AN: OK, so this part of the story's going to be extended over at least two or three chapters because 1) I've always loved the part in a story when the characters go on a free ranged road trip or a trip through the wildernesses it's the reason I like TWD so much it's a survival in the woods/road with zombies! And 2 in some stories, the road trip is short. They get to where they want almost immediately, which isn't really realistic, so I'm borrowing some inspiration from the series The Blackest of Magic.

Ps: you may notice something different about this chapter. It's because I have managed toi get a great beta to work it over with me! They are amazing thank you I'm not ofreakingkay for working with me! And thank all of you for your amazing ideas!

-MERRY-

The Dixon's continued driving away from the CDC and the group of idiots they've left behind without looking back once. Not even stopping once they've passed the city limits. They only started to slow down as they reached a few miles out and away from the desolate city and the idiots within. Daryl, following his brother as he pulled his motorcycle over to the side of the black and yellow blocked-off road in front of them, kicked up his kickstand once they'd made their stop.

Harry hopped out, helping Carl—who'd followed him to the back during their escape—out of the car. Once Carl got his footing, they walked to meet the rest of the group, who had congregated around the hood of Daryl's truck.

Merle brought out their map and spread it out across the green and sun-worn surface of the truck's hood. On the map were markings that outlined the original plan of action for their trip to the CDC. Merle pulled out a spare and half-dry blue highlighter from Daryl's glove compartment to line the road that would lead them right to the closest gated area circled on their map. Harry leaned closer, peaking over Merle's shoulder to see him mark a few spots along the long blue line he'd drawn that he explained were small towns they could hit for supplies and rest before they reached their final destination. The trip was estimated to take at least three to four days if they didn't get sidetracked or waylaid by car pileups, walker crowds, and any other unsavory obstacles along the way.

Everyone seemed agreeable to the plan laid out before them. Carol suggested that everyone start heading for the closest location on the map. She hoped to find new shoes for Sophia since hers were getting holes in the soles that couldn't be repaired.

Harry thought about that and looked over at Carl. The poor child was sweating buckets, but he looked fine. His shoes didn't look too worn, and his jeans and shirt didn't have any tears and holes that would need fixing. Though he could do with a bath, and if they could find water, they might set something up. Who knows what they'll find, so it would do them good to try and take advantage of all their rest stops.

"We shouldn't get our hopes up too much. The area surrounding the gated community could've been overrun by walkers. At this point, we should assume that all the towns were overrun or that someone could have holed up in there and prepared a solid defense. We'll have to prepare accordingly just in case. It wouldn't do us any good to be caught with our pants down," Harry reminded.

Considering how he and the Dixons met, as well as how they had met the rest of the group, it would be entirely remiss of them to not consider other survivors grouping up to do the same thing. There was strength in numbers, and the more organized the group, the more effective and deadly they were likely to be.

The others nodding in agreement at the reasonable logic behind Harry's cautionary words before becoming bemused, or at least Carol and the kids did anyway, as almost right after finishing his last sentence, Harry basically overpowered and made the two elder and larger protesting brothers sit down for him to check them for any possible injury before releasing them with a multitude of grumbles as he directed his medical attention to Carol, who willingly let him check up on her as she didn't have a problem with it. And even if she did, if the Dixon's couldn't stand a chance against him, then how could she? And the kids, who treated it like a game as they made him chase after them for a tiny bit before they too had a thorough check-up.

Satisfied, Harry stood back up and took a step back from where he had been crouching down next to Sophia while the others took this small opportunity to raid the nearby hastily abandoned cars as they waited for Harry to finish with his obsessively administrated checkups. And even though they would never admit it, down the line, his help would be invaluable.

Carol, who had become more and more confident in herself the longer she stayed with the Dixons and free from anyone who would have tried to stamp out her self-worth, voiced her opinion on their current situation before they could take a move back into Daryl's truck. "We'll probably have to bring in another vehicle. Like an RV or something before it starts getting too cold to continue sleeping outside." She hugged Sophia to her side when the girl ran to her leg, but she seemed so different doing so. Before—and Harry couldn't help the tangent entering his head while he listed to her—she would hold Sophia to her as if outer forces would have snatched the child away. But now, she seemed so relaxed in comparison (relatively, of course, since they were all still a bit high strung while out in the open surrounded by danger). The poor opinion Harry had of her suddenly loosened now that he took her in again for the second time since they'd left the quarry. And he did feel a bit proud of her for it. Hopefully, she would keep this up. It would do her and Sophia so much good if Carol were stronger. Tuning back into Carol's words, he heard her talking about security measures. "I know that we have the cars, but I think we should also think about having some added security. Like you said, we don't know what's out there or what's waiting for us while we're traveling. Getting an RV or a large van we can customize would be better for the kids to have the space to walk around in the day. They'll have the added security of a four-walled mobile sleeping space. Especially since we're probably not always going to be able to stop anywhere on the side of the road. They'll need to stretch their legs." Carol looked to Teddy, who was comfortably asleep in the passenger seat where Harry could see him. With the window down, he'd be able to hear if Teddy needed something while they talked and scavenged. "Teddy will be easy to manage, but he's probably going to be mobile soon, and we need a safe place for the kids and for Teddy to learn."

They all considered her words for a bit as they all took a quick glance at the kids, especially Teddy, before meeting each other's eyes again as they silently agreed with her idea on bringing in an RV to their little posy. Shifting their gazes to settle back on the groups two eldest kids as they watched in amusement as they both raced each other around the cleared vehicles while trying to be as quiet as they could possibly manage, making use of the general stealth-based survival skills Daryl's been teaching Carl while they were in the woods surrounding the quarry as they practiced it while experimenting to see if they could also do it while running.

Merle and Daryl focus their attention back on the map after a short pause to see if they could possibly find an RV rental or even an RV park along the way of the highlighted road they were taking. They also needed to make a quick pit stop to the larger neighboring towns along the way. Carol and Harry threw in their own ideas for locations as they leaned on the side of the hood nearest to the map and supervised the kids as they continued their little running challenge by running circles around them, still experimenting on how to run while being silent before tiring out their untrained stamina quickly.

Harry, watching with a bemused sort of pride as they made their way back to their respective parental figure with slouched shoulders and deeply exaggerated inhalations, handed them their own cooled-down bottles of water. The children had wide grins on their faces and raced each other to take the water from his hands.

Harry raised the bottles above his head with an ah-ah. "Now, kids, slow it down there. Breathe in a bit before drinking the water. We don't want you to choke on it." The kids laughed at him but calmed their breathing. He handed them the bottles and shooed them off to Carol.

It took a bit, but Merle and Daryl seemed to have figured out where they could find an RV. Merle called their attention back to give them the news. "There's a place for RV rentals not far from here. It's only a day and a half away without too many stops. We should be able to ride through this pile and onto open road."

They all agreed to get going now. Carol ushered the kids back into the truck. At the same time, Harry subtly placed a permanent damage deflecting charm on both Daryl's truck and Merle's motorcycle. He got back into the car, sitting with Teddy cuddled up in his arms. He cradled his boy closer when the truck crawled through the small car pile and onto clearer roads, gazing down at his baby's closed eyes and drooling lips. He used his sleeve to gently wipe away the water, softly smoothing his finger down the baby's tiny nose, enchanted by the child's soft skin and silent breaths.

Carol and Sophia sat quietly with Daryl in the passenger seats. Carl leaned into Harry's side in the back, snuggling close and closing his eyes to nap. The boy had worn himself out a bit with the game and was seeking comfort and rest through the warm folds of Harry's sweater. Harry sat back, slouching slightly in the small pile of bags filled with clothes and cushiony materials to accommodate for the two children using his body as a place to rest, as well as to alleviate his back from the stiff position he'd been in. The shrunken supplies in his pockets poked lightly at his hips like Legos. Still, they were safe from any external damage (and Harry's own legs were safe from their pinching thanks to the charms on his trousers, of course). The rest of the supplies were settled around them comfortably. They were charmed together so that nothing wouldn't fly out of the truck if the vehicle came across a bumpy road.

Another hour passed, and he considered leaving Teddy to sleep. Still, the position of the sun was telling enough about the time. It was getting close to the time for his baby to eat, and Carl might enjoy a small snack while they traveled. He carefully pulled out Teddy's morning meal of pureed apple and kiwi mush, along with two dry nut bars for Carl and Sophia to munch on while they stopped for lunch.

Harry gently swayed Teddy into wakefulness, kissing him on his little forehead and humming softly as little blue eyes opened and peered up at his face. Harry smiled down at his baby, and Teddy smiled back. Harry's heart flooded with warmth and happiness at seeing his little boy wake well rested from his nap. "I've got food for you, baby. You want some?" Teddy's lips popped open in reply, and Harry imagined it was his way of saying 'yes, I'm famished, thank you.' "Such a smart baby," he cooed softly. Opening the small jar, Harry spooned it a bit before bringing it up to his lips, making comprehensive and visible motions on eating and swallowing the food. He took the first bite, then spooned another bit of the mush for Teddy to eat. Teddy eagerly ate the puree, and Harry couldn't be prouder as he snuggled his baby and cheered at a job well done at eating his food without making too much of a mess.

Since the car was parked and Daryl was sitting with the door open eating a bag of crisps, Harry handed Teddy over to Merle for him to hold. Harry wanted to find himself something to eat. Since Teddy wasn't going to be sleeping again any time soon, he might as well let Merle enjoy the baby's energy. Harry was walking behind the truck when he noticed Carl sitting curled up behind the back opening of the truck, away from the rest of them. The child looked down at the concrete before his toes with a frown on his face, but when Harry got closer, he saw that his eyes were red-rimmed. Now concerned, Harry considered rushing over to comfort Carl but hesitated when he saw the deep longing Carl was trying to hide. The boy's tears were unshed, but they were building up into a fine wall ready to break through.

Green eyes widened in worry before realization tore through his heart with the relentless claws of guilt and shame. His own eyes prickled with tears as he realized the position he'd put the boy in; because he knew what this was about, and it was entirely his fault.

