Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. This story belongs to me.
Sticks, Stones and Broken Bones
Chapter 19: Hunger, Fear and Flight
Harry and Ron crept along the dark street, the flickering street lamps illuminating their frames in the black of the night. The two boys were silent, weary and tired steps moving them slowly forward, both sets of eyes vigilant against any dangers that might befall them.
When they reached the corner of the road, Harry glanced at Ron before turning down a foreboding alleyway on the right. It was late and they were both exhausted after a long day of traversing the busy streets of London. It was the end of their third day of living on the streets, and both boys had had already had enough. The biggest problem they had, though, was that they didn't know how to get home.
"Ron," Harry began unsurely, pausing halfway down the alley. Ron jumped slightly at the unexpected noise but after a moment he turned to face Harry, a slight embarrassed blush tinging his cheeks.
"Sorry," Ron muttered tiredly, but Harry simply gave Ron a small understanding smile, and it seemed to relax the boy slightly.
"Doesn't matter," Harry said quietly. "Look…I think we might have to sleep here tonight."
"Here?" Ron replied with a growing frown. "In the street, you mean? Outside?"
"I don't think...well, I doubt we'll find anywhere inside tonight," Harry continued gravely. "And we're both tired. We need rest, and we'll be fairly out of the way here."
Harry gestured to their deserted surroundings but Ron looked vaguely ill at the thought as he glanced around the dark and dirty alley.
"We'll be fine," Harry said firmly, trying to convince himself as much as Ron. "It's not too cold tonight, and if one us stays on watch, we should be fairly safe."
Ron nodded resignedly, sighing deeply, and Harry took that as acceptance. The redhead didn't offer any further complaints but he obviously wasn't looking forward to the prospect of sleeping outside. Harry certainly didn't blame Ron for that. They had been on the run, living on the streets for three days now, but this would be the first time that they had been forced to actually sleep on the street. Harry had done it more times that he would have liked in his life, but he couldn't say that he was particularly looking forward to it either.
Decision made though, Ron followed Harry as he made his way over to the side of the alleyway. Harry dropped down by the wall and sat on the cold floor, sighing deeply as some of the pressure on his ankle was finally relieved. It hurt constantly, but ever since Wormtail had injured him, his ankle hadn't gotten any worse, which made Harry wonder if his magic was helping him somehow.
It didn't feel much better though either, so it must have been worse that he'd first hoped. Harry was soldiering on for now, but he wasn't sure how much longer he could walk on it before the pain became too much. He had been hiding it from Ron, not wanting to worry the redhead, but Harry was anxious for his ankle to get better. If it didn't, he wasn't sure how much longer they could keep going as they had. Money was running low, and injured as he was, Harry wasn't sure how he was going to get more…
"You okay, Harry?" Ron asked, obviously having noticed the black-haired boy's discomfort.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Harry replied tightly as Ron joined him on the cold floor. Ron gave him a look that showed that he clearly didn't believe him, but he didn't push it and for that, Harry was grateful. Harry gave Ron what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but the black-haired boy was also careful not to jostle his ankle, and that didn't seem to go unnoticed either.
"Have we got any food left?" Ron asked wearily, his pale face pinched slightly in hunger.
"A little," Harry replied reluctantly. He sat up slightly and dug around in his pocket, eventually revealing two chocolate bars. He handed one to the redhead, who almost snapped it out of his hand, but Harry put the other one back in his pocket.
If he had been alone tonight, Harry would have done without any food at all, saving it for the morning instead, but Ron had a lot less experience with dealing with hunger, and was not handling it all that well.
"Fanks...'m starvin'," Ron mumbled, his mouth already full of the chocolate bar.
Harry sighed, but he hid his worry behind his carefully constructed mask. There was no sense in stressing Ron out any more that he already was. The truth was, though, that they were running extremely low on money, and since they were actively trying to stay out of sight, Harry wasn't sure how safe it would be to try and beg or steal some more. He hadn't forgotten about his dodgy ankle either, and even though he had Ron to help him, the redhead would be next to useless when it came to pickpocketing or begging.
