1

Two Weeks Later

I sat cross-legged on my seat across from Hermione and Harry, staring out the window. The Hogwarts Express was snaking through the Scottish countryside, and the only noise in the compartment was Ron lightly snoring next to me. I had been trying to not stare at my hands in my lap, more importantly, the flesh toned bandage that hid the mark. It made me feel horrible- especially when I was alone. The uncontrollable moments where I lost my own character scared me and left me shaken for days afterward. "Will you wake Ron up, Sarah? We need to talk." Hermione suddenly said firmly, getting up and shutting the door to our compartment.

"Ron," I said quietly, and poked him in the arm, making him jerk up with a grunt.

"What's going on?" He asked quickly, his voice thick with sleep.

"This summer, we're going to be apart. We have to write." Hermione continued strongly.

"Yes. Everyday." I agreed distractedly. I didn't know if I was paranoid now, but I had always felt a dark presence around my friends. It was very small, and I was having trouble pinpointing it. It made me anxious- and it was hard to focus because of it.

"Especially you," Hermione said, pointing at Harry, "and you." She turned her finger to me.

"What?" Harry and I asked defensively at the same time.

"Both of you are like lightning rods for Dark activity. If anything happens, you'll probably know first." Hermione sighed, exasperated. "We have to keep in touch."

"Right," Harry said after a second, but I stayed quiet. I wondered how something big happening would affect me. According to Hermione, I was now restless when I slept at night. I hadn't felt much more of Bellatrix's mood swings lately- and I was dreading it happening again. I had thought about it over and over again- but I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment when I changed from me and into her.

"Sarah?" A voice prompted, and I jumped at the noise. I had been staring out the window again, unconsciously rubbing the inside of my left wrist. Everyone was looking at me with slight curiosity. Usually I would have flushed, but my skin didn't heat. I was paler than usual now, and my face was always tight after an out-of-body experience. It let my friends read me like an open book. "Anything wrong?" Hermione asked carefully.

"No," I said quietly but firmly, shaking my head and going back to staring out the window. We were getting into London- the ride would be over soon. My parents would be waiting- and I wondered if they'd be hysterical with worry like a normal parent, or if they'd only be annoyed with the inconvenience of coming to get me like they always were. Before I knew it, the train had stopped, and was suddenly abuzz with noise as kids got their luggage to disembark.

"Here," Harry said, and reached up to easily lift down my trunk for me. I gave him a tiny smile as a thank you, moving to follow Hermione and Ron out, but Harry caught my wrist, making me shiver. He let go instantly, assuming that he'd set me off; but when he saw that I was fine, he closed the door again. "Even if you don't write to Hermione and Ron, I need you to write to me about anything you dream about or feel. If we both see something similar, they might be planning. The Order would need to know. I'd want to know." Harry said, watching me closely. "I'm worried about you." He said brusquely when I looked down. "We all are. So please keep in touch." He pressed. For the first time in awhile, I looked at him right in the eyes and got a shock. The dark presence I had felt around my friends hadn't left, and yet Harry was the only one left in the room. It was coming from him. "Sarah, are you sure you're ok?" His voice brought me back to reality, and it was full with worry.

"Sarah, what's wrong?" Hermione's voice made me jump. Improvising on the spot, I grabbed my foot, letting my face twist with pain I didn't really feel.

"Nothing," I said with a shaky laugh. "I just rolled my trunk over my foot is all. Ready?" I tried to inject life into my voice; picking up the handle and following Hermione back out, heaving my trunk down the steps and onto the platform. Even if I was troubled and scared- I couldn't let it show so easily. It felt corny, but I was proud of my friends, and I didn't want to cause them anymore worry or harm. If I told myself that I'd be fine enough, maybe I'd start to believe it. We passed through the magical barrier as one, coming back to the Muggle world. Waiting for us was Tonks, Moody, Lupin, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and the twins, something I hadn't been expecting. As Mrs. Weasley attacked Harry with her hug, Moody gave my hand a firm shake, his magical eye whizzing over me, missing nothing.

