A/N: Thanks for the reviews and favorites, and just for generally sticking around! I know that this update took a while, but I am happy to say that, in that time, I've planned out where the rest of the story is going! The updates should be more frequent now :)
Also, I've finally chosen a name for Dylan's character. His name for the past couple chapters was just a placeholder, but now I've settled on Monroe. Thank you for reading :)
Taz grumbled as she limped through the woods, Up at her side with Junior up ahead, levitating the frozen body of Quinn. The minute that they had started walking, the girl had clamped her mouth shut and refused to answer any of Up's pestering questions. She realized quickly that the only thing he actually cared about was badgering her, trying to figure out why she had run.
Junior also fell silent, making no attempt to speak to either of the two people trailing behind him. His eyes had locked onto the Snatcher at the end of his wand, and all his concentrations had gone to floating the man and making sure he didn't wake up.
To be completely honest, the silence was incredibly uncomfortable and no one enjoyed it, but none of them would let that on. Of course, Up would be talking if he could, but the only person he felt like doing so with had stayed silent after everything he said.
He snuck a glance at Taz who had her eyes glued to the ground, her arms crossed. She was still adorned in the clothes they had found her in the night before. The thin jumper barely seemed warm and her jeans were pretty much torn from the knee down. Her black hair was still a mess, tied together with a rubber band that the girl had found.
Taz was an utter mess. No matter how much she lied about it, the dark circles under her eyes gave her away. Up knew that she thought she would've survived on her own out here, but he wasn't exactly sure. There was a village nearby, but not for miles. Hours of walking wouldn't have done the girl any good.
Up returned his gaze to his own path, watching his breath crystalize before his eyes. His grey boots kicked up the soft snow.
Suddenly, Taz let out a shiver next to him. She quickly sucked it back in and wrapped her jumper tighter. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the taller boy look over at her. He looked away before their eyes connected.
"You cold?" he murmured, just out of earshot of Junior. His didn't look at Taz, instead watching his boots kick up the snow. She didn't respond at first, taking her time, finally shaking her head 'no'.
They got five feet before Up spoke again, in the same hushed tone.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," Taz snapped, finally looking up to the boy. She narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm f-fine." He barely caught her stuttering on the last word, but elected to ignore it. Up frowned, taking a deep breath.
Fine, he thought. He punched his hands into his coat pocket and stared straight ahead. Taz had slightly been caught off guard at the boy's reaction, but found it fitting. How else was he going to react when she put so much edge on her words?
She shook it off. In all honesty, the small girl was actually quite cold, but it wasn't as bad as it had been earlier. Without all the wind and constant downfall of snow trying to bury her, the weather was somewhat tolerable. Actually, seeing as how she had just felt as though a thousand knives were digging themselves into her at the exact same time, the cold shouldn't have been a bother. Taz was surprised that she was even walking, for that matter.
During her short time at Hogwarts, she had seen what the Cruciatus curse did to students her age. Every night, there was at least one student brought into the Room of Requirement to heal, begging to not be forced back out there. It was hard watching them being kicked out by morning, but they couldn't risk it. Too many student disappearing and the Carrows would start cracking down on all the students, harsher than before.
Taz herself had been lucky not to come during the beginning of the school year. The DA members would never let her take a step out of the Room of Requirement. Snape knew that there were ways out of Hogwarts, but he hadn't realized there were ways in, too. She had spent most of her days sneaking through the hidden tunnels and bringing back supplies from the various citizens in Hogsmead. It was the only job they would give her. Otherwise, Taz thought she would've gone insane.
They had to walk a bit faster than Taz had anticipated, but they arrived at the edge of a frozen lake within ten minutes. Junior left the Snatcher's body floating, making his way to the very edge of the ice. Taz watched with curiosity, squinting as she watching the brunet. He studied the lake's surface for a moment before tapping his wand against it. The small spot suddenly glowed a bright golden color before dimming.
