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Chapter 15: death, wolves and there isn't a plan
-Rose: House Pleasant,
Tuesday 28th December, 11.45pm
I hadn’t aimed very well, and the spell went shooting past the man I intended to Stun- instead hitting the guy behind, who crumpled to the floor. I fired off another spell, this time getting the same man as Scorpius did, and the combined force of our spells lifted him off his feet and he ploughed into the guy behind him.
I heard a scuffling noise behind me, and glancing back, I could see that Hugo and Theodore were safely through the window and running, their transparent shapes shimmering across the field. They reached the edge of the forest and disappeared out of sight. My brother was safe.
I turned back to our fire fight. We were hopelessly outnumbered- there were five of us and at least thirty of them. But, thanks to Lorcan, I had watched enough war films to know we had the advantage of defending and also the higher ground. All they could do was walk/run towards us, and all we had to do was shoot them. In theory.
I aimed a Body-Bind Curse at a lanky lad with dreadlocks, and scanned the ranks for Richie. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I ducked a blast of purple light, but it went way over my head and instead set the picture on the wall behind me on fire, bright violet flames licking up the wall. By my side, Scorpius seemed to be doing fairly well with aiming and firing, although his curses didn’t vary much from ‘stupefy’ and ‘expelliarmus’.
I pushed him out the way as a jet of green light dove straight for Scorpius, and aiming, quickly incapacitated the caster. This was actually kind of fun, if you took out the near-death element.
And then, I saw him. A spell from upstairs knocked someone out of the way, and I could see Richie. His eyes were wide as he watched the battle, and he looked awful. His face was streaked with dirt and his clothes were tatty and grimy. In a bright flash of light from a spell, his face was clearly illuminated, and I could see one of his eyes was stained purple, and he had other, fading yellow bruises up his arms. Richie was being dragged away from the conflict by a tall man, broad shoulders and severe haircut. He looked evil, and I knew him by sight. He was the leader of the Fraternity.
But I couldn’t tear my eyes off Richie. He had no idea what was going on, what was happening- that much was clear. He looked frightened and lost, stuck in a world he knew nothing about. And it was my fault. I brought him here, by going on that date. If Roxy had never introduced us, he would have never been here- here, where he could die.
I have never been so angry. Sure, in an abstract, twisted way, we deserved to be locked up. Not for crimes we didn’t commit, and I would fight that with everything I had- but Richie had nothing to do with anything, and now he was paying for our actions. And I could never let that happen.
With renewed vigour, I aimed, and fired again, my hatred fuelling the spells I shot off. And then, suddenly, came a streak of green light. I instinctively half-ducked, but then I realised the spell was going the wrong way. It wasn’t coming towards us. Someone upstairs had fired the Killing Curse, and I watched helplessly as it tore through a hastily erected Shield Charm. There was a terrible scream, and then the man collapsed. Someone upstairs was a murderer.
And then I couldn’t fire. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. All I could see was the man, lying half-hidden in the long grass, eyes glassy and open. Richie didn’t matter, Scorpius didn’t matter, Hugo didn’t matter. Someone in my family was a murderer.
Killing was something the other side did- we didn’t kill. We didn’t hurt anyone. We didn’t ruthlessly attack people.
That wasn’t what we did.
People died all the time- four lives had been lost for us to be set up, but that had been different. I hadn’t watched them die. I hadn’t seen the light fade from their eyes. And while I hadn’t cast the spell, I felt responsible for his death.
Scorpius seemed to realise something was wrong. “What is it?” he said, ducking a spell and shooting off a Stunner in response.
“There was a man-” I managed, collapsing onto the floor and pressing my back against the wall beneath the window. I realised I was shaking.
“Is someone close to the house?” Scorpius said, his eyes wide. He poked his head above the window. “I don’t see anyone... Rose, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I’m fine,” I said, gripping my wand so hard I thought I would snap it.
Scorpius shook his head. “That’s a lie. Come on, we’re going to move out. I’ll get the others from upstairs,” he said, disappearing to the bottom of the stairs.
I sat there, frozen. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move. My brain felt sluggish, and I couldn’t respond to my more practical side, who was desperately trying to get me going. It was like being told again and again to get up from bed, but the bed was too cosy and warm to leave, despite the increasing frustration in your parents voice.
Mum. Dad. Had they killed someone? How would they feel, to know we were now murdering to save ourselves?
Scorpius came clattering back downstairs. “We’ve got a plan,” he said, panting. “Come on.”
With difficulty, I got to my feet, and Scorpius grabbed my upper arm. “Rose, whatever the hell you thinking, snap out of it,” he said urgently. “We need to get Richie out as well as ourselves.”
Richie. The word penetrated through my misty mind, bringing a crack of light. Richie. If I could only save him...
“Alright,” I said forcefully. “What do we need to do?”
