"Cave inimicum," Up whispered, waving his wand through the air. "Salvio hexia. Muffliato. Fianto duri." He repeated the spells a couple times, making his way around the campsite that had been set up. He could feel his friends' eyes following him as he circled. They had voiced many times about the amount of work Up had put into the protective charms, saying that there was no need for anything past the first spell. He knew better, though. In the middle of the second Wizard War, no one could be safe—much less four sixth year wizards.
Up finished with the spells, quickly hoping outside the boundary to check his work. He blinked as he no longer saw the tents, stepping back across the threshold.
"That should do for now," he said, rubbing his hands together and finding his way to the fire that was slowly being built. Asher, Junior, and Monroe crouched by the pit, trying to warm their bodies as the sun slowly dipped behind the horizon. Up took a seat on the ground between Monroe and Junior, slipping his wand into the inner pocket of his jacket. He brushed a speck of dirt from his pant leg, and stretched his hands toward the warmth. It was times like this that always felt nice. Just the four of them, best buddies since first year, together and not worrying about dying.
For a while, none of them said anything. Saying something meant bringing everyone back to the reality of death. Everyone around them was dying. They had already lost Connor in a Snatcher ambush, and at any moment, they could all be as good as dead. The only hope for the world was Harry Potter, and nobody knew where he was.
Listening to one of the rebel wizard radio stations, they heard that Hogwarts's golden trio had been spotted at the Ministry, but had luckily escaped. No word since then.
"How much longer do you think this is gonna last?" Junior finally spoke, breaking the silence. No one replied, their eyes glued to the crackling fire in thought. He looked to the faces of his best friends, his heart falling as each of them solemnly gazed into space.
"You guys," he tried again. "I don't know how much longer we can do this. On the run. Hiding from the Snatchers. Living off week-old stew from the pubs we managed not to get spotted in. We can't live like this for much longer." Up winced when Junior's voice cracked on the last word, panic etched into each sentence. He was right, though. Ever since the four of them had escaped Hogwarts, it had been hiding in the forest and moving camp every week. They tried their best to get food from Diagon Alley and Vertic Alley, but it proved futile as their wealth slowly dwindled. They hadn't had much to begin with, and going to Gringotts was out of the question. Both Up and Asher were muggleborn, and Junior and Monroe had been put on the Snatcher's list.
"We know, Junior," Up breathed. "But there's nothing we can do." He shared a look with the brunet boy, shrugging his shoulders.
"I don't care. We can figure something out. If—if those three have managed to stay alive and out of sight, so can we."
"Honestly, mate," Asher cut in, his Scottish accent silencing Junior. "You think we're as capable as them? Together, we don't have half the brains of that Granger girl, much less the abilities of the Chosen One. And don't get me started on all the resources Weasley probably has with his pureblood status."
Monroe glared at the Scottish boy. "You don't have to be so blunt about it, Ash." Junior found a sudden interest in his shoe laces, ducking his head down. Ever since the most recent Snatcher encounter, Asher and Monroe had been at each other's necks. They had narrowly avoided capture, Asher almost revealing all of them when he tried to save a muggleborn who had been caught.
"It's war. No amount of sugar coating is going to change that."
There was silent agreement as the conversation tone died down. Asher resumed poking and prodding at the fire, constantly letting the stick he held catch on fire, then smothering the flame.
"It's almost Christmas time," Up blurted, unable to handle the silence. Monroe sent a weary glance at Up, trying to give him a smile.
"Yeah," Monroe said. He smiled wider. "I, uh—I can almost smell my mum's snicker doodles."
"And the popcorn balls," Up added.
"And peppermint cauldron cakes." The boys grinned at the thought of the food, trying to remember how holiday had been before everything had fallen to shit. Up wondered if there was still any happiness left in the world. Somewhere out there, there had to be a good wizarding family whose biggest worry was if the boggart in the attic was taken care of yet. Given, every sane witch and wizard out there had some sort of edge on the topic of You-Know-Who, but Up could hope. How many more teenagers and grown wizards were trapped in a cave, unsure whether they could face the outside world?
The wizard radio suddenly crackled to life from inside the tent, only a muffled voice escaping the thick fabric. Up scrambled to his feet when he heard the sound, bolting for the device. The wizard stations they knew about had gone silent recently, and the four of them had wondered if the rebels had been discovered and compromised.
Asher, Monroe, and Junior were hot on Up's tail as he nearly dove into the tent, snatching up the radio. He turned the volume up, holding it close as the four of them huddled around it. Up messed with the knob a bit, trying to find a clearer signal as the words came through.
The first thing he noticed was that it was a girl's voice.