Before Taz could ask what had happened, a rustling made her turn her head. She watched as Monroe and Asher stumbled out of the brush, appearing as if they had been there the entire time.
"Hey, look who's back," Asher said. Taz couldn't tell if the boy meant it sarcastically or not, ignoring the remark nonetheless.
"Oh," Asher added, studying the floating Snatcher. "Is he dead?" The boy stepped closer, gently poking his wand against Quinn's side. Quinn twitched slightly, Asher quickly jumping back.
"Yeah, no," Up said, grumbling. "Junior finally got his Snatcher prisoner." The sandy haired boy narrowed his eyes, glaring out of the corner of his eye.
"We're bringing him with us?" Monroe asked, observing the body. He shook his head, turning to Up. "I don't know, man. I'm already pushing it by Apparating the five of us by myself. Added another just is too risky."
Taz suddenly perked up. "Wait, five?"
"We're not leaving you here," Up said to her.
"Well, who said I was coming with you?" The girl crossed her arms and shifted her weight. She raised an eyebrow, looking at each of the boys. Dumbstruck, none of them moved.
"So you're just planning on staying here?" Asher said, breaking the silence.
Taz rolled her eyes. "Of course not. I can Apparate, unlike three of you," she stated, feeling as though this information was obvious. "Plus, there's no reason for me to come with you. Like Monroe said, he can't Apparate all of us."
It was silent again, someone trying to come up with anything to say. The boys agreed, Taz wasn't wrong, but it wasn't right to just leave her on her own.
Surprisingly, it was Junior who spoke up.
"We just saved your life!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands up. Suddenly, the Snatcher's body fell to the ground, landing painfully, but they ignored it. "We just saved your life and you're going to run off again?"
Junior stalked dangerously close to the girl, fuming. Words seemed to just spill out of his mouth as he glared at the small girl.
"I mean, from where I was standing, it looked like the Snatcher team was about ten seconds away from finding you."
"Hey, I didn't ask two idiotas to come after me," Taz defended. "I could've handled myself." The lie came easily, not wanting to prove the indignant boy right.
He laughed. "No, you couldn't," Junior said, his voice low but mocking of the girl.
"How would you know? You're the one who took my damn wand and wanted to use me as fucking bait."
Up felt his chest tighten as he held his breath. So she had heard them arguing. He had expected this much, but this seemed to cement the idea in his head. Up could barely believe it. Not even a day after they take her in, and she felt as though it wasn't safe to stay with them.
"At least I'm not throwing myself randomly around the countryside and hoping someone picks me up. News flash, that's not brave, that's stupid," Junior retorted.
"That's what you think I was doing, esé?" Taz snorted, her tone suddenly changing. "Let's talk about bravery when you give me my wand back." She stumbled towards Junior, shoving him back roughly.
"WOAH," Up said, jumping forward. He stepped between the two, opening his palms to a pissed Junior. Up glanced from Taz to Junior, trying to figure out his next move. There was a collective sound of everyone pulling out their wands and raising them when Junior suddenly pulled his out, aiming straight for Taz. Up immediately stepped in front of the girl, blocking her from Junior's sight.
"Okay, calm down." He had his own wand lifted, slightly shaking as he pointed it straight at one of his best friends. "Just calm down, Junior."
The brunet huffed, his chest rising up and down. He clenched his jaw, and Up felt as though Junior's glare was burning right through him.
"Please don't make me do this," Up pleaded. "Just don't do anything rash."
Junior pressed his lips into a tight line. He averted his gaze from Up, eyeing Asher and Monroe, wands up and pointed at him.
Taz just glared at Up's back, hands balled into fists at her sides. A stream of swears was filtering its way through her mind as she impatiently waited for something to happen. She tried to calm herself down, closing her eyes and breathing deeply.
"Junior," Asher suddenly cut off, stepping towards the brunet. He ran his free hand through his red hair, wand still raised. "She doesn't owe us anything. Let it go, mate."
