The Earth was hot, he could feel it even through thick army-regulation boots as he stomped carelessly through the ashes.
As usual, tiny red embers travelled with the wind and scattered around his feet like dropped sweets. They always plagued the major cities, and even though they were too small to burn skin, they would affect your lungs after a while and so it became the norm to have some kind of scarf wrapped around your lower face.
Harry grimaced. Manchester had gone to hell, that was for sure.
The whole city lay at his feet in smouldering ashes; set alight and then left to steadily burn into the dust. It was doubtful that there would be anything worth salvaging, but he continued into the wasteland anyway, figuring that he could at least check for survivors… although it was looking increasingly unlikely that he would come across any.
‘Well at least it’s not London…’ he murmured to himself, stepping over what looked suspiciously like a smouldering bone.
At least it wasn’t London.
London had been a catastrophe. They had been drawn to it, as though they could sense that it was the wizarding capital of Britain, as though the magic in the air intoxicated them. They had roosted there.
London was not burned, but Harry was damned if he thought there was anyone left alive.
The sound of wings swept through the air and he instinctively ducked, eyes scouring the sky. Thick grey clouds smothered his vision, but if it knew he was there he’d be dead already so Harry relaxed slightly.
‘Thankyou Hermione…’ he muttered, jumping into what appeared to have once been a basement.
It had been at Hermione’s insistence that he started checking more thoroughly for supplies when on the surface - she was worried that their stocks were running dangerously low. Ron had just rolled his eyes when he thought she wasn’t looking.
Dumbledore whinnied and stamped her hooves in the ashes. Harry glanced back at her, and then at the sky. The clouds were getting thicker; it was going to rain.
Scrambling back up, he re-mounted the mare and steered her toward the road. They hated rain; it made them furious and restless, they would take to the skies and wreak as much havoc as possible at even a hint of falling water. Once, just like many, Harry had been foolish to think that the rain would be a release. He had assumed that creatures that burned everything in their path wouldn’t tolerate the weather, and would go into hiding until it was over.
They had been very wrong, and many lives had been lost. Ginny had been amongst them.
Dumbledore, sensing that they were returning to safety, was unusually cooperative, and Harry managed to gallop out of Manchester without her rearing once. She was one of their last horses, stubborn but loyal, and Harry couldn’t imagine leaving the complex without her. Hermione disapproved, but that was Hermione.
A battered green truck was waiting for him at the end of the road out of the city. Kingsley Shacklebolt and George Weasley were sat in the front, faces half-concealed with scarves, both twisted in their seats to watch him approach.
‘Nothing?’ George asked. ‘We ran through Bolton but there’s nothing left. A few cans of fruit, that’s it.’
Harry slowed Dumbledore to a halt beside the truck and shook his head. ‘Nothing. Something passed overhead and it’s going to rain - we’d better get back.’
George nodded and turned back to the wheel. ‘See you when we get there.’
Once the truck had pulled away, Harry turned his horse around and took a look at Manchester. It was the closest city to their western hideout; carefully guarded Portkeys connected the five underground compounds and this was the third one Harry had checked today.
He generally left Dumbledore in Rothbury; a town close to the Scottish border, because it had been deemed their safest hideout. They rarely left the major cities, and they especially stayed away from the coast, but being on the surface even for an hour was long enough for them to catch your scent and hunt you down.
Manchester had been the second established hideaway. It was an old abandoned military base, built into the earth beneath the city, with one entrance just outside the border. George and Kingsley were there pretty much permanently, along with a small group of witches and wizards who still felt comfort in being close to a major metropolis even if it had been reduced to a wasteland of ash and bones.
Rothbury had been the third, and the fourth was a small town that Hermione had estimated to be somewhere in Wales. Of all their hideouts this was the least used, merely for the fact that they had never needed it before - Rothbury provided sanctuary and Manchester provided food and necessities, the small Welsh town had been labelled a backup.
The first established hideout was no-longer a hideout.
In the early days, before they knew of Their capacity for hunting down prey, a group of the surviving witches, wizards and muggles had holed up in a series of interconnected basements in London. They had enough food and water to last them at least three weeks; they hoped They would have left by then.
They were wrong. Harry remembered it as though it had been yesterday. He, Ron and a few of the others had just managed to fix the first Portkey connection with Manchester. They passed through it, leaving a group of thirty men, women and children in the basements.
By the time they returned, there was nothing left. Harry still wasn’t sure what had happened - all they knew was that somehow They had found the basements and settled on top of them, blocking any exits and leaving just one entrance… just big enough for one small female to squeeze through.
Harry shook his head furiously and took a deep, steadying breath. The sight would never leave him.
‘Come on Dee.’ he sighed, tugging on the reins. The mare obligingly turned around and began trotting toward the trees. The truck was too big to take the safer routes; travelling on an open road was risky but quicker, and if the worst came to the worst Harry could distract one of Them with Dumbledore while they drove away.
Them. They had become even more feared than Voldemort had. Harry snorted as he led Dumbledore into a gallop to catch up with the truck. Why wouldn’t they be? They had ruined the earth and everything on it - wizards and muggles alike. They were merciless hunters, and they relished in the destruction that they caused because they knew as much as Harry did that magic was useless against them, and that if only one species was making it out alive, They held the advantage of size, strength and numbers.
They had claimed the earth, and there was little that could be done about it.