No matter how disconnected and imperfect the Grimes family was, nor how inconsiderate Carl's parents were in the time Harry had known them, the small ten-year-old likely still considered them his parents, who he loved unconditionally. They'd raised him during and before the apocalypse, and Carl had loved them because they were his family. And Harry, a complete stranger who shouldn't have had any right to take him from his family had the government still functioned, had done just that. Regardless of the situation or how much Carl's parents were hurting the boy, Harry had no right to take him from them. He had no right to pretend that the boy would just forget they'd existed in his heart. But Harry did take him from them, and now the child was away from his birth family, likely never to see them again because there was no way for them to know if they'd survived in the wilderness and from the walkers.

And despite how much Harry cared for Carl or how good his intentions were, he'd still snatched the child away from the last link to the life he had before without a second thought for the child's deeper feelings.

When the first tear fell down Carl's cheeks, he knew he had to do something. He pushed back the heavy feeling of self-blame and slowly walked to Carl's side. He hastily conjured up some privacy charms before sitting down with Carl and gathering him into his arms. There were more tears now, but Harry refused to let any of his own fall. This wasn't about him. This was about Carl and how affected he was by Harry's decision and the loss of his family.

Carl bodily flinched when Harry touched him, completely startled by the unexpected company, and Harry moved his arms back a bit to not be too imposing. Carl looked up at him now, and Harry tried to smile down at him and convey to the child how everything would be alright. But he knew he couldn't, not really. Carl wouldn't think so, at least not when he was in this state. Harry edged closer to him and gently carded his fingers through Carl's hair. They were lined with sweat but knotless. It was easy to smooth his fingers through to soothe the child. And Carl did respond to his touch in a way that let Harry know that Carl didn't resent him. That made Harry feel a bit better, but he still felt terrible.

Bringing his arm down to hug Carl to him, he soothed the child through his sorrow.

Carl did cry more, and Harry held him close without saying a word, letting the boy get the tears out of his system before Harry tried to make any kind of case for his actions and hopes. And when Carl finally did start to calm down, Harry combed through his hair again.

"Carl," he started, "I know you're missing them, and I'm so sorry. I know you loved them, and I'm sure they loved you too. But things have changed, and we're here now. We can only hope that they survive the apocalypse like the rest of us and that we can meet them again as better people than they are now. You didn't deserve to be treated the way they treated you, and I'm sorry it happened at all." Harry patted Carl's face right under his chin, urging him to look up at Harry's face so that they could make eye contact. Harry had something very important to say that he hoped Carl would take to heart and remember whenever he felt this way again in the future. "They may not be here now, and you may miss them, but remember that you're not alone anymore. We're here for you now, and we'll be your new family if you'll have us. We'll never abandon you, Carl, no matter how hard things may get. When the time comes, you'll see them again. If it's tomorrow, three months from now, ten years, or in the afterlife, you'll see them again. And they'll always be in your heart just like you'll always be in ours and in theirs."

Carl's eyes teared up again, and it looked like he was going to start crying all over once more, but he didn't, and that made Harry all the prouder of this boy's strength of character. Carl wiped his own eyes and nodded, smiling up at Harry like he'd just given him hope for a new day. "Thanks, Harry."

Harry smiled. "Think nothing of it, kiddo." Harry stood back up and held out his hand for Carl to take. "Ready to get back on the road?"

Carl nodded and took Harry's hand in his, allowing Harry to hoist him up. "Yeah, thanks."

"Let's get going, then, shall we?"

-MERRY-

The small group didn't run into any real obstacles besides the occasional small herd of walkers. These herds were few and far between and were visibly getting thinner and smaller in number the farther away from the city they got. They headed towards the closest gated community they'd circled on the map and were stopping every five hours for meals and bathroom breaks. The kids also got the chance to stretch their legs a bit before they were all back on the road. After all, it would suck if they developed muscle cramps after sitting for so long.

And during some of the breaks, the Dixons continued with Carl's earlier lessons from the quarry (with Sophia joining in now), running them through the basic stretching exercises that would keep them fit and ready to sprint and jump without problems case of an emergency. They also ran Carl and Sophia through a few basic defensive stances that would allow them to take on larger hostiles that they wouldn't otherwise be able to handle with strength alone.

Harry even coached the kids on how to use slingshots and small throwing knives. Carl was, of course, the more advanced one out of the two because he'd been getting lessons before, but Sophia wasn't too far behind, nor was she a slouch during her lessons. The little girl was determined and willing to learn, and Harry took every opportunity available to get her just as good as Carl so that they both could work together and support each other during a fight.

This continuing with every short stop they took to the side of the road during their day and a half's worth of traveling, with an hour or so added at night until they started her in on safely handling weaponry with her mother's expressed permission. Finding that, while Carl excelled in the physical attributes of their training (like with handling knives, hand-to-hand fighting, and his short-ranged handmade slingshot), he mostly preferred to use defensive maneuvers that relied on him taking out his opponents by attacking the back of their legs so that he could get them on the ground. It was through this where he'd then be able to attack their heads (at least until he grew a bit taller where he wasn't meeting their hips).

On the other hand, Sophia showed a strong inclination toward long- to mid-ranged weapons like throwing knives, slingshots, and a kids bow (which Harry gifted her after witnessing her preference with him being the one to instruct her on how to use it properly). Just starting her out with practicing her aim with all three of her chosen weapons and she was already starting to catch up with Carl's own aim, which sparked a friendly competition between the two preteens whenever they had the chance to show off their skills in a safe environment (which also served to entertain the adults immensely as they watched, with much amusement, as the two threw out friendly taunts to each other as they took out the flying targets Harry had conjured for them to practice with).

The small competition drew to a close when the adults were ready to get back on the road, ending the training now that there would be no more stops until they made it to the RV rental. They loaded up and left, trying to make it in time before dinner tomorrow, where they'd hopefully be able to pick out a working RV. And Harry promised the kids that if the adults found an RV they could use, the kids would be trained at a more stylized pace until they made it to the gated community.

For the first hour in the car, Carl and Sophia burned through the remainder of their energy by bickering on who shot the most targets and which of the two had the "cooler" shot. And between each argument, they'd look to Daryl as the silent judge who'd be unbiased on his decision. But, Daryl being Daryl, he poked fun at them both equally, sparking more arguments on who was better at which activity by simply pointing out certain accomplishments each had and making a few comments about being unsure about which one was better than the other. And, of course, Daryl was soaking up all the attention and energy like a mischievous uncle who liked to torment the parents by sicking their own kids on them, which meant that Carol also got a lot of attention from the excitable duo.

Meanwhile, Carol tried to swap cute and funny baby stories about Sophia with Harry, who was regaling her with little tales about Teddy. Carol fondly told one particular story about the time Sophia had discovered her favorite color. According to her, who'd been told this story by Sophia herself when the girl had been in the first grade, Sophia had been feeling very gloomy one day in primary school where the day outside was very stormy and terrible. When she was in class, her teacher had been discussing colors. She'd asked her students what their favorite colors were. When it was Sophia's turn, the storm outside had ended and opened up into a bright sky with warm sunlight streaming through the windows. Sophia, enjoying the significance and the feeling of having the sun's warmth on her face, had chosen a bright sunny yellow. When that story ended, Carol also made a small humorous comment about Sophia's adamant aversion to any variation of the color pink after that day.

They continued to swap 'war' stories well into the afternoon until they were forced to pull into a remote empty log cabin once night fell with the moon replacing the sun.

The inside of their temporary lodgings looked to be a couple's getaway spot. There were a plethora of framed photographs showcasing a smiling middle-aged couple spread throughout the cabin. Still, at the same time, it lacked the basic everyday essentials like a bare fridge and pantry, clothes, and even essential hygiene products.

The group decided to stay close together while they slept, now comfortable sleeping next to each other in their tents. They chose the main room of the single bedroom cabin with the kids curling up on the modestly-sized leather couch set before a small fireplace with Teddy tucked into his travel cot beside them as the others laid out their cushioned sleeping bags on the carpeted floor with Carol taking up first watch for the night on the sole recliner within.

Harry mentally debated whether they should take the comfortable-looking chair with them as he slowly drifted off to sleep. His heavy eyes still trained on the couch and cot that held his cubs. And as the comfortable heat of Merle spreading over his back from his own bed roll behind him, the cool ball that connected him to his unusual but suspiciously quiet companion let out a quiet amused chuckle.

Come morning, they left the quaint little cabin, taking the recliner with them. On the road, the two drivers set a quick pace to the rental spot.

A few hours later, they arrived at the closed front gates of a place called RJ's RV's & Mobile Homes.

Harry noticed that the wire gates themselves were closed with a thick chain and a heavy-duty padlock. Harry watched Merle get off his motorcycle as soon as it pulled to a stop in front of the closed gate and walk up to study the large padlock.

Daryl also got out, leaving Harry, Carol, and the children in the car if something happened. When nothing happened and Merle gave the all-clear, they also got out of the truck.

Merle had picking up the padlock, inspecting it. Harry came up behind him and saw that it wasn't a simple mechanism that could be unlocked with a lockpick or a conjured ghost key. "I can get it unlocked, but I might have to blast the padlock from the chains if the unlocking charm fails since I don't know if it'll work on something so large. It's usually meant for doors."

Merle gained a thoughtful look on his face as he glanced at the chain and lock before looking up and meeting Harry's gaze, "Alright, you try that unlocking spell of yours first, and if it fails, I'm pretty sure Daryl's got some bolt cutters in the back somewhere that we can use instead. We'll reserve anything loud for the last resort, like if we can't find the cutters." Merle pointed towards his brother's tool bed with his thumb with a nod of confirmation from Daryl before redirecting his full attention back on Harry. "But try that spell and see if it works before we waste time hunting for it, though."

Nodding his head, Harry focused on the heavy lock in his hand as he brought out his holly wand from his arm holster to cast the charm and see if it would work on the large and complex lock. Smiling in satisfaction, when the padlock popped open a few seconds later, they unlatched it from the chains. They pushed the chain-linked fence open enough so the truck and motorcycle behind him could slip through, no problem. Closing and relocking the gate once again so they wouldn't have any nasty surprises wandering in, Harry looked around. There were RVs of different sizes and styles parked in uniform lines. Harry was hopeful that their respective keys were inside the small building to his right. He rejoined his group in the spot where they parked a few feet from the gates.