Scorpius cracked into a devilish smile. “I’m not too good at subtle,” he said. “Basically, we’re just going to run straight through them.”
I took a look outside. Now our fire had abated, the Fraternity had stopped. It was an unofficial cease-fire, but the Fraternity left standing remained steady, wands at the ready. I could see about eight people barring our way to Richie. He and his captor were nearly at the edge of the forest now, about to disappear into the trees.
Scorpius saw as well, and with an angry curse, he vaulted out of the broken window, and started to run towards the witches and wizards in front of us. He was prepared for anything, and fighting hard as well. With a Stunner which seemed to be more furious energy than magic, he blasted a pretty black-haired girl out of his way, barely slowing down in his race to get Richie.
I stood in the living room for another second, before running and swinging myself out the long, wide, window. My hands crunched down on the broken glass, but I ignored the pain and the slow trickle of warm wet blood and gripped my wand tighter in my slippery palm, shooting a Stunner at the first person I saw.
It was hard to aim and run quickly, so I just blindly fired towards where the spells were coming towards me, occasionally throwing up a hasty Shield Charm for the spells I couldn’t dodge. I broke through the ragged line of people surrounding the house, and cast another Shield Charm, concentrating so hard on it that I nearly tripped. If there was one particular spell I prided myself on, it was my ability to create the invisible shield that would protect me from most spells.
I recovered my footing, speeding on forwards, no longer encumbered by having to try to shoot, I could now put all my energy into running as fast as I could. Scorpius was now nearly at Richie. A spell hit my Shield bang in the centre, but it merely quivered. I glanced up from the ground again, and saw the leader of the Fraternity draw his wand. The action was slow, almost lazy, or was that because I was pushing myself to go faster and faster, my mind now racing, fuelled by adrenaline?
He pointed his wand directly at Richie, and looked back at us, almost smiling. Richie tried to scramble away, limping away from the Fraternity’s leader, but the man just adjusted his aim slightly, his lips moving in an incantation I couldn’t hear. A jet of green light spewed out from the end of his wand, and then Scorpius crashed into the man, knocking him off-balance and the spell went wide.
But not far enough. The green light clipped Richie on the shoulder, spinning him around like a rag doll, and then he collapsed into the grass by the forest’s edge. I changed my direction, running towards him, tears already pricking at my eyes. Richie couldn’t be dead, he couldn’t be dead, there was no way he could be dead. He was so alive. I reached him and sank onto my knees, properly crying. I was right; it was the other side who were the murderers, the cold-blooded, evil killers who didn’t think twice about taking away someone’s life. I lifted Richie’s head into my lap, gently resting my hand over his mouth and nose. There was no breath. I pressed two bloody fingers to his neck, but there was no pulse either.
A spell hit my shield, weakening it slightly, so I grabbed Richie under the arms and pulled him further into the cover of the trees. I just wanted a little more time, a little more time with him. Richie was dead. Richie, who’d called me even after I’d been kidnapped on my date, Richie, who’d tirelessly explained the rules of football over and over to me, and who had the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. His sightless eyes were open, and I closed them gently, leaving twin tracks of red from my cut fingers.
I heard a shout, and looked to my left, peering through the trees to where Scorpius and the Fraternity’s leader were fighting, Muggle-style. I watched as Scorpius was punched on the jaw, only to spring back and cut the man’s legs from underneath him. I looked back at the house. The ring of Fraternity members had disintegrated, instead coming towards us, determined and purposeful. I supposed that it meant everyone else had got away, managed to Disapparate. It didn’t matter if Scorpius was winning his fight, we were both going to die anyway, be stretched out on the wet grass like Richie was.
My wand lay on the grass a few feet away, the handle smeared with blood, but I didn’t move to pick it up. The first killing curse sent at me was poorly aimed, as I was half-hidden in the trees but the spell still ripped a ragged hole through my shield to the left of me. I glanced over to Scorpius and the man. Scorpius kicked him in the side, and he tried to crawl away. I saw the outline of a wand in Scorpius’ clenched fist. Scorpius could easily kill the man- but then the man straightened up, staggering to his feet, also holding something. He spun on the spot- and disappeared with a thin crack! Scorpius howled with frustration, sounding feral in his anger. Scorpius had known Richie since his early teens, I realised. Scorpius looked up, and saw the horde advancing on us. He half-limped, half-ran to me.
“Rose?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
I didn’t answer. What was there to say? A farewell, an apology?
“Rose, come on,” he said, pulling me to my feet. “There’s nothing we can do for Richie now, we’ve got to go.”
He sent a Stunner towards the mob, and someone in the front crumpled to the ground.
