"George, your elbow is in my face! I don't have room to eat my food!"
"My elbow was there before your face or your food, so why don't you move them both," George told his sister calmly, not bothering to look up from the mashed turnips he was shoveling into his mouth.
"ARGH!" Ginny seethed in frustration before she grabbed her plate and moved off in a huff, squeezing in between Bill and Hermione instead. A few years ago she would have tattled to their mum, but she'd grown considerably more devious since then. George knew she'd be plotting some form of elaborate revenge. That was okay with him; it kept him on his toes and he'd just scored more eating space.
The kitchen table in the Burrow was currently groaning under the strain of a supper spread for twelve, the chaos just barely on the controlled side. But the rain that continued to fall had kept them from eating outside as they had been doing since the World Cup, so they'd been forced to make do.
With Ginny gone, George had room to slide to the right a little. On his other side, Sadie looked up as he shifted away, meeting his gaze with a timid smile.
"Hey, nice smile!" he whispered, grinning back at her. Ever since her massive panic attack in the forest, the girl had pulled even farther inside her shell of silence. "I was starting to think you had something against them."
The smile widened and she ducked her head, looking at her plate as color crept up her neck. George followed her gaze and gave a mock gasp. A lone roll sat in the middle of the crockery.
"Sadie, at meals like this you can't wait for the food to come to you or you'll starve! You have to yell for it!"
As soon as the words left his mouth, he wished he could take them back. Her smile faded and she hung her head, squeezing her hands together self-consciously.
Mentally, George cursed himself, and then threw in some really good curses aimed at the universe in general. Life was so bloody unfair sometimes. It wasn't fair that his dad worked his tail off for a Ministry that couldn't see fit to pay him a decent wage so he could hold his head up with pride. It wasn't fair that Harry lost his parents before he barely even knew them and had to grow up with horrid relatives instead. And it certainly wasn't fair that a sixteen-year-old girl couldn't holler and shove her way to the food at the dinner table like the rest of them.
She'd only been with them a few days and she'd already managed to get lost in the noise and chaos, in a place where they were all supposed to be looking out for her. How was she going to survive an entire school full of people who couldn't understand a word she said?
"I'm sorry, Sadie," he said quietly, setting his fork down and giving her his full attention. "I say stupid things a lot. It's kind of a talent. Fred has it, too. In fact, Fred's even better at it than me, so I usually just blame all the idiotic things on him as it saves time. Now, since you can't yell over this pack of wild animals to get to the food, I'll do it for you." Without waiting for her answer, he turned and leaned down the table. "Yo, Charlie! Stop hogging the roast and send it this way! A person could starve down here!"
Five minutes later, Sadie's plate was heaped full of his mother's delicious food and the hesitant smile had returned to her lips from the steady stream of one-sided jokes he was cracking. He was just about to regale her with the punchline to "A goblin, a centaur, and a vampire walked into a bar…" when the light of inspiration suddenly went off in his head. He stopped mid-sentence, allowing his mind to race through all the brilliant possibilities until he noticed Sadie was staring at him strangely.
"Sorry, gotta run," he muttered, shoving his plate away and standing up. He quickly circled the table to where Fred sat between Ron and Percy.
"Fred, let's go."
"Not done eating," his twin said through a mouthful of green beans.
George reached over and snagged two rolls, shoving them into his brother's hands and then pulling him out of his seat. "Yes, you are," he said firmly. "C'mon. It has to do with what we talked about before," he said pointedly. "I've got an idea."
Fred caught his meaning immediately. George could see it in his eyes. They'd been that way since they were born, able to speak without needing words; it was just something they never questioned.
"All right, let's go," echoed Fred eagerly, but not before he grabbed two more hot rolls from the table.
"Pig," muttered George as he started up the stairs to their room.
"I prefer 'strapping lad' thank you very much."
"Oh, is that what the girls call it these days? Or maybe just Angelina…?"
"Can we ask you something?"
Arthur looked up from the paper he was reading at the kitchen table to find his twin sons standing beside him.