"I'll see you soon, Wimkil." He growled, but it sounded more like a promise. I had forgotten that he was one of the Aurors that sometimes showed up at the Dueling Classes. "Dumbledore's asked me to make sure you stay right during the summer, and I-" Mrs. Weasley, someone I had never met before had just noticed me, and swooped down to give me a surprising hug, cutting Moody off and giving me a chance to hide my shock. Dumbledore was going to have me watched?

"You must be Mrs. Weasley," I said, feeling myself smile for the first time since I had left Hogwarts. Her personality was warm, friendly and infectious.

"Oh, look at you," she fussed, cupping my pale cheeks. Her hands were warm on my cold skin, and the heat made me feel lighter.

"Excuse me," My father's sharp voice cut through the air and I felt myself stiffen automatically, shutting down. Mrs. Weasley pulled away, looking offended.

"Hello, Father. Hello, Mother." I said lifelessly, stepping sideways to them when my Father beckoned. Both of them looked more austere and straitlaced than ever, their faces wearing identical scowls. "May I present Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, Tonks, Fred and George Weasley, and my friends, Harry, Hermione, and Ron."

"We'll discuss this when we get home, Sarah. Now, gather your things. We're leaving." The ice over my Father's words hung in the air. I went to get them, but Hermione pulled me aside and hugged me, starting off a chain reaction of goodbyes. I shook hands with Lupin and Moody, both of whom were watching me carefully, was introduced hurriedly to Ron's father, and said goodbye to everyone else. In that time, my Mother had picked up Joe with a disgusted look on her face. She hated animals. I grabbed my trunk, and my Father immediately took my upper arm, pulling me away.

"I'll write." I said quickly over my shoulder before we were too far away for me to be heard. Everyone's faces were in deep scowls. I didn't want to leave them that way, but there was no arguing with my parents. The car ride home was silent, and when we got home, Father sat me on the loveseat and started to pace in front of the fireplace- not a good sign, as Mother sat opposite me. He must have paced for ten minutes before he spoke.

"Sarah Emma Wimkil, we demand to know what is going on. Your behavior has been very irrational." Father rebuked me, ending his pacing and scowling at me. I opened my mouth to say something, then closed it, realizing I had no idea what to tell them. "Well?" Father pressed.

"I offer my most sincere apologies to you both." I said softly, trying to slip into a more bombastic attitude- one that my parents seemed to enjoy more than my real personality. Lies came forth then, and it was far too easy to concoct new ones. "There was a security threat at the school this year- no one could get mail. I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

"And what about those paupers you were associating with?" Father sneered the word pauper, and I leapt to my feet, suddenly furious.

"That's enough. I'm tired of you analytical comments about my friends, people that I trust, people that I love. You were right about Danielle and Luke, but I had blinded myself to their true nature because I thought I needed them. I don't now. I'm friends with better people, people who are brave, smart, funny, and are incredibly kind. I don't care how they look or how poor they are." The words poured out of me with ease- all the anger I had stored at my parents was free now, and their shocked faces only made me angrier. From even deeper inside, anger came from a source I couldn't trace. "Now, those kind souls you mentioned were there to see one of my friends back home. He's an orphan." I snapped, furious. "Professors Lupin and Moody are highly respectable wizards and brave men who have done more than you could imagine. Fred and George have started their own business from scratch. Tonks is what you could call an investigator, and she saves lives. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are the kindest, most accepting people I know. Harry's parents were murdered when he was a child, Ron's you already know about, and Hermione's parents are 'normal' like you. So don't you dare judge them." I finished my rant, suddenly devoid of energy.

Mother just blinked, as still as a statue, and Father was red in the face, spluttering. "Now, if you'd kindly excuse me, I'm tired from the journey home." With those words, I picked up my trunk and Joe's cage again and went to my room, closing the door behind me. Truly weary, I simply put the trunk at the foot of my bed, let Joe out onto his stand and sat heavily on the edge of my bed, head in my hands. I still felt ill and cold and I knew that being alone this summer wouldn't help at all. I'd go to dueling classes, but that wasn't enough. Even worse, I couldn't use magic except for during the classes. I'd have to be around my parents for necessities, and the interaction wouldn't be very nice. I was just about to swing into bed when a knock on my door startled me. "Come in," I said, and Mother appeared in the doorway.