Merle walking around, making sure his group members had their respective weapons out and at the ready with the guns silenced courtesy of Harry (as well as the slingshots for Carl and Sophia) as they looked around for suspicious activity.

They split up, Merle with Harry and Teddy while Daryl was with Carol, Sophia, and Carl. Harry had Teddy magically silenced and strapped to his back to keep Harry's range of movement wide and unhindered from the front, and Merle kept an eye out for anything behind them. They looked for any holes or forced entry points before storming into the store itself in search of the key rack. Before they burst through the door, Merle took the lead and knocked on the door. There were groans and shuffling feet coming closer to the door. From the sound of it, there were about three or four walkers. Merle motioned for Harry to stay behind him and take point before the American kicked the door open. Two walkers dressed in employee uniform shambled forward, and Merle pushed one back before stabbing the other. A woman in dark rags that weren't part of the uniform appeared, and Harry threw a knife at her head before she could get to Merle. And Merle made quick work of the last one before they both walked over the bodies and into the venue. Merle led him to the back room, leaving Daryl and Carol to guard the front of the store while he and Merle searched for the keys.

There was a back-office with glass windows, and they could see the key rack hanging behind a desk. When Merle tried to open the door, the door was locked. "Damn, you'd think with these guys in here that they wouldn't bother locking themselves out of the office," he mused. Harry just shrugged, not really interested in wondering how people chose to live out their final days in a zombie apocalypse.

Harry waved his wand in the proper motion, quickly incanting, "Alohomora," before the lock clicked and the door slowly swung open. Once inside, Harry pulled out a little Ziploc baggy, going through the desk to stand in front of the small black revolving stand with the keys dangling on their hooks. He reached forward and plucked off all eight keys while Carol and Sophia looked around the rest of the back area for anything the group could use. Merle stood guard over them all from the doorway.

Harry stepped out of the store one he showed them the little baggy of keys. They looked through the store itself since it was also a repair shop stocked with anything needed to fix an RV. Needless to say, they took everything, including the car decorations and little scent trees.

Once they were all outside, they separated again into two groups, splitting the keys in half between them so that they could check the RVs quicker. It was a fun hour and a half choosing which RV to take with them. Most of them were huge, packing an entire family's worth of space. Others were smaller and less conspicuous. The kids used it as a time to bounce around and pretend to eat the plastic fruits that decorated the tables and mini-kitchens some of the RVs sported. However, the adults spent their time more practically, marking off RVs that would be too impractical if they had to make quick getaways or meander through roadblocks, as well as the ones that would be too small to fit them all as well as their things. Harry considered taking a spare RV as well in case they ever needed another, offering to shrink it down for storage purposes. But there was the possibility that magic would interfere with the circuitry. He'd have to experiment with it first before trying it.

Harry broke off from Merle when they got closer to Daryl and Carl to meet with Carol looking at a rather nice-looking RV. She was writing a few notes down on her notepad. He looked over her shoulder to see what she was writing and saw some notes about the RVs she'd seen.

"You're taking notes for reference?" he asked her, turning to look at the large RV she was surveying.

"Yeah. I thought we could use something to go off of when choosing the RVs. I have a list of the necessary things I thought we'd need, as well as what we don't. That way, I could mark off RVs that wouldn't work, and then we'd go from there."

Harry hummed at her great thinking, "but why write it down? I figured you could just point out which ones wouldn't work. There aren't many here."

Carol looked pensive, twirling her pencil in her hand while she clutched the book a little closer to her. Harry considered whether he'd been rude with his question, considering her behavior. Still, his mini-panic was for naught when she answered him. "It's how I'm keeping together. Writing is calming." She then gestured to her notebook with a snort and a self-deprecating smile. "And it's not like I'd have much to do with this notebook, you know? I might as well use it for something."

Harry smiled at her in understanding, clapping her on the back before turning back and stepping out of the RV to see how the boys were doing. They were at the center lane, and Harry could see Merle, Carl, and Daryl clearly from his position four RVs away. The brothers were standing close to each other, quietly discussing something. Harry could see Daryl giving his elder brother an amused smirk as Merle looked like he wanted to box his younger brother's ears. The two men stopped talking when they looked in his direction and saw him walking over. Merle had quickly given Daryl a mildly threatening warning glare for whatever reason, and Daryl just chuckled silently to himself.

When Harry finally stopped next to them with Carol not far behind, he saw that Carl had been performing his usual stretches. But when he spotted Harry and Carol, he jumped up and ran over. Sophia also popped her head out of the RV window they were standing under before rushing out to meeting them outside.

Carol started off by pulling up her notebook and showing them the page with her notes. "There are three RVs we saw that have solar paneling on the roof, which I think are meant for the major appliances like the fridge and air conditioning. There are two of them that are meant for smaller groups, but the others should do fine." She went over a few more things about each RV, but there wasn't much variation between the four besides what she'd started with. They all had new-ish batteries, their engines looked pretty good (not that they really knew too much about those, but they certainly didn't look damaged or suspicious). One of them even had a small restroom with an outdoor showerhead that they could set up and control if they wanted.

"The ones Harry and I looked at are pretty similar," Merle said. "There's two of them that have those solar panels, but they're on the smaller side. But I think that's better. They'll be easier to move around in case we have to drive through tight spots."

Harry and Carol exchanged glances between them. She and Daryl's finds were on the longer and bulkier side, but it made sense to look through the others instead. Merle and Harry lead everyone to the RVs they covered. The two Merle was talking about were indeed smaller than the ones Caryl saw on the outside. But that was perfectly fine to Harry since he had a few tricks up his sleeves.

"Okay, so we can work with these. I have a way to expand the inside of the RV if we need more space. We can even set up some of the other more luxurious amenities from the bigger RVs in whichever RV we choose. But I have to admit that I'm not too great at using those charms, but I'm sure I'll manage it. The complicated part would be making sure the things inside the RV work after I use the charm," he offered.

"Okay," Carol said. She thought for a moment, looking around pensively at the RVs around them. "Do you think you can try out that charm on one of the RVs we aren't taking?"

Harry nodded, "Yeah, I can do that. Is there a particular size we want to expand the smaller RV? It would be good for me to practice using the right size. Sometimes the magic won't expand the space more than the object can take. Law of magic and all. They're kinda like laws of physics, but more accommodating and interesting," he jested.

Carol opened the door of one of the smaller RVs to peer inside and gauge how big it might have to be to fit them all comfortably. Harry followed behind her to do the same. "Maybe about two or three times this space if you want to make it really comfy," she said, grinning back at him. "Think you can do it?"

Harry looked around the RV. It was pretty compact for a mobile home, but it had all the necessities you'd expect it to have. He could probably safely expand it to fit three queen-sized beds in addition to what they already had, but that would be all he could do without risking the RV's functionality. "Yeah, I can try it."

Harry gently hopped down from the RV steps, mindful of not jostling Teddy too much since his child was still on his back. The toddler was happily babbling and enjoying the ride. Harry went up to the Dixon brothers, asking one of them to take his baby while he tested the charm. It wasn't really safe to have a baby nearby, possibly volatile magics, after all.

Harry walked toward one of the RVs that was a bit farther away. The one he decided to use for his experiment was one of the smaller RVs they hadn't liked at all. It didn't have any solar paneling and seemed like a cash grab if the rental had priced it on a similar level among the others simply because it was from the same company. Harry opened the door on the side that would let him enter the RV to check inside and saw that it had a similar size to the other RV they were looking at. Perfect. Harry lifted his arm and started chanting the spell Hermione had taught him when they were on the run in his seventh year. It was a useful charm they used on their tents and in her beaded mokeskin bag. The expansion charm wasn't complex to cast. Still, the concentration required to visualize the space and not go too far with the object they were trying to enchant was tricky. And, of course, there was the added fact that this was muggle technology he was tampering with and not the generic school trunk or camping tent.

It took two minutes for him to expand the RVs inside to the size he wanted, and when he was done, he riffled through the baggie with the keys. He tried starting the RV to see if it would turn on. It seemed to struggle a bit, and Harry actually felt anxious that the spell had messed with the motor or something. It took a few more tries before he gave up. He stepped out of the RV and beaconed the gang over.

Daryl jogged while the others walking over. "Hey, did it work?"

Harry shrugged. "Well, the charm did what it was supposed to, but I'm having a hard time turning the car on. It's making the sound that means the engine is being ignited, but it's not doing the other thing cars do to indicate it's ready to drive."

Harry blushed at his inability to explain more about what was going on, but he didn't know too much about cars outside what the Dixons had shown him.

Daryl frowned before climbing into the driver's seat to try the ignition again. It stuttered when he turned the key but didn't make any more noise. "The ignition isn't starting. Maybe there's something wrong with the battery. These things haven't been used for a while, so maybe the battery's dry. Yo, Merle! Get over here!"

Merle jogged the rest of the way, handing Teddy over to Harry when he got close. "Is something wrong?"

"Yeah, I can't get the RV to start. I'm not sure if it's because of the spell or something with the RV itself. Daryl might try to check it out."

Merle nodded and walked to Daryl. They went to the back of the RV and opened a compartment before discussing car parts and other mechanical jargon that went right over Harry's head when Carol stopped right next to him. They waited patiently as Daryl and Merle checked the car. Merle even opened one of the manuals to see where certain parts were before opening a toolbox and getting to work.

Harry looked to Carol. "You think we should just go with a bigger RV and hope for the best? Because I'm not sure if we're all going to fit comfortably in one RV."

"So, the spell didn't work?" she asked.

Harry shook his head. "No, it did, but the car isn't starting. We're trying to see if it was because of my magic or because the RV's in peak driving conditions."

A few minutes later, with them standing around and the kids fidgeting in place (and secretly poking each other when the adults weren't looking), Daryl and Merle walked back over with the verdict of the day. "Good news, it's just the battery. The rest of the RV is fine, so all we'd have to do is change the battery. Bad news, we don't know if the RV we chose has the same problem. These things haven't been used for a while, and since that one's solar-powered, the battery might be getting a lot of energy. But if anything, we grabbed the batteries they had stored away. Hopefully, they aren't too dried out. Actually using the vehicle should help."