"Help me, p-please. Is anybody there? I-I don't know where I am. I think I might've splinched myself-f pretty badly. Please. If somebody is listening, meirda, please help me." Her voice continued on, continuously repeating the same phrases, swearing in Spanish.
Up flicked his eyes towards his friends, a question in them.
"No way. No fucking way man. We don't know who she is. It could be a Snatcher trap for all we know," Asher objected, throwing his hands down.
"Or it could be a girl who splinched herself, who needs our help." Up and Asher glared at each other for a moment, the radio getting louder with each of the girl's pleads for help.
"If there's anybody out here, p-please ayuadame—" her voice broke as a sob came through, splitting Up's heart in half. As he listened to the voice, something started to come back to him. There was something oddly familiar about the girl's voice. Her use of Spanish.
Then, it came to him. He had only seen her a couple times around the common room, but it was undeniably her.
"Guys. Isn't that Tazia? You know, the fifth year?" he asked, hesitantly. Junior furrowed his eyebrows, leaning in closer and listening to the radio. Realization dawned on his face as another Spanish slur came through.
"Oh my God, it is," Junior said, jaw dropping. Monroe and Asher quickly came to the same conclusion, and Up felt himself getting sick.
"We need to go find her—help her!" Up exclaimed. "She's dying," he added when he saw the look on Asher's face.
Monroe tapped his wand to the radio, whispering a charm. He took the device from Up, cradling it as he sat on the bed. Monroe had always been the best at charms, retaining the memory for all the simple ones that had easily been forgotten by so many wizards.
"Hello?" he said into the radio, head inclined ever so slightly. It went dead for a moment, the silence deafening.
"Hello?" a voice croaked back, weak and feeble. "Is there someone there?"
"Yes, yes. Is this Tazia?"
"Taz," the voice in the radio coughed. "But, yes. Mierda." There was a groan of pain from the other end of the radio.
"Are you okay?"
"For now," Taz replied. "I've splinched my leg. I think my arm is broken. It's b-bad. I-I'm broadcasting this signal from my wand."
"Okay, Taz, listen. We're going to come and get you. Just sit tight." Monroe turned to Junior, waving his hand through the air. "Grab the Dittany from my bag. Up, with me. Asher and Junior, be ready for us when we bring in the girl." He quickly took control of the situation, something Up had only seen from Monroe a minimal amount of times beforehand.
Up quickly found his feet. Monroe ordered a few more things to be done around the tent, the radio still tucked under his arm. He passed the device to Up, telling him to keep talking to Taz.
"What do I say?"
"Anything," Monroe said as the two dashed outside, shuffling out of the protective barriers Up had set up, the snow crunching under their feet. "Keep it going while we find her. She's got to be close to be that weak and still manage to get a clear signal though."
As Monroe muttered a few spells under his breath, trying to locate where the girl could be, Up stared at the radio in his hands.
"Who's there?" she asked, her voice sounding weaker with every syllable.
"It's, erm, me. Up—Walker Upperson, that is. Sixth year," he said, awkwardly using his full name.
"Walker?" Taz mimicked. Up felt a pang as he heard his first name, something he hadn't been called in a while. The war had changed many things about the world, including how Up saw himself. He was no longer Walker Upperson, Hogwarts prefect and top form student. He had resorted to using the nickname that Asher had given him so long ago. Up. If there was one way to look in the midst of a war, it was up, to hope. You could never let hope die.
"Uh, yeah. H-how bad are your injuries?" he asked, trying to find something to talk about. Up glanced over to Monroe who was still working out the navigational charms on his wand. Monroe was so much better at knowing what to say to people.
"I'm not going to lie, Walker," Taz spoke. "They're p-pretty bad…" She began to trail off, her voice fading.
Up clutched the radio tightly. "Taz? Taz!"
Her voice came through again, soft. "S-sorry. I'm having a hard t-time staying awake."
"Got it!" Monroe exclaimed. He ran over to the radio. "We're on our way, Taz. Keep talking. Whatever you do, don't fall asleep." Monroe looked to Up, taking his shoulder. "Ready?"
Up shook his head, the unpleasant memories of Apparating resurfacing in his mind. "Just go." He felt Monroe's hand tighten around his shoulder blade, squeezing as the two spun, the air being sucked out of their lungs.
It was over in a minute, Monroe finding a soft landing in the snow while Up fell forward, rolling onto his back. He muttered a string of choice words, complaining about how Apparating got him every time, when his eyes fell upon the curled up figure. She barely had anything covering her besides the large sweatshirt she was adorned in. Taz's black hair fell in pools around her, some caught in the tree she had propped herself up against. Her right leg stuck out at an odd angle, blood pooling around her knee cap.
