He rose to his feet, still submerged to his knees.
Water dripped from his hair as he shook his head. All of a sudden, he was struck by the memory of something he'd said weeks earlier, at the start of their journey. I'll always catch up in the end.
He stood there for a long moment, collecting his thoughts, trying to wrap his mind around it all.
"I'm sorry, Daphne. I really am," he said, looking out at the horizon. At Britain. "But I don't have any choice. Not really."
He drew his wand.
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