Harry nodded, happy that he hadn't messed up a perfectly good muggle vehicle with his magic and gleeful that his magic hadn't damaged the RV. "That's good to hear. Did you guys see inside the RV? Is the spacing good?" They looked inside the RV, eyes bugging at the sheer size hidden away by the deceptively small vehicle.

"Woah, yeah, that'll do. Nice job, sweetcakes. This will definitely make things a lot better," Merle complemented, making Harry blush a bit from the praise.

"Okay, so I'll just work on the RV. Which one did you guys finally want to use?" Harry asked, looking back in the direction of the two RVs they'd all been eyeing together.

Merle led Harry over to them, showing him a black, light gray, teal, and royal purple RV that had a glossy finish on the outside. The top had the solar panels lined up evenly, and the doors were on both sides of the front with windows on all sides. All in all, it looked like it would blend in with the natural scenery a bit better than the others, which were a bit flashier with their colors and designs.

The exterior hosted two locked compartments near the back that, after some inspection, carried a medium-sized power generator and water tank respectively that brought some relief to the others as it meant the RV had working water, that with Harry's water summoning spell and water holding rune had a limitless supply of fresh, clean water, and held a draining tube in the back for the toilet drainage. Once done with the exterior inspection, Harry followed the others as they moved on to further inspect the inside, which held a single room in the back that was filled wall-to-wall with an extra-large king-sized bed covered in a royal purple comforter and accenting teal sheets and pillows. To get to the back, and subsequently the bed, you had to pass a short ash grey hallway of sorts that held a two-door closet with extra storage cabinets beside it all having black handles on one side with the other holding the door leading to a small bathroom with a porta potty-like toilet with purple carpeting surrounding—but not touching—the seat on top, a small stand-up shower with a bench extension from the wall inside it that allowed you to sit on it while showering, and a plain porcelain white sink with a medium-sized oval-shaped mirror hanging over top of it.

There was also a small kitchenette area situated in the middle of the RV that was now obviously modeled for a bachelor or bachelorette, that featured a small black two hot spot stove, and one racked oven surrounded by a black marbled countertop leading to the one unit stainless steel kitchen sink and dry rack with the added counter space of a small island counter top with cabinets beneath.

(Both Carol and Harry were slightly excited to see all this as, while campfire cooking was good and all, having campfire cooking every day for every meal takes away the uniqueness of having camp cooking.)

Moving on to the sitting space behind the revolving dark grey colored driver and passenger seats which acted as a small living room with a soft-to-the-touch deep purple fur rug overtop the black tiled flooring that was spread throughout the RV and laid in-between the two sofa-like extensions along each wall were padded with a soft teal colored leather. The last thing they noticed about their new temporary home was small overhanging off white cabinets stretching out above the couches and into the kitchen area to provide extra storage space above the small two-by-seven windows above each sofa and the kitchen area that allowed natural light to flow into the sitting area and bedroom with thick light grey curtains framing each end of the windows.

All in all, Harry was pretty satisfied with what the small RV had to offer, with the feeling quickly being reciprocated by the other three as they all agreed on taking this smaller and darker-colored RV while he shrunk all the others as backups. They weren't really bothered by the fact they only had one big bed to sleep on as it was big enough for all of them to sleep on without too much hassle since they all knew and were comfortable with each other well enough to consider their entire group to be their makeshift found family by now and trusted them not to do anything stupid while they slept while one of them kept awake to do the nightly watch, keeping an eye on things in the small sitting room upfront. Harry also saw that their choice had the additional advantage of being one of the smallest RVs and, therefore, had the easiest maneuverability and handling. Stepping out of their RV, Harry set to work shrinking the other six RVs they hadn't tampered with yet.

"You know," Harry considered. "Since the RVs don't seem to be affected by my magic, I might be able to add a few runes that'll keep them running on the ambient magic of the world instead of just on gas and electricity. I might even be able to spell it so that we don't run out of water. I just need to…," Harry trailed off in thought as we walked around the RV. He lifted his wand again, doing the same incantations he'd done on the other RV. Once done with that, he checked the inside to make sure it was the appropriate size. Satisfied with that, Harry thought about what other things he should do to the RV. He looked down at Teddy, who was hanging onto his shoulder like a good baby, looking around at the RV lot in his baby curiosity. Harry smiled and made a mental reminder for himself to add an area for Teddy's necessities. They'd need a few things for him. Harry passed him off to Daryl and turned back to the RV, summoning the ceremonial dagger the Potter family had once used for rune work and rituals. The blade itself was imbued with his magic, which made it easier to keep the runes charged for longer periods of time (making the job a lot more effective than just using his wand to burn the runes into the metal), giving it a rather detailed look that almost looked too pretty to tarnish with actual work. But the blade was spelled to be unbreakable and to maintain its sharpness, so that was unlikely to happen (but Harry still felt a little bad, despite the ridiculousness of his feelings).

The others stood behind him as they watched him draw the runes for water storage onto the water tank before casting Aguamenti for a few minutes to fill it to the brim. The runes he used for the tank were meant to automatically fill the tank when it reaches below a specific level (which he'd established in the runes to be a third of the tank's volume), so now they wouldn't have to worry about taking up all the water while they showered or washed their hands.

Once satisfied with this rune, he moved over to the generator that stored the solar panels' extra energy on top generated. This setup kept the generator exceptionally charged as it remained untouched since the beginning. Harry drew the magic drawing and converting runes into the mantel, knowing that these runes would draw magic from the untapped stores of the very planet and convert it into electricity once the generator itself ran low on power.

Next, he drew the same series of runes on each corner of the RV in a sequence that would make the RV impenetrable. So whoever would try to harm them were covered, as well as things like mid- to long-range gunfire wouldn't be able to break through the walls and glass. He also added permanency wards to the runic sequences, careful to keep the algorithms straight. The planet's wild magic would keep those powered, and the people he keyed into the wards would be well protected. Harry also added a rune that would turn the RV invisible for a short while once activated. But this rune needed a trigger, and magic was usually that trigger. But Harry wouldn't always be there when the rune was needed; at least, he didn't think so with the unpredictable nature of the world right now. So, he considered imbuing a key or button with magic that would trigger the runes, but that would be really complicated, and he'd have to have a bit of his magic stored in whatever he chose to use. Saving that for later and just settling on the basic magical rune, he finished the last runes.

He stepped back and surveyed his handy-work. He grinned at the RV, proud of himself for getting those runes to work (considering how they hadn't immediately blown up in his face if he'd done them wrong), and looked to his companions for their opinion.

"So? What do you think? Good, eh?"

Daryl snorted, and Carol smiled at him. Carl looked at the runes Harry had drawn, curious about what they did. So he asked. "Umm, Harry, what do these do?"

Harry blinked, then smiled at the child's curiosity. "They're what will give us sustainable energy, an endless supply of water, bullet-proof walls, and invisibility in case of emergencies. I'll add a few more things to it if I can think of anything, but that's what this sequence covers."

"Cool," Carl marveled, looking at the RV as if it would suddenly transform into a walking and talking robot ready to defend them from walkers and mean people. It didn't, but it was still cool.

Merle walked up and clapped him on the back, "Excellent work, sweetcakes. Always with the nifty surprises." The elder Dixon grinned leeringly down at him, and Harry blushed further, ducking his head.

"It was nothin'," he mumbled, embarrassed by the look Merle was sending his way. Goodness, was it getting hot out here? "Erm, there's one thing, though. For you guys to be able to get into the RV and not get blasted out by the protections I placed, you'll have to put a bit of your blood on the rune by the door. It'll key you into the wards," Harry explained, gesturing to a round rune at the front of the RV.

The adults gave him dubious looks at the odd request but complied. The kids were naturally nervous about cutting their fingers, but Harry soothed them by numbing their fingers when he pricked them. They were less queasy about it than he expected them to be (and he was very proud of them for it, considering they've been surrounded by blood, gore, and death for the past few months). Once that was done, the last person he had to key in was Teddy. It physically pained Harry to inflict any kind of bodily harm on his baby, but this was necessary for his baby's protection. So, with the same numbing charm on the baby's tiny and adorable fingers, he quickly pricked his child's finger and directed said finger to touch the newly blood-bathed rune before swiftly cleaning the finger and healing the wound.

The wards pulsed to life after Harry's magical blood first touched the rune (since he was the first to key into the wards since he was the only one with a fully developed magical core). He gave them all a pleased grin as he hugged Teddy to his chest before encouraging the kids to explore the inside of their new home. The kids whooped in happiness now that they were finally allowed to get into the RV and settle, zooming past the adults as they made their way inside (and accidentally forcing them all to quickly step aside or risk being bowled over by the little rascals).

They all smiled (or, for the brothers, who would never admit to smiling just as happily, smirked). Even Teddy had a gummy-filled smile on his little face as they listened to the excited exclamations coming from within the RV as the two preteens ran rampant throughout the small space. Harry took a moment to lean against the RV's side and close his eyes as he savored the sweet sounds of joy from Carl's delighted giggling. It filled the air and marinated in Sophia's excitement as well as his Teddy's happy babbling. After the moment of enjoying the children's excitement, Daryl and Merle went back to their respective vehicles after reopening the gates. Harry, Teddy, Carol, Carl, and Sophia settled into the RV with Carol in the driver's seat.

Merle helped his brother bring all the bags from the back of the truck into the RV to store for later and then loaded his bike onto the truck so that he could ride shotgun with his brother.

Harry took the passenger seat next to Carol when she started up the RV. It was a modestly sized vehicle, and Harry, with his inexperience at driving, felt that he would never be able to drive the thing on his own even if he knew how to. He couldn't imagine maneuvering such a large van around tight spaces. He'd left the kids the bag with all their books and toys to play with, and they were playing a colorful board game they found in a convenience store a while back. They had it set up on a soft purple rug behind them, with Teddy sitting up directly in the middle as he giggled at his surrogate big brother and sister.

