Chapter 1 : Prologue
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I'm running away.
Running for the lives of those I love. I've got to keep going, if only for them.
For them, Harry.
Breathe, keep breathing, think of nothing else – let your feet carry you away.
My feet pound against the soft earth. So fast, so hard it hurts. Everything hurts. I can't explain the pain. It's one I've never felt before - not like the burning of my scar, the feeling of being slowly torn in two of the Cruciatus. Faster, faster, faster. Blood drips down my shoulder, down my chest, down my stomach - further, further down. Trails of it left behind. Staining the dirt. I can't go back to erase them.
Eyes stinging, vision blurring, wide open mouth drinking in each precious fog-wreathed breath of air. I've never run faster, never harder. There's no time to look over my shoulder. No time to think about where I'm going, what path to take. What will I do when I reach the end of this forest? I don't know. All I know is that I have to keep moving.
The forest is rushing past. The shapeless black form with its jagged teeth of trees and pliant arms of dirt are fleeing from me. I don't blame it. I'd flee too. Flee from the monster - black, vicious pariah.
Each footfall is like the rolling deep motion of slow thunder – thrum thrum, thrum thrum, thrum thrum, over and over again– resonating in the walls of my throbbing heart. God, my body aches. I wish for nothing, I deserve nothing, but all I want - in this moment, as I fly through a flurry of kicked up pine needles and half-frozen pine cones - is to collapse. It's too much to ask for. But still I yearn for it. Knees first, that's how it goes. Yes. Feet no longer beating in time to my pulse, racing around and around in endless circles. Then the rest of me. I'd lie down on a bed of dirt and tree roots and pine needles.
Numbness bleeds into my brain. My fingertips are beginning to tingle from lack of oxygen. The wind moans within my aching ears. It tells me to stop. Give up, Potter. No, I can't - but no matter how much I say no, no I can't, I must go on, I've gotta keep going. I want to obey.
I want to fall. I want to let go – pry each finger away from its death grip on life – and let the fist of gravity pull me down into the void. But where do you fall when you've hit the bottom of the pit?
Run. Don't look back. Forget them all.
Still, I run.
Still, I pray I can keep running.
Everything feels as if on fire. Blood boiling. Dripping wet skin. Outsides chilled as if it would reach the bone. But on the inside - melting under white-hot crushing terror. I know I can't turn back. Not for the world. Not for anyone in it. Hermione's voice rings in my head. Harry! Wait! Please! Harry!
I can't wait. I won't.
This is what it must have been like, running away. Lupin. Where are you now? Where are you when I need you most?
He had known like I know now. What every monster in the aftermath of his terrible rebirth must feel. Fear. Helplessness. Regret. Revulsion.
The teeth of my new self tears away at every last clinging hope. What has always been a comfort, that once kept the darkness at bay, has been left behind. The smell of Hermione's hair; Ron's loud, barking laugh that fills a room up to its brim; the dreamy wandering feeling of being lost in the middle of the high grasses surrounding the Burrow. Where I'd walk, and I wouldn't know where I was going, but my feet carried me away. Wisps of sharp grass would bow beneath my feet. They'd tremble within the halting sway of the wind that blew in from across the flat, open field. I would tip back my head and fall into the arms of forgetting, all of it. Freedom. The closest I'd ever been. The sun's fingers spreading across my face as if, in blindness, to remember the human relics of life and love and skin within the breakable shell. The wind threading through my hair, a rushing breathing thing –
All of it. Gone. Abandoned.
No more Burrow. Ron's laughter a ghost in my head. Hermione's hair, scent, fingertips a faraway dream. A dream I'd relive - again and again in my head - no matter how much I wished it would die.
Deeper still, something paces. It isn't Voldemort. His mark on me has all but gone. Something new and terrible stalks the night that has fallen beneath the canopy of skin – he's awakened. It begins. I can't escape it.
It spurs me on. I must keep going. For their sake. Keep them safe. Yes, that's all I can do for them now. I can't stay.
Still, I run. Faster. Keep going. One leg after the other. Every breath. Pushing down tears and pulling up courage instead.
I will never see them again. My last goodbyes, I carry them with me, leftover pieces of the old life. Keepsakes – I won't let what's cold and left behind flutter away.
I close my eyes as the sickness of regret overwhelms me.
Hermione...don't forget me.
They're behind me now.
Take care of her, Ron.
At last, the night slows down. I match its pace. The trees have pulled back to their borders at a safe distance. They're groaning with the trembling voice of the wind hissing through their high branches. I stand, the very marrow of my bones quaking, in the epicenter of a meadow. Quiet sinks down into the low grasses. Watching me. I listen for it, try to concentrate on anything, god anything but the pain of not being able to breathe - I can't breathe. Lungs refusing to move. My entire body rejects the presence of that bloodthirsty demon which paces deep below.
What are you waiting for?
Yes! Go! Leave! – there's nothing I want more than to escape.
If only I could – just a little further, just a little longer.
I can't go on! Don't you understand?
I don't have the strength. There's none left!
I clutch at my screaming lungs, my pounding heart. They feel as if they will burst. Maybe they will. Maybe, in an instant, this will all be over and Hermione, Ron, - I will save them both from me.
My jagged nails claw at the hard, unyielding bones in my chest. My entire body feels as if it's groping through the cold night for air, for reprieve. No relief. Limbs trembling, nerves restlessly pacing underneath my skin, something crawling, waiting for the edges of surface flesh to break open and release what's inside. I won't let it out. As long as I live, I will fight to keep it in.
I fall to my knees. Yes. Here it comes. One last sacrifice. This is it. This is as far as my legs will take me. Exhaustion has won.
