Chapter 7 : Chapter 6
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Emerging from the tent, Fred stopped and stared in shock at the sight before him. The burning tents cast an eerie glow over the night, and screams that pierced the air sent chills up and down his spine. Seeing the silhouettes of the Muggle family high up in the air, he also felt a flash of anger. He turned to George, unspoken words of disgust passing between them. Jokes and pranks were one thing, but pain and cruelty were never funny.
The girls stumbled from the other tent still in their nightdresses, looking scared and bewildered, just as his older brothers also rushed out into the chaos, prepared to fight. For just a moment, Fred felt a pang of envy. George and he were almost seventeen; he wanted to be out there, too – helping, fighting the masked mob – but then he caught sight of Ginny’s pale face as their dad told them to stick together and hide in the woods and he quelled his jealousy. Hermione made a beeline to Harry and Ron, but Ginny planted herself next to George and him, her eyes scared. Meanwhile, Sadie stood alone looking lost and terrified, her arms wrapped tightly around her trembling frame. The flashes of the fires glinted off her glasses and illuminated the trails of tiny tears down her cheeks.
Fred made up his mind.
“C’mon*,” he said to all the others, reaching out and taking Ginny’s hand. He squeezed it tightly and then tugged her forward.
“Wait,” Ginny replied in a shaky voice, forcing him to stop. She stretched out her free hand to Sadie. “Here, Sadie,” she said urgently. The older girl blinked as if coming out of a trance and after a moment of hesitation, grasped Ginny’s other hand.
George led the way, plowing a path for them through the masses, and Fred followed close behind, his grip on Ginny’s hand like iron. Ron and his friends brought up the end of their frantic group. They pushed deeper into the woods for a long time, the sound of the growing mob spurring them on, tripping and stumbling through the darkness all while getting jostled from every side.
“Oi, watch it!” Fred growled angrily when a random elbow suddenly shot out and caught him in the eye. He shoved back at the strangers around him, his temper starting to flare even though he knew it was an accident. “George, let’s get out of this mess!”
George nodded and veered off the path, pulling out his wand and lighting it. He led off into the darkness, away from the panicked crowd. Eventually, they came upon a tiny clearing that held a large boulder, all hidden by a thicket of trees. They all stopped.
There was a strange stillness in the air, and Fred noticed for the first time that it was quiet again. It was as if the world around them was holding its breath – waiting…
And now you’re losing it, Weasley, he chided himself, shaking his head.
Ginny tugged her hand out of his and turned around. “Where’re the others?” she gasped fearfully, breaking the strange quiet.
Fred whipped around. Sadie stood silent and shaky behind them, but there was no sign of the other three. He swore under his breath.
“Bloody gits probably doubled back and are right in the middle of things now!” George growled.
“We’ve got to go find them!” Ginny pleaded, tugging on his jacket sleeve.
Fred shook his head, agreeing wholeheartedly with his brother. Ron, Harry, and Hermione were drawn to danger like moths to the flame. If there was a disaster happening you could bet the three would be in the thick of it.
“No,” he said with annoyance, promising to pound Ron later for ditching them. “We’d just end up going in circles looking for them. I’m sure they’re fine,” he grumbled, wishing he’d thought of it first, but also knowing he couldn’t drag Ginny into it. “If anyone can take care of themselves, it’s those three,” he tried to assure his sister.
“Come here, Gin,” George called. He flopped down on the ground and leaned back against the boulder, patting the dirt and dry leaves beside him. “Wanna see our newest sweet?”
“I thought Mum took them all,” his sister replied, sitting next to George and tucking her feet up inside her nightdress against the chill.
“She didn’t check Ron or Harry’s rucksacks did she? Life-lesson, little sis: always have a backup plan.”
“Sneaky,” she said with approval.
Fred grinned to himself as he listened in on their conversation. They had put on quite a show, pretending their mum had just cleaned them out, all the while knowing that Harry and Ron were really unwittingly smuggling most of their stock out of the house. The minute the trio took off to get water, Fred had sidled over and retrieved their goods and no one was the wiser. They’d made a killing on the treats as they wandered around talking to friends before the match.