Harry ran a pale hand through his dirty, black hair. He really hoped it didn't come to that...
"I hate this," Ron muttered, pulling Harry out of his anxious thoughts. Harry wasn't sure that he was supposed to have heard the statement, but he had nonetheless.
"What?" asked Harry, as he tried to find a more comfortable position on the cold floor.
"I don't know how you managed to live like this for so long," Ron began quietly, gesturing to the dark, cold alleyway. "It's…bloody horrible."
"It was better than the Dursleys'," Harry shrugged, trying to seem unconcerned. "Not much, but still. It's not like I had, you know...anywhere else to go."
"Still," Ron said softly, a frown clear on his face even in the moonlight. "I really hope someone finds us soon."
"Me too," Harry replied quietly, wearily adjusting the black hat on his head. "I hate this too."
For years he had struggled to survive, to create a life for himself, but it had always been difficult. Every day it had taken something; every new day on the street had brought with it new worries and new pains.
He had a new life now, and he hated that he was back here, on the streets. Harry shook himself from his thoughts, not wanting to dwell on it too much.
"Ron, why don't you try and get some sleep?" Harry suggested quietly. "I'll keep first watch."
Ron looked for a moment like he was going to argue, but he must have caught something in Harry's expression because he simply nodded tiredly and slumped backwards against the wall. Ron closed his eyes and leaned against Harry for warmth. Harry had always been uncomfortable with human contact, having only really experienced the darker side of touch so far in his life, but for once Harry didn't fight it. He needed the reassurance of a warm body next to him to remind him that he wasn't alone this time.
"We'll be fine," Harry whispered to himself as his eyes trailed the deserted alleyway, scrutinising the darkness for any sign of danger. He pulled his blood stained Weasley jumper sleeves down to cover his hands as he settled in for the night.
He really hoped that someone found them soon.
Remus Lupin paced quickly along the street, the warm morning sun beating down on him as his eyes traced the crowds for any sign of the two thirteen year olds.
Where in Merlin's name were they?
Ron and Harry had been missing for four days now, and so far the search for them had turned up nothing useful.
It was as if they had disappeared off the face of the earth.
The Order had been quickly brought together by Dumbledore, almost as soon as the boys were declared missing, but the old adage 'strength in numbers' hadn't really helped so far. It had been a long stressful few days, especially for the Weasleys – who looked like they hadn't slept the entire time – but still the boys hadn't been brought home. They didn't even know if the pair were still alive.
Moody had been able to track the end location of the Portkey that had taken both boys to a deserted flat in the back streets of London. Unfortunately, that seemed to be where the trail ended. The flat had been frustratingly empty when the Order had arrived with wands drawn, and after an initial search it was quickly determined that there was no sign of the boys or the kidnapper, apart from some evidence of a struggle and a small smattering of blood on the floor.
It confirmed that they had been there at least.
There was no magical trace of where they had gone though, and it had frustrated Lupin, and the Order, no end. Just when they'd thought they were getting somewhere, they hit a dead end. Now they knew where the boys had been taken, but they had no idea if they kidnapper had moved them, or if they had somehow escaped themselves and were hiding until someone could find them.
Lupin desperately hoped it was the latter. It was why he was constantly combing the streets around the area, and why he had been doing so for the past few days. He wouldn't rest until he found Harry and his friend. He had failed the boy once before; he wouldn't make that same mistake again.
Lupin shook the thoughts from his head with some force as he continued to use all the senses at his disposal to find his friend's son. It might turn out to be nothing, but when he had gone to the flat, he had smelt something familiar – an odour that he had not smelt for a long time. Being a Werewolf meant that he had a keener sense of smell than most ordinary people, but the trace he found at the flat wasn't something he could immediately place in his memories. It was recognisable though, and that was enough for Lupin to get his hopes up.