It's not far enough. Too close (too far). Need…yes, need to go on (turn back). They will never be safe from me (will they be safe without you?).
My knees buckle. A cry of defeat escapes my wind-scorched throat. No…no water. No food. I will starve this body of its curse, its pestilence. For the good of the world. For the good of my family – the only one I've ever loved, ever feared for, ever wanted to be a part of. They will be safe from me now. This is the only way. If only there were another. I'd run back to them. I'm sorry I'm sorry. Forgive me. Forget me.
You must go back (I won't…I can't…I must keep going!).
The battle is over.
I won't be found.
Surrender sinks in slowly. Pain begins to climb in, carried with the current of the fast-moving blood that I can feel like a swollen river. And suddenly, so suddenly, I'm sorry for everything I couldn't help – the velocity of the battle, the sound and the sway of the ground exploding beneath my feet, the salt of my own blood like a metallic tang on my tongue. I'd been running then, too.
Then the collision. Like being hit by a freight train, but too warm, and the heat of it – no, this thing was violent and alive.
I'm soaked through. The thick salt of sweat draws in the chill of the night to my skin beneath the torn, weathered jumper I'd been wearing for the last three days. Yes, let it be cold. Let it freeze. Let the blood and the brain and the body of this monster freeze. I don't care - no, that's a lie. I want it. I want to be cold.
But it's not just the cold. It's the pain. Oh god. It throbs like a a beating drum that you can't drown out, not with all the ear plugs and pillows in the world, not matter how far you try to run away from it, how loud you scream over it to drown it out - I can't find a way out. I'm locked in...I'm locked inside.
My nails sink into the crust of the ground. Screams ricochet off the silent trees. They rise up and out of the cavern of my mouth and there, in the sky, they are lost. Inside, I'm is tearing himself apart in blind terror.
Raw…terrible…shattering and crushing and splitting in two...make it stop. Oh god. Please. Please. PLEASE. Make it stop.
"MUM!" I'm calling out to her. Body on fire. Veins squirming. Insides charred and blackened in the furnace this body has become. "MUM PLEASE. HELP ME. MAKE IT - MAKE - "
Air. Lungs - in out. Fire. Agony. Burning alive. Fingernails stretching against the quick. Threaten to break. Blood seeping. Where's it coming from? Oh god. Where is she? Why isn't she coming?
Indistinctive sounds, somewhere nearby. Babbling. Weeping. It's her. She's come for me. I'm here! I'm here! A sob of relief wracks my sore lungs. Something thick and warm pools beneath my cheek. I'm lying in a puddle of my own sick.
It would be a kindness
The only kindness left
Water. No fire. She's coming. Help is coming. She'll be here.
Hours. Shifting, gliding, passing by. I can't remember anything. How long have I been here?
The moon shifts, or is it the gray-white slither of clouds encroaching on the velvet blue rim of the sky? I'm shielded from the stars. They're laughing at me; I can feel it. I'm granted one last kindness as oblivion shifts over them. They can't judge me now. Not if they can't see me. I'm left in dark and cold and silence. No more screaming. Their echos fading, tapering off. The sour smell of vomit is lodged in my nose, tangles in my hair. But I don't move, I don't care. I'm so tired.
Lying there, alone, scared, the pain leaving somehow, I wonder if - just once - I'd been strong. Human. If, just once, I'd felt as if I were worth something. Not a title. Not a savior. Just - human. There's no other way to explain it. Was there ever a way?
Now it's all over. The war is over. And still, I've lost. I've won the world for the rest of them, but where do I stand now?
Bloodthirsty. Afflicted. Cursed.
Lupin - now I understand. Everything. I wish he was here. I wish - more than anything - for his sodding chocolate bars and his warm, soft voice in my ear. His scarred hand on my shoulder, his patient smile (always tinged with something sad in the corners of his mouth). He'd tell me - There now, Harry. It's all right. It's not so bad. Life goes on. I'll be here all the time, all the while. I won't abandon you, Harry. You have me - hush now, you have me.
The pain begins to abate.
Maybe it's the thought, the wish, for Lupin. I don't know if he's even alive...
For a long time, forever it feels like, I just lie there. Blinking. Seeing nothing but the darkness and the outlines of the trees. Numbness? Is that what this is? I don't feel anything. It must be...yes, numbness.
Am I dying?
Shivering and alone – so this is how it ends. This is where the sky shreds apart like parchment. The world will slip away, bowing out behind the curtain as if its part in this passion play of life and death comes to an end. It would be - but only for me. The gray curtain will fall. Everything will be colorless and cold.
There – yes, is it here yet, will it come now? – then the curtain will be peeled back and death's shadow will emerge from behind it.
Here, I'll lay down my life for the last time. I won't say a word. He won't either. He'll steal it away, the last breath I'll ever take. Perhaps, for a moment, in that fear all people must feel when they're on the brink of dying, I'll be reluctant to go.
But I want so badly to go. I've fought. I've been brave, as brave as any man should be expected to be. I've done my part. Now, at the end, I've got nothing left to live for.
I want to see my parents. Sirius. And the sinking feeling in my gut tells me I'll see Lupin again too.
My eyes close. It's getting harder - too hard - to breathe.
I'm so tired. So weak. I'm done fighting - when it comes, I'll go willingly; I'm not afraid. This is it.
Yes. This is the end.
This is where I stop running.
It's as I'm sinking down, deeper and further away from everything I've ever known, I feel something break. The chains must've come loose. The monster has been let out, but with a lifeless body for a prison, it can't escape. It's trapped. I've won.
The long, mournful howl of a wolf echoes throughout veins that have already begun to run dry.
There, in the midst of stark oblivion, I reckon I've heard a scream.
It's the last thing I remember before the light goes out for good.