It didn't take too long for the kids to tire out from the semi-exciting day they all had. After finishing their game, they had shuffled sleepily to the back for a short nap on the enormous bed but not before carefully handing a sleepy Teddy over to Harry who, once he recognized the warm embrace of his Muma, promptly fell asleep after burying his tiny head into Harry's chest from where Harry was holding him in his lap, tiredly clutching the soft fabric of his hoodie in between his tiny fingers. Harry gave them a soft smile as he kissed the two children on their foreheads right after they'd handed him Teddy before redirecting his attention to the sleepy toddler in his lap.

The road in front of them with Merle and Daryl taking the lead in Daryl's truck was clear. Harry looked over at all the mechanisms and buttons on the dashboard and asked Carol about them, wondering how she knew how to drive the thing. Carol shot an amused grin his way before she explained the different gears and buttons.

While she did that, he tightened the comfortable grasp he had on his youngest son while Teddy took his midday nap on Harry's lap.

Harry sat back a bit and relaxed with Teddy, who took a moment to let out a yawn, taking a larger jaw-cracking yawn of his own while rocking Teddy gently. He only just partially managing to keep from taking a nap himself to keep a keen eye out for any and all possible threats to his newfound little family, all the while trying to process the information Carol was giving him with a minor headache forming in the back of his mind as he filed all of the new information away with his tired mind to look at and study later.

-MERRY-

With their little pit stops now significantly shortened with the new addition of the RV to their little caravan, they continued driving throughout the day with the only stops being their daily meal inside the RV—shortening the previous two- to three-per-day stops to stretch their aching muscles and give the kids some time to exercise and hone their skills. And any irregularities to their new schedule mainly were due to the car pile-ups and small walker herds they couldn't simply pass by. Sometimes they'd have to either wait it out or take a separate route.

They pulled to a stop in front of another car pile-up in the middle of a small town they were passing through.

Harry and Carol stepped out of the RV, and Harry passed Teddy over to Carl when the older boy popped his head out of the door after them.

"Stay inside with Sophia, okay? We're just going to try and clear the road a bit," Harry explained to him. Carl nodded and held Teddy more securely in his arms before closing the door behind him.

Harry turned around to follow after Carol, who was already standing next to the Dixon brothers.

The road was being blocked by three cars, but they were utterly wreaked (and he was sure that he could see someone behind the driver's side window in one of the cars, either dead or reanimated).

Harry stopped next to Merle, close to one of the cars, probably thinking about what they should do. Merle then circled around the cars to get a scope of the damage. There was a small space between two of the cars while the last one was completely flipped on its back. Harry didn't think they'd be able to move it even if they wanted to, and he wasn't sure if a levitation charm would be strong enough to move the car enough for the RV to fit through. Those things were cumbersome.

"Harry," Merle said, "I'll need you and Carol to slip through that space between these two cars and push the green one away while Daryl and I push the red truck." Harry looked to the wreckage to see where he'd have to go and quickly identified both cars. The one he'd have to push was a small green Honda, while the red truck was larger and jacked up with a missing back wheel.

Carol and Harry went over and settled themselves into place to push the car away. Harry checked under and around the vehicles to make sure there wouldn't be any surprises.

Once both of them were inside the small space, both placed their hands side-by-side on top of the olive green car's crushed hood and began to push while putting as much of their combined strength as they could behind each push until the car began to roll back onto the sidewalk and out of the way.

Harry leaned back, wiping the dirt and dust from the car off his hands and onto his pants when they were done. He stepped back on shaky legs from the exertion, turned around, and making his way over to where the brothers were redirecting and pushing the larger truck to the side.

Harry stepped up to Daryl's side to help them, while Carol did the same on their other side. The two men pushed the heavier truck the rest of the way and cleared the road enough for them to safely slip by without having to move the blue car, as it was already partially off the road.

Harry leaning against the truck's tailgate they just moved with a sigh to reclaim some of the energy he had exerted to push the two vehicles with Carol doing the same from the other side.

Daryl had his hands on his hips when he huffed for breath before speaking up to the group, "I think we should look through the stores here. See if there's anything we can take." He squinted his eyes under the harsh sun, surveying their surroundings.

Harry didn't really care either way. They had plenty of things on them from the CDC already, though it wouldn't hurt to find anything extra. You never had too much of something during the apocalypse, after all.

At least it would get them out of the cars for a while and back on their feet.

Carol and Merle were all for it, so they went into their respective vehicles to move them out of sight if people passed through and got it in their heads to take the cars and all their supplies with them. They found a very convenient hiding spot in an alley behind two large buildings. You could barely see inside it unless you were actively looking for the spot, so they left everything locked and hidden within. Harry put up a temporary proximity ward to alert him if anyone approached the vehicles, as well as a disillusionment charm before warning the kids to stay quietly inside the RV and watch over Teddy.

After making sure Carl and Sophia were armed and ready for anything, he stepped out of the RV and locked it with a locking charm.

Harry followed close behind his men. The town they were in was a ghost town where there weren't even walkers skulking about.

They split up to cover more ground: Carol with Daryl and Harry with Merle. (Carol spared Harry a conspiratorial wink before jogging away with the youngest Dixon prancing on behind her like giggling jackrabbits.)

Harry rolled his eyes at them before following Merle to one of the stores across the street. They had a little over half an hour to scavenge around before meeting back at the blue car with or without supplies, so they needed to hurry.

The store turned out to be a pharmacy stocked up with medical supplies and other clinical stuff. There were able to stock up on some of the supplies they didn't have after pillaging the CDC. They found disinfectants, alcohol swabs, bandages, and even a few sinuses and cold pills (which would undoubtedly be essential for the winter season closing in). Harry packed them all up in a neat little enchanted baggy before placing them in his actual bag. Once he and Merle were done, they relocated to the convenience store next door.

The building looked worn down and was covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt. The entrance was all boarded up and would need some handiwork and strongarming to break into. Fortunately, Merle was the perfect candidate to do so. Harry wiped away a small part off the front display window before cupping his eyes and looking in. Merle took off the boards from the door, using a loose pipe and hook to remove the nails.

Harry looked in deeper, hard-pressed to see anything inside the store when it was so dark. But he saw movement a few feet from the door on the floor inside. He spotted two walkers crawling around on the floor and slowly making their way to them, likely drawn by the sound of the door being unblocked.

"There are two walkers in there. They're crawling, so I think it's safe to say they won't be too hard to put down." Harry joked to Merle, grinning wryly at the man who paused in his work to blink at him. Merle huffed and grinned back. Harry checked one last time for any more, but he didn't see anything.

Merle pulled everything off the door, and Harry steeled himself for what was to come. He and Merle met eyes, green with blue, before looking back to the door. Merle pulled off the last board with a cloud CRACK. The door swung open on its own, and they both rushed in with their hunting knives at the ready. They made quick work of the two legless walkers, avoiding the flailing arms and biting jaws with ease before plunging their weapons for the kill. That done, they dragged the bodies out of the path to the door, cleaning their knives on moldy and moth-bitten shirts.

They continued in complete silence as they passed the first few empty and blood-splattered selves. They found the shelves at the back of the store stocked with things they could take. They even looked through the shelves that had been knocked over by whoever those two were when they died (the gore of sliced leftover and rotting legs not bothering them in the least as they tried to find anything salvageable from that mess). They took anything and everything that wasn't expired or ruined, storing them away in their magical bags. Unfortunately, the catch wasn't bountiful, and most things had been ruined over time and by walker blood. Some dry cans had been crushed by the fallen shelves and soaked in blood. So, they wrapped up after they were done and left through the front door.

However, before they'd left entirely, Merle made a slight detour to the cash register, where behind it sat an entire wall of cigarette packets and nicotine treatments. And Merle, under the disapproving eyes of Harry, took a substantial amount in his bag before they'd found a storage closet that Harry had dragged him into.

Harry gave Merle an exasperated face and prepared himself to do something he'd wanted to do since the CDC but couldn't while surrounded by the others. He wanted to talk with Merle alone about what they'd discussed in private that night before they split off from the rest, and the CDC went up in flames.

But Harry didn't really know how to broach the topic or even whether he should bring it up at all. He was standing next to the second shelf in the closet, picking through the packed boxes and dumping them into his bag with nary a glance other than to make sure they weren't spoilt or rotten items.

And, as some kind of saving grace from Harry's thoughts, Merle took the reigns without even realizing he needed to. "So, about the other night. You still wanna talk with Ol'Merle here about starting up as partners?"

Harry startled at Merle's sudden question, not expecting him to speak at all, really. They'd been comfortably silent the whole time without bothering the other or asking questions. They'd settled nicely into teamwork. Harry stopped what he was doing with the boxes on the first shelf to look over his shoulder where Merle was nonchalantly dumping boxes into his open bag on the floor. Slowly forcing his muscles to work again after they'd frozen so that he could start looking through the boxes again. "That would depend on how much you remember of our little chat, considering how tipsy you were," he said slowly, cautiously shooting a look over his shoulder at the man looking him up.

Merle grinned at Harry's probing before smirking salaciously. "Oh, Sugar, I can guarantee you I can. And I'll even be able to muster up that particular feeling again right here and now if you bend over those boxes once more there, shorty."

Turning his entire body around so that he could be face-to-face with Merle, he knew that it was now or never to have this conversation. If they didn't have it now after broaching the topic, who knows where their relationship would go going forward and whether it would sour. Harry gave Merle a dry and entirely unimpressed look, expressing how much he felt about such a lame pick-up through his eyes (and having much difficulty concealing the blush he was desperately trying to hide).

Merle's expression turned amused again as he savored Harry's reaction to his advance/proposition. "Alrighty, then. If that's how you wanna play this," he trailed off, bowing his upper torso slightly at the waist with his arms crossed against his stomach and back in a slight mockery of a proper bow. "Would you give this old backwater southern hillbilly a chance to woo the socks out of those tightly wrapped boots and then consider taking it a bit further by becoming my partner in this hellish world we now live in? At least until you get tired of this old dog barking up your doorstep."