Pretty bloody brilliant if you asked him.
As George proceeded to tell Ginny all about their new invention, Fred glanced again at Sadie. The quiet girl still just stood there, as if in a daze, hugging herself so tightly with shaky arms he was amazed that she wasn’t short of breath. For the first time, he noticed that she wasn’t wearing a jacket over her night clothes like the rest of them.
Had she been in such a hurry she’d forgot to grab one?
Or maybe she didn’t even have one? The carpetbag she’d arrived with yesterday had been small and old, and Fred remembered it had seemed pretty empty.
Pulling off his own jacket, he walked up to her. “You okay?” he asked as he draped it around her shoulders.
When he touched her, she jumped and turned frightened eyes on him. Fred felt a pang of sorrow shoot through him as he realized her first instinctual reaction to any surprise was fear. In his world, surprises were for fun and laughter; he lived for them. He and George were going to have to work at fixing this.
“Hey, just Fred here, and I wash it once a year, promise,” he said lightly, choosing to purposefully ignore her reaction. He pulled the jacket all the way around her tightly. “Besides, Dad would be a bit miffed with me if I had to tell him when we go back that I let you freeze to death.”
The haze of terror started to clear from her eyes slightly and she offered him a tiny smile. Gratefully, she uncurled her stiff arms and slipped them into the sleeves of the jacket.
“So, crazy night, huh?” Fred said conversationally, shoving his own hands into his armpits to stay warm. “Have you decided we’re all nutters?”
Sadie looked at him quickly and then ducked her head shyly as she shook it.
“Liar,” he teased. “We are all perfectly crazy and don’t you ever forget it.”
She smiled at him for real this time, but Fred could still see a caution in her expression. He wanted to ask what was wrong, why the mob had frightened her so much more than the rest of them, but he knew she would be unable to reply. He couldn’t understand her signing yet, and he could tell she didn’t have her little notebook.
How frustrating that must be, to not be able to make yourself understood! Especially around people who didn’t care enough to try. Fred couldn’t help thinking it was going to be incredibly difficult for Sadie when they arrived at Hogwarts. Too bad there wasn’t a way to make things easier for her.
Then just as they always did when he caught the spark of what was sure to be a brilliant idea, the wheels in Fred’s brain started to turn. He was about to say something when he was startled by the sound of terrified screams restarting, coming from the woods all around them.
“What the -!” he said harshly.
“Look!” Ginny yelled, cutting him off, and Fred turned to find her pointing frantically up through the trees. Where just moments before had been dark sky and bright stars was now a huge, glowing, green skull swallowing a snake.
Fred gasped. He wasn’t supposed to know what it was, but he did. George and he knew a lot more than people sometimes gave them credit for. “The Dark Mark,” he breathed, shaking his head. The night had just crossed the line from horrible pranks gone out of control to something much more deadly and sinister. For the first time since he was dragged from his bed, he actually felt a shiver of fear.
The moment that ghastly green image appeared in the sky, instincts that had been ingrained too deeply to ever forget took hold of Sadie, and she couldn’t fight the need to flee any longer. Giving in, she turned and ran, crashing deeper into the thick trees. Voices cried out behind her but she paid no attention. Branches whipped across her face and arms, pulling at her clothes and hair, but she didn’t care. She just knew she had to get away!
But before she could make an escape, she was yanked to a stop as a hand grabbed her arm. She would have yelped in shock if she could have. Instead she struggled wildly but a pair of arms wrapped tightly around her, much stronger than she was, and forced her to a stop.
“Whoa, Sadie!” C’mon, calm down!” said a now familiar voice in her ear just as George and Ginny caught up to them, panting heavily.
“Why in Merlin’s name did you take off like that?” groused George breathlessly. “A little warning next time, please!”
Sadie’s heart was thumping right out of her chest. She couldn’t control the tremors that ran up and down her arms and legs as ice cold panic raced through her veins. She pushed against Fred again but he refused to unwrap his arms.