Monroe and Up dropped beside her just as her eyes closed. Her teeth chattered madly, eyes closed, and left arm wrapped tightly around her small torso. The other lay limp at her side, looking dead. Monroe pulled the dropper of Dittany from his pocket, going to work on the small girl's leg. As Up looked at her, he couldn't help but notice the dark cut across Taz's left cheek, running down her neck. Her jeans were torn to bits, dirt smudged all over her petite body.
"Taz," Up said, holding in a breath as he pressed his fingers to her neck. He breathed when he felt a pulse, letting his head drop for a moment. She was alive, for now.
"Taz," he repeated, taking a hold of her face, shaking her softly. Her eyes twitched, slowly fluttering open. She turned her head ever so slightly towards Up, the corner of her mouth lifting to a smile. "Stay awake," he muttered. Up stole a glance back to Monroe who was still working on Taz's splinched leg.
"Talk to her. Keep her talking," Monroe urged.
Up turned back to the girl, her eyes slowly closing again. "No, no, no, no, Taz. Taz, I need you to stay awake."
"Uh hmm," she mumbled, head falling back onto the tree.
"Taz," Up said, her name rolling right off his tongue. He couldn't say it enough times. "What happened to you? Weren't you at home?" The last he remembered, Taz had been one of the few Hogwarts students who stayed in their homes, refusing to attend the corrupt school.
"Y-yeah," she stuttered. "I w-went back to the s-school for…" Taz trailed off, struggling to finish her sentences. "To help."
"Help?" Up questioned. "Help who?"
"The D.A.," she whispered. "The damn idiotas n-needed all the help they c-could get."
"The D.A.'s back and running?" Monroe questioned, dropping the Dittany back into his pocket. "Never mind, no time for that. We need to get you back to the camp. Up?"
"I got her," he said, carefully finding his feet. He bent down, scooping the small fifth year into his arms. Up made sure to be careful around her arm and leg, daintily holding the girl. Her head rolled forward, hair covering her face. She was nearly weightless, and something bothered Up. The size Taz had shrunk down to. Up could feel her ribs through the sweatshirt, her sharp hip bones also prodding at him. She had no meat on her. When was the last time she had eaten?
Monroe Apparated the three of them back to the camp, running ahead and holding the flaps open for Up and Taz. Up quickly ran inside, softly laying the girl down on his empty cot. Monroe dug through his medical bag, hastily trying to locate anything that could help the girl. Asher and Junior hung back, knowing better than to cross Monroe when he was frantic.
Up kneeled at Taz's bedside, taking in her small figure. Her hands lay by her sides, green veins showing through her pale skin. Cold seemed to radiate off of her instead of heat. Her lips were blue, mouth hanging open slightly. It was a terrible sight to see how weak the girl looked.
Monroe went to work on the girl, scanning her for any more injuries and casting healing spells on her. In no time, her skin began to show some pigment, lips returning to the normal pink. Taz's leg no longer stuck out oddly, and the only trace of blood was stained into her jeans.
"Taz?" Up said hopefully, not having moved from her side. He laid a hand on her shoulder, waiting for her eyes to open.
"She should be up for a couple hours, mate," Monroe said. "She's fine, but she needs her rest, and so do we. Up didn't tear his gaze away from Taz, watching her chest rise and fall rhythmically. It was a great change from when he saw her in the forest. There, she had been in constant pain, and her breaths ragged. Here, she was comfortable, free from whatever had happened to her.
"I'll take first watch," Up offered, finally turning to his friends. Asher and Monroe didn't argue, diving for their own cots. Junior, on the other hand, stared at Up. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, looking at one of his best friends.
"What?" Up asked.
Junior shook his head. "Nothing. It's just that, something's off. It doesn't feel right."
"Taz," Junior replied bluntly. "She doesn't seem right. Are we sure this isn't a trap?"
"Junior, look at her. She could barely sit up in the state she's in. Furthermore, actually overpowering any of us," Up argued, rolling his eyes.
"Just," Junior said. "Take precautions."
"Fine." Up opened the pocket of Taz's sweatshirt, patting around until he found her wand. He pulled out the object, eyeing Taz as he did so. "There. Here's her wand." He stuck the thing towards Junior, waiting.
"You want me to take it?"
"You're the one being pissy about the ordeal."
Junior frowned, taking the wand from Up. He walked over to his own cot, lifting the thin mattress and sticking the wand under it. Content with himself, Junior laid down, pulling a blanket over himself. With a nod toward Up, he closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to take him away from the cruel world.