“Merlin, Rose, please do not freeze up again, I need you to Disapparate us away kind of like now!” he said urgently, sending another spell, but it went high. He leaned over Richie and grabbed my wand from the ground, pressing it into my hand. He pulled us back, further into the trees, making sure we were completely hidden from the Fraternity.
Richie lay in front of us, his body merely a huddled lump on the ground; a shapeless dark mass, faceless and anonymous. I didn’t want to leave him alone here, here in these cold woods.
“Rose!” he hissed, shaking my shoulders. “Snap out of it!”
And then there was a terrible, low growl to our left. The blood drained from Scorpius’ face, and he hunkered down, pulling me close. “Don’t make a sound,” he said quietly.
The growl turned into high-pitched cry that shook the trees, and the Fraternity members stopped in their tracks, frozen in terror. I felt blank, empty; my guilt and misery had ripped out my emotions, and being scared was not one I was currently capable of- despite the unmistakeable sounds of a werewolf nearby.
A Fraternity member turned and ran, heading back to the house. The movement triggered the werewolf to bound out of the undergrowth, which in turn made the Fraternity scatter. Scorpius tightened his hand on my arm, as if he thought that I might try to rescue them.
To be honest with you, I had no particular feelings regarding the Fraternity at that moment in time.
The werewolf loped easily forwards, covering the ground quickly. It looked quite graceful, really, an abstract part of me noted. The long, poised arms and quickly moving feet, the neck stretched up to the sky as the wolf howled mournfully- it looked like a dancer. And then it dropped to all four paws again, twisting it’s head this way and that, catching the smells around it as it’s lips were drawn back in a snarl- and a more primal part of me said to run far far away, because this was a killer.
A few people dropped out of sight in the long grass, hoping to hide, and another managed to Disapparate away before the werewolf reached him. But with a swipe of a paw, one Fraternity member fell to the ground, and it wasn’t an act. I could see the red on the werewolf’s claws, and the terrible scream the man gave reverberated through the woods.
Scorpius pulled me to my feet, and dragged me away from the field and the lethal dance of blood and claws. We ran through the trees, dodging branches and leaping over tree roots. I was holding Scorpius’ hand, feeling like if I let go for one second, I would start to scream.
We finally collapsed in a sweaty, panting heap underneath the base of a large oak tree in a clearing. It was deathly silent- we’d come far enough away to not hear anything from the house in the field. I sat with my back against the tree trunk, and my knees tucked up to my chin. I still held Scorpius’ hand, slippery with sweat and blood. He didn’t say anything, merely scooted into a more comfortable position beside me. He seemed to know better than to ask me to Apparate anywhere.
I looked up at the countless stars dotting the clear sky- I could just make out the Big Dipper in between the gently swaying branches. The moon was bright and full on my left. My breath came out in huffs of pearly clouds, and I shivered in the chilly night. Scorpius put his arm around me, and I rested my head on his shoulder. I had never been more glad of his company and, lulled into a false sense of security and bone-tired, I let myself fall asleep.
-Rose: under an oak tree, in a clearing
Wednesday 29th December, 7.45am
I woke up in the same position, the weak winter sun poking above the skeleton trees. I was numb with cold and stiff from sleeping in an unnatural position, but I didn’t move. Scorpius was still asleep, his head lolling back against the tree trunk. I could see the dried tracks of tears on his cheeks, and it was a fresh reminder of Richie’s death, cutting me again like a fresh wound. Everything from yesterday night came flooding back, and I bit my lip hard in order not to start crying again.
Scorpius stirred, and opened his eyes, yawning. “Good morning,” he said.
I straightened myself up off his shoulder, catching his yawn.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Alright, I suppose,” I said, after a moment’s thought. I was alright. Physically, I was fine. While emotionally was a different matter, my heart felt tougher after the events of the night. I could push back the grief and the turmoil, because I couldn’t do anything for the dead. It was the living that mattered, that needed me. Scorpius needed me, and Hugo and the rest of my family.
“And you?” I asked.
Scorpius stood up, brushing dried mud and dead leaves off his jeans. “I think we should go back to the house,” he said.
I got up, massaging the feeling back into my numb legs and stretching out my arms. The palms of my hands stung as the new scabs on them cracked. Scorpius started to slowly walk into the trees, retracing our runaway route from last night. I pushed my hair back from my face and followed.
Scorpius needed me.
He walked ahead, shoulders hunched and hands shoved deep in pockets. I couldn’t let him be swallowed by his sadness, not when I needed him just as much. I caught up to him easily, and threaded my arm through his.
I didn’t say anything as we walked slowly through the trees. The woods looked like something from a Christmas card- evergreens and skinny bare trees. A robin red-breast hopped from one branch to another, trilling a merry tune, and the frosted grass crunched underneath our feet. It was peaceful- but in what seemed like no time at all, we were at the field. The house squatted in the middle of the field, no longer our safe haven.