Angry, she clenched her fists in frustration. Didn’t they understand? They all needed to run! Hide! Horrible, awful things were going to happen and they were just standing there calmly, wanting to talk!
“You’ve seen the Dark Mark before, huh?” asked Fred in a voice that was suddenly much softer.
Terrible scenes assaulted Sadie like a tidal wave, and she closed her eyes tightly, trying to stop them, but she couldn’t as they were escaping from her own memory.
Her throat was raw from her screams and her pleading, hiccupping sobs.
“No, no, no…” she wailed, and once again she tried to turn away from the sight that was ripping her apart, but the rough hands across her neck and forehead tightened, stopping her.
“Shut up and hold still, little girl,” an unfamiliar voice ordered quietly. “This is your first lesson.”
Desperately, she closed her eyes, but a biting slap snapped them open again.
“Eyes open! Watch!”
Another flash and deafening pop and another piece of her heart dropped onto her mother’s polished floor.
“DADDY!” she screamed, more tears flooding her cheeks. “No, no, NO! STOP!”
No one listened. The slim hand that gripped the horrible, Muggle contraption turned and another bang sounded. As she watched Robbie fall this time the black image of the skull and snake on the pale skin of the weapon-bearing arm burned into her mind.
Her wails became feral and uncontrolled.
“Silence!” snapped a cold voice that until a few hours ago she had loved. “Stop this incessant screaming. You will watch and learn!”
Another flash. Another pop.
“MUMMY!” She sagged boneless toward the ground, supported only by the hands that restrained her, her shrieks splitting the cool, night air.
“Stop, stop, stop!” she begged. “Don’t hurt them! Don’t! I don’t wanna see, I don’t wanna see! Don’t make me watch anymore!”
A pressure was building in her head, behind her eyes. The force of her screams. The anguish and terror in her chest. The violent, hysterical need to have it stop, to not see the flashes of light, the crumbling forms that she loved so fiercely. It pulsated, like a living creature, and washed her vision out in red – red for anger, red for fear, red for blood.
And black. The black of a skull swallowing a snake that seemed to twist and writhe with each turn of the cruel hand.
And without warning something seemed to snap inside her mind. The black of that awful image swelled…grew…ate her up and the scene before her was gone, lost in a darkness thicker than the deepest night.
But that didn’t stop her from hearing the continued pops and thuds.
Or the sound of her own screams, until strange words were muttered and suddenly something seemed to wrap around her throat and even her screams were ripped away from her.
Forcefully, Sadie yanked herself out of the most awful memory of her life and finally managed to push away Fred’s arms. He let go with no resistance this time and took a step back, staring at her with a strange, pale expression.
“Sadie, what’s wrong?” Ginny asked in a small voice. “You’re crying.”
She reached a trembling hand up to her face and found that Ginny was right; her cheeks were wet with tears. George was also looking at her with a mixture of concern and confusion. Sadie glanced at them for a long moment before turning her eyes away, staring off through the trees into the darkness. Purposefully, she didn’t look up toward the sky.
How could she tell them? How could she explain that the sight of that evil symbol had ripped the protective layer she’d build off of wounds that had never really healed to begin with? And even if a miracle occurred and they were able to understand her, would she even want them to know? To see how weak she’d been? To know she’d just stood there and watched them all die?
“We should head back to the tents, find Dad and the others,” Fred suddenly said, his voice strangely solemn and insistent. Sadie glanced back at him and was surprised to see he was trembling as well.
“Fred?” George asked, his eyes narrowed as he moved over to his twin’s side.
“I’m fine,” Fred snapped, stepping back from George and wrapping his arms around himself. “Just cold. Let’s go back.”
George looked like he wanted to press for more, but he held his tongue. “Okay,” he said instead and grabbed Ginny’s hand. “Let’s go.”
Grateful to have the attention diverted from her, Sadie simply followed, shivering violently despite the jacket Fred had loaned her, the whispers of gunshots echoing in her head.
* Quote from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p120.
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