"Sure. What?" he responded.
"We need to go to Diagon Alley."
"To get some…"
Arthur bit back a smile. It was no stretch of the imagination to guess what those things would be used for. Molly could try her hardest to stop their pranks, but he knew Fred and George would never work for the Ministry. The boys oozed creativity and mischief; you couldn't corral that behind a desk. Someday, she'd just have to accept the inevitable.
"So, can we go?"
He folded the paper up, considering their request. They were sixteen, after all, almost of age. Most sixteen-year-olds had the run of the Alley on their own. But, most sixteen-year-olds couldn't reduce it to rubble with a bubble-gum wrapper and a roll of spell-o tape if they wanted to. Still, if he said no, they'd most likely just go anyway, probably doing something illegal. At least this way they were asking.
"I suppose that's all right," he said, deciding to use the impromptu trip as a way to kill two birds with one stone. "But only if you're willing to bring Sadie with you and let me meet you there on my lunch hour. I need to take her to get a wand, but it's been so crazy at work still trying to deal with everything from the World Cup that I haven't been able to get away, and your mother's been too swamped here to take her. Will that work?"
"Sure, Dad!" they said in unison before high-fiving each other and running out, their eyes glinting.
Yes, they were up to something. No doubt about it. No sense in worrying about it, though. Arthur was sure he'd find out soon enough what it was, and right now he needed to go talk with Sadie. He stashed the newspaper in the discard pile by the cooker and then went in search of his goddaughter.
Light as trembling feathers, her fingers ghosted here and there, touching everything and leaving little trails through the dust. Behind her glasses, Sadie's eyes were wide in the dim light of the cluttered shed, portals to the many memories dancing through her head. Piles of metal, twists of cords, ratty old cardboard boxes full of nameless treasures… Random rubbish really but it tugged so strongly at the hidden places of her mind.
"Whatcha fixing, Daddy?" she asked, leaning up against her daddy's legs as he sat at his workbench in the end of their big, old barn. The cool air of the building was a welcome relief from the heat of the summer sun and her bare toes curled pleasantly against the chilly, straw-covered stones of the floor.
"It's a beautiful Muggle contraption, Sadie-Bird!" he said with excitement, patting her head and leaving behind greasy streaks in her hair that made her smile. "It's called a Snow Breather."
Her brown eyes grew huge and she let out an appreciative, "Oooooh." A Snow Breather sounded so exciting! Her daddy always made the most amazing things. Sometimes they were crooked, or a little oddly shaped and wobbly. They didn't always do exactly what they were supposed to, but to Sadie, they were always wonderful.
"Will it breathe out snow, even now in the summer time? Can we build a fort and have a snowball fight?" she tugged on his arm, practically dancing in anticipation.
Her daddy laughed, his eyes twinkling. "Not exactly. See, when it's winter, this will suck the snow away and clear the yard and drive. Then I can get the tractors out to feed the stock more easily, and I won't have to shovel! Aren't Muggles incredibly smart?"
Sadie frowned in puzzlement. "But, Daddy, you always just wait until Mummy is asleep and then cheat and use magic on the snow anyway." She loved sneaking out at night when the snow was glistening in the moonlight. The world would be crisp and still while she watched her daddy blast away the snow from the walks and the drive with his wand.
"Hey, shh, Sadie-Bird. That's our little secret, remember?"
Sadie giggled. "I won't tell Mummy," she said, rolling her eyes. "Bet she already knows, though. Don't you know mums know everything?"
The memory dissolved, flitting away in broken pieces to hide once more in the corners of her mind, but it left behind a smile etched lightly on her lips. Above her, rain still pounded against the shingles of the roof, the storm showing no signs of slowing even after twenty-four hours, but the shed was warm and dry, it's musty odor familiar and comforting. A small table was crammed against one side, a short stack of books arranged neatly in the center.