Up didn't know how long he sat on the ground next to the cot, but he didn't mind. He couldn't help but wonder how Taz had been injured. When they found her, her leg had been obviously splinched, meaning she had Apparated. The burns and tears at her clothing and skin showed that she had been attacked. Was it Snatchers? Up couldn't remember Taz's blood status, racking his brain. He doubted she was muggleborn, though. The fact that she was only fifteen and managed to Apparate without decapitating herself told him that she was pretty experienced. They don't even offer Apparition classes until sixth year, and only then if you're of age by the next test.
Monroe had been taught how to Apparate in secret by Connor, his older brother. So far, he was the only one out of all of them who managed to Apparate without Splinching.
Out of the corner of his eye, Up thought he saw a twitch from Taz's direction. Her eyes remained closed, nothing out of the ordinary happening. It was probably just a trick of the light. The girl shouldn't be awake until morning. He could wait until then to figure everything out.
Up finally stood, giving Taz's sleeping figure one last glance before he headed outside the tent. It wouldn't do any of them good to be found in the middle of the night.
Up twirled his wand in his hand, feeling the small carvings etched into the wood as it passed between his fingers. He crossed his legs, immediately uncrossing them and shifting his position on the log he sat on. Nothing seemed comfortable to him anymore. Just last night, on his watch, he had been listening to the radio, searching for the rebel stations. He had finally found one, with the same message playing over and over.
"'...and that concludes this episode of MuggleWatch. Our next broadcast may be tomorrow, or in a month—'
A crash. Some scrambling. Lots of yelling.
"'Run for it!'
Then radio silence for a couple seconds, returning with a voice that hadn't belonged to any of the rebel wizards.
"'To any mudbloods tuning in, this is only the beginning. You all think you're safe, but your numbers are dwindling. Give up now, and the Dark Lord may take mercy on you. Stay happy in your camps, but remember, we're always watching. You may think you're alone, but you forget to look behind you. Give up while you still can.'"
The sequence played over and over, as if put on a loop, and it set Up on edge. The voice of the Death Eater on the radio shook his bones, and he couldn't help looking over his shoulder every once in a while. Asher called the message a bluff, planted by the Death Eaters to instill fear on the wizards. He honestly thought it was fake, but Up couldn't bring himself to that conclusion.
Up found himself standing and pacing across the snow-layered ground. There were still drops of blood stained against the white snow from when Monroe and him had brought in Taz last night, and no one had bothered to clean it up. He tried to shake the image of Taz's pale body from his mind, but then he remembered back to her frail frame. She had woken a couple minutes after the sun rose, requesting water and food that they didn't have.
Monroe had placed her arm in a sling, her leg having fully healed with help from the Dittany. Junior was still weary around the girl, going to the trouble of hiding her wand again when she asked about it. He was jumpy around her, and Up couldn't understand why. Did Junior actually expect a fifteen year old girl to be much of a threat to them? She would've died without their help.
"You okay, Walker?" Taz's voice broke Up's thoughts. He glanced around, finding her leaning against a tree. Their eyes connected, and she immediately looked down, kicking snow up with her foot. The cut on her cheek was healed, now only a think pink scar.
"Up," he corrected her, not knowing what else to say. Taz looked back at him, furrowing her eyebrows.
"Sorry, it's just that I haven't used my real name since…" Up said, trailing off. Taz gave him a nod of understanding, kicking up some more snow. It clouded around her feet, settling in a thin layer on the boots she wore. They were just a couple sizes too big for her, as they had belonged to Asher before he tried to transfigure them for the girl.
"So," she said after a moment of silence, biting her lip. "I guess we're stuck here? What even is 'here' and how'd you end up in it?"
"I was wondering the same thing about you," Up countered, taking a seat on the log again. He patted the spot next to him, inviting Taz over. She smiled, pushing off the tree and hobbling over to him. Carefully, she sat next to him, laying her slinged arm in her lap while stretching out the leg she had splinched. They sat for a moment, not knowing what to say.
"You guys don't trust me," Taz suddenly said, looking at Up.
"No, it's not all of us. Junior is just a bit jumpy, that's all," he replied, careful on what he said.
Taz didn't say anything for a while, letting the information sink in.
"You took my wand."
Up fell silent, glancing towards the tent. No doubt Junior was in there, trying to find a new hiding place for Taz's wand. When he had heard the Death Eater's broadcast, it put him deeper into paranoia. Somehow, he had convinced himself that Taz—itty bitty Taz, the fifth year Gryffindor—was working to get them captured.