Trying and failing to fight the intense blush, he smiled widely with all the giddiness he felt since he first realized his feelings for Merle. He almost lost the tight control he had over his entire body, keeping himself from jumping the man right then and there (which he was absolutely sure Merle wouldn't mind, but Harry restrained himself anyway). Harry settled his expression into thoughtfulness, completely faking how he was thinking over accepting or denying the cheesy-yet-entirely-sweet request. He let off a faux haughty sniff, raising his button nose to the air with crossed arms. He cracked open one of his eyes to side-eye Merle's reaction as he replied with his best poised and posh impression of Malfoy. "If you feel it necessary, Mr. Dixon, then I accept your offer of courtship." He immediately dropped the stiffness as he threw Merle a teasing grin. "After all, while I'm most definitely a cat person (he winked as the man caught onto his meaning), your insistence is pleasing to me, and I can't stop myself from appreciating the finer qualities of loyal companionship with someone who fiercely protects whomever they claim as theirs. Besides," he said off-handedly, "Did you know that my godfathers held the canine species in high regard? I've learned from the best."

Merle rolled his eyes at him and chuckled. "You know what, shorty, that whole thing was cheesier than mine," he teased.

Harry gave him a soft smile. "Well, it's true. I'll do it, so now you have me."

But Merle did look curious about Harry's comment about his godfathers. But Harry thanked all his lucky stars and Merle's own respect for boundaries when the man didn't question him on the subject.

Merle straightened fully, leveling a wolfish grin before the man stalked forward like a predator on the prowl. Harry backed himself against the very shelf he was looking through while keeping his gaze joined with Merle's as the man backed him against the rack with both arms on either side of the Brit's head. Harry was pinned against the frame by Merle's bodyweight, and Merle took advantage of this by leaning forward-still sporting that grin—enough so that Harry could feel hot puffs of breath on his face. "Oh, I can be just as possessive as any old mutt. And for what I consider mine, more so. That hard-to-get-into list has you, Teddy, Carl, and Daryl at the very tipity-top. Just give me a chance, and I'll show ya just what I'd do to protect you."

Merle used his left hand to tilt Harry's head up by the chin, running his rough thumb up and down Harry's jawline. Merle's navy-blue eyes, so deep and earnest now—so much so that Harry could fall into them up close—bore into Harry's own with such an intensity that Harry could only nod his head in agreement like a numb fool.

Merle shifted his gaze to Harry's closed pink lips before flicking his eyes back up to Harry's again. "Wanna seal this deal with a kiss, sweetheart?" Harry's breath caught when Merle leaned further into Harry's space, clearly eager to suck Harry in.

Harry had to gain ahold of himself when he felt Ebony, his inner panther, let out a pleased growl from within his mindscape. The rush of confidence and boldness coursed through his veins now, spurring him on to claim what would be his and demand that this man give him everything. Harry felt a predatory smirk remold his face, and he grabbed hold of Merle's shirt and purred, "Prove it to me then, Alpha." Under Ebony's insistence, he dragged Merle down and crushed their lips together in a searing kiss, sucking faces like a dementor on a hunt.

They both separated a few minutes later, with a thin thread of saliva still connecting their lips. They both breathed heavily, sucking in the oxygen they've lost and needed desperately. Harry watched Merle's face closely to gauge his reaction to the kiss and Harry's own forwardness. Merle's eyes were half-lidded, and they separated from the embrace they'd somehow unknowingly ended up in during their rather lengthy kiss.

Harry took the first step away, hesitating because he didn't want to end their moment, but entirely too aware that time was ticking and that they've been gone for a while. If they didn't get back soon, then there'd be hell to pay from Daryl and Carol. And anyway, he wanted to get back to his little ones. He was missing them already. And above all else, he needed time to think. He needed time to gather himself and really think about whether he was making the right choice because, though he wanted this probably as much as Merle, the world wasn't a place for love and relationships right now. They needed to be safe first for that. So he steeled himself and pulled away, taking a slow and refreshingly calm breath through his nose before giving Merle a nod with a soft smile (hoping beyond anything that Merle understood Harry was still in for trying to make something for themselves, something they could do together and not pushing away after an excellent first kiss), turning around to gather the rest of the supplies on his shelf as quickly as possible.

Both were silent while working quickly and steadily, and the air between them felt clear and comfortable. After that, Harry and Merle left the store, moving on to search through the next few stores with little-so-no vocal communication between them. They simply used hand gestures, and even then, they worked so well together that they didn't really need them. When they were done, they headed back to the blue car.

They walked down the sidewalk together, side-by-side with their shoulders touching as they met with the others. They all gave a brief summary of the things they've found, and Harry tried to ignore the look Carol was sending him after noticing how close he and Merle were. He considered turning in place and just kissing Merle out in the open to get her and Daryl off their backs about what had really happened on their hunt but refrained.

When he'd gotten back into the RV, the tension he didn't know he was feeling dripped away at the sight of his kids and Sophia cheering at their return. He gave them all kisses and hugs and showered Teddy in love and affection because his baby had gotten fussy. For just a second, Harry considered that if all went well between him and Merle, what type of father the man would be. It was a silly thought because Merle was already protective of the cubs, but it was a nice thought he had. That if they were alone as a family, Merle would be his baby's daddy, caring for him like Teddy were his own.

Harry ran his fingers through Carl's hair and smiled at the child who was telling him all about a game he'd played with Sophia, who was right next to him and filling in all the gaps Carl was missing. Harry enjoyed it immensely, and Ebony purred in contentment as the protective wards made this RV a little haven they could enjoy while still in dangerous territory.

Once they settled down in the chairs, and Carl and Sophia had run off to the back to do who-knows-what, did Harry consider relaxing entirely again. Carol was at the driver's seat like usual as they pulled out of the town. And it was then that he really noticed what her odd looks meant.

Harry blushed all over again, and the look Carol had turned considering as she smiled at him through the front-view mirror. "Soo," she hedged, grin turning sly, "did anything interesting happen while we were separated that you failed to mention earlier? Anything, Merle-related?"

He was able to fend off most of the more scandalously innocent questions, thankful that the kids were around to motivate her filter. But the heavy blush wouldn't go away. If anything, it kept growing until he was confident he'd be a tomato by the end of the hour. But, in the end, he gave into her badgering. He divulged the whole story in hushed whispers, subtly rubbing his chest where he felt the beginnings of a courtship bond forming alongside his parental bonds.

-MERRY-

The next few days were much the same as any other while they were on the road, driving through the apocalyptic countryside. They had their occasional stops to stretch their legs and train the kids, and they dealt with the occasional walker and car blockade.

However, two days down the line, they'd been caught by one particularly nasty and cluttered car pile. It was, by far, the largest they've come across ever since they left the city behind them.

Everyone stepped out of their vehicles to get a better looksie for the situation they were dealing with now.

With Teddy strapped to his chest, Harry turned his head to face the others. He had his hands on his hips after taking a moment to look upon the unseemly number of cars, trucks, and vans just piled up in front of them.

The amount of crazy couldn't even be quantified.

Daryl let out a long and impressive under-the-breath whistle before he drawled out and impressed, "Well, ain't that the kicker? I've never seen this much expensive nonsense in my life." He walked toward an old red and dirty Ford Chevy and patted the untouched yellow Lamborghini next to it. "If it weren't the damn apocalypse…," he trailed off.

Merle, who was standing next to Carol and the kids, snorted at his brother's boyhood showing through.

Harry let out a soft chuckle at their disbelief, which in turn had Teddy giggling happily and bouncing in his strap.

Carol surprised them all with her next question, "And how the fuck were they going to get around this mess?"

Sophia gasped in surprise at her mother's language, and Carol didn't even look repentant about cussing out loud. It seemed the Dixon charm was rubbing off on her.

Harry hummed as he contemplated the idea of using his broom to get a better view of the wreckage and to gauge how far it went. He asked the group for their opinion.

Merle considered it, and the rest seemed to like the idea for now. There was nothing to argue about after all. "If the block isn't too long, we can make a plan to go off-road for a bit."

Harry nodded, "And if it's too big, I could try shrinking the cars and probably apparate to the end of the block. Otherwise, it would probably be better to turn around or go on foot since I can only take one other person with me at a time."

"Apparate, is that the teleport thing you do?" Daryl asked.

"Mhmm," Harry confirmed.

"And how would that work? You'll have to take Teddy with you at some point, so won't that mean two people going at once?"

Harry just shrugged, thinking about who he'd take first and how long it would take to get everyone together. He didn't want to leave anyone vulnerable by taking the adults first and leaving the kids unprotected or taking the kids first and still leaving them unprotected.

"We'll see how large the block is before making that choice," Merle said. "If it's looking like more than a mile, then come back. We'll decide when you get back. Meanwhile, we can gather whatever fuel's left in the cars upfront."

Harry nodded dutifully and pulled out his broom. Once he mounted on, he kicked off the ground with Teddy secured to his chest. The baby babbled excitedly, clapping his hands and enjoying the rush of air. In an off-handed thought, Harry hoped Teddy would develop a joy for flying. Maybe he could teach his baby how to play Quidditch one day when things were safer. And being on a broom, away from flesh-eating zombies, was much safer than being on foot if they ever lost their vehicles.

Harry looked down from about a few hundred feet above the ground, trailing his eyes down the line of vehicles below him. A few walkers were among the cars—thankfully far away from his group—which he took care of with a few well-aimed slicing curses. He listened to Teddy's babble as he estimated the distances. Unfortunately, the blockade did seem to be more than a mile long.

Displeased by the setback, he circled back to tell the others that they'll likely need to turn around and either find a conjoining road or continue on foot because there was no way they'd be able to go off-road. The RVs weren't equipped for it, and the blockade also spilled over onto the grass at one point. It was a whole mess.

After a few more minutes of flight, in which case, he didn't see anything else of note other than the sheer length of the blockage, he flew back down. He had to brace himself when Carl and Sophia ran over to him, asking him a million questions about his flight and if he'll ever let them fly with him later. Harry laughed at their enthusiasm and promised that he'll take them out for a spin some other time. But right now, he had to break the news to his people.

He passed by the kids, broom still in hand, and walked to the adults of the group walking back with a few cans of gas. "The blockade looks more than a mile long, unfortunately, and a few walkers are lumbering about as well. I took out the few I could see closer to our position, but there are more. So, we've got some options. I could either apparate us one by one to the other side and shrink the RVs, we could fight our way through the blockade to the other side, or we could turn around and find another way."