With curious hands, Sadie lifted the top one, her eyes alight as she took in the image and title on the cover: A Pictorial History of Tractors in Great Britain. Soon, she was seated cross-legged on the dusty floor, book spread on her lap as she lost herself in the pictures and the memories of the past.
"Your dad gave me that book," a quiet voice said after a while, drawing Sadie's attention up from the well-worn pages to the gentle eyes of Mr. Weasley. He was leaning against a shelf across the room, and his moist eyes and lost-in-the-past expression made Sadie wonder how long he'd been there. "On the train ride home at the end of my first year," he finished his thought before closing the distance between them. To Sadie's surprise, he ignored the workbench and instead lowered himself to the floor so he was sitting beside her.
"This one was always my favorite," he said, reaching over and turning a few pages forward. The image of a fire-engine-red Muggle tractor filled the paper. The Nuffield Universal the label proudly declared.
"Your dad loved his Muggle farm equipment."
Sadie smiled because it was so true. Her dad had loved everything about their Vermont farm. Every animal had a name, every building or field was a part of his soul, and every tractor or piece of equipment was his "favorite." Even the simple things had filled him with child-like glee, such as answering the telephone they kept to appear more like their Muggle neighbors.
"He used to go on and on about it, when we were kids, how he wanted to have a farm and grow things in the dirt and drive around on big machines. His parents had his future planned out in a centuries-old family business, but he hated the idea. So he told me all his wild plans. I didn't mind because…well, as you can see I'm a bit over-fond of Muggle items myself," he laughed a little, gesturing to the collection of junk around them. "But I think most of the school thought he was crazy…"
He trailed off, growing quiet, and Sadie gazed up at him thoughtfully. She'd never had anyone to share memories with – or mourn with – before.
"He got it, didn't he?" Mr. Weasley asked her suddenly, his voice thick. "The farm he always wanted, the one he dreamed of? He was happy?"
Sadie nodded vigorously, the image of her content, smiling parents from her memory both comforting and painful. They had been very happy, even though there had always been something – a hidden wound – tucked away in the light of their eyes or echo of their laughs.
"Good," said Mr. Weasley, sniffing once and nodding in return as he blinked heavily for a moment before changing the topic. "So, Molly tells me you and Ginny had quite the day? Something about rain and mud and puddles?"
Sadie grinned again, ducking her head as she remembered the rush of strong emotions and…glee that had filled her as they danced in the storm. "Did you try the puddle behind this shed? In my opinion, it's always been the best one."
Shyly, Sadie nodded. She decided she liked Mr. Weasley, this man who had known her parents and laughed with her father. The man whom Artie had been named after.
"Excellent," he said. "Well, are you up for another adventure tomorrow?"
Another adventure? Hadn't everything that had happened to her since that night in the alley been one big adventure? Sadie wrinkled her eyes up in puzzlement.
"It's time to get you a wand, Sadie. School will be starting in a few days and you can't go without one."
At his words, the warmth of the shed vanished as fear shot through her like an icy blast to the heart. Beside her, Mr. Weasley continued talking, unaware of her terror as he muttered something about the twins taking her to meet up with him at lunchtime, but she wasn't listening. Gripping the edges of the forgotten book till her fingers were white, she stared straight ahead as different words rattled through her head instead like unwelcome, vengeful ghosts whose sharp fingers clutched at her with remembered pain.
"Sadie? Sadie, are you okay?"
Sadie blinked, shaking her head rapidly to clear the imagined sound of the curses that still rang in her ears, before turning to face a worried-looking Mr. Weasley.
*I'm fine,* she signed while nodding quickly. Mr. Weasley didn't look convinced, but she climbed to her feet, preventing him from asking any more questions. Once he was standing again as well, she carefully held the book about tractors out to him.
"Why don't you keep it," he said with a sad, gentle smile. "I already have it memorized and…well…you don't have anything of your dad's, do you?"
Grateful, Sadie clutched the book to herself. *Thank you,* she signed, and then she was unable to stop from turning and fleeing back into the house and up the stairs to her borrowed room, thoughts of wands and evil, torturous words nipping at her heals.