After a moment, Junior let his arm drop, but kept his wand in his hand. The others copied, the tension in the air quickly disappearing.
"See, we're all good now," Up coaxed. He turned his head and sent a look to Taz, who gave him a reluctant nod. "Let's just put this behind us and get going."
Like Hell that Taz would put that behind her, but she reminded herself that she had to pick and choose her battles. She sent a glare at Junior, who unsurprisingly copied.
"But," Monroe said, waving his hand through the air to get everyone's attention, "there's still the problem with Apparating. I just don't think I can safely Apparate this many bodies confidently. Do we honestly have to bring him?" Monroe motioned to Quinn, who still lay sprawled on the ground.
Monroe groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose and sighing.
"How 'bout you ask Mexico here to help," Junior sneered. "She seems confident on her magic." Monroe looked up to Taz, offering her a smile and a pleading look.
Dios mío, Taz thought. She watched as Up looked to her, biting his lip.
He stepped closer to her, and, in a hushed tone, said, "Look. I know Asher said that you don't owe us anything, and you don't, but we could really use your help right now. After this, I promise—promise—that you can go on with your life and you never have to see us again."
"Never," Up repeated.
Taz barely hesitated before answering. It was too simple of an offer to reject.
"I'll need my wand," she said. With a glare from Up, Junior reluctantly slipped it out of his back pocket and handed the stick to Up. The sandy haired boy gently held it out to the girl until she took it.
For a moment, just a moment, Taz thought about Apparating away and continuing on her way. It would've been easy at this point, but something inside of her stopped herself.
"But, don't I still have the Trace on me?" Taz asked Monroe, a worried look on her face.
"It won't work if I'm doing the work," the boy said. Taz held her wand loosely between her fingers, twirling it with ease. She gave a look to Up who offered a shrug.
"Okay, where to?" the girl finally said.
"My sister's place," Asher spoke up. "Last I heard from her, it's safe there. And I think she'll have a place for him," he said, motioning to the blond Snatcher.
"Sounds good," Monroe said. He waved everyone to step closer together into a circle. Junior flicked his wand, dragging Quinn's body across the snow. Once at his feet, he grabbed the man's shoulder with a disgusted look. Monroe stepped around them and placed himself next to Taz. Everyone fell into place, holding onto each other's arms and shoulders.
"Okay, Taz. Just think about Apparating, but don't think of a place, alright?" Monroe instructed as he put a hand on her small shoulder.
"You ever done this before?" she asked, biting the inside of her cheek. Monroe's face slightly fell.
"No," he stammered, "but I have read about it."
"Don't make me regret this, Monroe," Asher said as he tucked his wand into his back pocket.
Monroe didn't reply, instead taking a deep breath. Taz copied, looking down at her oversized books. Just think of Apparating. Apparating. That was easy. She tuned out Monroe counting down from three and tried to focus herself. In a moment, Taz felt as though her breath had been knocked out of her as the uncomfortable spinning started. Her hands curled as she tried to focus.
It was all over in a second. Taz caught herself from falling, but watching as some of the boys stumbled. Junior doubled over, dropping Quinn's body in the street, coughing hard. Asher closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, swearing under his breath.
"Um, Taz, you mind?" Up said from beside the girl. She glanced at him as he held up his hand, which had hers in it. Taz flushed, quickly releasing her tight grip and dropping her hand. Awkwardly, she stuffed it into her sweatshirt pocket and took a sudden interest in the surroundings.
They stood in the middle of an empty road, small houses lining either side. Asher looked around, studying each house carefully. He finally landed on the light blue one on the corner of the street. He pointed, motioning for everyone to follow him.
"Wow," Asher said as he pushed open the fence gate in awe, furrowing his eyebrows. "I know I haven't been here in ages, but it sure has… changed." He looked back at the group following him. He shook it off, continuing up the pathway to the porch.