He had spent a lot of time around the boy as a baby after all. And they knew Harry and Ron had been at the flat. It must have been Harry's scent that he had picked up. It would even explain why Lupin didn't recognise it completely anymore. He hadn't had any contact with Harry since that fateful night twelve years ago.
It was that faint trail he was following now, his focus on his nose as he traversed the busy streets, looking for any sign that his search wasn't futile, and that the trail was not a dead end. It was a weak lead, possibly nothing, but it was all they had.
Lupin was desperate enough to try anything.
The scent had to lead somewhere. It had to.
"Harry? It's time we got up. There are a few people around."
"Hmm," Harry replied tiredly, blinking the sleep from his eyes. It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the brightness of the morning sun, but eventually they did, and he turned to face Ron, pulling himself up from the floor as he shook the last of the sleep from his body.
"I think we should go," Ron began unsurely. "I dunno…what do you think?"
"We should go," agreed Harry, straightening out his jumper and patting away some of the dirt from his trousers. "C'mon, maybe we can find some breakfast somewhere. There's a bakery around here somewhere I think."
"How do you know these things?" Ron muttered, but he followed Harry down the street with complete faith.
The two boys bowed their heads as they entered the slightly busier street from the alley. Harry was practised at the art, but Ron had taken a little bit longer to get used to the idea. Coming from a large family, Ron had known well the feeling of being ignored, but never before had he had to hide. Harry was glad that the redhead had picked it up so quickly though; it made it a lot easier to stay under the radar.
They walked for a few minutes before eventually Harry stopped on the corner and pointed to a small shop that was oozing the most delicious smells.
"See," Harry said, a small smile on his face as he pointed to the bakery. "Told you."
"I never doubted you mate," Ron said seriously, breathing in the mouth-watering smell. "Do we have enough money?"
Harry looked down while he considered their situation. In truth they didn't have enough money, but hunger was gnawing at his stomach, so much so that he could barely focus his mind.
"We've got enough," Harry decided with a sigh, looking towards the shop window with barely concealed desire. He would have to steal some money soon, or beg, Harry decided. They needed to eat, and Harry needed to keep Ron's spirits up.
Decision made, Harry bent over and pulled the last note – a five pound note – from his sock and handed it over to Ron.
"You look the cleanest," Harry explained, gesturing to his own blood splattered jumper. "You go in and…you know, get us both something. I'll wait here."
Ron nodded nervously and began to walk down the street quickly, head down to avoid any unwanted attention. Neither boy particularly wanted to be separated from the other, not even for a brief moment, but at times like this they had no choice. Harry, covered in bruises and blood, would be much more noticeable than Ron, no matter how much Harry hated the fact, and truth be told, they needed to eat.
That's what Harry tried to convince himself anyway, watching the bakery closely as he tried to stay inconspicuous on the street corner. He couldn't help the anxiousness from welling up within him though as he nervously tapped his hand on his leg. Something was off. He tried to push the anxiousness away, but Harry could help but feel like something was wrong. His instincts, trained by years on the streets, told him that something was going to happen. He could feel it…
Harry jerked his head around at the shout, flinching slightly. Harry squinted against the morning sun, and saw that slightly further down the street there seemed to be a bit of a commotion going on. A man, youngish with greying hair and a face covered in scars, was shouting at the few people on the street as he ran past them, telling them to get out of his way. Clearly the man was in a hurry.
"Just get out of the way, please!"
Harry frowned as he watched the man's eyes dart frantically around the street. He seemed upset and desperate. Maybe he had lost his kid or something? Harry immediately felt bad for him; it must be terrible to lose your child. Of course that train of thought immediately brought his mind back to their situation. He hoped the Weasleys were doing okay and that they weren't worrying too much…
The man's amber eyes suddenly caught Harry's and the stranger froze, shock covering the man's expression. Harry felt a strange sense of foreboding rise up in him and suddenly he wanted to be away from this place.
Quickly he broke off eye contact and walked sharply over to the bakery, ignoring the pain in his ankle as he tried to put even more distance between him and the man. His nerves were already on edge, and something felt off about the man's expression. It was almost as if he had...recognised Harry.