"Sarah, I have to ask you…with that security breach at your school this year…did anything…happen?" She asked, twisting her hands nervously.

"I beg your pardon?" I asked, confused.

"Sarah, your father and I have noticed some changes in you that worry us. You seem very…moody." She finished, and I almost laughed bitterly. For a second, I thought that they actually cared.

"I'm fine," I said, my voice dead but coated with ice. "Thank you for your concern." My mother nodded, looking unsure, and closed the door again. I lay back on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I stayed perfectly still until the room started to darken as the sun set, and then all I did was take off my glasses and undo my braid so that I could sleep comfortably. I rolled onto my side, staring at the wall before I closed my eyes, trying to rest…

"The preparations have been made, Cissy. It is an honor for him to serve." I was standing behind a couch, watching the silhouette of a very distraught woman lean against the mantle of a roaring fireplace.

"It's too dangerous." The woman croaked, her face hidden in shadow.

"He is worthy, and the Dark Lord has need of him. You should be proud, Cissy, proud!" I raised my voice, trying to cheer her, but deep down, I was annoyed. My sister had always been weak in the regard of her loved ones. Why she would ever hesitate on this matter astounded me. The lack of disloyalty would have her cowering before the Dark Lord if she wasn't careful.

"He's my only son!" The woman sobbed, burying her face into her hands. "You know what the consequences are if he fails, Bella! I can't let that happen."

"If it gets the Dark Lord closer to murdering Potter and Dumbledore, then you should let it happen, Cissy." My voice turned sharp and my hand closed around the top of the couch in fury. "Don't be weak, Cissy. Stand for what you believe in."

I jerked out of bed with a gasp when something nipped at my shoulder, hard. I snatched my glasses and my wand, intent on finding my attacker. When the world came into view, I immediately lowered my wand with a groan. It was only Joe, sitting on my alarm clock, his head cocked to the side. Weariness hit me anew, and I dropped my wand on the floor and brought my hand up to my head, which was pounding. I had been somewhere, and I was angry with someone, a woman…but that woman was scared for someone else, her son was going to be a Death Eater... I started and swore when Joe nipped me again. "What?" I asked, shakily getting out of bed, trying not to dwell on the dream. Once out of bed, I saw that a snowy white owl was perched on my windowsill. I hastily crossed to the window and opened it, letting the owl come in, who I recognized as Hedwig, Harry's owl. "Sorry," I apologized to her, my fingers trembling so hard, it took me a moment to get the scroll off her. Hedwig then settled down next to Joe, looking content now that she had fulfilled her mission. I unwound the scroll, head still pounding, and read Harry's message.

Sarah,

I know that it's only the first day of break, but everyone is worried about you. We can all tell that the mark is trying to change you, and yesterday on the train, when I touched you- it scared me. I don't want to cause you anymore pain, I've done enough damage. And then, when we were off the platform, it's like you were numb. Your parents certainly didn't help the situation. I hope that they weren't too angry with you for not writing them last year, and that they aren't giving you too hard of a time. But my main point is that we all want to make sure you're ok. I know that Dumbledore said you could write to him if you need to, and don't hold back. If you've felt or dreamed something important, he'd want to know. Nothing's happened to my scar yet- but I'll message you if it does, and you should do the same with your mark. Keep in touch.

Harry

Trying to keep my wits, I sat down at my desk after digging out a quill and parchment to write a reply.

Harry,

Harry, how many times do I have to tell you that none of this is your fault? On the train, you didn't hurt me at all, just surprised me. I know my parents made everything worse, and I'm sorry for that. They apparently thought you lot were, and I quote, 'paupers.' I actually chewed them out for that. In all honesty, I'm fine, just tired from the train ride home. Dueling Classes start later today and I'll see Moody then- he'll always check up on me. But you should know, I had a dream last night. I can't remember much of it; all I know is that Bellatrix was trying to comfort someone, a woman; that woman was sad because her son was going to be made into a Death Eater. I can't remember any names, and it could be anyone. If I see anything more about it, I'll let you know.

Sarah

Letting out a deep breath, I rolled up the parchment and gave it back to Hedwig. I gave her a good drink of water and some food before I sent her off again, wishing that some of my anxiety was leaving with her.