After only being awake for a couple hours, she had even noticed how apprehensive Junior was around her. In the tent, his eyes followed Taz wherever she went. He tried to convince the rest of them to keep guard over her when she would simply go to relieve herself outside. Up had argued over how unreasonable Junior sounded, managing to persuade him to just have a lookout outside the tent whenever Taz went out, putting Up where he was now.
She quickly noticed his tense motions, changing the topic. It wouldn't do to be on any of her rescuers' bad sides. "So, how did you guys end up living in the forest?"
Up loosened up at the change of subject. "Well, a month after school started is when things started to get really bad at Hogwarts. They went into a craze after Potter had been spotted at the Ministry; enforcing a stricter curfew, torturing information out of some of the students." He paused, chewing the inside of his cheek and taking a deep breath. "I was trying to sneak from the Room of Requirement to the Ravenclaw common room to talk to Monroe, when I saw Ginny—Weasley's younger sister—being followed by one of the Carrows, the brother."
Taz's face fell pale as she bit her lip. She tried to hide it, rubbing the bridge of her nose and cheeks.
"Something didn't feel right," Up continued, noticing Taz's small motions. "Ginny was heading to the Room of Requirement to check up on the PotterWatch broadcast, it being her shift and all. No one was supposed to be out of bed."
"What did you do?" Taz asked, holding onto every word Up said.
"Well, I knew how invested Ginny was in bringing Potter home and safe. So, I tried to distract Carrow by sending a stunning curse in his direction. It didn't hit him, but did piss him off a lot. Ginny escaped into the Room of Requirement without being seen, and I ran. Asher found me, got Carrow off my track and pulled the guys together for an escape. We've been on the run ever since," he finished.
"Geez. What a hero," Taz half-heartedly chuckled. Up slightly cringed at the title, feeling his actions were nothing more than making sure another person didn't die. If the Room of Requirement was found by the Death Eaters, hope could just as well be lost at Hogwarts. The outed Muggleborns would no longer have a safe place to hide. They would have no way to get provisions to the school. Hogwarts might have as well been a prison with the safe place gone.
"And your story is?" Up asked, giving Taz a soft smile.
Taz sighed, sucking in her lips and making a popping noise. She shifted her position and scratched her arm under the sling.
"I didn't go to Hogwarts at the beginning of the year, just like loads of others. My mother refused to let me go back, as if I wanted to. The Snatchers started showing up in the main city. They raided houses, and it got tenser everyday as muggles were attacked. Finally, as if we weren't expecting it, they stormed into our house. Mum had already set up a port key just in case, and managed to get me to it. To keep things short, only I got through, arriving in Hogsmead." She paused, sniffling and rubbing her nose with her sleeve. Up awkwardly shifted, wondering how to comfort the girl.
"I got into the castle with some help. In the end, I—" She froze, mouthing hanging open. Taz snuck a look at Up, before returning her eyes to her sling. "I was found, and had to escape. I tried to Apparate, and you know what happened next. I'd probably be dead without you guys."
"Just… Just being decent wizards. I'm really glad we found you."
"Why's that? Am I not just another mouth to feed? Junior thinks I'm going to turn you all in."
"No, it was something you said when we found you."
Taz eyed Up. "And what would that be?"
"That the DA is back and running."
"They weren't earlier?"
Up shook his head. Sure, they had started a radio station, but, at the time, it was just for communication out of Hogwarts. No one had organized the army as it seemed futile. Half the students were gone, and Snape had eyes everywhere. It was just too dangerous.
But, times had changed. The Golden Trio had broken into Gringotts for Merlin's sake. If anything, that put the Death Eaters at Hogwarts on edge. They'd be careful, but they were bound to mess up somewhere.
It was the perfect situation to set up an army, or at least a base for one. That could mean operations were moving faster. Thank Merlin, it meant that they still had a chance! Before he left the school, Ginny had talked over plans with a small 'council' that Up had been in.
First, keep Hogwarts safe, which had failed early in the year. Snape had made sure of that. They were pressed into the Room of Requirement.
Second, find some way to contact Potter from the school, even if he couldn't respond; hence Potterwatch (Set up expertly by Monroe). These two steps had been all a part of Phase One. Shelter and communication. Safety and a way to help.
Phase Two had never fully been developed, but the idea was to learn to protect yourself, just like in Up's fourth year when Umbridge had taken over the school. It wasn't necessarily putting the D.A. back together—just expanding it. New recruits and new spells.
Ginny had started Phase Two.
"If the D.A. is back…" Up started, staring off at nothing in particular.
"We've got a real chance!" Taz finished his sentence, hope lighting up her eyes. She jumped from her seat, slightly wincing as she swung her sling, but continued nonetheless.
"We need to get a hold of Ginny."