Daryl and Merle cursed, and Daryl turned around to retrieve the map they'd marked up. Carol was walking back with a crate filled with children's clothing, smiling at her find. Harry walked over to help her out, and she told him that she'd found some clothes that would even fit Teddy when he grew a bit more.

"Nice," he said to her.

Harry helped her leave the clothes in the RV before going back outside to see Daryl with the map laid out on the truck's front with his brother next to him. He and Carol walked over to them, and they all began to deliberate on their next move. The four of them took a quick look at the map, with Harry marking the parts he flew over. It was a good mile and a quarter away from where they would stretch for a larger distance as there were more cars as far as he could see before he'd come back down.

Harry looked up to the sky to gauge the time and noticed how the sun was starting to lower in the afternoon sky. They wouldn't be able to just walk through the cars without it going dark. And in that case, they'd be vulnerable to the strong noses of the walkers. It wasn't even an option, really. It was too dangerous with two kids and a baby to look after.

"It's getting dark," he said to them. He looked to the kids to see how they were doing. Sophia leaned on her mother, and Carl had his head in his arm, looking at the map. "We should probably bring it in. Move the RV somewhere out of the way and rest for the night. We'll talk more over dinner, but it's not safe staying out here for much longer."

They all looked up at the sky and noticed the time. So, they packed up and moved their vehicles off the road and under the coverage of the trees, then relocated into the RV for dinner. Harry was helping Carol cook up something simple. He opened the minifridge that was expanded on the inside and took out some leftover squirrel meat from Daryl's previous hunts. Carol took care of taking out some boxed macaroni and cheese and a pot to boil water over the magic-fueled stove. They cooked silently together, and the food was done in half an hour with help from some of Harry's household charms that took care of chopping vegetables and warming up a bottle of milk for Teddy.

Harry served the cut and seasoned meat with the macaroni on a booth table next to the kitchen and called the kids over. The Dixon brothers were already sitting on stools over at the small island countertop with the map over it. Harry could tell from the little he'd listened to that the Dixons were discussing what route they could take. Daryl commented that they would be better off circling back and taking a conjoined sideroad that reconnects to the main road. The idea made a lot of sense to Harry since they'd avoid going off-road with the RV and possibly damaging it, and it wouldn't put them out of the way too much either, since the nearest sideroad wasn't far away. Merle just sat back and let his brother take the reigns in this one, enjoying his mac and cheese with seasoned squirrel meat.

"Sounds like a plan," said Carol, already digging inter her own plate of food. With that settled, they all enjoyed the food (and the careful eye the Dixons had out the windows went unmentioned).

Harry was finished feeding Teddy when the toddler refused to eat another spoonful of green pea puree. So, Harry burped him before setting him down on one of the playmats for him to burn the rest of his energy before being put to bed. Carl and Sophia both finished around the same time and dismissed themselves to go hang out with Teddy. Harry picked up and washed the dishes before thanking the Dixons for a good hunt. They took the thanks as expected (inelegantly and entirely humble) and thanked the stars that he and Carol were such good cooks.

With the plan set, they all decided to relax a bit while within the safety of the RV walls and Harry's magic and went to the back where the kids were. They entertained themselves with funny stories about their school days, and Merle stole the show with the retellings of his many brawls before he'd signed up for the Marines. Harry himself contributed to Storytime by telling stories about his more kid-friendly misadventures at the legendary school of Magic in the Scottish Highlands.

The rest of the night was spent with everyone settling into the enlarged bed in the back of the RV, with the one exception of the adult who'd take the first night shift (which was Daryl).

The rest of them curled around each other with the kids nestled between Carol and Harry. Sophia was curled up in her mother's embrace while Teddy and Carl were snuggling into Harry's chest. Merle was comfortably laying behind Harry, with one arm under Harry's head and another over his waist. Harry was smiling contentedly, basking in the warmth of his loved ones.

-MERRY-

They woke up the next morning with the sun's rays streaming through the curtains. The kids yawned awake, and Harry got out of bed to get both himself, and Teddy cleaned up. The others waited their turn by brushing their teeth or heading to the kitchen to whip up a quick and easy breakfast of instant cheese grits, eggs, and toast.

After the morning routine was finished for everyone, Daryl and Merle left in Daryl's truck to check if there were any changes to the car stall (not that they really expected any, but it didn't hurt to check if walkers were around). Meanwhile, Harry took his time to take down the stationary wards he'd put up last night for their extra protection. When the Dixons came back with a report that came with no changes to what they'd already known, Carol started up the RV, and they drove out from under the cover of the trees. They continued with their plan to circle back down to the small paved sideroad they'd passed by the day before.

Within the next two and a half hours, they reconnected to their main road with only one small delay of another small-scale and easy to move through car stall they didn't really have to stop and push through.

Carol and Harry relaxed during the drive now that they were far away from yesterday's problems, and the kids wasted time by taking naps or trying to get Teddy to chase them around on the floor. Harry loved listening in on them. His baby was making babbling noises as he used his hands and knees to move around, and Sophia was his favorite person to follow. They even spent a little time trying to get him to say their names, which inevitably ended up as a butchered mess of baby-babble.

They were now a little over two-thirds of the way to their destination, and they pulled over for one last stop for them to plan on how they'd get in. They mostly planned on heading straight in without stop until they arrived at the gated suburbia.

Harry stepped out of the RV after putting Teddy down for a nap and let the kids run free with a clear warning to stay within his sights. He joined Daryl, Merle, and Carol on the grass. They were all sitting on foldable chairs with a whetstone and flint to sharpen their weapons.

"So, what's the plan besides just showing up at the front gate?" Harry asked, taking out a chair for himself to lounge in while keeping eyes on the kids and ears for their surroundings.

"Well, since we don't know if there's already people living in the community, we need to treat our game plan like there is," Merle answered. "So I was thinking," but whatever Merle was going to say was left on def ears because Harry's head snapped up in the general direction of the community when he heard what sounded like screams of utter terror. His pupils narrowed into slits as he stood up abruptly at the sound of a young baby's frightened screams reached his ears, which was closer than the rest of the voices.

A deep primal part of Harry came to life at the sound, and Harry's instincts screamed for him to find that baby and kill any threats he came across. The building alarm tore into him, and he was running in the baby's direction, leaving everyone else in his dust. He didn't even acknowledge his family's alarm or their attempts at calling him, mind too occupied by the resounding need to FIND and PROTECT.

Harry was sprinting, the magic in his blood flowing through him and strengthening his body. He leaped into the air and landed on the front paws of his Animagus form before zooming off again. He felt Ebony take over, becoming the superior hunter in search of the child based on their voice alone, as well as the pungent smell of death.

The trees whipped past him in a blur, foliage becoming a mirage of colors melting together as he focused forward, pumping powerful muscles to peak performance. The grace of his form allowed him to get over and under obstacles as if they weren't even there, and he was killing distances no human would have been able to match with the help of magic.

The screech of the baby was louder now, but they were also more frantic. He was getting closer, but time was of the essence.

He burst through a bush and slammed a walker to the ground before crushing its head in with a paw and sliding to a stop near the edge of the small clearing of trees. Harry surveyed the immediate area with quick sweeps from glowing green eyes and found an anomaly in the middle of the clearing. It was a small baby blue bundle inside of a nappy bag. The infant was still screaming its little lungs out as at least five walkers stumbled out from the opposite end of the clearing. Harry didn't even have to think to know the immediate danger, instinctually understanding that he had to act now and save the child. He rushed forward to pick up the bundle with his jaws by the straps (which were thankfully fastened together) as two more screams sounded off somewhere beside them that came from two male adults in the direction the five walkers were coming from. That direction was where the original screams and gunfire were coming from, but Harry didn't care at this point, and neither did Ebony.

He snarled at the walkers, angered by what their presence would have meant for his family's venture, as well as on principal for their sheer inconvenience. He ran back in the direction he'd come from, nearly getting his tail grabbed by one of the walkers. He didn't know what had happened, but he sincerely hoped that the baby's parents had left the baby to fight the walkers and save everyone, but he had little reason to even believe that.

Once they were a few paces away from the clearing and the walkers, Harry was able to wrangle control from Ebony over his body. The baby was safe with them, and Harry could take it from there to get them back to the group safely. Harry was nearly at the place they'd stopped at but noticed the change in their scent's direction. They must have moved closer to the community. He followed his pride's trail to a gas station on top of a small hill. They hadn't yet made it to the top of the hill, so Harry pumped his legs just a little harder to catch up as much as he could. He followed them up to the station and stopped when their vehicles came to a stop after he passed the RV and ran off-road alongside Daryl's truck, allowing them to recognize his form running next to them with a baby blue bag clenched rightly between his teeth.

He gently placed the small bundle on the ground in front of him before standing back and transforming into his human form as the others stepped out from their vehicles. Harry collapsed on the ground, completely winded and in desperate need of a break after that heart-stopping venture to rescue the baby. He sat panting next to the infant, who was still making noise, and let Carol run over to check on the baby while Merle went over to him and checked him.

Harry waved off Merle's insistence to get him to stand and gently touched the bundle Carol was carefully pulling out of the bag. Harry used his fingers to pull back the blanket to see the baby's face. The infant had mocha-colored skin, and his eyes were dark amber rimmed. They were red-rimmed and tearful as the baby cried. His little hands pushed through the blanket in little fists as he flailed in Carol's arms.

Harry reached his arms out for the baby and looked up at Carol pleadingly, "May I?" he asked her.

Carol nodded, carefully handing the baby over to him, taking the blanket while she handed him to Harry for Harry to check the infant over properly without the cloth getting in the way. Harry gently looked the infant over to see if he was injured. Unfortunately, he found a few bruises where Harry's legs must have hit him during their escape. Harry felt terrible, but there was no other way for him to have taken the baby under the circumstances. But thankfully, the baby hadn't sustained any other injuries. Carol rifled through the baby bag for anything that could tell them the baby's name. Daryl walked over with the kids and Teddy in his arms, likely after forcing them to stay in the RV in case of any danger. They awkwardly stood off to the side, but the kids still were able to ask him what happened. Everyone was likely worried for him since he'd taken off so suddenly.