It seemed that the others agreed as they looked at the house with confusion. Taz didn't realize what the big deal was. The house looked like any other, nothing too out of the ordinary.
Asher stopped a couple feet from the door, hand hovering over the button for the bell. He clenched his jaw, pulling away and instead rapping his knuckles against the wooden door.
"Hey, Char!" the red head called through the door, greeted only by silence. He knocked again, getting antsy. "Charlene! It's Asher!"
As silence passed once more, Asher started rocking back on his feet, biting his lip.
"Maybe she's not home—" Up said, only to abruptly be cut off by the large wooden door swinging open and revealing the red face of a blonde girl, a bit older than all of them. She had both hands on the door frame and side of the door, a forced smile on her face as she studied the six bodies on her porch. The blonde was breathing heavily, seeming as though she had just gone for a run.
It only took her a second to recognize the boy in front of her before she screamed "Asher!" and threw her arms around him. He hugged back, pulling the girl close and lifting her into the air.
"Asher, it's so nice to see you," the blonde said as she fell out of the hug. Her Scottish accent was almost as thick as Asher's, Taz noticed. The blonde turned, noticing everyone else standing around them. "Up! Monroe, and Junior! It's so nice to see you boys again," the girl said, pushing through and giving each of them a small hug. She suddenly stopped when she saw Taz and Quinn's body, confusion written across her face. The blonde turned to Asher, who meekly replied with a smile and a shrug.
"We need a favor."
What Taz had predicted as the run-of-the-mill, peppy cheerleader blonde was in fact quite the opposite when Asher explained to his sister what had happened with the Snatchers finding them. Charlene, as she had introduced herself, sat on her couch with her mouth pressed into a flat line and legs tightly crossed as Asher spoke. The red head said every word with caution, cringing as his sister's expression hardened.
"And, so I thought this was the safest place to go after it all," he said, seeming to regret the choice of going to his sister's house more and more.
Charlene blinked, eyes narrowed at her brother who sank further and further into the couch cushions. She didn't say anything for the longest time, merely recrossing her legs in the opposite direction. Taz felt like the tension could be cut with a knife as she awkwardly sat in the group. She bowed her head and found a sudden interest in her shoelaces.
"Well," Charlene finally spoke. She took a deep breath and looked at each of the five people individually, her expression softening as she glanced at the small black haired girl. Charlene cleared her throat and smoothed out her jeans before looking back to her brother.
"You were smart to come here," the blonde said. "They just did a sweep of this area so there won't be any checks for a while." Without directly saying so, everyone unanimously understood the meaning behind 'they'.
"So, we can stay?"
"Of course you can," Charlene said. She uncrossed her legs and seemed to finally loosen up. "It's just I haven't heard from you in so long and…" The girl trailed off, biting her lip as she looked at Asher.
"I know. I'm sorry, Char."
"Great. So, um, what's next?" the blonde asked, her hands falling into her lap. "I mean, what do you suppose we do with him?" She motioned to the dining room where Quinn was ruggedly tied to a chair, still out cold from another stunning spell.
Taz finally looked up, cringing as she saw the Snatcher's body sitting limp, almost dead except for the slight rise and fall of his chest. Junior had tried to come up with a rope binding spell, but it had only ended in a thin rope being conjured and loosely draping itself over the man.
Everyone fell quiet for a moment, expectantly glancing at Junior.
The boy struggled for words, clenching his teeth together. "Just give me a couple of days to talk to him, alright? I can handle it."
Charlene kicked herself to her feet, standing in front of everyone. "Well, I'm going to start making dinner for… for seven?" She counted heads, hesitating on the Snatcher that sat in the dining room.
"And I'm gonna need him moved out of my cooking area," she nodded, clearly uncomfortable with the situation. Junior jumped to his feet, waving his wand and lifting Quinn into the air.
"Last room on the left good?" the brunet asked as he made his way towards the hallway, dragging the Snatcher's body and chair with him.
"Third around the corner."