Harry didn't turn around, instead quickening his place until he was almost running. Just as he reached the door, Ron came out, his arms laden with delicious treats.
"Harry – "
"Ron, we've got to go."
Harry grabbed Ron's arm and began to pull him down the street away from where the man had been coming from. Anxiously, Harry turned behind him, only to find that the man was now running down the street towards them.
"Harry – ?"
"Shit," Harry swore quickly, his pulse quickening as adrenaline shot through his system.
"Wait!" yelled the man, gesturing to the two boys, but Harry's instincts had already taken over.
"Run!" he cried, pulling Ron down the street as he picked up his pace, desperately trying to ignore the now stabbing pain in his ankle.
They sped around the corner and carried on running - or in Harry's case half-hobbling and half-running - uncaring about the commotion they were causing. Harry's mind worked furiously as he ran, his thoughts going over every memory he had as he tried to place the man.
Who the hell was he, and why did he want to talk to Harry so badly?
Without looking to see if the man was still with them, Harry and Ron traversed the streets and busy morning rush crowds, trying to put as much space between them and the strange man as they could. Without pausing to think, Harry led Ron through the streets in no particular direction, more concerned with getting away than where they were going. Making a quick decision when they reached a crossroads, Harry led Ron round a corner and down an empty side street.
"H…Harry," Ron panted, completely out of breath. He stopped and doubled over as he tried to pull air into his lungs. "What's…going on?"
"There was a...man," Harry replied, stopping reluctantly, trying to catch his breath as he leant on the wall in an attempt to take some of the pressure off his ankle. "He was...looking at me funny. Like he knew me or something."
"You recognise him?" Ron asked, sweat running off his face. He swiped at it quickly before turning to look at Harry with a worried expression clear as day on his face.
"No," Harry replied quietly, a frown slowly forming on his own face. He looked around them nervously, but there was no one else around.
"Are you sure he was looking at you?" Ron asked, concern covering his expression.
Before Harry could explain exactly what had happened, there was a loud crack from beside them, and the man that had been chasing them appeared as if from nowhere.
"Please don't run," the man said, desperation written all over his face.
"What…do you want?" Harry asked fearfully, doing his best to shield Ron from the man. Ron wasn't having any of it though, and he pulled himself around to stand bravely beside his friend.
"I've been looking for you," the man replied, a look of relief so clear on his face that Harry was taken aback by it.
"Who are you?" asked Ron. The redhead had squared his shoulders in a attempt to hide his fear, but Harry hadn't missed the faint quivering in his voice.
"You must be Ron," the man replied, a soft smile on his face. He turned to Harry. "And you. Well you look so much like your father that I'd recognise you anywhere, Harry."
Harry's insides turned to ice, and as he turned to face Ron he saw a horror filled expression that he was certain was mirrored on his own face. Harry's body tensed as his mind worked furiously to find an escape. This man knew his father. That must mean...
"You're working with…him aren't you?" Harry asked coldly, stalling for time.
The man looked confused for a second but he seemed to pull himself together. He moved closer to the boys, but Ron and Harry stepped backwards.
"Stay away!" Ron warned, raising his fists.
"I won't hurt you," promised the man.
"Who are you?" asked Harry, raising his own fists as the man advanced. "What do you want?"
"My name is Remus Lupin," the man replied patiently, pausing in his movements as if he didn't want to spook the boys. "I've been part of the search that's been looking for you. You were taken from the Burrow, weren't you?"
Harry nodded wordlessly, but didn't feel appeased. In truth, the kidnapper or anyone associated with him, would know that fact as well.
"I just want to take you home," Lupin said softly, and Harry couldn't see any hint if a lie in his amber eyes.
Harry glanced over to Ron and saw uncertainty in the redhead's expression, coupled with the beginnings of hope. Harry wanted it to be true as well, but he knew better than to trust a stranger's word.