Scorpius led me around the side of the trees, until we came to Richie. He lay on his side from where we’d left him hurriedly, one arm flung over his face. He looked asleep.
“I’m going to bury him,” Scorpius said, looking at his friend.
I touched his shoulder lightly. “I’ll go see the house.”
“Thank you,” he said, and I set off, trying to avoid the patches of flattened, stained grass.
The house was quiet, and eerily still. I walked in through the back, where only the shell of the conservatory remained. The broken glass crunched under my feet, and my palms itched painfully. I slid my wand out from my jacket pocket, and held it out in front of me. The house was ruined. Ornaments lay broken on their sides, pictures had giant slashes from claws, and the wallpaper curled down the wall. I skirted the sofa, which lay on its back, and went through to the kitchen, but there was nothing there but smashed crockery and some instant noodles and , so I grabbed those.
The house was too still to have anyone alive in it.
I checked every room anyway, but it was in vain. I didn’t see anyone who I could help, and I found no sign of my cousins either. This, I supposed, was a good thing. I did find the bag that Tracey had given us though, and slung that over my back as I made my way to the roof. From there, I watched the silent field, and Scorpius, digging.
The long pale grass waved in the slight breeze, and the tops of the trees rustled. I watched Scorpius’ back move in a steady rhythm as he cracked the hard earth with his shovel. I wondered idly when he’d conjured it up. The sun climbed steadily higher in the pale sky, and I sat where Scorpius and I had stood barely ten hours before. I tipped the contents of Tracey’s bag onto the cold floor, and started to sort through it.
She’d packed us an assortment of things, some stuff that made me smile, and some really useful items. Two penknives, two flasks- one filled with black coffee that was still warm, and a couple of sandwiches, along with some high energy cereal bars and some orange and green tic-tacs. My stomach growled as I remembered sitting downstairs with Scorpius, eating a hot stew with proper cutlery. I put the sandwiches away- I’d share them with Scorpius later. There was a road map and a spare oversized jacket for both of us. I shrugged one on, immediately feeling warmer, wrapping my hands in the ends of the sleeves. My cuts stung, but I ignored them. There was a lot of Muggle money in a thick leather purse, and even a few Galleons and one Knut, as well as a heavy-duty torch. I poured everything back in the bag haphazardly, glancing up to check on Scorpius. He still toiled away, not looking back at the house once.
I only came down when I saw that Scorpius had finished, and he was just smoothing the soil over Richie when I joined him by the grave. I saw that he’d also put a small headstone, which simply said his name, and today’s date.
Scorpius didn’t acknowledge me as I stood next to him, instead staring at his work until I gently put my hand on his shoulder.
“Ready to go?” I asked quietly.
He shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave him here,” he said, turning away. He left the shovel lying by the side of the mound, and started to walk. I stood by the grave for moment longer, remembering. I couldn’t let myself lapse again, so I gave into my grief for a second, letting the sadness roll over me, before wiping my eyes and jogging to catch up with Scorpius, Tracey’s rucksack banging against my back.
“What was at the house?” Scorpius asked.
“Hardly anything,” I said. I indicated the bag. “Tracey’s packed us some useful stuff though.”
He forced a smile. “Shall we go then?”
“I think you should eat something first,” I said, leading him to the front porch of the house. We sat down, and I shared out the sandwiches and coffee, leaving the non-perishables I’d found in the kitchen in the bag for later. I also passed Scorpius a knife, slipping the other into my pocket.
When I was satisfied that Scorpius had eaten enough, we got up and started to walk. The change in us both was clear- there was no banter, or teasing. At least the rest of my family were safe, I thought, as we walked slowly away from the house and the field in order to get out of the anti-apparition zone, leaving the tiny headstone alone. My family...
“Lily!” I said suddenly, glancing quickly at Scorpius. “She might be still out in the woods... all alone, she won’t know what happened, and the werewolf...” I trailed off. “What?”
He took my hand and squeezed it gently. “Rose, I think Lily was the werewolf.”
A/N: brace yourselves, this is going to be a long, gushing one.
Firstly, I am overwhelmed, I really am. The amount of love I'm receiving at the Dobby Awards for my little Hattie baby is amazing- she's been nominated for Best Mystery, Best Villain, Best Plot Twist/Make Your Jaw Drop Moment, Best Action/Adventure and Most Original Story.
Please, someone help me pick my jaw up off the floor. It means so incredibly much to me, so thank you everyone who has nominated and seconded me, you know who you are and I love you to pieces. And if anyone decided that they like my Hattie enough to go and vote for her, then I would be even more amazed and may actually faint.
My second piece of news is that Hattie is also getting a sequel, and I'm already plotting it out :P
Thank you so much, my wonderful, beautiful readers. I love you every single one of you so much.
PS. Sorry about Richie.