"Got it," Junior said, quickly disappearing around the bend of the hallway. Everyone seemed to let out an exhale when Quinn disappeared from their sight. Even unconscious, Quinn put everyone on edge. If the events from the forest hadn't convinced them to be cautious around the man, waking him may do the trick.
"You guys can take any empty room you want. This place is huge," the blonde chuckled as she walked towards the kitchen. "Just try and stay away from the family portrait in the back. They like to make noise at night and I can't seem to take it down."
"Thanks, Charlene," Up said, shooting the girl a smile. They all stood, swiping their bags off their various spots on the ground and threw everything over their shoulders.
"Taz, could you grab that duffel?" Monroe asked, lifting what looking like the tent bag. He pointed at the black bag that sat next to Taz, offering the girl a smile.
Taz looked up, nodding once she saw the bag. She hiked it over her shoulder and stood, having trouble staying balanced as she swayed. Quickly, the girl caught herself by holding onto the back of the couch. She didn't say anything, only glancing at her knee where she had Splinched herself.
Monroe had worry written across his face as Taz looked back up at him, but she faked a smile.
"Where to?" she managed to say, stepping towards the hallway. Monroe seemed like he wanted to say something else, but the boy shook his head and waved it off. Taz followed him as they wove their way around the furniture and walked into the hallway. They made their way through the house, Taz realizing that Charlene hadn't been wrong when she had said the place was huge. There were at least four bedrooms, and that was just the first leg of the hallway. She was curious about the rest of the house, making a mental note to check the rest of it out after helping move everything.
Monroe chose one of the first rooms, dropping the tent bag onto the ground and taking the black duffel from Taz, setting it on the bed. The girl went back and forth between the front of the house and various rooms, ignoring the pain in her leg as she helped move bags.
Just as she picked up the last little drawstring bag from the dining room table, Charlene came bustling out of the kitchen with an oven mitt on one hand and her wand in the other.
"Taz, right?" Charlene said, back to being full of energy as Taz had seen out on the porch. Taz barely had time to nod before the blonde grabbed her arm and dragged her into the kitchen.
"Ok, I need you to stir this," Charlene babbled, letting go of Taz's arm and lifting a small pot off the counter and handing it to the girl. She took it, peering into the mess of translucent pink liquid in the pot.
"With what?" Taz said, an eyebrow raised as she looked back at Charlene.
"You wand," she simply said, turning to a cookbook that floated at the blonde's eye level. Charlene squinted at the tiny text, reading it off to Taz.
"Just wave in a circular motion and say 'Turbatio', and I'll stand here and say…" The girl leaned closer to the pages, trying to make out the writing.
Taz shifted awkwardly from foot to foot, biting her lip.
"No, it's simple, don't worry. If only I could read this stupid—"
"No, I mean I actually can't do magic," Taz blurted out. Charlene turned away from the book, eyebrows furrowed together. "I'm only fifteen."
The blonde took a moment to comprehend what Taz had just said, realization dawning on her face. Taz, on the other hand, felt her face warming, not understanding why she was so embarrassed about the subject.
"Wait, then…" Charlene said. "Oh," she faltered. Taz merely nodded, biting at the inside of her cheeks.
"No, it's okay." Charlene turned away and pulled open a drawer. She retrieved a wooden spoon and handed it to Taz. "You can just use this instead. I'm just used to, well, you know." The black haired girl bashfully took the spoon and began stirring the liquid. She tried to focus on what it could possibly turn into and how it related to cooking at all, but her mind continuously wandered. Obviously, Taz knew she couldn't stay. Up had promised that she never had to see them again. Though, as she thought about it, that put her in a tough situation.
Taz had no set destination in mind. When she had been forced to leave the school, the one thing on her mind had been to just get out of there. Now, she was out had had nowhere to go.