"Don't come any closer or we'll run," Harry warned as he lowered his fists slightly.
"Okay," Lupin said, backing away slightly.
"How do we know you are who you say you are?" asked Harry, talking quickly to hide the fear in his voice. "How do we know you aren't working with him?"
"I don't know who you're talking about," replied Lupin with a frown. "The kidnapper?"
"Yeah," Harry answered.
"His name was Wormtail," Ron spat out. "He used to be my pet rat, but turns out he's a bloody wizard."
Dawning comprehension flashed across Lupin's face, along with a small trace of fear, understanding and horror. Harry felt fear clench at his stomach.
"You...you know him," accused Harry, backing away even more. "You know the bastard."
When Lupin didn't deny it, although he seemed too in shock to even speak, Harry took the man's distraction as the opportunity he had been waiting for. Without thinking, he grabbed Ron's arm and pulled them down the street. Soon they were both running again.
They didn't turn around, sprinting down the street as if their lives depended on it. If Lupin knew Wormtail then they had to be working together. They had to lose him.
Harry led Ron on a winding route through the streets, heading towards areas with more crowds so that they could get lost amongst the people. Adrenaline soared through their weak bodies, urging them forward past the point of endurance, urging Harry to ignore his injured ankle. He didn't know how the man had found them, but they couldn't afford to stop. Not until they were safe.
Gasping, Harry sped around a corner, closely followed by Ron. Harry paused to get his bearings, his head darting around as he tried to choose a new direction for them to run in. Where could they hide? There must be somewhere…
Twin cracks shot through the alleyway, and before Harry could register what was happening, and an arm wrapped around his middle and yanked him backwards. Harry lost his footing but didn't fall, held up by the attacker.
Panic filled his mind and Harry struggled with all the strength he had, the only coherent thought in his mind telling him to fight or die. To the right of him, Harry saw Ron held by someone as well, struggling valiantly to escape but Harry could no more help him than he could save himself.
"No," Harry gasped, weakness beginning to set in. He pushed it away though with a determined force. He refused to die, not after everything he had been through, not after everything he had survived. It would not end like this.
Harry fought with renewed strength, but the arms only held onto him tighter. Before he could do anything, Harry felt the familiar tightening in his chest, and the world turned upside down as they were pulled from the alleyway through the very air.
The journey was quick and sickening, disorientating Harry to the point that he thought he might throw up. They landed roughly on a hard floor, and the arms that had been holding him fell away. Harry took the chance and scrambled away in fear as he tried to catch his breath. He slammed his eyes shut as he fought to regain control, gathering himself to fight.
A hand touched his shoulder but he flinched away in fear, his nerves getting the better of him. He didn't want to die, and he knew he had to be brave if he had any hope of getting out of the flat alive, but Harry was afraid that if he opened his eyes the nightmare would be real. Wormtail would be there and it would all be over. They would never be able to escape a second time...
"Harry...Harry calm down," a soft voice said. It was a woman's voice; a voice he recognised. "You're safe now. You're home.
Slowly, Harry opened his eyes and blinked. As his heartbeat finally began to slow, Harry glanced around the familiar room, his eyes locking onto Mrs Weasley, her own eyes filling with tears as she watched him get his bearings. He saw Mr Weasley to his right, seated at familiar kitchen table, with his hand resting on Ron's shoulder as if he would never let the boy go again. Harry felt the air leave his lungs in relief at the sight.
They were at the Burrow. They were home.
A/N- So erm...worth the wait? I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to update this fic but life has been busy for me and the muse has been cruel. I was hit with inspiration for another story, and the idea wouldn't leave me alone until I posted something for it. I promised myself that I wouldn't forget about this one though, so here we are. Better late than never, I suppose.
I really hope the chapter's okay. I tried to keep the excitement up, but I've never been particularly confident with writing action scenes so I'm not sure how this went. I'd love to know what you though, and if you can forgive me for the wait. Hopefully the next chapter won't quite as long in coming! Thanks for all your support so far, and more importantly, thanks for reading!