Harry rocked the baby in his arms, trying to soothe him enough to stop crying so loudly. It was to the point that he'd attract walkers with his voice. Harry partially transformed his throat into Ebony's to purr soothingly to the child. He hoped it worked because otherwise, he'd have to silence the baby with a spell. Unfortunately, the baby's cries also got Teddy to start crying, and now it was him and Daryl trying to soothe the children.

Harry started explaining what happened when the baby's cries lowered enough for him not to shout too much. "I think the settlement we were looking for was overrun. There was screaming and gunshots coming from that direction. But what really got me to leave was hearing this little guy crying. I just lost it. When I got there, he was surrounded by walkers, and it looked like he was just abandoned by his parents. I don't know what happened to them or why he was out there alone, but it doesn't really matter anymore at this point. So, I took him and ran back here," he summarized. He looked over at Teddy and then down at the baby. "We should get them inside. It's not safe out here. I don't know how far those things can follow sounds, but we shouldn't take that chance. Whatever happened to those people was bad. We're going to have to come up with a new plan because I think they were completely overrun if people were fighting for their lives out in the woods."

They looked in the direction of the gated community and saw large plumes of grey smoke peaking out from the trees. They all knew what that meant.

Merle put his hand on Harry's head and nodded. "Let's go get out of here, then," he said.

They all got into their cars and left the station to go who-knows-where.

Harry didn't sit in the passenger seat of the RV like he usually would this time. He had the baby in his arms, and Carl attached closely to his side. Harry was rummaging through the baby's bag to see what was inside and found a few diapers, wipes, a bottle, and some formula. He was sitting down on the rug beside Teddy, whispering reassurances that he was alright and that everything would be fine because they were safe.

The baby squirmed a bit now that he was calmer, likely because he'd gotten tired of all the yelling he was doing before. Harry hugged him closer, and when he looked closely at the baby to fix his onesie, Harry finally noticed the small tag attached to the back that had 'Andre' scrawled on it in black marker with a heart at the end.

Harry looked from the tag to the baby consideringly. "Andre, then," he said off-handedly. "Nice to meet you, kiddo. I'm Harry." Naturally, he wasn't expecting a reply, but the baby surprisingly stopped crying when Harry said his name. He made a few cooing noises, which made Harry smile. "Hey, Andre, you recognize your name, don't you? Such a smart baby." Andre laid his head down on Harry's shoulder, looking up at Harry through baby eyelashes that looked entirely too adorable to be real. "Whelp, welcome to the family, kid. You're officially one of my cubs now, and we'll do everything in our power to protect you from the shadows of this world. You have my word."

-MERRY-

They followed the road over a taller hill right next to the one with the gas station a few minutes later. Oddly enough, this one also had a gas station. Hilariously, it was a rival company. They pulled up at this one and parked the vehicles in reverse since it had more space for the RV that the other one didn't have. Harry took a step out onto the hard cement and away from the RV with Teddy strapped to his chest and his new baby in his arms. Carol, Carl, and Sophia followed him out, and Carl stuck close to him. This hill was much taller than the one beside it, and they were able to get a better view of the smoke's origin. They were able to see the utter devastation set upon in the likely-heavily populated community below them and a ways off.

By the sound of it, and based on the sheer size of the community, there had to be about two hundred people at least in there. There were houses and pitched tents in most of the yards. People ran around, being chased by walkers before inevitably meeting their end. It was a sad and terrible sight, but there was nothing they could do without risking their own lives. And there was no way that they'd be able to defend themselves with two babies. Sophia and Carl may have learned how to defend themselves to some degree, but there was no way for them to be mentally prepared to take on such horrifying creatures like a hoard of walkers.

There were small fires, bullet holes, and carnage as the walkers ran free within its walls, leaving blood, torn bodies, and rising dead as the people who were just killed rose again to join the carnage as the enemy. And the most horrible thing was that the people were all gated in. The walls that were meant to protect them suddenly became the very thing that would kill them. Whatever had lead to walkers being inside the community had been the biggest hit this community had taken. There weren't any united fronts fighting the walkers. Everyone was either running, dying, or trying to fight. It was chaos down there, and it killed Harry inside that he couldn't help them.

Harry put his hand on Carl's head to draw the boy's attention away from the horrifying scene. "Let's go, kiddo."

They walked back to the RV. No one said a word to each other. Merle was refueling his car, and Daryl was getting whatever little gas was left in the station tanks. Harry found Merle and leaned into him. The man threw his arm over Harry's shoulder, drawing him in closer and putting his chin on the top of Harry's head. They had a moment of silence, and Harry prayed for those people. He wasn't religious, but he did it anyway, remembering the occasions when his aunt would pray and tell Dudley about the use of prayer. He hoped that, after all these years, his aunt's nonsense would amount to something.

Harry felt so numb, but he dissociated himself from those people. He had to. There was nothing he could do for them.

He unlatched himself from Merle and smiled at the man in thanks. "We need to think about what we're going to do next," he said, walking further away from Merle and forcing himself to tune out the dying sounds from the town. There was nothing for it. They were already dead.

"What do you think we should do?" Merle asked him.

Harry was about to say something along the lines of finding another settlement when there was a particularly loud screech that made both him and even Carl flinch. He closed his eyes, breathing in to control his body again. That scream had forced a full-bodied shiver on him. "We need to leave first. Get far away from this place. We should turn around and see if we can take another road. This place will be crawling with walkers soon."

Merle nodded, and they soon made haste to prepare their vehicles and go back down the road and away from the two competing hills. They had to get far away from the scene that was swiftly becoming more common in the world they lived in today.

They set up camp a few miles out when they were back on the main road. They all congregated in the RV to discuss their options after Harry set up a few short and long-ranged proximity wards to warn them of anything was heading their way and whether it was getting to them fast and in large groups. He also set up a minor ward that was meant to be impenetrable by outsiders in small groups. It would last for about maybe ten hours and could only defend against twenty to thirty people at once.

Harry put Teddy and Andre down in one of Teddy's playpen situated near the passenger seat. Teddy took an interest in the other baby's appearance as he slowly shifted his skin tone to match Andre's, babbling curiously as he studied his newly darkened hand before gently patting the baby's curly hair. Andre shifted his head, only slightly disturbed from his nap before falling back asleep. Harry watched this numbly, only half focused on his baby and his new cub getting to know each other. It was sweet, though in a cute, baby-like way.

Harry let Carl sit on his lap in the passenger seat. Harry carded his hands through the boy's head, letting the child relax in his touch enough to lightly doze off like Andre.

Merle dropped down in one of the booth seats near the kitchen space. "Well, that plan didn't work," he said unironically. "But at least it gave Sweetcakes a new chick to cluck over."

Harry was able to lightly smile at that, slightly amused by how bizarre and stressful today's events turned out to be. He did just randomly get a new kid, didn't he? It was starting to become a thing, it seemed.

Daryl, sitting beside his brother with the map on the table, rolled his eyes at his brother (as he usually did when Merle tried to be funny). He was likely looking over what roads they could take and where they would even go. And to be completely honest, they could just live out the rest of their days in the RV if things kept going south. Harry could study more about runes from his books and practice different runic arrays for things they'd need if he needed to beef up the RV to be truly apocalypse-worthy.

Daryl took out a pen and crossed something out of the map, which Harry figured was the settlement they'd left behind. After a long pause, Daryl spoke up with a suggestion. "We should look for a place on higher ground. It don't gotta be gated, but we've gotta be able to see on all sides. We can build it up after we get in there."

Carol looked like she liked the idea but was also afraid to poke holes at his logic. "And how are we gonna build a place to stay? We don't have any materials to make strong walls. And how are we going to get food? We can't all split up for hunts and runs without leaving the kids defenseless. There's only three of us."

"The wards I placed around the RV are only temporary, but I can find a way to make them stronger," Harry said, finally speaking after his long silence. "They'll keep wherever we're staying safe while whoever's getting food and supplies is out. Fortunately, we're fully stocked right now. The food should last us a few months if we ration right, and the supplies for about the same amount of time."

"Alright, Darylina," Merle said while brought his hands down on his brother's shoulders. "you heard him. Start looking for areas on that map for high places. We want plateaus, but if not a high hill, we want those places them bluebloods like to call huntin' lodge cabins. They're usually high up a hill."

Daryl raised his head and glared up at his brother for the rough handling before just nodding his head and focusing on the map. For a minute, they waited. "There are a few places like that, I think. There's a hunter's club on a cliff 'bout north from here. They should have been empty when all of this started since it wasn't anywhere near hunting season when mess started."

According to Daryl and his memory of his father's friends whenever they'd talk about their trips there, it was a bit like a village camp made with small-sized log cabins that the brothers highly doubted anyone really knew about since it was so far out. They weren't great hunting grounds, but they had decent game whenever the season came in. The only problem was that it was also half across the map from their current location, meaning that it would be another few days on the road. The hill it was on would also be quite steep, and the RV was definitely not suited for such a trip. Harry would have to take the RV up in his pocket, and they'd drive the rest of the way up in Daryl's truck. But once they were there, they'd be able to start building a wall that would make it hard for people to get through without one of Harry's portkeys.

The distance was a bit of a downer, but it was nothing compared to the hope budding within them again. They sincerely hoped that it wouldn't end as horribly as their previous stop was. Heck, Harry could even work on the cabins and make them more livable and spacious. He'd make them into real homes.

So they wrapped up and started getting ready to go. Merle and his brother left the RV to get a head start while the sun was still high in the sky, distancing themselves from the dinner bell that had stopped ringing behind them minutes ago.

That night as Carol took the first watch, Harry turned onto his side and curled up against his three cubs. He reached over them to bunch his hand on the black tank top Merle wore to sleep in silent thanks for everything the man had done for them so far. The elder Dixon groggily grasped back at Harry's hand, tightly intertwining their hands before falling back to sleep. Harry blushed slightly as he looked down at their joined hands before falling asleep himself, lured under by the coolness of the Georgian night as winter approached.

AN: sorry y'all had to wait so long. On the plus side I got a beta(I'm not ofreakingkay) on this and they are freaking great! Send reviews plz I love reading them.

PS: while I was gone, I had my 18th birthday, yay!