The girl pulled herself out of her thoughts as she noticed Charlene waving her wand, muttering a spell as she looked at the floating book. Taz didn't pay much attention to the words, just watching in awe as the wand flicked through the air. There was a flash of white and a popping noise, and suddenly Taz wasn't holding a pot anymore. It had transformed into a plain white platter with little pink and white cakes shaped like cauldrons resting on top of it.
Charlene smiled to herself, squealing as she rushed forward and took the platter from Taz, setting it down on the nearest counter.
"Peppermint cauldron cakes? Yes," Charlene said, cutting of Taz. "Here, try one." The blonde swiped up a cake, bigger than her palm, and handed it to Taz. Graciously the girl took it, the smell of peppermint already starting to fill the room. She took a bite and felt the chocolate filling melt in her mouth, mixing in with the cake and changing into a candy cane sweetness.
"How are they? I haven't had an excuse to make them in forever, and they're Asher's favorite during Christmas time, so I just had to," Charlene babbled, taking a cake for herself before Taz could answer.
To be totally honest, Taz loved the cakes. She hadn't had something even relatively as delicious as them in long while. Actually, she couldn't remember the last time she had something remotely good tasting.
"They're great," Taz said through chews. "Can I have another?" she asked tentatively. Charlene nodded and Taz went for a second cake.
"There's going to be so much more where that comes from. While you guys are here, I am really going to go out on my cooking," the blonde said. She turned away just as Taz froze, halfway into a bite.
"I bet the guys will like that," Taz coughed out, swallowing the bite of cake rather quickly.
"And you," Charlene continued, swiveling and waving a spatula at the fifteen year old, "are going to be in for a surprise that I know I have to show you."
"I'd love to see it," Taz said, glancing quickly at the clock. It was already five and the horizon had covered up what was left of the sun. "But, you know I'm leaving tomorrow, right?"
A wave of confusion washed over Charlene, head tilted slightly to the side. "But you guys just got here."
"Yeah, I'm leaving."
"Wait, I'm confused." Charlene set the spatula on the counter, leaning back and looking intently at Taz.
The dark haired girl cupped her hands behind her back, copying Charlene and resting against the wall.
"They made a deal that I didn't have to stick around after we got here," Taz explained, trying to ignore the sudden disapproval on Charlene's face. It was almost as if this woman, who she had met just under an hour ago, had made it her goal to be Taz's older sibling.
Charlene didn't speak. She opened her mouth, trying to figure out something to say, but nothing came out.
"I've, uh, got some other problems to deal with, and hanging out with your hermano and his friends isn't going to help me," Taz rambled, stuffing her hands into the sweater pocket.
"What kind of problems?"
Taz turned suddenly, slightly jumping at the voice behind her. Up stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. He was already adorned in a fresh t-shirt and jeans, hair wet from washing up.
"Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt," he said when Taz didn't reply right away. The girl found herself smoothing out the wrinkles in her sweater before she looked up at him.
"No, it's fine," she said. Taz ran a hand through her hair as she looked to Up. "It's nothing, though." The sandy haired boy looked her in the eyes, hesitating. Taz peered back with confidence, raising an eyebrow.
Up pushed himself off the door frame, crossing his arms. The two still didn't speak, mentally trying to read each other. Taz kept her face straight, copying the boy's stance to mock him.
"If it's 'nothing', it's not a problem, then?" Up asked.
Taz nodded her head, muttering a "Yes". It wasn't exactly clear to Up why the girl had changed what she had said the moment he questioned it, but he understood that she wasn't going to tell him. At least, not with Charlene standing there watching the exchange.
Taz, on the other hand, knew perfectly well why she passed it off as nothing. She already owed these boys enough as is, and didn't want to add to the pile. No matter how much Up said they were even, Taz knew they weren't.
"Okay," Up breathed, clapping his hands together. Without another word, he left, giving Taz one more look.
It was silent as Taz glanced at Charlene, biting her lip. She offered the dark haired girl an apologetic look.
"Ouch." Charlene picked up a second cake and handed it to Taz. "Here, take another."